Thursday, September 29, 2011

Ship Island-The Unsinkable Tender

To borrow a modern U.S. Navy term, each of the U.S.N's blockading squadrons needed a "forward deployed" base near the war zone if it had any hopes of keeping ships on their stations for lengthy periods of time. The Gulf Blockading Squadrons' base was Ship Island.

Located about 15 miles south of the mainland of Mississippi, Ship Island had been used for decades before the Civil War as a safe anchorage. The island's value to national security was evident with the construction of Fort Massachusetts in the 1850s (not finished until the end of the war).

The 4th Louisiana occupied the island at the beginning of the war, but it soon became evident that it would difficult for Confederate forces to hold while U.S. Navy ships were the area. Confederate Major-General G.E. Twiggs noted in September 1861 that a squadron of "Two heavy frigates, two steamers, a brig, and two tenders" were bearing down on his garrison. Fearful of being cut off and not waiting for further instructions, he wisely ordered an evacuation.

Union ground forces formally occupied the island a few weeks later. For the rest of the war, Ship Island served as a major repair and resupply base for blockading ships and as a jumping off point for operations all along the Gulf Coast.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

New Feature on the CWN 150 Blog: Admiral's Row

New Admiral's Row Feature Circled in Red.

It is always the goal of any successful business or organization to grow and attract/entice new audiences. Expand or die, right? Well, the CWN 150 isn't seeking any new empires or land unfortunately. What we are doing is trying out a new user-based weekly update, aptly titled "Admiral's Row." This section of the blog (shown above) will post the "best of the best"each week from around the internet. Specifically, this new blog feature encourages CWN 150 subscribers to visit and participate in our TWITTER discussions @Civilwarnavy. Updates will be made weekly. Enjoy!

Farragut Marker: Problem Solved?

Admiral Farragut Monument, Madison Square, NYC
It was reported HERE at the end of August that the Knoxville area marker of Admiral David G. Farragut's birthplace was missing. According to Jack Neely's report, the marker's owner "had no plans to bother the marker, told us he had not been in touch with the owner lately, and had not heard that the marker was gone."

Six days ago, WATE.COM reported in Hardy Boys-esque fashion that the "Mystery of the Admiral Farragut Marker" was solved. According to the WATE.COM report, "Lylan Fitzgerald, who owns the land where the marker used to sit, said she was tired of the controversy over the stone and the historic property, so she removed it." The article ends on a somber note, with the owner wishing that interested parties would simply "leave her alone," as the marker sits on private property.

Just 19 hours ago, The Tennessean shed more light on the matter. According to today's report, Fitzgerald removed it because of issues she was having with trespassers. Because of this, Fitzgerald gave the removed marker to a historic collector. Although Fitzgerald is pleased with these new developments, other local residents are concerned. According to West Knox County resident Margot Kline stated in The Tennessean that the DAR hopes that the marker is replaced within public view, perhaps within a museum or historic monument in the future. No word on any of these future developments at the moment. You can read the full Tennessean article HERE.

Are the sentiments of Ms. Kline your own? Post your comments here, or tweet your thoughts @civilwarnavy. This is an interesting and haunting development in the cultivation of our collective memory of the Civil War.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Cape Hatteras Expedition

The bombardment of Fort Clark by Cumberland, Minnesota, and Wabash.

On August 26, 1861, the U.S Navy and Army's expedition to Cape Hatteras cleared Hampton Roads and navaigated south. Commodore Slias Stringham commanded the Navy's portion of the expedition that consisted of the steam frigates USS Wabash and Minnesota, the sail sloop-of-war USS Cumberland, the paddle steamer USS Susquehana, and steam gunboat USS Monticello

Before leaving Hampton Roads, Stringham had received intelligence about the two forts that guarded the Inlet from recently released merchant ship masters.  The Confederate garrison allowed the officers of the ships to roam the forts freely.

The attack began on the morning of August 28. With Wabash towing Cumberland, the two ships approached Fort Clark. From about 1,300 yards from the Confederate fortification, Wabash began the battle with her two pivot guns, both X-inch Dahlgrens, followed by Cumberland and Minnesota’s X-inch Dahlgrens. The rest of the squadron’s smaller guns then engaged. The squadron steamed in a clockwise circle south and then back to the north.

