Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Final Poll Winner: The Battle of Hampton Roads

Over the past five weeks, readers of this blog were asked "What was the most important naval battle of the Civil War?" Twenty naval battles were posted during this time period, and readers voted on what they felt was the most important. Many were well known, while others were limited conflicts. This past week's poll included the five top battles from previous weeks. By a slim margin, the Battle of Hampton Roads (8-9 March 1862) beat out both the Union Blockade and the Vicksburg Campaign. Here are the results:

Battle of Hampton Roads - 6 votes
Island No. 10 - 0 votes
Battle of Memphis - 3 votes
Union Blockade - 4 votes
Vicksburg Campaign - 4 votes

This is especially important as we get closer to the anniversary of the event. Many museums around the country, include the Hampton Roads Naval Museum, include many artifacts from the battle itself. Stay tuned to the blog, as HRNM historian Gordon Calhoun and Registrar Mike Taylor are currently working to complete a USS Cumberland interactive center on the Hampton Roads Naval Museum website just in time for the anniversary. Keep up to date with any events and postings concerning the Civil War Navy Sesquicentennial by viewing this blog or visiting us on Facebook, keyword "Civil War Navy Sesquicentennial."

Thursday, February 11, 2010

New Events Posted

Need something to do to impress your sweetheart this Valentines Day weekend? Well, you could always take them to these updated Civil War Navy events. Events are located at the USS Constellation(Baltimore, MD), Hampton Roads Naval Museum(Norfolk, VA), and National Civil War Museum (Harrisburg, PA). The other event involves a 3 day bus tour through the Vicksburg Campaign. Fall in love with Civil War naval history this valentines day!

Living history, "Black Sailors in Navy Blue," USS Constellation

Date: Saturday, February 13th
Location: USS Constellation (Baltimore Harbor)
Institution/Affiliation: Historic Ships
Point of Contact: www.historicships.org
Description: Special tour of the USS Constellation will highlight the role of African-American sailors during the Civil War. 12 pm. Free with admission. Located in Baltimore's historic Harbor.
Link: http://www.historicships.org

HRNM Navy Heritage Series: Blacks in Blue

Date: Saturday, February 13th
Location: Hampton Roads Naval Museum (Norfolk, VA)
Institution/Affiliation: HRNM/NHHC
Point of Contact: 757-322-3168
Description: Since the American Revolution, African-Americans have served with dignity in the U.S. Navy, often in the face of discrimination. Celebrate Black History Month by learning more about these great African-American naval heroes at our presentation. Feb. 13th 2 p.m. Admission: Free
Link: http://www.hrnm.navy.mil

Free Day at the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, PA

Date: Saturday, February 13th
Location: National Civil War Museum (Harrisburg, PA)
Institution/Affiliation: National Civil War Museum
Point of Contact: (717) 260-1861
Description: The National Civil War Museum is holding a "Community Free Day" on February 13th. All museum visitors will receive complimentary admission. Sponsored by M & T Bank. Make sure to check out their Civil War Navy Exhibit Gallery.
Link: http://www.nationalcivilwarmuseum.org/index_1.php

Grant's Road to Destiny: Part 3. The Vicksburg Campaign: Bayau Expeditions

Date: April 14th - April 17th
Location: Vicksburg, MS
Institution/Affiliation: Blue and Gray Education Society
Point of Contact: 434.250.9921
Description: This study shows us the intellectual agility of US Grant and his willingness to “get at the Rebels” in any way that he could.  This program shows Grant on the offensive—the risks are very high and there are points in which failure could be catastrophic!  Here we will look at joint operations and the key developing relationship between Admiral David D. Porter and both Sherman and Grant. For full itinerary for this bus tour, please see corresponding link.
Link: http://www.blueandgrayeducation.org/index.php?option=com_content&id=167&Itemid=55

Monday, February 8, 2010

Fourth Poll Winner, Final Poll Posted

Readers of the Civil War 150 blog were asked: "What was the most important naval battle during the Civil War. Part 4 of the poll was overwhelmingly in favor of the Vicksburg Campaign, a vital one sealing off access to the Mississippi River. President Abraham Lincoln is famous for remarking that "Vicksburg is the Key." Indeed, the events from June 1863 cannot be overlooked (couple the defeat of Vicksburg and the Battle of Gettysburg) Results from the fourth poll are as follows:

Fort Hindman - 0 Votes
CSS Alabama vs. USS Kearsarge (off Cherbourg, France) - 4 Votes
HL Hunley sinks the USS Housatonic - 0 Votes
Vicksburg Campaign - 12 Votes
Aquia Creek - 0 Votes

The final poll will be the "final five." The top five civil war battles/campaigns (as there was a tie in voting between the battle of Memphis and Island No. 10)will go head to head. It is up to the readers and Civil War Navy enthusiasts to decide what was the most important naval battle of the Civil War. Here are the top five you will be voting on:

