Archive for the 'Civil War Navy Sesquicentennial' Category

Nov 8

Captain Charles Wilkes Reports on the Trent Affair, 8 November 1861

Monday, November 8, 2010 3:49 PM

On November 8, 1861, USS San Jacinto Captain Charles Wilkes set out towards the Bahama Channel near Havana to intercept Confederate commissioners James M. Mason and John Slidell. The man who led the controversial U.S. Exploring Expedition two decades previous found himself leaving scientific endeavors for the new prospect of war. Mason and Slidell were heading to Europe to arbitrate agreements with nations for their support in the Confederate war effort, stopping for transport in Havana. During his search for the elusive CSS Sumter, Wilkes heard of the breakout of Mason and Slidell from Charleston and decided to take action. The USS San Jacinto intercepted the two on board the British mail steamer Trent under threat of cannon fire, taking Mason, Slidell, and their secretaries back to Boston. Although heroic, Captain Wilkes’ seizure of diplomats aboard a neutral ship almost fanned the flames of war between the United States and Great Britain, as they claimed that Wilkes clearly violated international law. After a swift apology for the event by Secretary of State William H. Seward, Mason and Slidell were released in January 1862, nearly two months after their capture.

Reproduced below is Captain Charles Wilkes’ report to Union Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles seven days after the event unfolded. You can read more about Captain Wilkes and the Trent Affair at the Library of Congress website here or find out more about Charles Wilkes here from the Naval History and Heritage Command.

U. S. S. SAN JACINTO, November 15, 1861.

SIR: I have written to you relative to the movements of this ship from Cienfuegos, on the south coast of Cuba.

There I learned that Messrs. Slidell and Mason had landed on Cuba, and had reached the Havana from Charleston. I took in some 60 tons of coal and left with all dispatch on the 26th October to intercept the return of the Theodora, but on my arrival at The Havannah on the 31st I found she had departed on her return, and that Messrs. Slidell and Mason, with their secretaries and families, were there and would depart on the 7th of the month in the English steamer Trent for St. Thomas, on their way to England.

I made up my mind to fill up with coal and leave the port as soon as possible, to await at a suitable position on the route of the steamer to St. Thomas to intercept her and take them out.

On the afternoon of the 2d I left The Havannah, in continuation of my cruise after the Sumter on the north side of Cuba. The next day, when about to board a French brig, she ran into us on the starboard side at the main chains and carried away her bowsprit and foretopmast, and suffered other damages. I inclose you herewith the reports of the officers who witnessed the accident. I do not feel that any blame is due to the officer in charge of this ship at the time the ship was run into, and the brig was so close when it was seen probable she would do so that even with the power of steam, lying motionless as we were, we could not avoid it; it seemed as if designed.

I at once took her in tow, and put an officer on board with a party to repair her damages. This was effected before night, but I kept her in tow till we were up with The Havannah and ran within about 8 miles of the light, the wind blowing directly fair for her to reach port.

I then went over to Key West in hopes of finding the Powhatan or some other steamer to accompany me to the Bahama Channel, to make it impossible for the steamer in which Messrs. Slidell and Mason were to embark to escape either in the night or day. The Powhatan had left but the day before, and I was therefore disappointed and obliged to rely upon the vigilance of the officers and crew of this ship, and proceeded the next morning to the north side of the island of Cuba, communicated with Sagua la Grande on the 4th, hoping to receive a telegraphic communication from Mr. Shufeldt, our consul-general, giving me the time of the departure of the steamer.

In this, also, I was disappointed, and ran to the eastward some 90 miles, where the old Bahama Channel contracts to the width of 15 miles, some 240 miles from The Havannah, and in sight of the Paredon Grande light-house. There we cruised until the morning of the 8th, awaiting the steamer, believing that if she left at the usual time she must pass us about noon of the 8th, and we could not possibly miss her. At 11:40 a.m., on the 8th, her smoke was first seen; at 12 m. our position was to the westward of the entrance into the narrowest part of the channel and about 9 miles northeast from the light-house of Paredon Grande, the nearest point of Cuba to us.

