Saturday, October 29, 2011

Port Royal Week for CWN 150 Bloggers

We are less than a week away from commemorating the sesquicentennial anniversary of the battle of Port Royal. Although we are a few days away from the official assemblage of the force responsible for the assault, it is nonetheless important to begin documenting this important (if not THE most important) naval event of 1861. This is the first of several posts chronicling the Port Royal Expedition.

If you haven't looked yet, there are already several posts about the Port Royal Expedition published earlier this year (29 August and 21 October). This week will focus on the historical significance and implications of the successful Union attack and

According to the Island Packet, Port Royal Plantation will hold a sesquicentennial commemoration of the battle on November 5th from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Hilton Head Mayor Drew Laughlin will began the formalized festivities at 12 p.m. with an introductory welcome to guests. This will be followed by several events, including a historical presentation by Charleston author Michael Coker, stories by local resident John Witherspoon, Civil War music, colors presentation by Hilton Head HS NJROTC, salvos from Fort Walker, and a final presentation of "TAPS." It looks to be an exciting day. The event is free to the public. For more information, please go to the article HERE.

For more information on the Port Royal Plantation event, here is the information:

Port Royal Plantation
10 Coggins Point Rd
Hilton Head Island, SC 29928

According to the Beaufort County Historical Resources blog, two events hosted by the BDC (Beaufort District Collection) on the 7th of November will also highlight the sesquicentennial anniversary of the battle. As posted on the blog:
  • BDC@ Bluffton Branch Library – Mike Coker, author of The Battle of Port Royal will speak about the players, actions, and aftermath of the battle at 2:00 pm. The Bluffton Branch Library is located at 120 Palmetto Way.
  • The BDC@ Penn CenterMike Coker will be joined by Dr. Lawrence Rowland, Stephen Hoffius, and Neil Baxley in Frisell Community House to discuss the Battle and the Civil War as it transpired here in Beaufort District. Program begins at 6:30 pm. Meet and greet the authors, get them to sign their books after the session.
If you are attending these events, please send your photos or any information to or tweet us @civilwarnavy. We will repost it here on the blog.

Full Speed Ahead,

Matthew T. Eng

Friday, October 28, 2011

Drawings of a Mad Man/Genius-John Ericsson's Monitor Concept

Ericsson first drew a traverse sketch of his idea and then drew over it with a long view. As one can see Ericsson "showed his work" by working out the math on top of the drawings.
While these look like sketches drawn by a mad man at 3 in the morning who had not been to bed in over 72 hours, these are actually inventor/designer/engineer John Ericsson's 1854 concept of a "monitor" type warship. After much political stalling, the Ironclad Board would formally endorse his design in 1861. The idea behind Monitor, however, had been shuffling around in Ericsson's head long before the outbreak of war.
A rough idea of his monitor's submerged propeller system.
According to a 1911 biography The Life Of John Ericsson, the Swedish-born engineer had the idea from early on  in his professional career.  Monitor, according to Ericsson, was not just a class warship, but rather a fundamental shift in the way architects should look at warship design.  He wrote "The monitor of 1854 was the visible part of my system, and its grand features were excluded from its published drawings and description...An impregnable and partially submerged instrument for destroying ships of war has been one of the hobbies of my life. I had the plan matured long before I left England. As for protecting war engines for naval purposes with iron, the idea is as old as my recollection."

Ericsson's "monitor system" not only was about designing ships with armored turrets, but also building them with a submerged screw propeller that was safe from hostile fire. In Ericsson's mind, the water surrounding a ship was just as important as any metallic armor protecting the exposed area.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

CWN 150 Updates

Farragut Statue Undergoing Much Needed Restorations (Dnainfo/Mary Johnson)
Augustus Saint-Gaudens, sculptor

Long overdue, the David Glasgow Farragut Monument in New York City is currently undergoing an annual checkup and cleaning.  The monument, made by master sculptor and "American Renaissance" pioneer Augustus Saint-Gaudens, depicts a brave and courageous Admiral standing 15.5 feet tall in Madison Square Park.  According to Mary Johnson from New York's, the statue was due for a "much-needed bath."  Many who are unfamiliar with Saint-Gaudens work will easily recognize his most famous piece, the Robert Shaw/54th Mass. Monument. 

