The Civil War Connections Blog

“Gallant Heroes” and a boast…


As it almost always happens, I find the most interesting things whilst looking for something else altogether.  In any event, I have been sifting through the digitized editions of the Richmond Daily Dispatch that were placed on line by the University of Richmond via an IMLS grant (hie thee hence to our Port of Call blog to hear about the amazing things that IMLS has helped us do here at The Mariners’ Museum!).

In the April 27, 1861 edition of the paper, the burning of the Gosport Navy Yard the week previous was still the big news of the day. This little article caught my eye because it is in such contrast (naturally) to the northern accounts who laud these same “gallant heroes.”

List of the “gallant heroes” who destroyed
the Norfolk Yard.

Com. H. Paulding, New York; Capt. C. Wilkes, of the late Exploring Expedition, New York, (volunteer.)

Commanders.–W. Walker, D. C., volunteer; T. A. Jenkins, Va., volunteer; John Rodgers, Md., volunteer; B. F. Sands, Ky., ordered; J. Alden, Maine, volunteer.

Lieutenants.–E. Parrott, N. H., ordered; Max Woodhule, N. Y., volunteer; Henry A. Wise, nephew of Gov. H. A. Wise, volunteer; Wm. Gibson, Md., volunteer; J. H. Russel, Md., volunteer; C. P. McGarey, N. C., ordered; A. W. Johnson, D. C., ordered; C. N. Morris, N. Y., volunteer.

To take the ships out, was legitimate duty; but to set fire to the property, and run the risk of burning Norfolk and Portsmouth, was cowardly in the extreme. Give these ” heroes” all their honors!


Being handed the war material in Gosport, the Virginians made use of some of it in short order.  In the April 29th edition of the Daily Dispatch I found the following warning – as though the author knew that pro-Union readers might react in horror:

Our harbor is now in a comparatively safe condition of defence. At this point we have in command of our Colonel, aided by Captain McIntosh and Lieutenant Sharp, of the Virginia Navy, a powerful battery, the guns of which are of the largest calibre, all taken from the Navy-Yard. They are now all in position. The breastwork is of earth, covered by cotton bales, and they covered with railroad T iron. Give us a show, and we can sink the entire Yankee fleet. At various other points batteries are in course of erection–one at Craney Island, nearly completed; one at Fort Norfolk, and several others down the river. The old ship frigate United States has also a battery placed upon her, and moored off the Hospital. The Ape of the Prairies may send in his ships now; we are prepared to give them a warm reception.

I can’t wait to see what else I find!


Float on….

It’s no surprise to anyone who knows me to find out that I’ve amassed quite the collection of Monitor related material. Much of it I have donated to the Museum, but some of it the Collections Committee just looks at, shakes their heads, and then says “if we need it, we know where you live.”

So I thought I might add a few images of my own random Monitor madness.  Inspired by a blog post over at Port of Call, I thought I’d start with a parade float.

Now, the celebrated cheesebox on a raft has inspired more parade floats than you can imagine. The earliest I found was created for the July 4, 1862 parade in San Francisco. The Monitor was still active, and wallowing away in the heat of a Tidewater Virginia summer then.  But Union supporters around the country had adopted the Monitor as a national symbol just weeks after her engagement with the Virginia. Here’s what I found in the supplement to the San Francisco Evening Bulletin, July 4, 1862. The paper excitedly reported that the “Fourth of July commenced earlier than usual this year.  Instead of patiently waiting until midnight it went off half cocked on the evening of the third, as the sun sank.”  All night long  in this West Coast city, thousands of miles removed from Hampton Roads, the firecrackers continued to go off until finally at sunrise, as though the populace could not stand another moment of anticipation, the bells began tolling throughout the city—a joyous sound to all but those who had indulged too much the evening previous.

Hmm…some things never change.