We were all prepared for her, beat to quarters, and orders were given to Lieutenant D. M. Fairfax to have two boats manned and armed to board her and make Messrs. Slidell, Mason, Eustis, and Macfarland prisoners, and send them immediately on board. (A copy of this order to him is herewith enclosed.)

The steamer approached and hoisted English colors. Our ensign was hoisted, and a shot was fired across her bow; she maintained her speed and showed no disposition to heave to; then a shell was fired across her bow, which brought her to. I hailed that I intended to send a boat on board, and Lieutenant Fairfax with the second cutter of this ship was dispatched. He met with some difficulty, and remaining on board the steamer with a part of the boat’s crew, sent her back to request more assistance. The captain of the steamer having declined to show his papers and passenger list, a force became necessary to search her. Lieutenant James A. Greer was at once dispatched in the third cutter, also manned and armed.

Messrs. Slidell, Mason, Eustis, and Macfarland were recognized and told they were required to go on board this ship; this they objected to, until an overpowering force compelled them. Much persuasion was used and a little force, and at about 2 o’clock they were brought on board this ship and received by me. Two other boats were then sent to expedite the removal of their baggage and some stores, when the steamer, which proved to be the Trent, was suffered to proceed on her route to the eastward, and at 3:30 p.m. we bore away to the northward and westward. The whole time employed was two hours thirteen minutes. I enclose you the statements of such officers who boarded the Trent relative to the facts, and also an extract from the log book of this ship.

It was my determination to have taken possession of the Trent and sent her to Key West as a prize, for resisting the search and carrying these passengers, whose character and objects were well known to the captain, but the reduced number of my officers and crew, and the large number of passengers on board bound to Europe who would be put to great inconvenience, decided me to allow them to proceed.

Finding the families of Messrs. Slidell and Eustis on board, I tendered them the offer of my cabin for their accommodation to accompany their husbands; this they declined, however, and proceeded in the Trent.

Before closing this dispatch I would bring to your notice the notorious action of her Britannic Majesty’s subjects, the consul-general of Cuba and those on board the Trent, in doing everything to aid and abet the escape of these four persons and endeavoring, to conceal their persons on board. No passports or papers or any description were in possession of them from the Federal Government, and for this and other reasons which will readily occur to you I made them my prisoners, and shall retain them on board here until I hear from you what disposition is to be made of them.

I can not close this report without bearing testimony to the admirable manner in which all the officers and men of this ship ‘performed their duties, and the cordial manner in which they carried out my orders. To Lieutenant Fairfax I beg leave to call your particular attention for the praiseworthy manner in which he executed the delicate duties with which he was intrusted; it met and has received my warmest thanks.

After leaving the north side of Cuba I ran through the Santaren Passage and up the coast from off St. Augustine to Charleston, and regretted being too late to take a part in the expedition to Port Royal.

I enclose herewith a communication I received from Messrs. Slidell, Mason, Eustis, and Mcfarland, with my answer.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
CHARLES WILKES,Captain.

Hon. GIDEON WELLES,
Secretary of the Navy.

 
Oct 5

David Takes On Goliath: 5 October 1863

Tuesday, October 5, 2010 7:27 AM

On the night of 5 October 1863, David faced Goliath. It would not be the epic showdown of biblical times during the American Civil War, but one of explosions, iron, and rushing water under the moonlight of Charleston.

USS New Ironsides, a casemate ironclad steamer boasting fourteen eleven-inch smoothbores, was at the time considered the most formidable warship in the world. It proved to be nearly impenetrable to the Charleston harbor defenses. The Union “Goliath” and its Captain, S.C. Rowan, waited for any answer the Confederates had to test the mighty ship. Little did they know its “Davidian” foe would pack such a punch given its comparable size.

The Confederate semi-submersible ship David did not have rocks and slings. Instead, its armament consisted of a single spar torpedo attached to its bow. As the cigar-shaped vessel was designed to operate in shallow water, its five foot draft allowed her to sneak up on enemies seemingly undetected. Around 9 p.m. on the 5th, CSS David slipped into Charleston Harbor unnoticed, avoiding the blockading monitors as it sailed toward the pride of the Union fleet. It was not until the David was 50 yards from the Union ship that a sailor spotted her. David successfully rammed its spar torpedo into the starboard quarter of the New Ironsides, exploding seven feet below the water line. From the account of New Ironsides Captain S.C. Rowan:

“At 9 p.m. discovered a very peculiar looking steamer which at first appeared like a boat standing toward our starboard beam from seaward; hailed her rapidly four times, and she making no reply, fired into her with musketry; she returned fire, dangerously wounding Ensign C.W. Howard in charge of the deck [. . .] the steamer struck us near No. 6 port, starboard side, exploding a large torpedo, shaking the vessel and throwing up an immense column of water, part of which fell on our decks.”

