Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Civil War Coast Survey Maps Online

Confederate Defenses, Craney Island, Norfolk, 1861

During the Civil War, both the U.S. Navy and Army benefited greatly from topographical engineers of the United States Coast Survey.  In a time where everything was hand drawn, these engineers were among the finest mapmakers in the world.  The maps themselves are not only to be greatly admired for their accuracy, but also as stand alone art.  The modern day Coast Survey (now under the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration) has placed all of their office's Civil War maps online in a searchable database.  The maps are ready to be inspected and downloaded.  Be prepared to spend several hours admiring the engineers' work.

Founded in 1807, the Coast Survey is one of the Federal government's oldest scientific organizations.  Their main responsibility was the tedious task of proving accurate charts of American harbors, rivers, and coastline for both civilian and military ships.  Other parts of the Government called upon the office to work other projects such as slave population density and defining national borders.  Despite its name, several Coast Survey engineers accompanied U.S. Army ground forces during major campaigns such as Sherman's march on Atlanta. 

Approaches to Charleston Harbor, 1863

Sunday, March 25, 2012

A Little Bit of March Madness for CWN 150 Fans

USS Benton Ship Plans
 As many of you know, college basketball season is winding to a close with its annual tournament of 64.  Now in the clutches of the last four remaining teams, it would seem fitting to introduce a little bit of bracketology into this blog once again.

How does this relate to the Civil War Navy you ask?  For our longtime readers, you may recall we did something similar (albeit a bit drawn out) back in 2011 with the "Greatest Naval Officer of the Civil War." 

As a way to get some more interaction on the blog, here is our list of the "Elite Eight" vessels of the Union and Confederate navies.  Who would make your final four? Who would be the champion?  We will leave answers blank as a rubric below to help you out.  Post your answers here or on the CWN 150 Facebook page, and we will publish the results!

Union Vessels:
1. USS New Ironsides
2. USS Onondaga
3. USS Minnesota
4. USS Monitor
5. USS Hartford
6. USS Cairo
7. USS Kearsarge
8. USS Benton

Confederate Vessels:
1. CSS Virginia
2. CSS Arkansas
3. CSS Richmond
4. CSS Albemarle
5. CSS Alabama
6. CSS Tennessee
7. CSS David
8. HL Hunley

Which ships would be your Final Four (Top Two Union Confederate Vessels):

(Union) __________  VS. (Union) __________

(Confederate) __________  VS. (Confederate) __________

Which ships would be in your Final (Top Union/Confederate Vessel):

(Union) __________ VS. (Confederate) __________

Winner: __________

Let us know who makes the cut in your mind!  Do you have other vessels in mind?  Which ones? Let us know! 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Civil War Naval Aviation

Of all the discussion about Civil War naval warfare and technology, the use of barges as balloon carriers always produces at least a short discussion. Early aeronauts Thaddeus Lowe, John La Mountain, and many others all attempted to get the U.S. Army's attention with their respective balloon corps projects.

In naval warfare history, the project that gets the most attention is Lowe's George Washington Parke Custis (often written as G.W.P. Custis for short). A self-taught chemist who made several ground breaking discoveries into the chemical properties and application of hydrogen, Lowe had an invented a machine that created hydrogen gas with sulfuric acid and hot pieces of iron. He poured the acid over the iron, which liberated the hydrogen atoms from the sulfur. The hydrogen was then pumped into the balloon. Historians and writers often referred to G.W.P. Custis as USS G.W.P. Custis. The Navy, however, never granted the vessel such an honor. Additionally, Lowe himself did not seem to think much of the vessel. In one letter, he referred to the vessel simply as a ""lighter (formerly the G.W.P. Custis)."

When Lowe made his ascent from the Potomac River using Custis as his carrier, he attempted to claim to be the first person ever to launch a balloon from water. La Mountain, however, clearly gets the honor when he made an ascent in Hampton Roads three months earlier. His report to General Ben Butler was quite useful as he described the number of Confederate tents, the location of Confederate shore batteries, and the number of large ships anchored in downtown Norfolk.

Unfortunately, no one took maritime application of ballooning seriously. Like many ideas, it would have to wait.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Hampton Roads is Over, Now What?

 Okay.  So the Battle of Hampton Roads Weekend is over.  It was a great series of events.  Now that its over, let's do a little deductive reasoning:
  • The Battle of Hampton Roads is likely to become the biggest event for the Civil War Navy Sesquicentennial
  • The CWN 150 prides itself at being the one stop source for the flow of information, events, and activities surrounding the Civil War Navy Sesquicentennial.
Drawing back from my scarce knowledge of If-Then statements, one might assume that the Sesquicentennial as a whole is over.  No more huge events that could rival that of Gettysburg, Antietam, Vicksburg, etc. 

