Monday, May 30, 2011

David Dixon Porter on the Memory of the Civil War

Today, we celebrate Memorial Day.  Originally designated "Decoration Day" as a day to commemorate fallen Union soldiers during the American Civil War, it was later recognized as "Memorial Day" to honor all Americans who gave the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty.  It is a day of reflection and remembrance to the brave men and women of our armed forces.  

Although Admiral David Dixon Porter would never live to see the transformation of Decoration Day into our current day of celebrations, the words he included in the introduction of his 1886 work, The Naval History of the Civil War, tells much of the remembrance of the Civil War navies, especially in comparison to the War of 1812 (which his father David Porter was heavily involved in):

"The Naval incidents of the War of 1812 with Great Britain are better understood to-day by the great mass of American readers than are the naval incidence of the Civil War between the northern and seceding states, which lasted from 1861 to 1865. In the War of 1812 half a dozen frigates and a dozen sloops of war on the ocean, and three small squadrons on the lakes, made up about the sum total of our Navy afloat when the war commenced, and those vessels performed such marvelous exploits, considering the great superiority in ships of Great Britain, that the events, comparatively few in number, have impressed themselves indelibly on the mind of every schoolboy who read of them in books that were put in their hands at an early age: events that were taught them as part of the history of a nation which, previous to that time, had not paid much attention to the Navy, or even calculated that it would become so famed. 

Since that era the Navy of the United States has been making history for the country on a scale almost bewildering, and could the old pioneer captains of 1812 have been permitted to look on from their present abode (wherever that may be), we doubt not but that they would have been astonished at the large fleets we were putting afloat with such wonderful rapidity; and they would also have acknowledged that their descendants had nobly borne themselves in the war for the salvation of this Union, which was as dear to our forefathers as it is to us at the present time."

Friday, May 27, 2011

Gosport Navy Yard-Welles Defends His Actions

The lost of the Gosport Navy Yard was considered in the North to be disaster of the War. There were many questions on how someone could let over 1,100 guns, one of the nation's only two dry docks, and the hull of the USS Merrimack fall into opposition's hands. After the war Republican Party activist/insider and newspaper editor Thurlow Weed wanted to make sure that world knew who he thought was to blame: Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles.

In an 1870 account published in the magazine The Galaxy, Weed recalled that "Meeting the Secretary at dinner the same day, I renewed the conversation, and was informed that the matter would be attended to. This did not quiet my solicitude, and leaving the Secretary to the placid enjoyment of his dinner, I repaired to the White House. Mr. Lincoln, however, had driven out to visit some fortifications. I made another attempt in the evening to see him, but he was again out- Early the next morning, however, I found him, and informed him what 1 had heard of the danger that threatened Gosport, and how, as I feared, I had failed to impress the Secretary of the Navy with the accuracy of my information or the necessity of immediate action."

Welles and Weed never liked each other from the time they first met. Welles thought Weed was nothing more than a political hack (Weed was instrumental in getting Abraham Lincoln elected and thus had ready acess to the President). Nevertheless, when Welles saw Weed's version of events on Gosport, he exploded. Weed's slander was not the first attack on Welles' reputation. But after reading an attack by one of his political enemies, he had enough. Welles responded with his own essay that was also published in The Galaxy.

He wrote "I do not affect to misunderstand the scope and purpose of the allusions to myself, nor the impressions which the autobiographer seeks to convey. They are in character and keeping with years of misrepresentation in relation to the abandonment of the navy-yard at Norfolk, and other events by which the administration of the Navy Department was for years maligned and wronged."

Welles defended his actions (or lack thereof) on saving Gosport by stating that there was a belief that Virginia might still stay in the Union.

"In regard to the navy-yard at Norfolk, [President Lincoln] was particulraly solicitous that there should be no action taken which would indicate a want of confidence in the authorities and people, or which would be likely to beget distrust. No ships were to be withdrawn, no fortifications erected. We had reports from that station and from others that there were ardent secessionists among the civil and naval officers, and assurances, on the other hand, that most of them were patriotic and supporters of the Union. "

The full essay titled "Mr. Welles Responds to Mr. Weed" can be found here.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Stephen Mallory's Dream Operation

The Confederacy's first and only secretary of the navy Stephen Mallory had many positive leadership qualities. Among them was confidence. Throughout the war, he constantly pushed and encouraged his officers and his tiny fleet to make war on the Union, despite the overwhelming odds facing them.  Sometimes, however, Mallory's confidence was simple daydreaming and reality checked his plans.

