Category Archives: civil war

Warship Wednesday, April 7, 2021: The Curious Confederate of Barcelona

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 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 7, 2021: The Curious Confederate of Barcelona

Here we see the Spanish bark-rigged screw steam corvette (corbeta) Tornado as she sits high in the water late in her career in the port of Barcelona, circa the 1900s. You wouldn’t know it to look at her, but she had one of the most (in)famous sisterships in 19th Century naval history and would dip her hand in a bit of infamy of her own.

In 1862, as the Confederate Navy was scrambling for warships of any kind, Lt. George T. Sinclair, CSN, was dispatched to Britain to work with CDR James Dunwoody Bulloch, the Confederacy’s chief foreign agent in Liverpool, to acquire a humdinger of a commerce raider. Coupled with a scheme to trade bulk cotton carried by blockade-runners out of Rebel ports for English credit and pounds sterling, Bulloch during the war had paid for the covert construction and purchase of the commerce raiders CSS Alabama and CSS Shenandoah as well as the less well-known CSS Florida.

CSS Alabama enters Table Bay at 10:00 AM August 5, 1863. She is increasing speed to capture the Sea Bride before she can escape to within one league of S.African territorial waters. This painting was commissioned by Ken Sheppard of South Africa. Via the CSS Alabama Assoc

Many consider the vessel that Sinclair and Bulloch ordered, which was drawn to a variant of the plans for the CSS Alabama, to be sort of a “Super Alabama.” Whereas the ‘Bama ran 220-feet overall and light with a 17-foot depth of hold and 1,050-ton displacement, her successor would be 231-feet and run 1,600 tons with larger engines and a battery of three 8-inch pivot guns (Alabama only had a single 8-inch pivot) and a 5-gun broadside.

When completed and armed, the Super Alabama was to take on the identity of the CSS Texas. However, to keep the construction secret, Bulloch arranged with the Clydebank firm of James and George Thomson of Glasgow to build her as a clipper under the name of Canton, then later Pampero, ostensibly for the Turkish Government, with an expected delivery date of October 1863.

Launched but lacking a crew, the English government was pressured after Thomas H. Dudley, United States Consul in Liverpool, discovered a near twin of the CSS Alabama was in the final stages of construction, and by late November a British man-o-war was anchored alongside the “Pampero.” On 10 December 1863, the yard’s owners and the ship’s agents were charged with violations of the Foreign Enlistment Act, wrapping the vessel up in legal proceedings for the rest of the war.

Drawing of the ‘Pampero’ published in The Illustrated London News 1864

In October 1865, six months after Lee surrendered at Appomattox but while the CSS Shenandoah was still raiding Yankee whalers in the Pacific, the Canton/Pampero/Texas was awarded to the bearers of the cotton bonds issued by Bulloch and company that had been used to finance the vessel then sold to the shipping firm of Galbraith & Denny.

The thing is, all the fast ships in European ports that could mount a hastily installed armament were at that time being bought up by the Empire of Spain or the Republic of Chile, who were engaged in a war in the Pacific. The Chilean agents, led by an interesting fellow by the name of Benjamín Vicuña Mackenna, beat the Spanish to the punch and bought Pampero for £75,000 in February 1866, with the vessel soon entered on the Chilean naval list as the corvette Tornado, subsequently sailing for Hamburg.

Over the next several months, the Spanish played a cat-and-mouse game as the Tornado and a second ship with a similar backstory, the corvette Abtao (former CSS Cyclone) attempted to be armed and outfitted, moving around European ports just one step ahead of their pursuers.

By the evening of 22 August, the Spanish 1st class steam frigate Gerona (48 guns), caught up with the unarmed Tornado at Madeira off the Portuguese coast and, after a short pursuit and four warning shots, the Chilean vessel, helmed by retired RN officer Edward Montgomery Collier, struck its flag.

Ángel Cortellini Sánchez ‘s “Captura de la corbeta de hélice Tornado por la fragata de hélice Gerona”, 1881, via Museo Naval de Madrid 

With the Armada Española

The next day, Tornado sailed for Cadiz with a prize crew and soon joined the Spanish fleet. After taking part in the September 1868 naval revolt, the vessel was dispatched to service in Havana in 1870. There, she was involved in the so-called Virginius affair in 1873.

For those not aware, Virginius had an interesting Confederate connection to Tornado, being built originally in Glasgow as a blockade runner then surviving the war and being used briefly by the Revenue Cutter Service.

VIRGINIUS (Merchant steamer, 1864-1873) Built in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1864 as a blockade runner. 1864-1867: SS VIRGIN; 1867-1870: U.S. revenue cutter VIRGIN; 1870-1873: SS VIRGINIUS. For more data, see Erik Heyl, Early American Steamers, vol. I. Watercolor by Erik Heyl, 1951. NH 63845

For three years starting in 1870, Virginius was used to run rebels under Cuban insurgent Gen. Manuel Quesada from the U.S. to the Spanish colony, with the somewhat tacit blind-eye and occasional support of the U.S. Navy. In October 1873, the steamer, skippered by Captain Joseph Fry, (USNA 1846, ex-USN, ex-CSN) and with a mixed British and American crew, was carrying 103 armed Cuban rebels when Tornado encountered her six miles off the Cuban coast.

Pursuit of Virginius by the Spanish gunboat Tornado, October 30, 1873.

Spanish man-of-war Tornado chasing the American steamer Virginius nypl.digitalcollections

1873 el Virginius, pirata estadounidense, es abordado por la corbeta española Tornado

The resulting chase and one-sided battle were short, with Fry striking his flag and Virginius sailed to Santiago de Cuba under armed guard.