WRONG. It's 2012 and we are just getting warmed up!

For one, there is an upcoming Flags Over Hatteras conference coming up in the Outer Banks.  Will you be there?  I would also be remiss if I didn't mention one last post about the weekend from Laura June Davis, contributing editor for The Monitor.   She had some very nice things to say about the weekend and the CWN 150.  Thank you again, Laura. 

So, what is on the radar for the CWN 150, you ask?  Here is a little taste:

More LEGOs:
That's right.  Back from popular demand from the Brick by Brick: LEGO Shipbuilding program at HRNM, we are going to be offering FREE designs for several more Civil War ships (including the CSS Virginia in the very near future).  All designs will be located on the Hampton Roads Naval Museum website, the HQ for the CWN 150. 

More Posts, More Information:
We want to ensure that you are coming to the CWN 150 blog for the best possible information available on the events, activities, and information surrounding the sesquicentennial.  That being said, we will continue providing readers with timely posts on commemorative events and aspects of the navies during the Civil War.  

More contests, more prizes:
I think the title says it all.  More fan-focused contests and ways to get YOU involved in the CWN 150.  Win cool prizes for participating and joining in on the conversation!

More Videos:
If you haven't noticed, our Youtube page is rather lacking.  I would like to rectify that with some more videos for the CWN 150.  These will include educational pieces as well as some commentary on the CWN 150 and its relevance in an ever-increasing social media world. 

Want to be part of the CWN 150? "Enlist" your blogging talents!
We are still looking for more writers for the CWN 150!  If you have an interest in social media or blogging about the Civil War navies, please send an email to for more information.  This commemoration is for everybody, so why not get everybody involved!  Like us on Facebook, follow our Twitter feed, or just keep reading.  Have an idea for the CWN 150?  Don't be afraid to email us with a message.  You might be surprised what happens! 

To take from the famous poster you see all over the place:

- Matthew T. Eng

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Occupation of Beaufort, North Carolina

This weekend marks the 150th anniversary of the Union occupation of the port town of Beaufort, NC. As part of the Burnside Expedition, the occupation of this little town was of vital importance to the U.S. Navy's blockading efforts. Having already captured Roanoke Island and New Bern, the Federal forces began their push toward the coast and the protector of Beaufort Harbor, Fort Macon. Arriving at Beaufort in the pre-dawn hours of March 25, 1862 they found the town devoid of any Confederate forces. The town was occupied peacefully before most of the inhabitants were even awake. After the capitulation of Fort Macon a few weeks later, Beaufort became an important station for the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron. For more on the town's role as such, see Dan Blair's article "One Good Port."

To commemmorate the occupation of Beaufort, the North Carolina Maritime Museum, along with other local historical organizations will host a weekend of activities this weekend centered around a living history program. Union infantry will occupy the grounds of the Beaufort Historical Association, artillery will perform demonstrations at a waterfront park, and sailors will take over the boat building facility at the Maritime Museum. An evening artillery demonstration will also take place at Fort Macon State Park on Saturday evening. For more information contact the NC Maritime Museum or visit their website.

Friday, March 16, 2012

In Case You Missed It: Watercolor Contest Winners!

Over the past weekend, there was a lot of interest generated about the Battle of Hampton Roads Watercolor Contest.  For its first time around, it was a great success.  I hope everyone that saw the original art on the evening of 8 March enjoyed it as much as we did.  In case you didn't get to see the art on the 8th or are not a fan of either the CWN 150 or Hampton Roads Naval Museum on Facebook (and you SHOULD BE!), here is the link to the HRNM Facebook site with ALL of the participants scanned in for your viewing pleasure.  We have reproduced the three age group winners below.  With your continued support, the Hampton Roads Naval Museum can make the watercolor contest an annual event!

Olivia Eicher - Age 5-10 Winner
Nathan Cowfer - Age 11- 13 Winner
Sarah Howland - Age Adult Winner

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

"The enemy entered Palatka"

Palatka (where I live) is a small town on the St. Johns River about 40 miles south of Jacksonville, Florida. The name of the town comes from the Seminole-Creek language, meaning “ferry" or "crossing”, as the width of the river narrows substantially here, affording a place to cross more easily. For the citizens of Palatka, the morning of 14 March 1862 dawned uneventfully, that is until someone looked out on the river. Steaming upstream towards the city, belching coal smoke from its funnel, was an imposing black-hulled warship flying the stars and stripes of the Union.