Just a few weeks into the job as head of the Confederacy's naval forces, Mallory ordered Commander John Tucker to take the steamer CSS Patrick Henry from Richmond and make war on the Union. The Virginia State government seized the 1,300-ton steamer and armed with ten captured at the Gosport Navy Yard. With the veteran Tucker in command, Mallory believed that the ship was ready for war.

In a July 13, 1861 letter, he instructed Tucker to "make an active cruise at sea against the enemy."  Specifically, Mallory stated that Tucker should steam down the James River, run past the squadron in Hampton Roads, out into the Atlantic, engage and capture a ship of similar size to Patrick Henry (specifically mentioned the USRS Harriet Lane), and bring it back to a friendly port with all of its stores in tact.  Invoking the spirit of the old U.S. Navy sailing frigates, he believed Patrick Henry could outgun any ship of similar size and outrun any ship of large size.

While Mallory did give Tucker an escape clause in the order ("Should you find it impracticable to leave the river..."), he strongly hinted that he wanted the operation carried out. Cooler and wiser heads must have prevailed as the operation never went forward.  At the time of the letter, the U.S. Navy's Atlantic Blockading Squadron had anywhere between four to seven warships in Hampton Roads. 

Friday, May 20, 2011

Arming Western Waters

In the spring of 1861, Winfield Scott's plan to bisect the Confederacy was but a dream. The U.S. Navy was solely a saltwater institution, and understandably so. In America's previous wars, inland waterways were of little value to overall military strategy, and whatever action took place in coastal waterways was typically handled by the available vessels of shallow draft, content to sail a short distance inland. But the Civil War was an entirely new affair and the United States needed to master the Father of Waters and its tributaries. Success in the Western Theater depended upon seizing control of the Mississippi River and securing Army troop movements into the Confederate heartland.

Scott understood that the Mississippi needed a naval force as soon as possible. In an early memorandum to General George McClellan, commander of western operations, Scott commented that the Army would need at least 12-27 gunboats. It proved to be a gross underestimate. Neither the Army or the Navy maintained any naval force on the Mississippi. All future vessels of war needed to be purchased and converted for wartime duty, or built from scratch.

Organizing a western fleet began within weeks of the fall of Fort Sumter. At the advice of U.S. Attorney General and Missourian Edward Bates, the Navy summoned James B. Eads, a prominent and wealthy St. Louis salvager and naval architect. After a positive meeting with Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles and Gustavus Vasa Fox, on 29 April Eads submitted a proposal for a blockade of the upper Mississippi. Cairo, Illinois would be the base of forward operations. These proposals were forwarded to Secretary of War Simon Cameron, who directed McClellan to organize a naval force.

Welles was preoccupied with the oceanic blockade and treated the Mississippi predicament as a sideshow. On 16 May, he dispatched Commander John Rodgers to Cincinnati to advise McClellan. In his orders to Commander Rodgers, the Secretary made it clear that all waterborne matters in the west, including vessel procurement and building, were the responsibility of the Army. Above all, it was up to the Army to finance the project:
SIR: You will proceed to Cincinnati, Ohio, or the headquarters of General McClellan, where they may be, and report to that officer in regard to the expediency of establishing a naval armament on the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, or either of them, with a view of blockading or interdicting communication and interchanges with the States that are in insurrection.
This interior nonintercourse is under the direction and regulation of the Army, and your movements will therefore be governed in a great degree by General McClellan, the officer in command, with whom you will put yourself in immediate communication. He will give such orders and requisitions as the case to him shall seem necessary, you acting in conjunction with and subordinate to him.
Whatever naval armament and crew may be necessary to carry into effect the objects here indicated, you will call for by proper requisition.
Not only would the Army draw upon the expertise of James Eads and John Rodgers, but the Navy additionally detailed U.S. Naval Constructor Samuel Pook to Cairo. Together, these three men formed a knowledgeable team. Eads was intimately familiar with the Mississippi and her tributaries, and understood the peculiar design requirements any gunboats would have to meet. Pook was able to combine, with Eads, his skill in ship design, and they developed the plans for many of the vessels launched in 1861 and 1862. Rodgers, whose liaison assignment in the West would be brief, added the necessary military background and worked closely with the Army, setting in motion the creation of the Western Gunboat Flotilla.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Sketches of the USS Brooklyn, 18 May 1861

