Torpedo Injury Near Entrance to Galveston Bay– Ed Cotham

I have been looking for references to torpedoes (i.e., mines) in Civil War Texas waters and have come across this interesting one in Hayes, The Island and City of Galveston (p. 610) referring to an event in early 1864:

Torpedoes were placed in the bay, near Fort Point, and while the planting was in active operation, a frightful explosion occured. J. T. Bannon, a conscript from Falls County, was engaged in carrying torpedoes to the bay shore, as he was in the act of depositing one, it, from some cause, exploded, mangling him in a terrible manner, and setting his clothes on fire. He crawled into the water, extinguished the fire, and when help reached him it was found that one of his legs was crushed below the knee, while the other was badly burned; he was also severely burned on the body, in the face, the right leg and right arm, and wounded in the right hand. His leg was amputated by Dr. Campbell, as soon as he rallied from the shock.

– Ed Cotham

Houston Maritime Museum

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One of the least known museums is the Houston Maritime Museum. This is a small museum started several years ago by a former merchant mariner and shipbuilder that focuses on the maritime history of the Port of Houston and the Texas Gulf Coast. The museum has several unique collections, including a large collection of navigation instruments and shipmodel collection. The museum has started the process of looking for a larger more suitable site to expand its collections and services. It is worth a visit if you are in Houston. I have put the website location below.

http://www.houstonmaritimemuseum.org

– Dan Warren

Submarines

I have gotten interested in submarines in Texas during the Civil War and would appreciate hearing about any historical references you come across involving them. There are a couple of references in the Official Records to these vessels and we know that one was salvaged by Union troops at the end of the war near Galveston. We also know that some Texans from the Port Lavaca area were involved in designing and building the CSS Hunley. There were apparently some other submarine-type projects in Texas, as per this news account:

SEMI-WEEKLY NEWS [San Antonio, TX], May 4, 1863, p. 1, c. 3
A Submarine Boat.—A draft has been presented to us by Messrs. Wilson & Richardson, of a newly invented submarine boat, designed for the destruction of the enemy’s blockaders at our ports! Of course no description can now be given of this invention in print, but it will be fully explained on application to Messrs. Wilson & Richardson. It is sufficient here to state, that the invention has been fully tested in Mobile, and no doubt of its entire success as a submarine boat, remains. A boat of this kind is now being constructed in Mobile. Messrs. W. & R., desire to organize a company in this city, to carry this important enterprise into execution, near our bays. The cost will be quite small, and they have already been ordered half the amount by a prominent citizen of Texas. Those who feel willing to lend their aid to this patriotic enterprise, may obtain full information by applying to Messrs. W. & R. who may be found, for two or three days, at Mr. Sessum’s store on Maine St. Messrs. W. & R. say the enterprise can, and should be carried out in the course of a few weeks, and no time should be lost.—News.

– Ed Cotham

Article 231

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From the register of Galveston city ordinances, 1893:

That it shall be unlawful for any person to smoke a pipe, cigar or cigarette, or use fire in any form except in stoves, lanterns or furnaces, on any wharf or levee, or in any warehouse, depot or cotton press or cotton yard, where any cotton bales are stored or in transit, or on any freight car, float or vehicle loaded with cotton bales within the city of Galveston.

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Bonus: Speaking of smoking offenses, keeping an opium den was punishable by a fine of not less than $25 (Article 387).

Cynthia Woods Accident Report Released

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Cynthia Woods, Galveston Ship Channel, January 2007. Photo by Andy Hall.

On Friday a Coast Guard inquiry formally announced an investigative finding that a shoddy repair job on the TAMUG boat Cynthia Woods caused the boat’s keel to break off in rough seas last June, killing Safety Officer Roger Stone. This finding has been widely anticipated, as reports of previous groundings (including one “hard” grounding) and patchy repairs began circulating within days of the sinking.

Cynthia Woods, with a six-man crew, was taking part in the Regata de Amigos, an offshore race between Galveston and Vera Cruz, Mexico. The boat was pounding southward in heavy seas when, a little before midnight on June 6, the keel snapped off and the boat rolled over. Stone, who was off watch below deck with two student crew members, managed to get the students out through the cabin hatch. The boat’s skipper, Steve Conway, and the four students drifted in the water for 26 hours before being sighted by a Coast Guard helicopter.

The Coast Guard report is not without its critics, though; Roger Stone’s widow, Linda, argues that the report was rushed and incomplete. She claims to have invoices for work done to repair the boat’s keel in other yards, work that is not cited or discussed in the Coast Guard reports. Linda Stone has several lawsuits pending in the case.

Not long ago Houston Chronicle reporters Claudia Feldman and Mike Tolson presented a multipart story, “Lost at Sea.” It’s an excellent series, and represents solid reporting that shows the depth and complexity of a single, small tragedy.

The Tragedy of the Cynthia Woods
A&M Crew Looks Out for Planes and Sharks
A Flashlight Brings Rescue
What Happened to the Cynthia Woods?
One Family’s Fears Come True

On a personal note, I didn’t know Roger Stone, but the name seemed familiar to me when it was first reported. When photos of him were published, I recognized him immediately as someone I knew from work. It was one of those situations where, working for a very large organization, there are lots of people you encounter day-to-day, walking on campus, or in an elevator, that you don’t really know, but you recognize and say “hello.” By all accounts, Stone was a passionate sailor, a fine husband and father, and a thoroughly decent man. His passing was a shock at UTMB, where his job brought him into contact with people across the campus.

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Update: Coast Guard report here (611K PDF)

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Update 2: High-res photos of the start of the race on June 6 here.

Pea Soup Thursday

Galveston sat under a heavy fog all day Thursday, which shut down the port and the Houston Ship Channel. The Carnival cruise ship Ecstacy, which which normally enters port early on Thursday morning and sails again in the later afternoon, did not dock until about 4:30 in the afternoon; she was expected to sail again around midnight. That’s an unfortunate thing for some of the passengers, as the onboard casino can’t open until the ship clears Texas waters, but good for those restaurants downtown like Willy G’s that are open. Too bad the Starbucks on Harborside, almost across the street from Ecstacy, closed at 5 p.m.; they coulda’ made venti denarii if they’d been open.

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The Carnival cruise ship Ecstacy (r.) waits out the fog, December 18, 2008.

This morning on the way into the office around 8 a.m. I noticed that all three pilot boats belonging to the Houston Pilots were tied up at the Galveston wharf; they remained there still at six in the evening. Although these vessels are in and out of the port all the time, I don’t recall seeing all three in one place before.

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Boats from the Houston Pilots sit idled by fog at Galveston, December 18, 2008.

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Three months after Ike, several small vessels (r.) remain on shore where the storm surge left them.