The Smell of Warship Smoke

13911410882_85d64c0405_oNavy 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.

 

Read the rest of Sullivan’s story.

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Early Defender of His Homeland

montageLt. John Grimball was in the Civil War from the Star of the West incident in January 1861 through the surrender of the Shenandoah in November 1865. His story is featured in the current issue of Civil War News. An excerpt:

Later that year he reported for duty to the Shenandoah. Grimball and his shipmates hunted Yankee merchant ships on the high seas during a yearlong cruise. Their exploits inspired Southerners during the waning months of the Confederate nation and prompted Northerners to brand them pirates. The Shenandoah continued to operate for months after surrender of the gray armies and dissolution of the government. The crew had heard rumors of the downfall of the Confederacy but had no confirmation of it.

“We were now the only Confederate cruiser afloat, and as we continued our course around the world, passing from ocean to ocean, meeting in turn ships of various nationalities, I always felt that whenever our nationality was known to neutral ships the greetings we received rarely warmed up beyond that of a more or less interested curiosity, and while we had many friends ashore who were most lavish and generous in welcoming us to port, underlying it all there appeared to exist a wish of the authorities to have us ‘move on.’”

Read his full story.

Injured in the First Charge at Vicksburg

John Caskey Hall (1842-1907) served in the 16th Ohio Infantry from 1861 to 1864, during which time he worked his way from a private to sergeant in Company C. He fought in the June 3, 1861, Battle of Philippi, W.Va., considered by some as the first land battle of the Civil War.

Hall went on to participate in the Vicksburg Campaign. He suffered a concussion in the May 19, 1863, assault on the formidable defenses of Vicksburg—the first of two failed attacks by the Union army that prompted Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant to ay siege to the fortress city.

Hall also served in the 102nd Ohio Infantry.

After the war he returned to his home in Wooster, Ohio, where he operated a coal business. He wed in 1874 and started a family that grew to include a daughter and two sons. His wife died in 1897, and he remarried.

This image by Reeve & Watts of Columbus, Ohio, is new to my collection and is available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr.
Injured in the First Charge at Vicksburg

A Civil War POW’s Story in 8 Quotes

John McGregor, the surgeon of the 3rd Connecticut Infantry, was captured during the First Battle of Bull Run on July 21, 1861. The story of who he was as a man, and of his Civil War experience, can be glimpsed in these eight quotes from the “Life and Deeds of John McGregor:”

“He was educated, believed, and acted, according to the political principles of Abraham Lincoln.”

“When a man in the doctor’s position, was ready and willing to leave his home, his friends, his large practice, and almost everything which makes life desirable, to enter the army, and to be subjected to all the sufferings and hardships of war, others were ready to follow his example. He never would encourage men to do what he dared not do himself. His motto was, “Men, follow!’”

“The morning of July 21st, he went with his regiment to the battle field, and there stopped at a house which was to be used as a hospital for our wounded. He remained there through the day, faithfully attending his duties. When the retreat was ordered, I rode up to the hospital. The doctor came to the door, all besmeared with blood. I told him that a retreat was ordered, and for his own safety, he had better leave at once. He asked me if there was any preparation for removing the wounded men. I told him there was not. He then turned and went into the hospital. As he turned, he said, ‘Major, I cannot leave the wounded men, and I shall stay with them, and let the result follow.’ That was the last time I saw him.”

“At last, I was taken from the prison pen at Salisbury, and left upon the banks of the James river, completely destitute. For what purpose I was left there, in that condition, I can assign but one reason, and that is that they left me there to die. I took survey of my situation, and while doing so, these words flashed through my mind; ‘Hope on, hope ever.’”

“As the steamer slowly moved up the river, something seemed to say, ‘Now is the time for you to make an exertion.’ I at once began to do everything which I could to attract their attention. Soon I was overjoyed to see the steamer stop. I could see that they were lowering a boat, and soon I saw them pulling for the shore. At first they thought that I was placed there as a decoy to entrap them; but after the captain had viewed me through his glass, he thought otherwise, and ordered his men to come and see what I wanted. I told those men that I had been a prisoner a long time, and wished to get once more within the Union lines.”

“I had an interview with the President and Secretary Stanton. At that time all the reliable information which could be gathered concerning the rebels’ movements, was highly prized. I was constantly surrounded by reporters, but after I had given the President and Secretary Stanton all the information which I could concerning the South, I closed the doors upon the reporters.”

“As he entered the village, the bells in the steeples commenced ringing out the glad tidings, and at the same moments many familiar voices broke the stillness of the evening by singing one of his favorite hymns, ‘Home again, home again.’ He then discovered that he was surrounded by the village people, who had turned out in a mass to receive him. He was then escorted to his home, the multitude dispersed in a quiet manner, and he was left to enjoy once more the presence of his family friends. He arrived home on Saturday evening, August 3d 1862.”