The images below were sketched by an Engineer Officer onboard the sloop-of-war USS Brooklyn on its way to aid the reinforcement of Fort Pickens in Pensecola, FL.  The crew of the Brooklyn helped to stem several advances of the Confederates to take the position during its mission there.  She would later fail to capture the infamous commerce raider CSS Sumter in the Gulf of Mexico in June.  The images appeared in the 18 May 1861 issue of Harper's Weekly



Monday, May 16, 2011

Any Ship Will Do-The Blockaders

This is an 1861 Harper's Weekly engraving entitled "Preparing Merchant Vessels for the Blockade."  When the Lincoln Administration declared the blockade, the U.S. Navy was desperate for anything that floated to make the blockade proclamation legally binding.  In this particular engraving are ships purchased in New York City: the steamers Augusta, James Adger, Florida, Valley City, Hale, and Star and Stripes and the sail barks Arthur, Brazelero, and Gem of the Seas. 

While not ideal warships, many of this ships already had proven sea keeping traits and did succeed in capturing a few blockade runners during the war.  The Navy equipped most of the vessels with old 32-pounders

The Federal government ability to buy up so many ships demonstrated one of its "advantages" over its Southern opponent.  With ready access to cash, the Federal government was able to buy whatever equipment it needed.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Keeping the Nation's Captial Open

USS Pawnee and Freeborn engage Confederate batteries at Aquia Creek, June 1, 1861.
In his history of the U.S. Navy in the Civil War, Admiral David Dixon Porter commented that in May 1861 "the country was too busy watching the black clouds gathering in the South and West to note the ordinary events that were taking place on the Potomac Before the Lincoln Administration could execute on any grand strategy of war, there was the very serious issue of Washington, D.C.'s geographic isolation."

Riots and political uncertainty in Maryland temporarily cut of land routes, leaving the Potomac River as the only alterative. Using guns seized at Gosport, Confederate engineers and gunners established fortified outposts along the Virginia side of the river to challenge any ship flying the U.S. flag.  To answer this issue,the U.S. Navy established the Potomac Flotilla. Never large in size or stature, the squadron and Confederate shore batteries fought in several small engagements (often at Aquia Creek) from May through July 1861.  The Flotilla kept the river open, but Confederate gunners often found a way to harass Union shipping.

In a sign of events to come, the U.S. Army initially refused to provide the necessary ground  troops to secure the Confederate forts on a permanent bias.  It was not until the Peninsula Campaign of 1862 that the Potomac was finally secured.

After the war, Porter did not forget the Flotilla’s work. He wrote that "[the public] never stopped to consider the importance of such tedious work as occurred on the great highway from Washington to the sea, nor did they ever seem to reflect that if the river was once closed, the very life of the Union would be imperiled."

Monday, May 9, 2011

Online Scavenger Hunt #1 Results; Scavenger Hunt #2 Available

Last week, we debuted our first Online Scavenger Hunt for CWN 150 fans.  There were only a few participants, so we are looking for more participants.  If you're on the internet anyway, join the fun, do some simple searches, and earn great FREE prizes in the process!  Here are the results of last week's scavenger hunt, along with the leaderboards.

1. Fort Sumter
2. CSS Sumter
3. Charles Francis Adams

1. "Seaman Rob" - 8 Points
2. "RoadDog" - 8 Points

(9 May - 15 May 2011)


Send in your answers to with "Scavenger Hunt #2" written in the subject line.

We will post weekly leader boards and “rank” promotions on the CWN 150 blog. Enjoy the hunt and have fun!  You have until midnight on 15 May 2011 to complete Scavenger Hunt #2.


What ship is this? (Hint: She’s named after a river) _____________________________


This week’s addition has 5 Anagrams worth 1 point each. Scramble the words into Civil War navy-related ones. You will see that we have identified how many words it scrambles into. For instance, the anagram “2 words: Siphon in us” is actually “Union Ships.” If you get all 5 correct, you will receive an extra five points. All anagrams this week have to do with 1861.  Part of the first one is done for you.  What is an anagram?