Battle of Hampton Roads (Poll 1 winner)
Island No. 10 (Poll 2 co-winner)
Battle of Memphis (Poll 2 co-winner)
Union Blockade (Poll 3 winner)
Vicksburg Campaign (Poll 4 winner)

This should be interesting. Vicksburg received the most votes (12), while the Battle of Hampton Roads is often cited as the "dawn of modern naval warfare." Please vote!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

African Americans in the Civil War: John Lawson and Robert Smalls

Eight African-American sailors won the Congressional Medal of Honor during the American Civil War. Former slave John Lawson became of four African-Americans who earned the Medal of Honor aboard the USS Hartford at the famous Battle of Mobile Bay. Lawson served as an ammunition handler during the August 1864 conflict, refusing to leave the fight as shells exploded around him. Lawson himself was thrown against the bulkhead of the Hartford from a shell blast, wounding him in both legs. His Medal of Honor Citation reads:

"On board the flagship U.S.S. Hartford during successful attacks against Fort Morgan, rebel gunboats and the ram Tennessee in Mobile Bay on 5 August 1864. Wounded in the leg and thrown violently against the side of the ship when an enemy shell killed or wounded the 6-man crew as the shell whipped on the berth deck, Lawson, upon regaining his composure, promptly returned to his station and, although urged to go below for treatment, steadfastly continued his duties throughout the remainder of the action."

Although he did not win the Congressional Medal of Honor, pilot Robert Smalls also displayed heroism in combat. Smalls and a small group of African-Americans escaped on the side-wheel steamer Planter just before dawn on 13 May 1862 in Charleston, South Carolina. Smalls and his crew of nine men, five children, and three children set out to the ocean until the blockade ship Onward found her. For his capture of the Confederate vessel, Smalls received his freedom, $4,500 in prize money, and command of the ship itself for blockade duty. Smalls would later go on to serve on the South Carolina state legislature and later U.S. House of Representatives.

Note: An excellent source for Robert Smalls and his family is Andrew Billingsley, Yearning to Breathe Free: Robert Smalls of South Carolina and His Families. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2007. Dr. Billingsley spoke at a 2009 Luncheon Lecture sponsored by the Hampton Roads Naval Museum.

For more information, please see John Lawson's Medal of Honor citation at http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/pers-us/uspers-l/j-lawson.htm

Bernard Nalty, Long Passage to Korea, 7.

Stephen Ramold, Slaves, Sailors, Citizens, 130. Other African-American Medal of Honor winners at the Battle of Mobile Bay include William H. Brown, James Mifflin, and Wilson Brown.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Celebrating African-Americans in the Civil War Navy

Pictured: Racial integration on the USS Hunchback

This is the first of a series of blog postings celebrating the African-American involvement in the Navy.

Although it was a revolution in racial equality in the armed forces, African-Americans faced some equality issues during the Civil War. Escaped slaves, commonly known as “contrabands,” were initially barred from any rating beyond “boy” on a ship. African-Americans at the time were also excluded from the officer corps. Pay rates for African-American sailors were also $4 less a month than other white enlisted sailors, who received $16 per month. By December 1862, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles fixed problems of race and budget by approving the enlistment of former slaves as “Landsmen,” adult sailors with nautical experience. Welles understood that free and formerly enslaved African-Americans could help the war effort dramatically, especially on the offensives along the Mississippi River. Historian Steven J. Ramold sums up these sentiments perfectly in a 2004 interview with The Journal of African American History: “From the Navy Department’s perspective, Civil War sailors were just men to be recruited trained, employed, and discharged no matter what their background.” The lack of compartmentalization seen during the Revolutionary War was making an appearance once again in a time of great struggle.

While some historians will credit the rating as a job filled with “menial tasks” for “unskilled men,” the opportunity for former slaves to now ascend to rank of petty officer is key. Any restrictions at face value did not impede the rate of African-American enlistments. Regardless of the conditions they faced, African-Americans made the conscientious choice to fight for freedom. “These African American sailors were needed,” Ramold remarked in the closing arguments of his 2004 interview; “They were Americans who didn’t hesitate to fight for their country.” Their choice provided ample reason for ultimate victory of the Union in April 1865.

Hannon, Hannon “African Americans in the Navy During the Civil War,” The Journal of African American History 89, no. 4 (Autumn 2004): 361.

Nalty, Bernard C. Long Passage to Korea: Black Sailors and the Integration of the U.S. Navy. Washington, D.C.: Naval Historical Center, 2003.

Ramold, Steven J. Slaves, Sailors, Citizens: African Americans in the Union Navy. Dekalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2002.

"The Negroes' Historical and Contemporary Role in National Defense," November 26, 1940. Miscellaneous, Record Group 220: Records of the President's Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Services.