The minutes of the Session of the First Presbyterian Church of Palatka indicate:

“On March 14, 1862, the enemy entered Palatka . . .”

In his diary on this same date, Confederate sympathizer and blockade runner Richard J. Adams recorded:

“Federal Gunboat arrived at Palatka at 8½ A.M. – I took to the woods.”

The gunboat was the USS Ottawa, under the command of Lt. Thomas H. Stevens, a veteran of 25 years of service in the US Navy. We have met Lt. Stevens before, as he and his ship were involved in a bizarre chase with a train departing Fernandina about a week ago. The Ottawa was involved in the first Union occupation of Jacksonville on 12 March, helping land troops of the 4th New Hampshire Regiment. The next day, Stevens and his ship made the journey up the St. Johns River to Palatka. In his report to the S. Atlantic Squadron command, dated 17 March 1862, he wrote:

“Since my last communication I have made a reconnaissance as far as Palatka, and found no hostile demonstrations; on the contrary, the assurance I gave that we did not come to molest peaceable citizens has had a good effect . . .”

Stevens also was informed by the local folks that the famed racing schooner America was scuttled upriver in Dunn's Creek. The boat had been purchased by an English citizen, after winning what became known as the "America's Cup", and turned into a blockade runner, but when the Navy arrived at Jacksonville and sealed off the river he had it towed upriver and sunk. Navy personnel raised the boat a few days later and it was turned into a Union blockader.

Thus the first contact folks in Palatka had with Union forces was with Navy men. For much of the remainder of the year, US Navy officers and men had numerous intractions with the Florida citizens living along the St. Johns, assuring them that they were there to protect the folks and their property. The efforts of the USN personnel went a long way towards garnering good will towards the Union.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Battle of Hampton Roads Weekend Recap

CWN 150 Bloggers Unite! (Matthew Eng, Sarah Adler, Craig Swain, Seaman Rob)

Although we have already posted several posts on this past weekend's Battle of Hampton Roads festivities, I would be hard pressed if I didn't say a few words to wrap up the fantastic event.
NHHC Director Jay Deloach at Descendant's Breakfast
From start to finish, the Battle of Hampton Roads Weekend (March 8-11) was a success.  Beginning with My Hayley's talk on the Treason of Mary Louvestre and ending with the final talk I had the pleasure to give with Anna Holloway on the Civil War in Public Memory, the event was marvelous.  Everything in between: the descendant's breakfast, the reenactors, the living history day crafts and activities - all of it was fantastic.

Unveiling of Monitor Facial Reconstruction

Above all, I was most impressed with the interest from visitors coming to visit the HRNM booth.  It warms my heart to see the hard work put into this commemoration is paying off - either for this commemoration, museums like HRNM and the Mariners', or for enthusiastic individuals who do amazing work online and in print like Craig Swain and Laura June Davis

The talks I attended were great.  To be honest, the Hampton Roads Naval Museum booth was swamped.  The only talks that I went to were Dr. Holzer's great discussion of Civil War art on Friday night and the ones HRNM staff presented at.  Either way, fellow blogger Seaman Rob can fill you in with that information from previous posts.

Laura Orr talks with visitors

I want to personally thank Anna Holloway for all her kind words this weekend.  The Mariners' Museum has been a wonderful ally and friend in getting the word spread that the Civil War Navy matters.  For new individuals we met this weekend - welcome.  It is a pleasure to meet you.

This commemoration, no matter what somebody might tell you otherwise, is yours.  It is up to YOU the readers and followers of Civil War history to pass the torch and keep the conversation going.  Without your help, the information provided here or other sites set up in commemoration of the war will all be for nothing.  We are all here to provide you with the most up to date information on events and activities surrounding the Civil War Navy Sesquicentennial.  We clearly saw this weekend that the message is out there and you are responding - we had over 800 people come up to our booth (Hampton Roads Naval Museum) and take our literature, admire the Monitor and Virginia LEGOs, and just talk and interact with us. 

So, from the bottom of my heart, I want to thank you for reading this blog and keeping the fire alive.  Let's keep the momentum going.  Tell somebody about the site, talk about Civil War history, visit a maritime/naval museum, or just remember that you were a huge part in the memory of the 150th anniversary just by remaining an active member of the public perception of this country's most trying time.