Over forty thousand flags festooned the city, and finally, by 11 a.m., several divisions organized themselves and made up a parade which stretched for blocks; led first by military units, the parade also sported firemen, riggers and stevedores, several occupations and fraternal societies as well as ethnic organizations.  Wagons “loaded dangerously with brewers” followed giant milk-cans in festooned carts while costumed children, brass bands and the Sons of the Feenian Brotherhood marched loudly down the street. The fifth division of the parade appeared,  “headed by Hunnewell’s brass band, who before they get through the march may injure their lungs if they have not a care.  ‘The Union must and shall be preserved,’ is the leading motto of this part of the long yet attractive pageant….”

The piece-de-resistance in this part of the procession, though, came lumbering slowly along in the rear; “a monster model of the famous Monitor, 41 feet long and 10 feet in the beam” which was almost one quarter the size of the original, still on duty in the James River in Virginia.  To populate the ersatz ironclad with a crew, there were “any number of little jack tars” there to help man the “two big guns in the revolving turret.”  The float was well received, though its handlers found it “rather harder to handle in our streets than was its famous namesake in Hampton Roads.”  All this was followed by a parade of wagons, one of which bore the slogan “Pure Beef for friends of the Union – the points of our knives for its foes.”

Just imagine that sight. So I’ve been researching Monitor-as-parade-float ever since I found that. I will highlight such images here from time to time – but thought I would start with one from my personal collection.

It floats! But what is it?

It floats! But what is it?


Yeah. I don’t know what that is. Monitor with a maypole. There’s every chance in the world that it is a float for a newspaper of the same name, though the maypole is still strange no matter how you look at it.

In any event. There’s my favorite. More to come!

Upon visiting the John Ericsson National Memorial

I made a brief visit to the John Ericsson National Memorial in Washington, DC recently.  If you haven’t been, I’ll warn you that it’s not the easiest memorial to visit as it sits in the median in West Potomac Park, near where  Independence Avenue, 23rd Street, and Ohio Drive, SW all come together.  Yes – it’s right there near the Lincoln Memorial and on the way to Martin Luther King and FDR. But there are no crosswalks – so be careful. Luckily the traffic was light when we were there. I will write a longer post about the history of it at some point – but wanted to write this whilst the visit was still fresh in my mind.

Part of the John Ericsson memorial in Washington, DC

Detail from the John Ericsson memorial in Washington, DC


The sun was such that I could not get a good shot of the memorial overall. But I wanted to share two images that I took. Here is the first: John Ericsson sitting beneath the trio of allegorical figures (Adventure, Labor, and Vision – all grouped with Yggdrasil – the Tree of Life).

The John Ericsson Memorial in Washington, DC (photo by Anna Holloway)

The John Ericsson Memorial in Washington, DC (photo by Anna Holloway)


But look closely at his right hand. Nestled there gently was a baby bird too scared to fly away from me.

Baby bird hiding by Ericsson's hand - John Ericsson Memorial, Washington, DC (photo by Anna Holloway)

Baby bird hiding by Ericsson’s hand – John Ericsson Memorial, Washington, DC (photo by Anna Holloway)


It made me smile – this most fragile creature sheltered by a man of stone. A man who built war machines and changed our world.

I always thought Ericsson had a soft spot.

Infection, germs, and sepsis…..

Today, I am launching what I hope will be a short series of blogs to discuss the progress made in medical knowledge from 19th century state of the art to present day surgical practice.

I suppose I should begin with an acknowledgement that 19th surgery was not only the last choice available to save a life, but in fact it was more common to die from this “art” than to live.  So, as would be expected, it was chosen and the surgery performed when the patient was most ill and most likely would die anyway.  And while surgery performed in a hospital setting might produce a better statistic of outcome, when done on a battlefield or in a battlefield hospital tent, results could be catastrophic.  Thus, my tale is one of woe as compared to our present day situation, when the probability of death from or during surgery is very low.

