Category Archives: civil war

160 years ago: Just some guys from Mass

Members of Mess 3, Co. C, 13th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry taken at Williamsport, Maryland, on a cool fall morning of November 21st, 1861. Note their mix of kepis and Hardee hats, as well as a personal toboggan cap and what looks like a fez with a tassel. Two are wearing their cartridge pouches but only one is armed, with what looks like a Springfield 1855 rifle, or similar.

Organized at Fort Independence June 16, 1861, at the time of the above image the 13th Mass was part of Abercrombie’s Brigade, Banks’ Division, Army of the Potomac. Before they were mustered out on August 1, 1864, they would fight at Hancock, Cedar Mountain, Bull Run, South Mountain, Antietam, Fredricksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, The Wilderness, Spottsylvania, Cold Harbor, and the Siege of Petersburg.

The Center for Civil War Photography’s Craig Heberton IV has the following breakdown of the men shown in the above photo, captured in time and place. 

This high-quality reproduction print of a very well-focused and executed early war photograph of nine members of Company “C” of the Thirteenth Massachusetts Regiment, taken at Williamsport, Maryland, does just that. It also reveals that these guys all “messed” together. And what a variety of headwear! It is unlikely that these men, as of November 21, 1861, had any inkling of what lay in store for themselves and their mates at unusually bloody large-scale battles in which they later would be actively engaged, such as Second Manassas and Gettysburg, where their unit suffered around 200 casualties at each.

Randomly picking one of the men, Garry Adelman notes that soldier #5, Albert Sheafe, “was a 21-year-old carver from Boston [who was] wounded at Antietam on the north end of the field, [constituting] one of [the] 130+ casualties [of the 13th Mass.] at that battle. He served till August 1864 and later lived in Roxbury, Mass.”

Expanding thereupon, Tom Boyce writes that: “Albert A. Sheafe was born in Lynn, Mass. in 1840… [In the 1860 Federal Census,] Albert Sheafe is listed as a [carver’s apprentice, living with many other unrelated people in the residence of 50-year-old] Anne M. Cushing [and her two children] in [Boston’s 4th Ward]. He enlisted as a private in Company “C” of the 13th Massachusetts Infantry, 16 Jul 1861. Quickly, he attained the rank of Corporal, although curiously his rank was back-dated to 01 June 1861. He was severely wounded during the Battle of Antietam (Sharpsburg), 17 Sep. 1862… He attained the rank of Sergeant during the first day’s Battle of Gettysburg. His rank was, again, upgraded during the 2nd day’s battle of Gettysburg, where the 13th Massachusetts suffered many casualties. He was mustered out of service, 01 Aug 1864 and died in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, 25 Mar. 1916.”

I decided to dig a little deeper to learn that on Jan. 5, 1865, Albert A. Scheafe married Clara A. Rand in Portsmouth, N.H. By May 1, 1865, Albert and Clara lived in Newburyport, Mass. in the the home of George F. Smith (aged 25, an engineer) & Frank M. Smith (aged 24). I’d bet a dollar that “George F. Smith” is the same fellow as soldier #6, “Geo. H. Smith,” seen in the Nov. 21, 1861 photograph. Scheafe’s occupation, then, was described as “cabinet maker.”

By 1870, the Sheafes were the parents of a 4-year-old daughter and living in South Boston, Mass. Albert still “work[ed] as a carver.” The family lived in the home of his wife’s uncle (a 49-year-old Canadian-born policeman named Emery Dresser) and aunt Mary Francis R. Dresser.

It appears that the Sheafes lost their daughter before 1880, at which time they and Albert’s mother, Rhoda (a nurse), apparently rented space in the residence of Abram Wolfsen (a dealer in watchmaker’s tools) on Sharon St. in Boston. Albert’s occupation remained a “carver” as of 1880.

Skipping ahead to 1910, the Scheafes are found living in Portsmouth, N.H., where they would have celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary. At the age of 69, Albert (or his wife) told the census taker that he still engaged in furniture cabinetry work. From 1907 until his death on March 25, 1916, Albert received a military pension. He was buried in Portsmouth’s South Street Cemetery. After her husband died, Clara received an army widow’s pension up until 1924. She lived to the age of 98 or 99, dying in 1941. Clara A. Rand Scheafe is buried in the same plot with her husband.

Lost Magazines on the Beach, and We aren’t talking Cosmo

The National Park Service’s Gulf Island National Seashore– which includes a number of coastal defense positions and Third Period forts (Barrancas and Pickens) around Pensacola, Florida as well as Fort Massachusetts on Ship Island off Gulfport– has closed a section of Perdido Key.

The reason? Almost 200 19th century shells, some still live.

Via NPS: 

Following Hurricane Ida, military munitions were discovered near the far end of the seashore’s Perdido Key Area. This event has resulted in a temporary closure of the area, with an abundance of caution should there be additional undiscovered munitions still buried.