The blast threw water on the deck and the smokestack of the David, which put out a fire in the engine. The explosion knocked down armory bulkhead and store rooms aboard the New Ironsides in the wake of the torpedo’s explosion. Amidst the confusion, David floated attached by her spar, unable to reverse without steam power. As a result, Union sailors rained down rifle and pistol fire onto their aggressor. The Captain of the David ordered to abandon ship, and the crew set out swimming for nearby Morris Island. As they headed toward the shore, Assistant Engineer J.H. Tomb swam back to the wounded ship and got its engine working again. David limped back to safety in Charleston, picking up her remaining crew along the way.

Although the attack caused a large fissure into the side of the New Ironsides, the damage was superficial. One Union sailor died, and two others suffered minor injuries. Two of David’s crew were captured from the attack. Yet if it wasn’t for the quick thinking of Tomb, David’s story would begin and end in 1863. Remarkably, New Ironsides left the blockade for Philadelphia for repairs. Its damages were superficial. CSS David went on to unsuccessfully attack USS Memphis in March 1864 in the North Edisto River and the USS Wabash the following month. Although the ultimate fate of the David is uncertain, several similar vessels were captured in Charleston after its capture in February 1865.

Today marks the 147th anniversary of the event.

 
Oct 5

David Takes On Goliath: 5 October 1863

Tuesday, October 5, 2010 1:30 AM
On the night of 5 October 1863, David faced Goliath. It would not be the epic showdown of biblical times during the American Civil War, but one of explosions, iron, and rushing water under the moonlight of Charleston.

USS New Ironsides, a casemate ironclad steamer boasting fourteen eleven-inch smoothbores, was at the time considered the most formidable warship in the world. It proved to be nearly impenetrable to the Charleston harbor defenses. The Union “Goliath” and its Captain, S.C. Rowan, waited for any answer the Confederates had to test the mighty ship. Little did they know its “Davidian” foe would pack such a punch given its comparable size.

The Confederate semi-submersible ship David did not have rocks and slings. Instead, its armament consisted of a single spar torpedo attached to its bow. As the cigar-shaped vessel was designed to operate in shallow water, its five foot draft allowed her to sneak up on enemies seemingly undetected. Around 9 p.m. on the 5th, CSS David slipped into Charleston Harbor unnoticed, avoiding the blockading monitors as it sailed toward the pride of the Union fleet. It was not until the David was 50 yards from the Union ship that a sailor spotted her. David successfully rammed its spar torpedo into the starboard quarter of the New Ironsides, exploding seven feet below the water line. From the account of New Ironsides Captain S.C. Rowan:

“At 9 p.m. discovered a very peculiar looking steamer which at first appeared like a boat standing toward our starboard beam from seaward; hailed her rapidly four times, and she making no reply, fired into her with musketry; she returned fire, dangerously wounding Ensign C.W. Howard in charge of the deck [. . .] the steamer struck us near No. 6 port, starboard side, exploding a large torpedo, shaking the vessel and throwing up an immense column of water, part of which fell on our decks.”

The blast threw water on the deck and the smokestack of the David, which put out a fire in the engine. The explosion knocked down armory bulkhead and store rooms aboard the New Ironsides in the wake of the torpedo’s explosion. Amidst the confusion, David floated attached by her spar, unable to reverse without steam power. As a result, Union sailors rained down rifle and pistol fire onto their aggressor. The Captain of the David ordered to abandon ship, and the crew set out swimming for nearby Morris Island. As they headed toward the shore, Assistant Engineer J.H. Tomb swam back to the wounded ship and got its engine working again. David limped back to safety in Charleston, picking up her remaining crew along the way.

