Monterrey Shipwrecks Talk — Galveston, Nov. 14

Monterrey Wreck

My friend and colleague Amy Borgens of the Texas Historical Commission, and Fritz Hanselmann of Texas State University, are presenting a free public talk on the Monterrey Shipwrecks in Galveston at Moody Gardens on Galveston on November 14 at 7:00 pm. This presentation will discuss the three early nineteenth-century shipwrecks off the Texas-Louisiana coast that were investigated this past July. This ROV investigation and artifact recovery project was broadcast live on the internet. The public event was coordinated in response to all of the interest in the project from regional historical and archeological groups in the Galveston-Houston area. These and other participating groups have been invited to host respective educational tables from 6:30 — 7:00 pm in advance of the presentation.

In July 2013, a team of scientists investigated three early 19th-century shipwrecks 170 miles off the Texas-Louisiana coast at a depth of 4,500 feet. This unique expedition, the deepest of its kind in the United States, documented the shipwrecks and recovered a small collection of artifacts. Team members will present the initial findings that suggest these archeological sites may be a privateer and two prizes. Supporting groups such as the Houston Archeological Society and Galveston Historical Foundation will be present to provide insight and information on regional history and archeology.

 

Talkin’ Texas Navy

TexasNavySnottyThanks to the Sam Houston Squadron of the Texas Navy Association for hosting me at their first anniversary dinner Sunday evening, at which I spoke on the role of the little steamboat Laura in the coming of the Texas Revolution. It’s a great little story that deserves more attention than it gets. I’ll have to blog about it some one of these days.

With me on the program were Ed Cotham, who gave a short talk outlining events in Texas during the sesquicentennial year of 1863 — it was a good year for the Union generally, but a disastrous one for them in Texas — and Justin Parkoff and Jessica Stika, who gave an overview of the efforts to conserve and exhibit artifacts recovered from the wreck of U.S.S. Westfield.

In his presentation, Justin joked that he tends to be quiet and, because he didn’t speak up soon enough in a meeting where the NautArch students were selecting projects, he got stuck with “the junk.” (At this point he flashed an image of Westfield‘s machinery as it came off the site, in rusty, unrecognizable jumble of stuff.) In fact, Justin’s dived headlong into this subject with remarkable success, and has gone a long way toward not only reconstructing the gunboat’s machinery, but its overall construction and conversion from a New York ferryboat to a warship. Before he’s done, I think we will know more fine-grained detail about U.S.S. Westfield than any other ship of her type. It will be a delicious irony that such knowledge ultimately came about because her commander, 150 years ago, blasted her to smithereens rather than let her fall into enemy hands.

We’ll be hearing more about Westfield in the next few months — a lot more.

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Image: Wikimedia depiction of foul anchor and star insignia for the Texas Navy rank of Passed Midshipman, by user Glasshouse.

Aye Candy: Morgan Line Steamship Harlan, 1866

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New renders of the Morgan Line steamship Harlan (seen previously here), that ran a coastwise route between New Orleans, Galveston and Indianola, Texas in the late 1860s and 1870s. Harlan was the last of seven ships built to the same design by Harlan & Hollingsworth for the Morgan Line between 1861 and 1866. The first of these ships, St. Mary’s, was purchased new and converted into the Union warship U.S.S. Hatteras. In 1880, Harlan transported former President Grant and his party from Clinton, on Buffalo Bayou near Houston, to New Orleans.

Full-size images available on Flickr.

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U.S. Coast Survey Shipwreck Identified

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In 1852, W.A.K. Martin painted this picture of the Robert J. Walker. The painting, now at the Mariner’s Museum in Newport News, Va., is scheduled for restoration. (Credit: The Mariners’ Museum)

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On Tuesday, the folks at NOAA’s Maritime Heritage Program announced the identification of the wreck of the U.S. Coast Survey steamship Robert J. Walker, that was sunk in a collision with a sailing ship in June 1860 off the Jersey shore. From the announcement:

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More than 153 years after it was lost in a violent collision at sea, government and university maritime archaeologists have identified the wreck of the ship Robert J. Walker, a steamer that served in the U.S. Coast Survey, a predecessor agency of NOAA.
 
