Talkin’ Blockade Runners and Wicked Ol’ Charles Morgan

In three weeks, I’ll be giving a couple of talks, one in Arlington, that I’ve mentioned before, and one in Houston, that I haven’t.

On Friday evening, October 10 at 7:30, I’ll be speaking on “Civil War Blockade Running on the Texas Coast” at the University of Texas at Arlington Central Library, Sixth Floor. There will be a reception and a book-signing after. This event is open to the public and everyone’s invited. To RSVP, please call 817-272-1413 or email This will be my second trip to North Texas in the last few months, and it should be great fun.

Then, on Saturday the 11th, I’ll be participating in the Fourth Annual Houston History Conference. The conference will be held at the the Julia Ideson Building of the Houston Public Library, 550 McKinney.The theme this year, in recognition of the centennial of the official opening of the Port of Houston. My presentation is “Charles Morgan and the Genesis of the Houston Ship Channel,” a wonderful little story of economic boosterism and Gilded-Age avarice. Space is limited so advance reservations are recommended, but not required. The cost of the conference is $50 per person before October 3; $40 for seniors, presenters and exhibitors; and $25 for teachers not covered by scholarships from their respected school systems. If space allows, on-site registration will be available. All tickets include lunch and admission for a full day of activities. For more information or to enroll in the conference, visit or email

The full listing for the Houston History Conference follows below the jump. Hope to see y’all there!


Fourth Annual Houston History Conference

“Houston: Born on the Bayou, Built on the Port”

Conference set for Saturday, October 11, 2014

WHAT: Entitled “Houston: Born on the Bayou, Built on the Port,” the fourth annual Houston History Conference will coincide with the citywide Centennial of the Ship Channel in Houston. Produced by the Houston History Association (HHA), the conference will be held on Saturday, October 11, 2014 from 8 a.m. – 3:45 p.m. in the Julia Ideson Building – Houston Public Library, 550 McKinney. The conference will provide information to create discussions and awareness among Houston leaders, scholars, academics and the public about the history, important assets and challenges of the port.

Throughout its history, whenever the Port of Houston has grown, Houston has grown, proving it to be a fiscal engine that produces jobs and monetary prosperity for the local and state economy. In 2012, ship-channel related businesses provided over one million jobs throughout Texas, generating $178.5 billion and $4.5 billion in state and local taxes. “Arguably, the Port of Houston ranks as one of Houston’s greatest historical and vital resources, and merits this in-depth examination and attention by HHA,” says Diana DuCroz, president of HHA.

Port of Houston Commissioners Theldon Branch and Dean Corgey and Houston Mayor Annise D. Parker will open the daylong event, followed by the morning presentation from (Ms.) Pat Jasper, director of the Folklife and Traditional Arts Program for the Houston Arts Alliance.

After a preview of the “100: Ship Channel History 1914 – 2014” documentary, attendees can then tour the library’s exhibit on “Stories of a Workforce: Celebrating the Centennial of the Houston Ship Channel.”

The Houston History Association also will present the “Betty Trapp Chapman Awards” to (Ms.) Miki Lusk Norton and Pam Young in recognition of and appreciation for their tireless work for HHA and Houston’s history community.

After lunch, a variety of speakers will give presentations on a wide range of topics in two breakout sessions, including:

  • David Falloure and Tom Tellepsen on outtakes from their book The Town that Built the Port that Built the City; and Mike Mitchell on The New Deal, Federal Writers’ Project & The Port of Houston
  • Mikaela Selley of the Houston Metropolitan Research Center (HMRC) on the Behind the Scenes Research and Making of the Centennial Documentary and Curriculum Guide; and Kim Lykins and Jim Bailey, co-founders of the Texas Foundation for the Arts, on their documentary 100: Ship Channel History 1914-2014.
  • Frances Trimble on The Houston Pilots: Silent Servants of Progress: Houston Ship Channel Pilots; Andy Hall on Charles Morgan and the Genesis of the Houston Ship Channel; and Ms. Sam Akkerman and Ginny Garret on Sport and the Port – An Historical Review of Recreational Boating and Commercial Shipping on Houston’s Shared Waterways
  • Tanya Debose moderating discussion with long-time residents of Pleasantville, Magnolia and Clinton Park neighborhoods about living in the shadow of the Ship Channel

Over 65 community history and preservation partners of HHA have been invited to present exhibits about their organizations and current work. Ample time will be allowed within the conference for attendees to network and learn about Houston History through the work of these organizations.

Space is limited so advance reservations are recommended, but not required. The cost of the conference is $50 per person before October 3; $40 for seniors, presenters and exhibitors; and $25 for teachers not covered by scholarships from their respected school systems. If space allows, on-site registration will be available. All tickets include lunch and admission for a full day of activities.

Houston ISD will offer CEUs and scholarships for its teachers.

