Category Archives: civil war

Masonry fort problems

This Hurricane Season has been surely one for the record books, with 26 storms logged– one of which, Delta (they have run out of names and are now using the Greek alphabet), is currently tracking for my location by the end of the week. It will be the fifth that has had my neighborhood in its sights this year.

Which brings us to an update on the old Third Period coastal forts in the Northern Gulf. Designed in the antebellum era just before the Civil War, in general, they sit on cypress rafts for foundations in the sand and climb above the dunes some 20-30 feet on layer after layer of locally-produced red brick, with walls up to five-feet thick at some points

Although most proved ultimately less than formidable during the War Between the States and were often given a second chance on life in the 1890s after being retrofitted with concrete batteries holding steel breechloaders, the Army finally abandoned them by the 1940s, at which point they were as obsolete as lines of pikemen.

Nonetheless, these old brick forts, none of which are newer than 1866, endure against everything mother nature can throw at them. We have already covered the damage from Hurricane Sally to Fort Gaines on Mobile Bay’s Dauphin Island.

A similar update has been posted last week by its larger companion fortification across the Bay, Alabama Point’s Fort Morgan.

“Due to the damages and flooding sustained in hurricane Sally, Fort Morgan State Historic Site is closed to all visitors until further notice,” says the Fort.
“Hurricane Sally was the fourth tropical system to hit Ship Island this year. Tropical Storm Cristobal damaged the ferry pier in June and Laura and Marco buried the cross-island boardwalk in several feet of sand in August. Following damage assessments, it is clear the island’s facilities will not be able to reopen this season,” says the Gulf Islands National Seashore of Fort Massachusetts, on Ship Island off of Gulfport, MS.
“After the storm, there were several inches of standing water in Fort Pickens. The water has since receded, and National Park Service archeologists are assessing the fort for damage,” says the GINS of Fort Pickens in Pensacola’s Santa Rosa Island.

Meanwhile, the Friends of Fort Pike, in coastal Lousiana near the Rigolets pass off Lake Borgne, have recently posted a drone overflight. After Hurricane Isaac in 2012, the fort was closed indefinitely pending repairs and debris cleanup. The fort was re-opened to visitors following Isaac but closed again in February 2015 due to state budget cuts. It has since been battered by several storms this year.

Warship Wednesday, July 1, 2020: The Hunchback of Nord Virginia

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 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, July 1, 2020: The Hunchback of Nord Virginia

Courtesy of the Library of Congress. LC-DIG-PPMSCA-33402

Here we see the steam ferry-turned-gunboat USS Hunchback somewhere on the James River, likely in late 1864. Note leisurely sitting officers on the lower deck with the sailors carefully posing assorted nautical actions above, complete with spyglasses. The only U.S. Navy warship to bear the name (so far), she was extensively chronicled by Matthew Brady (or someone of his group) in period photographs during the Civil War.

A wooden-hulled sidewheeler steamer, Hunchback was constructed in New York in 1852 for use by the New York and Staten Island Ferry Company. Some 179-feet overall, she could make 12 knots, making her a reliable– and fast– way to move people and light cargo around the boroughs of the bustling metropolis.

Side-wheel ferry Hunchback in commercial service, in 1859. Note horses and carts on her stern and passengers enjoying the upper deck chairs. Image from Maritime New York in Nineteenth-Century Photographs, P.11, Pub. by E. & H. T. Anthony-Johnson, Dover Publications Inc., New York, via Navsource.

Purchased by the Navy 16 December 1861, she sailed to Hampton Roads soon afterward and was commissioned there two weeks later, retaining her peacetime name. She joined such interesting vessels on the Naval List as USS Midnight, and USS Switzerland, likewise taken up from trade with their names intact, a necessary evil as some 418 existing ships were purchased for naval use by the Union fleet during the war in addition to the more than 200 new vessels ordered from various yards.

Armed with a trio of soda-bottle-shaped IX-inch Dahlgren smoothbore shell guns (two forward, one stern) and a fearsome 100-pound/6.4-inch West Point-made naval Parrott (capable of a 7,800-yard range) over her bow, she was assigned to the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron as a fourth-rate gunboat and by 5 February was in combat– only six weeks after her purchase– using her newly-mounted cannon to bombard Fort Barrow in support of Gen. Burnside’s invasion of Roanoke Island. She reportedly had to move in close to the Confederate works and received extensive punishment from the rebels in exchange.

No rest for the weary, her shakedown cruise continued with supporting landings up the Chowan River throughout the next month, coming to a head with a sortie up the Neuse River to New Bern where she and other gunboats of the Squadron engaged batteries and landed troops, capturing the key depot.