In this blog I will concentrate on the conditions of war during the Civil War and explain what a surgeon knew as well as what was unknown at that time.  Much of medical knowledge came down through the ages from ancient times and the Renaissance.  Some even emerged during the 17th century, but it did not alter the basic understanding of the human body and how it worked.

Equally important was a lack of knowledge concerning infection, germs, and sepsis which was, by today’s standards, unbelievably filthy in every aspect of surgical practice, especially on the battlefield where the “niceties” of the surgical arena were unavailable.  It is safe to say that speed was probably the single most important factor in a wounded soldier living to see another day:  speed in stopping the bleeding, speed in carrying him to a field hospital, speed in removal of the injured extremity, if required and speed removing him to a general hospital in a nearby city.  Those lingering on the battlefield for hours were unquestionably more likely to die than those picked up soon after injury.  But the raging battle often made immediate rescue impossible and many injured simply died where they fell.

More on this later.

Thoughts about DC – then and now

In my previous “blog” I wrote about having seen the movie” Lincoln.”  A friend mentioned to me what living in D.C. must have been like in a mid-nineteenth century American city.  Of course, I am laughing to myself thinking of D.C. as a city at that time.  Even grammar school students learn just how much of a frontier-town it was, complete with muddy streets and no sidewalks.  There were probably a few “board walks” in the most genteel neighborhoods.  Even that is cause for laughter; this was no New York City or Philadelphia, those two Athens of North  America.

During WWI the federal government built quite a large number of “temporary” buildings to provide office space for the influx of new government employees, and for soldiers as necessary.  During WWII, these same buildings were still around, serving the same purpose.  Finally, in the 60’s they came down and were eventually replaced by more uplifting structures:  memorials to past wars.

However, quite interestingly, parts of the old Naval yard which existed during the Civil War and some built at that time, are still there and remain as they have for a century and a half.  It seems a truism that new things are often built shabbily by very poorly trained laborers while previous generations of workers were truly skilled.

Of course, the depression in the 1930’s along with the helping hand of the “works progress administration” saw the real dawn of our present U.S. capital.  The grand avenues laid out by P. C. L’Enfant in the 18th century, grew worse as the years passed and congress was uninterested in prettyfing a place seldom seen by its members.  So, it suffered the effects of neglect.  Members lived in boarding houses near the Capitol building when Congress was in session; otherwise they were in their home districts.  And the diplomatic corps considered assignment to the U.S. government a hardship assignment of little use to their career.

While Teddy Roosevelt brought some change and Woodrow Wilson put America on the “big map” to international recognition as well as importance, it wasn’t until the federal government promoted the use of unemployed men that the city we see today (or rather most of it) was built; the avenues properly widened and proper walkways installed and a real commercial area was realized as department stores began to emerge for the new found funds of workers.  And lastly, the recognition of the need for war support, an industry without equal in stimulating the flow of money and goods which creates prosperity.  And Washington was in the center of it all.  I can remember, going with my mother to shop in the big department stores and was in complete awe of those emporiums built to satisfy any desire.

Gee, nothing much seems to have changed in the world of retail in the past 60 plus years, except now it’s on line rather than on foot.  Of course, many of the department stores have disappeared as fewer people bother to actually go out to shop.  But not me; I guess I just like to see what I am buying before I plunk my money down.

On the movie Lincoln

Now that I have written a couple of “blogs” I suppose I am a pro; however I don’t feel as though I have done a credible job as of this writing.  So today, I will give it another shot.

I saw the  movie “Lincoln” when it came out and cannot express the impact it had on me.  To acknowledge the supreme portrayal given by D. D. Lewis is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg.  The entire cast brings to life all those pivotal in the battle to pass the 13th amendment, even though their personal commitment may have vacillated from time to time as the discussions heated up.  And truth be told, I too, found the arguments espoused by Cabinet members and Congressmen to be little different from the arguments made in today’s Congress on the subject of the “fiscal cliff.”  How little things change over time:  only the calendar dates move on to a better tomorrow.