Full Speed Ahead,
Me, Gideon Welles, and Seaman Rob
Matthew T. Eng
Civil War Navy Sesquicentennial

Let me count the ways (of sinking CSS Virginia)

CSS Virginia in its attack on USS Cumberland. (United States Navy image)

This past weekend's observance of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Hampton Roads at the Mariner's Museum in Newport News was a delight.  The presentations and discussions were enlightening and entertaining.

To me David Gerleman's '"Sink the Merrimac!': Northern Plans, Scheme, and Inventions to Destroy the Rebel Ram" encapsulated the best of that during the two-day event.  He described with illustrations 13 categories of suggestions to President Abraham Lincoln, Secretary of War Simon Cameron, and Navy Secretary Gideon Welles from inventors, maritime experts, explosive tinkerers, concerned citizens, and kooks on the best way to rid Hampton Roads of that Confederate scourge.

Almost all involved the transfer of large sums of cash and many were "too secret" to commit to paper, thus requiring a meeting in Washington with an appropriate executive branch official, at least at the secretariat level == if the president was too busy.   

Gerleman, assistant editor of the Papers of Abraham Lincoln at the National Archives, outlined how obstructions could keep the ironclad from either leaving her haven on the Elizabeth River or, failing that, blocking her return. If that did not work, a commando raid (using what to destroy the vessel and number of men needed were undefined) should do the trick.

There was also the "Swarm and Sink" theory, using Hudson River steamers and ramming tugs, or using Cornelius Vanderbilt's speedy and special yacht to sail circles around CSS Virginia and chase down commerce raiders on the high seas after the "Virginia menace" was brought to heel.

Of course, there were suggestions of the usefulness of "underwater cannon (not invented yet);" "self-attached mines;" "flying torpedoes (also not invented yet);" "propeller fouling nets" (requiring at least two "inconspicuous" tugs in the narrow confines of Hampton Roads waiting to snag the unsuspecting ironclad sailing between them) or grappling hooks to hold it in place for boarders; "submarines," "The Alligator;" spraying naptha, coal oil, ;or spirits of turpentine on the vessel to set it ablaze or firing live steam through the gunports to immobilize the crew; and "cradling" to rock it to the bottom or dumping heavy cannon on its top cover to sink it.

If this could be made into interactive presentation for high school students, in particular, -- maybe through the National Archives or the Library of Congress, the Civil War would come alive -- truly enlightening and truly entertaining -- for a new generation in thousands of classrooms across the country.

I hope it is not my pipedream -- without the particulars of the patriots who wrote Lincoln, Cameron and Welles with their "good ideas at the time."

Monday, March 12, 2012

Union occupation of Jacksonville and St. Augustine, Florida

US Navy Base at Mayport Mills, Florida, St. Johns River (Fla. Dept. of State on-line photo archive):

After taking Ft. Clinch and the Town of Fernandina on 3-4 March 1862, elements of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, along with transports carrying US Army troops, arrived off the mouth of the St. Johns River, Florida on 8 March 1862. After reconnoitering the bar at the river mouth, and after repeated attempts to cross, Lt. Thomas H. Stevens of the gunboat USS Ottawa took the ship’s helm himself, ordered “full speed ahead,” and scraped across the bar on 11 March, along with the gunboats Seneca, Pembina, and Ellen. Ottawa, Seneca, and Pembina were all “Unadilla” class (“90-day”) gunboats, and Ellen was a converted New York ferryboat. Lighter draft ships had penetrated upriver prior to that and captured Ft. Steele, a small Confederate fortification near the mouth of the river built of palmetto logs and armed with 7 guns. The Confederates had abandoned the fort a few days earlier after sighting the arrival of the Union flotilla off the river mouth.

On 12 March, the first occupation of the City of Jacksonville occurred, as companies of the 4rth New Hampshire Infantry Regiment were landed. Jacksonville had a fairly large proportion of pro-Union folks, who were overjoyed to see the Union occupation of the city. To their dismay and horror, by the end of the month, Army forces were ordered withdrawn from the city. Officers on the Union Navy vessels were aghast at this action. In an effort to provide some assistance, the Navy established a permanent base of operations at Mayport Mills, three miles upstream of the river mouth and about 6-7 miles downstream of Jacksonville.

On 10 March 1862, the USS Wabash hove to off the mouth of St. Augustine Inlet, south of the St. Johns River mouth. Shallow depths in the inlet and the harbor did not allow the huge Wabash to enter, and heavy weather that day restricted the use of ship's boats to cross the bar in the Inlet. The next day, 11 March, Commander C.R.P. Rogers entered the inlet in a ship's boat with an unarmed landing party, arrived at the harbor, and accepted the surrender of Ft. Marion (the present-day Castillo de San Marcos National Monument) and the adjacent Town of St. Augustine, Florida. In the span of barely two weeks, the Union Navy and Army had secured a strong foothold in a big chunk of northeast Florida, securing fortifications, land, and secure harbors. This formed the basis for subsequent operations in this area of Florida.