Originally dedicated in 1881, the monument still rests peacefully, if not a big dirty, in the "Big Apple."  The sculpture is now part of the Municipal Art Society's "Adopt-a-Monument" program.  The cleaning will consist of cleaning the sculpture and its base.  Armed with bamboo skewers, dedicated individuals like Cameron Wilson take the time to notice the blowing drapery as depicted in the sculpture.   It is as if Farragut is still standing on the rigging shouting those famous words at Mobile Bay.  They are doing some fine working to restore some of our nation's most treasured monuments in the five boroughs.  The article includes an excellent picture gallery of the restoration process.   

Read the full article from HERE.

Around the Blogosphere

The Monitor Begins
This week marks the 150th anniversary of the USS Monitor's construction.  According to Mariners' Museum VP of Museum Collections & Programs Anna Holloway's Facebook account: "‎150 Years ago today, with the ink barely dry on the construction contract, workers at Continental Iron Works in Greenpoint, Brooklyn began work on Ericsson's Battery. You might know her better as the USS Monitor. :)."  We couldn't have said it any better.  Shoot over to the Civil War Connections blog to read more about the Monitor's sesquicentennial construction.

USS Onondaga Ship Model
There is an excellent post by historian and CWN 150 blog contributor Gordon Calhoun on the Hampton Roads Naval Museum blog page.  The article focuses on the model of the double-turreted USS Onondaga, which is located in the HRNM Civil War gallery. The post includes a contemporary sketch of the ship by Aldred Waud.  Go to the blog post HERE.

Admirals Row: Week of 24 OCT (What is Admiral's Row?)

Friday, October 21, 2011

The River War in Florida

Union Navy steamer skirmishing with Confederate sharpshooters "near Fernandina, Fla." Possibly the Amelia or St. Marys Rivers. Source: Fla. Dept. of State online photo archive.

CWN 150 Coordinator Matt Eng had some neat links in his “October Updates” post of 13 Oct 2011. One featured an article in the Washington Post that concluded in part “. . . the Civil War was a river war.” This got me thinking about the role of the US Navy in Florida during the war, and that to a great extent we can say the same thing; it was very much a “river war.” For most of the conflict, Confederate militia and home guard controlled much of the interior of the state (roads and railroads), and so the US Army depended a lot on the Navy to transport their men, animals, and material. The US Navy made a number of expeditions up the St. Johns River on the Florida east coast, which I will detail much more on the appropriate dates in 2012. Numerous cutting out expeditions to go after blockade runners and/or contraband were conducted by the US Navy on the rivers of both coasts in Florida. Even fictional accounts highlight the river war in Florida. In the novel “At the Edge of Honor” by Robert Macomber, a Union armed sloop commanded by Master Peter Wake engages in a nighttime firefight with two Confederate blockade runners on the Peace River, in southwest Florida:

Now they could get a bearing on the enemy sounds, coming down the southern shore of the river, to the right of the Rosalie, and almost dead ahead of Thorton's boat. . . Without warning, a blast exploded on the right, followed by a volley of more blasts, as the men in Thorton's boat fired at the enemy. The light of the musket blasts flared out over the water and illuminated the (enemy) schooner for a brief moment. . . . Men on all the vessels were now shouting and screaming. Blasts and flames were coming from everywhere. . . Wake, seeing that the schooner was now just about at the line of anchored vessels and was firing into Thorton's boat, stood up and yelled as loud as he could, 'Fire, Durlon, fire!' The roar of the twelve-pounder overwhelmed all other noise and action. The flame it spewed out carried for twenty feet and lit up the entire river, clearly showing the damage along the starboard side of the schooner from the dozens of small rounds that had been packed into the canister ammunition. . . . The sound of the screaming and yelling and shooting from the schooner made it sound like a ship from hell as it continued out of control toward Wake's sloop.

Captured schooner crewed by USN sailors from the USS Stars and Stripes skirmishes with dismounted Confederate cavalry on the Ochlockonee River, Florida. Source: Fla. Dept. of State online photo archive.