The Lancaster Hotel is the official hotel partner for HHA; for special rates, visit or call 800-231-0336.  Limited availability.

For more information or to enroll in the conference, visit or email

WHEN:           Saturday, October 11, 2014, 8 a.m. – 3:45 p.m.

WHERE:        Julia Ideson Building – Houston Public Library, 550 McKinney

WHO:            The Houston History Association is an independent 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to promoting Houston area history and serving as a resource for existing historical, preservation and educational organizations and institutions.

Sponsored by: This program is made possible in part by a grant from Humanities Texas, the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. In addition, generous sponsorship has been received from the Port of Houston Authority and Texas Historical Foundation. Other partners include the University of Houston Center for Public History, The Strake Foundation, Miki and Ralph Norton, The Lancaster Hotel, Houston Academy of Medicine – Texas Medical Center Library (HAM-TMC), Texas State Historical Association, Houston Public Library, the City of Houston and Houston Independent School District.

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’ Blockade Runners — June 5 in Conroe


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:


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.


“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!


Me with nautical archaeologist Amy Borgens on the Will o’ the Wisp wreck site, July 2009.

You Just Can’t Buy this Kind of Publicity

CNN is giving “LIVE! EXCLUSIVE!” coverage to the spectacle of Carnival Triumph being towed slowly, slowly, up Mobile Bay. In the meantime, they’re talking with passengers by cell phone, describing their experiences over the past week. The rotating chyron at the bottom of the screen includes phrases like “passengers not informed” and “sewage running down walls.”

Image: Carnival Triumph, seen entering Galveston Harbor on the morning of September 10, 2012.


Private Hobbs’ Diary: “The weather continues delightfull. . . .”

Alexander Hobbs was a private in Company I of the 42nd Massachusetts Infantry. It would be Hobbs’ and his messmates’ misfortune that Company I was one of the three companies of that regiment that eventually occupied Kuhn’s Wharf on the Galveston waterfront, and came under attack by Confederate forces in the early morning hours of New Years Day, 1863. Hobbs kept a diary that encompassed his experiences, which is now part of the collection at the Woodson Research Center at Rice University.

My colleague Jim Schmidt has highlighted Hobbs’ account of the Battle of Galveston, and used it as a source in his outstanding recent book, Galveston and the Civil War: An Island City in the Maelstrom, but Hobbs’ entire account of that period is worthwhile, being a privates-eye-view of a military campaign that ended disastrously. Over the next several posts, then, I”ll be sharing Hobb’s story as he and his company make their way south, into the Gulf of Mexico and on to Texas. I’ve broken Hobbs’ narrative out into paragraphs and added a few images that illustrate his story, but his original spelling, punctuation and syntax remain.

We pick up Hobbs’ account on December 3, 1862, as he and Company I board the transport Saxon at Brooklyn, New York.

December 3
At 5 P.M. went on bord the transport steamer Saxon [1] with three other Companys but being too crowded Co. A was removed too the Quincy the regiment all embarked on four steamers the Saxon, Quincy, [Charles] Osgood, and Chetucket, two of the  Steamers were old and did not look safe one company required to be put on bord the Chetucket [sic., Shetucket] and after considerable excitment were finally transferred to the Saxon [2]
December 5
At 8 ½ Oclock AM, the Pilot came on bord when we weighed anchor and seamed down the harbour past Sandy Hook and out too sea we are in [General Nathaniel] Bank['s] Expedition and sail under sealed orders but expect to go to Fortress Monroe
Soldiers in Hobbs’ sister regiment, the 41st Massachusetts, write letters on the the deck of their transport as part of the Banks Expedition. From Frank Leslie, Famous Leaders and Battle Scenes of the Civil War (New York, NY: Mrs. Frank Leslie, 1896).
December 6
Blowing a gale with a heavy sea most of the men are sick and as the ports had too be  closed it was very disagreeable to stay below and too cold to stay on deack
December 7
A rough night wind still blowing passed Cape Haterass about 1 A.M. the men still sick turned them on deack and cleaned the ship we are in the Gulf Stream and the water is almost a blood heat but the wind blows very cold. The orders were opened this morning and we find our destination to be Ship Island
December 8
The Weather is growing mild and the men are recovering from the sea sickness with an appetite which threatens to devour evrything at one meal most of them are growling because they cannot get enough to eat and the cooks are mad and sware thair stove will not draw
December 9
The weather is delightfull and every-thing goes on well except the grub they do not give us enough of any-thing except hard bread and that we cannot eat many of the men express the desire that the pirate Alabam may take us
December 10
Weather warm and pleasant three men in irons today for stealing meat last night our Capt tore the stripes off a corporal for being concerned in the robbery and disobeying orders Made land on the cost of Florida and saw a gun boat