Although the attack caused a large fissure into the side of the New Ironsides, the damage was superficial. One Union sailor died, and two others suffered minor injuries. Two of David’s crew were captured from the attack. Yet if it wasn’t for the quick thinking of Tomb, David’s story would begin and end in 1863.

Remarkably, New Ironsides remained on duty without repair until May 1864. Its damages were superficial. CSS David went on to unsuccessfully attack USS Memphis in March 1864 in the North Edisto River and the USS Wabash the following month. Although the ultimate fate of the David is uncertain, several similar vessels were captured in Charleston after its capture in February 1865.

Today marks the 147th anniversary of the event.

 
Jun 25

Review of Howard J. Fuller’s Clad in Iron

Friday, June 25, 2010 2:29 PM

 

Fuller, Howard J. Clad in Iron: The American Civil War and the Challenge of British Naval Power. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2008.

Civil War naval histories are itself a niche market in the spectrum of scholarship written about the five year conflict. As we draw near the beginning of the sesquicentennial celebration of the American Civil War, a cursory examination of previous scholarship reveals an obsession with fleet operations and technology. It is no surprise then that monographs written about famous naval battles and leaders of the Union and Confederacy will continue to increase in their appeal. Yet what is perceived as new scholarship about the dawn of modern naval warfare more often a metaphorical “slight of hand” to previous arguments. University of Wolverhampton Senior War Studies lecturer Howard J. Fuller’s recent work, Clad in Iron: The American Civil War and the Challenge of British Naval Power, breaks this chain, offering readers an interesting and insightful interpretation to the Civil War’s most overlooked aspect.

Amidst the greatest test in our nation’s history, massive technological, political, and social change occurred on all fronts in the United States. Between these lines of conventional wisdom, a far more pressing issue occurred between policymakers in Washington and London over the threat of war. Fuller discusses these issues thoroughly from a naval perspective, examining the diplomatic and strategic goals of Britain’s budding ironclad navy in direct response to American sea power.

Clad in Iron is not a narrative of conflict so often found in Civil War historiography. The focus instead resides in how conflict was ultimately avoided with Britain. Even in the wake of an international crisis like the TrentAffair, an unnecessary war between Britain would be an equally unprepared one between fleets on either side of the Atlantic. That possibility of war from the British perspective, Fuller suggests, became a necessary challenge to the growth of a large maritime force in the pre-Dreadnaught era. Victory in 1865 became a dual one over the Confederacy militarily and the British diplomatically.

Clad in Iron begins with an informative discussion on why Anglo-French naval policy before the Civil War inexorably altered the course of change in America. Although the British ironclad program “began purely as a response to the establishment of the French ironclad fleet of Napoleon III,” focus shifted after the introduction of the American program in the first two years of the war. It is interesting to note how Fuller details the naval rivalry between France’s La Gloire and Britain’s Warrior occurred well before the Monitor and Virginiaever engaged in combat. Naval architects like Captain Cowper Coles and Dupuy de Lôme are given due credit to the evolution and revolution of ironclad navies normally reserved only for John Ericsson.

Several chapters are devoted to the “war within,” as the debate and hesitancy of Union political and military officials mirrored that of Great Britain. The need to satisfy Washington of a sufficient coastal force with the possibility of foreign intervention became the ammunition to the argument for the ambitious program initiated by Ericsson. Fuller posits the necessity of such ambition in correlation to the “vested interest” of Britain in the failure of the southern blockade. He notes how Union War Secretary William H. Seward feared British reception during the beginning years of the war under the backdrop of events like the 1861 Trent Affair and Battle of Hampton Roads. The best chapter in the book, “Two Ironclad Adversaries,” sums up a large portion of this central theme. Fuller feels that necessity of an effective ironclad navy was built in direct response to both the Confederacy and Great Britain, one being “actual” and the other “potential.”

With regards to Hampton Roads, it is one of Fuller’s main points to mention how Monitors were used not for their capacity to become the scourge of Confederate fleets and coastal force, but as a technological “check” to competing programs in Britain as well. The Trent Affair is used “in direct contrast to the battle of Hampton Roads,” because “the Anglo-American naval balance of power was completely upset” in a mere three month window. Fuller also suggests the greatest loser in mid-19th century naval innovations was the French. Through clash of armor, Union and Confederate ironclad warships confirmed British suspicions while damning the French’s narrow disregard for such vessels. It would be multi-turreted ships that survived and evolved after the war, not broadside and sail ironclads as the French suspected. The Monitor’s innovation brought forth the emergence of the first turreted capital ship in the Royal Navy, HMS Devastation. Fuller makes good use of the ironclad-era to detail how events occurring in one conflict continually shaped others.