And this very narrowness of our national mindset is driving our nation today, just as it did 150 years ago.  Where are the statesmen?  Where are the leaders?  We are in desperate need of those with skills at maneuvering through this “slough of despond” which has brought us to the brink of disaster.  While the future of our democracy is not in doubt, the future of our financial health is certainly in doubt.  And this untenable situation could well foretell just how our nation progresses.  Can it be resolved without tossing us to the wolves?  I hope so and pray it happens.

An ironclad blast from the past…

I remember it like it was yesterday. I had visited the D/B Wotan a few days earlier, but was back to the mundane tasks of budgets, meetings, and suchlike. The lift had been scheduled for the day before but weather had caused the lift to be postponed. I felt as though I was in a fog all day – my body here at The Museum but my thoughts were focused on a spot 16 miles off the coast of Cape Hatteras, 235 feet down. I remember sitting in the parking lot at lunchtime pleading with mother nature to let the lift proceed.

Anyway – I found this blog post that I wrote 12 years ago today. Thought I would share…..

The Monitor's turret rises from the Graveyard of the Atlantic, 5 August 2002

The Monitor’s turret rises from the Graveyard of the Atlantic, 5 August 2002

Today has been one of those white-knuckle days for me. It was extremely hard to get anything done, though I managed to do 90% of the budget today which in itself is a minor miracle (do I just need one more to be a saint?)

Anyway – we heard just a few minutes before 6 tonight that the turret was up! I’m waiting up now to see the footage from the helicopter – saw a little earlier and it was the most amazing thing! Justin and I were the only ones left back in the Education/Marketing Compound – I only wish more folks had been around since it was such an amazing moment.

Just a few months ago I don’t think anyone would have thought this was possible – but somehow they pulled it off!

The turret will be coming to the Museum on Saturday – what a moment that will be!

And what a moment it was. Congratulations to NOAA, MDSU-2 and staff at The Mariners’ Museum past and present.

Squeaky clean? Not so much…

Well, I’m back and I hope you enjoyed my first attempt at writing a blog.  It is an interesting activity and allows me to be both creative and I hope a bit educational.  Some readers will be so young that my story will be history; others will begin to smile as they remember, along with me, things long forgotten.  I do hope each one finds it rewarding to read these musings (is this a good description of a blog?) and want to return as new ones come along.

Today, I want to pick up, sort of, with the laundry issue.  In my research for another project here at The Mariners’ Museum, I discovered a societal norm to which I had not given much thought.  If you remember, my previous blog discussed the emergence of a new apparatus for handing laundry.  However, this was in conjunction with mid 18th century America (and Europe as well) and it was the cusp of the great industrial revolution, with the steam engine and railroads now in full throttle.  It turns out, though, that along with innovations in machines, other rather more radical innovations were bubbling up in society.  One in particular was the issue of health and what humans needed to do to improve their health.  While the most obvious area to consider is probably medical science, people actually rarely thought in that way.  Rather, cleanliness became the focus.

And to aid in the achievement of a healthier life, the creative entrepreneur appeared ready to help.   His bag of new soap powders with chemical additives to aid in the washing became the proverbial “dime a dozen.”  Bleaching which had been mostly done by the sun, was now helped along with chemicals as well.  And Monday continued to be “wash day.”  For some reason, I find it an notion of one day per week for laundry when people had a limited wardrobe as compared to 24/7 laundry days when people have a limitless wardrobe.

At the same time, however, personal hygiene doesn’t seem to change much at this time.  Even when I was a kid, lots and lots of people, especially those in rural areas, continued to bathe once a week.  So, some things move at the speed of lightening, while other things move at the speed of a snail.  Maybe I’m just naïve, but for some reason, I have a feeling that the salesmanship of the soap manufacturer proved superior but his ability to convince people to bathe more often missed his mark by a mile.

A new blogger, bubbles, and laundry, oh my!

