A Fateful Shore Leave Leads to a Trip to Andersonville

HOPKINS-MONTAGEUnion sailor Nathan Edwin Hopkins and two comrades stepped out into the Virginia countryside and wound up on a train to Andersonville. His profile appears in the latest issue of the Civil War News. An excerpt:

In mid-October 1864, Hopkins prisoner of war status ended outside Richmond along the James River—not far from where his odyssey had begun four months earlier. He and the rest of the prisoners were transferred from a Confederate flag-of-truce boat to the Union steamer Mary Washington. A newspaper correspondent was eyewitness to the event. “On coming near the little rebel flag-of-truce boat, formerly a tow tug, I found its deck full of men, whose appearances at once impressed me that they were rebels. Upon inquiry I ascertained they were our half-starved and half-clothed sailors, whose external semblance gave evidence of bad treatment and worse fare. It was a sad sight,” he continued, “to look upon these heroes, shivering under the cool breeze of the morning, many of them with nothing to wrap themselves up.”

Read the rest of his story.

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On to Washington!

This circa 1861 carte de visite by Kornell W. Beniczky of New York City pictures an unidentified private in the 71st New York State Militia with knapsack and buff accoutrement belts.

This image is new to my collection, and is available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr.
On to Washington!

“Hyde” as a Deep Sea Diver

The companion image to yesterday’s post is this carte de visite by an anonymous photographer. An individual wearing a Morse Diving Helmet and an insulated suit stands in a photographer’s studio. A modern pencil identification on the back of the mount of this image names this diver as “Hyde,” and is associated with a tintype of a man in the uniform of a Union sailor. According to a previous owner, the sailor’s first name is George. There is however no record of a George Hyde in the U.S. navy during the Civil War period.

This image is new to my collection, and available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr:
Deep Sea Diver

Navy Man “Hyde”

This tintype in a carte de visite mount by an anonymous photographer is identified in modern pencil on the back only as “Hyde.” This photo came with another image, a carte de visite of a man outfitted in a Civil War era deep-sea diving suit, his head and face covered with a Morse Diving Helmet. According to a previous owner of the photos, the sailor’s first name is George. There is however no record of a George Hyde in the U.S. navy during the Civil War period. If you know anything about a George Hyde who served in the Union navy between 1861-1865, please be in touch!

This image is new to my collection, and available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr:
Navy Man “Hyde”

“Brave Randall Leaped Upon the Gun”

Randall-WilliamIn 15 years of telling stories of Civil War soldiers and sailors, I’ve never come across a published poem that contained a reference to one of the men that I was researching.

That is, until now.

George Henry Boker’s 1864 Poems of the War includes “On the Cumberland,” an account of the dramatic events during the March 8, 1862, naval Battle of Hampton Roads, Va. The era of wooden warships ended that day when the Confederate ironclad Virginia destroyed the Union gunboat Cumberland.

The crew of the Cumberland fought like hell, and prompted Boker to write his poem. In it, he mentions the current subject of my research, William Pritchard Randall of New Bedford, Mass. By all accounts, Randall inspired all with his actions as the wounded wooden ship breathed her last. This excerpt describes Randall at his gun station. He’s credited with firing the last shot at the “Virginia”:

We reached the deck. There Randall stood:
“Another turn men,—so!”
Calmly he aimed his pivot gun:
“Now, Tenny, let her go!”

It did our sore hearts good to hear
The song our pivot sang,
As, rushing on from wave to wave,
The whirring bomb-shell sprang.

Brave Randall leaped upon the gun,
And waved his cap in sport;
“Well done! well aimed! I saw that shell
Go through an open port.”

It was our last, our deadliest shot;
The deck was overflown;
The poor ship staggered, lurched to port,
And gave a living groan.

Randall survived the battle, and along with George U. Morris, the acting commander of the Cumberland, became heroes. Randall is pictured here in a photograph taken in New Orleans about 1864. Randall remained in the navy after the war, and retired in 1882. He rejoined the navy during the Spanish-American War (1898) and died in 1904.

This image is new to my collection, and is now available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr.

Preserving the Honor of Lady Liberty

Columbia, or Lady Liberty, sits atop a podium trimmed with material on which is painted or sewn stars and an eagle with wings outstretched. She holds above her head a liberty cap hung from a pole, the traditional symbol of freedom that dates before Roman times. She also holds the shield of the United States, which represents defense, military strength and nationalism. Lady Liberty is flanked by representatives of the Union army and navy. Each holds a staff trimmed with ribbon, to which is attached the Star-Spangled Banner. The flags are crossed to provide a backdrop for Columbia, who they have pledged to defend.

This trio may have participated in one of the popular Sanitary Fairs to support the war effort, or perhaps a July Fourth celebration or other patriotic event. The photograph was taken by C.M. Pierce of Leominster, Mass.

This image is new to my collection, and is now available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr:
Preserving the Honor of Lady Liberty

The State of the Navy Is Strong!

Last summer, I announced on Facebook that my next book in the Faces series will focus on the fourth great narrative of the Civil War—the stories of sailors who served in the Union and Confederate navies.

I’m pleased to report that the state of the navy is strong! Over the last six months, I’ve located 27 original, wartime photographs of navy men, and have received permission to include them in the forthcoming book. Research is underway for the majority of the men, and two profiles are finished.

dana-williamOne of the images acquired for the book is included here. Acting Ensign William S. Dana (standing) is pictured with Richard S. Dana. The two are likely brothers or cousins. The back of the photograph is dated October 1863, which coincides with Ensign Dana’s graduation from the U.S. Naval Academy. Less than a year later, Dana numbered among a small group of officers who received a formal thanks from Admiral David Farragut for the destruction of the blockade runner Ivanhoe, which was chased aground by federal warships near Fort Morgan at the mouth of Mobile Bay. On July 6, 1864, Dana commanded one of several small boats that attacked the Ivanhoe in a daring nighttime raid. Dana and his comrades managed to set the stranded boat afire while hundreds of Union sailors and soldiers observed the action. “The entire conduct of the expedition was marked by a promptness and energy which shows what may be expected of such officers and men on similar occasions,” announced Farragut with evident pride.