One of Clad in Iron’s hallmarks is the method Fuller uses to formulate his arguments. Interpretations of events are taken from letters and reports written by sailors, foreign ministers, and politicians. The analysis is evenhanded and methodical, often offering comparisons in minute details like tonnage and budgetary restrictions. Indeed, Fuller intends to leave no stone unturned. More interesting is the analysis of print media in the United States and Great Britain. Fuller makes the reader believe that the threat of foreign intervention was at a state of near paranoia in both countries, with its only solution through the use of iron-wielded steam power, not amassed troops and musket fire.

Flaws to Clad in Iron are merely superficial. More attention might be paid in future scholarship on the relationship Britain and Confederate blockade running, which is mentioned only in passing. Fuller also gives very little credit to the Union’s broadside ironclad USS New Ironsides, which many consider to be a comparable vessel to the Monitor.

Civil War historians will champion the level of care taken by Fuller to accurately document and chronicle the challenge British naval experts and politicians had on the American ironclad program. His work is highly recommended for scholars and layman alike who might find interest in the unspoken foe across the Atlantic chessboard. Clad in Iron is not the definitive Civil War naval history written on the heels of the sesquicentennial, but it is a fantastic and fresh start.

 
May 10

What’s in a Name? Remembering CSS Virginia

Monday, May 10, 2010 8:55 PM

As we celebrate the 148th anniversary of the CSS Virginia‘s final day (11 May 1862), it is important to note how the legendary “Mistress of Hampton Roads” is remembered. Although she is two years away from being properly celebrated by the Civil War Navy Sesquicentennial, her importance in the annals of naval history remains a yearly affair. 

At the beginning of the American Civil War, Confederate Secretary of the Navy Stephen Mallory puzzled over an effective way to break the Union Blockade. How does one wrestle the “great snake” without succumbing to its venom in the process? With no naval might at the start of the war, Mallory knew he had his hands full. The limited material of the Confederacy as a whole had to be used to the fullest of capabilities. Mallory needed to play magician from the outset. How does one create a navy from nothing? Smoke and mirrors aside, the “rabbit” he needed to pull from his hat needed to effectively test his foes in Washington would be tough. Eventually, it was decided the best chance to meet these demands was to create the CSS Virginia. Perhaps Mallory did find his rabbit. The Virginia proved to be a formidable opponent to the might of the US Navy until its own vanishing act in May 1862. 

Virginia’s career, albeit short, still resides in the memories of those who study and admire her. Although there were two other attempts to bring the combatants of the “first duel of ironclads” back together in April and May 1862, sadly they failed to engage in general action again. When the Federals fired on Confederate batteries at Sewell’s Point on 8 May, Virginia decided to stand down from conflict for fear of being ambushed and attacked by a larger Union foe. Her enormous draft would not allow her to engage the Federal flotilla near Fortress Monroe. The realization proved ominous. 

 Two days later on 10 May, four Union infantry regiments landed off Ocean View near Willoughby Point. General Benjamin Huger, commanding Confederate Forces in Norfolk, decided to evacuate the city and its fortifications. Virginia, upon this realization, would have to follow suit for fear of capture by overwhelming forces. Mallory ordered her to protect the mouth of the James River, the main artery to the Confederate heart in Richmond, yet the odds were stacked against the famed “mistress.” As historian Raimondo Luraghi noted in his History of the Confederate Navy, Virginia’s only choice was to “immediately sail up the James river before the enemy could arrive at its estuary overland, attack and destroy (John) Rodgers’s flotilla, and then help defend the Confederate capital, Richmond.” (History of the Confederate Navy, 165)

Confederates decided to evacuate and subsequently destroy (again) Norfolk Navy Yard as they withdrew from the coast from Union forces. Virginia intended to follow. Attempts made to lighten her draft proved a failure. It was decided that her crew would destroy her. On 11 May, her sailors watched from the woods on Craney Island as the ship went up in flames, among them Catesby ap R. Jones, the daring Lieutenant who fought the Monitor to a draw two months previous. 