The Walker, while now largely forgotten, served a vital role as a survey ship, charting the Gulf Coast – including Mobile Bay and the Florida Keys – in the decade before the Civil War. It also conducted early work plotting the movement of the Gulf Stream along the Atlantic Coast.
 
Twenty sailors died when the Walker sank in rough seas in the early morning hours of June 21, 1860, ten miles off Absecon Inlet on the New Jersey coast. The crew had finished its latest surveys in the Gulf of Mexico and was sailing to New York when the Walker was hit by a commercial schooner off New Jersey. The side-wheel steamer, carrying 66 crewmembers, sank within 30 minutes. The sinking was the largest single loss of life in the history of the Coast Survey and its successor agency, NOAA.
In late June, 2013, the NOAA ship Thomas Jefferson, surveying in the area to chart post-Hurricane Sandy changes in coastal waters – an essential job to ensure safe navigation with a major part of the economy based on the movement of goods by water – transited the area where Robert J. Walker was known to have been lost and laid a memorial wreath on the water. Using the sophisticated sonar mapping technology of Thomas Jefferson, The Office of Coast Survey’s Vitad Pradith, working with East Carolina University graduate student and archaeologist Joyce Steinmetz and the crew of Thomas Jefferson did a survey of the area and focused on the previously charted wreck thought to be Walker.

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After a ceremony last month onboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson, Ensign Eileen Pye lays a wreath over the waters where USCS Robert J. Walker sank. (Credit: NOAA)Blank

You can read a detailed, contemporary news account of the disaster, from the June 23, 1860 issue of the New York Commercial Advertiser here.

Videos from the wreck site are online here. The visibility is pretty lousy, but the exposed part of the wreck is similar in many ways to that of U.S.S. Hatteras, that was the focus os a NOAA-led expedition last year. Some of the preservation on the Walker site is remarkable. There are even remnants of what are believed to be wool blankets, that have been preserved by being covered in mud, in an anaerobic environment, until recently. (Hurricane Sandy may have played a role in exposing these materials.)

In her career as a survey vessel, Robert J. Walker probably served off Galveston, as she spent considerable time operating in the Gulf of Mexico. As it happens, her commanding officer during much of that period was Benjamin Franklin Sands (right, 1811-1883), whose first-hand knowledge of the hydrography of the Texas coast would prove useful some years later, when he commanded the Union squadron on blockade duty off Galveston during the closing days of the Civil War. It was Captain Sands who formally accepted Galveston’s surrender in June 1865, an event that effectively ended the Union blockade of Southern ports. You can download a high-res copy of one of Sands’ charts, compiled during his tenure aboard Robert J. Walker, here.

Congrats to NOAA’s Maritime Heritage Program and all its partners in this endeavor.

 

Deep Gulf Shipwreck Live, July 18-25

UPDATE: Live broadcast available here:

http://www.nautiluslive.org/

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From the Underwater Archaeology Mailing List, SUB-ARCH:

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The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) www.Boem.gov homepage is featuring the 2013 expedition to document and explore the Monterrey Wreck in the Gulf of Mexico. July 18th-25th (weather depending) you can view the expedition live online.
 
Please share with students and colleagues so they can tune in! Go to www.boem.gov or use the direct link to the page which can be found at:
 
http://www.boem.gov/Gulf-of-Mexico-Expedition-Discovers-Amazing-Historic-Shipwreck/

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Note that the name, “Monterrey Wreck,” does not indicate the identity of the vessel, which is unknown. Deep water sites in the Gulf are commonly named for nearby pipelines or oil lease tracts. From the website:

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2011 – 2012 Discovery and Exploration
 
First identified as a side scan sonar target in 2011, the brief remotely operated vehicle (ROV) dive made a truly exciting discovery that no one at the time knew would contribute significantly to our understanding of a turbulent period of American history.
 
In April 2012, NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer conducted the first reconnaissance of the site. The shipwreck appears to be an undisturbed, early 19th century, wooden-hulled sailing vessel.
 
