- The Washington Times - Friday, March 12, 2004

In Constance Brooks’ March 6 article on the runaway Virginia slaves who served on a civilian-chartered vessel, the Arago, which was one of several ships ordered to try to ram the Confederate ironclad CSS Virginia, editing errors confused the sequence.

Fourteen escaped slaves, five from Mathews County, Va., and nine from Richmond County, were picked up by the blockading Navy ship Young Rover from the Rappahannock River.

These men were transferred to the steamship Arago when members of the civilian crew and most of the officers of that chartered vessel (and three others) refused Flag Officer Louis M. Goldsborough’s orders to ram the Virginia if it again attacked the Union Navy after its combat with the Union Monitor.

The captain of the Arago, Henry Gadsden, was praised, however, for his willingness to comply, though he had to ask Goldsborough to send replacements for his crew members who refused the order. The 14 “contraband” were transferred to the Arago and served as coal passers on the ship under dangerous orders.

In May 1862, Navy officials discussed payment for the runaway slaves and sailors on the Arago who did not refuse to carry out orders. It was agreed that the 14 runaways would be paid $15 a month. The other Navy orders mentioned in the published piece referred to the Navy enlistment and payment of contrabands in general.

Testimony from Daniel Brooks, one of the Mathews County runaways, appears in all pension files from the Mathews County men or their families.

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