“The Battle at Newbern– Repulse of the Rebels, March 14, 1862.” Line engraving, published in Harper’s Weekly, 11 April 1863, depicting the action at Fort Anderson, Neuse River, North Carolina. U.S. Navy gunboats Hunchback, Hetzel, Ceres, and Shawsheen are firing from the river at Confederate forces, as Union artillery and infantry move into position on the near shore. NH 95121

Hunchback continued to see hot service in the sounds of North Carolina through September 1863, especially up the Chowan. During her 20 months in Tar Heel waters, she broke up the Confederate siege of Washington (N.C.) on the Pamlico River, helped defend Fort Anderson, captured at least four small ships, and engage rebels in an extended action below Franklin, Virginia.

It was against Franklin that one of her crew, Ohio-born bluejacket Thomas C. Barton, earned the Medal of Honor. His citation read,

“When an ignited shell, with cartridge attached, fell out of the howitzer upon the deck, S/man Barton promptly seized a pail of water and threw it upon the missile, thereby preventing it from exploding.”

Barton would go on to rise to Acting Master Mate and perish aboard the old 74-gun ship of the line USS North Carolina in 1864, likely from illness. It should be remembered that most of those who died in the Civil War did so from disease and sickness, rather than bullet and shrapnel.

Withdrawn from the line in late 1863, Hunchback would make for Baltimore where her war damage was repaired, her hull corrected, and her steam plant overhauled.

Thus reconditioned, the armed ferry returned to the fleet in May 1864, towing the new Canonicus-class monitor USS Saugus up Virginia’s James River where the armored beast, along with her sisters Canonicus and Tecumseh, could support operations against Richmond and defend against Confederate ironclads.

The 500-ton Hunchback would continue her time in the James River, based at Deep Bottom, for the next 10 months and was used as a fire engine of sorts, splitting her time running supplies and dispatches up the river while pitching in to provide brown water naval gunfire support along the muddy banks whenever the Confederates obliged to come within range. Her most notable action on the James was on 30 June when accompanied by Saugus, she clashed with Confederate batteries at Four Mills Creek.

It was during this Virginia period, sometime between May 1864 and March 1865, that she hosted a photographer, often chalked up as Matthew Brady– or at least someone associated with him, perhaps Egbert Guy Fowx. Notably, and something that is backed up by muster rolls that state many of her crew were enlisted “on the James River,” her complement included several apparent recently freed slaves.

Ship’s officers and crew relaxing on deck, in the James River, Virginia, 1864-65. Formerly attributed to Mathew B. Brady. One man is playing the banjo in the foreground, another is holding a small white dog, while others are reading newspapers. Men seated in the center appear to be peeling potatoes. Many crewmen are wearing their flat hats in the style of berets and most have no shoes, a standard practice in naval service until the 20th Century. About a fifth of this ship’s crew appears to be African Americans. Also, note the two IX-inch Dahlgrens to the port and starboard. The original photograph has Brady negative number B-2011. Catalog #: NH 59430

Some of the ship’s officers and crewmen pose on deck for the novelty of a photograph, while she was serving on the James River, Virginia, in 1864-65. Note swords, folding chairs, and details of the officer and enlisted uniforms to include informal straw hats at a jaunty angle. The original photograph has Brady negative number B-470. NH 51955

Deck of gunboat Hunchback on James River attributed to Matthew Brady. Note the detail of the ensign’s jacket and Model 1852 Officer’s Sword as well as the beautiful bottle-shaped IX-inch Dahlgren on a wooden Marsilly carriage with its crew tools and three shells on deck. The smoothbore beast weighed around 4.5-tons and used a 13-pound black powder charge to fire a 73-pound shell or 90-pound solid shot to 3,450 yards. LOC ARC Identifier: 526212

Boilermakers at work on Hunchback. Note the portable furnace and anvil. Formerly attributed to Mathew B. Brady, via The Met, accession no. 33.65.323

Officers at work on the Hunchback. These include a pair of Acting Ensigns aboard ship under a canopy. Note the sponge and ramrod for a naval gun overhead as well as a gun rack filled with muskets just inside the P-way. The elevation screw of what looks to be the ship’s single 6.4-inch Parrot is to the far left. Formerly attributed to Mathew B. Brady, via The Met, accession no. 33.65.321

Brady/Fowx apparently found the ship’s landing guns fascinating.

Gunners loading a 12-pounder Dahlgren smooth-bore howitzer, which is mounted on a field carriage. Note three of the gun crew appear to be teenage (or younger) “powder monkeys.” Also, observe the roping around the wheels to provide traction on the ship’s wooden decks. Photographed in the James River, Virginia, 1864-65. The original photograph has Brady negative number B-6193. NH 59431

Two bosuns–wearing their photo best to include crisp cracker jacks and brogans– standing by a Dahlgren 12-pounder rifled howitzer mounted on an iron field carriage. Note Hunchback’s walking beam steam engine pivot mechanism overhead. The original photograph has Brady negative number B-635. NH 59434

Two of the ship’s officers standing by a Dahlgren 12-pounder rifled howitzer mounted on an iron field carriage. Note M1852 officer’s swords and very informal uniforms. The original photograph has Brady negative number B-639. NH 59432

Loading drill on a Dahlgren 12-pounder rifled howitzer mounted on an iron field carriage. Note the combination sponge/ramrod in use and monkey at right with powder can. The original photograph has Brady negative number B-620. NH 59433

Two of the ship’s officers seated in folding chairs on the upper deck. Note the excellent view of Hunchback’s walking beam mechanism at right and 12-pounder Dahlgren smooth-bore howitzer in the background. The original photograph has Brady negative number B-613. Name “Rand” appears, erased on the back of the image. NH 59435

Just before the end of the war on 17 March 1865, Hunchback was sent back to her old stomping grounds in the coastal sounds of North Carolina– loaded with solid shot and three spar torpedoes (mines) in case she ran into a rebel ironclad— resulting in once again being sent up the Chowan River to clear the way for Sherman, who was marching North.

RADM David Porter, in writing to Commodore William H. Macomb, was blunt about the flotilla’s ability to halt any expected sortie by the Confederate ram CSS Neuse, sistership of the infamous CSS Albemarle— which was in fact not a threat at the time.

By 1 April, Hunchback made contact up the Chowan with advanced scouts of the 1st New York Mounted Rifles, part of the Army of the James pushing South, near Stumpy Reach (Point?), where her war effectively ended.

On 1 June, Hunchback was “sent north” on orders from Porter, along with at least 20 other converted steamers, no longer needed for any sort of naval service, and swiftly disarmed and decommissioned at New York 12 June 1865.

She was sold 12 July 1865 to the New York & Brooklyn Ferry Co., was renamed General Grant in 1866, and remained in service until 1880. While some records have her on the Brooklyn-to-New York ferry run for the next 15 years, the City of Boston has records of her purchase, for $23,000 in December 1865, to the East Boston Ferry Company.

Her final fate is unknown, but as she was a wooden-hulled vessel, it is not likely she endured much beyond the 1880s.

The muster rolls of the Hunchback, as well as extensive disapproved pension applications for her former crew members, are in the National Archives.


Painting/Computer-generated imagery by Orin 2005, via Navsource

Displacement: 517 tons
Length: 179 ft.
Beam: 29 ft.
Depth of Hold: 10 ft.
Propulsion: One 40-inch bore, 8-foot stroke vertical walking beam steam engine; twin sidewheels
Speed 12 knots
Crew: Listed as “99” although some muster rolls have her with as many as 125 aboard
Armament: Hunchback was listed in naval returns as having 7 guns, however, DANFS just lists:
3 x 9-inch guns
1 x 100-pounder 6.4-inch Naval Parrott rifle
She also carried at least two if not three 12-pounder landing guns, as extensively shown in photos, which could explain the apparent discrepancy.
In 1865 she also apparently carried a spar torpedo

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It’s dangerous to go alone! Take this

These early Civil War cabinet photos of both a Union volunteer, left, and a Confederate one, right, show both with .36-caliber Colt Model of 1851 “Navy” revolvers, each one almost assuredly purchased on the commercial market rather than supplied by their respective commands. (Library of Congress)

As detailed by Mr. Francis A. Lord in the 1960s vintage Civil War Collector’s Encyclopedia, wheel guns were a-plenty with the volunteers headed to the sound of the drums, but they weren’t really useful.

Just prior to the war several types of revolvers were developed and patented. Probably the best known of these types in use was the Colt revolver, which monopolized the field for some time but others soon came into demand, such as Remington, Smith and Wesson, and Whitney. Thousands of revolvers were sold monthly, and the new recruit who did not possess a revolver either by his own purchase, or as a present from a solicitous relative, admiring friends, or enthusiastic business consultant was something of a curiosity.

