Friday, April 29, 2011

Civil War at Sea Conference Photos

Last week, The Civil War Navy Sesquicentennial participated in the 23 April "Civil War at Sea" Conference at the Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C.  The event was co-sponsored by the Naval History and Heritage Command and the Washington Examiner.  Here is a small sampling of photos from the event:

Craig Symonds and his wife talk with Admiral DeLoach
Gordon Calhoun and Matthew Eng at the NHHC/HRNM/CWN 150 Booth
Admiral DeLoach with donors of Farragut's prewar ordnance log
Civil War Living History Reenactors
Gordon Calhoun interprets the sinking of the USS Cumberland
Matthew Eng talking Civil War Navy and the Emerging Trends of Awareness
A VERY big thank you to Bruce Guthrie for supplying the photographs for the event.  You can see all the photos at Bruce's website HERE.

I would also like to thank Taylor Kiland, Meredith Stencil, and Mark Weber for helping to organize the event.  It was a lot of fun, and we certainly look forward to working more with the Navy Memorial in the future. 

- CWN 150

Thursday, April 28, 2011

New CWN 150 Blogger: Welcome Aboard, John Pentangelo!

It is always refreshing to see new faces on the CWN 150 Blog, especially ones that work for the Naval History and Heritage Command!  We would like to welcome John Pentangelo from the Naval War College Museum to the CWN 150 blog.  Prior to joining the Naval War College Museum in Newport, RI, John served as Chief Curator at Historic Ships in Baltimore.  Here you see him posing on the USS Constellation.  He holds a masters degree in History Museum Studies from the prestigious Cooperstown Graduate Program.  He currently serves as the Museum's Curator/Registrar.  His other blog contributions include the Naval History Blog as well as the Naval War College Museum's blog.  Welcome! 

Monday, April 25, 2011

Report from the "Civil War at Sea"

Along with fellow CWN 150 bloggers Matthew Eng, Gordon Calhoun, and Sarah Adler, I attended the "Civil War at Sea" symposium on Saturday. Before offering some of my notes and observations, let me thank the US Navy Memorial, the Naval History & Heritage Command (NHHC), event sponsors, and speakers for what proved to be an enlightening and captivating (if long) day of presentations.

In his opening remarks, Rear Admiral (Ret) Jay DeLoach, director of NHHC, drew our attention to common themes between Civil War naval operations and the "from the headlines" naval operations today. But he also presented this World War II era recruiting poster ...

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... to illustrate how the public memory of the Civil War remained, and still remains, at the fore.

The speakers were identified in earlier posts, but allow me to list them again here, with a brief note about their topics for brevity:
  • Dr. Craig L. Symonds started with a broad overview of the role of the navies in the Civil War as the keynote session.
  • Dr. Robert J. Schneller provided presentations offering insight into some key naval leaders of the war - first with the relationship between President Lincoln and Admiral John Dahlgren, then later with profiles of Admiral David G. Farragut and Lieutenant William B. Cushing (whom he equated to a Civil War version of the modern day SEALs.)
  • Andrew C.A. Jampoler offered a discussion of Civil War prisons with emphasis on the use of Washington Navy Yard facilities and naval vessels in that role.
  • Dr. Robert M. Browning gave a detailed presentation on the blockade operations off both the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.
  • Gordon Calhoun discussed the USS Cumberland's role in the battle of Hampton Roads, further offering a look at the ship's history and legacy.
  • Fellow blogger Matthew Eng entertained with a presentation on the Civil War navies in public memory (with this very blog mentioned prominently!).
  • Dr. Howard J. Fuller explored the broader aspects of ironclad warship evolution against he backdrop of international influences.
  • Dr. William H. Thiesen introduced the wartime role of the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service, along with mention of the lighthouse and lifesaving services.
  • William Connery covered the service history of the CSS Shenandoah and the last shots of the Civil War.
  • Dr. Robert Neyland discussed recovery efforts of the submarine H.L. Hunley and provided an analysis of the recovered artifacts.
While these presentations covered almost the full range of naval topics relating to the Civil War, some common themes emerged. Several speakers emphasized the importance of steam propulsion and the changes at the strategic, operational, and tactical level that technology introduced. Of course this has, in the popular mind, been subordinated to the emergence of armored warships during the war.

Speakers put much emphasis on the battle of Hampton Roads, with frequent use of images. Such reinforces Matthew Eng's point that the battle stands tall in our public memory of the Civil War navies.