A. 2 Words: table choked ___the_____  ____________
B. 2 Words: a canon and alp _____________  ____________
C. 2 Words: an ivy noun ____________  ____________
D. 3 Words: a fools prow ____________  ______  ____________
E. 2 Words: a blender uncork ____________  ____________


“We have been hearing hints of a blockade but last night the news reached us that the United States Government established on the 6th of May, a blockade of all Southern ports, beginning at Pensacola. This is bad but the South has so many bays and inlets along her miles and miles of sea-coast that it seems almost impossible to prevent the entrance of vessels that wish to come in.”

Who said this? Hint: copy and paste ___________________________

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Fort Clinch, Fernandina, Florida

Construction of Ft. Clinch, located in the town of Fernandina, Florida, began in 1847. The masonry fort was named for Gen. Duncan L. Clinch, a hero of the Seminole Wars in Florida. The fort protected the natural deepwater port of Fernandina, the mouth of the St. Mary’s River, and the eastern terminus of the first (and at the time only) cross-state railroad in Florida (Fernandina to Cedar Keys). It was part of the “Third System” of coastal fortifications on the U.S. east coast. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Ft. Clinch was still a work in progress and was not yet completed. Confederate forces occupied the fort sometime between April-June 1861. After great Union victories in the western theatre in February 1862 (particularly the capture of Fts. Henry and Donelson by a joint U.S. Army/Navy force), most Confederate military forces in Florida were withdrawn at the orders of Gen. Robert E. Lee, at the time commanding the coastal defenses in S. Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, and sent out west, or north to eventually serve with Lee in Virginia. On 3 March 1862, a party of Union marines and sailors landed at the mouth of the St. Mary’s River and took possession of Ft. Clinch, which had been abandoned by the Confederate forces (more on that next year when we reach the 150th Anniversary of that event).

Today, Ft. Clinch is part of Florida’s national gold medal-winning state park system, and has been restored to roughly its condition in 1864, much of this work conducted by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. A number of living history events are held there throughout the year, two of the “big ones” being a Union Garrison the first weekend of May, and a Confederate Garrison the first weekend in October. The 2011 Union Garrison at Ft. Clinch was held this past weekend, 7-8 May. Union Army, Marine, and Navy re-enactors conducted activities that would have occurred in the fort during the latter parts of the war. Photos below show some scenes from the weekend.

View of Drill Field and fort compound:

Union Infantry at drill:

Columbiad artillery piece guarding St. Mary's River entrance:

Marine gun crew at drill on 3" ordnance rifle (token sailor in white):


Nulty, Wm. H. Confederate Florida. The Road to Olustee. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1990.

Schafer, Daniel L. Thunder on the River. The Civil War in Northeast Florida. Gainesville: University Presses of Florida, 2010.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Annapolis Comes to Newport

---John Pentangelo

During the Civil War, the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis was relocated to Newport, Rhode Island. Though the move was temporary, four years of operation in Narragansett Bay convinced the U.S. Navy that the site was ideal for permanent naval training facilities. The next twenty years saw the Naval Torpedo Station, Naval Training Station, and Naval War College founded at the “City by the Sea.” These blog posts, based on exhibitions at the Naval War College Museum will look back at the people, places, and ships of the Academy's days in Newport.

USS Constitution off Goat Island, c. 1861
Fearing attack by Confederate forces and seeking to prevent capture of USS Constitution (a USNA practice ship), Superintendent of the Naval Academy Captain George S. Blake facilitated the relocation of the school to Newport, Rhode Island.
On 8 May 1861, the famous frigate known as “Old Ironsides,” sailed into Newport Harbor carrying the members of the classes of 1861 to 1864. Initially, Constitution housed the plebes (first years) and their classes took place below decks.
The Atlantic Hotel in Newport during the Civil War
After it became clear that the war would not be over quickly, the Navy ordered Blake to prepare for a longer stay and lease one of the city’s hotels. They leased the Atlantic House, a hotel at the corner of Bellevue Avenue and Pelham Street opposite Touro Park, as the main location of the Naval Academy while in Newport. The building provided a mess facility, administrative offices, classrooms, and quarters for upperclassmen. Underclassmen referred to the Atlantic as “Paradise,” and called their classrooms and berths aboard USS Constitution and other school ships, “Purgatory."
Park Benjamin, a member of the class of 1867, remembered, “Nothing could be more desolate than the outlook to the ‘plebe’ whose first experience brought him to these school-ships. During the day he sat and studied at one of the desks, long rows of which extended up and down the gun-deck, and occasionally marched ashore to the windy recitation rooms, where he contracted bad colds along with knowledge of arithmetic. The commissary department was always more or less out of gear, and the meals eaten in the blackness of the berth-deck by the light of a few ill-smelling oil lamps were wretched.”
Sketch of a class aboard Constitution by C.G. Bush, class of 1862

More profiles on the people, places, and ships in Newport to come!
1, 2: Naval War College Museum; 3. Special Collections, United States Naval Academy Library

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Union Jacks Luncheon Lecture: "A Sailor's Life"

Historian Michael J. Bennett discusses life as a Union sailor during the Civil War in this brief video clip taken from the 28 April HRNM Luncheon Lecture in Norfolk, VA.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

HRNM Online Scavenger Hunt #1 now on BLOG

Many of you emailed me asking if the Scavenger Hunt could be posted here on the blog.  Ask and you shall recieve.  Subsequently, I will post each week's scavenger hunt on the blog.   

How about a little incentive?  The first to achieve 50 points (Masters Mate) will recieve a copy of the Civil War Special Edition Daybook and a HRNM Challenge Coin (shown left)!  This means you must dedicate at least five weeks to the online scavenger hunt.  Remember, don't post your answers here - send your answers to, or follow the directions from the original blog post.

I will post the scavenger hunt below as requested:

Scavenger Hunt #1 (2 May - 8 May)


Where is this? _____________________________


One month from now,
She set to sea,
To stop the flags of merchant ship.
To break blockade and commerce raid,
No U.S. vessel it seemed to skip.

Her captain, CS Navy’s pride,
Some say a “pirate” of a man.
Though painter’s name which marks his name,
She named after war began.

Seceding states,
Location found?
Though state of mind may help you here.
Palmetto Trees and fort well known,
When April cannons you will hear.

What ship? _______________________________


“We have now some 7,000 master-less slaves within our line and in less than two months we shall have nearer 70,000, and what are we to do with them?”

Who said this? ____________________________

Send your three answers to with your full name so we can tabulate the scores over time.

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Confederate Cruiser That Got Lost in the Mail

During the Civil War, there were two naval vessels called the CSS Georgia. But did you know there was almost a third?

In 1864, the Confederate Navy commissioned the building of a warship in France. However, by the time it was finished it was embargoed by the French government and wound up as a Peruvian warship called America. The America wound up washed ashore in 1868 thanks to a nasty tidal wave.

Civil War Navy Scavenger Hunt # 1

CWN 150 Fans,

We are pleased to announce the launch of our first Civil War Navy Online Scavenger Hunt.  Participants will use their skills of web-searching and social media to solve the riddles, clues, and pictures included in these exciting hunts! 

First Scavenger Hunt:  Civil War Navy Scavenger Hunt #1

You have an opportunity to earn 10 points each week (3 points for the picture search, 5 points for the CWN Riddle, and 2 points for the quote of the week).  Here is a summary list of the CWN 150 Online Scavenger Hunt "Ranks" you can obtain over time. 
  • Admiral (> 500 Points)
  • Captain (400 Points)
  • Commander (350 Points)
  • Lieutenant Commander (300 Points)
  • Lieutenant (250 Points)
  • Master (200 Points)
  • Ensign (150 Points)
  • Passed Midshipman (100 Points)
  • Midshipman (75 Points)
  • Masters Mate (50 Points)
  • Petty Officer (25 Points)
Send your responses to with the subject line “Online Scavenger Hunt,” followed by the pertinent week.  Don’t forget to include your full name.  We will tabulate the scores every week and publish the results on the CWN 150 blog. 

Here is an example of what you will be sending in every week to the contest email:

Don't be discouraged!  This is a sesquicentennial activity, so there will be plenty of time to build those points up.  Challenge your friends and fellow fans to be the first to make Admiral!  Accepted entries for this first scavenger hunt will close on midnight this Sunday, 8 May 2011.  Scores will be tabulated and published on this blog (along with the second scavenger hunt) the following week. 

If you have any questions about this new and exciting activity, please email me at

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Union Jacks Luncheon Lecture: Getting Clean

Here is a short clip from the 28 April 2011 HRNM Luncheon Lecture "Union Jacks: Yankee Sailors in the Civil War" with Michael J. Bennett.  Watch Dr. Bennett discuss some of the reasons why sailors joined the Union Navy during the Civil War.  The video is available on the HRNM Youtube Page