The transport steamer Che-Kiang, another vessel in the Banks Expedition, collided with (or was intentionally rammed by) a Confederate schooner off the Florida Reefs on the night of December 11, 1862. The schooner sank, and her crew escaped in a boat. Che-Kiang continued on her way, with some damage, eventually discharging her troops at Ship Island, Mississippi. From Frank Leslie, Famous Leaders and Battle Scenes of the Civil War (New York, NY: Mrs. Frank Leslie, 1896)
December 11
passed a wreck on the shore with a tug boat discharging her cargo [3] at 5 P.M. entered Key West to get coal and water Key West is now used by the U.S. Government to store provisions it is a small village and to us who had never been at the south the trees and fruit looked really pleasant The men worked at night taking on bord coal and water some of the boys went on shore and got oranges Lemons Coconuts &
December 12
Left this morning for Ship Island in company with two other transports a fair wind and pleasant weather
December 14
the weather continues delightfull the men are in high spirits except at meal time they have not yet got acostomed to living on Army rations we get mush sometimes which we consider a grate luxury the men who have money to spare go to the second table in the cabin they have thare evry delicacy that can be got on land we have on bord the Col. I.S. Burrell and quite a number of the staff officers they probably thought this the safest ship and she has so far been all we could wish She is the same as was used by Gen Butler as his flag ship in his expiditions to New Orleans 


Ship Island, Mississippi, which was used as a primary Union rendezvous and staging area in the Gulf of Mexico. From Frank Leslie, Famous Leaders and Battle Scenes of the Civil War (New York, NY: Mrs. Frank Leslie, 1896).


December 15
Arrived at Ship Island this morning was brought to last night by a shot from a gun boat a Lieutenant cam on bord and examined our papers Ship Island is a low Sandy place with a few government store -houses Gen Butler took it from the Rebels last winter we see the forts where he found the wooden guns. Three or four regare encamped on the Island waiting transportation the ship that brought them from Fortress Monroe being too large to go up the Mississippi 4 P.M. After getting coal we left for New Orleans

[1] Saxon was a relatively small, 413-ton screw steamer, built at Brewer, Maine, opposite Bangor on the Penobscot River in 1861. She was first registered at Boston, but would spend much of the Civil War under charter to the U.S. Army as a transport. She would continue in civilian for almost three decades after the war, before being abandoned in 1892. Mitchell, C. Bradford, ed. Merchant Steam Vessels of the United States, 1790–1868 (The Lytle-­Holdcamper List), (Staten Island, New York: Steamship Historical Society of America, 1975), 196.

[2] Companies D, G and I, along with regimental staff, traveled aboard Saxon, and were the only part of the regiment to make it to Galveston. Cos. A, B and F, on Qunicy, arrived at New Orleans on December 29; Cos. C and H, on Shetucket, arrived at New Orleans on January 1; and Cos. E and K arrived at New Orleans aboard Charles Osgood, also on New Years Day, 1863. Dyer’s Compendium, Pt. 3, 1263-64.

[3] This may be a reference to another steamer in the expedition, Mememon Sanford with the 156th New York Infantry aboard, that was wrecked and lost on Carysfort Reef, near present-day Key Largo, early on the morning of December 10, with no loss of life


There’s lots more to come.


“She will sustain the reputation of Baltimore-built vessels”

SchoonerAfter the blockade off Galveston was established by the arrival of U.S.S. South Carolina on July 2, 1861, one of Captain James Alden, Jr.’s first captures, on July 6, was the local pilot boat Sam Houston. The little schooner was condemned as a prize and taken into the U.S. Navy. She was armed with a single, 12-pounder smooth-bore gun, and spent most of the rest of the war running dispatches, chasing down blockade runners, and serving as a guard boat at various places around the Gulf of Mexico. After the war Sam Houston was decommissioned and sold at auction to one J. B. Walton on April 25, 1866 for $1,998.70, at New Orleans. She was sold again the following month and re-enrolled at Galveston; her last enrollment document recorded was at Galveston in the spring of 1870.

Most sources, including the ORN, do not provide many details about this little boat, but this evening I came across this description of the schooner in the Galveston Civilian and Gazette Weekly, February 7, 1860:


A Handsome Vessel. — Mr. Rutter, from his ship-yard, Canton [Maryland], expects to launch to-morrow at non, a beautiful pilot boat, built for Mssrs. Davidson, J. E. Davidson, T. Chubb, T. H. Chubb, and Z. Sabel, of Galveston, Texas, and especiall[y] designed as an opposition boat for the Galveston bar. She is seventy tons burden; 65 feet in length; 18 feet beam; and hold 6 1/2 feet. She will draw five feet forward and 8 feet aft. Her mainmast is 56 feet in length, foremast 63 feet, and bowsprit 14 1/2 feet outboard; the main boom is 35 1/2 feet in length, all showing that she will spread a large amount of canvas. She is of the most approved model, built of the best materials, and extra fastened and bolted throughout, rendering her very substantial. She has been named Sam Houston in honor of the distinguished governor of Texas. She has been coppered on the stocks, and will be ready for sailing in a few days after launching. Her appearance indicates that she will sustain the reputation of Baltimore-built vessels, by her sailing qualities. — Baltimore Sun, 18th Jan.