Burning of CSS Virginia, 11 May 1862. Painting by Colonel Samuel Wetherill, 11th Pennsylvania Cavalry. The picture shows the destruction of the Virginia by her crew off Craney Island in Hampton Roads. (NHHC)

An UN-Civil War of Names

Not unlike battlefields spanning east to west, Civil War-era ships are remembered based on regional differences. Much of this is attributed to the notion that “winners write the history,” and commemorates them as such by their own choosing. For instance, the battle of Shiloh in April 1862 is often referred to as Pittsburg Landing. The bloodiest single day of the American Civil War, Antietam (or Antietam Creek), is revered by some geographically as Sharpsburg.

For the CSS Virginia, however, the debate continues over how she is properly named. And why not? Almost any mention of something involving the Confederate Navy has a picture of the Virginia on it. Upon first glance on the CSS Virginia’s official website, the first tab on the left side of the screen reads in bold letters NOT the “Merrimac,” and continues with this description:

“The misspelling continues today. The fact that the battle at Hampton Roads is often called the battle of “the Merrimack and the Monitor” rather than “the Virginia and the Monitor” may be because much of the press coverage (and hence history) was by Union newspapers and magazines who, along with the Union military, may have knowingly continued to use the prior name of the ship rather than her proper name. Throughout the Official Records, Federal sources referred to the ship as the “Merrimack” while Confederate sources refer to her as the “Virginia.” (It appears that the compilers of the Official Records would use the name “Merrimack” regardless of whether the original document had used “Merrimac” or “Merrimack.”) Harper’s Weekly refers to the ship as “Merrimac“. Some Southern sources did refer to the ship as the “Merrimac[k].’” (cssvirginia.org)

One author which speaks differently of this name is Ivan Musicant. In his 1995 work Divided Waters: The Naval History of the Civil War, Musicant’s only mention of the Virginia itself is a “see also” to the Merrimack’s indexed pages. Merrimack, in Musicant’s eyes, takes place of all things Virginia, including the Battle of Hampton Roads, which is a duel between the Monitor and Merrimack. Virginia is textually included only when scantly mentioning the ironclad ram built and named in honor of the original ship, then named CSS Virginia II (Divided Waters, 430). 

Maybe Musicant is right. After all, a part of the original ship Merrimack, which was named after the Merrimack River, still existed on Virginia. Then again, when parts of ships were used to outfit newer vessels, most were not named after only parts of the whole. So then maybe the folks at CSSVirginia.org are correct. What about just calling it “The Rebel Monster,” like many Union sailors often did during the Civil War. One recent Civil War work worth reading, Ari Hoogenboom’s 2008 study Gustavus Vasa Fox of the Union Navy, uses both Virginia and Merrimack interchangeably in the text and index. Maybe there is hope for a middle ground after all. 

Other monographs and online resources, such as the Naval History and Heritage Command, refer to the ship as the “ex-USS Merrimack.” The NHHC write-up acknowledges the conversion and rechristening of the steam frigate to ironclad, giving her its proper name when it was commissioned as CSS Virginia in February 1862. Even the Merrimack falls victim to incorrect spelling. NHHC historians note that before, during, and after the war, Merrimack’s name was often mispelled “Merrimack,” and is oftentimes confused with the USS Merrimac, a 684-ton side-wheel steamship built by England and captured by USS Iroquois in 1863. 

Other disputes in the correct usage of the ship are more widely known. The Monitor Merrimac Bridge tunnel, which connects the Peninsula to the Hampton Roads Beltway, is one such example. Similarly, one of the showcases at the 1907 Jamestown Exposition in Hampton Roads, VA was a diorama of the “Battle of the Merrimac and the Monitor.” According to one source, the amount of tickets sold to the event at one point exceeded Exposition attendance. Sterling silver spoons sold at the Exposition commemorated the Merrimac and Monitor, not the Virginia. This may seem rather odd as the event itself was held in close proximity to the 8-9 March engagement itself. 

