Return to DANFS IndexImage of an anchorReturn to Naval History and Heritage Command homepage
flag banner
Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships banner
WASHINGTON DC 20374-5060

Philo Parsons




Philo Parsons was a Detroit-Sandusky steamer seized on Lake Erie by Confederate raiders in an attempt to capture USS Michigan, only United States war vessel on the Great Lakes, and liberate Confederate prisoners she was guarding on Johnson's Island, off Sandusky, 0.


The commandos boarded at Maiden, Upper Canada (Ont.), in the guise of passengers, 19 September 1864. Their leader was Acting Master's Mate John Y. Beall, CSN, who had helped Capt. Charles H. Cole, CSA, of Gen. Nathan B. Forrest's command—an escapee from Johnson's I. in July—organize the plot under chief Confederate agent in Canada, Col. Jacob Thompson (v. Georgian supra). Cole also claimed to have a commission as Lieutenant, CSN.


Cole was drinking with officers of Michigan when Beall took over Parsons; the scheme went awry, Cole was arrested and failed to send a messenger, as agreed, to Beall, but the latter proceeded according to plan regardless. Beall, in Parsons, had to stop at Middle Bass Island for wood; Island Queen "with a large number of passengers and 32 soldiers" tied up alongside them with the same intent. The Parsons raiders took them all prisoner, paroled the soldiers and left the civilians on the isle sworn not to leave for 24 hours. Island Queen was towed out to deep water and sunk; Parsons finally headed for Sandusky, but for some reason now unknown the crew all backed out, refusing to attack Michigan.


Nothing was left for it but to retreat: at Sandwich, Ont., the 20th, "after plundering and cutting her pipes to scuttle" her, Philo Parsons was left to founder while, according to Colonel Thompson, "most of" the Confederate conspirators escaped below the Mason-Dixon Line; Acting Master's Mate Bennett G. Burley, CSN, did not: Comdr. John C. Carter, USN, of Michigan telegraphed of Burley, "I have got the principal agent prisoner on board and many accomplices." Canada sought at the Burley trial to force Colonel Thompson's expulsion from the country as the espionage mastermind behind the Parsons, Georgian and other incidents.