A Future Governor’s Brother at Mobile Bay, 1864

David King Perkins (1843-1893) of Kennebunkport, Maine, served as an acting master’s mate on the Union warship Seminole from 1863-1865. He was present and aboard the vessel during the Battle of Mobile Bay, the landmark engagement that closed the last major Confederate port in the Gulf of Mexico. After the war, Perkins resided in California, where his older brother, George Clement Perkins, served as governor from 1880-1883 and as a U.S. senator from 1893-1915.

This carte de visite by Guelpa & Demoleni of Boston, Mass., is new to my collection, and will be included in my forthcoming book about the Union and Confederate navies. It is available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr.
A Future Governor’s Brother at Mobile Bay, 1864

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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.

Union Comrades, Fellow Amputees

Four federal officers pose with their swords, and carry the visible effects of the human cost of war. Three of the men have suffered the amputation of the right arm, and the fourth the loss of a finger or fingers.

The identity of only one of these citizen soldiers is known. William A. McNulty (standing, right) served with the Tenth New York Infantry. He was wounded in action at the Battle of Fredericksburg, Va., on Dec. 12-15, 1862. The Tenth, also known as the “National Zouaves,” paid a heavy price at Fredericksburg: 15 killed and mortally wounded, and 53 wounded and missing.

This carte de visite is new to my collection, and is now available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr:
Union Comrades, Fellow Amputees

Latest “Faces of War” Column: A Missouri Slave Transforms Into a Studious Sergeant

A Missouri Slave Transforms Into a Studious SergeantMy latest Civil War News “Faces of War” column is now available. 1st Sgt. Octavius McFarland was born a slave in Missouri, and he was illiterate like most of his comrades. The senior officers of his regiment, the Sixty-second U.S. Colored Infantry, published a series of orders to teach McFarland and the rest of the rank and file to read and write.

An excerpt:

The senior commanders of the Sixty-second U.S. Colored Infantry issued a variety of general orders to the rank and file during its 27 months as an organized force. Perhaps the most unique of all is General Order No. 4. Enacted on Jan. 25, 1865, it announced a contest to recognize the best writers in the ranks.

A committee of officers was appointed to judge the entries and pick thirty winners—a sergeant, corporal and private from each of the regiment’s ten companies. The standard 100-man company included one first sergeant, four sergeants, eight corporals and eighty-two privates.

Results would be announced on Independence Day 1865. Winning corporals and sergeants would each receive a gold pen, and privates a good book.

Read the full profile.

New on Disunion: A Regiment is Sacrificed at Gettysburg

BrownleeMy latest contribution to Disunion is now available. Corp. James Brownlee of the 134th New York Infantry suffered multiple wounds during the first day’s fight at Gettysburg. An excerpt:

Union forces along the northern edge of Gettysburg, Pa., occupied a precarious position on July 1, 1863. Advancing Confederates poured deadly volleys into the rapidly thinning blue ranks as a steady stream of wounded trickled into the normally peaceful Pennsylvania town.

A federal division commander in the thick of the fray, Gen. Carl Schurz, was running out of options. A former German revolutionary who became an influential voice among fellow political refugees, he sent his aides in search of reinforcements. While he waited for help, he received reports that Union troops on his right and left had buckled under the intense pressure of the Confederate juggernaut.

A mile south, Cpl. James Brownlee watched and listened to the raging battle from the heights of Cemetery Hill. A farmhand who had emigrated from Ireland with his family when he was a boy, Brownlee and his comrades in the 134th New York Infantry could clearly see the fighting where Schurz was hotly engaged.

Read the full profile.

A Complete Soldier Story Excerpted in a New Gettysburg Magazine

“Gettysburg: Three Days That Saved the United States” is a new commemorative magazine from i-5 Publishing, and its editors worked with The Johns Hopkins University Press to include one of the profiles from African American Faces of the Civil War: An Album. The story they selected is memorable: Alexander Herritage Newton (he’s pictured on the left in the magazine spread below).

Magazine spread from Gettysburg commemorative magazineAlso included in the special 150th issue is the story of Union soldier Amos Humiston. A photo of his three children was picked from his unidentified body and circulated across the Northern states. Humiston’s story has been often told, and this version by Mark H. Dunkelman is particularly well done.

The magazine is reportedly available at major bookstores.