Source: www.souvenirspoons.com

One of the more interesting examples of the battle over the Virginia and Merrimack was included in The Daybook, the official publication of the Hampton Roads Naval Museum. The article was titled the “First Annual Bamboozle Awards,” given to those ships which best exemplify the strange and curious throughout American naval history. The last “award” was given to the CSS Virginia under the category “Most Confusing.” Calhoun, writing in Clark Kent fashion as the “Museum Sage,” says it best:

“No vessel has been so confused and verbally abused as this ship. Many visitors who come to the museum see the model of this ironclad and instantly called it Merrimack. This the Sage can understand. After all that is why we have the museum here in the first place, to educate the public on Naval history. What the Sage can not understand, nor excuse, are when historians and other Civil War “experts,” refer to this ironclad as Merrimack. The Sage has seen many Civil War histories for sale in book stores written by professional historians that call the ironclad by the wrong name. Of further insult is when Merrimack is spelled without the “k.” The ship was named after the Merrimack River, thus the Merrimac spelling is incorrect.” (The Daybook)

These examples follow the same ideas put in place from the CSSVirginia.org website. When one looks at the myriad uses of information and misinformation from the battle itself, it dulls the conflict, leaving only the ship’s name, and not the memory or pride of the men who served on her during the Civil War. It’s dizzying, if not confusing. More often than not, every victory for Virginia is countered by one of the Merrimack or Merrimac

Some will always call it Merrimack. Others will always call it Virginia. You can hear faint sounds of Louis Armstrong singing “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” in the background. What came first, the chicken or the egg? Merrimack or Virginia? Agree to disagree? 

Is there a way to find a resolve, or should opposing camps fight a renewed “civil war” over names? In a conflict where thousands of books are produced each year in its memory, it seems that this renewed fight will continue not with cannon fire, but with words. As a commemorative committee, the Civil War Navy Sesquicentennial is interested in understanding what readers of this blog feel is the best way to celebrate Virginia’s storied past. For more information on the Civil War Navy Sesquicentennial, visit the blog here.

Print Sources

Calhoun, Gordon. “The First Annual Bamboozle Awards.” The Daybook. Vol. 3, no. 6 (Sept.-Oct. 1997). 

Hoogenboom, Ari. Gustavus Vasa Fox of the Union Navy. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008. 

Luraghi, Raimondo. A History of the Confederate Navy. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1996. 

Musicant, Ivan. Divided Waters: The Naval History of the Civil War. Edison, NJ: Castle Books, 2000. 

Websites

Civil War News (Review of Gustavus Vasa Fox of the Union Navy):

http://www.civilwarnews.com/reviews/2009br/may/gustavus_hoogenboom_b050911.html

The Official CSS Virginia Homepage:

http://www.cssvirginia.org

Naval History and Heritage Command:

http://www.history.navy.mil

http://www.history.navy.mil/library/online/cssvirginia.htm

Souvenir Spoons:

http://www.souvenirspoons.com/framesstories/merrimacandmonitor.html

 
Apr 5

Remembering the Navy at Shiloh

Monday, April 5, 2010 2:54 PM

In the scope of Civil War scholarship, naval operations remain a minority (Please see Civil War Navy 150 posting here). Although recent articles point to the lack of attention on Union and Confederate navies, there is still much work to be done. As we approach the 148th anniversary of the Shiloh Campaign tomorrow, it is poignant to point to both topics under the lens of the Civil War Navy. 

Federal timberclads USS Lexington and USS Tylerwere essential in the April 1862 Shiloh Campaign. Both vessels protected Union Army transports on the way to Shiloh along the Tennessee River. Indeed, protection of rivers like the Tennessee during the Civil War became one of the most important war aims of Federal Forces (Think Anaconda Plan, Mississippi River, Red River, Vicksburg Campaign, etc.). Both ships engaged at Pittsburg Landing a month before the famous battle occurred (1 March 1862), landing Federal infantry while returning fire to those Confederates witnessing the first engagement of the campaign ashore. During the engagement in April, gunfire from the river aided in Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard’s decision to call off a final southern push to break through the Union line in the evening hours of the 6th

Although one may argue Confederate success on the first day of battle, the ultimate victory went to Union forces on 7 April. We will never know what might have happened if the Lexington and Tyler were not part of the Union defensive line that first day, but it is foolish to assume naval assistance played anything less than a fundamental role in the battle. 

