I always take special care to plan my presentations, and “Water Wars: A history of the Civil War navies through the eyes of 25 sailors” was no exception. In a sense, it was three presentations in one—a brief history of photography, numbers of naval personnel and ships, and 25 mini-profiles. All of the information came from my most recent book, Faces of the Civil War Navies: An Album of Union and Confederate Sailors.
I delivered the presentation last night to the Chesapeake Civil War Roundtable of Maryland. Many thanks to the Theresa Chevery, who invited me, President Janet McCabe, Larry Clemens, Lester Brooks, and all who attended.
The talk began with an excerpt of a letter from by Rear Adm. David Dixon Porter to the mother of Lt. Benjamin Horton Porter (distant relation) after the young man’s death at the Jan. 15, 1865, Battle of Fort Fisher. Here’s the excerpt:
Your gallant son was my beau-ideal of an officer. His heart was filled with gallantry and love of country. It must be a dreadful blow to lose such a son. It was a dreadful blow to me to lose such an officer. My associations with my officers are not those of a commander. We are like comrades, and form fond attachments to each other. When they fall I feel as if I had lost one of my own family. Your son was captain of my flag-ship, and a favorite with me and all who knew him.
He was brave to a fault. I shall never forget the day he left the ship, with my flag in his hand, saying, ‘Admiral, this shall be the first flag on the fort.’ My own son, a lad of seventeen, went by his side, and was with him when he fell, with my flag in his hand, trying to reach the enemy’s ramparts, from whence the murderous wretches were firing thousands of muskets into our brave fellows.
That was a wretched night for me. Your son was reported killed, and mine, last seen at his side, was missing till late in the night. I could imagine his father’s anguish, and I could imagine yours. I have no consolation to give you, unless to console you with the certainty of meeting in a better world than this. I have gone through a great deal in this war. For four years I have been but one month with my family. I have seen my official family cut down one after another, and my heart is so sad that I feel as if I could never smile again.
Among all the young men who have been on my staff no one had my entire confidence more than your lost son—lost only for a time. You will find him again where all is peace and joy. I would like to drink of the waters of Lethe and forget the last four years.