This should be interesting:


KiddPurging the Seas: Government Reaction to Piracy, 1600-2015

Governments have had a conflicting and complicated relationship with piracy through the centuries.  When pirates attacked a rival nation’s merchant or naval fleets, governments turned a blind eye.  Diminution of an enemy state’s commerce or navy could only be a positive affair – increased trade opportunities, markets for stolen goods, and a militarily weakened adversary. Yet, when pirates gazed away from enemy states and directed their attentions to the commerce or navy of their own nation, governments cast pirates as “enemies of all mankind” and engaged in naval and legal anti-piracy campaigns.  Join Dr. Kim Todt and Dr. Elizabeth Nyman, from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, as they explore government responses to piracy from the Golden Age through today’s arresting headlines.

Tuesday, March 10 at 7 p.m. Houston Maritime Museum, 2204 Dorrington, Houston, Texas 77030 (near the Texas Medical Center)

Kim Todt is an assistant professor in the Department of History at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette whose work focuses on the history of Early America.  She is currently working on a book on the trading networks of Early America.

Elizabeth Nyman is the Anthony Moroux/BoRSF Endowed Professor of Political Science I at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. She is currently working on a book on international maritime conflict.


It’s always been interesting to me, the idea that modern pirates (e.g., off the Horn of Africa) are considered among the worst sort of criminals, but their counterparts from 300 years ago were suitable subjects for Disney. I’m as afflicted by that particular cognitive dissonance as anyone, I’m afraid.

Texas Navy Exhibit Opens with a Bang — Several, in Fact


On Saturday I had the privilege of speaking at the opening of the revamped Texas Navy exhibit at the Texas Seaport Museum in Galveston. We had decent (though cloudy) weather for the event, with a good turnout of folks. The highlight of the event, naturally, was a salute fired by the Texas Navy reenactors (yes, there are such!) from Brazoria County, who brought up three small field pieces. The smallest of these, oddly, was by far the loudest. (The guns, I mean, not the reenactors.) The gun crews are mostly composed of Scouts, so it’s good to see young people get involved in history in a hands-on way. I understand the carriage of the largest piece, with red wheels, was built by the kids themselves. Good job, y’all!




And finally, exhibit Guest Curator Jim Bevill (pointing), author of The Paper Republic, guides visitors through the display. The gun in the foreground is an 18-pounder pivot gun believed to have used aboard the Texas Schooner Brutus in 1836-37:


Grant Comes to Galveston



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.


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


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


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.

2013 Menard Summer Lecture Series


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


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.


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.


Pearl Harbor Talk at Houston Maritime Museum, Thursday

From the release:

As President Roosevelt stated, December 7, 1941, is “a date which will live in infamy” for us all. This is especially true for Thomas Gillette whose father, Capt. Claude Gillette (USNA-1909), served as the Manager of the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard from 1939-1942.

Living with his family in “Quarters E” inside the shipyard, Thomas’s childhood was unique to say the least. Don’t miss this rare opportunity to hear Thomas recant his first hand experiences which include fond memories of watching Saturday night movies aboard the USS Arizona and hosting listening parties for the Army-Navy game at his home with senior naval officers. He will also share his somber memories of witnessing the Japanese planes that flew 30 feet above his home, the tragic events that followed and how life was turned upside for his family and friends as they changed their lifestyles in an attempt to ward off future attacks.

In addition, Thomas’s uncle was on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee which has given him unique insight into why the attack happened and why it was a surprise!

Join the Houston Maritime Museum as Thomas shares this infamous piece of history from a different perspective. Admission is free and includes access to the museum’s exhibits.

Thursday, March 14th at 7pm
2204 Dorrington, Houston

 Bonus: A 1945 interview with Rear Admiral Gillette, on the attack on Pearl Harbor and its consequences.

Talkin’ Buffalo Bayou Steamboats


I’ve recently scheduled a couple of more public talks for the spring. These have proved to be a lot of fun, and (I hope) informative, too. Maybe I’ll see you there!