Flag Officer Samuel Barron  had earlier travelled down from Portsmouth, Virginia to take charge of forts, called Forts Clark and Hatteras. Using guns captured from Gosport, Barron ordered his garrison to return fire. Finding Clark outgunned, he ordered that the garrison to retreat to Fort Hatteras. After several more hours, Barron believed the situation hopeless and surrendered. Stringham shipped the Confederate commodore and the garrison to prisons in the north.

Strategically, the capture of the two forts shut down privateering for good.  It also opened up the North Carolina sounds to further advances.  It also came one month after the Union debacle at Bull Run.  As a result, the Northern press treated the victory as if the North had just won the war. 

Fort Clark after being captured

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Even Old News is Good News

Here is a few interesting events and tidbits on the Civil War navies around the interwebs this past week:
Photo Credit: Kate Taylor
There was a really interesting article from the New Haven, CT Working Waterman. Freelance writer Kate Taylor wrote a fantastic piece on the towns' plans to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. She included this picture of a baby next to her great, great, great, great grandfather Ulmer A. Brown, a New Haven resident who served in the U.S. Navy during the Civil War.

According to New Haven resident Samuel H. Beverage, “My guess is that the larger number [of the island’s Civil War veterans] were in the Navy which outnumbered the South Navy and served more as a Blockade Enforcement than they did in pitched battles.” She also included an interesting quote from Maine-based author Peter Scott. Scott apparently agrees with the previous quote, stating that the “North Haven men survived in such numbers because they were blockading at sea.” Does this detract from the rigorous reality of blockade duty? Or is this merely a mimicked reaction to the public memory of the navies' involvement during the war itself? You can read the full article HERE.

This was a week of conferences. Everything from the annual Naval History Symposium (Annapolis, MD), the Historic Naval Ships Association Conferences (Honolulu, HI), and the American Association of State and Local History (Richmond, VA). If you have any interesting information relevent to the Civil War navies from these events, comment here, on facebook, or tweet them @civilwarnavy. If you haven't already, make sure you are following the Civil War Navy Sesquicentennial on Twitter (@civilwarnavy), on Facebook, and LinkedIn. Posts are occasionally included on the Naval History blog as well.

There is also more interesting news. The Naval History and Heritage Command was accepted to create an iTunes U page. Please check back for updates. Civil War Navy Sesquicentennial-related items will be "tagged," as it is an official U.S. Navy commemoration within the command. Keep posted, the podcasting has already begun to formulate! You will need iTunes in order to view and download all content from the iTunes U site.

Historic Dates and Events:
  • 14 September 1861: The USS Colorado sank the Confederate private schooner Judah off Pensacola, Fla.
  • 16 September 1854: This date marks a historic day for the future Admiral David Glasgow Farragut. Although he was a decade away from remarking those famous words at Mobile Bay, the younger CDR took possession of Mare Island in 1854. This was the first U.S. Navy Yard in the Pacific.
  • 17 September 1861: Union landing party from USS Massachusetts takes possession of Ship Island south of New Orleans, LA. This was the headquarters for ADM David Farragut's Gulf Coast Blockading Squadron.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The U.S. Navy's Ironclad Board-Prophecies

Ironclad board members-Commodore Joseph Smith (chair), Commodore Hiram Paulding,
 Captain Charles Davis
Along with making recommendations to Secretary Welles on which ironclad designs the Navy should purchase, the three men of the Navy's Ironclad Board provided some unsolicited opinions on the short term future of naval warfare.  Given the age of each of men, one would think each of them would be out of touch with modern warfare.  However, their younger counterparts (of both navies) would have been wise to take these men's advice in the coming years.

Smoothbore or Rifled Guns
-"As yet we knowing superior to the large and heavy spherical shot in its destructive effects on vessels, whether plated or not.  Rifled guns have greater range, but the conical shot do not produce the crushing effect of spherical shot."

Armor Schemes
-"It is possible a backing of some elastic substance (soft wood, perhaps in the best) might relieve the frame of the ship somewhat from the terrible shock of a heavy projective, though the plate should not be fractured."

Brown Water Navy
-"Our immediate demands seem to require, first, so far as practicable, vessels invulnerable to shot, of light draught of water to penetrate our shoals, rives, and bayous. We therefore favor the construction of this class vessels before going into a more perfect system of large iron-clad sea-going vessels of war."

