Thursday, January 9, 2014

Save the Monitor Collection

“I will stand by you to the last if I can help you.”
            - LT John Worden, USS Monitor

 A Washington Post article reported today that the Monitor Lab at the Mariners’ Museum will shut down due to a lack of Federal funding.  The Mariners’ Museum was Congressionally designated to maintain the Monitor artifacts since 1987.  It currently holds her turret, two cannons, propeller, and steam engine.

This news comes as a shock to many in the museum world.  The recent burial of two of her sailors who went down with the ship in December 1862 garnered worldwide attention in March of 2013.  

That ship might not have meant much to the men of the Virginia when they first saw it steaming into battle the morning of 8 March 1862.  They mocked it.  It was mocked on both sides.  Some called it a “cheesebox on a raft,” or a “tin can on a shingle.”  Yet that seemingly insignificant object went on to change the course of naval history forever.  Tested in battle.  Upheld by a tradition of honor, courage, and commitment lasting to this day.  For every man and woman who wears a uniform, you are carrying the torch once held by forty-nine brave officers and men, sixteen of which paid the ultimate sacrifice nine months later in a storm off the North Carolina Coast. 

I can only assume, reader, that you care about history.  Otherwise, what else would bring you to this blog?  Museums and institutions like the Mariners’ Museum and USS Monitor Center work painstakingly hard.  If you care about history…if you truly care, please continue reading.  

I am not writing this because I have friends who work there or have worked there in the past.  I am not writing this as a crusade because the Monitor is a legendary ship.  I am writing this for the sake of history.  After all, what do we have to look forward to in our future if we do not do the work to remember the past?  This is a critical blow to Civil War fans worldwide, especially during this sesquicentennial commemoration. 

Every time I step up those stairs and gaze into the large tank, my eyes begin to well up with tears.  I did it the first time I saw it, and I guarantee I will do it when I see it again.  With the lights on and the staff working. 

For fans and enthusiasts of Civil War naval history, the space that separates you from that room and the glass along the wall is the closest you will ever get to experiencing the full weight and might of one of history’s greatest ships.  For others, it is their job to work inside the collection space, ensuring that it is maintained and protected.  Help them continue to do their good work. 

I entreat you reader to take a few moments and sign the petition.  It will only take you a few moments.  Your effort will hopefully contribute to the continued preservation and commemoration of the Monitor. 

John Ericsson, the ship’s designer, could have easily shut down.  The victim of circumstance following the explosion on the USS Princeton, Ericsson retreated to a hermit-like existence and bane of the organization he worked so hard to help.  But he did not.  He pushed through and created the ship we know and love today.  Honor him.  Honor the men who fought on and with her.  It will only take a few seconds of your time. 

North Carolina is Where You Can Get Your Civil War Navy Fix in Early 2014

2014.  A new year for the sesquicentennial.  For the Civil War in 1864, it was the crucial linchpin between Confederate collapse and surrender.  With the Mississippi River closed and much of the South still reeling from the effects of the Vicksburg campaign, final preparations were underway for the Union Army's last "push to victory:"  the Overland Campaign and Sherman's March to the Sea/Petersburg.

It is a landmark year for the Civil War navies.  Legends are made (Farragut at Mobile Bay) and taken down (Raphael Semmes and the Alabama).  Events, activities, and programs will undoubtedly crop out throughout the year.  Yet, if you REALLY want to get your Civil War Navy fix for the new year, the place to do it is North Carolina.  Here is a brief run down of some events going on in the first few months of 2014:

“Always near the front, with instruments and tourniquets:  The Medical Service at Fort Fisher”

January 18, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Fort Fisher State Historic Site, Kure Beach

"The attack during the Second Battle of Fort Fisher was the largest assault by the U.S. Army and Navy until World War II, and followed a smaller attack in December. Union forces had to stop the supply line to Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia that fed through Fort Fisher. Combined Federal casualties are believed to have exceeded 1,500; Confederates are believed to have been greater than 3,800. Care of the injured among the casualties will be examined during the program."

Underwriter Expedition Symposium and Living History
February 1, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
CSS Neuse Civil War Interpretive Center, Kinston
The CSS Neuse Civil War Interpretive Center will host the USS Underwriter Expedition Symposium and Navy Living History on Saturday, February 1, 2014 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.  The program will commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Underwriter Expedition.  It was likely the most exciting thing in which many of the crew of the CSS Neuse were involved.
The Symposium will feature a talk by speaker Jeff Bockert about the larger campaign of which the USS Underwriter Expedition was a part at 10 a.m.  Andrew Duppstadt will speak about the naval attack and involvement of crewmembers from the CSS Neuse at 1 p.m. At 2:30 Matthew Young will address the attack on the USS Water Witch, a similar operation to the Underwriter Expedition that took place in Georgia.  Pre-registration is required for the symposium. A boxed lunch from Our Picnic Basket will be included in the $10 registration fee.  Please call 252-522-2107 or email to register by January 24, 2014.
The Carolina Living History Guild will provide Civil War naval displays, living history, and costumed interpretation.  The living history is free and open to the public from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
At the CSS Neuse Interpretive Center, learn about the ironclad gunboat and watch as a new museum takes shape.  The Confederate Navy launched the ill-fated CSS Neuse in an attempt to regain control of the lower Neuse River and the city of New Bern.
The CSS Neuse Interpretive Center is located at 100 N. Queen St., Kinston, N.C.  Hours are Tuesday-Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Gov. Caswell Center is located at 2612 W. Vernon Ave., Kinston, N.C., 28504. Hours are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. 4 p.m. The sites are closed Sunday and Monday, and most major holidays.
For information contact Holly Brown at 252-526-9600 ex. 222 or email  Visit the site on Facebook at “CSS Neuse” or “Gov. Richard Caswell Memorial State Historic Site” pages.  The sites are administered by the Division of State Historic Sites within the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources.

