Friday, January 2, 2015

New Book by CWN150 Contributing Blogger Seaman Rob

Photo by Mat O'Malley
Thank-you to all of you for your attention to our CWN150 site. We hope you are enjoying a good holiday season.

At the risk of engaging in "shameless self-promotion," I would like to let you all know about a book that I have recently self-published. It is titled "The Civil War Navy in Florida" and is based largely on the posts I have been contributing to this Blog for the past 5 years or so.

It covers the actions and activities of the Union and Confederate Navies in Florida during the Civil War and I hope you will enjoy it should you decide to get a copy. It is available through your local independent bookseller and through Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.  Thanks so much again for your interest and attention over these last five years.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

There is a (RED) Light That Never Goes Out: Monitor Looks at 152

By Matthew T. Eng
Naval Historical Foundation

We are closing another calendar year on the Civil War Sesquicentennial. It is the last December of the war years. Civil War naval enthusiasts will note the importance of today’s date across the landscape of the social media blogosphere: the 31 December sinking of USS Monitor.

Monitor put to sea under tow from USS Rhode Island on the final days of 1862. A violent storm soon developed off Hatteras, forcing Monitor’s Commanding Officer John P. Bankhead to signal a red lantern to the crew of Rhode Island for help. The lamp hung with the running lights on the turret, the highest point of the vertically challenged vessel. By the time the Monitor survivors arrived safely on board Rhode Island, their beloved ship began to pitch and roll under the strain of the sea. Sailors recall seeing the red light atop of the turret flickering in and out in the distance as they began to break off. By 1:00 AM on 31 December 1862, the red light was underneath the turbulent waves.
“We watched from the deck of the Rhode Island the lonely light upon the Monitor's turret – a hundred times we thought it had gone forever, – a hundred times it reappeared, till at last...it sank and we saw it no more."-       Surgeon Samuel Gilbert Webber (USS Rhode Island)
The red lantern and several other important artifacts from the ironclad are back on the surface. Resting underneath the waves are the remains of the ship and the bodies of fourteen sailors. Two of their comrades discovered inside the recovered turret now rest in Arlington National Cemetery.

Such A Heavenly Way to Die?
Significant dates are a tricky form of understanding history, especially in today’s social media-centric society. Anybody can write down or post about WHEN something happened in naval history. Maybe a few historical photos will accompany the brief text. You may “like” it on Facebook. Hell, you may even share it on your wall or tweet it to your followers. But the learning stops there. The dialog dies. We can’t afford to do that when there is so much more to talk about, especially Monitor. It takes talent to convey to others WHY and HOW it happened.


Most stewards of the craft are simply telling you when something happened in the grand timeline of naval history. Fort Fisher falls in January. Mobile Bay was an early August event. The Battle of Hampton Roads is celebrated for two days every March. So much more happens in between a calendar year and a time and place. Merely telling the general public about a significant date in history seems like an empty gesture. The public demands and deserves more. Thanks to a dedicated group of historians, museum specialists, curators, and underwater archaeologists, we continue to learn more about America’s first ironclad every day.

History in the Darkened Underpass
It’s been a tough set of years to mark the current Civil War commemoration. Anyone who tells you differently has not paid close attention to the pulse of the general public. Controversy is a yearly event.

A centennial seems like a nice round number – one that is easily recognizable to the general public. World War I fans are currently reaping the benefits of this in the same way the public honored the recent War of 1812 bicentennial. Looking back at 150 years is more difficult. These years mark the halfway point on the road trip to the bicentennial. It is as if the public is sitting in the back seat of the car, asking leading historians, museum specialists, and authors “are we there yet?” We are there. In fact, there is less than 150 days left in the entire sesquicentennial commemoration. How will it fair during the 175th in 2036?

Monitor was not immune to this harsh criticism in the wake of the Conservation Lab’s closure. The year for Monitor began on 9 January with news from the Washington Post that the USS Monitor lab would close its doors due to a lack of federal funding. The news shocked everyone, in and out of the field. Many of the comments posted on the Post article were anything but helpful. Many questioned why we support such aged history in the first place. Supporters of Monitor soon came to their aid when funding proved short, calling for others to help preserve the lab and artifacts. Thankfully, the lab reopened only a few months later this summer. Monitor was back, and the interest continued to grow.


The Monitor Center Reopens (Adrin Snider / Daily Press)
That interest stayed at this year’s 10th Maritime Heritage Conference in Norfolk, Virginia. A special panel shed light on the recent efforts and partnerships between the Mariners’ Museum, Monitor Conservation Lab, and NOAA. Leading experts on the ship spoke positively about the future of the artifacts. I had a chance to write a nice piece about some of their more recent artifact conversation projects. The sea state was calm. The subject of Monitor and shipwreck history even came up at this year’s World War I Centennial Conference at the MacArthur Memorial. There is so much more to the mystery of Monitor than a single date in time.  

It would seem that the red lantern, which became a central artifact in the discussion of the Monitor’s recovery, is still on. Dave Krop and the fine folks at the lab are still doing the diligent work necessary to preserve one of the Civil War’s most treasured relics.

Monitor is a figurehead of American naval history. One may argue the ship’s supreme importance within the timeline of naval history in general. Monitor is WHY and HOW Civil War naval history is alive and well today. Such an important ship deserves our respect and admiration.


“Well, the pleasure – the privilege is mine” to continue to work with those who would see the red light never extinguished from the memory of Monitor. Thank you to all who keep it lit.  

