He Preserved the Memory of the Naval War

rush-montageMy latest “Faces of War” column for the Civil War News is now available. An excerpt of the story of Richard Rush, U.S. navy:

The call to action that landed him in the spotlight came long after the rebellion had been put down. In May 1893, now Lt. Cmdr. Rush succeeded a fellow officer as Superintendent of Naval War Records. He inherited a mammoth task—the organization and publication of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies. Authorized by Congress in 1884, a small force of clerks and copyists set about the work. They were overwhelmed by the volume of material and challenges associated in locating copies of Confederate records destroyed when Richmond burned in 1865. Reinforcements were ordered in to help collect, classify and arrange documents and data from public and private sources.

Read the rest of Rush’s story.

Damn the Torpedoes! What Did Farragut Really Say at Mobile Bay?

The actual words by Adm. David Farragut during the 1864 Battle of Mobile Bay that became paraphrased as “Damn the torpedoes, full speed speed ahead” are still something of a mystery 150 years after they were uttered.

Several sources note that Farragut originally cried, “Damn the torpedoes! Four bells. Captain Drayton, go ahead! Jouett, full speed!”

But according to a newly discovered primary source, the true words spoken by Farragut were: “Damn the torpedoes! Go on! Put the helm a-starboard, Captain Drayton!”

Brownell-Henry-H-USN-FThe provenance of this version is an inscription in a gilt-embossed green buckram 1864 pamphlet “Bay-Fight” by Henry H. Brownell (pictured), acting ensign and clerk to Farragut during the Battle of Mobile Bay. The pamphlet was recently sold on Cowan’s Auctions.

Brownell’s poem, “Bay-Fight,” was first published in “Harper’s Monthly” magazine. The author presented this particular copy to Fleet Surgeon James C. Palmer.

Brownell never mentions the “Damn the torpedoes” phrase in his poem. He wrote:

From the main-top, bold and brief,
Came the word of our grand old Chief—
“Go on!”—’twas all he said—
Our helm was put to the starboard,
And the Hartford passed ahead.

But in this pamphlet, Surg. Palmer put a hand-written asterisk next to “Go on!” with this explanatory note:

page02*All Mr. Brownell heard. Or, perhaps, the Admiral, who was not a profane man, told him to suppress one phrase. When the pilot reported from the “Metacomet” that we were edging down the torpedo-field, Admiral Farragut called, from under the maintop, in these words: “Damn the torpedoes! Go on! Put the helm a-starboard, Captain Drayton!” So we held our breath, and screwed over the bank. -J.C.P.

Two references worthy of mention. The “Metacomet” is one of the Union vessels present and in the thick of the battle. Use of the word “screwed” refers to the action of the screw-propeller engine that drove the ship.

Brownell’s carte de visite is new to my collection, and now available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr.

Young Girl, Hidden Mother

This carte de visite by an anonymous photographer pictures a girl who stands on a cloth-covered box in front of a floral backdrop. The flowered pattern emanates from her head and shoulders, and the folds in the backdrop indicate that her mother or another adult held the young lady steady for the photographer. This technique was commonly used during the Civil War period to keep movement to a minimum while the child’s portrait was taken.

The back of the mount contains two items that suggest California origins. A modern pencil inscription notes that this photo was from the Veerkamp family album, El Dorado County. An internal revenue stamp, which dates this photo between 1864-1866, is hand-cancelled with the initials “GHG,” possibly George H. Gilbert of Placerville. Gilbert, a daguerreian pioneer, was active in Placerville from 1860-1880.

According to the 1870 federal census, Frank Veer Kamp of Hanover, Germany, his wife Louisa, and four boys lived in Colona Township, El Dorado County. If the little girl pictured here was a daughter, her absence from the census roll suggests she died before 1870.

Her carte de visite is new to my collection, and now available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr.
Young Girl, Hidden Mother