Crisis in Pensacola

m2My latest profile in the Civil War News Faces of War series is Confederate navy officer William Thomas Morrill. An excerpt from his story:

By early January 1861, mechanic W. Thomas Morrill, pictured here, and other employees of the Pensacola Navy Yard in Florida were caught in a humanitarian crisis. They had not been paid for two months—the result of civil unrest that disrupted the flow of money and materials to military outposts in the Southern states as the country drifted towards civil war. Hunger became a real and present danger.

Morrill had a wife and two infants to feed. Many of his fellow workers also had families to support and no relief was in sight. On January 8, the workers rallied at a mass meeting at a Masonic hall in Warrington, a village outside the walls of the Yard.

They appointed a committee who promptly met with the commander of the Yard and requested that provisions be issued in lieu of pay. The sympathetic officer in charge, Cmdr. James Armstrong, acted promptly to relieve their sufferings. Flour, sugar, rice, coffee and butter were distributed on January 10—the same day Florida legislators voted by a wide margin to secede from the Union.

Read the rest on Medium.

 

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Out of Retirement

shipleySamuel Shipley is representative of older Americans who came out of retirement to fight for the Union. His profile is the latest Faces of War column in the Civil War News. An excerpt:

The need for Union warships to support the massive Southern blockade prompted the re-commission of mothballed vessels. One of the ancients to be recalled to service, the 44-gun frigate Brandywine, had been launched in 1825 and on her maiden voyage had carried Revolutionary War hero Lafayette home to France.

Her sails were furled in 1850.

A decade later she was called out of retirement. In late September 1861 the New York Tribune reported, “The old frigate Brandywine is being rapidly converted in a storeship — about the only thing she is fit for. When completed she will present a rather patched appearance, but she will no doubt answer the purpose for which she is intended.” Other newspapers referred to her as the “Hulk Brandywine.”

Her new crew included a veteran officer who had also come out of retirement. Samuel Shipley, a 47-year-old lieutenant, had resigned his commission in 1852.

Read the rest of his story on Medium.

A Brilliant Engagement at Hill’s Point

lamsonRoswell Hawks Lamson is one of the lesser known naval officers who served in the Union navy, and yet three warships have been named in his honor. His story, recently published in the Civil War News, details how he became such a respected military figure.

An excerpt:

Lamson leapt into action. He called to the nearby Stepping Stones, the ferryboat with theMount Washington in tow, and had her pull alongside. He transferred all the officers and men to the vessel. The long towlines were cast off and the Stepping Stones moved out of harm’s way.

Lamson remained on the disabled ship with a bare bones crew. They wheeled a small howitzer behind a side-wheel paddle box on the upper deck and returned fire. Some of the men grabbed carbines and they used them to hold the sharpshooters at bay.

Read the full story.

Blasting Fort Wagner into Sand Heaps

kenyon-collageMy latest Faces of War column in the Civil War News profiles navy officer Albert J. Kenyon. An excerpt:

Hours before the 54th Massachusetts Infantry and other federal infantry assaulted Fort Wagner, S.C., on July 18, 1863, the Union navy launched a furious bombardment. Six ironclads steamed to within 1,200 yards of the fort and unleashed hell on the garrison. Shell after shell belched from the fiery mouths of the big guns in the turrets of the metal monsters to soften the position, which was critical to the rebel defenses of Charleston.

Read on!

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.

The Great New Orleans Chase

webb-armstrongMy 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.

Read the rest of the story.

Wood Meets Iron at Mobile Bay

langer-montage2nd Asst. Eng. Philip Joseph Langer of the Union gunboat Monongahela is the subject of my latest profile in “Faces of War” from the Civil War News. An excerpt:

Philip Langer braced for impact. The wooden sloop-of-war on which he served, the Monongahela, was only yards away from ramming the rebel ironclad ram Tennessee in the waters of Mobile Bay on August 5, 1864.

The Tennessee fired its guns into the approaching Monongahela at this critical moment. Two shells fired from her ports crashed into the Monongahela’s bow. One shell tore into the wood siding near the prow and lodged in the berth deck. The other ripped through the berth deck where Langer and others stood firm. It exploded and sent iron fragments, splinters of wood and other debris through the air. The crew was thrown violently to the floor.

Then the Monongahela struck her prey full force amidships. The blow, according to a news report, caused “the huge rebel monster to reel like a drunken man.”

Read the full profile.

Lieutenant Rogers Recovers Captured Guns at Gettysburg

rogers-groupThe exploits of Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and his Twentieth Maine Infantry at Gettysburg are well known among those with an active interest in the Civil War. Far less known however is the story of another Maine unit, the Sixth Battery, First Light Artillery, and its role in stopping the Confederate juggernaut in the vicinity of the Peach Orchard about the same time Chamberlain and his troops were fighting nearby on Little Round Top.

The story of Lt. William H. Rogers and the rest of his battery at Gettysburg is the subject of my latest “Faces of War” column in the Civil War News.

An excerpt:

The fighting in the vicinity of the Peach Orchard during the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg was a Union artilleryman’s nightmare. Advancing Confederates had torn into the poorly positioned Union Third Corps and ripped it to shreds. The destruction of the federal line at this critical point uncovered a wide a dangerous gap in their front. Onrushing rebels plunged into the void and drove shattered ranks of federal infantry back, leaving artillery batteries unsupported and exposed.

Read the full story.

Jack Hines Faces Capture at Chickamauga

hinesThe story of how escaped slave John “Jack” Hines came to join the all-white Fifteenth Pennsylvania Infantry, and his later escape from Confederate attackers at Chickamauga. An excerpt:

He and Company K, along with two other companies from the Fifteenth, were assigned as an escort to the headquarters of Maj. Gen. William S. Rosecrans, who commanded the Army of the Cumberland. A West Pointer who had performed admirably at the Battle of Stones River nine months earlier, he was familiarly known as “Old Rosy.” His flowery nickname belied his punctilious and downright testy nature.

During the two-day Battle of Chickamauga, Rosecrans’s headquarters was a beehive of activity. According to the historian of the Fifteenth, Hine’s comrades were “actively engaged during the whole of this memorable fight, remaining almost constantly saddled. Dispatches of the most vital importance were entrusted to the men by the Commanding General, his staff not being able to take all the messages; all of which were promptly delivered, under circumstances of appalling danger.”

During the second day of the battle, after Confederates under the command of Lt. Gen. James Longstreet broke through the Union lines and threatened headquarters, Hines and the rest of headquarters found themselves unexpectedly in the thick of the action.

Hine’s profile appeared in this month’s print issue of the Civil War News. It is now available on my blog.

Latest “Faces of War” Column: “Something Got the Matter with My Head”

PinckneyMy latest Civil War News ”Faces of War” column is now available. Pvt. John Pinckney was born into bondage on a prosperous rice-growing plantation in coastal South Carolina, and left to join the 104th U.S. Colored Infantry. He enlisted on April 13, 1865—four days after Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia and the day before the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

An excerpt:

One friend recalled, “When he came home he came right to see me in Georgetown, where I was living, and he had on his soldier clothes,” and added, “After he came home he went by the name Pinckney all the time — that was his father’s name.”

Read the full story.