"The Navy Way" Program

February 15-16, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson State Historic Site, Winnabow 
"The outmanned and outgunned Confederates first used torpedoes during the Civil War. The first marine torpedoes were fixed water mines, not the self-propelled explosives of today. There will be torpedo demonstrations at the fort, and re-enactors of artillery and cavalry soldiers also will participate in the program. Brunswick Town has one of the most extensive exhibits of Civil War torpedoes in the southeast."

Some program descriptions taken from Beach Carolina Magazine

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Moral Courage in Risk Taking

The Navy was more successful in its campaigns like Port Royal, S.C. and New Orleans than the Army during the American Civil War particularly in the Virginia Theater.  According to Pulitzer Prize-winning author James McPherson, it was “partially due to the professionalism of Navy leadership in high positions."  Dr. McPherson answered these and other questions on 4 January during a speaking engagement at the Society for Military History George C. Marshall lecture series in Washington, D.C. 

James McPherson discusses the role of naval operations in the war in his most recent work, War on the Waters: The Union & Confederate Navies, 1861-1865.  Concerning his talk, he argued that “determined commanders can make [some of] their own luck," as Ulysses S. Grant and David G. Farragut did at Vicksburg and Mobile Bay, respectively. 

Both Grant and Farragut shared the "moral courage to take risks and accept failure." Citing Farragut's decision to press forward at Mobile Bay after his lead ship Tecumseh struck a mine and sank, while Brooklyn, second in formation, veered off course and stopped.  It was at this point that Farragut could have said, “Damn the torpedoes!”  He added that Mobile Bay “was the first unequivocal Union victory of 1864," followed by Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman's takeover of Atlanta and Brig. Gen. Philip Sheridan's burning of Virginia's Shenandoah Valley.  McPherson stated that these three victories secured Lincoln's re-election and the Union's determination to win the war.

Farragut knew all too well about the willingness to accept failure and take risks.  Farragut spent sixty of his sixty-nine years in the Navy.  Despite this, his loyalty came into question at the beginning of the war.  According to McPherson, he "was the opposite" of Flag Officer Samuel F. Du Pont.  At Charleston, Du Pont found himself constantly at odds with Navy Secretary Gideon Welles and Assistant Navy Secretary Gustavus V. Fox over the practicality of taking the South Carolina port "in an all Navy affair."  He wanted to do as he did at Port Royal earlier in the war.  He would be backed up this time by the latest class of ironclad Monitors and a specially constructed frigate, New Ironsides, to run the harbor's ring of batteries, forts, and waters filled with mines and deadly obstructions.

To Lincoln, Welles, and Fox, Du Pont's pessimism about the ability "to beat our Southern friend and beat the Army" in subduing Charleston sounded more and more like the letters sent by Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan's explaining why the Army of the Potomac failed to move against the Confederates after success at Antietam.

Du Pont, who spent 45 years in the Navy and served on the Blockade Strategy Board in the beginning of the war, told Fox to “think cooly.”  "There's no running the gauntlet of forts like [Farragut did] at New Orleans" as he pressed repeatedly for a combined Army-Navy operation with the soldiers taking the batteries and forts with supporting fire coming from the Union fleet in covering their attacks.
McPherson felt that Farragut believed he would "have found a way" to carry out the attack that the president and civilian Navy leadership wanted. When Du Pont finally attacked, his fleet of ironclads managed to get off 151 shots while the Confederates, having set up range finders all around the harbor, fired 2,209 rounds.  Over five hundred of those struck Union ships, sinking the ironclad Keokuk in the process.  After a council of war with his ship commanders, Du Pont, who originally considered pursuing the assault the next day, "decided not to pursue the attack."  Quoting from Welles' diary said, McPherson said that Du Pont "had a reputation to protect not to make," and like McClellan that sealed his fate.  Despite his good family name and pedigree, Du Pont was removed from command. He left his position as "a bitter and broken man unwilling to take risk."

In the public's mind and the administration's, the Navy “was expected to do the heavy work" in the taking of New Orleans, as it had at Port Royal.  Later successes, even Mobile Bay, were given little public recognition at the time, an oversight that is changing now.

Gideon Welles was also a risk taker.  He did not adhere to the Navy's reliance on seniority to promote commanders, McPherson said.  With Farragut, he found a commander who would take those risks.  When Virginia seceded, he "stood by the flag” despite his local connections.  Before leaving for New York in the spring of 1861, Farragut presciently warned his friends and in-laws in Norfolk:  "you fellows will catch the devil for this business."  Welles was not so lucky with Du Pont and Charleston. He wrote in his diary, "If anything is to be done, we must have a new commander.”  He tapped the president's naval confidante, Flag Officer John A. Dahlgren, for the position.  Dahlgren would fare little better than Du Pont at the seat of secession.