The area where the munitions were found is closed and marked with signs. Visitors walking or boating in this area are prohibited from entering. Staff will be monitoring and patrolling the area regularly.

“The park continues to monitor the area for newly discovered munitions and will secure the site(s) should any be found in the future,” said Darrell Echols, GUIS Superintendent. “Our goal is to ensure that the area is safe for the visitors and staff, and that cultural resources are protected.”

More than 190 cannonballs were detonated in September within park boundaries with help from other federal agencies. No more unexploded ordnances have been identified. Munitions found within national park boundaries are considered cultural artifacts and are protected by law. It is illegal for the public to harm, deface, damage, or remove these items.

It’s a shame that some of the shells weren’t saved, as surely not all were live, but I guess the NPS has enough on hand for their exhibits. Plus, if they would have said some weren’t dangerous, you can bet the would-be collectors would be sifting Perdido Key until all the Sea Oats were gone and the key itself washed away.

However, as someone who has grown up in the shadow of Vicksburg, Port Gibson, and the Battle of Mobile Bay battlefields, I can vouch that there are hundreds of old shells on mantles across the Gulf South– many still with fuzes.

Not saying it’s the safest thing in the world, and I wouldn’t recommend it, just making a statement that they are more common than you think.

‘I do not expect I shall want to drink coffee after I leave the Army’

Happy National Coffee Day!

Via the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, in his war-time diary, Charles A. Wetherbee of the 34th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment describes how men in his unit consumed coffee and how important “strong black coffee” came to be in the U.S. Army.

“We draw more coffee, bread, and pork than we can use… We make very strong black coffee and drink about a quart apiece without sugar or cream.

We have gotten accustomed to it and like it that way. I do not expect I shall want to drink coffee after I leave the army, as I will not be able to get it strong enough.”

“Campaign sketches. The coffee call.” Print by Homer Winslow shows Army of the Potomac soldiers waiting for coffee at a campfire in an encampment. LOC

Buffalo Soldiers Remembered at West Point

Lost in the 20th Anniversary of 9/11 remembrances over the weekend was a small ceremony at the U.S. Military Academy where Gen. (Ret.) Vincent K. Brooks presided over the dedication of a monument honoring the service of the “Buffalo Soldiers” who served for 40 years at West Point.

Founded immediately after the Civil War to take advantage of a pool of over 140,000 surviving members of the segregated wartime USCT, which had been disbanded on October 1865, the 9th and 10th U.S. Cavalry Regiments, along with the four regiments black infantry (the 38th, 39th, 40th, and 41st– later amalgamated in 1869 to the 24th and 25th Infantry due to service-wide budget cuts) carried the legacy of some 175 regiments of freedmen who fought in the last two years of the War Between the States.

Fighting in virtually every campaign of the Plains Wars in between policing the border regions and patrolling Yosemite National Park in the days before the service’s armed rangers, the Buffalo Soldiers also went overseas to mix it up with the Spaniards in 1898 and serve in the Philippines against assorted insurgents. Notably, five members of the 10th Cavalry earned the Medal of Honor during the Spanish–American War.

The 9th and 10th U.S. Cavalry, fighting dismounted in the Battle of Las Guasimas, Cuba, 24 June 1898. Via the LOC LC-DIG-PGA-01889

One of the most unsung duties, at least until this week, that these professional horse soldiers performed, was in providing for the standing United States Military Academy Detachment of Cavalry.

Made up of 100 long-service black non-commissioned officers and senior enlisted who were considered among the best in the Army, the detachment formed 23 March 1907 to teach future officers at West Point riding instruction, mounted drill, and cavalry tactics, a mission they would perform by the numbers until 1947. The cadets who earned their spurs in such drill included George S. Patton Jr., Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Omar N. Bradley.

U.S. Army Photo by John Pellino/USMA PAO

Gifted to the academy by the Buffalo Soldiers Association of West Point, the 10-foot-tall bronze trooper mounted on horseback characterizes the level of horsemanship expertise that was provided to future Army officers. Nationally renowned sculptor Eddie Dixon was commissioned for the piece that bears a likeness to SSG (Ret.) Sanders H. Matthews Sr., a Buffalo Soldier stationed at West Point. Sanders, who founded the Buffalo Soldiers Association of West Point, Inc., worked tirelessly to pay tribute to their memory, and plans to erect the monument have been underway since 2017.

“These Soldiers embodied the West Point motto of Duty, Honor, Country, and ideals of the Army Ethic,” said the U.S. Military Academy 60th Superintendent Lt. Gen. Darryl A. Williams. “This monument will ensure that the legacy of Buffalo Soldiers is enduringly revered, honored, and celebrated while serving as an inspiration for the next generations of cadets.”

U.S. Army Photo by John Pellino/USMA PAO

Farewell, Ingraham, you deserved better (but NMESIS works)

Smoke billows from the decommissioned guided-missile frigate ex-USS Ingraham during a sinking exercise in the Pacific, Aug. 15. (U.S. Navy/MC1 David Mora Jr.)

