“13 Minutes”


The Spring 2013 issue of the Civil War Monitor is now online, and will soon be available on newsstands and in subscribers’ mailboxes. My colleague Ed Cotham and I have one of the issue’s feature articles, “13 Minutes,” describing the January 11, 1863 engagement between the Confederate raider Alabama and one of the Federal vessels on the Galveston blockade, U.S.S. Hatteras. It’s an action that’s often given a passing mention in accounts of the war’s naval conflict, but rarely covered in much detail. Our manuscript is an outgrowth of research done last summer, when we were part of the Hatteras project headed by NOAA. We ended up with a lot of material, some of which had not been published before. The CWM manuscript is the result. I’m really pleased with the outcome, because many accounts of the battle treat it as almost a stand-alone event that happened independently of the broader context of the war. This manuscript does a better job of providing both the context of the event, and its effect on the future course of the war in the western Gulf of Mexico, which was substantial — more substantial than I’d appreciated before we started digging into the subject in detail.

As a gesture to this blog’s readers, CWM Editor-in-Chief Terry Johnston has opened a special user account for y’all to read the Spring 2013 issue in its entirety. The username is deadconfederates and the password is cwm3321 , all in lowercase. This account will only be active for a few days, then the issue goes back behind the paywall. (Book reviews, and the Front Line and Behind the Lines blogs remain open-access.) If you like what you see, please do consider a subscription to the magazine — it’s well worth the money.

I’d also like to pass along my congratulations to Kevin Levin and Brooks Simpson, who also have feature articles in the same issue — Kevin’s on African American servants in the Confederate Army, and Brooks’ on the behind-the-scenes maneuvering by fellow Union Army officers against Grant during the Vicksburg Campaign in the winter of 1862-63. I knew Kevin had one coming, but no idea about Brooks’ piece until I opened an advance copy of the issue myself.

Ed and I originally submitted two sidebars to go along with “13 Minutes,” one on the NOAA expedition, and another on the memorial service held for the two Hatteras crewmen killed in the action. The latter didn’t appear in the magazine due to space limitations, so I’ve appended it here, below the jump:


Memorial Service

In the summer of 2012, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) marshaled a cross-disciplinary team of scientists, researchers, educators and archaeologists to document the wreck of USS Hatteras, sunk in the Gulf of Mexico during her brief engagement with the Confederate commerce raider Alabama on January 11, 1863. Participants included representatives of a dozen or more public agencies and private organizations, including the Flower Gardens National Marine Sanctuary, the U.S. Navy’s History and Heritage Command, Tesla Offshore LLC, the OceanGate Foundation and Teledyne BlueView. Funding and support for the underwater archaeology project was provided by the Edward E. and Marie L. Matthews Foundation, the OceanGate Foundation, and Teledyne BlueView.

Early in the planning stages of the project, someone suggested that there needed to be some formal recognition of the two men who died in the battle, both members of the engine room crew of Hatteras. None of the historians or others familiar with the Hatteras sinking had come across any evidence of a memorial service or remembrance being conducted at the site, either in 1863 or in the decades since, so a plan was immediately adopted to correct that long-standing omission.

The two Hatteras crewmen killed were 24-year-old John Cleary, a stoker, and 32-year-old William Healy, a coal heaver. Both were native Irishmen, from Counties Cork and Donegal, respectively. No one knows exactly how they died, although the engine space of the Union warship was heavily battered by Confederate guns during the battle, and flooded with scalding steam from the ship’s shot-through boiler. Genealogists working with NOAA were unable to find any evidence of the men’s marriage or descendants in the United States, and it’s unknown whether their families in Ireland ever learned of their fate. Though their religious affiliation is unrecorded, it is likely that both men were Roman Catholics.

To conduct the service, NOAA turned to the Rev. Father Stephen Duncan of Galveston. Father Duncan is an ordained priest in the Orthodox Catholic Church of America, but was raised Roman Catholic and attended seminary at Notre Dame. Father Duncan is of Irish extraction himself, and is a Civil War reenactor with the 69th New York State Volunteer Historical Association, recalling one of the founding regiments of the famous Irish Brigade. On September 10, the first day of diving work at the Hatteras wreck site, the first order of business was the memorial service for Cleary and Healy. On the upper deck of NOAA’s Research Vessel Manta, Father Duncan read a brief service in memory of the two Irish sailors, men who had enlisted to fight in a war not of their own making, but one that would determine the fate of the nation they had chosen for their own futures – futures that, in their cases, ended abruptly on the evening of January 11, 1863. At the conclusion of the service, a wreath was laid in the water over the wreck of USS Hatteras, where Cleary and Healy’s remains still lie. Red and white rose petals drifted on the Gulf swell.