I’d like to introduce a new blogger into our ranks today. She goes by the pen name of ‘My Musings’ and I have asked her to delve deeply into the popular press of the 1860s to find things of interest – things that might make you stop and think – wow, they did that/had that/thought that then? I am posting her intro blog here – but following blog entries will be under her name. Enjoy!


So, here I am creating a blog for The Mariners’ Museum, a really new event in my life, almost as new as using the computer.  But then I have to confess up front that I am not a juvenile, but almost an octogenarian.  So, I ask those reading this to please give me some slack.

Today, I want to write about “change” and by that I mean just about anything which saw radical change (or improvement, depending on your preference) occur  during the 1860’s that we today have inherited.  Most of the differences I think will reflect upon improved standards of living as those are the ones which are still with us today.  Those which passed the scene in the same time period quite obviously had flaws making them more or less unacceptable.  Perhaps it’s the fact that my life began exactly half the number of years since the Civil War attack on Fort Sumter. It has given me pause to encounter this fact.  I am after all, of the 21st century, and have eagerly embraced this era.  Just remember, almost 400 women fought in the Civil War, all masquerading as men, while today, many thousands of women serve in the military, at all sorts of jobs, some even “in harms’ way.” 

But I digress from my thesis.  Two simple examples come to mind.  One is a substance to create air bubbles in cake batter and a second is doing laundry.  In the first, after several attempts at creating the right balance of chemicals, the correct one was found, and today, we use essentially the same formula and it works fine.  Of course, prior generations of women used egg whites mostly well beaten by hand with a spoon.  Then a commercially produced leavening product was manufactured which is on grocer’s shelves everywhere. 

Patent for Hiram Littlejohn's Umbrella-style clothes drier

Patent for Hiram Littlejohn’s Umbrella-style clothes drier – January 7, 1862

For the second product, I am speaking of an improvement on the line* strung between two trees on which freshly washed garments and linens were hooked with handmade wooden pins and hung in the sun to dry.  While a few are still occasionally seen in back yards most have given way to electric dryers.  This apparatus looks rather like an inverted umbrella, sans cloth, and a central pole pushed firmly into the ground allowing it to stand upright; it also could rotate allowing the person doing the work to stand in one place rather than move around the device.  And the many lines strung between the ribs allowed a great deal of laundry to hang in one rather confined place, especially if it was in a metropolitan area, where rear yards were often small.  Without doubt, every Monday, which was designated wash day, would have to be dry and sunny; today we never give the weather a thought; for that matter we never even think of the time of day as we live in a 24/7 world.  Even as recently as before WWII, laundry was a fair weather activity.  Boy did 1950 see change and today it is our inheritance.  Lucky us, don’t you think?

*Drier article and picture:  Umbrella style, by Hiram Littlejohn, patent Jan 7, 1862



” A startling knell from Hatteras’ shore….”

Having spent a glorious few hours now researching the public response to the sinking of the Monitor, I chanced upon this little gem. Enjoy!

From the Boston Daily Advertiser, Saturday, February 14, 1863 – Issue 53, page 2, column F

[For the Boston Daily Advertiser.]
The Monitor.

Hail and farewell,
O, Monitor!
A startling knell
From Hatteras’ shore
Proclaims that thy brief course is o’er.
Hail and farewell!

The ocean wide
Now covers thee
Who didst decide
Our destiny.
A nation aye shall think on thee
With love and pride.

Our noble bark!
While battle raged,
And fortune dark
Defeat presaged,
Thy form the wily foe engaged
In his strange ark!

Hotly his shell
Assailed thy tower,
With fires of Hell,
A fearful shower, –
But, yielding to thy wondrous power,
Backwards he fell!

Alas for thee!
Thy crew so brave
Now silent lie
Beneath the wave,
Thy foundering form their living grave,
Sad destiny!

Hail and Farewell!
O, Monitor!
A startling knell
From Hatteras’ shore
Proclaims that thy brief course is o’er,
Farewell! Farewell!