Fort Marion, St. Augustine (Fla. Dept. of State on-line photo archive):

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Battle of Hampton Roads Day 2 - Seaman Rob's Report

The second day of the BOHR event dawned with some frost on the ground, which is totally unheard of in March for a Floridian!! I attended the morning free lecture by Dr. John Quarstein on “The Men of the CSS Virginia”. Dr. Quarstein’s talk was an animated overview of the design and building of the CSS Virginia from the hulk of the USS Merrimack and the effort to find a crew to man her. Along the way he offered history and observations on the officers and men who crewed this revolutionary warship and he made the very interesting point that many of the men who served on the Virginia went on to serve in many important positions in the Confederate Navy, even after the ship was destroyed. I purchased a copy of Dr. Quarstein’s book “The Monitor Boys” and was fortunate to get him to sign it with a hearty “Huzzah” to Seaman Rob!! In addition, I met fellow CWN150 Guest Bloggers Sarah Adler and Andrew Duppstadt and I was “drafted” as an unofficial Hampton Roads Naval Museum volunteer to man the HRNM Booth while staffers Matt Eng, Laura Orr, and Gordon Calhoun were in a panel presentation at the Naval History Conference. Because I was not an attendee at the Conference, I am going to depend upon all of them to give an update on the content of their presentations and assessment of how it went. I enjoyed meeting many CW re-enactors (army, navy and marine) from the Virginia area and found them very friendly, informative, and I learned a lot from them. Thanks guys (and gals)!! All-in-all, this was an incredible weekend and I felt it was worth the drive up from Florida.

Images are from the Naval History and Heritage Command web site. Top photo is Adm. Franklin Buchanan, the first commander of the CSS Virginia, and the bottom photo is Catesby ap Roger Jones, the XO of the Virginia.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Battle of Hampton Roads Day 1 - Seaman Rob's Report

Map of blockade runner routes into the Atlantic Coast. Source:

Craig Symonds’ plenary talk at the Civil War Navy Conference here at the Mariner’s Museum in Newport News, VA was free and open to the public this morning, so I had the opportunity to attend. Dr. Symonds talked about the Atlantic Blockade and gave a good, synoptic overview of this blockade effort and how it fit within the larger scope of the Navy’s efforts in the Civil War. There were a few nifty “tidbits” of information that I learned; for instance the North Carolina Sounds behind the barrier islands had long served as a haven for raiders, privateers and etc. The infamous pirate Blackbeard operated out of the area and was killed in Pamlico Sound by US Navy forces. He also reiterated what many historians have concluded about the blockade; although it was never “airtight”, it was a definite contributor to the eventual defeat of the Confederacy by the Union and shortened the War by doing just enough to prevent the export of trade and the import of needed materials. I had the chance to ask a question and asked about the relative importance of taking the Port of Fernandina, Florida. Dr. Symonds felt that it was important, but that it was a matter of resources; DuPont took Port Royal first, then was able to allocate ships and manpower to moving southward to take additional ports. Later on I met and talked with fellow CWN150 Guest Blogger Craig Swain, and he noted that it was largely a question of “real estate”; the three most important words being “location, location, location”, and that this was a factor in deciding between Port Royal and Fernandina. I spent much of the day hanging out with the Hampton Roads Naval Museum folks and their nifty display. All in all a cool first day at the Battle of Hampton Roads Event; looking forward to tomorrow !!!

Friday, March 9, 2012

My Haley After Hours Event Kicks off BOHR Weekend

Advance copies of The Treason of Mary Louvestre
Last night, 168 were in attendance at this year's first After Hours History Event at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum.  All in attendance were fortunate enough to hear My Haley speak about her latest book, The Treason of Mary Louvestre.  The event marked the official kickoff of the Battle of Hampton Roads Weekend, both in Norfolk and  at the Mariners' Museum in Newport News.

My captivated the audience from start to finish
Mrs. Haley, wife of Malcolm X biographer and Roots creator Alex Haley, spent the evening speaking about the extraordinary life of Mary Louvestre, who risked severe punishment from southern authority to bring the plans of the CSS Virginia to Gideon Welles in Washington, D.C.  My detailed how Mary walked from Portsmouth, VA to the national Capital, often amidst great danger. 

