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For Want of a Ship


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John Roy came to New Orleans with his family in 1843. He found prosperity and a home. He was assistant supervisor to Beauregard building the Custom House when the war erupted. It was only natural when the Civil War broke out he would remain loyal to Louisiana. He built cannons to arm the forts but he soon discovered that the sea and ships beckoned to him, He built one of the few submarines and helped outfit some of the most famous Confederate warships. After the fall of his city, he ended the war helping build the CSS Missouri, the last Confederate ironclad to surrender in American waters. Follow his only slightly fictionalized story told here for the first time.


A cold wind blew down Crawford Street in Vicksburg, Mississippi on January 17, 1860. A man stepped out from the post office. He pulled the stylish black overcoat tighter around his short compact body and straightened his top hat on his thinning ginger-colored hair then began to walk toward Washington Street at a brisk pace. He had just turned towards Clay Street when he heard the sound of an angry voice shouting “Damn you to hell, William!”
   He felt a brief sharp sting as a bullet entered his chest. He saw the sheet of newsprint flung into his face. His last thought as he lay on the ground was, “Elizabeth will miss me.”
Fred Hammett had just stepped outside after sorting mail inside the post office all morning when he heard the shot ring out around the corner. He rushed out from the post office and saw the body sprawled in a pool of blood just steps away. Farther down the street he saw a tall, thin man running towards Clay Street. He bent down to feel the prone figure’s wrist for a pulse he knew he would not find. It seemed like only seconds while a crowd gathered around and the police stood over him. “What happened here, sir?” the tallest officer asked.
   Fred explained that he worked in the post office and heard the shot. He continued “I ran to the corner and saw this man lying on the ground. I only touched his wrist. I did see a man running that way.” He pointed east “He was tall and thin.”
   The other officer having determined that none of the onlookers had seen anything had disbursed the crowd. He joined his partner and the two officers turned the body face up. Fred gasped. The first officer looked up “Do you know who this man is?” he asked Fred.
Fred turned his head away and gagged a little then he managed to swallow and nodded. He murmured, “Yes. It’s Mr. William Roy. He was just in the post office mailing a letter.”
   The other officer stooped and picked up the crumpled newspaper partly covered with blood. It was a January ninth edition of The Daily Sun with a headline reading “Legacy of John Brown.” Fred pointed to the paper. “That’s him.”
   The officer looked puzzled. Fred clarified. “He’s the editor who wrote that, Mr. William Douglas Roy. He’s partners with Mr. McCollum at the Daily Sun.”
   The officer read aloud.
Several days ago, the government in Washington appointed a Senate committee to investigate the recent events around the slave rebellion at Harpers Ferry, Virginia led by the odious John Brown. Our own Mississippi Congressman, William Barksdale, became so incensed at the opinions of that upstart Pennsylvania congressman, Thaddeus Stevens that he drew his Bowie knife to attack the Republican abolitionist. Whilst the arguments rage fast and furious in Washington and that backwoods ape, Lincoln seems to gain favor daily among the Black Republicans whilst we Southerners cannot even make up our minds on a suitable Democratic candidate. To this reporter, the facts are obvious. John C. Breckenridge is our only choice for president of the United States.
It would seem in this humble journalist’s opinion that that madman Brown may have set off a spark that will send this entire union up in a burst of conflagration by his well-justified hanging. The writer Victor Hugo is quoted as saying “Politically speaking, the murder of John Brown would be an uncorrectable sin. It would create in the Union a latent fissure that would in the long run dislocate it. Brown's agony might perhaps consolidate slavery in Virginia, but it would certainly shake the whole American democracy.”
Perhaps it is the time for loyal Democrats of Mississippi to start forming militia units to defend ourselves against the inevitable…

   The officer looked at his two companions. “It goes on in the same manner for a lot more print space. Could this be the reason the assailant left the paper behind? Maybe he is an abolitionist?”
   Fred shook his head, “I doubt that. Look at what is below the fold. That is also a possible explanation.”
   The officer again began to read what was legible below the bloodstain.
   Thus I hereby charge Daniel Sheppard, former Daily Sun bookkeeper, with embezzlement from the Sun office. Mr. Shepherd was originally arrested and imprisoned on this charge, at New Orleans, but was released under writ of habeas corpus, returned to Vicksburg, underwent an examination, lasting two days, before magistrate's court, and was acquitted of the charge. Any company considering hiring this scoundrel had better look long and hard at his record.”
   By this time the ambulance had arrived and proceeded to collect the body. One of the officers informed the driver to notify Mr. McCollum at the Daily Sun. He then thanked Fred and turned to his partner. “I think we best speak with Mr. Daniel Sheppard.”

Chapter 1

John Roy stepped from the Court House into the cold damp evening. This was a typical January day in New Orleans. The sting of cold penetrated his woolen overcoat, flowered waistcoat, shirt, and undershirt right down to his stocky chest. Even his face felt chilled despite his thick reddish beard. He had experienced a very trying day at the New Custom House in New Orleans. He was proud of his position as assistant to Major P. T. Beauregard but it was by far the most challenging position he had held since arriving in this country almost twenty years ago.
   His luck came from the fact that he had chosen to settle his family in New Orleans when they arrived from Dundee, Scotland in 1842. New Orleans was a seaport as well as a river port like his home city of Dundee, Scotland. The choice had been easy. John had always loved ships and here they were even more vital to the city than in Dundee. The mighty Mississippi connected the American heartland and the rest of the world...