My latest “Faces of War” column in the Civil War News is the story of Union naval officer Thomas Armstrong and how the ship on which he served, the Hollyhock, went up against the Confederate Webb. An excerpt:
A side-wheel steamer laden with cotton chugged along the Mississippi River above New Orleans early on April 24, 1865. Her crew lounged about the deck, dressed in army overcoats to counter the morning chill, and casually smoked cigars or picked their teeth. The Stars and Stripes hung above them at half-mast, in mourning for the slain president.
This section of the river was crowded with vessels of all classes, including federal gunboats and military support ships. All the navy vessels were on high alert after a reliable report stated that a Confederate ram was moving in their direction. Word also reached the citizens of the city, who had gathered in the streets and along the levees to await the arrival of the rebels. According to an account published in the New York Herald, the fleet “looked for something of the Merrimac style of iron-clads.”
One of the sailors in New Orleans was Thomas Armstrong. An English immigrant who had joined the navy in 1861, he had been stationed in the Pelican City since it fell to Union forces in 1862. He had recently been appointed third assistant engineer and assigned to the supply ship Hollyhock, a paddle-wheel steamer armed with three guns.