Dana went on to a distinguished career in the navy.

This is one of the 77 soldier stories and images that will ultimately appear in the book.

I am delighted with the progress to date, and will continue to post updates at six-month intervals. The manuscript is scheduled to be delivered to my publisher, The Johns Hopkins University Press, in December 2015.

Wounded at Perryville

Joseph W.R. Stambaugh of the Seventy-fifth Illinois Infantry suffered a wound in the side during his first big fight at Perryville, Ky., on Oct. 8, 1862. He made a full recovery and joined the Pioneer Brigade of the Army of the Cumberland, with which organization he served on detached duty in Tennessee until November 1864, when he joined the First Veteran Volunteer Engineers. He mustered out of the army as a captain at the end of the war. He died in 1890.

I’ve had this image in my collection for years. His story appeared in my first book, Faces of the Civil War: An Album of Union Soldiers and Their Stories. The image came to my attention the other day after trading emails with author and historian Greg Mast, who is working on a new book about North Carolina men who served during the Civil War. Although Stambaugh wore Union blue, he was born in Fayetteville, N.C., according to his military service records. Later census records state that he was born in Maryland and Pennsylvania. It is unusual in my experience to have such confusion about a soldier’s state of origin.

This image is now available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr:
Wounded at Perryville

New to the Collection: A Navy Man with Gumption

When I find an identified Civil War image up for auction on eBay or elsewhere, I usually invest a bit of time into pre-research to verify his identity and learn a bit about him before I bid.

When this portrait of navy engineer Benjamin F. Wood came up for auction, I had every intention of doing my normal research. However, the deadline arrived before I was able to find the time, so I simply took my chances and bid.

Turns out I was the winner!

back-Wood-Benjamin-USN-BAfter receiving the image in the mail, and reading his name neatly written on the back, along with his rank (3rd assistant engineer), ship (USS Sassacus), and date (April 1862), it occurred to me that the “F” most likely stood for “Franklin.” So many men from the Civil War generation were named for Benjamin Franklin (and George Washington), and chances were good that a search for “Benjamin Franklin Wood” might yield a successful result.

So I typed the full name, along with “navy” and “civil war” into Google and hit enter. The first result was this wonderfully detailed obituary that appeared in the November 1910 issue of the Journal of the American Society of Naval Engineers:

BEN. WOOD.

If our obituary were under the caption of Benjamin Franklin Wood its designation would probably not be nearly so well recognized as under that of Ben. Wood.

Chief Engineer Ben. Wood was a character, and will long be remembered in the service. He was born in New York in 1836, and learned the trade of machinist at Fletcher & Harrison’s in New York City. He was naturally gifted in engineering, and, though never a great student nor a man of scientific pretensions, he was possessed of that quality known in his day as “gumption.” He could see into a millstone as far as the wisest man, and, with his rule in his hand, could tell very closely what the diameter of a shaft should be or the amount of draft a key should have, and you might figure on it an hour without being able to prove the error, if it existed.

He was a man of great resource. When the double ender Sassacus lost her steering gear in a storm, and the vessel was in danger “Ben.” improvised a temporary rudder which served its purpose. This was not until other improvisions had failed.

During the Civil War “Ben.” served on board the Lancaster in the Pacific, afterwards on the monitor Lehigh and on the double-end gunboats Sassacus and Mohongo, in the North Atlantic Squadron. After the war had ended he served in the monitor Dictator; at the Morgan Iron Works, and again at the New York Yard. “Ben” was promoted to be a Chief Engineer in 1883, and did inspection duty at Chester, Penna. After that he served on the old Kearsarge. in the European Squadron; on the Ossipee; in the N.A. Squadron, and finally at the Continental Iron Works, Brooklyn, where the so-called torpedo boat Alarm was being altered. He was retired in 1892.

Personally “Ben” Wood was a prepossessing man, with very handsome eyes, fine features and very dark hair, which never turned gray. He was a reticent man, though rather pugnacious. He was a “stickler” for what was right, but, when beaten, always accepted the result, and was never vindictive.

“Ben” was a model husband, a good son, a good father and a good citizen. He was abstemious to a fault, temperate in his living as in his acts. He was ever regarded as a “good shipmate,” and those who had sailed with “Ben” were glad to sail with him again.

Life is short, and in it we are seeking pleasure in our youth and comfort in our old age. Among our shipmates we look for men of capability, integrity and amiability. Ben. Wood possessed the essential of these, and it is a pity that he could not have lived longer.

G.W.B.

His portrait is now available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr:
A Navy Man with Gumption

New to the Collection: Death at Sea

Massachusetts-born Francis Winslow started his navy career as a midshipman in 1833 at age 15. He served aboard the brig Washington during the war with Mexico. During the Civil War he commanded two gunboats in the Gulf Blockading Squadron, the Water Witch and the R.R. Cuyler. On the latter ship he fell ill with yellow fever and succumbed to its effects on August 26, 1862, outside Key West, Fla. He is buried in New Hampshire.

Winslow sat for this portrait in the studio of J.W. Black of Boston in 1861 or 1862.

This portrait is now available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr:
Death at Sea