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.

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Captured on Patrol

beville-collageFrancis Bartow Beville of Savannah, Ga., suffered a severe wound that ended his combat service at the First Battle of Manassas. Still willing to serve, he joined the Confederate navy and wound up enduring great privations as a prisoner of war. His story was just published in the Civil War News. An excerpt:

On July 21, 1861, during the First Battle of Manassas, Bartow was shot and killed as he led a desperate charge against a Union battery. Casualties in the Eighth were heavy, and they included Beville. A minié bullet struck him on the right side of the chest below the collarbone. His comrades carried him from the battlefield and a surgeon operated to cut the Yankee lead out of his back. Beville recuperated from his wound in a private home in Richmond. Nerve and muscular damage limited motion to his right arm and hand, and he received a discharge from the army before the end of the year.[i]

No longer able to perform in combat but still eager to serve, Beville found a way back into the military and a return to his Savannah home: In early 1862 he received an appointment to the navy as a midshipman and was assigned to the formidable casemate ironclad Atlanta. Here he received basic training on active duty—the Confederacy would later establish a naval school ship in Richmond for this purpose.

Meanwhile, the Union blockade choked the life out of the Southern economy and slowed the flow of supplies to the Confederacy military. Savannah was no exception. Desertions by soldiers and sailors increased, including one trio that escaped into the marshes below Savannah on or about March 14.

Read his full story.

Redemption at Mobile Bay

dana-collageMy latest Civil War News profile is the story of William Starr Dana and his navy experience. An excerpt:

A hailstorm of rebel artillery pounded Union Rear Adm. David Farragut’s flagship, the Hartford, as she steamed into Mobile Bay at the head of the attacking fleet on August 5, 1864. Shells tore through her planking as heavy metal fragments and wood splinters careened through the air at lightning speed and took a deadly toll on officers and men.

Cmdr. Richard Starr Dana, U.S. Navy, standing, and his brother, Richard Starr Dana. Carte de visite by an unidentified photographer, about October 1863. Collection of the author.
One well-aimed projectile ripped through the Hartford’s battle-scarred wooden hull and blasted the forward berth deck. The commander of this section of the ship, Ensign William S. Dana, recalled, “Fragments of the shell flew over my head and I was covered by the brains and blood of the man next to me.” This single shot killed three and wounded two, which removed more than a third of his 13-man crew.

Read the rest 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.

Surviving Andersonville

landonThe story of James William Landon of the 5th Iowa Cavalry is the subject of my latest New York Times Disunion post. An excerpt:

“During the daytime we hid in the brush and swamps and during the night we would travel,” Landon explained. “About five days of this kind of retreat elapsed when I was wounded by a rebel. We were crossing over a ridge pursued by four men in rebel uniform. They were anyhow four hundred yards behind when one of them fired the shot that wounded me. Though we knew that the enemy was after us we did not know that they were so close until the report of the gun was heard.”

Read the full story.

Civil War Book Discussion at The Ivy

IMG_4365Last night’s event at The Ivy Bookshop in Baltimore was unique and wonderful—four authors and historians gathered to talk briefly about their books, followed by a Q and A period with the audience and book signing. I snapped this photo from my seat at the far left of the table.

Next to me sat Michael C.C. Adams, author of Living Hell: The Dark Side of the Civil War. He’s followed by Lawrence M. Denton, an authority on secession crisis, Claudia Floyd, author of Union-Occupied Maryland, and (standing) Ed Berlin, co-owner of The Ivy.

My thanks to Ed, my fellow authors, the audience for making my visit thoroughly enjoyable. Special thanks to Robin Noonan of Hopkins Press, who arranged my appearance.

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!

Face to Face With a Rebel

bradbury-imagesIsaac Bradbury is the subject of my latest Faces of War column, published monthly in the Civil War News. The Union navy ensign from Machias, Maine, spent his service along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, and saw plenty of action as part of the massive federal blockade that choked the life out of the Confederacy. An excerpt:

He continued, “You can imagine my feelings the first time I was under fire, we got nigh in too the Batterys and they opened on us, and we in return engaged them. Death & destruction was all around, the shells as a majority all over shot us, so at the flash of every gun of the ‘Rebs’ all the officers & men on the spar deck would throw themselves flat on their faces, and as the shells went over us a screaming they made anything but delightful music, in fact I thought I would rather be at home hearing the ‘Machias Cornet Band’ playing ‘Home Sweet Home,’ I think it would be far preferable. But I was doomed to be put to a severe test for a shell suddenly burst among the men cutting one in two and severely wounding several others. The one that was killed fell towards me and the blood spouted over my uniform.”

Read the rest of his story.

The Civil War Through Different Lenses

african-american-faces-garvin-200DPIA hearty “huzzah” to all the fine folks who organized and those who attended last night’s lecture about African American Faces of the Civil War at the Senior Center in Charlottesville, Va. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit—the hour whizzed by! Delighted to meet Cheryl Ann Regan Kramer, who frequents my Facebook author page, and Al Falcone, a veteran of World War II and maker of beautiful pens. The lecture was organized by the indefatigable Rick Britton, who I met a couple years ago at the Virginia Festival of the Book. Rick and Victoria Britton treated me to dinner afterwards, and had a wonderful time talking about the Civil War, photography, art, and may other subjects. A great day!

The Plot to Kill Jeff Davis

kingstonSamuel Tilden Kingston, an assistant surgeon in the Second New York Cavalry who accompanied his comrades on the ill-fated Kilpatrick Raid against Richmond, is the subject of my latest contribution to the New York Times series Disunion. Kingston rode with a 500-man column commanded by Col. Ulric Dahlgren, who was killed in action. Papers reportedly found on his body ordered the assassination of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his Cabinet. Kingston fell into enemy hands when he remained behind with wounded troopers. He was sent to Libby Prison and condemned to death as a felon. An excerpt:

Dahlgren’s body, which had been unceremoniously dumped in a muddy grave near the place he fell, was disinterred and put on display in Richmond. “Large numbers of persons went to see it. It was in a pine box, clothed in Confederate shirt and pants, and shrouded in a Confederate blanket,” reported The Richmond Whig on March 8, 1864.

While this circus played out on the streets of the capital, Kingston and his white cellmates were informed that they had been condemned to death as felons for their role in the alleged assassination attempt. “This news appeared to have a very depressing effect on Dr. Kingston,” noted Lieutenant Bartley, a fellow prisoner.

Kingston’s cough and cold worsened, and he lost his appetite. On March 21, as he lay near death, the Confederates removed him from his cell and sent him North. He survived the trip home, and with good food and care came back to life. He eventually returned to the regiment, was promoted to full surgeon, and served in this capacity until the end of the war.

Read the rest of the story.