We’ve talked extensively in passed Warship Wednesdays and other posts about the epic contest off France between the British-built steam privateer CSS Alabama, under the swashbuckling Capt. Raphael Semmes and the Mohican-class screw sloop of war USS Kearsarge on June 19, 1864.
Aboard Kearsarge that day was Acting Master James R. Wheeler, a Massachusetts man who later went on command, as a volunteer lieutenant, the captured blockade runner-turned-Union gunboat USS Preston in the tail end of the war before serving as U.S. consul to Jamaica under President Grant, where he died in 1870. Importantly, Wheeler commanded the crew of the Union vessel’s key 11-inch Dahlgren shell gun, which pummeled Alabama into the sea at relatively close range.
Well, sometime after Alabama and before Preston, Wheeler was presented a custom Ames Model 1852 Officer’s Sword by popular subscription among Boston gentlemen, complete with acanthus scrollwork, naval battle scenes and the likes of both Amphitrite and Poseidon.
Interestingly, it is well preserved and is coming up at auction in May, after once being part of the esteemed collection of Norm Flayderman.
Estimate Price: $75,000 – $125,000.
In 1859, the U.S. Army began construction on a Third System masonry fort on Ship Island in the Mississippi Sound with the idea of covering the approaches to Lakes Borgne and Ponchartrain– the back door to New Orleans. As far as shipping was concerned, he who controlled Ship Island held the strategic key to both Mobile Bay and the Mighty Mississippi, or so it was thought.
By January 1861 when Mississippi seceded, little had been accomplished in the shifting sands of the barrier island and the local greycoats sailed out the 12 miles from Biloxi to take over the unfinished works. Soon, the venerable steam frigate USS Massachusetts would come along and run the interlopers off, making it one of the first of the Union seacoast defenses seized by the Confederacy to be recaptured when the Stars and Stripes was run up in September.
Soon, the island would be packed with nearly 8,000 men of the 4th Wisconsin, 8th New Hampshire, 8th Vermont, 6th Michigan, 21st Indiana; 12th, 13th, 14th and 15th Maine; 12th Connecticut, and 26th & 31st Massachusetts.
Farragut used the island for a base and it proved a stepping stone to capture New Orleans in early 1862. One of the first African-American infantry units, the Second Louisiana Native Guard would call the mosquito-infested, yellow-fever ridden island home for a longer period of time.
The Native Guard, working with the shallow-draft sloop-of-war USS Vincennes, raided nearby Pascagoula in a sharp skirmish in 1863.
After that, the island was used as a POW camp for captured rebels and blockade runners.
Due to the nature of the camps, poor sanitation and an influx of disease would claim at least 153 Confederates and 230 bluecoats. The former were interred near their stockade in the middle of the island while the latter buried closer to what is now Fort Massachusetts.
The horseshoe-shaped fort itself was only completed after the Civil War and in many ways is unique. With the conflict over and brick forts shown to be ineffective against rifled naval guns, it was soon reduced to a caretaker status just after 1866.
The graves of the U.S. troops were moved to what is now Chalmette National Cemetery, which was founded in 1864 to house Union dead.
The graves of the Confederates were left on the island and, in 1969, Hurricane Camille sliced a path through Ship Island, dividing the thin strip of sand and sea oats in half. The split, deemed “Camille Cut” for obvious reasons, crossed over the site of the rebel graveyard.
Now, a $400 million plan — the second largest environmental restoration project in the 100-year history of the National Park Service– has united the two sides of the island back together into one. The sand replenishment will take about three years, and once that work is complete, dune grass and other vegetation will be planted on what was the Camille Cut to help stabilize it.
As for the Confederates, they are considered buried at sea but a marker at Fort Massachusetts remembers them.
“During the Civil War, from 1 January 1861 through 30 June 1866, the national government purchased:
3,477,655 muskets, rifles, carbines, and pistols,
544,475 swords, sabers, and lances,
2,146,175 complete sets of infantry accouterments,
1,022,176,474 small arms cartridges, and
1,220,555,435 caps for small arms.” – Hartzler, Yantz & Whisker.
An impressive amount of munitions for any military of any age. When you take into account that the peacetime strength of the U.S. Army in 1860 was 16,000 and the Marines just another 3,500, it is even more so.
New York-born Marsena Rudolph Patrick (USMA 1835) spent 15 years in the Army, fighting against Mexico and in the Seminole campaigns, resigning to head to the private sector after reaching the rank of captain in 1850. When the Civil War came, he was quickly made New York state militia’s inspector general and by 1862 was a brigadier of volunteers from the Empire State.
After seeing service at Antietam, Joe Hooker made him a sort of spymaster general, as head of the Bureau of Military Information, and was later head of the provost marshal forces in NoVA, leaving the service again as a Maj. Gen (Volunteers), in June 1865.
Patrick did not abide fools and his punishments were legion. The below drawing by Alfred R. Waud in October 1863, now in the Library of Congress, shows men of the 96th New York playing endless games of dice, Patrick’s detail for those caught gambling.
A couple weeks back I spent the day with John Parker of Ellisville and talked to him about his hobby. His addiction, you could say.
“You heard of that white powder people get addicted to? This black powder is way worse,” said Parker, who has shot his replica 3-inch Ordnance Rifle over 300 times since he picked it up last year.
It’s not a cheap hobby, as each salute charge is 8-ounces of Cannon grade or FFF black powder (which translates to about a $10 bill that goes up in smoke each time it goes “boom”) not to mention the cost of the gun ($15K), uniforms, transpo, oh, and a crew of guys willing to help you work it for free.
But it is a beautiful sight to behold.
More in my column at Guns.com.
A paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences “found evidence that suggests men who were traumatized while POWs during the U.S. Civil War transmitted that trauma to their offspring—many of them were found to die earlier.”
During the U.S. Civil War, there were periods when prisoners were frequently exchanged between sides and periods when such exchanges were halted. During periods when exchanges were halted, prison populations rose and prisoners suffered as a result. Not only were they treated more harshly, but they were also given very little to eat. In this new effort, the researchers compared survival rates of children born to Union Civil War soldiers detained in the south during the war.
As someone with lots of friends that are into living history, a former period Texas cavalryman (have you ever priced a workable McClellan Saddle or sweated through a pair of wool pants in Vicksburg in July?!) and a frequent visitor to the Fall Muster at Beauvoir, I found this interesting.
The Week has a great piece on the modern reenactor or lack thereof.
“We try to be as authentic as we can without getting dysentery,” Brennan said of his unit, several of whom were frying bacon and brewing coffee over a fire. They were camped in a sea of canvas tents that housed many of the 6,000 re-enactors at the event. Beyond the spectator stands and hot dog stalls, the Confederates were camped just out of sight.
The 155th Gettysburg anniversary re-enactment, which was held over the second weekend in July, was a chance for dedicated hobbyists to blast away at one another with antique rifles and rekindle old friendships over campfire-cooked meals. Spectators paid $40 to watch nearly a dozen mock skirmishes over the course of four days, and there was an old-timey ball Saturday night. An Abraham Lincoln impersonator was on hand to pose for photos.
It was also a snapshot of a hobby in decline. Gettysburg is among the biggest re-enactments of the year, and it still draws thousands to the sweltering Pennsylvania countryside in the middle of summer.
But that’s nothing compared with the re-enactments of the 1980s and ’90s, when tens of thousands would turn out. In 1998, at the 135th anniversary of Gettysburg, there were an estimated 30,000 re-enactors and 50,000 spectators.