All the staff at the CWN 150 and the Hampton Roads Naval Museum are delighted to now call My and her lovely business associate, Arsenia, a friend.  It was a pleasure to have her speak during this timely period of American naval history. 

This is the first of many posts on this weekend's activities.  We will be at the Mariners' Museum for the entirety of the Battle of Hampton Roads Weekend.  Stop by the Hampton Roads Naval Museum booth and say hello to CWN 150 staffers Laura Orr, Gordon Calhoun, and Matthew Eng.  Stay tuned for more great posts!

My signing copies of her book inside HRNM
The night also marked the inaugural Battle of Hampton Roads Watercolor Contest.  Here are some of the submissions.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Cumberland by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The Cumberland at rest today (NOAA/HRNM/NHHC)
At anchor in Hampton Roads we lay,
On board of the Cumberland, sloop-of-war;
And at times from the fortress across the bay
The alarum of drums swept past,
Or a bugle blast
From the camp on the shore. 
Then far away to the south uprose
A little feather of snow-white smoke,
And we knew that the iron ship of our foes
Was steadily steering its course
To try the force
Of our ribs of oak.

Down upon us heavily runs,
Silent and sullen, the floating fort;
Then comes a puff of smoke from her guns,
And leaps the terrible death,
With fiery breath,
From each open port.

We are not idle, but send her straight
Defiance back in a full broadside!
As hail rebounds from a roof of slate,
Rebounds our heavier hail
From each iron scale
Of the monster's hide.

"Strike your flag!" the rebel cries,
In his arrogant old plantation strain.
"Never!" our gallant Morris replies;
"It is better to sink than to yield!"
And the whole air pealed
With the cheers of our men.

Then, like a kraken huge and black,
She crushed our ribs in her iron grasp!
Down went the Cumberland all a wrack,
With a sudden shudder of death,
And the cannon's breath
For her dying gasp.

Next morn, as the sun rose over the bay,
Still floated our flag at the mainmast head.
Lord, how beautiful was Thy day!
Every waft of the air
Was a whisper of prayer,
Or a dirge for the dead.

Ho! brave hearts that went down in the seas!
Ye are at peace in the troubled stream;
Ho! brave land! with hearts like these,
Thy flag, that is rent in twain,
Shall be one again,
And without a seam!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

More News for the Monitor Faces (and one for Virginia)


We are endeavoring to bring to you the latest and greatest news about the recent release of the two unidentified Monitor sailors as it comes in.  Here are some of the latest links for your reading pleasure.  Stay tuned to hear more about this interesting saga in American naval history as it unfolds here at the Civil War Navy Sesquicentennial. 

Could These Be the Faces of the Monitor?
Daily Press Article online HERE.

Lost At Sea: Do You Know These Civil War Sailors?
Vermont Public Radio broadcast HERE

UPS Delivers History to U.S. Navy Memorial
Atlanta Business Chronicle article HERE.

Names and Faces Suggested for Monitor Sailors
National Geographic Article HERE.

Faces of Civil War Sailors to Aid in Search for Their Identities
WBDJ7 Article HERE.

Facial Reconstruction Brings Drowned Civil War Sailors to Life
LiveScience article HERE.

...and one for the CSS Virginia

The Battle of Hampton Roads: Constructing CSS Virginia
Daily Press Article HERE.



Monday, March 5, 2012

USS Minnesota and the Fate of Andromeda

When Virginia made her ascent of the Elizabeth River and appeared in Hampton Roads on March 8, 1862, the New York Times and many others described her as a “mysterious marine monster.” The print makers Currier & Ives titled their print of Virginia’s scuttling on Craney Island a few weeks later as “The Destruction of the Rebel Monster.” Thus it is quite clear how the Northern public viewed the Confederate ironclad. Under this view, Minnesota played the part of the beautiful maiden Andromeda. In the Greek myth, King Cepheus chained his daughter Andromeda to a rock so that she would be eaten by a monster sent by the god Poseidon and satisfy the ocean god’s wrath.

In the Battle of Hampton Roads, the “monster” had already slain two of the Navy’s old heroes, USS Cumberland and Congress, and now was moving in for his prize. But just as in the Greek myth (and played out in two different versions of the movie Clash of the Titans), the hero Peruses rides into the battle on the back of the winged horse Pegasus, whose part was played by USS Monitor, to save the maiden from being ripped to pieces.

Poet and playwright George Henry Boker’s 1864 epic poem “The Cruise of the Monitor” provided readers with a synthesis of the myth and modern history:

Out of its den [Virginia] burst anew
When the gray mist the sun broke through
Steaming to where in clinging sands
The frigate Minnesota stands
A sturdy foe to overthrow
But in a woeful plight to receive a blow.

