1861

Military Monday: The Burning of Gosport Navy Yard 1861

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Gosport Navy Yard Image One
Destruction of the Gosport Navy Yard by Union forces.
Image Credit: M. W. Robbins Collection &
The Virginian-Pilot
pilotonline.com

I haven’t done a Military Monday since 2018. One-hundred, fifty-nine years ago, today…~Vic

In 1861, Virginia joined the Confederate States of America. Fearing that the Confederacy would take control of the [Navy yard] facility, the shipyard commander Charles Stewart McCauley ordered the burning of the shipyard.

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[The USS Pawnee was] dispatched to Norfolk to secure the ships and stores of the Gosport Navy Yard. Arriving at Norfolk the night of [April 20], she found that all ships, save [the] USS Cumberland, had been scuttled […]. [So], an attempt was made to destroy the Naval stores and the dry dock. Their efforts were largely unsuccessful but, she took Cumberland in tow and saved the frigate.

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On Saturday evening, at 9 o’clock, the Pawnee arrived from Washington with 200 volunteers, and 100 marines, besides her own crew […]. [At] once, the officers and crew of the Pawnee and Cumberland went to the Navy yard and, spiked and disabled the guns, [plus], threw the shot and small arms into the river. At 10 o’clock, the marines, who had been quartered in the barracks, fired them and came on board the Pawnee. A party of officers, [in the] meantime, were going through the different buildings and ships, distributing waste and turpentine, and laying a train, so as to blow up the dry dock. At this time, the scene was indescribably magnificent, all the buildings being in a blaze, and explosions, here and there, scattering the cinders in all directions.

The Government vessels had been scuttled in the afternoon before the Pawnee arrived, to prevent their being seized by the Secessionists, who had been in arms in both Norfolk and Portsmouth.

The Merrimack/Virgina Image Two
The Merrimack Conversion
Image Credit: M. W. Robbins Collection &
The Virginian-Pilot
pilotonline.com

The Confederate forces did, in fact, take over the shipyard and did so without armed conflict through an elaborate ruse orchestrated by civilian railroad builder William Mahone (then President of the Norfolk and Petersburg Railroad and soon to become a famous Confederate officer). He bluffed the Federal troops into abandoning the shipyard in Portsmouth by running a single passenger train into Norfolk with great noise and whistle-blowing […]. [T]hen, much more quietly, [he sent] it back west […]. [He returned] the same train, again, creating the illusion of large numbers of arriving troops [with] the Federals listening in Portsmouth across the Elizabeth River (and just barely out of sight).

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[In] July, Confederate shipyard workers begin converting the unburned underbelly of the USS Merrimack into the ironclad CSS Virginia in Drydock 1.

Sources:
Burning of Gosport Navy Yard (The New York Times)
The History of Norfolk Naval Shipyard (The Virginian-Pilot Online)
This Day in Naval History (US Navy Website)
How Fear, Deception and Indecision Nearly Destroyed Norfolk Naval Shipyard (USN History)
Norfolk Naval Shipyard (Wikipedia)

Clip from Hearts in Bondage (1936)

Wayback Wednesday: Mary Celeste 1872

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Mary Celeste Image One
Image Credit: wikipedia.org & wikimedia.org
1861 Painting – Unknown Artist
Names: Amazon (1861-1868) Canadian
Mary Celeste (1869-1885) American

[Note: The finding of the abandoned Mary Celeste is sometimes listed as December 5, 1872. This is due to time differences between “Civil Time” (land time) and “Sea Time”.]

A merchant brigantine, the Mary Celeste was built at Spencer’s Island, Nova Scotia and launched under British registration as Amazon in 1861. She was transferred to American ownership and registration in 1868 when she acquired her new name. Thereafter, she sailed, uneventfully, until her 1872 voyage.

[She was] discovered adrift and deserted in the Atlantic Ocean off the Azores Islands on December 4, 1872. The Canadian brigantine Dei Gratia found her in a disheveled but seaworthy condition under partial sail and with her lifeboat missing. The last entry in her log was dated ten days earlier.

She left New York City for Genoa on November 7 and [the] Dei Gratia departed for Gibraltar on November 15, following the same general route eight days [later]. [She] was still amply provisioned when found. Her cargo of denatured alcohol was intact and, the captain’s and crew’s personal belongings were undisturbed. None of those who had been on board were ever heard from again.

Ghost Ship Image Two
Image Credit: gutenberg.org

At the salvage hearings in Gibraltar following her recovery, the court’s officers considered various possibilities of foul play, including mutiny by Mary Celeste’s crew, piracy by the Dei Gratia crew or others and conspiracy to carry out insurance or salvage fraud. No convincing evidence supported these theories but, unresolved suspicions led to a relatively low salvage award.

The inconclusive nature of the hearings fostered continued speculation as to the nature of the mystery and, the story has repeatedly been complicated by false detail and fantasy. Hypotheses that have been advanced include the effects on the crew of alcohol fumes rising from the cargo, submarine earthquakes (seaquakes), waterspouts, attack by a giant squid and paranormal intervention. The story of her 1872 abandonment has been recounted and dramatized many times in documentaries, novels, plays and films and, the name of the ship has become a byword for unexplained desertion.

In 1885, her captain deliberately wrecked her off the coast of Haiti as part of an attempted insurance fraud.

[Source]

[Were] it not for Dr. Arthur Conan Doyle, struggling to establish himself as a writer prior to creating Sherlock Holmes, perhaps the world would not have ever known or cared [about the ship]. Conan Doyle’s short story about the ‘Marie Celeste‘ (he changed the name from Mary) turned a minor puzzle into one of the most famous legends of the sea. Nevertheless, we should recognise it was fiction, for which his editor paid 30 Pounds, […] a respectable sum in 1884.

[Source]

Speculations of Cause
Myths
Pop Culture & Legacy
The Mary Celeste Site (Fact, not Fiction)
Smithsonian Article (November 2007)

Smithsonian Documentary Clip

 

Interesting Documentary

Throwback Thursday: Memorial Day

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Memorial Day Image One
Image Credit: youtube

Memorial Day, as celebrated, has come and gone. The weekend BBQs and party gatherings are over. Some folks have returned to work after their Monday off while others took the entire week off and, possibly, headed to the beach to herald the “summer season”. I am posting, today, because from 1868 to 1970, Memorial Day was observed on May 30.

Our American Memorial Day has quite a rich, lengthy history and one that has its own area of research. Columbus State University in Georgia has a Center For Memorial Day Research and the University of Mississippi in Oxford has The Center For Civil War Research that covers Memorial Day in their data.

So, what IS the origin of our Memorial Day? That’s a good question and the following took two days to research.

May we remember them, ALL. ~Vic

Warrenton, Virginia 1861

A newspaper article from the Richmond Times-Dispatch in 1906 reflects Warrenton‘s claims that the first Confederate Memorial Day was June 3, 1861…the location of the first Civil War soldier’s grave ever to be decorated.

Arlington Heights, Virginia 1862

On April 16, 1862, some ladies and a chaplain from Michigan […] proposed gathering some flowers and laying them on the graves of the Michigan soldiers that day. They did so and the next year, they decorated the same graves.

Savannah, Georgia 1862

Women in Savannah decorated soldiers’ graves on July 21, 1862 according the the Savannah Republican.

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania 1863

The November 19, 1863, cemetery dedication at Gettysburg was a ceremony of commemoration at the graves of dead soldiers. Some have, therefore, claimed that President Abraham Lincoln was the founder of Memorial Day.

Boalsburg, Pennsylvania 1864

On July 4, 1864, ladies decorated soldiers’ graves according to local historians in Boalsburg. Boalsburg promotes itself as the birthplace of Memorial Day.

Knoxville, Tennessee 1865

The first decoration of the graves of Union soldiers of which there is any record was witnessed by Surgeon Fred W. Byers, of the [96th] Illinois volunteer infantry, now surgeon general of the National Guard of the State of Wisconsin (Spring 1865).

Jackson, Mississippi 1865

The incident in Mrs. [Sue Landon Adams] Vaughan’s life, which assured her name a permanent place in history, occurred at Jackson […] when she founded Decoration Day by first decorating the graves of Confederate and Federal soldiers alike, in a Jackson cemetery on April 26, 1865.

Kingston, Georgia 1865

An historic road-side marker indicates Kingston as the location of the “First Decoration, or Memorial Day” (Late April 1865).

Charleston, South Carolina 1865

On May 1, 1865, in Charleston, recently freed African-Americans reburied Union soldiers originally buried in a mass grave in a Confederate prison camp. The event was reported in Charleston and northern newspapers and, some historians today cite it as “the first Decoration Day.”