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Battle of Mobile Bay III - The Aftermath


Sailors at the helm of the USS Hartford, probably taken after the battle. Naval History and Heritage Command.
In the days after the battle, officers of Farragut’s squadron composed their after-action reports to the Admiral. Some of these contain almost humorous recollections. Captain John B. Marchand of the USS Lackawanna wrote that he closed with the Confederate ironclad CSS Tennessee, and for a brief period the two warships lay side-to-side. As he gazed into one of the open gun-ports on the Confederate ironclad, he found himself in a stare-down with a Confederate sailor manning one of the Tennessee’s guns. The Confederate sailor unleashed a blistering epithet of profanity at the Union officer. His men adjacent to him heard this and, insulted by this affront to their officer’s honor, redoubled the pace of their re-loading and discharge of small arms fire into the open gun-ports of the enemy ship, along with throwing anything solid in their possession at Confederate sailors visible through the ports, if they did not wield a weapon. 

After the surrender of the Tennessee, Cdr. William E. Le Roy, captain of the USS Ossipee, lay alongside the stricken Confederate ironclad and called out to his good friend, CSN Cdr. James D. Johnston, to come aboard for some cold water and “something better than that for you down below.” Interestingly, Farragut himself did not go aboard the Tennessee to accept Buchanan’s surrender. He sent Acting Volunteer Lt. Pierre Giraud to take possession of the Admiral’s sword, and subsequently sent Fleet Surgeon Palmer aboard to assist CSN Surgeon Conrad in caring for Buchanan and the other wounded. Although Farragut and Buchanan had served together aboard USN warships, and knew each other, the relationship was purely professional and a friendship between the two had never developed. Buchanan was sent to Pensacola to recuperate, despite Confederate Gen. Page’s request that he be sent to Mobile. 

Losses on the Confederate side were remarkably light, considering the overwhelming superiority of the Union in terms of number of guns. Twelve Confederate sailors were killed (most on the other gunboats, only two on the Tennessee), and 20 wounded, although every Confederate warship was lost (sunk or captured). The “butcher’s bill” on the Union side was quite a bit more severe; 93 men lost when the Tecumseh went down, and Farragut reported 52 of his sailors killed and 170 wounded on the other ships. Landsman John Lawson, an African American sailor on the Hartford serving on a gun crew, received the Medal of Honor authorized by the US Congress (now called the “Congressional Medal of Honor”) for his gallantry during the action.

View of the Union fleet from Ft. Morgan after capture. Alabama Historical Society.
Forts Powell and Gaines surrendered not long after the defeat of the Confederate flotilla, and after a few days of bombardment, Fort Morgan also surrendered. Although the City of Mobile would not be taken by Union forces until the spring of next year (April 1865), the Union now had complete control of Mobile Bay and essentially closed down Mobile as a destination for blockade runners for the rest of the war. 

Much legend has accumulated over what Farragut actually said in the early stages of the battle, as things appeared to deteriorate after the loss of the monitor Tecumseh. An article in the most recent Naval History magazine analyzes this in detail based on “ear-witness” accounts. It appears obvious that he made a statement that struck a chord with those around him. No matter what exactly he said, I think we have to acknowledge that it ranks right up there with other legendary statements in U.S. Navy history, including John Paul Jones’ “Sir, I have not yet begun to fight.” and George Dewey’s “You may fire when you are ready, Gridley.”

U.S. Navy recruiting poster from WW I, showing Farragut and his famous order. Wikipedia/U.S. Navy archives.

The Best Place to Experience The Battle of Mobile Bay is at the NMUSN

Fife Rail and Wheel of USS Hartford

On this day 150 years ago, Admiral David Glasgow Farragut made history. After a dazzling victory at New Orleans early in the war, Admiral Farragut spent the next several years fighting through the Mississippi River. By the middle of 1864, it became necessary to capture Mobile Bay, the South's last major port city on the Gulf Coast. Capturing it would help tighten the anaconda-like grip on the southern coastline.

Hartford Cathead
The bright August morning proved to be one of the most surprising achievements in Farragut's long and distinguished career. Now a century and a half later, many of the relics left to commemorate the ships and men of the battle are long gone. The Hartford, one of the most iconic ships of the Civil War, is broken up and scattered to different museums and institutions around the United States. How then do you decide where to see the best collection of artifacts from the battle during the Civil War sesquicentennial?

For those of us who could not make the trek down south for the sesquicentennial anniversary, many visitors commented it was an event worthy of its name and place in history. Fortunately, Civil War enthusiasts still have an opportunity to see several some of the relics of the battle. There is no better place to share this connection between past and present than the National Museum of the United States Navy (NMUSN) at the Washington Navy Yard.

NMUSN Curator Jennifer Marland took me around to several of the artifacts of Admiral Farragut and the Battle of Mobile Bay. She showed me her favorite piece of the collection, a small series of sketches depicting the battle. "So many paintings and sketches surfaced after the battle, some coming weeks and even years later," said Marland. "I really like this sketch from crew members present at the battle. You get a better sense of what these sailors really experienced." The sketch, albeit crude and hastily put together, tells the story of a sailor's front row seat to one of the United States Navy's greatest battles.


Other interesting items in the National Museum of the United States Navy collection includes Admiral Farragut's presentation cane, a large model of Hartford, a cathead, ship bell, and surrender letter from Ft. Gaines.

Naval Mine at NMUSN

Why are these torpedoes important today? 
Although Admiral Farragut may or may not have said the immortal words "Damn the Torpedoes, Full Speed Ahead," the crafty countermeasure still proved an effective defense on the 5th, sinking the Tecumseh in the process. The artifacts on display at NMUSN are a constant reminder that every great piece of naval history comes with a price.




The National Museum of the United States Navy is open Monday to Friday from 9:00am to 5:00pm.

Special Thanks to Jennifer Marland for giving me an in depth tour of the NMUSN gallery.