But see!
Beneath her bow appears!
A champion no danger fears
A pigmy craft that seems to be
To this new lord who rules the sea
Like David of old to Goliath bold
Youth and giant by Scripture told

Playing the part of Andromeda was an unfortunate and unexpected position Minnesota found herself on that famous day. For years, the ship had been center of national and international attention. The steam frigate was one of the most well designed warships in the world and was a sight to behold. When the Navy commissioned her and her sister frigates of the Merrimack-class in the 1850s, European navies felt threatened by American warships for the first time since USS Constitution scored her legendary victories during the War of 1812. The Navy recognized Minnesota’s prowess and looks by designating her to be the diplomatic vessel for America's early ambassador to China. The Navy then made her the flag ship of the Atlantic Blockading Squadron early on in the Civil War. But, in the Greek myths, the gods were a fickle bunch, who regularly changed their minds and enjoyed abusing their subjects. Likewise, in a period of 48 hours, Minnesota went from Poseidon’s personal champion to Poseidon’s lunch.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Monitor Mania!

LSU Faces Laboratory/AP
This upcoming week will mark one of the most excited periods of events for the Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War.  For commemorations focusing on the navies, it is perhaps the most important.

Faces of 2 USS Monitor crewmembers reconstructed

As many readers know, we are in the process of celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Hampton Roads.  Over the past few weeks, several articles around the country posted news and information on the upcoming anniversary.  The most interesting piece of information coming out this past week was the latest and greatest from the LSU FACES laboratory.  According to the AP writer STEVE SZKOTAK, the latest forensic technology helped to reconstruct the two unidentified faces of the sailors left inside the famous turret when it sank in December 1862.  Unfortunately, DNA testing done from bone samples did not render any living descendants of the two sailors' families.

Perhaps that is all that we will know.

According to an interview with James Delgado, director of NOAA's Maritime Heritage Program, "the faces are really the last opportunity we have, unless somebody pops up out of nowhere and says, 'Hey, I am a descendant.'"  Read the full AP article HERE.

Here are some of the other recent articles on USS Monitor around the internet:

Experts Rebuild Faces of Civil War Sailors - Newser

The Monitor Still Captivates - Washington Post

Clash of the Ironclads - Daily Press

All in all, it is shaping up to be a huge week for the Civil War Navy Sesquicentennial.  If you haven't already, make sure to check out the Battle of Hampton Roads Weekend at the Mariners' Museum.  The CWN 150 will be there.  Will you?

How to catch a train with a gunboat

During the occupation of Fernandina, Florida, in early March 1862, one the weirdest events of the Civil War involving a US Navy ship transpired, perhaps the only occurrence of an incident like this in the history of the US Navy.

As the USS Ottawa, Lt. Thomas H. Stevens commanding, approached Fernandina, they discovered a train departing the town with Confederate troops and refugees, one of whom was rumored to be former Florida US Sen. David Levy Yulee. As the track ran along the Amelia River for a distance, the Ottawa went steaming up the river after the train, firing at it in the pursuit, which went for 2 miles. Stevens fired on the train because he believed that it was only carrying military personnel. One shell struck the last car on the train, killing two young men sitting on the pile of material stacked on the car. The car was detached and the train made its getaway.

The illustration above is an old map of the region showing Ft. Clinch (at the northern tip of Amelia Island), old Fernandina and the route of the cross-Florida railroad out of the town. The illustration below is a current aerial photo with some of the same features labeled and the possible route of the Ottawa as she chased the departing train. Upper illustration is from the Florida Dept. of State and the current aerial photo, below, is from the St. Johns River Water Management District.

A detailed account of the Ottawa escapade is on the USS Ft. Henry website at:

Friday, March 2, 2012

Union occupation of Ft. Clinch, Fernandina, Florida

Ft. Clinch, at the northern tip of Amelia Island, after recapture by Union forces:

While attention focused, then and now, on the impending battle of the ironclads USS Monitor and CSS Virginia, things were really getting going in the Florida theatre of operations at this time. The Port of Fernandina, Florida, was important due to its ability to handle all but the largest US Navy ships in the entrance channel, its rail connections, and it’s proximity to the Bahamas (English territory and a key waypoint for blockade running). For a period of time (December 1861 to February 1862), the Union Navy was more occupied with shutting down the Port of Savannah, Georgia. Eventually however, interest in taking Fernandina resumed and a detachment from the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron headed toward the coast of Florida.