Cemetery Image Two
Photo Credit: heraldbulletin.com & townnews.com

Columbus, Mississippi 1866

Thus was established a custom which has become national in its adoption – Decoration Day – having its origin with the ladies of Columbus. Columbus also claims the distinction of being the first to decorate the graves of both Confederate and Federal soldiers, alike (Friendship Cemetery April 25, 1866). [See the poem The Blue & The Gray by Francis Miles Finch}

Columbus, Georgia 1866

To the State of Georgia belongs the credit of having inaugurated what has since become the universal custom of decorating annually the graves of the heroic dead. The initial ceremonies which ushered Memorial Day into life were held in Linnwood Cemetery, at Columbus, on April 26, 1866.

Memphis, Tennessee 1866

Yesterday was the day appointed throughout the South as a day of sweet remembrance for our brothers who now sleep their last long sleep, the sleep of death. That day (the 26th day of April) has, and will be, set apart, annually, as a day to be commemorated by all the purely Southern people in the country, as that upon which we are to lay aside our usual vocations of life and, devote to the memory of our friends, brothers, husbands and sons, who have fallen in our late struggle for Southern independence.

Carbondale, Illinois 1866

A stone marker in Carbondale claims that place as the location of the first Decoration Day, honoring the Union soldiers buried there. General John A. Logan, who would later become commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, the largest of the Union veterans’ organizations, officiated at the ceremony (April 29, 1866).

Waterloo, New York 1866

On Saturday, May 5, 1866, the first complete observance of what is now known as Memorial Day was held in Waterloo. On May 26, 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson designated an “official” birthplace of the holiday by signing the presidential proclamation naming Waterloo, New York, as the holder of the title.

Richmond, Virginia 1866

The anniversary of the death of Stonewall Jackson was observed to-day by floral decorations of the graves of Confederate soldiers at Hollywood and Oakwood (May 10, 1866).

May 3, 1866 [they] formed the Ladies’ Hollywood Memorial Association, with the immediate aim of caring for and commemorating the graves of Confederate soldiers. All disposed to co-operate with us will repair, in such groups and at such hours as may be convenient, on Thursday, May 31st, 1866, to Hollywood Cemetery, to mark, by every appropriate means in our power, our sense of the heroic services and sacrifices of those who were dear to us in life and we honored in death.

Petersburg, Virginia 1866

It was in May of this year, 1866, that we inaugurated, in Petersburg, the custom, now universal, of decorating the graves of those who fell in the Civil War. Our intention was simply to lay a token of our gratitude and affection upon the graves of the brave citizens who fell June 9, 1864, in defence of Petersburg…

Memorial Day Image Three
Image Credit: pdxretro.com & cardcow.com

Southern Appalachian Decoration Day

From The Bitter Southerner:

Dinner on the grounds is not a phrase I hear these days. Just reading the phrase takes me back to those times with my grandmother at her church on […] Decoration Day Sunday. I grew up in north Alabama in the 1960s. Dinner on the grounds was a special occasion that followed the work of cleaning up the graveyard and placing fresh flowers beside the headstones. It provided a time to remember and celebrate the lives of the dear departed. ~Betsy Sanders

Today, we are here to eat, remember and bask in the Southern fascination of death […]. It’s Decoration Day. The South claims death with as much loyalty as we claim our children. J.T. Lowery, a former pastor […] misses when Decoration Day meant keeping company with headstones during dinner on the ground. Opal Flannigan is depending on women […] to uphold a tradition so old it’s hard to say when it emerged. German and Scots-Irish immigrants who birthed much of the Southern Appalachia’s culture in Virginia, Tennessee and the Carolinas likely brought these traditions [with them]. ~Jennifer Crossley Howard

From UNC Press Blog:

Many rural community cemeteries in western North Carolina hold “decorations.” A decoration is a religious service in the cemetery when people decorate graves to pay respect to the dead. The group assembles at outdoor tables, sometime in an outdoor pavilion, for the ritual “dinner on the ground.” There are variations of this pattern but, the overall pattern is fairly consistent.

Nationwide Observance 1868

In 1866, veterans of the Union army formed the beginnings of the Grand Army of the Republic, a fraternal organization designed expressly to provide aid, comfort and political advocacy for veterans’ issues in post-war America. In 1868, the leadership of the G. A. R. sought through the following order to have the various local and regional observances of decorating soldier graves made into something like a national tradition.

