My 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.
English-born Thomas Armstrong (1838-1867) began his navy career in the summer of 1861. His first assignment was on the warship “Pensacola,” a screw steamer dispatched to the Gulf of Mexico to join Flag Officer David Farragut’s newly established West Gulf Blockading Squadron. On April 24, 1862, Armstrong and his crew mates steamed with the fleet past Confederate forts St. Philip and Jackson, which protected New Orleans, La. The next day, the Union vessels engaged batteries below the city, which soon surrendered. Armstrong ended the war as an acting third assistant engineer, and posed for his portrait at the New Orleans studio of Theodore Lilienthal about this time. He died of yellow fever in New Orleans in 1867. His wife, Josephine, and a daughter, Mary, survived him.
My latest “Faces of War” column in the Civil War News is the story of Benjamin Franklin Wood, an engineer in the U.S. navy. He served on the Sassacus when it encountered the blockade-runner Wild Dayrell 150 years ago yesterday.
Holden observed, “The curling tongues of flame that now shot out from the decks of the Wild Dayrell showed that the torch had been faithfully applied; clouds of lurid smoke poured from the holds, and enveloped the whole of her light masts, sails and rigging.”
He added, “To insure complete ruin of her engines, and to preclude the remote possibility of her ever serving again either her owners or the rebels, both the Sassacus and Florida took position, and shot after shot was fired through the iron hull. Bursting shells soon tore immense holes in bows and stern, or threw masses of shattered deck and cargo high into the air.”