The Port Royal Expedition and the New York Times

America's Armed Forces and the New York Times have not had the best of relationships over the years (see the Pentagon Papers and more recent spat over leaked e-mails from the National Security Agency to the newspaper).  It is possible that the sour relationship began not in the 1960s, but rather the 1860s. 

In September and October 1861, Flag officer Samuel Du Pont began assembling a fleet of warships, transports, and ground troops in Annapolis and Hampton Roads in preparation for a major offensive in South Carolina.  The offensive's goal was take the excellent natural harbor of Port Royal, South Carolina and make it a base for the newly established South Atlantic Blockading Squadron. 

As the engraving illustrates, the fleet was huge (94 ships) and in sight of the southern shore of Hampton Roads where any Confederate solider could see it.  Nonetheless, Du Pont was furious when he saw this headline in the October 23, 1861 edition of the New York Times:

The article printed not only the number of ships in the fleet, but also the names of the ship's commanding officers and the names of regimental commanders.  The fleet cleared Hampton Roads on October 25.  Whether through the article or their own intelligence efforts, Confederate Secretary of War Judah Benjamin telegraphed his generals in South Carolina "the enemy's expedition is heading to South Carolina."

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Carondelet: Then and Now

As explained in earlier posts, James Eads was awarded many of the major naval building contracts in the western theater. He divvied up the work between several shipyards, but the Union Iron Works at Carondelet, Missouri hosted the lion's share of production.

Eads turned an already busy port town into a major naval center virtually overnight. His contract to construct the City-class gunboats (more about them soon) resulted in the building of four new ironclad warships in Carondelet: the Baron de Kalb, Louisville, Pittsburg, and most appropriately, the Carondelet.
The boatyards spanned across much of Carondelet's Mississippi riverfront property, ranging from the confluence of the River des Peres and Missisippi northeast past Marceau and Davis streets and along Vulcan Street. The warehouses and docks were supported by nearby rolling mills, sawmills, and foundries. Businesses like the R.C. Totten and Company Foundry in St. Louis provided much of the armor for the new vessels.

The City-class ships were finally completed in January 1862, and Carondelet's namesake ironclad would feature prominently in many of the upcoming battles for the west. Carondelet would continue to build more vessels, including many of the tinclads that were introduced later in the war.

(Image from Google Maps)

Today there's no evidence Eads's shipyards ever existed, though many other buildings from the Civil War-era remain elsewhere in town. The shoreline where ironclads were once built is now overgrown, and empty, decaying factories stand nearby. The area that was once the center of the marine ways is now the home of the New World Pasta factory. I visited Carondelet in July, and took these photos just before a storm blew in.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Admirals Row: Week of 16 October

This week's Admiral's Row includes several great blogs and bloggers that are putting out some really great material about the role of the navies in the Civil War.  A big Bravo Zulu to Craig Swain and his article on in the Civil War Monitor.

Tweeter of the Week:  Civil War Monitor (@CivilWarMonitor)

Follower of the Week: Civil War Visions (@CivilWarVisions)

Site of the Week: Civil War Monitor

Picture of the Week:  Portsmouth Navy Day 2011

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Navy Birthday and October Updates

Today marks the 236th birthday of the United States Navy. Revolutionary War hero and first President George Washington said it best when describing the needs of a Navy for the United States, past and present: "Without a decisive naval force, we can do nothing definitive." For more information on the 236th birthday of the United States Navy, please see these resource at the Naval History and Heritage Command website.

Tons of activity about the Civil War Navy on the interwebs. Of course, this week marks the beginning of Mason and Slidell's overseas assignment, ultimately leading to the infamous Trent Affair with Charles Wilkes. You can read a previous post about the Trent Affair HERE, or go to CivilWarHome.