Buffalo Bayou Steamboats
Book Talk and Signing
Jean Laffite Society
April 9, 2013 (Time TBA)
Meridian Towers Retirement Center
23rd Street and Seawall Boulevard
Galveston, Texas
Cotton by Rail to the Sea
Book Talk and Signing, Burton Cotton Gin Museum
24th Annual Cotton Gin Festival
April 20, 2013 (Time TBA)
307 North Main
Burton, Texas
Buffalo Bayou Steamboats
Book Talk and Signing
Galveston Historical Foundation Menard Summer Lecture Series
Sunday, June 23, 2013 at 2 p.m. Tickets required.
Menard Hall, 33rd and Avenue
Galveston, Texas 77550
Image: Volunteers from the Southwest Underwater Archaeological Society examine the remains of the former Buffalo Bayou steamboat A. S. Ruthven, near Parker’s Bluff on the Trinity River, 1997.

The Fate of the Confederate Submersible H. L. Hunley


Big news came out Monday in the investigation of the remains of the Confederate submersible Hunley, arguably the most important scientific finding of the project to date. Archaeologists revealed that the cleaned an conserved remains of the iron spar that carried the boat’s 135 lb. (61kg) torpedo still had attached remnants of the explosive device’s copper casing, peeled back by the force of the explosion (above). This is a tremendously important finding, because it shows that the little “fish boat” was close, very close, the blast that sank her opponent, U.S.S. Housatonic. How close?

Twenty feet, maybe.

Here’s why. Hunley was originally intended to tow a floating mine (then called a “torpedo”) behind her, and run under the target ship. If all went according to plan, the mine would be pulled into the side of the enemy vessel and detonate — on the opposite side from where Hunley was.

Unfortunately, this worked better in theory than in practice. In testing, they found that the towing line was prone to getting fouled in the boat’s propeller and rudder mechanism. Hunley’s ability to dive and run completely submerged — in order to pass underneath the target vessel — was problematic, as well, as shown by two prior, fatal sinking of the boat. (Not for nothing was it known as the “peripatetic coffin.”) Clearly, they had to find a method to deliver the mine to its target that gave them precise control, which in turn meant planting the mine against the target ahead of the boat, not towing it along behind.


Hunley Project Chief Archaeologist Maria Jacobsen. Charleston Post & Courier.


For years, it’s been generally accepted that Hunley‘s mine was detachable and fitted with a spike or barb, that would be rammed into the target’s hull. Once that was fixed in place, the submersible would back off for a safe distance, and detonate the mine using a lanyard, in the same way that period artillery pieces were fired. Up to today, this was the accepted scenario of how the attack was supposed to have been carried out. The physical evidence revealed in Charleston on Monday, however, suggests that experience gained in another attack on a blockading warship caused a critical change in those plans:


After the towline got fouled in the Hunley’s rudder and propeller during a test run in Charleston Harbor, engineers decided to refit the sub with a spar similar to the ones used by ironclads, picket boats and Davids, which were low-profile stealth boats.
The engineering quickly evolved through trial and error. In October 1863, a David attacked the USS New Ironsides outside Charleston Harbor, ramming a torpedo into its flank. The blast didn’t sink the ship, but did serious damage.
The explosion also threw a plume of water into the air, some of which extinguished the fire powering the David’s steam engine. Jacobsen said that attack prompted Confederate engineers to refine their method of attack. If the main thrust of the blast was up, the mines would have limited success hitting the side of a ship. They would do more damage if they were planted under the ships.
The Hunley was equipped with an adjustable spar that could be raised or lowered. The torpedo was fixed on the spar at an angle, so that when the spar was lowered for an attack, the torpedo was sitting dead horizontal.
Jacobsen knows this because of a detailed drawing of the “torpedo used to sink the Housatonic” that survives in the papers of Confederate officials in Charleston during the war. But until Hunley scientists found the remains of that exact torpedo, they couldn’t be sure those drawings were accurate.
The torpedo, like the Hunley, had been upgraded through trial and error. Because triggers and detonators on these torpedoes were woefully unreliable, the Hunley’s torpedo had three triggers, any one of which would blow the charge.
And, because the David’s 65-pound torpedo did not sink the Ironsides, the Hunley’s torpedo was packed with more than double the gunpowder — 135 pounds.


As a result, the scientists now believe, George Dixon and his crew set out on the evening of February 17, 1864, with the intention of placing the mine not in the enemy ship’s side, but under the hull, anticipating that most of the blast would be directed upward, ripping apart that part of the vessel. This interpretation in supported by witnesses aboard Housatonic, who first sighted Hunley a couple of hundred yards off their port bow, then watched as the submersible passed across their bow, then came around to strike their ship well aft on the starboard side, where the contour of the hull sweeps in and up toward the stern.

That sort of attack, if were planned that way as the researchers now believe, almost certainly doomed Hunley and her crew. Nonetheless, neither the project’s chief archaeologist, Maria Jacobsen, nor South Carolina Lieutenant Governor Glenn McConnell, who’s led the fund-raising for the project since its inception, believe Dixon and his crew expected theirs to be a suicide mission. “They were pressed for time, they were pressed for resources, but nothing indicates this was a suicide mission,” Jacobsen said. “They just had to get the job done.”


Detail of a painting, “Charleston Bay and City,” by Conrad Wise Chapman, showing a Confederate ironclad with a spar torpedo (show in raised position) very similar to that used aboard Hunley. Museum of the Confederacy.


Lots of questions about what happened that night remain, including ones underscored by Monday’s announcement about the spar torpedo. Though the crew probably had little idea of how the concussion from the detonation of the mine would have carried underwater, the force must have been tremendous. While the hull of the boat itself remains covered for now with cement-like concretions of sand and shell, when these are removed beginning next year, Jacobsen and her team will be looking closely for effects of the blast, in the form of popped rivets and opened seams between the iron plates. It would not take many of these to sink a boat like Hunley, that had precious little buoyancy to begin with, even under ideal conditions. If her crew were incapacitated as well,  Hunley could easily have drifted, slowly filling with water, until she settled on the bottom some distance away.

We likely never will know all the details of what happened that night in February 1864, but the work of Jacobsen and her team at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center, where Hunley is being studied and preserved, are getting us closer and giving us a better understanding of those events.

In the meantime, I’ve updated the spar on my old digital model of H. L. Hunley. There’s a spool on the starboard side of the boat, next to the forward hatch. Until it was assumed that this was for unspooling the lanyard used to detonate the mine; now I think it may have led through a block on the upper boom, to raise and lower the spar. That’s how I’ve depicted it here:



Finally, a few good Hunley links for those interested in learning more:

Michael Crisafulli’s Hunley reconstruction:
Michael likely knows more about the construction and operation of the Hunley than anyone not directly affiliated with the project. Great stuff for the technically-minded. (Michael also can give you a guided tour of Jules Verne’s Nautilus, as well.)
NPS Housatonic Site Assessment
NPS Hunley Site Assessment:



Alabama/Hatteras Program Online


Friday night’s program on Hatteras and Alabama is available here for viewing; Dr. Delaney speaks first, followed by Dr. Delgado. More programs from the weekend will be online soon. The program was made possible by the generosity of the American National Insurance Company of Galveston, which provided an outstanding venue for the talk, and Humanities Texas, which provided underwriting for the event that allowed it to be open to the public at no charge.

A gathering of Civil War naval buffs is, I think, the only place you’ll hear someone say, “I’ve been an Alabama fan for a long time,” and they’re not talking about college football.


Image: “The Fatal Chase” by Tom Freeman. Copyright © Tom Freeman 2012, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

Battle of Galveston Sesquicentennial, January 11-13, 2013


Galveston Historical Foundation will mark the 150th anniversary of the Civil War Battle of Galveston on January 11-13, 2013. The Battle of Galveston, which took place during the early morning hours of January 1, 1863, is widely acknowledged as the most important military event in Galveston’s history. Commemorative events will be held for all ages focusing on Galveston’s part in the 1863 battle.

“The Battle of Galveston offers a first-hand view of an important historic event for Galveston. This year’s events bookend the reenactments and help to educate visitors on the strategy employed by each side.” says Dwayne Jones, Executive Director of GHF. “Also, thanks to the generous support of American National Insurance Company and Humanities Texas, all lectures will be offered free of charge.”

Played out on both land and sea over the course of several months, the Battle of Galveston ended with Confederate forces driving out the Union ships that had held Galveston Harbor since October, 1862. As part of the Union blockade of the Texas coast, Commander William B. Renshaw and his squadron of eight Union ships demanded surrender by Confederate Forces of Galveston Harbor, the most important Texas port, on October 4, 1862.

