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Middle Bass Island in the Civil War

Pirates on the Lake?  At Middle Bass?  Yes, during the Civil War.  If you have ever landed at the Middle Bass dock, you have crossed their path.  Late in the Civil War in September 1864, about 30, well-armed Confederate raiders commandeered the Lake Erie steamer, Philo Parsons.  They took the Parsons to the main dock at Middle Bass to refuel.  Every time you take the main road from the dock up the hill past Lonz Winery, you pass on your left the place where Captain Atwood, the captain of the Philo Parsons, lived.  (See where on this map - we'll add the link soon.)

While the pirates were refueling, a second steamer, the Island Queen, arrived along side the Parsons at the Middle Bass dock.  The raiders attacked the Queen, shooting and wounding its engineer.  They then allowed the passengers of both steamers to land on Middle Bass.  There were about 100 passengers on the Queen, and about 60 on the Philo Parsons.   The men had to promise they would not fight against the Confederacy or try to communicate with the mainland for 24 hours.  Captain Atwood took the women to his home.  The raiders then set off toward Sandusky in the Philo Parsons, towing the Island Queen.  Their goal?  To capture the Federal gunboat, U.S.S. Michigan, in Sandusky Bay and free the Confederate solders held at the prisoner-of-war camp on Johnson’s Island. 

The telegraph had not yet reached the island.  How did word of the raid reach the mainland?  John Brown, Jr., delivered the message. He was the son of the abolitionist, John Brown, who was hanged for leading the raid against Harper’s Ferry, and he lived on Put-in-Bay at the time.  He looked out toward Middle Bass, saw the Parsons towing the Island Queen and thought that was very strange.  He and three neighbors sailed to the tip of Catawba in rough weather in the middle of the night.  When they got there, they walked across the Marblehead Peninsula, borrowed a rowboat, and rowed across the bay to Sandusky, and reported the event to the military.   The Confederate raiders ultimately decided not to proceed with their attack and ordered the steamers to take them to Canada near Detroit.  Most of the raiders were ultimately captured.  One was hanged.

For several days after this event, telegrams flew back and forth between the Secretary of War in Washington and generals and colonels stationed along the Lake.  The president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, who indirectly instigated the attack, was informed. 

Here are two accounts of this event, both listed in the Middle Bass bibliography: 

Chapters IX (“The Lake Erie Conspiracy”) and X (“Pursuit”) from Rebels on Lake Erie by Charles E. Frohman, 1965, reprinted here with the permission of the Ohio Historical Society.  

Lydia J. Ryall, “John Yates Beall – His Piratical Exploit on Lake Erie,” in Sketches and Stories of the Lake Erie Islands, 1913.  John Yates Beall was the Confederate raider who was hanged for in role in the seizure of the Philo Parsons and Island Queen. 

Over time, we will add links between these pages and other relevant Civil War material.


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Revised: 21 Jul 2008 07:49:54.

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