The sonar target first came to light when Shell Oil notified the Bureau of Offshore Energy Management (BOEM) and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), agencies of the U.S. Department of Interior, that a side scan sonar target resembling a shipwreck had been found in their lease area. The sonar image revealed a sharp hull-formed outline measuring approximately 25 meters (84 feet) long by 7.9 meters (26 feet) wide in 1,330 meters (4,363 feet) of water. . . .
 
The Okeanos Explorer’s ROV dive on the shipwreck lasted just over two hours, collecting valuable high definition video. The remains of the relatively small vessel, about 84 feet long, are outlined by the copper sheathing tacked to the lower hull put there to protect the bottom from marine bio-fouling. While wood close to the copper sheathing has survived, the entire upper portion of the wooden ship has been consumed, allowing durable artifacts, such as those made from ceramic, glass and metal, to drop to the bottom. The area of the Gulf where the site is located receives very little sedimentation, so many of the artifacts lay uncovered, mostly inside the hull.
 
From the distribution of artifacts, we get a sense of how the vessel was organized. A large anchor in the bow was probably secured on the forward deck. Elements of the standing rigging along the length of the vessel indicate the location of the masts. A concretion of large metal objects located amidships contains an anchor, several cannon and smaller artifacts. Some or all of these items may have been stowed below deck during the voyage. A large rectangular metal stove resting on a lead sheet (to protect the wooden deck from catching fire) and food storage containers, denote the galley area where food was prepared. Further aft, near the stern, where the ship’s officers likely lived, are plates, bottles, glassware, firearms, medicine, and navigation instruments.
 
The baseline data collected by Okeanos Explorer’s brief visit led to considerable follow-on research by a group of archaeologists and historians. The artifacts and vessel remains suggest the site dates to the first half of the nineteenth century making it one of the more significant shipwrecks discovered in the Gulf of Mexico to date. The site, well preserved and remarkably undisturbed, is from a critical period in history when new nations were forming at the end of the Colonial era and the Gulf was opening to global trade.

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Grant Comes to Galveston

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In the spring of 1880, former President and Union General Ulysses S. Grant made a visit to Texas. Fanned by unprecedented press speculation and coverage, huge crowds and celebrities turned out to greet Grant everywhere he went. This was particularly true of the general’s visit to Galveston, at that time the largest and most prosperous city in Texas. Where did Grant go and what did he do? What did he say? And most importantly, what did he eat? Respected historian Ed Cotham answers these questions and more as he chronicles the extensive newspaper coverage of Grant’s historic visit to the island city in his newest presentation for the Menard Summer Lecture Series.

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Sunday, June 9 at 2 p.m.
Menard Campus, 3302 Avenue O
Galveston, Texas

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Admission is $10 for Galveston Historical Foundation members, $12 for non-members.

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Image: Morgan Line steamship Harlan, that carried the Grants from Clinton, Texas to Galveston and on to New Orleans in 1880. Museum of Fines Arts Houston/Bayou Bend Collection.

Talkin’ Blockade Runners — June 5 in Conroe

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On Wednesday, June 5, I’ll be giving my talk, “For-Profit Patriots: Blockade Running on the Texas Coast” at the Woodlands Civil War Round Table in Conroe, north of Houston. My talk will be at 7 p.m. at the Windsor Hill Club House, 1 East Windsor Hills Circle. Visitors are welcome, although everyone attending must be 18 or older due to the rules of the community. As before, there will be particular emphasis on two vessels wrecked here in 1865, Will o’ the Wisp and Denbigh. The official blurb:

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In the closing months of the Civil War, long, low blockade runners slipped in and out of Texas ports, racing both to keep the Confederacy supplied, and to generate dramatic profits for their owners. It was a risky, high-stakes gamble that was the foundation for many fortunes on both sides of the Atlantic. Almost 150 years later, archaeologists and historians have begun to uncover the stories of these remarkable vessels. The discovery of the paddle steamer Denbigh in 1997, and of a wreck believed to be the famous Will o’ the Wisp in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike, open the door to a long-overlooked story of patriotism, avarice and daring during those last desperate months of the conflict.

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“Patriotism, avarice and daring”? Did I write that? Gack, what turgid over-selling!

Anyway, it should be fun and informative. Hope to see you there!

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Me with nautical archaeologist Amy Borgens on the Will o’ the Wisp wreck site, July 2009.
 
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Aye Candy: Japanese Miniature Submarine

Render of a Japanese Navy Type A Ko-hyoteki-class “midget” submarine, c. December 1941. The Type A was the first of four classes of miniature submarines developed by the Japanese Navy during the war.

This model is based loosely on the Type A boats that were used as part of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawai’i on December 7, 1941. All five were lost, and only one of their ten crew members survived to become a prisoner of war. His boat, HA. 19, is now displayed at the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas.

This model is based on a variety of sources, and may not be accurate in all details. Particularly useful were the large number of photos of HA. 19 available through the U.S. Naval Historical Center, NavSource.org, and the Library of Congress.

Modeled in Rhino and rendered in Flamingo. More images on Flickr.

2013 Menard Summer Lecture Series

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The Galveston Historical Foundation has announced its lineup for the 2013 Menard Summer Lecture Series:

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June 9 – Grant Comes To Galveston
Presented by Edward T. Cotham, Jr.
In the spring of 1880, former President and Union General Ulysses S. Grant made a visit to Texas. Fanned by unprecedented press speculation and coverage, huge crowds and celebrities turned out to greet Grant everywhere he went. This was particularly true of the general’s visit to Galveston, at that time the largest and most prosperous city in Texas. Where did Grant go and what did he do? What did he say? And most importantly, what did he eat? Respected historian Ed Cotham answers these questions and more as he chronicles the extensive newspaper coverage of Grant’s historic visit to the island city in his newest presentation for the Menard Summer Lecture Series.
 
June 23 – The Galveston-Houston Packet; Steamships on Buffalo Bayou
Presented by Andrew W. Hall
Before the railroad, before the Interurban, before the scourge of construction detours on the Gulf Freeway, Galveston and Houston were first linked by steamboat. The water link between the two cities helped establish both towns as the fastest-growing, booming communities in the state of Texas during the 19th century. The tale, largely overlooked until now, is one of cut-throat competition, horrific accidents, hard-fought battles and more. Join Galveston author Andy Hall, to explore some of this forgotten history.
 
July 14 – Historic Tales of the Texas Republic, A Glimpse of Texas Past
Presented by Jeffery Robenalt
Though the Republic of Texas existed as a sovereign nation for just nine years, the legacy lives on in the names that distinguish the landscape of the Lone Star State. Austin, Houston, Travis, Lamar, Seguin, Burnet, Bowie, Zavala and Crockett- these historical giants, often at odds, fought through their differences to achieve independence from Mexico and established a republic destined to become the twenty-eighth state in the Union. Author Jeffrey Robenalt chronicles the fight to define and defend the Republic of Texas, from revolutionary beginnings to annexation.
 
August 4 – The First Texas Navy, 1835-1837
Presented by James P. Bevill
This powerful presentation takes place in the throes of the Texas Revolution, as the provisional government of Texas scrambled to put together a naval force to wreak havoc upon the Mexican supply lines. Having first resorted to the use of privateers (state sponsored pirates), Texas was able to borrow money in New Orleans in early 1836, to secure the warships Liberty, Invincible, Independence and the Brutus. Author and historian James Bevill tells the story of those four ships and the significant contributions of men made on the high seas in the fight for Texas independence. This remarkable story is triumphant and tragic, and an entertaining finale to the 2013 Menard Summer Lecture Series.

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Each talk takes place on Sunday afternoon at 2 pm, at Menard Hall, 33rd Street and Avenue O in Galveston. Tickets are $12 for each talk, or $40 for the series. Hope to see you there.

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Into Action Aboard a Monitor at Charleston

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Crew members aboard U.S.S. Nahant, one of the last surviving Civil War monitors, pose on deck for a photograph during the Spanish-American War in 1898. The dents in the turret behind them were put there by Confederate shot off Charleston, thirty-five years before.

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DuPontOne hundred fifty years ago Sunday afternoon, warships of the Union’s South Atlantic Blockading Squadron steamed into Charleston harbor, intent on pounding Fort Sumter into submission. The U.S. Navy’s commanding officer, Rear Admiral S. F. Du Pont (right), had at his disposal two full divisions of ironclad monitors that, he hoped, would be able to stand up against the Confederate batteries ringing the harbor. But the Confederate fire was too great, most of Du Pont’s ships were seriously damaged in the action. After about ninety minutes’ hard action, the Union fleet withdrew. In his report to the Navy Department, Du Pont described the event as a “failure,” but saw his withdrawal as one that had averted what otherwise would have been a “disaster.”[1]

Since we’ve talked a good bit about Civil War-era monitors here, I’d like to share an account of this action by Alvah Folsom Hunter (1846-1933), a sixteen-year-old ship’s boy aboard one of those monitors, U.S.S. Nahant. Hunter had been in the Navy only a few months, and recorded his experiences aboard Nahant in great detail. An annotated edition of Hunter’s diary was published in 1987, edited Craig Symonds.[2] Most of the drawings that accompany Hunter’s account here are by one of his shipmates aboard Nahant, Assistant Surgeon Charles Ellery Stedman.

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U.S.S. Weehawken’s “devil,” as depicted in the ORN.
 
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At noon signal was made from the Ironsides (the flagship) to get under way, and then another delay caught us. It had been ordered that the Weehawken should lead the line of monitors, and some over-wise individual had devised an apparatus for lifting or exploding any torpedoes which might be encountered in the advance. The Weehawken was encumbered with this device, which had been well named “a devil.” “It was formed of very heavy timbers crossing at right angles, bolted together, and was about fifty feet in length, shaped not unlike a boot-jack, the bows of the vessel propelling within the notch. The after-ends, or jaws, of the raft were secured by chains to the bows of the vessel”. There were grapnels to catch the torpedoes suspended beneath this cumbersome raft. When the Weehawken was hoisting her anchor, the chain became entangled with these grapnels, and caused over an hour’s delay before the chain was cleared and the anchor hoisted up. Not only that, but the encumbrance upon her bows made the naturally unwieldy monitor still more unwieldy and difficult to steer, and but for the tide having turned and begun to run flood again, it is doubtful if the Weehawken could have steamed up against the current so as to come within range of Fort Sumter. As the Weehawken was the appointed leader of the line, a delay to her held back the entire fleet.
 
The order of battle was that known as “line ahead,” or, as a soldier would state it, “single file.” The eight monitors were formed into two divisions, with the frigate Ironsides (flagship) between the first and second division. In the first division were the Weehawken, Passaic, Montauk, and Patapsco; in the second the Catskill, Nantucket, Nahant, and Keokuk.
 
The distance between the vessels was intended to be one hundred yards, but they steered so badly it was quite impossible to keep close to distance. The monitors were extremely heavy, unwieldy vessels, steering badly when conditions were at the best. Being in shallow water increased the difficulty of steering, and when steaming ahead very slowly, the difficulty was still further increased; the clumsy vessels were here pretty nearly unmanageable.
 
When the signal to get underway was made, our crew was called to quarters, and those of us who were stationed on the berth deck, where we could hear little and see nothing, found the long wait very trying to our nerves. We knew that the engine was frequently started and then stopped again, and supposed the starting and stopping were but incidents of getting the vessels into line formation, but why the long, long delay in opening fire, we did not know. It was nearly three hours after the call to quarters that we began faintly to hear the boom of the guns of some of the vessels, and it was ten minutes past three o’clock when our two guns were fired in quick succession.
 
The relief we all felt when at last our guns spoke out was very great, and we gladly hastened to such duties as came to us. Passing on to the door of the magazine the call for cartridges and shells, seeing these brought to and passed through the door to the turret chamber, shaking the inverted cartridge tub over the tub of water, and then returning it to the door of the magazine, didn’t call for furious activity on our part, but, it was something to do, and a great relief to our strained nerves.
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Handling ammunition in the compartment below the turret, by Nahant’s Ship’s Surgeon, C. E. Stedman.
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The leading division had come into action about three o’clock, and soon after that the Admiral, finding the Ironsides pretty nearly unmanageable in the shallow water and having had to anchor, ordered the signal: “Disregard the movements of the flagship” to be hoisted. This signal at once set free the vessels in the second division and they steamed past the flagship into close action. The Nahant was probably the fastest of the single-turreted monitors, and the Keokuk, next her in line, was even faster. These two vessels, the last in the line, steamed ahead at full speed and were quickly in the thickest of the fight.
 
“Four bells” sounding on the gong in the engine room, which ordered the engineer to go ahead at full speed, was distinctly heard by us on the berth deck, and in a few minutes cannon shot began to strike the Nahant. At first the hits were few and scattering, but, as we drew nearer to Sumter, they were more frequent. Captain Downes stated that we went up to within five-hundred yards of Sumter, nearer to that fort than any other vessel, and the shots came down upon us in an irregular staccato. There was about twenty-five minutes’ time when we were struck on an average about once a minute.
 
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Stedman’s drawing of Nahant’s turret in action. Stedman omits much of the internal bracing used in the turret, but captures the action well.
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One of the heavy shot struck our turret fairly, about two feet above the deck and just over the heads of the three of us boys who were standing near the turret-chamber door, and so tremendous was the impact, we all three instinctively ducked our heads. The solid shot was smashed and we clearly heard the pieces rattling down upon the deck above our heads.
 
While we were coming into close action, our guns were kept as busy as the difficulty of loading and firing them permitted. Both guns were fired seven times each, and a little later the XI-inch gun was brought to bear upon one of the forts and fired for the eighth time, making fifteen shots in all fired by the Nahant.
 
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Cross-section through the hull, turret and pilothouse of a Civil War monitor similar to U.S.S. Nahant.
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Just after we came under the terrific fire which rained down upon us, three heavy shots struck the pilot-house in quick succession. [Unlike the original Monitor, the pilot-house on Passaic Class ships was located atop the turret for maximum all-around visibility.] One of these shots struck just at the base of the pilot-house, where a massive iron ring, some four inches deep by a foot wide, rested upon the top of the turret. This ring was put there as a safeguard, to prevent a shot which might strike there from penetrating at the angle formed by the base of the wall of the pilot-house and top of the turret. The metal of this iron ring was bulged outward and upward, and the inch-thick plates of the pilot-house were bulged outward and downward around the deep dent made by the shot. The result was that the turret and pilot-house were tightly welded together; the turret was “jammed” and could not be revolved.
 
At almost the same instant, a shot struck the pilot-house close beside one of the peepholes which were cut through the walls to give those on duty inside some view of matters outside. The bolts which held the inch-thick plates together were countersunk into the plates on the outside, the nuts being on the inside. Heavy curtains made of two thicknesses of canvas with hair quilted in between hung around the inside of both turret and pilot-house to prevent the heavy nuts on these bolts from flying if the bolts were struck by a shot, but in the pilothouse there had to be holes cut through this curtain where it covered the peepholes. The shot which struck close beside a peephole struck squarely on one of the bolts, the bolt broke off close by the nut inside, the nut and bolt-end being driven across the inside of the pilot-house with the velocity of a solid shot.
 
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Stedman’s depiction of the action off Fort Sumter in April 1863, with (l. to r.) Nantucket, New Ironsides and Nahant. Stedman, as was his pratice at the time, gave the first and last of these vessels the fictional names of “Otternel” and Semantecook” in the caption of his drawing.
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Quartermaster [Edward] Cobb was at the wheel, Pilot [Isaac] Sofield stood a little behind him and was stooping over a bit to observe what could be seen through a peephole on the other side, and Captain Downes was standing a little to one side of the pilot. The flying nut struck Cobb upon the side of his forehead, tearing off a piece of his skull about five inches long by three wide, inflicting a mortal wound. It next struck Pilot Sofield close beside the spinal column at the base of the neck making a deep cut nearly two inches in length and effecting a paralysis of the body because of the shock to the nerves, so that he dropped as though instantly killed. It then glanced upward and struck the top of the pilot-house, then re-bounded downward upon Captain Downes’ foot, inflicting a painful bruise which kept the Captain limping about with the aid of a stout cane for several days.
 
We on the berth deck knew nothing of this tragedy till the turret chamber door opened and three men came through bearing the body of poor Cobb, and my first sight of a wounded man was when I heard a gasping moan, turned around and looked directly down upon the gaping wound on the side of Cobb’s head. Then, for a few seconds, I wished I was back in Boston.
 