USS Richmond near Baton Rouge, LA
 "My Knees Knocked Together:" Civil War Visions Blog
Around the blogosphere, an interesting tidbit popped up on the Civil War Visions blog about a sailor's first reaction to combat. The text, taken from United States Sanitary Commission Soldiers' Letters From Camp, Battlefield, and Person, describes Walton Grinnell's eyewitness account of an engagement between the USS Richmond and the rebel steamer William H. Webb along the Mississippi River. For the 17 year old sailor aboard the Nyack, there was much cause for excitement. He ends his entry by saying, "Although I have before been under fire of musketry, yet I can fancy nothing comparable with the whizzing and bursting of rifle-shell." A very interesting bit of primary source information to read. It tells much of what sailors experienced in what historian John Keegan called the "Face of Battle." The Richmond would later take part in the capture of New Orleans.

By far, the most interesting article about the Civil War navies put out in the last few days should be credited to the Washington Post Lifestyle section. The article, titled "Battle of Ball's Bluff revealed a truth: The Civil War was a river war," describes how the small engagement turned Union fiasco can explain the complex nature of rivers and warfare during the five year conflict. The author of the article summarized the battle best: "sketchy information, a river too deep to ford, not enough boats, and soldiers who couldn’t swim." The article goes on to explain the "River Fact," justifying the importance of riverine combat in the West "both strategically and tactically." Check it out. A very interesting piece for the collection of our collective understanding of the Civil War navies, as much of the focus in the past few months has remained on land.

LH Marines from the Galena explain how a 3-pounder cannon works to a NMC sailor. (Eng)
HRNM/Civil War Navy 150 at Navy Day 2011 (Portsmouth, VA)
Hampton Roads Naval Museum Education Director Lee Duckworth and CWN 150 Coordinator Matthew T. Eng had a booth at Tuesday's Navy Day 2011 Event at Navy Medical Center (Portsmouth, VA). Various living history groups were in attendance, including the Tidewater Marine Living History Association and Galena Marine Ships Company. You can see the photo stream on the CWN 150 Facebook page HERE.

Events Updated
A few events were uploaded to the Civil War Navy Sesquicentennial calendar. These events were submitted by "Seaman Rob" and the USS Ft. Henry Living History Association. The living history group is scheduled to appear at these Florida events. for more information, please go to
  • 15 October: Seahorse Key Open House (Cedar Key, FL)
  • 22-23 October: The Civil War in Jacksonville at Ft. Caroline National Monument (Jacksonville, FL)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Destruction of a Blockade Runner

It’s characteristically the larger or more significant engagements that make it into the history books and articles on the Civil War Navies, but I’ve always thought that for every big event, there are dozens of small ones that don’t attract notice, and yet played a role in the ultimate outcome of the war. On 15 October 1861, Capt. John Marston of the steam frigate USS Roanoke, on blockade off Charleston, SC, reported sighting a “large sail.” He dispatched the steam gunboats USS Flag and USS Monticello to chase down this unknown vessel, and was subsequently joined by the sail sloop USS Vandalia. The Monticello reported back that it was the blockade runner Thomas Watson, which had run aground on Stono Reef as she tried to evade the pursuing blockaders and get into Charleston Harbor. The runner was found abandoned by boat crews from the Roanoke, Monticello and Vandalia. Intelligence reports had suggested that Watson was carrying arms, but a thorough search of the entire ship indicated that she was carrying “salt, blankets, flannel, a few smaller articles.” Marston’s orders to the cutting out party were to attempt to free the Watson from the reef, but she was stuck fast, so his orders included burning the ship after removing as much of the cargo as possible. This was completed by 16 October 1861. Illustration source: Library of Congress "Civil War Drawings" collection online.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Civil War Navy Overview

In preparation for tonight's Navy Day 2011 event at Portsmouth Medical Center (pictures to follow soon), I created a short overview clip of the goals and objectives of the Civil War Navy Sesquicentennial.  Please feel free to stream the video here, or on the Civil War Navy Youtube page.  Please send any feedback in the comments below, on twitter @civilwarnavy, or email me directly at  Enjoy.

Full Speed Ahead,

Matthew T. Eng

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Harvest Moon Marker

From the Georgetown, South Carolina Sun News:
Georgetown has its fair share of history and 57 state Historical Markers to prove it.

This weekend, No. 58 will be unveiled.