Along with the pistol went a flask and bullet mould. It was not realized by the soldier or donors that by the time the government had provided him with necessary arms, ammunition, and equipment he would then be loaded with about all he could bear, without adding a personal armory and magazine. Veteran troops did not unduly burden themselves by adding revolvers to their load.

The troops of 1861 and 1862 took hundreds of revolvers only to lose them, throw them away, or give them away. Since many regiments were forbidden by their colonels to wear revolvers, a large number of revolvers were sent back home.

This phenomenon surely accounts for why so many near-pristine non-contract Civil War-era revolvers survive in collections today, handed down through the generations as “the gun great-great-granddaddy carried in the war.”

Because he likely sent that bad boy back home before marching off to campaign.

Looking for Logs in all the right places

A team of five graduate student interns working on a project titled “Seas of Knowledge: Digitization and Retrospective Analysis of the Historical Logbooks of the United States Navy” have been hard at work and have recently digitized 653 logbooks from 30 Navy vessels, all of which are available in the National Archives Catalog.

Page from the Logbook of the USS Hartford, 24 April 1862. Yes, Farragut’s Hartford! (NAID 167171004)

This project will continue through 2021 and will focus on digitizing Navy logbooks for the period 1861-1879.

The project is a collaboration between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the University of Washington, NARA, and the National Archives Foundation, and is supported by a Digitizing Hidden Collections grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (the grant program was made possible by funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation).

Admiral Semmes statue to be shuffled to local museum

Facing a $25K-a-day fine from the Alabama Attorney General’s Office, the City of Mobile has decided to move the recently toppled statue of the former U.S. Navy CDR/C.S. Navy ADM/C.S. Army B. Gen., Raphael Semmes, to the city’s museum, where it belongs.

Notably, the museum also holds numerous relics of the commerce raider CSS Alabama, which Semmes helmed to 66 naval victories and one crushing defeat, as well as artifacts from the officer’s own life, including an ornate  French-made Houllier-Blanchard revolver I chronicled in the past.

You don’t see these every day. 

Update: It is still gonna cost the city some big bucks to be woke.

The Civil War is officially over, kinda

As widely noted by everyone from to the NYT, WSJ, and WaPo, Irene Triplett, aged 90, the last person to collect benefits for military service performed in the Civil War, recently passed away. Ms. Triplett, the daughter of a veteran of the conflict, received a $73.13 monthly check from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

As the last organized Confederate unit still in the field, Brig-Gen. Chief Stand Watie’s First Indian Brigade, laid down their arms at Doaksville, Oklahoma on June 23, 1865, this late chapter is closed 154 years, 11 months, and 8 days later.

Ms. Triplett’s pa, Mose Triplett, in true Brother-vs-Brother fashion, was a Tar Heel that fought on both sides as the war went on.

He mustered in first in the (Confederate) 53rd North Carolina Infantry then transferred to the much more well known 26th North Carolina— a unit that many historians suggest lost more men than any other at Gettysburg.

Pvt. Triplett later flipped sides and signed on with the bushwhacking Kirk’s Raiders, the controversial (Union) 3rd North Carolina Mounted Infantry, in late 1864. He died in 1938 at age 92 after marrying Irene’s mother very late in life.

In related news, Virginia’s likewise controversial governor, Ralph Northam, says a towering statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee will be removed as soon as possible from Richmond’s Monument Avenue.

And in Mobile, City officials removed the statue and plaques of Confederate RADM/Brig. Gen. Raphael Semmes from its pedestal, where it has stood near the top of Mobile Bay, for the past 120 years.

Semmes– who by all accounts was an absolute officer and gentleman (although eschewed by some as he was a catholic)– was not a proponent of slavery and, indeed, had married Anne Spencer, an anti-slavery Protestant from Cinncinatti. Before skippering the famed commerce raider CSS Alabama (under cruiser rules), Semmes had been a U.S. Navy officer, having served 34 years which included fighting at Veracruz during the Mexican War, and served as head of the U.S. Lighthouse Service just before the war.

Perhaps the Semmes statue will be re-installed at one of the forts at the mouth of Mobile Bay, Fort Gaines or Fort Morgan, where it can be properly conceptualized, and not lost to history.

USS Reno flag recovered

The Atlanta/Oakland-class light cruiser USS Reno (CL-96), the second and final U.S. Navy ship named for the Biggest Little City in Nevada, was a war baby, constructed entirely during WWII, which is fitting as the state’s motto is “Battle Born.”