I lost count of the number of times that Raphael Semmes' photo appeared on the screen. But to some extent the mention of Semmes did serve as a counter-prop to the emphasis on the blockade operations. However, being somewhat a "western theater" historian and an "Army" person, the one complaint I had was the limited mention of those brown-water riverine operations. But otherwise I found the presentations balanced, entertaining, and enlightening.

For those who missed the event, the talks were recorded. When (or if) those are posted, no doubt we will offer links.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Stone Fleet

The sinking of the Stone Fleet-Harper's Weekly
On April 19, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln issued his Proclamation of Blockade against Southern Ports, which led to the creation of the Blockade Strategy Board. The Board included four members: Captain Samuel DuPont, Commander Charles Henry Davis, Major John Barnard (of the US Army), and Alexander Bache (from the Smithsonian Institution and US Coast Guard Survey).
Early in the war, one of the Board’s ideas to successfully blockade the South involved using a “Stone Fleet.” As Harpers Weekly reported in December 1861, “The [Stone] fleet is comprised of old whalers, which have been purchased by the Government for the purpose of effectively blockading the Southern ports. By this means the rebels will be frustrated in their little excursions seaward. These ships once in place, no rebel Commissioners will find their way out upon the blue waters to be caught by our gallant naval officers.” So, instead of using active-duty naval vessels to guard the Charleston Harbor, the Board intended to fill these old ships with stones and sink them to keep merchant ships and Confederate Naval Ships from being able to navigate the harbor. This map shows where the 24 whaling ships were sunk.

Ultimately, this attempt to block the harbor was unsuccessful—the ships broke up in a year, and the harbor was never fully blocked and unable to be used. This event inspired Herman Melville to write a poem entitled “The Stone Fleet.” Melville cited his own feelings on the unsuccessful nature of the Stone Fleet in his last two stanzas:

To scuttle them--a pirate deed--
Sack them, and dismast;
They sunk so slow, they died so hard,
But gurgling dropped at last.
Their ghosts in gales repeat
Woe's us, Stone Fleet!

And all for naught. The waters pass--
Currents will have their way;
Nature is nobody's ally; 'tis well;
The harbor is bettered--will stay.
A failure, and complete,Was your Old Stone Fleet.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Union Jacks: Yankee Sailors in the Civil War

Historians have given a great deal of attention to the lives and experiences of Civil War soldiers, but surprisingly little is known about navy sailors who participated in the conflict. In our second luncheon lecture of 2011, Michael J. Bennett will be discussing his book, Union Jacks: Yankee Sailors in the Civil War.

Through his research, Bennett has found that sailors differed from their counterparts in the army in many ways. They tended to be a rougher bunch of men than the regular soldiers, drinking and fighting excessively. Those who were not foreign-born, escaped slaves, or unemployed at the time they enlisted often hailed from the urban working class rather than from rural farms and towns. In addition, most sailors enlisted for pragmatic rather than ideological reasons.

Come and join the Hampton Roads Naval Museum on Thursday, April 28, as Michael J. Bennett describes the lives of the enlisted sailors in the Union Navy. The luncheon begins at 11:30am at the Crowne Plaza in downtown Norfolk (700 Monticello Avenue, Norfolk, VA). It costs $15 for members of the Hampton Roads Naval Historical Foundation and $20 for non-members to attend. To attend just the lecture, there is no cost (though you must still RSVP).

RSVPs are required by Saturday, April 23. Please call 757-322-3109 to leave a message with your reservation, or contact Laura at 757-322-3108 or with any questions.

We hope to see you there!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Notice-There is No Civil War Air Force 150 Blog

Building a Civil War Navy Bibliography

Many readers will over the course of the sesquicentennial will expand, or in some cases start, a Civil War library. Perhaps historians may not have placed as much emphasis on the naval aspects of the war compared to the land campaigns, but the naval history of the war has a share of good, solid scholarship for readers.

One of my personal projects over the next few months is to fill out my Civil War Navy bibliography. I approach this first by defining the "shelves" or categories to file the volumes. For a start, let's go with the categories defined within the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies (which by the way, is a mandatory inclusion in ANY Civil War library, no excuses since it is available electronically):
  • Operations of the Cruisers - or as I like to call it, the "Blue Water Navy."
  • Blockading Operations - which separate neatly into three sub-sections based on the command infrastructure: North Atlantic, South Atlantic, and Gulf Coast (the Official Records further break out East and West Gulf Squadrons).
  • Eastern Theater Support Operations - mostly operations in direct support of the Army's activities in Virginia.
  • Western River Operations - centered, but certainly not exclusive to, the Mississippi River. I personally separate these out into two sub-categories: Upper Mississippi Valley and Lower Mississippi Valley.
  • Supply and Logistic support.
  • Administrative, departmental and diplomatic activities.
  • Biographies of key leaders and personnel.
  • Ship histories - considering technical and service aspects.
  • Ordnance and munitions - Yes, my personal favorite.
Of course on the "top shelf" I'd place a category for works looking at the Navy's role in the war from a broad overview perspective.