Ironclads vs. Forts
-"No ship or floating battery, however heavily she may be plated, can cope successfully with a properly constructed fortification of masonry.  The one is fixed and immovable and though constructed of material which be shattered by shot, can be covered if need be, by the same or much heavier armor than floating vessels can bear.  The other is subject to disturbances by winds and waves, and to the powerful effects of tides and currents.  Armored ships or other batteries may be employed advantageously to pass fortifications on land for ulterior objects of attack."

Foreign Warship Purchases
-"We are of the opinion that every people or nation who can maintain a navy should be capable of constructing it themselves."

Don't Forget About Wooden Ships
-"Wooden ships may be said to be but coffins for their crews when brought in conflict with iron-clad vessels; but the speed of the former, we take for granted, being greater than that of the latter, they can readily choose their position and keep out of harm's way."

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The U.S. Navy's Ironclad Board-Good Ideas/Bad Ideas

In August 1861, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles tasked three veteran naval officers, Commodore Joseph Smith, Commodore Hiram Paulding, and Commander Charles H. Davis, to find the U.S. Navy ironclad warships to counter reported Confederate ironclads already under construction. The three men of the “Ironclad Board” turned to the private sector’s ingenuity to provide a solution. With a public advertisement, the board gave American engineers and inventors twenty-five days to submit their ideas. The ideas had to be backed up with construction data and builder’s plans. By the end of September, the Board received sixteen proposals, some more sound than others.

In the end, the Board recommended three ships-John Ericson’s Monitor, Merrick & Sons’ New Ironsides, and C.S.Bushnell’s Galena. Even these three designs, the Board was not entirely pleased with. Ericson’s and Bushnell’s designs were considered unseaworthy and Merrick’s design was possibly too complex for American ironworks to build. The Board deferred judgment on a design from prolific inventor Edward Renwick. The Board liked Renwick’s design, but at $1.5 million, it would have cost the Board’s entire budget to fund.

As for the other twelve, the Board placed those designs in the “not recommended” category and threw them in the trash. Among this group were two monster ships that each displaced about 15,000 tons, were about 325 feet in length, and drew 25 feet of water (the size of a first generation dreadnought-type battleship); one that was far too small as it only displaced 90-tons; one that was outright fraud as the proposed cost seemed too low and the plans were amateurish; two that had defective armor schemes; and one where the engineer proposed building a “rubberclad” with rubber armor instead of iron.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Kitty in the Turret?

Was there really a black cat stowed away in the turret of the USS Monitor during the Battle of Hampton Roads as legend and crew member Francis Butts have suggested?

Check out NOAA's findings to learn more: The Cat in the Turret 'Comes Back'.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ft. Pickens and the Pensacola Navy Yard II

In a prior post (26 August 2011), I introduced you to the events transpiring at the Pensacola Navy Yard (Florida) and Ft. Pickens through the first half of 1861. The summer of 1861 passed quietly, with the Confederates reinforcing their positions on the mainland and Union forces fortifying their garrison at Ft. Pickens, on Santa Rosa Island. Because the Union position effectively sealed off use of the Navy Yard and Pensacola Bay from the adjacent Gulf of Mexico, the seizure of the Navy Yard never really benefitted the Confederacy. In late August, a vessel attempted to put to sea from the Navy Yard, but gunfire from batteries erected on Santa Rosa turned it back.

In early September, a Union raiding party burned a dry dock that had floated loose in the Bay to prevent its recovery and use by the Confederates. About this same time, Flag Officer Mervine of the Gulf Blockading squadron received a report that the Confederates were fitting out the privateer Judah at the Pensacola Yard. During the night of 13-14 September 1861, a raiding force of 100 bluejackets and marines under Lt. John H. Russell set out from the USS Colorado. Somehow the Confederate watch on the Judah had been forewarned and they opened fire on the Union raiders. Undaunted, the sailors and marines swarmed over the gunwales and captured the privateer. Confederate reinforcements arrived on the adjacent dock and an intense fire fight ensued between ship and shore. Russell ordered the spiking of the guns mounted on the privateer, and subsequently set fire to the schooner. The entire affair was over in 15 minutes, and the Union raiders returned to the Colorado with the Judah burning away brightly. The Union force suffered 3 killed and 13 wounded, the Confederates the same number killed and unknown wounded. Historian Ed Bearss has noted that this was the first Florida Civil War battle involving loss of life.