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: “We found in the harbour three Gun boats. . . .”

U.S. Army chartered transport Saxon, 1862.


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.

In an earlier post, we traveled along with Hobbs as he and his messmates boarded the chartered transport Saxon [1] at Brooklyn, and made the rough passage down the eastern seaboard, around the Florida Reef, and into the Gulf of Mexico to Ship Island, Mississippi. After a brief stop there for coal, Saxon continues on to the mouth of the Mississippi:

December 16
7 A.M. arrived at the entrance of the Mississippi after a very stormy and disagreeable night back lay-too for some hours waiting for day light to take a pilot the entrance of the river is through low marchy land which extends for (I think) twenty miles from the entrance the river is about three quarters of a mile wide and is very hansome
Pilot Town at the mouth of the Southwest Pass of the Mississippi. Harper’s Weekly via SonoftheSouth.net.Blank
We see the remains of many of the few rafts sent down by the rebels to burn Gen Butler [‘s] fleet passed forts St Phillips & Jackson which our gun boats took on thair way too New Orleans the marks of our shot could be plainly seen on the [fort’s] walls it is now garrisoned by a Massachusetts Regt  [2] [and we] stopped their untill the medical officer came on bord he found us all well and allowed us to proceed came to anchor at dark within twenty yards of the bank and within twenty miles of the city of New Orleans the scenery on the banks of the river for the most part has been delightful beautifull groves of orange trees which hung full of the golden fruit looked to us very inviting
December 17
Started this morning and arrived at the city at day-light we was all eager to see the “Cresent City”and enjoyed a fine viewfrom the deck of our vessail thare is little to see however as thare is but little business done now we had scarcely anchored before boats came off with fruit, pies, cake & bread the city is under Marsall Law but the poor are much better off than before it was taken by the Federals Flour which than sold for forty five dollars now sells from seven too ten dollars and others then as in proportion we expected to land here but orders came for us to go up the river nine miles to a town called Carrelton [3] accordingly in the evening we ran up the river but not knowing when to stop we went two miles further than we intended and stopped for the night beside a river Steamboat made to carry cotton with a saloon for passengers in the second story She is now laid up to dry and is used as a hospital
New Orleans, 1862Blank
December 18
Left and steamed down the river two miles and landed at Carrelton at 12 N. marched half a mile and piched our tents on a low wet pieces of land bounded on two sides by grave–yards one a rebel and the other the last resting place of Union Soldiers who had been camped in that vicinity thare was near four hundred from Maine, Mass, Vermt, New York, New Hampshire and some other states thare were two hospitals in the town, full of sick soldiers and it was a sad sight to see some each day carried to the grave without a friend to shed a tear over thair remains doubtless many tears will be shed when the sad tidings are wafted across the ocean to the home they left so lately I have wandered through grave yards before but never see so sad a place as this the graves are onely dug two or three feet deep and immediately fill with water the poor people praise Gen Butler and well they may some of the Ladies say all manner of bitter things about us “Yankees” and scoff at the idea of the Union ever being restored
 December 19
Friday gave all our clothes to the Washer women not expecting to leave here soon a few hours afterward the order came to strike our tents and go again on bord the transport we did not know where to find our clothes butafter hunting all over the town we returned to camp in dispare the order was countermandand we again piched our tents afterward some of our boys found thair clothes and before we left they were all recovered
December 21
 Broke camp at day light and marched to the bank and embarked on bord the good ship Saxon who was hawled along side the bank stopped a few hours at New Orleans and than proceeded down the river on our way to Taxes the day was verry fine and we had a fine view of the twenty miles passed in the night time on our way up a anchored at night in the river and proceeded toward and morning on our voyage after three days sail with a fair wind and a smooth sea
We arrived off Galveston [December 24] and was brought too by a shot across our bow from a United States Gun boat who spoke us and than signaled for a pilot At 2 P.M. The pilot came on bord but we were obliged to wait two or three hours for the tide to rise toward night we stood in across the bar and struck several times but got across in safety we found in the harbour three Gun boats the largest of which was the Harriet Lane who carried six guns also two Ferry boats [Westfield and Clifton] fitted up with some heavy guns and calculated for the harbour service as she drew only six or seven feet of water
The town is built on an Island connected to the main land by a bridg about two miles long the town form only contained about fifteen thousand inhabitants but nine out of evry ten have gone away since it has been occupied by by [Illegible: hily] by our gun boats

[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] Probably the 31st Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.
[3] Carrolton was a town upriver from New Orleans from 1833 to 1874, when it was annexed to become part of New Orleans. During the Civil War, Carrolton was somewhat infamous for its various forms of vice, particularly liquor, that caused ongoing discipline problems for the Union military governor, Benjamin Butler. The general’s civilian brother, Andrew, was widely believed to be engaging in all manner of shady business dealings, operating mostly out of Carrolton.
Saxon illustration by Andy HallGeneralStarsGray

Third Assistant Engineer William Francis Law, U. S. Navy

Will Law SmallThe other day, when I was poking around the web for images to go with my post on the H. L. Hunley spar, I came across this image (right) of a U.S. Navy engineer officer. My immediate reaction was, that’s a kid dressed up in somebody’s uniform. But it’s not; the notation on the back of the CDV reads, “Uncle Will Law as a Naval Officer Civil War.” Uncle Will was Third Assistant Engineer William Francis Law, appointed in November 1861. Law died on September 24, 1863 of unstated causes.

I’ve been able to find very little about Law in readily-available sources. The second image in the auction lot is a photograph of U.S.S. New Ironsides, that served off Charleston; written on the back of that card, in the same hand, is the note “Uncle Will Law’s ship Civil War.” According to Porter’s Naval History of the Civil War, Law was serving aboard U.S.S. Pinola at the capture of New Orleans in April 1862, and was still part of her complement the following January 1, as part of Farragut’s West Gulf Blockading Squadron. It seems he turns up exactly once in the ORN, a one-sentence mention in a routine report from Commander James Alden to Farragut on September 14, 1862: “Mr. Law succeeded in repairing the Pinola by making a new stem to her Kingston valve.”

About Law’s civilian life, I’ve been able to find even less. He is almost certainly the William F. Law, age 17, who was the eldest child of Benedict and Anna C. Law of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, just west of Harrisburg, at the time of the 1860 U.S. Census. He graduated from the Carlisle Boy’s High School in 1858 and, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer of June 28, 1861,  graduated from the Polytechnic College of Pennsylvania with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, specializing in road building.  Polytechnic was one of only a handful of universities in the United States at that time that offered engineering degrees, and Law’s academic background may have set him a little apart from his fellow engineers. Seagoing engineers in that day, both in the Navy and in the merchant service, were more commonly men with practical experience on shore in machine shops, foundries or similar trades.

I haven’t been able to confirm Law’s service aboard U.S.S. New Ironsides, as indicated on the back of the auction house photo; his name does not appear on these lists of ship’s officers transcribed from the National Archives. If he did serve aboard that ship in the summer of 1863, he saw a tremendous amount of action off Charleston.

One final note — in his undated portrait, taken at the Bogardus studio on Broadway in New York, Third Assistant Law looks to be wearing a gold-braided hat borrowed from a much more senior engineering officer. Gotta look good for the folks back in Carlisle, I suppose.


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:



The Short, Eventful Life of the U.S. Transport Che-Kiang



In my recent post on Private Hobbs’ passage from Brooklyn to Ship Island, Mississippi aboard the steamer Saxon, I included an image of another transport on that same expedition, Che-Kiang, which is reported to have collided (above) with a Confederate schooner off the Florida Reef, resulting in the latter vessel’s immediate demise. Che-Kiang was carrying at that time six companies of the 28th Connecticut Infantry, and parts of the 23rd and 25th Connecticut Infantry as well. All reached Ship Island safely, although some were perhaps a little green around the gills from the very rough weather encountered during their passage.

While poking around the interwebs for more information on this ship, though, I came across this article from the June 20, 1863 Straits Times, published in Singapore. Che-Kiang‘s rough passage to the Gulf of Mexico was just the start of her adventures.


The American paddle-wheel steamer Che Kiang (so called from the name of a province in China), which arrived here last Monday night, was launched at Greenpoint, opposite New York, on the 3rd of July 1862. Her builder is Henry Steers, a nephew and not unworthy successor to George Steers, whose reputation as a skillful ship-builder has been so well established by the Yacht America and the U.S. Steam Frigate Niagara.
The dimensions of the Che Kiang are as follows; length 260 feet, beam 38 feet, tonnage 1264. Draught of water, when light, 5 feet forward, 5 feet 4 in. aft. Paddle wheels, 31 feet in diameter.
Her engines are 70 inch [diameter] cylinder 11 feet stroke of 700 horse power with return boilers; although nominally of 700 horse power yet capable of working up to a thousand. The engine and boiler were constructed at the Morgan Iron Works, New York, and cost $103,000; the cost of the hull and joiners-work was $60,000.
The average speed of the steamer in smooth water, is 18 knots. She made 23 knots on the Mississippi River.
For both a passenger and freight boat the Che Kiang is admirably adapted. As a passenger boat she combines all the requisites for a temperate or warm climate. Her after-saloon, airy and commodious, situated on the upper deck, is divided into 16 large state-rooms, each affording greater accommodation than is usually found on board steamers, and two of them, the Ladies’ saloons, are 18 feet deep and 12 feet wide each, furnished with two berths, bath-rooms and water-closets. Two passages — one containing the store-room pantry & c., and the other running past additional staterooms — conduct into a large, well-lighted, well-ventilated and comfortable dining rooms capable of seating some 30 guests. The saloons, in cold weather, are warmed by means of steam. As a freight boat, her great breadth of beam and 13 feet depth of hold offer superior advantages; and an immense amount of cargo can be carried between decks and on the wide guards perfectly protected from the weather.
The sea-going qualities of the Che-Kiang have been well tested in the voyages she has made since being launched.
In the month of November she was chartered by the U.S. Government to carry 1,600 soldiers, forming part of the expedition under Major General Banks, to New Orleans; and during her voyage to that city, although meeting with very rough weather, she gave universal satisfaction, which was in no manner diminished when the vessel began to develop her true capabilities on the swift current of the Mississippi, where, being employed as a transport, she conveyed soldiers, army stores, munitions of war & c., between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, which latter place General Banks was then making his base of operations prior to the attack on Port Hudson; and also, for similar purposes, plied between New Orleans, Fort Pickens and Pensacola — occasionally making a short trip to the Passes of the Mississippi and towing off vessels aground on the mud of that shifting bar.
In February, she was released by the Government and returned to New York, whence on the afternoon of the 30th of March she started for her original destination — Shanghai; to ply between that place and Hong Kong on the Yang Tse River.
Very heavy seas were encountered after leaving New York, but the Che Kiang rode them all with ease and safety; and having put in for coal at St. Vincent’s, Cape-de-Verds; Simon’s Bay, Cape of Good Hope and Port Louis, Mauritius; at last dropped anchor off Singapore at 10 o’clock on the evening of June 10th 1863. [1]


In his History of American Steam Navigation (1903) author John Harrison Morrison explains that Che-Kiang was one of several big steamers built in and around New York, to run in Chinese waters. Most were patterned after boats running on Long Island Sound, with the addition of a sailing rig. Although Che-Kiang herself apparently did not, Morrison notes that several of these ships that were built during the war, following the same route as Che-Kiang to the Far East, stopped first at Halifax, Nova Scotia, where they took out British registry in case they were intercepted on the high seas by a Confederate raider. [2] It was not an imaginary threat; the most famous Confederate raider, Raphael Semmes’ Alabama, did in fact follow a similar route and ventured as far east as Singapore in late 1863.


Track chart showing the known travels of the American steamship Che-Kiang, 1862-64. Original map via National Geographic.


Che-Kiang even played a sad, tiny footnote role in the aftermath of the Battle of Galveston. In late February 1863, U.S. Admiral David Farragut reported to the Navy Department the desertion of Acting Master Leonard D. Smalley, at that time assigned to the gunboat Estrella. Smalley had been one of the officers aboard U.S.S. Westfield when that ship was blown up by her captain, William Renshaw, at the end of the battle on New Years Day 1863. Renshaw and several of his sailors men had been killed in the blast, which Smalley almost certainly witnessed from a short distance. Immediately after, Smalley was called on to serve as pilot to guide the transport Saxon, followed by the rest of the Union squadron, safely out of Galveston harbor. Smalley, it seems, may have been suffering the post-traumatic effects of this incident, for Farragut writes that


Mr. Smalley was surveyed at different times since the loss of the Westfield by three different medical boards, and the enclosed report is almost a duplicate of either of the other two. At his own request, I ordered him outside on the blockade, but he neglected to obey my orders, saying he was too unwell to do so, and I have now received information that he left for New York per Government transport Che-Kiang, which sailed about the 23d instant.
I regret to state that I have reason to believe that other officers from the Westfield have pursued a course similar to Mr. Smalley. [3]


Acting Master Smalley was dismissed from the service soon thereafter.

In her first few months of service, Che-Kiang had seen and done some remarkable things, but her eventful life would not be a long one. She caught fire and burned at Hankou (now Wuhan), about 670 statute miles up the Yangtze River from Shanghai, on August 7, 1864. There were no reported fatalities in the disaster. [4]


[1] “The Steamer Che Kiang,” The Straits Times, June 20, 1863, 1.

[2] John Harrison Morrison, History of American Steam Navigation (New York: W. F. Sametz & Co, 1903), 511.

[3] D. G. Farragut to Gideon Welles, February 26, 1863. Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion, Series I, Vol. 19, 634.

[4]  C. Bradford Mitchell, ed. Merchant Steam Vessels of the United States, 1790–1868 (The Lytle-­Holdcamper List), (Staten Island, New York: Steamship Historical Society of America, 1975), 249.

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.


Wreck of the Steamship Celt, Charleston, 1865



Not Texas, but this Library of Congress image is one of the most famous of Civil War blockade runners. Unfortunately it’s almost never identified — only the location is given, on the shore of Sullivan’s Island, near Charleston. I believe this is the wreck of the sidewheel steamer Celt, ashore just off Fort Moultrie. Although the specific location of this image is not recorded in the LoC catalog information, during the war period there was only one point on Sullivan’s Island with a stone jetty or breakwater extending into the water like the one shown in the foreground of the image. That was Bowman’s Jetty, which entered the water directly in front of Moultrie. Jetties like that are commonly used on barrier islands like Sullivan’s to reduce erosion from currents running parallel to the shore.

This sketch map from the NOAA archives, prepared at the end of the war in 1865 — roughly the same time the photograph was made — shows the wreck site of Celt close up on the beach, with the wrecks of two screw steamers, Minho (lost October 2, 1862) and Isaac Smith (a.k.a. Stono, destroyed June 5, 1863), further out along the jetty. As Isaac Smith/Stono was burned, it seems likely that the wrecked ship in the background is Minho.




Celt was built at Charleston during the war, which helps explain the relatively simple machinery construction apparent in the image. Launched in 1863, the 160-foot steamship she was used by the C.S. Quartermaster in and around the harbor until February 1865, when she was loaded with cotton and attempted to run out through the blockade. Celt was wrecked near Moultrie on February 14, 1865. Although the steamer was grounded in shallow water, yards from the beach, six or seven of her crew took to a boat and rowed out to a Federal warship instead. Her cargo, or most of it, also ended up in the Federals’ hands (ORN):


Report of Lieutenant-Commander Barrett, U. S. Navy, commanding U. S. S. Catskill.
Charleston Harbor, S. C., February 20, 1865.
ADMIRAL: I have the honor to report that on the morning of the 18th instant I ordered an officer to board and hoist our colors on the blockade runner Celt, which had run ashore near the breakwater off Sullivan’s Island two or three days before the evacuation of this place. The runner has a valuable cargo of cotton, but the vessel is in too bad condition to be serviceable, [and] I am of the opinion that she can not be floated off without danger of sinking, and advise that the cotton may be removed.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Rear-Admiral J. A. DAHLGREN,
Commanding. South Atlantic Blockading Squadron.

 The Federals recovered at least 190 bales of cotton from the wreck, but reported in early March that Celt‘s hull “lies stranded on the beach at Sullivan’s Island, back broken, and full of water, and decks ripped up. The machinery is in an irreparable condition; some few pieces might be removed and be of service. Boilers are mostly below water, but judging from the condition of those parts visible, we are of the opinion they are not worth the expense of removing.” This is a good description of her state in the photograph, as well.




There’s some interesting detail in the photograph that hint at the vessel’s origins as a local craft built under the exigencies of wartime. Celt has two engines (left, above) that, while partially submerged, appear to be arranged as in a Western Rivers boat, and the valving shown looks to be almost identical. Such engines were reliable and simple but not overly efficient. They also operated under very high pressure compared to most seagoing ships, and so may have required a more robust set of boilers. Similarly, the paddlewheels are of very simple construction, with wooden arms and fixed floats (paddle blades). As with the engines, this is a very basic design, easy to build and maintain, but not efficient and somewhat coarse by shipbuilding standards of the time.


Modern aerial view of Fort Moultrie (via Google Earth), with the remains of Bowman’s Jetty still visible at upper right. The beach has extended further out from its position in 1865, placing (it is believed) the wreck of Celt under the sand.


The wreck site of Celt, as well as Isaac Smith/Stono and Minho, was the subjects of an extensive archaeological survey in 2012 by a team from the University of South Carolina. Although what remains of Celt is now believed to be under sand, some distance back from the shore, the wreck was not located at that time.

The original images was part of a stereo pair. Here is is in red/cyan, and as an animated GIF:




“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!