USS Reno (CL-96) Outbound in the Golden Gate, while leaving San Francisco Bay, California, 25 January 1944. Photographed by Naval Air Station Moffett Field, Sunnyvale, California. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the U.S. National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-215949

Commissioned three days after Christmas 1943, she earned a trio of battle stars in the Pacific and was laid up in 1946 after less than three years with the fleet. Scrapped in 1962, one of her 5″/38 DP twin turrets is preserved at the U.S. Navy Museum in D.C. while her battle ensign and bell were presented in 1955 to the City of Reno, her namesake, where they were enshrined at City Hall.

Her flag was stolen by rioters/vandals this week but was returned anonymously to the news outlet that reported it had gone south.

Others ships not so lucky

Some museums are not as fortunate, however.

The National Civil War Naval Museum reports that rioters there burned down their boatshed, which contained several artifacts and two vessels from the blockade runner CSS Virginia and the fantail of the ironclad CSS Jackson.

Firefighters responding to a 1:05 a.m. call found the open-air shelter in flames from an “incendiary fire” with “multiple points of origin,” Columbus Fire Marshal Ricky Shores told local media.

Devils in Clean Shakos

Perhaps the most famous and most often-reproduced image of the U.S. Marines in the Civil War is this one, showing a detail of Devil Dogs (before they earned the name) clad in full dress uniforms to include frock coats with large fringed epaulets, crossed buff leather belts, bayoneted rifled muskets and shakos.

Via National Museum of the Marine Corps:

In 1859, the Marine Corps adopted the French-style uniform-cap or shako. The shako remained the standard headgear until replaced by a smaller version in 1875. This enlisted model is adorned with period Marine Corps insignia, an infantry bugle with the silver letter “M.” The red pompom is a reproduction. ⁠

For more on the Corps during the War Between the States, check out the (free) 36-page booklet United States Marines at Harper’s Ferry and in the Civil by War Bernard C. Nalty (PCN 19000410300).

Warship Wednesday, April 22, 2020: Freeboard is Overrated, anyway

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 time 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, April 22, 2020: Freeboard is Overrated, anyway

Naval History and Heritage Command Photo NH 45707, courtesy of Rear Admiral Ammen Farenholt, USN MC

Here we see the armored coast defense vessel USS Monterey (Monitor No. 6) as she opens the brand-new Puget Sound dry dock at Port Orchard, Washington– then the largest dry dock in the U.S. and the third-largest in the world– on this day in April 1896. While you mistake her for a pre-dreadnought battleship above deck, below the waterline she is a more of a “cheesebox on a raft.”

While the U.S. Navy fielded upwards of 60 river, coastal and seagoing monitors in the Civil War era, by the 1870s most these craft, for one reason or another, had been discarded or allowed to decay to a near-condemned state– and rightfully so as late 19th Century naval technology was subject to a version of Moore’s Law.

In 1882, as part of the “Great Repairs” the first New Navy monitor, USS Puritan (BM-1) was launched and at 6,000-tons carried four modern (for the time) 12-inch breechloaders and could make 12.4-knots. Puritan was followed by the four Amphitrite-class monitors, 12-knot vessels of 4,000-tons with four 10″/30 cal guns and up to 11.5-inches of iron armor.

Then came our one-of-a-kind vessel, Monitor No. 6, USS Monterey. At 4,084-tons, the 261-foot-long coastal defense vessel had more modern Harvey nickel steel armor, up to 13-inches of it in her barbettes to be exact, than her predecessors. Slightly slower at 11-knots, she wasn’t built for speed.

USS MONTEREY (BM-6) Builder’s model, photographed in 1893. Courtesy of the San Francisco Maritime Museum, 1972. Copied from the Union Iron Works scrapbook, vol. 2, page 9 NH 75309

With limited deck space, Monterey’s teeth consisted of a pair of 12″/35 caliber Mark 1 breechloading guns protected by 8-inches of steel armor shield– the same mounts that were on the early battleship Texas— which were capable of firing out to 12,000 yards at about one round per minute.

In the end, Monterey was a decently armored ship that could fight in 15 feet of shallow water and deal out 870-pound AP shells at opponents approaching out to sea. You could argue that it was a solid coast defense concept for the era, especially for the money. Hell, cash-strapped non-aligned European powers such as Finland, Sweden, and Norway relied on a similar naval concept into the 1940s.