So what other "shelves" would you add? (or take away?)

What books would you like to see on those shelves? Any suggested reading?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

CWN 150 Coordinator to Appear on Midrats Radio Show Tomorrow

CWN 150 Coordinator Matthew Eng will appear on the Blog Talk Radio station "Midrats" tomorrow evening during its 5pm show. CDR Salamander, the host of the show and contributor to the USNI Blog, will discuss naval operations during the Civil War.

The following is the show description for "Episode 67: The Navy in the US Civil War:"

"This Sunday's show will focus on that part - the role of both the United States and Confederate States Navy in this great conflict. Our guest for the first hour is author, lecturer, and Civil War expert William Connery. For the second half of the show we will have Matthew Eng, an Educator, Hampton Roads Naval Museum."

You can find a direct link to the blogtalkradio site for this week's "Midrats" show at:

-CWN 150

Ken Burns Discusses the Civil War

You’re watching You’ve Got Ken Burns. See the Web's top videos on AOL Video

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Confederate Privateering Begins

Confederate privateer document (Image courtesy of the Museum of the Confederacy)
With the hostilities officially underway, both sides began a series  legal maneuvers that expanded the conflict beyond the shores of Fort Sumter.  President Abraham Lincoln issued a call for 75,000 volunteers to enlist in Federal army units.  Taking this as a declaration of war against a sovereign state, Confederate President Jefferson Davis issued a counter-proclamation calling for patriotic Southerns to organize privateering outfits and take to the high seas against Yankee commerce.  On April 17, 1861, he proclaimed that

"Now, therefore, I, Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America, do issue this, my proclamation, inviting all those who may desire, by service in private armed vessels on the high seas, to aid this government in restating so wanton and wicked an aggression, to make application for commissions or letters of marque and reprisal, to be issued under the seal of these Confederate States; and I do further notify all persons applying for letters of marque to make a statement in writing, giving the name and suitable description of the character, tonnage, and force of the vessel, name of the place of residence of each owner concerned therein and the intended number of crew."

However, John Paul Jones wannabees would have to wait.  Either through his own discovery or advice of others, Davis realized that he issued his proclamation in haste as there were many details to be worked out. Among the issues were how captured prizes were to be adjudicated and which ships and cargoes were lawful targets.

He turned to the newly formed Confederate Congress to work out the details on April 29.  After a week of debate, the Confederate Congress pass two laws authorizing privateers, setting up prize courts, outlying who could be seized and who had to be let go, and penalties against privateers violating Confederate laws.

Most importantly, the privateering laws placed restrictions on who could be a privateer. The restrictions were mainly financial in nature.  Specifically, ship captains wanting a letter of "marque and reprisal" (the legal document authorizing someone to be a privateer) had to post a $5,000 to 10,000 bond (depending on ship size).  The captains also had to find two people not associated with the ship willing to guarantee the bond.  In other words, two guys with a rowboat and a shotgun could not declare themselves a privateer and take ships in the name of the Confederacy.

By mid-May, several privateering outfits in North and South Carolina assembled the necessary money, ships, men, and documents and set off for glory and money.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Happy 150th Anniversary

Civil War historians and enthusiasts have been waiting for this moment for the last 50 years.  Now a half century removed from the centennial celebration of the American Civil War, we have the rare and special opportunity to commemorate TODAY the opening of this country's most trying conflict.  Today marks the sesquicentennial anniversary of the opening of hostilities at Fort Sumter in Charleston, S.C.  You can see a full list of what they are doing by clicking on the link to the Fort Sumter National Monument HERE.   

The Washington Post came out with a great article outlining Fort Sumter and the making of "modern America."  Here is a direct link: Fort Sumter and Modern America.

The Post also has a great section asking its readers what they think the Civil War's greatest impact was.  HERE is the direct link to the site.

This also marks the birthday of the National Civil War Naval Museum at Port Columbus.  Happy Birthday, guys (Especially Mr. Bruce Smith- keep up the good work!).  We are all glad to hear that the symposium was a success.