Same, (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Danny Kelley)

VADM Steve Koehler, C3F, on a SINKEX in the Pacific as part of Large Scale Exercise (LSE) 2021, where U.S. joint forces — the USS Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group, Submarine Forces Pacific, I Marine Expeditionary Force, 3rd Marine Air Wing, III Marine Expeditionary Force, 3rd Marine Division, and U.S. Army Multi-Domain Task Force– conducted coordinated “multi-domain, multi-axis, long-range maritime strikes” on the decommissioned frigate ex-USS Ingraham (FFG-61):
“Lethal combat power was effectively applied to a variety of maritime threats over the last two weeks in a simulated environment as part of the U.S. Navy’s Large-Scale Exercise and expertly demonstrated Sunday with live ordnance. The precise and coordinated strikes from the Navy and our joint teammates resulted in the rapid destruction and sinking of the target ship and exemplify our ability to decisively apply force in the maritime battlespace.”
Ingraham was the final Perry (FFG-7)-class guided missile frigate commissioned in 1989 and was decommissioned in 2015 after 26 years of hard service and could surely have been transferred for FMS as have many of her younger sisters. Notably, 34 of her sisters are still on active duty with overseas allies.
The ship was named for Captian Duncan Nathaniel Ingraham, who entered the Navy during the War of 1812 at the age of 10 (!)  and earned a Gold Medal from Congress for gunboat diplomacy in the 1850s while on a Med cruise. Ending his career dual-hatted as Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance and Hydrographer of the Navy in 1860 to cast his lot with the Confederacy, he commanded the Charleston (SC) naval station while wearing a grey uniform in the Civil War.
FFG-61 is the fourth Navy ship with the namesake. It is the second of its name to be used in a sinking exercise; ex-USS Ingraham (DD 694), which was decommissioned in 1971 and sold to the Greek Navy, was sunk in 2001.
Importantly, the Marines got to confirm their brand new Navy-Marine Expeditionary Ship Interdiction System (NMESIS) anti-ship missile truck in the sinking, firing a Norwegian Naval Strike Missile from a position onshore some 100 miles away.

A Naval Strike Missile is launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility Barking Sands during the sinking exercise. (U.S. Marine Corps/MC2 Lance Cpl. Dillon Buck)

A Navy-Marine Expeditionary Ship Interdiction System launcher deploys into position aboard Pacific Missile Range Facility Barking Sands, Hawaii, Aug. 16, 2021. The NMESIS and its Naval Strike Missiles participated in a live-fire exercise, here, part of Large Scale Exercise 2021. During the training, a Marine Corps fires expeditionary advanced base sensed, located, identified, and struck a target ship at sea, which required more than 100 nautical miles of missile flight. The fires EAB Marines developed a targeting solution for a joint force of seapower and airpower which struck the ship as the Marines displaced to a new firing position. The Marine Corps EABO concept is a core component of the Force Design 2030 modernization effort. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Maj. Nick Mannweiler, released)

Did Civil War Soldiers Carry Tourniquets?

Today, all the hip gun guys who carry TQs as part of their everyday medical (author included) often think that this generation practically invented its use.

So, so wrong.

French surgeon Jean-Louis Petit‘s innovative screw tourniquet dates to 1718 and its use by trained physicians was widespread by the 1800s, seeing lots of use on all sides during the Napoleonic wars.

Some reports are that, during the Civil War, more than 50,000 field (strap) tourniquets and at least 13,000 Petit screw tourniquets were used by the U.S. Army Medical Department.

“This item is a petit tourniquet that was used by surgeons during the Civil War.” Surgical Instruments M1999-2145. U.S. Sanitary Commission Collection. Record Group ANRC. Records of the American National Red Cross. Via NARA

Simpler Prussian service strap-and-buckle tourniquets, as detailed by the esteemed Dr. Samuel D. Gross, consultant for the U.S. Surgeon General during the conflict and author of an 1862 handbook on military medicine, tourniquets, were extensively used in the military service, with “every orderly sergeant being required to carry one in his pocket.”

From Gross, via the National Museum of Civil War Medicine:

“It is not necessary that the common soldier should carry a Petit’s tourniquet, but every one may put into his pocket a stick of wood, six inches long, and a handkerchief or piece of roller, with a thick compress, and be advised how, where, and when they are to be used.

By casting the handkerchief round the limb, and placing the compress over its main artery, he can, by means of the stick, produce such an amount of compression as to put at once an effectual stop to the hemorrhage.

This simple contrivance, which has been instrumental in saving thousands of lives, constitutes what is called the field tourniquet.

A fife, drum-stick, knife, or ramrod may be used, if no special piece of wood is at hand.”

‘Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead’

“Map showing entrance to Mobile Bay and the course taken by Union fleet,” by Robert Knox Sneden, about 157 years ago today (click to big up):

1710×2200. Retrieved from the Library of Congress,

The map shows Confederate fortifications (Forts Powell, Gaines, Morgan) and the location of Union fleet in Mobile Bay and the Gulf of Mexico– barred by a line of infamous moored sea mines, then referred to as “torpedoes.”