The wounded man was borne to the wardroom table, which was requisitioned for a surgery when we went into battle. It was quickly seen that the case was hopeless, the wound was mortal, and the unfortunate quartermaster was tenderly moved to his hammock, which was spread down on the berth deck for him.
 
Two or three mimutes after Cobb had been brought down, the inert body of Pilot Sofield was lowered down from the pilot-house to the turret, then lowered to the chamber below and borne to the wardroom table. I was summoned to make ready the berth in Mr. [Ensign Charles C.] Ricker’s stateroom for Pilot Sofield, and overheard Dr. Stedman[3] telling his assistant that if the blow had struck half-an-inch to the right, it would have killed the pilot, as it would have smashed the spinal column. Striking where it did it made only a deep and painful flesh wound, but the shock to the spinal cord had effected a paralysis.[4]
 
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Treating casualties in action on the wardroom table, by Assistant Surgeon Stedman. This scene actually depicts his earlier ship, U.S.S. Huron.
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Another man was quite badly wounded at just about the same moment as those in the pilot-house, a seaman named John McAllister. He was one of a gun’s crew and was standing beside his gun in the turret. One of the shots striking the turret broke off a piece of iron which weighed seventy-eight pounds. This piece of iron was thrown violently across the turret, in its course striking and bending the rod which operated the steering gear, and then struck down McAllister, injuring him severely.
 
The steering gear was put out of business by this accident, and there we were: helpless, drifting slowly up towards the obstructions and under the fire of a hundred heavy guns. It was fully ten minutes before the supplementary steering gear in the turret-chamber could be got into working condition. When it was working, efforts were made to so steer the ship that the guns could be again trained upon Fort Sumter, but these efforts were futile, and the Nahant was headed out just as the signal for the fleet to withdraw was hoisted on the flagship. The Nahant joined the other vessels and all moved down to the former anchorage.
 
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Stedman’s depiction of repairing battle damage on U.S.S. Nahant, this time after a subsequent “set-to” with Confederate gunners at Fort Wagner on Morris Island.
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Du Pont had been reluctant to stage this attack with naval forces alone; he had urged a coordinated attack, using large numbers of land troops to help secure the batteries around the perimeter of the harbor. The events of April 7 vindicated Du Pont’s original position, as well as showing the limitations of the then-still-new armored ships in attacking heavy, well-trained shore batteries. After Du Pont’s failed attack, the Union strategy shifted to one that prioritized taking the forts on the outer periphery of Charleston Harbor, gradually working toward Sumter itself. If you’ve seen the great Civil War movie Glory, you have some familiarity with that part of the war.

Finally, if you haven’t seen his posts lately, my colleague Craig Swain has been doin’ the knowledge on the development of the Confederate defenses at Charleston over at his blog, To the Sound of the Guns. It’s fantastic stuff, in all its primary-source, granular detail. Great work, Craig — you’re showing how it’s done.

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[1] S. F. Du Pont to Gideon Welles, “Attack by Federal ironclads upon the defenses of Charleston, S. C., April 7, 1863,” April 8, 1863. ORN, vol 14, 3.

[2] Alvah F. Hunter, A Year on a Monitor and the Destruction of Fort Sumter, Craig L. Symonds, ed. (Columbia: University of South Carolina, 1987).

[3] “Dr. Stedman” was Assistant Surgeon Charles Ellery Stedman, ship’s surgeon aboard Nahant, whose sketches illustrate this post. Charles Ellery Stedman, The Civil War Sketchbook of Charles Ellery Stedman, Surgeon, United States Navy. Jim Dan Hill, ed. (San Rafael, California: Presidio Press, 1976).

[4] Sofield’s paralysis may have been temporary; Assistant Surgeon Stedman’s after-action casualty report does not mention the paralysis, and says that Sofield “is doing well.” Pilot Sofield was still on active duty with Nahant at the end of 1863. C. Ellery Stedman, “Report of casualties on the U. S. S. Nahant,” April 7, 1863. ORN, vol 14, 5; John J. Cornwell, “Report of Lieutenant-Commander Cornwell, U. S. Navy, regarding drifting timber from the harbor obstructions,” December 29, 1863. ORN, vol 15, 210-211.