USS MONTEREY (BM-6), circa 1914. View of the ship’s forward turret, with two 12″ guns, circa 1914. Collection of C.A. Shively, 1978. NH 88539

USS MONTEREY (BM-6) Firing her forward 12-inch guns during target practice off Port Angeles, Washington, during the 1890s. Note shell splash in distance, beyond the target. NH 45701

Bringing up the rear, Monterey mounted a pair of slightly smaller 10″/30 Mark 2 guns as used on the Amphitrites, protected by 7.5-inches of armor, in a turret facing aft. These could fire 510-pound shells out to 20,000 yards, a significant range boost over her forward guns.

USS MONTEREY (BM-6), stern, stereopticon photo published by Strohmeyer & Wyman, 1898 NH 45714

To ward off enemy small boats that worked in close enough to threaten the beast, Monterey carried a half dozen 6-pounders, four 37mm Hotchkiss revolving cannons, and a pair of 1-pounders in open mounts.

In some ways, Monterey was superior to the follow-on quartet of Arkansas-class monitors which were smaller and less heavily armed, while having the same speed.

The biggest handicap of any monitor is the sea itself, after all, the namesake of the type, USS Monitor, was lost at sea while moving from station to station. While underway, Monterey and the ships of her more modern type suffered from notoriously low freeboard in any seas, making for a series of dramatic photos that have endured over a century.

U.S. Navy monitor, USS Monterey (BM 6), starboard view. Published by Detroit Publishing Company, between 1894-1912. Courtesy of the Library of Congress LC-D4-20042

USS MONTEREY (BM-6) in a seaway. NH 45711

USS MONTEREY (BM-6) In a seaway off Santa Barbara, California, on 1 March 1896 while in a passage from Seattle to San Francisco. NH 45708

USS MONTEREY (BM-6) At sea, en route from Seattle to San Francisco in 1896. Note coal stowed on deck. NH 45712

The $1,628,950 contract was signed for Monterey on 14 June 1889 after she was authorized under the Naval Act of 1887 and her first frame was bent at San Francisco’s Union Iron Works on 7 October 1889.

Named for the California city and the 1846 Navy-Marine action that captured it from Mexico during the Mexican War, our monitor was the second U.S. Navy vessel to carry the moniker, the first being a Civil War-period steam tug that provided yeoman service to the Mare Island Navy Yard into 1892

Commissioned 13 February 1893, the new Monterey’s inaugural skipper was Civil War vet Capt. Lewis Kempff (USNA 1861), a man who would go on to become a rear admiral.

A great colorized image of Monterey by Diego Mar, showing her white and buff 1892-98 peacetime scheme.

She had a period of workups and calm, idyllic peacetime duty off the West Coast for the first several years of her career, assigned to the Pacific Squadron. This consisted primarily of slow jaunts from Seattle to San Diego and a short four-month coastline-hugging cruise to Peru and back in 1895 to show the flag

USS Monterey (BM-6) Off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, during the 1890s. Copied from the Journal of Naval Cadet C.R. Miller, USN, page 51. NH 45702

USS MONTEREY (BM-6) Dressed in flags on the 4th of July 1896, at Tacoma, Washington. NH 45704

USS MONTEREY (BM-6) Off Mare Island Navy Yard, California, during the 1890s. Receiving ship USS INDEPENDENCE is in the right background. Also, note how small her stern lettering has to be to fit. Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution NH 45703

When war with Spain erupted, Monterey was the strongest U.S. ship on the West Coast save for the battleship USS Oregon (BB-3), which had been dispatched around Cape Horn on a 14,000-mile mission to join the Fleet in the Caribbean. This prompted a change from her peacetime livery to a dark grey.

“War Paint for the Monitors: Stripped of her brilliant coat of white and disguised under a dull lead color, almost a black, the Monterey is as wicked a looking craft as has ever been in the harbor…” Image and text provided by University of California, Riverside. Photo courtesy of The San Francisco Call. (San Francisco [Calif.]) 1895-1913, 23 April 1898, Image 5, via Archived at Navsource.

As the conflict wore on, Monterey was ordered to sortie 8,000 miles across the Pacific for the Philippines to provide the Asiatic Squadron with big gun support against possible attack by the powerful Spanish battleship Paleyo (9700-tons, 2×12-inch guns, 2×11-inch guns) as Dewey’s forces consisted solely of cruisers and gunboats.

The fear did have some merit, as Spanish RADM Manuel de la Cámara was dispatched from Cadiz with Paleyo on June 16 along with the brand-new armored cruiser Emperador Carlos V, a force of destroyers and auxiliary cruisers, and 4,000 Spanish Army troops headed for the Philippines to make a fight for the colony.

Alicante Spain 1898 fresh Spanish troops prepare for departure

As Camara was sailing through the Med, bound for the Far East, Monterey had already left San Diego on June 11 in company with collier Brutus for Manila.

