Elisha J. Morgan Jr., a founder of the Chi chapter of Beta Theta Pi fraternity (closed 1988), enlisted as a private in the 72nd Illinois Infantry in the summer of 1862. The regiment spent the majority of its three-year enlistment in Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee. It was heavily engaged in numerous operations, including the May 22, 1863, assault against the defenses of Vicksburg and the 1864 Battle of Franklin. Morgan survived the war and mustered out as captain of Company K in August 1865.
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.
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.
Philip Joseph Sanger, left, a second assistant engineer on the sloop-of-war Monongahela, was present at the Battle of Mobile Bay, Ala., on August 5, 1864. According to a note in his obituary, “He was thrown to the deck and covered with debris by a shell which demolished the bridge upon which he had been standing, but at once he resumed his post of duty and was applauded by [Rear Adm. David] Farragut for his conspicuous bravery.” He survived the war, became a physician in Philadelphia, Pa., and died in 1887.
Union navy Master’s Mate Ansel Allen Delano spent a portion of his Civil War experience aboard the gunboat Carrabasset in the West Gulf Coast Squadron. His story appears in the current print edition of the Civil War News, and is now available on Faces of War. An excerpt:
The Carrabasset arrived within a mile of Bayou Teche later that night. The infantrymen disembarked and marched through the darkness with Williams as a guide. They soon arrived at the Williams homestead. According to an official report filed by Simon Jones, the colonel and commander of the Ninety-third, “The family of Mr. Williams, for peculiar and domestic reasons, could not be induced to come with him.”
Colonel Jones noted, “While at Bayou Teche, a party of from twenty-five to thirty of the enemy rode down to the bayou on its southern bank, and dismounting, fired a number of shots at my detachment.”
Jones’s men fired back and drove the enemy away. Then they reconnoitered the area in search of more enemy forces. Back on the Carrabasset, it may have been these same rebels that attacked the ship and crew. Lt. Leonard acted quickly after fire from his guns scattered the enemy. Then he ordered a detachment of sailors in pursuit. Delano may have been placed in charge of the landing party, as it was common practice for the master’s mate to perform this duty.
The story of Fifty-third Massachusetts Infantry Capt. Edward Richmond Washburn’s experience at the massive failed assault on the Confederate defenses of Port Hudson was published this afternoon. Washburn is pictured, left, and Brig. Gen. Halbert E. Paine (Wisconsin Historical Society image).
Confederate artillery and infantry fire roared from the formidable defenses of Port Hudson, La., on June 14, 1863. Shot and shell raked the rough-and-tumble terrain where Union forces were pinned down after a failed assault, caught between the lines and unable to advance or retreat.
A glimpse through thick drifts of gun smoke revealed a knoll littered with broken bodies of men in blue. Dead, dying and wounded soldiers blanketed the exposed ground in the scorching heat of the day. Those who had not been struck hugged the earth as the hail of fire continued.
One of the injured federals trapped on the hill was Edward R. Washburn, a popular captain in the 53rd Massachusetts Infantry. A musket ball had ripped into his right leg during the attack. Near him lay the brigadier general who led the assault, Halbert E. Paine. He had also been shot in the leg. Attempts to rescue the general cost the lives of two men, and two more wounded. Paine waved off other rescuers. He “begged them to make no further efforts to get him,” reported First Lt. Henry A. Willis, who told the story of the assault in the 53rd’s regimental history years later.
My profile of James F. O’Brien is now available. After a shaky start in his first engagement at Plains Store, La., Lt. Col. James F. O’Brien of the Forty-eighth Massachusetts Infantry had an opportunity for redemption as commander of a “Forlorn Hope” against the formidable defenses of Port Hudson. O’Brien and his 200-man storming party assaulted the Confederates on May 27, 1863, with terrible losses. An excerpt from the story:
In an open letter to the mayor of Charlestown written about the time of the Battle of Plains Store, O’Brien announced his strong support for the Emancipation Proclamation, “I say that the crime of rebellion which has caused thousands of our citizens to fill bloody graves is but partially atoned for in the sweeping array of the noxious institution of slavery. The policy of our government with respect to that institution is just, and wise, as any thinking man who has an opportunity of practically witnessing its effect will acknowledge.”
O’Brien also shared his views on black soldiers in blue. “Slave labor feeds our enemy in the field, digs his ditches, and builds his fortifications. Every slave liberated by our arms is a diminishment of rebel power. Every slave who wields a spade or musket in our cause is so much added to our strength.”
He ended his letter with a rallying cry. “The great American heart beats true to the cause. On its patriotism and courage an Empire might be wagered with security, it was resolute and hopeful in the beginning and will not falter or despair now that we are slowly though surely and successfully approaching the end. The first year of this war was prosecuted compromisingly. We strove to make the people of the South believe that we warred not on their institutions, that all we desired was to save our beloved country. But their blood was hot. They would yield nothing. They would propose nothing. They would accept nothing. Now then our blood is up, our armor is buckled on, the shield and sword are in our hands, and we are ready to stand on the blood sprinkled fields of our ancestors and swear in the presence of high heaven that this Union in which the happiness of unborn millions reposes shall live.”
These words were written by James F. O’Brien of the Forty-eighth Massachusetts Infantry a week before the Irish-born lieutenant colonel was killed in action while leading a 200-man storming party on a “Forlorn Hope” against the formidable defenses of Port Hudson on May 27, 1863.
O’Brien stated, “I say that the crime of rebellion which has caused thousands of our citizens to fill bloody graves is but partially atoned for in the sweeping array of the noxious institution of slavery. The policy of our government with respect to that institution is just, and wise, as any thinking man who has an opportunity of practically witnessing its effect will acknowledge. Slave labor feeds our enemy in the field, digs his ditches, and builds his fortifications. Every slave liberated by our arms is a diminishment of rebel power. Every slave who wields a spade or musket in our cause is so much added to our strength. This is my belief with respect to the Emancipation policy of the Government.”
His photograph is now available on my Flickr Photostream: