The Civil War Connections Blog

“Well, this may be Providential!”

On December 28, 1862, Surgeon Samuel Gilbert Webber of the USS Rhode Island wrote his accustomed letter to his future wife Nancy “Nannie” Sturtevant. The sidewheel steamer Rhode Island was in Hampton Roads, preparing to tow the ironclad USS Monitor to her next assignment – Beaufort, NC. The original letter can be found at The Mariners’ Museum Library and Archives

Webber wrote:

Yesterday I was hastily called to see a man on board the Monitor who had caught his leg in the machinery. When I got there I found the Surg. of the Passaic had arrived & done all that was necessary. The man was the Senior Engineer. His right leg was very much bruised & somewhat swollen. Fortunately it was not broken nor dislocated. I suppose you have seen a drawing of the Monitor, the original one. It looks like a raft on the water. It is hardly two feet about the surface in still weather. The tower is marked with a number of indentations & each of them had the name of the vessel or fort which caused it. Two or three are marked Merrimack, two or three Minnesota, hit by accident. The largest is Fort Darling. The officers speak of them by these names. The air is pumped out of the rooms & the fresh air must come in to supply its place. The state rooms have each a light in the deck above. They are about as large as in a good sized gun boat. The ward room is also about equal to that of a gun boat & has two windows in the deck. There are two guns in the tower, about 11 in. 1 think. One place the shot has bent the upright support very much, a number of inches. Above the tower there has been added an iron guard of 4-5 ft. high with holes for riflemen, used also as a wheel house. Over this is a canvas roof.

 

Such is the singular craft wh. withstood the Merrimack & will probably have something more to do. The Montauk, a monitor from N. York is expected here & anxiety is beginning to be felt in regard to her. I suppose the Nahant will be here one of these days.

 

The engineer to whom Webber refers was Albert Campbell.

Officers on the deck of the USS Monitor

Albert Campbell is pictured here, standing, farthest left, with his coat rakishly unbuttoned.

The Monitor‘s own surgeon, Grenville Weeks recalled that

 

Her engineer, Mr. Campbell, was in the act of giving some final touches to the machinery, when his leg was caught between the piston-rod and frame of one of the oscillating engines, with such force as to bend the rod, which was an inch and a quarter in diameter and about eight inches long, and break its cast-iron frame, five-eighths of an inch in thickness. The most remarkable fact in this case is, that the limb, though jammed and bruised, remained unbroken,–our men in this iron craft seeming themselves to be iron.

 The surgeon who examined the limb, astonished at the narrow escape, thought at first that it might, by energetic treatment, be cured in a few days; and as the engineer, who had been with the vessel from her launching, was extremely anxious to remain on board, he was disposed at first to yield to his wishes, but afterwards, reflecting that confined air and sea-sickness would have a bad effect, concluded to transfer him to the hospital, the engineer remarking, as he was carried off,–“Well, this may be Providential.”

 

Weeks concluded, with the hindsight that a survivor has: “It was Providential indeed!” For Campbell, at least.