Headquarters Grand Army Of The Republic
Adjutant-General’s Office, 446 Fourteenth St.
Washington, D. C., May 5, 1868.
General Orders No. 11.

From The History Channel:

By proclamation of General John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic, the first major Memorial Day observance is held to honor those who died “in defense of their country during the late rebellion.” Known to some as “Decoration Day,” mourners honored the Civil War dead by decorating their graves with flowers. On the first Decoration Day, General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, after which 5,000 participants helped to decorate the graves of the more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried in the cemetery.

The 1868 celebration was inspired by local observances that had taken place in various locations in the three years since the end of the Civil War. In fact, several cities claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day, including Columbus, Mississippi; Macon, Georgia; Richmond, Virginia; Boalsburg, Pennsylvania; and Carbondale, Illinois. In 1966, the federal government, under the direction of President Lyndon B. Johnson, declared Waterloo, New York, the official birthplace of Memorial Day. They chose Waterloo, which had first celebrated the day on May 5, 1866, because the town had made Memorial Day an annual, community-wide event, during which businesses closed and, residents decorated the graves of soldiers with flowers and flags.

By the late 19th century, many communities across the country had begun to celebrate Memorial Day and, after World War I, observers began to honor the dead of all of America’s wars. In 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday to be celebrated the last Monday in May. Today, Memorial Day is celebrated at Arlington National Cemetery with a ceremony in which a small American flag is placed on each grave. It is customary for the president or vice president to give a speech honoring the contributions of the dead and to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. More than 5,000 people attend the ceremony annually. Several Southern states continue to set aside a special day for honoring the Confederate dead, which is usually called Confederate Memorial Day.

Flashback Friday: The Battle of Fort Sumter 1861

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Fort Sumter Image One
Image Credit: sonofthesouth.net
Original Harper’s Weekly leaflet.
Confederate batteries firing on Fort Sumter.
The illustration above captures the first significant battle of the Civil War.

South Carolina Secedes From The Union On December 20, 1860

From Son of the South:

S. C. Major Anderson had long urged his government, but in vain, to strengthen the military works in Charleston Harbor. The burden of the few replies was: “Be prudent; be kind; do nothing to excite the South Carolinians. It will not do to send you reinforcements, for that might bring on hostilities.” At length he was satisfied that the people were about to attempt to seize Fort Sumter.

[..] he resolved to take position in Sumter before it should be too late. He was commander of all the defenses of the harbor, and, in the absence of orders to the contrary, he might occupy any one he chose.

Governor Pickens sent a message to Anderson demanding his immediate withdrawal from [the fort]. The demand was politely refused and, the Major was denounced in the State convention, in the legislature, in public and private assemblies, as a “traitor to the South,” […]. The Confederates in Charleston and Washington were filled with rage.

[Secretary of War] Floyd declared the “solemn pledges of the government” had been violated by Anderson and he demanded of the President [Buchanan] permission to withdraw the garrison from Charleston Harbor. The President refused; a disruption of the cabinet followed. Floyd fled; and Anderson received (Dec. 31) from Secretary of War [Joseph] Holt —a Kentuckian like himself— an assurance of his approval of what he had done.

Governor Pickens, nettled by Anderson’s refusal to give up Sumter, treated him as a public enemy within the domain of South Carolina. Armed South Carolinians had been sent to take possession of Fort Moultrie, where they found the works dismantled.

Fort Sumter Image Two
Image Credit: citadel.edu

From Wikipedia:

On February 7, […] seven states adopted a provisional constitution for the Confederate States of America and established their temporary capital at Montgomery, Alabama. A February peace conference met in Washington, D.C. but, failed to resolve the crisis. The remaining eight slave states declined pleas to join the Confederacy.

The seceding states seized numerous Federal properties within their boundaries, including buildings, arsenals and fortifications. President James Buchanan protested but, took no military action in response. Buchanan was concerned that an overt action could cause the remaining slave states to leave the Union and, while he acknowledged there was no constitutional authority for a state to secede, he could find no constitutional authority for him to act to prevent it.

South Carolina authorities considered Anderson’s move to be a breach of faith. Governor [Francis W.] Pickens believed that President Buchanan had made implicit promises to him to keep Sumter unoccupied and suffered political embarrassment as a result of his trust in those promises. Buchanan, a former U.S. Secretary of State and diplomat, had used carefully crafted ambiguous language to Pickens, promising that he would not “immediately” occupy it. From Major Anderson’s standpoint, he was merely moving his existing garrison troops from one of the locations under his command to another.

