Today’s Charlotte Observer includes a review by John David Smith, a professor of American History at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte, of my new book, Faces of the Civil War Navies.
The headline of the review reflects a sentiment shared by many who are enthusiasts of the water war from 1861 to 1865 and navy veterans of all stripes: Sailors who served in Civil War navies finally get their stories told.
Professor Smith notes, Faces of the Civil War Navies uses a stunning collection of cartes de visite and tintype images of Union and Confederate sailors to chronicle their diverse nautical service.
Delighted to read this and other positive comments from Professor Smith.
Reviewers of all my Faces books include a sampling of stories. It interests me to know which individuals they’ve decided to highlight. Professor Smith selected Landsman Aaron Joseph, a Boston man who went to war to fight for the freedom of his enslaved race, Lt. William Whittle Jr., a Virginian who served on the last Confederate vessel to surrender, and Lt. Cmdr. Richard Rush, a Pennsylvanian who went on to edit the monumental Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies.
I’ve been a longtime follower of John Banks’ Civil War Blog. It is chock full of images and stories with an emphasis on Antietam, Connecticut, common soldiers and photography.
John interviewed me about my new book, Faces of the Civil War Navies: An Album of Union and Confederate Sailors. I was delighted to participate and thank John for helping to spread the word about these fascinating citizen sailors.
Turns out John’s favorite story involves a Union lieutenant who almost drowned President Abraham Lincoln and Adm. David Dixon Porter on the James River in April 1865. You can read John’s summary and my answers to his questions.
My latest post on The Johns Hopkins University Press blog is pegged to the anniversary of the establishment of the U.S. Navy. An excerpt:
The story of the war on the waters never quite stirred the American soul. The New York Herald noted in an 1895 review of the first in the 30-volume Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies, “That branch of the service has never had its full share of credit for its work in the suppression of the rebellion, owing, perhaps, to the more popular interest in the army, which came so much more closely home to the people.”
The post is illustrated with this portrait of Lt. Benjamin Horton Porter, a promising Union officer. A U.S. Naval Academy graduate viewed as a rising star, he did not live to see the conclusion of the conflict into which he poured his heart and soul.
Faces of the Civil War Navies: An Album of Union and Confederate Sailors is here! I returned yesterday from a five-day vacation to find a box containing three advance copies. I had expected its arrival since early last week after I received an email update from Jack Holmes of Hopkins Press. The hardbound books follow in the tradition of my others. They are finely printed on high quality stock with a matte finish jacket suggestive of a photographic negative. I am thrilled! I also feel fortunate to have the opportunity to contribute to our better understanding and appreciation of the war on the waters from 1861 to 1865.
The three advance copies are already spoken for! One is my personal copy, another is for Anne, and the last is in our library.
Considering the upcoming holidays, I encourage you to purchase a copy for yourself or as a gift. Your support of my work, and of Hopkins Press for making this volume a reality, is much appreciated!
Received my latest issue of the Civil War Monitor today and was thrilled to find not only that a gallery of images from my navy book received great play and the coveted cover slot! I am grateful to Terry Johnston and all the fine folks on the CWM team for making it happen. I also learned that the book is due out in November, just in time for the holidays. Pre-orders are available on Amazon.
Light traffic and springtime glory accompanied me on yesterday’s drive to Charlottesville, Va., to present a talk about Civil War photography to the local Civil War Round Table. I found, upon my arrival, that Duncan Campbell has managed all the technical considerations. I soon met president L. Peyton Humphrey and other group members.
My program, The American Soldier in Portrait Photography, 1861-1865, describes the emergence of the carte de visite as the dominant photographic format during the war years and traces its rise from the origins of photography.
The 60-slide presentation includes a group of six cartes to illustrate the individuality of Union and Confederate soldiers, and I swap the six out depending upon the audience (Example: When I presented this program in Augusta, Ga., back in January, the six were all Georgians). This time, one of the portraits I chose for inclusion was U.S. Navy Paymaster George Work, pictured here, who drowned when his ironclad gunboat Tecumseh sunk at the Battle of Mobile Bay. I selected his likeness to add a navy man to the grouping. Turns out one of his descendants, Jean Turrentill, was in the audience! We met afterwards and I’ll be sending her the information that I’ve collected about Work’s life and tragic death.
I also met someone seeking an image of her forefather, and this is a common experience in my presentations. This time, Patricia Ford approached me with a request for a photograph of William Condra Gass of the Union 9th Kentucky Infantry. Gass, from Clay County, Ky., was mortally wounded at the Battle of Stones River on Dec. 31, 1862. A quick search of my subscription databases turned up no portraits. Perhaps you can help! Patricia’s email is email@example.com.
A big thank you to everyone who attended!
Delighted to share the design for the book jacket. My sincere thanks to the fine folks at The Johns Hopkins University Press for making the project a reality.
Lieutenant Sylvanus Backus was crazy drunk. Stumbling around the quarterdeck of the Mohongo after midnight with a drawn sword, his raucous behavior stirred the sleeping crew. The warship’s executive officer soon arrived on the scene, relieved Backus from duty and sent him below decks under guard.
But Backus broke free. The Mohongo’s commander, Capt. James Nicholson,wakened and was apprised of the situation. He ordered Backus to be confined to his room and a sentry posted at the door.
Nicholson went back to bed. “Immediately after I heard a great noise in the wardroom and got up and went into the wardroom where Mr. Backus was endeavoring to break open the door of his room. As I entered the wardroom he said ‘that damned old cuss wishes to frighten me with a court martial.’”
Nicholson said, “’Mr. Backus, unless you keep quiet, it will be necessary to put you in irons. Mind, this is no ill threat, so you had better keep suit’ — or words to that effect.”
Navy secretary Gideon Welles fretted about the safety of California after the outbreak of war in 1861. The threat of rebel privateers preying upon mail steamers loaded with treasure and secessionists seeking to take the southern part of the state was real. Welles had but six vessels in the Pacific Squadron to patrol an immense area.
The flag officer in command of the Pacific Squadron, John B. Montgomery, summarized the situation to Welles on August 23, 1861, “My very limited force of four steamers and two sailing ships will prove wholly inadequate for the protection of our commerce with the numerous ports along this coast, extending from Talcahuano to San Francisco, a distance of 7,000 miles.”
Montgomery asked Welles for four additional steamers. In the meantime, Montgomery assigned the ships at his disposal to cover critical areas. He dispatched one of his most reliable vessels, the Narragansett, to a 400-mile stretch of Mexican coast from Acapulco Bay to Manzanillo.
The Narragansett, a screw-propeller sloop that had joined the Pacific fleet a year earlier after a stint in the Atlantic Ocean, was armed with five guns. Her crew of 50 men and officers included John Sullivan, pictured her, center, a career navy man known for honesty and integrity.