On 5 August 1864, Union Rear Adm. David Farragut attempted to lead several ships into Mobile Bay, past the formidable Confederate forts and the ironclad CSS Tennessee. Despite the sinking by a mine (?) of the monitor USS Tecumseh, the Union fleet passed through the channel and engaged Tennessee, paving the way for Union land operations against the city of Mobile, Ala. Undermanned and damaged by Union rams, Tennessee surrendered.

Sneden, a skilled landscape painter and a map-maker for the Union Army during the American Civil War, died in 1918 and left behind a number of iconic maps that are part of the LOC– here.

Warship Wednesday, May 26, 2021: Baked New Hampshire

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, May 26, 2021: Baked New Hampshire

Courtesy of the Naval Historical Foundation; Collection of W. Beverley Mason, Jr., 1962. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 51182

Here we see the lead ship of the Ossipee-class sloop of war, USS Ossipee, off Honolulu in the then-Kingdom of Hawaiʻi during the Kamehameha dynasty, with her crew manning the yards, in early 1867. Our sloop would range far and wide in her naval service, including damming the torpedoes and coping with fainting Russian princesses.

Built for the budding war between the states, the four vessels of the Ossipee-class were wooden-hulled steam-powered warships of some 1,200 tons, running some 207 feet long overall. With a ~140-man crew, they were designed to carry a 100-pounder Parrott pivot gun, an 11-inch Dahlgren shell gun, a trio of 30-pounder rifles, six 32-pounders, and a couple of 12-pounders, giving them the nominal rank of a 13-gun sloop.

Class leader Ossipee was laid down at Portsmouth Naval Yard in Kittery, Maine in June 1861, just as the Army of the Potomac and the Army of the Shenandoah were being formed, while her sisters USS Adirondack, USS Housatonic, and USS Juniata, were subsequently laid down the Navy Yards in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia, respectively and near-simultaneously.

A good sketch profile of the class in their Civil War layout. USS Housatonic, Wash drawing by R.G. Skerrett, 1902. NH 53573

The class was named for geographical features i.e., mountains and rivers, with Ossipee being the first (and thus far only) Navy warship to carry the name of the Ossipee River that runs through New Hampshire and part of Maine.

Ossipee Falls, Ossipee, N.H. LC-DIG-stereo-1s13770

Commissioned on 6 November 1862, Ossipee spent a few months with the North Atlantic Squadron before shipping south on 18 May 1863 to join Farragut’s West Gulf Blockading Squadron off Mobile, Alabama. While operating in the Northern Gulf, she pulled off a hattrick of captures, hauling over the schooner Helena on 30 June and the blockade runners James Battle and William Bagley two weeks later, with the latter two packed with cotton and headed abroad.

Damn the Torpedos!

On the early morning of 5 August 1864, Ossipee was part of the 14-vessel task force assigned to sweep Mobile Bay, pushing past Battery Powell and Forts Gaines and Morgan at the mouth of the Bay, despite the threat of underwater torpedoes (mines).

Plan of the battle of August 5, 1864. [Mobile Bay] From Harper’s Weekly, v. 8, Sept. 24, 1864. p. 613, via the LOC CN 99447253. Ossipee is marked No. 11 on the plan, taking the Bay mouth aside from the gunboat USS Itasca.

About those Torpedos
The Confederates sowed dozens of fixed mines of several types in defense of Mobile Bay, with at least 67 of the “infernal devices” across the mouth of the Bay alone. (See: Gabriel Rains and the Confederate Torpedo Bureau: Waters, W. Davis, Brown, Joseph, for more details than below). 

An example of the Confederate Type 7 Frame-fixed torpedo (mine). Some 28.5-inches long and 12.2-inches across, they weighed 440-pounds of which just 27 of that was black powder explosive charge. Using a Type G1A adjustable triple Rains-pattern primer style torpedo fuze, these cast iron mines were set into a wedge-shaped frame and typically laid in sets of three with the thought that, if the first was missed, a passing ship would possibly hit the second or third or, if spotting the last in the chain, attempt to back off and run over the first. The rebels used what Brig. Gen Gabriel J. Rains, head of the Confederate Torpedo Bureau, described as a “Torpedo Mortar Battery” at Mobile, some 60 feet long and 35 feet wide, constructed of these frame-type mine arrays. Towed into place once constructed, it was angled from the bottom of the sea bed with the fuzed shells facing just under the surface of the water at low tide.

An example of a Confederate Fretwell-Singer-type torpedo, common to Mobile Bay, at the Fort Morgan Museum.

The Confederate Rains “keg type” mines were made from everything from Demi jugs, beer barrels, and even 1,500-gallon boilers in at least one case, with conical ends fitted. Waterproofed with pitch and tar, they were anchored in place and used with chemical/pressure style fuzes or could be command-detonated via an electrical circuit ashore.

