A bone in its teeth, reality arrives
“What’s to see brother? Fish feeding? A ship?” called out Ned, walking up to the wagon, his arms full of new deposit— the overnight storm had pushed in lots of wood and useable lumber. “Still low on the horizon, but she’s bark...I think.”
John went up on tiptoes. “Topsails have a strange cut to’em. am here to tell you, Ned, she has never crossed our bar.”
The Mercers were experts on vessels that frequented the Aransas Pass, their watery neighbor.
“What flag on the yardarm? Two bits to a dime the colors be Confederate,” crowed the younger Mercer, tossing the deposit into the back of the wagon.
“Good God almighty,” he uttered under his breath. Sitting down heavily he called out, “Get up here; we need to be home now.”
Ned dutifully came around and swung up onto the seat.
Once the wagon was making a good clip on the hard sand, John responded to Ned’s puzzled look.
“Dig out your two bits. The flag is not Southern; it is the Stars and Stripes.”
With a, “Giddap horse,” John slapped the reins down before turning to look his brother directly in the eye.
“But here be the real fly in the cream: That Yankee out there is a warship, comin’ straight toward our ranch with a bone in its teeth.” (A large bow wave made by high speed.)
It was the first American flag John had seen since Texas joined the Confederacy in March, 1861, and Robert Mercer had cast his family’s lot with the new Southern nation. Up to now, the faraway Civil War was an abstraction to the Mercers and the handful of settlers on Mustang Island, but now the reality of the times was fast approaching their isolated sanctuary.
The vessel John Mercer saw closing on Mustang Island that February day in 1862 was USS Arthur, a United States man of war—an armed bark— commanded by Lt. John Kittredge. Admiral David Farragut, Kittredge’s boss, made a smart move posting this officer to the West Gulf Blockading Squadron. Sailing the Texas coast before the war aboard a merchantman, Kittredge knew, for instance, that the Aransas Pass lighthouse was becoming misaligned with the pass, and that even a small squall could close the temperamental Cedar Bayou and Corpus Christi Pass. Such foreknowledge would help Kittredge anticipate how the enemy would try to run the blockade he was there to enforce. Indeed, the U.S. Navy had put competent man aboard a trim fighting ship ready to go in harm’s way, and that is just what the sailors from above the Mason-Dixon line would find on Mustang Island.
[Editor’s note: This historical series by historian Dr. John Guthrie Ford will lead up to the City of Port Aransas centennial celebration, scheduled for Oct. 16. Ford, in addition to enhancing readers’ historical understanding of Mustang Island and Port Aransas, hopes to stimulate readers’ memories, and invites their comments, amplifications and documented corrections. Information can be sent to Ford at email@example.com, with “Port A history” in the subject line. Ford, a charter member of, and consultant to, the Port Aransas Preservation and Historical Association, is the author of A Texas Island, available at various retail outlets in Port Aransas.]