“At times he was almost afraid that he would become demented. His experience in the fourteen months seemed more like a horrid dream than a reality; but as time passed on, his flesh and strength returned, his mind became more clear, and he was ready to go at them again.”

McGregor died in 1867.

This image is new to my collection and is available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr.
A Civil War POW’s Story in 8 Quotes

A Navy Officer Who Captured Confederate Infantrymen

John Clark Dutch (1821-1895) served in the Union navy from 1861 until 1866 as an acting master. Perhaps his finest moment in uniform occurred on April 9, 1863, at Edisto Island, S.C. As commander of the bark Kingfisher, he learned from two “contraband” slaves that rebel pickets were stationed on Edisto Island, where they reported on federal army and navy activity in the area. About 6 p.m., he and 35 of his men, and 10 contrabands, left the Kingfisher in two boats and rowed to the island. There they surprised and captured nine Confederates from the Third South Carolina Infantry and made them prisoners of war.

About a year later, the Kingfisher grounded and wrecked on Combahee Bank in St. Helena Sound, S.C.

This image is new to my collection, and is available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr.
A Navy Officer Who Captured Confederate Infantrymen

An Officer in Three Illinois Regiments

John H.J. Lacey, a resident of Effingham, Ill., started his Civil War service in April 1861 as a lieutenant in the Eleventh Illinois Infantry. After his three-month term of enlistment expired, he became adjutant of the 98th Illinois Infantry. He spent the majority of the war with this regiment and participated in numerous engagements throughout the South, including the Battle of Chickamauga and the Atlanta Campaign. In February 1865, Lacey left to become adjutant in the newly-formed 155th Illinois Infantry. This regiment served primarily in Tennessee, and mustered out of the Union army in September 1865.

This carte de visite is new to my collection, and is available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr.
An Officer in Three Illinois Regiments

Unmasking a Rebel Battery at Freestone Point

mcglensey-montageJohn Franklin McGlensey graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in June 1861, and three months later the 19-year-old was in command of a navy vessel in the Potomac River. His story is the subject of my latest “Faces of War” column, which runs in the Civil War News. An excerpt:

The rebels raised their flag and replied with a barrage from their big guns. They kept up a rapid fire into the afternoon. At some point during the action, the federals observed a small launch anchored in front of the battery. Midshipman McGlensey ordered the Murray in and captured the craft. The bold move drew fire from the Freestone battery, but the crew of the Murray managed to secure the launch and tow it away. “She accomplished it without any injury to herself or those on board,” noted Lt. McCrea.

Read the rest of McGlensey’s story.

The Day the War Stopped

The commander of the Union gunboat Albatross, John Elliot Hart was a native New Yorker who began his navy career in 1841 and graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1847. During the Civil War, he was attached to the West Gulf Squadron, where he served on several ships in and about the Mississippi River. He took charge of the Albatross in October 1862 and served in this capacity in June 1863 when he was stricken with yellow fever. On June 11, 1863, he committed suicide with a revolver in his cabin.

His brother officers knew that Hart was a Mason and determined he should have a burial that honored his membership in this organization. They took the body ashore the next day under a flag of truce and arranged a funeral service with Confederate Masons in St. Francisville, La.

Beginning in 1999, St. Francisville marked the event with a festival and called it “The Day the War Stopped.” The festival is still held today.

His likeness is new to my collection, and now available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr.
The Day the War Stopped

The Last Commander of the Monitor

South Carolina-born John Payne Bankhead (1821-1867) opted to remain loyal to the Union after the Civil War began. A career navy man, he served on several vessels early in the war—all of which were wood. He requested to be transferred to an ironclad, and in September 1862 took command of the “Monitor.” He had the distinction of being the senior officer in charge when the famed ship sunk off Cape Hatteras, N.C., on December 31, 1862. Bankhead survived the ordeal and returned to active command. He survived the war, but his health failed soon after. He died in 1867.

His image is new to my collection, and his story will appear in my forthcoming book about Civil War sailors.

This image is new to my collection, and is now available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr:
The Last Commander of the Monitor

A Navy Officer in one of the First Amphibious Operations of the Civil War

Lt. John F. McGlensey, a Pennsylvania-born, 1860 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, started the Civil War on duty at the Washington Navy Yard. Later in 1861, he joined the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron. In this capacity he participated in the capture of Port Royal, S.C., on November 7, 1861. The engagement was one of the earliest Union amphibious operations. He survived the war and remained in the navy until his retirement in 1893. He died in Washington, D.C., three years later.

His image is now available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr:
Navy Lieutenant at Port Royal