Photo sources: Naval History and Heritage Command and Florida Dept. of State photo archive.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

USS Cairo "America the Beautiful®" Coin Unveiling at Vicksburg NMP

Last tuesday marked an historic day for Vicksburg National Military Park and its celebrated ship, USS Cairo. Amongst a crowd of over 2,500 assembled underneath her bow, the Cairo officially became the newest face of the United States Mint's "America the Beautiful" coin collection. Shown above, the coin depicts the famous ship steaming down the Mississippi where she fought in several critical battles for Union control of the western theater of operations, specifically the Vicksburg campaign .

Nearly 2,000 elementary students from area schools were in attendance, including music provided by the Utica Jubilee Singers of Hinds Community College. Dressed in the dark-blue wool uniform of a Union Navy seaman, fifteen year old Sam Andrews, a park VIP pictured below, read a portion of the diary of George Yost describing the sinking of the USS Cairo. Yost was also fifteen when he served aboard the ship. After the ceremony, everyone under the age of 18 received a new Vicksburg Quarter and keepsake case from the Mint. According to Park Ranger Tim Kavanaugh, the coin unveiling witnessed by so many children gave the event "a youthful exuberance."

Park VIP Sam Andrews reads a portion of the diary of George Yost describing the sinking of the USS. Cairo. NPS Photo
The Cairo, an ironclad river gunboat captained by Thomas Selfridge, was sunk by Confederates in the Yazoo River north of Vicksburg on December 12, 1862. She was raised on December 12, 1964 and is on permanent display, along with all artifacts salvaged, at Vicksburg National Military Park.

Vicksburg Visitors & Convention Bureau
This is a historic event for the 150th commemoration of the Civil War and its navies. The coin is the ninth to be released in the series. Special thanks to Tim Kavanaugh for providing the CWN 150 with this information.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

2012 Civil War Navy Conference Announced

Civil War Navy Conference at the 10th Annual Battle of Hampton Roads Weekend
March 9-11, 2012

Featuring award-winning authors Harold Holzer and Craig Symonds

The Mariners' Museum in Newport News, VA, along with its partners at
NOAA's Monitor National Marine Sanctuary, The Museum of the
Confederacy, and the Hampton Roads Naval Museum are soliciting panels
and poster sessions for the Civil War Navy Conference held during the
10th annual Battle of Hampton Roads Weekend in Newport News, VA, March
9-11, 2012. Papers will be considered in the following areas:

. Civil War Naval
- History
- Technology
- Literature
- Art
- Popular culture

. Civil War Underwater Archaeology and Conservation

Panel proposals should have no more than 3 presenters plus chair.
Sessions will run no more than 90 minutes. Presentations submitted
separately may be placed on panels at the discretion of the hosting

Poster sessions should be formatted for 30 minutes: 15 minutes for
presentation and 15 minutes for Q&A.

Proposals (poster: 250 words, panel: 500 words) including a 50-word
bio for each contributor should be sent by 1 November 2011 to or by mail to:

Battle of Hampton Roads 2012 Symposium
c/o Anna Holloway
The Mariners' Museum
100 Museum Drive
Newport News, VA 23606

Decisions on submissions will be made by 30 December 2011.

Presenters selected will be entitled to a speaker's rate for
registration and will have access to discounted rooms. Presenters are
responsible for their own travel arrangements.

Pre-registration preferred, but walk-ins are welcome. Registration
opens November, 2011.

The Mariners' Museum
100 Museum Drive
Newport News, VA 23606


Thursday, September 1, 2011

Civil War at Sea: U.S. Naval Strategy in the Civil War Youtube Video

Hampton Roads Naval Museum and CWN 150 Staff have been working closely with Bob Rositzke of R.H. Rositske & Associates to create a series of educational videos discussing the role of the navies during the Civil War. We are all pleased to announce the third of five videos, "U.S. Naval Strategy in the Civil War," is now available for viewing on Youtube. The video is sponsored by William Erickson and the Surface Navy Association.