On 3 March 1862, US Navy and Marine forces arrived off the mouth of the St. Marys River (the Atlantic coast border between Georgia and Florida) and occupied Ft. Clinch, controlling the river mouth and the Port of Fernandina. Ft. Clinch, along with some well-constructed batteries in earthworks, was found abandoned, with a variety of artillery pieces in fine condition, along with powder and shot. The next day, the nearby town of Fernandina was occupied by Union forces. Ft. Clinch was turned over to US Army troops a day or so later. Flag Officer DuPont of the South Atlantic Squadron reported:

“. . . I learned from a contraband who had been picked up at sea by Commander Lanier, and from the neighboring residents on Cumberland Island, that the (Confederates) had abandoned in haste the whole of the defenses of Fernandina and were even at that moment retreating from Amelia Island . . . . . on receiving this intelligence I detached the gunboats and armed steamers of light draft from the main line and, placing them under the command of Commander P. Drayton, of the steam sloop Pawnee, I ordered him to push through the sound with the utmost speed, to save public and private property from threatened destruction . . .”

“Immediately on his entering the harbor, Commander Drayton sent Lieutenant White, of the
Ottawa, to hoist the flag on Fort Clinch, the first of the national forts on which the ensign of the Union has resumed its (place).”

“We captured Port Royal, but Fernandina and Fort Clinch have been given to us.”

A detailed account of the occupation of Ft. Clinch and Fernandina is in a paper by Chuck Veit on the Navy and Marine Living History web site at: . Illustration source – Florida Dept. of State on-line photo archive.

Civil War TECH Special Edition Issue Now Available

Get all three copies of the CWN Publications for FREE at the CWN Conference in Newport News
It is finally here!  Print copies of the Civil War Technology Special Edition have arrived hot off the press at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum.  For those members of HRNHF, we will be sending these out to you as soon as possible. 

Not a member of the Hampton Roads Naval Historical Foundation?  Want to be one?  Go to the website HERE and receive copies of The Daybook, including the special editions, right to your doorstep.  This is but one of many benefits of membership.  

There are still two other ways to get copies of the CWN SE Technology Issue.  You can download high quality .pdf's of both Civil War Navy Special Editions at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum website HERE, or click under the "Publications" tab on this blog.  The second?  Come to the front desk of the Hampton Roads Naval Museum and pick one up yourself while supplies last!  Stop by the Hampton Roads Naval Museum booth at the upcoming Civil War Navy Conference in Newport News and get all three CWN 150 publications.  We will also have our LEGO ironclad ships on display for guests to see.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Navy Nurses in the Civil War

USS Red Rover on the Mississippi River
The Civil War was a time of many "firsts" for the Navy.  Now that it is the first day of Women's history month, it would seem poignant to talk about the historic first contributions of females in the Navy.  Like African Americans, these minority members of sea service exemplified the three tenets of the U.S. Navy: Honor, Courage, and Commitment

Although nurses were not recruited in high numbers during this time period (especially for the Navy), effective clinicians would eventually become integral to the health and stability of any military.  It is no surprise then that disease, not combat, was the greatest killer of the American Civil War. 
Mother Mary Ann Bickerdyke
According to Susan H. Godson, the influx of nurses in the United States (Union) military grew early on as a result of  "the growing carnage on the battlefields."  Efforts were increased from newly created organizations like the Women's Central Association of Relief and the U.S. Sanitary Commission.  When fighting began on Virginia's peninsula in the spring of 1862, steamboats were converted into floating hospitals to transport the evacuated wounded.  The U.S. Sanitary commission paid for the staffing of these ships with surgeons, dressers, and now male and female nurses.  Female nurses "prepared food, stocked shelves, and made the inform as comfortable as possible."   One of the more famous eastern transporters, the City of Memphis, was led by Mother Mary Ann Bickerdyke, perhaps the most famous nurse of the war. 
USS Red Rover

In the West, ships did not have the luxury of swift transport to a shore hospital, so floating hospitals like the Red Rover were commissioned.  Commissioned on 26 December 1862, the Red Rover served with the Mississippi River Squadron for the remainder of the war.  The medical personnel included four nuns of the Sisters of the Holy Cross as well as five black women - Alice Kennedy, Sarah Kinno, Ellen Campbell, Betsy Young, and Dennis Downs, who assisted the nuns.  These women were the very first women to serve on a U.S. Navy ship, and the predecessors to the Navy Nurse Corps of the 19th century. 

Godson, Susan H.  Serving Proudly: A History of Women in the U.S. Navy.  Annapolis: U.S. Naval Institute Press, 2001.