Corvallis/Toledo railroad tycoon T. Edgenton Hogg (pronounced “Hoag”) was always a little reticent about his past. Especially the Civil War part.
To some extent, that was understandable. “Colonel” Hogg had fought with the Confederacy in the Civil War. His side had lost, so, sure — better not to talk about it, right?
Hogg’s friend Wallis Nash, who spills a good bit of ink praising him in his book, A Lawyer’s Life on Two Continents, writes that he held the rank of colonel in the Confederate forces, and describes him as “rather tall, lean, nervous, with curly brown hair, a full beard, good forehead, large pale-blue eyes, a repressed manner at first meeting.”
Hogg told Nash that he had been a prisoner of war at Alcatraz during the war. After the war ended, he was transferred to San Quentin for another year or so. Finally released in 1866 after being granted amnesty, he returned to New Orleans, where he had been a fairly prosperous merchant back in 1861, to find that nothing remained of his property there. So he headed back to San Francisco again, seeking out his brother, a prosperous financier who had supported the North during the war.
Whatever may have passed between the brothers during the Civil War, now that it was over the two were reconciled, and Hogg, with his backing, headed north in search of new opportunities. Upon arriving in Corvallis, Hogg quickly grasped the potential for a railroad link from Corvallis to Newport, and the tremendous possibilities that could be realized if that link kept on going over Santiam Pass to Boise … and the rest, as historian Keith Clark puts it, is history.
All of this was true… it was just that it was, shall we say, somewhat incomplete.
The rumor mill wasn’t nearly as reticent as Hogg was, of course. Hogg’s status as an ex-Rebel, and the fact that his railroad enterprise put him at odds with some of the powerful Portland businessmen who were writing Oregon’s official history, resulted in some very sketchy rumors finding their way into the historical record — such as the one that claimed he and his crew had been captured while trying to raid opium ships. Had his plans been successful, he certainly would have had a go at any ship, whether it carried opium or not; but as it happened, he never had the chance.
Nevertheless, the real story is so much more bonkers than that, that one wonders why the rumor-passers even bothered with making things up.
His story was unearthed somewhat painstakingly by historian Clark, a faculty member at Central Oregon College (now Central Oregon Community College) in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Clark, in his Oregon Historical Quarterly article, compares the whole thing to a rip-roaring B-movie Western, and he is not even slightly wrong about that.
THOMAS EDGENTON HOGG was from Baltimore originally, and was in his early 30s when the Civil War broke out. Shortly thereafter, he moved to New Orleans, where he established his business.
But a couple years later, probably feeling the pinch of the Yankee blockade, Hogg left that business and embarked upon a brand-new career:
With five companions, he traveled to Matamoras, Mexico. Upon arrival, the six of them booked passage on a Yankee-registered schooner, the Joseph P. Gerrity. The schooner was bound for New York with a cargo of cotton.
Of course, Hogg’s little band of maritime desperadoes had no intention of going to New York. Instead, on the second night out, the six of them armed themselves, commandeered the ship, marooned the crew on the coast of Yucutan, and headed north to Belize. There, representing the ship as a Confederate blockade runner bringing a load of cotton in from Texas, Hogg sold the cargo and pocketed the receipts.
But the crew of the Joseph P. Gerrity had by this time found their way through the remote stretches of coastline where they’d been dumped, to an American embassy in Sisal. Word of the “conquest” of their ship reached the British colonial government in Belize while Hogg was still in port.
What Hogg and his pals had done had certainly been very irregular as naval operations go, but all was fair in love and war, right?
Well, not quite. Had Hogg not sold off the cargo, the British likely would have shrugged it off as simple military action, a ruse de guerre. But hijacking loads of cargo, selling it, and pocketing the proceeds is not much of a naval-warfare job. It’s more of an opportunistic-highway-robber job. The British were very displeased to learn they’d bought stolen property, and immediately set out in hot pursuit, aiming to arrest Hogg for larceny.
Four of his companions were promptly arrested, but Hogg managed to skip town with one of his fellow pirates just a skip ahead of the law, making for Colombia — then a brand-new country formed out of the ashes of the old Spanish viceroyalty of New Granada, which apparently did not cooperate with extradition requests.