Monterey, in her “wicked” scheme, departing Mare Island for the War with Spain, June 1898. Note the coal bags strapped around her turret. Photo via Mare Island Museum

Senator Henry Cabot Lodge wrote to his friend Col. Theodore Roosevelt, the recent Asst. SECNAV, that, “We are not going to lug that monitor across the Pacific for the fun of lugging her back again.”

At the time her skipper was LCDR James W. Carlin (USNA 1868), who as a lieutenant in 1889 was XO of the steam sloop USS Vandalia when the vessel was wrecked in the great Samoan hurricane of that year. During the storm, Carlin had to take command after Vandalia’s skipper was swept away. Mr. Carlin surely had an uneasy sense of dejavu as he shepherded his slow-moving monitor through another Pacific storm on the way to Manila Bay.

USS MONTEREY (BM-6) Postcard print of the ship in a typhoon published circa 1907, probably during her crossing of the Pacific in August of 1898 to join Dewey’s fleet. NH 85843

Amazingly, the Monterey and Brutus made Cavite on 13 August and participated in the bloodless effort that same day in which American forces captured the city of Manila in a mock battle with the Spanish. In all, she logged an average of just 125 miles or so a day on her trip across the Pacific!

The other West Coast monitor, the Amphitrite-class USS Monadnock (BM-3), reached Manila Bay three days later on 16 August.

While Monterey and Monadnock were wallowing across the mighty Pacific that summer, Camara had met a brick wall at the Suez Canal where he was refused coaling by the British and returned to Spain, arriving at Cartagena on 23 July without firing a shot in the Spanish-American War.

Spanish battleship Paleyo at Port Said, Egypt, 26 June – 11 July 1898, while serving as flagship of Rear Admiral Manuel de la Camara’s squadron, which had been sent to relieve the Philippines. Copied from Office of Naval Intelligence Album of Foreign Warships. NH 88722

Although Monterey did not actually have a chance to go loud against the Spanish, she did see some action in the PI as events unfolded.

On 18 September 1899, she commenced a week of combat operations in Subic Bay against local insurgents and joined with gunboats Charleston and Concord and supply ship Zafiro, helping to destroy a large gun at the head of the bay on the 25th.

She would remain, along with the Monadnock, in the Far East alternating with service on China station where they seemed particularly suited to gunboat diplomacy along the Yangtze river, her landing forces put to frequent use, and waving the flag from Tokyo to Nanking.

USS MONTEREY at anchor in Nagasaki harbor, Japan, ca. 1899, photo via University of Washington, H. Ambrose Kiehl Photograph Collection

USS MONTEREY (BM-6) “Stack arms” during landing party drill on the ship’s foredeck, about 1898. Single frame photo from a stereo card. Photo published by Strohmeyer and Wyman, New York, 1898. Note Lee rifles; special Lee belts; and long leggings. Courtesy of the Naval Historical Foundation, 1967. NH 73619

USS MONTEREY (BM -6) “Morning Drill” on the quarterdeck. This appears to show the crew during landing force exercises. Stereo Photo, copyright 1898 by Strohmeyer & Wyman, New York. Note Navy Battalion Flag, deck lights, portable hatch cover, and captain. The monitor could land a 60-70 man force, backed up by two Colt M1895 “potato digger” machine guns and a 3-inch landing howitzer. NH 94259 -A

In 1900, the forward-deployed monitors would be used to help justify increasing port facilities in Cavite, as they had to make frequent trips to Hong Kong to avail themselves of British yards there.

From a Bureau of Navigation report:

It is important that this Government should construct or acquire on this station a dock of its own for the largest vessels. Under other circumstances foreign docks might not have been available for the Oregon, or being available, might not have been offered for use. The lack of a dock in the Philippines makes it necessary to keep full crews on board such vessels as the Monadnock and Monterey. These vessels are of little use in the present state of the insurrection but are needed in the Philippines as a reserve for strengthening the fleet in case of threat or attack from another power. Each six months, though, they need docking and must then have a crew and convoy besides to get them from Cavite to Hongkong, whereas with a dock in the Philippines they could be put in reserve and docked, as necessary.

While in the Philippines, she apparently carried huge deck awnings covering her guns.

Sailors manning the rails of USS Monterey (BM-6) NHF-154

USS MONTEREY (BM-6) crewmen reading on the fore-deck, under awnings, in Philippine waters, circa 1914. Note 12″ guns. NH 88575

Decommissioned at Olongapo in 1903 for four years’ worth of repairs, she was placed back into service in September 1907, spending more time in places ranging from Foochow to Zamboanga for the next decade.