So, instead of reproducing reports outlining the minute by minute  account of the battle (there are several sites out there that will be doing this), we would like to know your thoughts on this very special day in our history and collective memory.  Post your responses here, on our Facebook page, or tweet your thoughts @civilwarnavy.  Start the conversation.  Help keep the celebration alive and thriving these next few years. 

Welcome to the Civil War Sesquicentennial.

-CWN 150

Today's Fort Sumter

Back in December, I was fortunate enough to visit Charleston, SC and - in particular - Fort Sumter. Today, Fort Sumter is owned and managed by the National Park Service, which provides rangers on the transporting boat and within the fort itself. As today is the anniversary of the firing upon the fort and the official beginning of the Sesquicentennial, I felt it was a good time to post just a few pictures.

On a quick personal note, I am excited to enter the Sesquicentennial as part of the CWN150 and I look forward to the next four years of commemorating and learning with all of our readers. -- SA

Sunday, April 10, 2011

From the Charleston Mercury, 9 April 1861

"Our authorities yesterday evening received notice from Lincoln’s Government, through a special messenger from Washington, that an effort will be made to supply Fort Sumter with provisions and that if this were permitted, no attempt would be made to reinforce it with men! This message comes simultaneously with a fleet, which we understand is now off our bar, waiting for daylight and tide to make the effort threatened.

We have patiently submitted to the insolent military domination of a handful of men in our bay for over three months after the declaration of our independence of the United States. The object of that self humiliation has been to avoid the effusion of blood, while such preparation was made as to render it causeless and useless.

It seems we have been unable, by discretion, forbearance, and preparation, to effect the desired object, and that now the issue of battle is to be forced upon us. The gage is thrown down, and we accept the challenge. We will meet the invader, and the God of Battles must decide the issue between the hostile hirelings of Abolition hate and Northern tyranny, and the people of South Carolina defending their freedom and their homes. We hope such a blow will be struck in behalf of the South, that Sumter and Charleston harbor will be remembered at the North as long as they exist as a people.”

At this time, the sloop of war USS Pawnee was dispatched from Hampton Roads to relieve Maj. Robert Anderson's garrison at Fort Sumter.  Leaving Hampton Roads, the ship would get caught in a storm, arriving too late to help the fledgling fort.  Time was running out, or had already run out for the Navy's assistance of the garrison. 

Reproduction of the Charleston Mercury article courtesy of the Daily Observations of the Civil War, a great site detailing the daily events during the sesquicentennial.  The link may be found at:

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Back in Business

In response to the avoidance of a Government shutdown, the Civil War Navy Sesquicentennial is back in business. 


CWN 150

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Youtube Welcome Video

Now that we are just days away from the opening of the official start of the sesquicentennial, I figured it would be poignant to make the first video on the Official CWN 150 Youtube page.  It is just a short video introducing everyone to what the CWN 150 is, what we do, and some events we have coming up (23 April Civil War at Sea Conference especially).  Enjoy. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Dissolving in Water: What is Known and Unknown

It is still hard for the most knowledgeable student of the Civil War to grasp the complexities of the conflict. In four years, over 620,000 people died on land and water. Far more met their end from disease than any musket fire or cannonball. But why? Why the bloodshed? Many will say that it was a necessary answer to the problem of the "peculiar institution," while others merit the right of state sovereignty. Although it is widely acknowledged by scholars from today that slavery was the overwhelming cause of the war, the events surrounding the war and its commemoration are upon us once again. We are all truly at a unique crossroads in American history in 2011. It is not only a time to commemorate, but to also reflect on our country's most trying time.

Looking Beyond "Overlooked"
Most scholars of the Civil War navies will comment on its "overlooked" nature. Indeed, several CWN 150 posts are dedicated to this idea of public memory and its dis-attachment to the navies. Let us then focus on what is known from questions often asked by readers and students of Civil War history.

Where did the United States Navy stand in the antebellum period? What would the United States Navy after the war? One historian referred to the Navy as a "drowsy, moth-eaten organization." In many cases, they are right. Yet like a moth-eaten garment, the Navy needed to replace itself when the drums of war roared from Charleston Harbor.

Gone were the realities of a 'unified' brotherhood of sailors. In a war based on disunion, approximately 1/5 of the U.S. Navy's officer corps went South. Gone were the realities of an unfair, seniority based system of rank. Authors like Craig Symonds and Stephen Taaffe both write about the merit-based system put into place during the war.