As of Saturday, anyone traveling along Front Street in downtown Georgetown will be able to read the story of the Union Navy vessel USS Harvest Moon thanks to the Arthur Manigault Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and Battery White Camp of the Sons of the Confederate Veterans.

In March 1865 the USS Harvest Moon sank when it struck a torpedo floated into the Winyah Bay by Confederate Capt. Thomas Daggett. Daggett built his torpedo in the second floor of a store at 633 Front St. in Georgetown.

The smokestack of the 193-foot Harvest Moon can still be seen at low tide in the bay and there will be a tour boat trip out to the site of the vessel after the unveiling ceremony on Saturday [October 8]

The sinking of the USS Harvest Moon was one of the closing acts of the coastal operations in South Carolina. Although Federals had occupied Georgetown and surrounding batteries in late February 1865, the retreating Confederates left behind mines in the channels of Winyah Bay. A converted side-wheel steamer, the loss of a lightly armed ship like the Harvest Moon normally would be a small matter. But Admiral John Dahlgren was on-board at the time. Thus the Harvest Moon has the distinction being the only US Navy flagship sunk in the war.

The Harvest Moon was not salvaged, and left in shallow waters. In the 1960s divers surveyed the wreck.

The wreck remains in the waters of Winyah Bay today. And now there is a marker. Perhaps someday there will be some archeological work?

View of Winyah Bay from Battery White (Photo by Craig Swain)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Hatteras Expedition - One More Time

CWN 150 Blogger Gordon has provided coverage of the US Navy’s first big operation of the Civil War, the Hatteras Expedition, in two prior posts (18 Aug 2011 and 21 Sept 2011), so I certainly don’t mean to duplicate prior content. That said, I had to share with you this illustration I found in the online collection “Civil War Drawings” on the Library of Congress web site.

The picture struck me because it is so dynamic; it resonates with activity. In the right foreground are infantry companies forming up on the beach. In the left foreground additional troops are coming ashore in the surf, and behind them ships boats are bringing in more. Towards the background on the left, the Revenue Cutter Harriet Lane appears to be providing close inshore gun support, foreshadowing the role played by destroyers in the D-Day landings at Normandy. In the background in line-ahead formation are the “big boys”: the steam frigate Minnesota, the sailing sloop Cumberland, the steam frigate Wabash, and the side-wheel steam gunboat Susquehanna. The target of their gunfire is in the right background, Fort Clarke, and you can see the shells bursting over the fort.

Admiral's Row: Week of 2 October

Last week we debuted a new feature on the site to encourage interaction with frequent visitors and fans of the Civil War Navy Sesquicentennial (Facebook/Youtube/Twitter/Linkedin, etc.). Here are this week's inductees into "Admiral's Row." Remember, the more you participate, the better your chances are of being featured!

Tweeter of the Week: Craig Swain (@caswain01)
  • Craig is one of the guest bloggers for the CWN 150. He is also the author of the very interesting blog "Marker Hunter."
Follower of the Week: Museum of the Confederacy (@moc1896)

Site of the Week: Museum of the Confederacy Youtube

Picture of the Week: USS Baron de Kalb

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Cutlass Drill

A sailor’s typical day on a Union Navy blockading ship was filled with drill; fire drill, general quarters, gun drill, small arms drill, and on and on. Part of this repertoire was cutlass drill using “single sticks,” pieces of wood the same dimension as the standard 1861 Ames cutlass. Use of these prevented accidental (or purposeful, if you didn’t like your sparring partner) injury, plus they were a lot lighter in weight than the actual cutlass; an important consideration when the cutlass drill lasted up to two hours each day.

The drill involved learning both defensive and offensive sequences with the cutlass. According to the 1869 drill manual, the defensive phase of the drill was “le fort” and the offensive phase was “le faible.” Footwork was as important as the wielding of the edged weapon, with the sailor generally advancing aggressively towards his opponent on offense and backing up on defense.

When we are in camp as the USS Ft. Henry at events, we put on demonstrations of single stick drill for the public, which is always a big hit.

Photos from the Library of Congress Civil War Drawings collection (online) and the USS Ft. Henry.