Governor Pickens […] ordered that all remaining Federal positions except Fort Sumter were to be seized.

President Buchanan was surprised and dismayed at Anderson’s move to Sumter, unaware of the authorization Anderson had received. Nevertheless, he refused Pickens’s demand to evacuate Charleston harbor. Since the garrison’s supplies were limited, Buchanan authorized a relief expedition of supplies, small arms, and 200 soldiers. […] an unarmed civilian merchant ship, Star of the West [was sent], which might be perceived as less provocative to the Confederates. As Star of the West approached the harbor entrance on January 9, 1861, it was fired upon by a battery on Morris Island, […] staffed by cadets from The Citadel […].

In a letter delivered January 31, 1861, Governor Pickens demanded of President Buchanan that he surrender Fort Sumter because, “I regard that possession is not consistent with the dignity or safety of the State of South Carolina.”

On March 4, 1861, Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated as president. He was almost immediately confronted with the surprise information that Major Anderson was reporting that only six weeks of rations remained at Fort Sumter. A crisis similar to the one at Fort Sumter had emerged at Pensacola, Florida, where Confederates threatened another U.S. fortification — Fort Pickens. Lincoln and his new cabinet struggled with the decisions of whether to reinforce the forts, and how. They were also concerned about whether to take actions that might start open hostilities and which side would be perceived as the aggressor as a result. Similar discussions and concerns were occurring in the Confederacy.

After the formation of the Confederate States of America in early February, there was some debate among the secessionists whether the capture of the fort was rightly a matter for South Carolina or for the newly declared national government in Montgomery, Alabama. South Carolina Governor Pickens was among the states’ rights advocates who thought that all property in Charleston Harbor had reverted to South Carolina upon that state’s secession as an independent commonwealth.

The South sent delegations to Washington, D.C. and, offered to pay for the Federal properties and enter into a peace treaty with the United States. Lincoln rejected any negotiations with the Confederate agents because he did not consider the Confederacy a legitimate nation and making any treaty with it would be tantamount to recognition of it as a sovereign government.

On April 6, Lincoln notified Governor Pickens that “an attempt will be made to supply Fort Sumter with provisions only and, that, if such attempt be not resisted, no effort to throw in men, arms or ammunition will be made without further notice, [except] in case of an attack on the fort.”

Lincoln’s notification had been made to the Governor of South Carolina, not the new Confederate Government, which Lincoln did not recognize. Pickens consulted with [P. G. T.] Beauregard, the local Confederate commander. Soon, President Davis ordered Beauregard to repeat the demand for Sumter’s surrender and, if it did not, to reduce the fort before the relief expedition arrived.

Beauregard dispatched aides […] to Fort Sumter on April 11 to issue the ultimatum. Anderson refused, although he reportedly commented, “I shall await the first shot and, if you do not batter us to pieces, we shall be starved out in a few days.”

At 1 a.m. on April 12, the aides brought Anderson a message from Beauregard: “If you will state the time which you will evacuate Fort Sumter, and agree in the meantime that you will not use your guns against us unless ours shall be employed against Fort Sumter, we will abstain from opening fire upon you.”

Maj. Anderson replied that he would evacuate Sumter by noon, April 15, unless he received new orders from his government or additional supplies.

Aide Col. Chesnut considered this reply to be too conditional and [replied] to Anderson: Sir, by authority of Brigadier General Beauregard, commanding the Provisional Forces of the Confederate States, we have the honor to notify you that he will open fire of his batteries on Fort Sumter in one hour from this time.”

Anderson escorted the officers back to their boat, shook hands with each one, and said “If we never meet in this world again, God grant that we may meet in the next.”

Fort Sumter Image Three
Image Credit: smithsonianmag.com

At 4:30am EST on April 12, 1861, Lt. Henry S. Farley, acting upon the command of Capt. George S. James, fired a single 10-inch mortar round from Fort Johnson.

Although the Union garrison returned fire, they were significantly outgunned and, after 34 hours, Major Anderson agreed to evacuate. There were no deaths on either side as a direct result of this engagement, although a gun explosion during the surrender ceremonies on April 14 caused two Union deaths.

From Son of the South:

The fort had been evacuated, not surrendered. Anderson bore away the flag of Sumter, which was used as his winding-sheet, and was buried with him.

More reading on The Bombardment of Fort Sumter from Harper’s Weekly, April 27, 1861.