But Confederate Major General John Bankhead Magruder led a successful campaign to retake Galveston early on New Year’s morning, January 1, 1863. Confederate “cottonclads” struck from the rear of the Union squadron. A naval battle ensued with Magruder’s forces retaking Galveston. Confederate losses numbered 26 killed and 117 wounded. Union losses included the captured infantry and the Harriet Lane, about 150 casualties on the naval ships, and destruction of the Westfield. The port remained under Confederate control for the rest of the war.

For more information about Battle of Galveston or for lecture and tour reservations, go to or call Galveston Historical Foundation at 409-765-3409.

A general overview of events follows:






  • Living history encampments will be established by the 19th-Century Living History Association, Inc. and the 1st Texas Brigade. The public is to visit the encampments from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, January 12 and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, January 13. The Union encampment will be located on Postoffice Street at 19th Street. The Confederate encampment will be located on Market Street and 25th Street.
  • A reenactment of the execution of Nicaragua Smith will be held on Saturday at 1 p.m. and Sunday at 12 p.m. at 21st and Strand. Smith, who was found guilty of desertion from his confederate unit, was executed after being spotted by confederate troops after on his return to Galveston.
  • The union troops will also march from the 1877 Tall Ship ELISSA, located at the Texas Seaport Museum,  to the 1861 U.S. Custom House for a flag ceremony at 10 a.m. both days.
  • The reenactment of the battle itself will occur on 21st and Strand Street at 2 p.m. on Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday and a reenactment of the funeral of Lt. Commander Edward Lea and Commander Jonathon Wainwright from the USS Harriet Lane will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at Trinity Episcopal Cemetery on 40th and Broadway.


All living history events are free to the public.




Lectures are offered free of charge except for the Saturday evening dinner lecture. Reservations are required though as seating is limited. Complete details, locations and time are available at or by calling 409-765-3409.


  • 150th Anniversary of the Sinking of the USS Hatteras by CSS Alabama
    Friday, January 11 – 6 pm
    Guest Speakers: Dr. Norman Delaney, Civil War historian and author, Dr. James Delgado, Director Maritime Heritage, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Introduction by Andrew Hall, Marine Archeological Steward with the Texas Historical Commission.
  • The Monstrous Regiment of Women- Female Soldiers in the Civil War
    Saturday, January 12 – 10:30 am
    Guest Speaker: Dr. William Davis, Professor of History/Virginia Tech and Director of Programs/ Virginia Center for Civil War Studies. Introduction by Edward Cotham, prize-winning author of many books and articles on Civil War history, emphasizing the battles and skirmishes in Texas
  • Warrior Women, Lady Spies in the Civil War
    Sunday, January 13 – 10:30 am
    Guest Speaker: Rosalind Miles, co author, Warrior Women 3000 years of Courage and Heroism. Introduction by Pat Smothers, Smothers Foundation.
  • The British Opinion of the American Civil War
    Sunday, January 13 – 2:30 pm
    Guest Speaker: Robin Cross, co author, Warrior Women 3000 years of Courage and Heroism. Introduction by Pat Smothers, Smothers Foundation.
  • The Culinary History of The Blue and The Gray: Dinner Lecture
    Saturday, January 12 – 7 pm – $50 per person or $750 for table of 10
    Dinner Lecture featuring Dr. William Davis. Introduction by Dwayne Jones, Executive Director, Galveston Historical Foundation.




  • Texas Seaport Museum Pier 21 and Harborside
    January 12-13 – 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission $8 per adult, $5 per student (6-18). Children 5 and under admitted free.
    Experience the story of the USS Hatteras, the only United States warship sunk in combat in the Gulf of Mexico during the Civil War, as Galveston Historical Foundation hosts a variety of engaging displays and hands-on activities, courtesy of the NOAA Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, Texas Historical Commission, ExploreOcean and Texas A&M University – Galveston and other partners.
  • 150 Years of Quilts Inspired by the Civil War
    January 11 – April 5, 2013 – Free To The Public
    In honor of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Galveston, Galveston Historical Foundation is proudly displaying quilts made primarily from Civil War reproduction fabrics, patterns, or otherwise influenced by the Civil War.
  • Galveston: Treasure Island of the Gulf
    Monday through Saturday from 9 am to 6 pm.  Rosenberg Library – Free To The Public
    Objects on view include cannon balls and shell fragments, weapons, and personal effects of soldiers engaged in the conflict.Of special note is an enlarged illustration created by James E. Bourke, an observer of the Battle of Galveston who captured the event as it unfolded before him. Information on each vessel involved in the event is included.




