Life on Board

The Geer Letters: The Joys and Sorrows of One Crewman

The letters of Monitor crewman George S. Geer offer a remarkable glimpse aboard the ironclad and a rare perspective on a sailor's experience of the Civil War. Geer's letters were donated to The Mariners' Museum in 1997 by the Espy family of Savannah, Georgia.

Writing Home

On the "modern" conveniences provided...

The letters of Monitor crewman George S. Geer offer a remarkable glimpse aboard the ironclad and a rare perspective on a sailor's experience of the Civil War. Geer's letters were donated to The Mariners' Museum in  1997 by the Espy family of Savannah, Georgia.

Geer - March 2, 1862
I will commence by telling you what I am writing on. I have for my desk a water pail turned up side down so you see we have not all the improvements of the age.

Keeler - March 4, 1862
I generally take the evenings to do my writing. Whenever I write, day or night in my state room, I have to use a candle, it is so dark. My little deck light lets in light enough for all purposes except reading & writing. 

The Summer Heat

Life on the James. It's not the heat, it's the humidity

Geer - June 13, 1862
We took the tempriture of several parts of the ship, or rather I did, as I have charge of the Thurmomitor, and found in my Store Room, which is farthest astern, it stood at 110; in the Engine Room 127; in the Galley, where they Cook and after the Fire was out 155; on the Berth Deck where we sleep, 85. I think the hottest day I ever saw in NY was up to 102 in the Shade, so you can see what a hell we have. I spend most of my time in pleasant weather under an Awning on Deck, and sleep there these hot nights. 

Keeler - August 7, 1862
Hot, hotter, hottest could stand it no longer, so last night I wrapped my blanket 'round me & took to our iron deck if the bed was not soft it was not so insufferable hot as my pen.

What with heat, mosquitoes & a gouty Captain have nearly gone distracted. 

Mosquitoes!

On the virtues of the South

Geer - August 3, 1862
I thought I had seen Mosquetoes and Flies that were a nuisance in NY, but I give in to Virginia. There is no use fighting. You may as well keep still and let them have their fill, because one will only tire him self out and have at last to give in to them.

Keeler - August 5, 1862
I had the forethought when at Old Point to buy me a mosquito bar (the only one on board) so that I can sleep at night undisturbed by the pestiferous vermin, that is when the heat will allow of it. Tonight we will have a scorcher. 

Food

On a well-balanced diet

Geer - May 24, 1862
On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays we have Been Soupe, or perhaps a bettor name would be to call it Bean Water. I am often tempted to strip off my shirt and make a dive and see if there really is Beens in the Bottom that gives it the flavor. I think there must be, but I seldom see them. But the Government ways Beens are very Wholesom and strengthening. I am of the same opinion...

Keeler - June 16, 1862
A portion of our iron deck has been converted into a stock yard containing just at present, one homesick lamb, one tough combative old ram, a consumptive calf, one fine lean swine, an antediluvian rooster & his mate, an old antiquated setting hen. 

Keeler - July 30, 1862
A piece of salt beef regularly makes its appearance with the call for dinner, it reappears in the form of hash for supper, & is re-hashed for breakfast the next morning. If vegetables exist in any portions of the civilized world they are intangible to us.

Liquor

On setting priorities

Geer - March 26, 1862
I believe I have not told you before how much my Grog is. By not drinking it I get $1.25 per month, which will most cloath me.

Keeler - April 25, 1862
There are three great evils in both our army & navy which if corrected would render them much more efficient the first is whiskey, the second is whiskey & the third is whiskey.

 

We're in a race to conserve history! Follow along as artifacts are uncovered and more facts are learned about the Monitor and the men who served aboard!

From the heart breaking accounts of life aboard the ironclads to thrilling descriptions of the battles recounted by those who witnessed them you're sure to learn something new!

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