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Petrel

 

(Sch: t. 82; cpl. 38; a. 2 guns)

 

Petrel was the U.S. Revenue Cutter William Aiken, taken over by South Carolina in December 1860, on secession. She had been Charleston pilot boat Eclipse when purchased for the Revenue Service.

 

Sold by the State to Henry Buist, Maier Triest and eight other Charlestonians, who were issued a letter of marque, 10 July 1861 at Charleston, Petrel's life as a privateer was short: off her home port on her first cruise, 28 July, she was overhauled and sunk by USS St. Lawrence, after a four-hour chase. Capt. William Perry ran up the Confederate flag and1 fired three shots; one passed through the pursuer's "mainsail and took a splinter out of the main yard," whereupon St. Lawrence unlimbered her fo'c'sle battery, made two hits, "one of which struck her bows." Petrel sank in 30 minutes. Capt. Hugh Y. Purviance, USN, noted laconically in his log, "Got out the boats and picked up the crew," thus learning Petrel's name and the fact that two of her men had drowned; he took no time then to file a report. The 36 prisoners were transferred to Flag at Savannah, then taken to Philadelphia to be tried for their lives as "pirates"—one of the early test cases by which this doctrine of "piracy" proved impracticable to enforce.