(Str: t. 487)
Swan, a river cargo boat from Mobile, Ala., served the Confederates as a flag-of-truce boat at Mobile on 28 May 1861. She was captured off Key West, Fla., on 24 May 1862, with a cargo of cotton and resin, by the U.S. bark Amanda and the U.S. brig Bainbridge, and later was used by the U.S. Army.
No particulars of the small, white-hulled sailing craft Swan or her consort, the black Raven, nor of their armament have come to light, but neither could a history of the Confederate States Navy omit to mention the so-called "Volunteer Coast Guard", which they formed. Swan's captain and leader of the expedition was restless, daring, tubercular University of Virginia graduate John Yates Beall, Master, CSN, by special commission issued 5 March 1863. Acting Master Edward McGuire commanded Raven, apparently a yawl.
Private enterprise and legal expediency were thoroughly mixed in the expedition: at least two of their 16 volunteers, Scotsmen Bennett G. Burley and John Maxwell, were also appointed Acting Masters, CSN. Although they were more or less regularly commissioned, their cutters were not; while Beall was empowered to accept enlistments and draw gear from the Navy, yet he and his guerrilla band wore no uniforms, were required to procure their own sea vehicles and pay their own wages out of prizes and cargoes they might capture.
Mathews County, the Virginian peninsula between Mob jack Bay and the Piankatank River, was home soil for the Beall raiders. Setting out from there 17 September 1863, that very day they captured sloop Mary Anne and some fishing scows off Raccoon Island; the next day schooner Alliance, carrying $200,000 worth of ships' stores for Port Royal, fell into their hands. Schooner J. J. Houseman was carried by boarding the following day and two more schooners, Samuel Pearsall and Alexandria, were taken the 20th.
Beall in the end had to strip all his prizes but Alliance and send them to sea as derelicts, all sail set; 14 prisoners were safely delivered to Richmond. Houseman and Pearsall were, however, recovered at sea by blockaders. He himself almost succeeded in sailing Alliance up the Piankatank but grounded the last minute at the river's mouth, on the bar at Milford Haven, Va., and had to burn her when a Federal blockader approached—yet Beall's men still managed to salvage over $10,000 worth of goods.
The "Marine Coast Guard", as they called it, became such a thorn in the Union side that in October a joint U.S. Navy/Army expedition under General Isaac J. Wistar, USA, with the entire 4th U.S. Colored Infantry, Pennsylvania and New York cavalry and light artillery detachments, USS Commodore Jones, Putnam and Stepping Stones, and 4 Army gunboats sealing avenues of escape, finally got McGuire by a dragnet across Mathews County.
Nothing daunted, Beall and party in Swan and Raven entered Tangier Inlet and divided up for scouting. A boatload of Beall's raiders was trapped and captured on 14 November and one man hanged; they were terrified into revealing Beall's hideout so that he and the remaining Coast Guardsmen were discovered next day. Secretary of War Stanton wrote that the captured personnel "will be held for the present, not as prisoners of war but as pirates or marauding robbers." Beall escaped the noose but not for long; he figured prominently in the Philo Parsons (q.v.) affray only to stand into danger again in the mid-December Buffalo-Dunkirk affair, for which he was secretly executed, 18 February 1865. The Union was not deterred this time by threat of reprisals but made sure Beall was dead before the news of his capture reached the Confederacy.