In November 1917, as the world suffered from the Great War, Monterey was finally relieved from her Asiatic posting after 19 years and recalled to Pearl Harbor. This time she was towed by collier USS Ajax (AC-14) in a 36-day cruise, arriving just before Christmas.

Spending the next several years as a submarine tender– a job many old monitors found themselves pressed into in the 1900s– Monterey finished the Great War as a manned vessel, as her Christmas 1918 menu testifies.

U.S.S. Monterey …Menu… Christmas Day, December 25, 1918 – Soup: Cream of tomato; Relishes Celery, Ripe olives, Green onions; Salads: Fruit, Mayonnaise dressing, Combination; Meats: Roast turkey, Tartar sauce, Baked red snapper, Giblet gravy, Roast loin of pork, Apple sauce; Vegetables: Creamed mashed potatoes, French peas, Buttered asparagus tips; Dessert: Fruit cake, Mincemeat Pie, Rainbow ice cream; Fruits: Oranges, Apples, Bananas, Grapes; Beverages: Grape juice punch, Iced tea, Lemonade; Cigars, Cigarettes – J.H. Kohli, Acting Commissary Steward.

Decommissioned 27 August 1921, she was sold the next February to A. Bercovich Co., Oakland, Calif., and towed across the Pacific for scrapping. It was her first, and last, trip back to CONUS since she left in 1898 to join Dewey.

After she was scrapped, Monterey’s bell went on to live a life of its own, installed on Ford Island at Pearl Harbor, from where it witnessed the attack in 1941.

Rear Admiral John D. McDonald, COM 14, and Comdt NOB Pearl Harbor pose with the bell from USS MONTEREY (BM-6) at Pearl Harbor, circa 1924. NH 91356

For years after WWII it was used to ring 8-bells at the golf course and as far as I know, is still there.

The third Monterey (CVL-26) was an Independence-class light carrier built on a cruiser hull during World War II.

USS Monterey (CVL-26) Catapults an F6F Hellcat fighter during operations in the Marianas area, June 1944. Note flight deck numbers, crewmen with catapult bridles, plexiglass bridge windscreen, and pelorus. 80-G-416686

The carrier was perhaps best known as having a navigation officer by the name of Gerald Ford in her complement during the push towards Tokyo.

Photograph of Navigation Officer Gerald Ford Taking a Sextant Reading aboard the USS Monterey, 1944 National Archives Identifier: 6923713

The fourth Monterey (CG-61) is a VLS-equipped Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser that has been with the fleet since 1990 and is still going strong some 30 years later.

U.S. FIFTH FLEET AREA OF OPERATIONS (April 14, 2018) The guided-missile cruiser USS Monterey (CG 61) fires a Tomahawk land attack missile in a strike against Syria. (U.S. Navy photo 180414-N-DO281-1123 by Lt. j.g Matthew Daniels/Released)


USS MONTEREY (BM-6) Unofficial plans, published in the Transactions of the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers, 1893. NH 70118

Displacement: 4,084 tons
Length: 260 ft 11 in
Beam: 59 ft
Draft: 14 ft
Machinery: VTE engines, 2 single-ended cylindrical and 4 Ward Tubulous boilers, 2 shafts, 5,250 hp
Speed: 11 knots
Complement: 19 Officers and 176 Enlisted as designed, 218 (1898)
Armor, Harvey:
3 inches on deck
5-13 inch belt
11.5-13 inch barbettes
7.5-8 inch turrets
10-inch CT
2 x 12/35″ in one dual turret
2 x 10/30″ in one dual turret
6 x 6-pdrs
4 x 37mm Hotchkiss revolving cannons
2 x 1-pounders
2 x Colt M1895 machine guns (added 1898)
1 x landing gun

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Winslow Homer on the Springfield Rifled Musket

Cavalry Soldier Loading a Rifle” by Winslow Homer, circa 1864. Black chalk and white crayon on gray-green laid paper. Donated to the Smithsonian in 1912 by Charles Savage Homer, Jr..

At the time the sketch was made, Homer was a relatively unknown 28-year-old artist filing war art from the camps of the Army of the Potomac for Harper’s Weekly.

Assention 1912-12-99, via Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

Recto: A soldier in Civil War uniform, stands in the foreground, feet spread, holding a rifle placed diagonally across his body in his left hand, using a long rod in his right hand to tamp gun powder down the barrel of the rifle.

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