What lasted from the war most of all was a momentum of change unparalleled by contemporary standards. Far beyond military drill and overland tactics, the navies of Blue and Gray revolutionized, mechanized, and revitalized a fledgling military branch into the most powerful maritime force in the entire world in 1865. To the credit of both Union and Confederacy, the war at sea and on rivers touched the lives of countless sailors and civilians alike. The navies did not necessarily make the conflict a world war. Rather, they created a war that took the world by storm.

For the Union fleet alone, however, the "moth-eaten" organization grew to nearly 700 ships by wars end, making it the largest buildup in U.S. history until the Second World War. Lincoln's "webbed feet" did much to turn the tide by April 1865, despite their spirited and battle-tested southern counterparts.

First and Lasts
It was a time of historic firsts and lasts. The first iron-clad ships (CSS Virginia and USS Monitor) and their subsequent historic battle ending the era of sailing vessels, the appointment of the first Admiral (David G. Farragut), and the last time anyone viewed naval warfare the same way. Many junior and mid rank officers turned out to become some of the Navy's most celebrated heroes such as William Cushing, David Dixon Porter, William Goldsborough, and Richard W. Meade.

Future Spanish American War Admirals George Dewey, Winfield Scott Schley (pictured left), and William T. Sampson all cut their teeth during the war. Even the infamous "prophet" of the Navy, Alfred Thayer Mahan, served the Union Navy on several ships as a young Lieutenant.

Due and Proper
And what of the evidence of the ships, men, and organizations surrounding our sesquicentennial anniversary? They are more apparent and abundant than one may think. The public eye is always visible. Go to Dupont Circle or nearby Farragut Square in NW Washington, D.C. and see people gathering around areas built in commemoration of two naval titans.

Farragut Statue, New York City
Feel like taking in a Knicks game in New York City? Stop by Madison Square's Farragut statue near 5th Avenue and read the inscription detailing his "daring and sagacious" actions at Mobile Bay. Take the Metro from Penn Station down to Battery Park and see the statue of acclaimed Monitor inventor John Ericsson.

Or perhaps Virginia is your most convenient destination. After all, the majority of battles occurred in the seat of the Confederacy. You could pick your child up from Matthew F. Maury High School in Norfolk as you travel along the Monitor-Merrimac Bridge Tunnel on your way north to Dahlgren, VA, named after the naval officer and inventor of the famous cannon.

The CWN 150 is YOU
The Civil War was a time of momentous loss and miraculous triumph. The men involved possessed an unquenchable spirit that has remained these one hundred and fifty years. The truth is, the 150th anniversary of the Civil War is about you, the individual, who chooses to participate and stay active. There will be countless lectures, living history days, presentations, and programs around the country highlighting the war on land and at sea. We will certainly be at the front lines for the latter. It is important to know what you would like for us to put on this blog or coordinate around the country. Your input is crucial to the success of this commemoration.

It has been well over a year since the first post of the Civil War Navy Sesquicentennial. Sixteen months and over a hundred posts later, we are still going strong. For those that have remained loyal in checking in, we thank you with sincere and open hearts. In the meantime, keep a weathered eye on the horizon for much more in the future.

Full Speed Ahead,

Matthew T. Eng
CWN 150 Coordinator

"Not too long the brave shall wait:
On their own heads be their fate,
Who against the hallowed State
Dare begin;
Flag defied and compact riven!
In the record of high Heaven
How shall Southern men be shriven
For the sin!"
- Excerpt from Sumter, by Edmund Clarence Stedman

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Coming of War

Over the next week, the Civil War Navy Sesquicentennial will be posting several feature articles all related to the opening of the Civil War at Fort Sumter.  This is truly a special time in American History.  After half a century of waiting, the next great milestone commemoration is just around the corner.  What will the next four years bring?  Only time will tell.  It is the hope of the Civil War Navy Sesquicentennial to keep readers and enthusiasts equally informed and stimulated by all events and activities promoted or created by this commemoration.  Keep coming to the site, as we have much in store for the future.  The latest event, as posted before, will occur on 23 April in Washington, D.C.      

Interested in becoming a true part of the CWN 150?  Post your own thoughts about the Civil War Navy or Civil War Sesquicentennial commemoration here on the CWN 150, or tweet your thoughts @civilwarnavy.  Have any ideas or comments on what you would like to see relating to the Civil War Navy?  This is a great time to express that!  It is important to document how the public will choose to treat the 150th anniversary of America's most trying period of its short existence.  After all, if the public interest goes away, there would be no true meaning of commemorating events. 

- CWN 150