Her postwar registration documents give her a length between perpendiculars of 59 feet 4 inches, with a square stern and an eagle carved into her stem. Must have been a beautiful little vessel, and well-built, to still be serviceable after almost five years ‘ hard naval service. I’d say she lived up to expectation.


“Send them along!”

Eyewitness sketch showing the captured Union steamer Harriet Lane (left) and Confederate cottonclad Bayou City, at the end of the Battle of Galveston, January 1, 1863. Rosenberg Library, Galveston.


After the recapture of Galveston on New Years Day, 1863 resulted in the capture of the Union steamer Harriet Lane and the destruction of U.S.S. Westfield, more than a little triumphalism was in evidence. Houston Tri-Weekly Telegraph, January 2:

If the Federals have any more ships they would like to contribute to the Confederate navy, let them send them along. Texas has contributed all she could well spare in the way of men. She would like to add to her contributions, and a navy is the next best thing to the glorious troops she has sent to the field. Send them along, uncle Abraham!

Talkin’ Steamboats


I’ve got three book events scheduled before the end of the year, and I’d really excited about them.

On Thursday, December 13 at 7 p.m., I’ll be speaking at the Houston Maritime Museum, as part of their lecture series sponsored by the UTC Project, Inc. The museum is centrally located in Houston, just west of the Texas Medical Center, off Holcombe. The museum has a fantastic model collection, and is well worth a visit — whether you can make it on Thursday or not.

On Saturday, December 15 from Noon to 5 p.m. I’ll be participating in the G. Lee Gallery Book Bash, in downtown Galveston on Postoffice Street. My longtime friend Jan Johnson will be there with her new book, Beyond the Beaten Paths: Driving Historic Galveston, along with other authors. Please come on down, and have lunch just around the corner at the historic Star Drug Store while you’re at it.

Finally, on Thursday, December 20 at 6:30 p.m., I’ll be speaking at the Brazoria County Historical Museum in Angleton, in Brazoria County. I got to speak there a year or so ago on blockade runners, and it will be great to go back.

All the specifics:

Buffalo Bayou Steamboats
Book Lecture and Signing, Houston Maritime Museum
Thursday, December 13, 7 p.m.
2204 Dorrington Street
Houston, Texas
Buffalo Bayou Steamboats
Book Signing, G. Lee Gallery (with other great authors)
Saturday, December 15, 2012, Noon to 5 p.m.
2215 Postoffice Street
Galveston, Texas
Buffalo Bayou Steamboats
Book Lecture and Signing, Brazoria County Historical Museum
Thursday, December 20, 6:30 p.m.
100 E. Cedar Street
Angleton, Texas

Hope to see you there!


Image: George Catlin’s painting of the steamboat Yellow Stone at St. Louis, Missouri, in the early 1830s. Yellow Stone had already made a name for herself on the Missouri before being brought to Texas, where she ran on the Brazos River and Buffalo Bayou.

Mariners’ Museum Panel on U.S.S.Monitor Crew Identification

From the museum:

Tuesday, Dec. 11 at 7 PM, The Mariners’ invites you to join us for a special panel discussion entitled Giving Back Their Names: The Effort to Identify the Lost Monitor Boys
The discussion will feature USS Monitor experts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and The Mariners’ Museum, who will talk about the ongoing effort to identify two Monitor sailors whose remains were recovered 10 years ago. Panelists will also discuss the night 150 years ago that the Monitor sank, in a gale off the coast of Cape Hatteras, N.C., claiming 16 lives.
The discussion will broach facial reconstructions by Louisiana State University forensics experts, and historical and archaeological information about the Monitor‘s final moments. The experts will also discuss the upcoming dedication of a memorial for the sailors, and ongoing efforts to inter the sailors at Arlington National Cemetery.
The panelists will also reveal and discuss recently conserved personal possessions from Monitor‘s crew that were recovered by archaeologists from the revolving gun turret. These special artifacts have never before been displayed in the Monitor Center. 
Panelists at the Dec. 11 event will include David Alberg, Superintendent of NOAA’s Monitor National Marine Sanctuary, John Broadwater, former Chief Archaeologist at the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, and David Krop, Director of the USS Monitor Center. The session will be moderated by Anna Holloway, Curator of the USS Monitor Center. 
This event is free and open to the public. Members are encouraged to reserve a seat by calling (757) 591-7751.
For information on the fall 2012 lecture series, click here.

Previous coverage of this story here.