Heeling Tennessee

Besides the mines, Farragut had to face off and do combat with the fearsome albeit semi-complete Confederate ironclad ram CSS Tennessee. During the engagement, Ossipee suffered 1 killed (SN Owen Manes) and 7 wounded, mostly with splinter wounds, against the fleet’s total losses of 135 dead (including 94 who went down with the Canonicus-class monitor USS Tecumseh, one of 43 American vessels sunk by rebel mines in the conflict) and 88 sent to the surgeon.

At the end of the morning, Farragut’s fleet had lost Tecumseh to causes still not fully known but captured the gunboat CSS Selma with 90 officers and men as well as the battered CSS Tennessee, with 190 officers and men aboard to include Confederate ADM. Franklin Buchanan. Tennessee’s skipper, CDR James D. Johnson, was a prisoner on Ossipee by dusk on the 5th. Just out of Farragut’s reach, the sinking gunboat CSS Gaines lay grounded and abandoned.

Ossipee went down in history as being the last Union ship to get a bite at Tennessee, moving in to ram the rebel ironclad in the final moments before Johnson poked up a white flag from her wheelhouse. Unfortunately, the momentum of the sloop continued under Newton’s first law of motion and collided with the surrendered beast.

Battle of Mobile Bay, 5 August 1864. Line engraving after an artwork by J.O. Davidson, published in “Battles and Leaders of the Civil War”, Volume 4, page 378. Entitled “Surrender of the Tennessee, Battle of Mobile Bay”, it depicts CSS Tennessee in the center foreground, surrounded by the Union warships (from left to right): USS Lackawanna, USS Winnebago, USS Ossipee, USS Brooklyn, USS Itasca, USS Richmond, USS Hartford, and USS Chickasaw. Fort Morgan is shown at the right distance. NH 1276

“Capture of the Confederate ram Tennessee” Artwork by J.O. Davidson, depicting the surrender of CSS Tennessee after the Battle of Mobile Bay, 5 August 1864. U.S. Navy ships depicted include monitor USS Winnebago and sloop USS Monongahela, in the left background; sloop USS Ossipee “in collision with Tennessee”, in the center; monitor USS Chickasaw “lying across the stern of Tennessee”, in right foreground; gunboat USS Itasca, in the right distance; and flagship USS Hartford further to the right. NH 42394

Once Mobile had been neutralized as a rebel port, Ossipee continued her service in the Gulf enforcing the blockade off Texas and was in Union-held New Orleans in April 1865 when the side-wheel steam ram CSS Webb, darted out of the Red River and made a break for the sea via the Mississippi and gave pursuit along with other vessels with the nimble Webb ending her run burned out and abandoned by her crew.

The Webb Running the Blockade, by William Lindsey Challoner, Louisiana State Museum

To the Frozen North

Laid up briefly after the war, Ossipee was one of the luckier of her class. Sister Adirondack had been lost on a reef in the Bahamas in August 1862 while looking for blockade runners. Sister Housatonic made naval history (in a bad way) by becoming the first warship sunk by an enemy submarine when CSS H.L. Hunley took her to the bottom with her off Charleston, South Carolina, 17 February 1864. Only Juniata, who had spent most of the Civil War ranging the seas in search of Confederate raiders, remained.

The 11-gun Ossipee-class steam sloop USS Juniata in 1889, Detroit Photo. Via LOC. Her class included the ill-fated USS Housatonic.

Like Juniata, Ossipee would soon see more of the earth than the Gulf of Mexico and Eastern Seaboard.

Recommissioned 27 October 1866, she was sent to the Pacific to show the flag from Central America to Alaska, then a Tsarist territory.

Following the “folly” of U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward’s treaty with Russia for the purchase of what would eventually become the 49th state for $7.2 million in gold, Ossipee was dispatched from San Francisco in September 1867 to affect the transfer. Accompanied by the third-rate gunboat USS Resaca (9 guns), who had been in Alaskan waters since August, the two vessels were on hand of the transfer on Castle Hill at Sitka (then population: 1,500) on October 18, 1867. There, Prince Dmitry Petrovich Maksutov, commissioner of the Tsar and Russian Governor of the territory, formally transferred all of Alaska to Brig. Gen. Lovell H. Rousseau, commissioner for the United States.

Ossipee’s skipper, Capt. George F. Emmons, would chronicle the transfer in his journal which is now in the Alaska State Archives as is Maksutov’s calling card given to the good captain.

Some 200 American troops, in Yankee blue, stood at attention across from a smaller number of Russian soldiers on opposite sides of the flagpole with the Russian flag dropped, and the American raised to a slow 21-gun cannon salute from Ossipee and the Russian coastal battery. Princess Maria Maksutova was famously supposed to have fainted during the transfer, as the Russian flag became stuck during the ceremony and had to be removed rather unceremoniously, although Emmons’s account dispels the fainting trope.

