George Watts, a former Sailor in the U.S. Navy, was among those men who had remained on deck. He was nervous, and when someone touched him on the arm, he "whirled around like somebody had stuck a knife in me."
"You're wanted in the second cabin," the man told Watts.
Looking anxiously about, Watts followed the man to the cabin. When he entered, he saw the "frisky French lady" removing her dress. As the cabin full of men watched, she also removed her wig and makeup!
From the feminine crinoline cocoon emerged Confederate Colonel Richard Thomas, dressed in a fine regimental uniform. The other men began opening the "lady's" trunks and arming themselves with the cutlasses, carbines, and pistols they found inside.
It did not take long for the armed men to capture the ship and, after putting the crew and innocent passengers ashore and bringing aboard an additional contingent of Confederate soldiers, the St. Nicholas , now the CSS Rappahannock , headed out into the Chesapeake and captured a number of prizes.
Like the battle at Bull Run a short time later, this early Confederate success was demoralizing to the Union cause and was widely hailed in the South. The colonel and his daring accomplices were lionized in Virginia, and at a ball given in their honor, much to the delight of those attending, the colonel appeared dressed not in regimental uniform but in the feminine attire that had served as his earlier "camouflage."
But just as the fortunes of war were to eventually change in favor of the Union, so went those of the audacious, skirted colonel. When he tried a similar venture a month later, the plan went awry and, once again dressed in hooped skirts, he was led off to a Union prison.