Black History Month — CSN Pilot Moses Dallas
Moses Dallas, Colored Pilot of the Savannah Naval Squadron
Moses Dallas served on the gunboat CSS Savannah as a pilot, and was praised by Savannah Naval Squadron commander Captain William A. Webb as “the best inland pilot on the coast.” He later served aboard the CSS Isondiga and the new ironclad, CSS Savannah, and while serving on the latter he would be engaged in this most adventurous action of the war.
The enemy blockading vessel USS Waterwitch was proving to be a tempting target for capture by a boarding party as it steamed up the Little Ogeechee River. On 3 June 1864, seven boats left the Beaulieu Battery on the Vernon River near Savannah with 15 officers and 117 men, including third in command Pilot Moses Dallas.
The night operation allowed the boarding parties to closely approach the Waterwitch’s hull undetected, when a lookout desperately alerted the crew. As the Confederate forces came alongside to scale the hull from both port and starboard sides, enemy small arms fire struck and instantly killed Pilot Moses Dallas who had guided the Georgians to the Waterwitch. Minutes later, expedition commander Lieutenant Thomas P. Pelot was first to gain the main deck and was also killed – though in ten minutes the swarming Georgians had secured the enemy vessel for the American Confederacy.
The action report to Secretary of the Navy Stephen Mallory cited the loss of 5 men killed and 12 wounded during the capture of the enemy craft Waterwitch. Author Robert G. Caroon notes:
“Pilot Moses Dallas, CSN, gave his life in a gallant attack on a well-armed enemy vessel and contributed to the victory of the Confederate Naval Forces. For three years he had served faithfully and well in the Confederate Navy and his comrades in arms were not unmindful of his service, nor would they prove themselves ungrateful.
On 4 June, 1864, the Confederate States Navy ordered a coffin and a hearse for the funeral of Moses Dallas, the expense to be paid by the Navy. Pilot Moses Dallas furnishes us with a fine example of a talented and dedicated African American serving in the armed forces of the Confederate States in a position of leadership. His contribution was recognized during his lifetime and after his death in action. He deserves to be remembered and honored by posterity as well.”
Source: Moses Dallas, African American and Confederate Naval Officer, Robert G. Caroon, Confederate Veteran, Volume 5, 1999, pp. 26-27