Old Glory Rises Over Alaska by Austin Briggs, showing Prince Maksutova and his parasol-equipped wife under the flagpole near the Tsar’s riflemen. Maksutova, who was a trained naval officer, fought during the Battle of Sinop and the siege of Petropavlovsk in the Crimean War, remained in Sitka for a year to help close things out. He died an admiral in his St. Petersburg home in 1889.


USS Ossipee in her 1873-78 configuration, with her 11-inch pivot gun mounted between the main & mizzen masts. NH 45369

Following the Sitka transfer, Ossipee would spend several years in the North Atlantic squadron. It was during this period that one of her crew, SN James Benson, would earn a rare peacetime Medal of Honor with his citation reading “Onboard the USS Ossipee, 20 June 1872. Risking his life, Benson leaped into the sea while the ship was going at a speed of 4 knots and endeavored to save John K. Smith, landsman, of the same vessel, from drowning.”

Ossipee would pick up the two-year-long Selfridge Expedition to the Isthmus of Darien (Panama) which we have covered before.

Darien Selfridge Survey. The First Reconnoitering Expedition, upon its return from the Isthmus of Darien Survey, No. 1 Commander Selfridge. No. 2. Captain Houston, USMC. No. 3. Lieutenant Goodrell, No. 4. Lieutenant Commander Schulze, No. 5 P.A. Surgeon Simonds, No. 6 P.A. Paymaster Loomis, No. 7 Lieutenant Jasper, No. 8 Mr. Sullivan Asst C.S., No. 9 Lieutenant Allen, USMC: NH 123343

Ossipee was involved in the 1873 Virginius affair with Spain after the fact, towing the notorious vessel back after the Spanish released it while her filibustering/insurgent crew would remain in custody in Havanna.

USS Ossipee in her configuration of 1884-89, with her 8-inch rifled pivot gun, mounted forward of the stack. NH 45054

USS Ossipee photographed in her 1884-89 configuration. NH 45370

Following more time in ordinary, Ossipee would once again ship off for the Pacific, remaining on Asiatic station from April 1884 to February 1887 when she arrived back in New York.

On her return, she was visited by E.H. Hart, a New York-based photographer who catered to postcard companies, and he captured her crew and decks in time. Her log held at the time that she was a 3rd rate sloop of 8 guns.

USS Ossipee Berth Deck, Cooks, in 1887. Photographed by E.H. Hart, 112 E. 24th St., New York. Note cooking gear, sausages in the roasting rack at left, tins of beef (one from New Zealand), bread, man peeling potatoes, a black sailor with bowl, coffee cups, and bearded Marine. NH 2860

USS Ossipee, Ship’s officers pose by her poop deck ladder, at the time of her arrival at New York from Asiatic service, February 1887. Note Gatling machine gun at left. CDR John F. McGlensey is in the center, in a forked beard. NH 42938

USS Ossipee, Inspection of the crew, at the time of her return from Asiatic service, February 1887. CDR John F. McGlensey, is in the right-center, beside the small boy. Note marines at left, and pumps in the lower center. NH 42939

USS Ossipee, Ship’s firemen posed by the boiler room hatch, with mascot puppy, 1887. Note breeches of 9-inch Dahlgren guns at left. NH 42940

USS Ossipee, Ship’s apprentices posed beside the engine room hatch, 1887. Note fancy bulwark paint and molding work; belaying pins holding running rigging; Gatling gun shot rack for 9-inch guns and carriage for a 3-inch landing force gun. Also ramrods and other heavy ordnance gear on bulwarks. NH 42941

USS Ossipee, Crew at quarters for inspection, February 1887, upon her arrival at New York from the Asiatic station. Marines are at the left. NH 42942

USS Ossipee, Men of the starboard watch, posed by the engine room hatch, looking forward, 1887. Note mascot puppy; engine order plaque on hatch coaming; a man with a telescope on the bridge; wire rope ladder to the shrouds; 9-inch round shot in the rack. NH 42943

USS Ossipee, Men of the port watch, posed by the engine room hatch, looking forward, in 1887. Note bugler at left, coal scuttle on deck, and cowl ventilator. Also, note landing force 3-inch gun carriage on deck. NH 42944

USS Ossipee “Equipping for distant service,” hoisting out a boat and landing force gun. This view was taken at New York Navy Yard upon her return from the Asiatic station in February 1887 and may show her being un-equipped for home service. NH 42945

USS Ossipee, “Abandoned ship,” showing her cluttered decks after her return to the New York Navy Yard from the Asiatic station in February 1887. Photo looking forward from her poop deck. Note: 9-inch Dahlgren guns, pumps, hatches, and tarpaulins over hammock rails. NH 42946

USS Ossipee ship’s officers, circa 1887-1888. Her Commanding Officer, CDR William Bainbridge Hoff, is in front left-center, with coat open. Note 9-inch Dahlgren gun at right. NH 42947