Shiloh is merely one example of combined Army-Navy cooperation often overlooked in the scope of eastern and western theater operations. These kinds of topics of contention involving the role of the Union and Confederate navies exist to this day. On the Battle of Shiloh Blogspot page, the blogger reviews Timothy B. Smith’s 2006 study, The Untold Story of Shiloh: The Battle and the Battlefield. Smith’s worked is well received, both by historians and the internet population (i.e. Amazon). The blogger offers readers 10 myths surrounding the Battle of Shiloh based on the facts and interpretation of Smith’s work. Of these myths, the only one which the reviewer “did not agree with” was the fifth myth: The Navy was not important. As a response to this argument, the reviewer wrote: 

“I don’t think the Navy contributed much in the way of firepower but completely agree with Smith that the Navy did a ton of logistical work [. . .] I’m not sure if that’s because its a somewhat dry topic or if the source material is thinner, but it is generally an overlooked part of battles. So I guess on that myth I only think of the Navy doing little when it came time to expend powder.”

This is not a way to offend or admonish the work of the individual posting the above quote. It does, however, warrant discussion. Upon further insight into the book itself, you see an entire chapter of Smith’s work devoted to the role of the US Navy during Shiloh. As quoted in the fourth chapter, Smith states:

“Historians rarely give full credit to the navy’s role in the Shiloh campaign, except simply to cite the activity of the two gunboats, the Lexington and Tyler, on the afternoon of April 6, 1862, when they helped repel the last Confederate assaults of the day. Such a narrow view does not do the navy justice, however. While Shiloh was primarily an infantryman’s fight, the navy did play a critical role in the campaign and battle. The use of waterborne craft to transport the army and its immense amount of supplies and equipment was extremely vital to the Northern army’s success [. . .] the Confederates feared the gunboats.” (pg. 53-54)

Smith is correct to note the same “relatively unaided” Federal Navy captured Forts Henry and Donelson on the Tennessee River just months before. This all plays into a larger five month naval offensive by the US Navy, beginning with the capture of Forts Henry and Donelson in February and ending with the decisive naval battle of Memphis, 6 June 1862. Far more than simply firepower and logistics, the Federal Navy was a source of psychological torment for Confederates on land. At a time when the Union Army under General George B. McClellan failed in the 1862 Peninsula campaign, the Navy achieved great success. If this argument is too audacious, then another one championing the success of the western theater of combined operations in early 1862 might suffice. Regardless, success in 1862, if not the entire war, was aided and won with the help of the Union Navy. Shiloh is no different. As we begin to commemorate the brave men who fought on land tomorrow, remember and honor those sailors in “Mr. Lincoln’s Navy.”

The naval role in the Civil War does not tarnish the heroics and embattled courage of opposing armies on land. It can stand as a compliment to the myriad campaigns waged during the Civil War. When you think of General Bernard Bee’s exclamation, “There is Jackson standing like a stone wall,” remember Admiral David G. Farragut’s famous exclamation, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” 

It is the hope of the Civil War Navy Sesquicentennial Commission that more scholarship will surface in the upcoming years. Recent research like Naval Academy Professor Emeritus Craig Symonds’ Lincoln and His Admirals helps foment discussion in both lay and academic circles. Yet Dr. Symonds’ work will hopefully be the start of a long series of new research and interpretation during the sesquicentennial years.

Yes, land offensives outweigh those on water. Yes, it may be too bold to suggest the “road” to Appomattox was paved through naval operations. It is safe, however, to assume that the war was won with the help of the fleet. And for that, we must consider and commemorate those brave sailors who fought on both sides nearly 150 years ago. 

The Civil War Navy Sesquicentennial (2011-2015) will be posting interesting and informative articles to this blog in an effort to expand scholarship and discussion on the role of both Union and Confederate navies during the American Civil War. If you have any questions, please feel free to email the Civil War Navy Sesquicentennial Commission coordinator, Matthew Eng, at [email protected] or visit the blog at http://www.civilwarnavy150.blogspot.com.

 
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