Now at loose ends again, Hogg sent a proposal to the Confederate consul in Havana, offering his services to do the same thing again, but playing for a legitimate war prize this time — to capture a modern Yankee steamer, outfit it as a commerce raider with guns and everything, put on an actual Navy uniform, and start attacking Yankee shipping in the Pacific. This time, of course, he would pass on any spoils of war to the proper authorities rather than pocketing them.
The proposal went up the chain of command all the way to the Confederate Secretary of the Navy, Stephen R. Mallory. Mallory responded by commissioning Hogg as an official Navy officer and instructing him to do exactly as he had suggested.
Obtaining an official commission was probably a smart move on Hogg’s part. It would save him from being arrested and prosecuted as a pirate by the British, should he encounter them again. But it had the unanticipated effect of bringing the entire plot to the attention of some highly placed Yankee spy, somewhere in Richmond.
As a result, when Hogg and six fellow Confederate Navy men booked their passage on the American steamer San Salvador in the territorial waters of neutral Colombia (the part we know today as Panama), the Yankees knew, in great detail, exactly who they were and what they were scheming to do.
Of course, Colombia being Colombia, they couldn’t just haul off and arrest them on the spot. A ruse would be necessary to bait the rebels out into international waters, where arresting them wouldn’t create an international incident.
No problem. The plans were in place well before the rebels arrived; when they did, the Yankees were waiting for them.
COMMANDER H.K. DAVENPORT, skipper of the USS Lancaster, was put in charge of laying the trap. Leaving his warship to steam on ahead into international waters, Davenport and a small contingent of officers and men stealthily boarded the San Salvador just a few minutes before the ship was to cast off. So that they could do this undetected, the captain of the San Salvador, who had also been put wise to the plot, summoned all the passengers to his cabin to examine their tickets and brief them on the voyage; while they were doing this, the troopers from the Lancaster were discreetly ransacking the entire ship, hoovering up every scrap of paper they could find. (One of the pieces of paper they found was the letter from Secretary Mallory commissioning Hogg to do the job.) Presumably then they retreated to the cargo hold or some similar place out of view of the piratical Southerners.
Davenport then introduced himself to the pirates as an administrative officer from the ship’s owners, on board making sure everything was all right and that the captain and crew were doing their jobs properly; and as the San Salvador slipped away from the dock, he mingled freely with the passengers, chatting them up and putting them at their ease.
All the while, the San Salvador was edging closer and closer to the boundary of Colombia’s territorial waters.
Sometime that night, they caught up with the Lancaster, and all was in readiness for the springing of the trap. Davenport quietly gave the necessary orders and prepared to re-introduce himself to the San Salvador’s passengers … as the skipper of an American warship.
“At daylight the next morning,” Davenport wrote, in his subsequent report on the operation, “being some 12 miles outside the territorial jurisdiction of New Granada (the old Spanish name for Colombia), on the broad bosom of the Pacific Ocean, I ordered the ensign to be hoisted, assembled all the passengers, and then informed them that, in virtue of my commission, being now under the American flag, I desired the pleasure of the company of several of them on board my ship.”
The would-be privateers were caught utterly flat-footed. They and their leader — T. Edgenton Hogg, Acting Master, Confederate States Navy — were out of action for the duration of the war.
HOGG AND HIS FELLOW PRIVATEERS were brought to San Francisco for trial, where a military tribunal sentenced them to hang as irregular combatants in violation of the rules of war — that is, essentially, as spies. But even in the face of death the famous Hogg charm must have been broadcasting at full strength, because Union General Irwin McDowell decided to commute their sentences — Hogg’s to life on The Rock, and his accomplices to 10 years.
All of them were out and free just a few years later, of course, when they received amnesty at the end of the war. And Hogg, finding himself at loose ends in the most dynamic part of the country and with the backing of a wealthy brother, must have marveled at the change in his circumstances a few short years had brought.
The story of Hogg’s subsequent adventures as a railroad magnate in Oregon is almost as colorful, audacious, and just-plain-bonkers as his career as a pirate. But that’s a story for another time.
(Sources: “T. Edgenton Hogg — A Footnote,” an article by Keith Clark published in the September 1983 issue of Oregon Historical Quarterly; A Lawyer’s Life on Two Continents, a book by Wallis Nash published in 1919 by Gorham Press)
Finn J.D. John teaches at Oregon State University and writes about odd tidbits of Oregon history. His book, Heroes and Rascals of Old Oregon, was recently published by Ouragan House Publishers. To contact him or suggest a topic: firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-357-2222.