There, the Spanish treated the crew and the insurgents as outlaws and pirates, executing 53 against the wall at the Santiago slaughterhouse, including Fry and the teenage son of Quesada, the lurid details of which were well-publicized by the press in the states, souring the relations between Washington and Madrid and pouring the foundation for the Spanish-American War.

Moving past Virginius

As for Tornado, she continued to serve the Spanish fleet for generations.

In 1878, she and the cruiser Jorge Juan stalked the pirate ship Montezuma, a mail steamer that had been taken by mutineers and Cuban rebels who turned to privateer against the Spanish. After a pursuit that spanned the Caribbean, Tornado found the Montezuma burned in Nicaragua.

Returning to Spain in 1879, Tornado was used as a training ship taking part in several lengthy summer cruises around the Med for the next few years, including escorting King Alphonso XII. By 1886, the aging bark was disarmed and used at Cartagena as a torpedo school for the rest of the century.

Home for boys

In 1900, Tornado was moved to Barcelona and assigned a new task– that of being a floating schoolship and barracks for orphan lads whose fathers had been lost at Manila Bay, Manzanillo, San Juan, and Santiago against the Americans. Remember, while U.S. naval historian largely covers these engagements as a tactical walkover and highlights Dewey, Sampson, and Schley as heroes, they left thousands of homes back in Spain missing a father.

Museu Maritim de Barcelona: The Tornado’s orphan cadets

Tornado would remain in Barcelona, moving past the education of the sons of 1898 to taking in general orphans and those of lost mariners and fishermen. Enduring well into the Spanish Civil War, she was sent to the bottom on 28 November 1938 by an air raid from Nationalist forces. Her wreck was scrapped in 1940.

Today, the Museu Maritim de Barcelona has her name board, recovered from the harbor in 1940, on display.

Via Museu Maritim de Barcelona

She is also remembered in a variety of maritime art.

Via Museu Maritim de Barcelona

For more on the Tornado, please read, “The Capture of Tornado: The History of a Diplomatic Dispute,” by Alejandro Anca Alamillo, Warship International, Vol. 45, No. 1 (2008), pp. 65-77. Keep in mind that old issues of WI are available on JSTOR to which access is open to INRO members.

Specs:
Displacement: 2,100 tons
Length: 231 ft
Beam: 33 ft
Draft: 16 ft
Machinery: Four boilers, 328 hp steam engine, one prop
Speed: 14 knots
Range: 1,700 miles
Complement: 202 men
Armament: (Spanish 1870)
1 × 7.8 in Parrott gun
2 × 160/15 cal gun
2 × 5 in bronze gun
2 × 3″/24 cal Hontoria breechloading guns

If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find. http://www.warship.org/membership.htm

The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.

With more than 50 years of scholarship, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

PRINT still has its place. If you LOVE warships you should belong.

I’m a member, so should you be!

Fearless French Mary

Via Gettysburg National Military Park

#WomensHistoryMonth – Marie Tepe. Marie, born in France, immigrated to the United States in the 1840s. She married Bernhard Tepe and became a vivandiere (sometimes known as a cantinieres) for the 27th Pennsylvania Volunteers when he joined the war effort. Unfortunately, Marie’s time in the 27th PA Volunteers would be cut short after her husband, along with other men, would steal valuables from her tent.

After this, she left her husband and joined the 114th Pennsylvania (Collis’ Zouaves), where she became known to carry a keg of whiskey across her shoulder and established her title as “Fearless French Mary”. Marie received a Kearny Cross for her brave work at the Battle of Chancellorsville and fought alongside the men of the 114th Pennsylvania even in the height of danger, including Gettysburg, where the Zouaves met the head of Pickett’s Charge.

A Captured Santa

Watercolor by the well-known turn of the century illustrator William Leroy Jacobs showing an old soldier bending over sleeping children by firelight with parents in the background, a cavalry saber at his side. It appears the older man is wearing a blue uniform while the younger’s is grey, with the 3-button pattern on his frock coat typical of a Confederate major general. Published in: A Captured Santa Claus by Thomas Nelson Page. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1902.

While I am not sure of the story behind the image’s depiction, it makes me recall the tale of the “Father of the U.S. Cavalry,” Virginia-born Brig. Gen. Philip St. George Cooke, who penned the country’s then-modern horse cavalry tactics manual in 1858 after being an observer during the Crimean War, where cavalry was famously ill-used. Cooke, who commanded a brigade of federal horse soldiers early in the conflict, was perhaps best known during the Civil War for being the father-in-law of Maj. Gen. J. E. B. Stuart, Lee’s flamboyant cavalry commander.

Flora, the good General Cooke’s daughter, wore black the rest of her life after Stuart was killed at Yellow Tavern in 1864. The couple had two children, in 1856 and 1857, respectively, only one of whom lived to adulthood, and Cooke was unable to see them during the conflict.

A family divided, indeed.

Soldier of the Grand Army of the Republic

Unidentified Civil War veteran from Grand Army of the Republic Post# 386 in uniform with a musket in front of flags, weapons, and equipment.

Note the extensive militaria assembled. The old Vet was likely rushed to pose with the belt, as it is upside down. Liljenquist Family collection. Library of Congress. hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.49787

I am not sure which Post# 386 the above bluecoat belonged to, as there were at least two of them, one each in Naperville, Illinois and Conway Springs/Sylvia, Kansas, which were in existence from the 1880s into as late as the 1930s in the case of the Illinois post.

Be sure to reach out to your veterans this week. 

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. http://www.navsource.org/archives/12/09949.htm

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.

Specs:

Painting/Computer-generated imagery by Orin 2005, via Navsource http://www.navsource.org/archives/12/09949.htm

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

If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find. http://www.warship.org/membership.htm

The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.

With more than 50 years of scholarship, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

PRINT still has its place. If you LOVE warships you should belong.

I’m a member, so should you be!

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 Military.com 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.

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