The rebels having retired from Norfolk, Virginia, in May, 1862, General Mansfield sent his Aid-de-Camp, Drake De Kay, to reconnoitre the various rivers and creeks setting in from the James River.
Captain De Kay started with a sail-boat and eight men, and examined the Nansemond River and Chuckatuck Creek, and then proceeded to Smithfield Creek. This being narrow and tortuous, with high banks, he hoisted the rebel flag, and ran up some five miles to the town of Smithfield. This town is situated on a hill, stretching back from the river, contains some one thousand two hundred inhabitants, is very prettily laid out has several handsome churches, and fine “old family" homesteads.
The people are all rank secesh —hardly a man, woman, or child to be seen in the streets who does not scowl at the Yankees. The negroes, even, did not speak to us, as their masters had forbidden it, and beaten them severely for doing so. The whole negro population would run away, were it not that every boat has been broken up.
Upon arriving at the town the rebel flag was pulled down on board the sail-boat, and the United States ensign run up, to the horror of the citizens , who had come down to congratulate the (as they supposed) escaped rebel boat. Captain De Kay proceeded on shore with his body-guard, sent for the Mayor and authorities, who called a meeting of the citizens. At this meeting a resolution was read setting forth “that the citizens would surrender as the conquered to the conquerors, and that they were and always would remain true and loyal citizens of the Confederate States of America."
Thereupon Captain De Kay seized and imprisoned the Mayor, Aldermen, and Committee —no resistance being made by their fellow-citizens, from the fear of a supposed gunboat outside the bar of the creek!
The authorities, left to themselves, and wisely removed from all excitement, began now to see the error of their ways. Visions of Fortress Monroe dungeons in the foreground, and handsomely constructed gallows, with patent drops, in the background, worked upon their imaginations, so that, one by one, and stoutly contesting point after point, they came down at last to Captain De Kay's simple propositions, which were:
1. To surrender the town and all public property to the United States forces unconditionally.
2. To hoist the American flag officially over the Town Hall, and to protect it there.
3. To, each and all, take the oath of allegiance to the United States of America.
To this they came at last, and after the oath the Mayor (a bitter secesh) nailed up with his own hand the glorious Stars and Stripes.
Lying opposite the town was a fine schooner, the Beauregard, with a full cargo of soft coal for the Merrimac. A prize crew (one man) was put on board, and some contrabands to work her, and she was sent to Fortress Monroe —the first prize vessel taken on James River.
Thus Smithfield was captured by eight men. The “supposed gunboat in the offing" never appeared.
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