USS Ossipee crew At Quarters, circa 1887-88. Note black sailor in the right-center; gun crews by their weapons at right, Marines with Trap-door Springfield rifles, drummers, dog on deck, and hammocks stowed in hammock rails over the bulwarks. NH 42949

USS Ossipee general Muster on board, circa 1887-88. The ship’s Commanding Officer, CDR William Bainbridge Hoff, is in the center, leaning on the grating rack. Note Marine sentry at the gangway, hammock stowage, and large percentage of black sailors among the crew at left. NH 42950

USS Ossipee practice with a spar torpedo, rigged abeam, February 1887. NH 42952

USS Ossipee ship’s Marine guard in formation circa the 1880s. NH 58911

With the old wooden-hulled ship increasingly anachronistic in the new steel Navy, Ossipee was decommissioned at Norfolk on 12 November 1889 and sold there on 25 March 1891 to Herbert H. Ives.


Ossipee’s only sister to make it out of the Civil War, USS Juniata, would famously circumnavigate the globe in 1882-85 under the command of young CDR George Dewey, but her fate was coupled to Ossipee in the end, being sold off to Mr. Ives on the same day in 1891, who no doubt got a deal.

Ossipee is preserved in maritime art

W.M.C. Philbrick (American, 19th Century) Profile View of the U.S.S. Ossipee

Likewise, her muster rolls and logs are extensively preserved and digitized online in the National Archives as are numerous items in Alaska archives.

Finally, every October 18th is regularly celebrated in “The Last Frontier,” as Alaska Day, complete with a reenactment ceremony and parade in Sitka.

Displacement 1,240 t.
Length 207′
Beam 38′
Draft 16′
Depth of Hold 16′ 10″
Speed 10kts
Complement 141
one 100-pdr Parrott rifle
one 11″ Dahlgren smoothbore
three 30-pdr Dahlgren rifles
six 32-pdr
one heavy 12-pdr smoothbore
one 12-pdr rifle
Propulsion Sails/Steam

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USS Mobile Gras

While The Big Easy gets all the attention when it comes to Mardi Gras, it should be pointed out that Mobile, Alabama, home to the Bienville-founded French colony around Fort Conde/Fort Louis going back to the 1700s, has vigorously celebrated the tradition for centuries. Rebooted with a new flavor in 1868 during Reconstruction by local legend Joe Cain, Mobile has its own style when it comes to its parades. They even drop a Moon Pie on New Year’s Eve. 

With this year’s festivals canceled due to COVID, all the floats ran downtown along Royal and Water Street last Friday in honor of the commissioning of the fifth USS Mobile (LCS-26) over the weekend. The event, hosted at the State Port on Saturday, saw Gov. “Mawmaw Kay” Ivy and Coach (AKA U.S. Senator) Tommy Tuberville stop by to welcome the ship to the Navy.

The first USS Mobile was the captured Confederate blockade runner Tennessee, caught in New Orleans by Farragut in 1862 and recycled to serve in his West Gulf Blockading Squadron as a sidewheel gunboat.

The second USS Mobile was, again, a former enemy vessel, the former HAPAG liner SS Cleveland awarded to the U.S. as Great War reparations and used a troopship to bring Doughboys back from France, eventually returning to HAPAG service in 1926.

The third and most famous USS Mobile was the Cleveland-class light cruiser (CL-63), “Mow ’em down Mobile!” who earned 11 battle stars in the Pacific in WWII only to be exiled to mothballs for 12 years of purgatory in red lead before heading to the scrappers.

USS Mobile (CL-63) in San Francisco Bay, California, circa late 1945. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 77364

The fourth USS Mobile was a Charleston-class amphibious cargo ship (LKA-115), which spent lots of time off Vietnam in her 25-year Cold War career. Decommissioned in 1994, she was struck from the Navy List in 2015 and is still languishing at Philadelphia NISMF, pending disposal.

An Independence-class littoral combat ship, the current USS Mobile was built at Austal only a few hundred yards from where she was commissioned and will, hopefully, go on to help prove the class’s ultimate worth and not be decommissioned in a decade. USS Mobile will homeport at Naval Base San Diego, California, from where she may soon sail into tense West Pac waters.

The ceremony, below:

Happy 207th, Herr Freeman, of Mobile Bay (in)Fame(y)

While poking around Pascagoula’s Greenwood Cemetery (I have tons of childhood/teenage stories about this place logged in my time as a “Goula Boy,” but I digress) last week, I paid my respects at the grave of longtime area resident, Martin Freeman, MOH.

Photo: Chris Eger

Born 18 May 1814 in the Prussian port city of Stettin (Szczecin, Poland, today), he took to the sea early in life, and by his late teens, he was in the states where he married a fellow German immigrant and started a family.