Reservations recommended. Tickets sold day of event subject to availability.

  • Battle of Galveston Bird’s Eye Tours from 20th Floor of ANICO Tower.
    Saturday, January 12: 9 a.m. & 12:00 p.m. and Sunday, January 13 at 10:30 a.m. $25 per person/ GHF members $20.
  • Civil War Cemetery Tours
    Saturday, January 12 at 10 a.m. & 11:15 a.m. $15 per person/ GHF members $12.
  • Driving Tour- Discovering Galveston’s Antebellum Architecture (begins at 1838 Michel Menard House)
    Saturday, January 12 at 1 p.m. & 3 p.m. and Sunday, January 13 at1 p.m. & 3 p.m. $20 per person.
  • Battle of Galveston Walking Tours (begins at Peanut Butter Warehouse)
    Saturday, January 12 at 3 p.m. & 3:30 p.m. and Sunday, January 11 at 2 p.m. & 2:30 p.m. $15 per person / GHF members $12.
  • Battle of Galveston Historic Harbor Tours – Texas Seaport Museum
    Friday, January 11 at 2:30 p.m. & 4 p.m.; Saturday, January 12 at 11:30 a.m., 1 p.m., 2:30 p.m. & 4 p.m. and Sunday, January 13 at 11:30 a.m., 1 p.m., 2:30 p.m. & 4 p.m. Adults: $12/ Students ages 4- 17: $10/ Under 3 free.
  • Tours of the Historic 1861 Custom House, with author Edward Cotham
    Saturday, January 12: 5 p.m. and Sunday, January 13 at 4 p.m. $10 per person/ GHF Members $8.
  • Tours of the 1838 Michel Menard House, Galveston’s Oldest Existing Residence (Used as a hospital during the Civil War)
    Saturday, January 12 from 12 p.m. – 4 p.m. and Sunday, January 13 from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. $10 per person/ GHF members $8
  • Tours of the 1859 Ashton Villa, the only remaining Antebellum mansion on Broadway
    Saturday, January 12 at 10 a.m. and Sunday, January 13 at 11 a.m. $10 per person/ GHF members $8.



Passing of Dr. Charlie Peery

This morning I learned of the passing of Dr. Charles Peery of South Carolina, on October 6. He was 71. Perry needs no introduction to those interested in Civil War naval history or archaeology, as he was heavily involved in (and a contributor to) both those areas. It was an inquiry from Peery in 1995 that was the catalyst in locating, identifying and excavating the wreck of the blockade runner Denbigh, a project that continues to be a focus of research today. Peery was a surgeon, specializing in obstetrical and gynecological surgery, but Civil War history and shipwrecks were always the things he was most passionate about:

Peery graduated from Davidson College and earned an M.D. from Duke University. “Yet even while he was in medical school, he would find time to break away on weekends and come down to the coast,” Bright said.

Active in North Carolina diving groups, Peery was one of the young divers who aided in the excavation of the blockade runner Modern Greece in the early 1960s. He later joined work on other wrecks, including the Ranger and the Condor.

Later, with friends, Peery formed a maritime archaeology firm, MARS, to explore and excavate the wreck of the Ella, a blockade runner that was sunk off Bald Head Island in December 1864.

“It was more than just a hobby for him,” said Gordon P. Watts Jr., a marine archaeologist with Tidewater Atlantic Research of Washington, N.C. “He loved history.”

Peery’s work helped lay the foundations for underwater archaeology research in North Carolina, Watts said.

I only met Peery once, when he made a quick visit to Galveston, the one that touched off the research on Denbigh and finding her wreck. When we parted that evening after dinner, Dr. Peery handed me his business card, with his office telephone number on it. “Now if you call that number,” he said, “they won’t let you speak to me directly. But if you tell them it’s about the Civil War, they’ll come get me out of surgery for that.”

Goodbye, Dr. Peery, and thanks for all you’ve done for the rest of us.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorial contributions be made to:

Wounded Warrior Project
P.O. Box 758517
Topeka, KS 66675

or to:

Friends of the Hunley
P.O. Box 21600
Charleston, SC 29413