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J. H. Jarvis




The main particulars and fate of J. H. Jarvis or Jarvis are an enigma: She may have been the embryo of "the new steamer built at" Columbus, Ga., early in 1864. It seems certain that she did exist and was commanded by Lt. John W. Bennett, CSN, in June 1863 in the Mobile-West Florida area. If she was the same ship as the newbuilding, she was later commanded by daredevil mastermind Lt. George W. Gift, CSN; it is matter of record that he was detached from Chattahoochee just before or after the famous boiler explosion that sank her, 27 May 1863, for he was principal informant to the press following the disaster. It is known that Gift reported to Bennett, Commanding Officer "on board the Jarvis", 8 June, for duty, because Bennett so endorsed Gift's orders from Capt. John K. Mitchell, CSN. On 15 February 1864 Lt. Gift was detached from Naval Station, Charleston, S.C., to command "the new steamer at Columbus, Ga.", relieving Lt. Augustus McLaughlin, CSN, who appears to have been commanding Chattahoochee concurrently; then on 5 March Captain Mitchell in Richmond directed Gift to relieve McLaughlin in Chattahoochee. Apparently this change in command enabled Gift to take the luckless gunboat to Eufaula, Ala., for on 10 June he was ordered to bring her back to Columbus "and turn her over to Lt. Comdr. A. McLaughlin for repairs," while Chief Constructor J. L. Porter was to come from Wilmington as soon as possible to inspect her.


These bits of fact establish little directly about Jarvis herself but define an intriguing area of probability which could eternally link Jarvis and the interesting personality of George Gift. Two letters from Gift published in official records point to him as a colorful, unrecognized idea man of the Confederate Navy: On 9 May he proposed to Lt. John J. Guthrie, CSN, Chattahoochee's captain, a daring raid by the latter's men using steamer Swan to capture USS Port Royal in Apalachicola, Fla. Two days later he suggested to Secretary Mallory a plot to purchase secretly and operate a Confederate cruiser on Lake Erie and to terrorize Union commerce throughout the Great Lakes, "although," he added, "the scheme may be as Quixotic as it is audacious." Whatever his confreres may have thought of Gift's daydreams—probably not much—his Lake Erie stratagem just might have succeeded at that time: witness the Georgian (q.v.) affair which so nearly did 18 months later, although the sands of time were running out for the Confederacy. Gift was no Maffitt, Semmes, Wilkinson or John Taylor Wood in deed, but he was a bold thinker.