Living on the Gulf Coast, he was a well-known Mobile and Pascagoula area (Grant’s Pass/Horn Pass) bar pilot who had the misfortune of being captured in the late summer of 1862 while fishing off Mobile Bay by the Union’s West Gulf Blockading Squadron, under the command of RADM David Farragut (another man with longstanding ties to Pascagoula) and, despite Freeman’s “protests of not being interested in the war and only wanting to fish, was engaged by the fleet as a civilian pilot.”

Fast forward to the Battle of Mobile Bay in August 1864, and Freeman was aloft in the rigging of Farragut’s flagship, the steam sloop-of-war USS Hartford, so he could better see the changing bars and currents at the mouth of the sometimes treacherous (and mine-strewn) bay then issue course corrections as needed.

Farragut’s report of the battle mentions Freeman to the Navy in glowing terms:

The last of my staff, and to whom I would call the notice of the Department, is not the least in importance. I mean Pilot Martin Freeman. He has been my great reliance in all difficulties in his line of duty. During the action he was in the maintop [elevated platform on main or middle mast], piloting the ships into the bay. He was cool and brave throughout, never losing his self-possession. This man was captured early in the war in a fine fishing smack which he owned, and though he protested that he had no interest in the war and only asked for the privilege of fishing for the fleet, yet his services were too valuable to the captors as a pilot not to be secured. He was appointed a first-class pilot and has served us with zeal and fidelity, and has lost his vessel, which went to pieces on Ship Island. I commend him to the Department.

His service was so influential to the battle that he was a civilian recipient (later serving as an Acting Volunteer Lieutenant, a rank he was only issued in October 1864) of the MOH, a rarity. Only eight other civilians– to include a fellow pilot in Navy Civil War service, John Ferrell– hold that honor.

Freeman’s citation, issued 31 December 1864:

The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Mr. Martin Freeman, a United States Civilian, for extraordinary heroism in action as Pilot of the flagship, U.S.S. HARTFORD, during action against Fort Morgan, rebel gunboats and the ram Tennessee, in Mobile Bay, Alabama, 5 August 1864. With his ship under terrific enemy shellfire, Civilian Pilot Martin Freeman calmly remained at his station in the maintop and skillfully piloted the ships into the bay. He rendered gallant service throughout the prolonged battle in which the rebel gunboats were captured or driven off, the prize ram Tennessee forced to surrender, and the fort successfully attacked.

The Pilot for the USS HARTFORD at the Battle of Mobile Bay, Aug 5, 1864. Photo by Robira, New OrleansDescription: Courtesy of I.B. Millner, Morgantown, NC. Catalog #: NH 49431

His name would be listed as the only officer besides the master aboard the 4th rate gunboat USS Sam Houston in 1865.

Freeman continued his service after the war, even successfully fending off a court marshal lodged against him in 1866 while at the time the seniormost officer aboard the gunboat USS Cowslip (which had raided Biloxi Bay during the war).

Eventually, Freeman became the USLHS lighthouse keeper on Horn Island, off Pascagoula, which is now part of Gulf Islands National Seashore, from 1874 to 1894. His wife Anna and son, Martin, Jr., were listed interchangeably as assistant keepers. The light changed from an old old screw-pile lighthouse offshore to one located on a hill actually atop the island in 1887.

This image from 1892 almost certainly shows Freeman and his wife, Anna, as well as one of his children. NARA 26-LG-36-70

A closer look. Note the rarely-seen USLHS uniform and cap. 

It was while at Horn Island, tending his light and watching the Gulf, that Freeman penned a private letter about the famous battle he was a part of to a fellow veteran that eventually made it into the New York Times and caused some heartburn as Freeman made the record clear that he was in the rigging with the good Admiral that day, higher aloft than Farragut. For such a sin as to point out a historical fact, he was chastised in responding letters published by the Times from those who felt he was trying to besmirch the Admiral’s legacy.

It wasn’t just Farragut up there…

In the end, Freeman’s old injuries sustained from an explosion of a mine at Fort Morgan in September 1864 forced him to move his family ashore from Horn Island to Pascagoula in early 1894, where he died on 11 September 1894 at the residence of his son-in-law, Alf Olsson. His subsequent funeral was reportedly well-attended. 

His family still lives in the area and his grave is well-maintained, with the vintage gravesite covered by a concrete slab, likely in the 1960s as part of state regulation, and a new VA marker installed. (Photo: Chris Eger)

With Mississippi only a decade or so off from Reconstruction, his obituary in the Pascagoula Chronicle-Star only mentioned his lighthouse service, omitting his wartime record of accomplishments, but does speak well of him.

He was kind and hospital to all who visited the light-house and his jovial disposition won for him a host of friends. He was charitable, and brought up his children in the fear of the Lord.

Incidentally, the beautiful Horn Island light was swept into the Gulf in 1906, taking its keeper at the time, Charles Johnsson, along with his wife and teenage daughter with it.

As for Farragut, an admiral who has had five different warships named in his honor, Pascagoula remembers him fondly as well, and his family also lives in the area.

Farragut has long had a banner across from the Jackson County Courthouse.

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