August 25, 2014 makes the 150th anniversary of the blockade runner Denbigh‘s first arrival at Galveston. The little British paddle steamer had made five runs into Mobile before that post was closed off by the Union fleet at the Battle of Mobile Bay on August 5; she would go on to make a total of six successful runs in and out of Galveston during the remaining few months of the war.
Riverboats at the cotton docks at Mobile, c. 1900. The scene in 1863 would not have been much different, when boats like these were pressed into service as blockade runners. LoC image.
In the comments on my recent post about the river steamboat William Bagaley attempting to run the blockade, a regular reader asks:
Although I’m not very familiar with their capabilities, I wouldn’t have thought steamboats to be a very effective blockade runner. They would seem to have been too slow, from what little I know. Were Confederate officials simply hoping to sneak these types of ships through the blockade, or did they have the capacity to make enough speed to have a decent chance?
That’s a great question, and it underscores that in the last post I neglected to explain very well why Bagaley would be considered an unlikely candidate for a runner in the first place. Let me see if I can do that now.
Riverboats like William Bagaley were, by the 1850s, a very distinct and specialized type of vessel, optimized for work on the Western Rivers (i.e., the Mississippi, Ohio, Missouri and their tributaries). In the arrangement of their machinery, and particularly their hull construction, they were very ill-suited to make long passages on open water. They were generally of very shallow draft, and their hulls were of light construction, braced with wooden trusses and iron rods. The main deck of a fully-loaded riverboat was often barely above the level of the water. Western Rivers boats were generally built without external keels and, having lots of superstructure, would be prone to drift off to leeward in a strong wind. They could manage well enough on a calm day with a flat sea, but anything more unsettled than that could be a serious problem.
Not that riverboats didn’t ever make a passage in the open Gulf of Mexico; many of them did make relatively short runs along the coast. The large majority of the 200+ steamboats that operated in Texas on the Sabine, Neches, Trinity, Brazos and Rio Grande had been built on the Ohio or Mississippi, and made the transit to Texas from the mouth of the Mississippi through the Gulf of Mexico. But those were relatively short runs, and generally in sight of land. It’s a whole different thing, in my view, to set out on a three- or four-day passage across the Gulf from Mobile to Havana or another port in Cuba.
Fuel is another problem. Riverboats in the Deep South generally burned cordwood, which is enormously bulky. Boats generally stopped to wood at least daily, if not more frequently. Boats sometimes towed wood barges along behind them, or lashed alongside, but that would severely limit their speed, and doesn’t seem to have been done in this case. Carrying four days’ fuel would have taken up a LOT of space that otherwise might have been used for an outbound cargo. And it had to be enough fuel for the whole trip, since (unlike more conventional, seagoing steamers), these riverboats didn’t carry a rudimentary sail plan that could be used to help them get by when the wood started running low.
So, yeah, it’s just a little bit nuts to try something like this with a riverboat. But the fact that there was a fairly large-scale, coordinated effort to use riverboats in this way speaks both to the urgency of Confederate government officials in wanting to establish a viable blockade-running system out of Mobile, and a willingness on the part of boat owners, whose vessels had been largely idled by the war and the near-elimination of maritime trade in the Gulf of Mexico, to try just about anything to turn their fortunes around.
Here’s how Stephen Wise describes this effort in Lifeline of the Confederacy (170-72):
After the escape of the Florida, it took time for a blockade-running system to develop at Mobile. While Helm continued to stockpile munitions in Havana, officials at Mobile began to hire steamers for runs to Cuba. Two were the prewar coasting packets Cuba and Alabama; however, the majority of the contracted ships were flat-bottomed river steamers from the Tombigbee-Alabama River system. These vessels were not designed for use on the open sea, but their carrying capacity of hundreds of bales of cotton overruled any objections to their unseaworthiness. At Mobile, agreements were worked out by the Quartermaster Bureau with the owners of the Alice Vivian, Crescent, Kate Dale, James Battle, Lizzie Davis, Planter, Warrior, and William Bagley [sic.]. The basic contract called for an appraisal of the steamer by two individuals, one appointed by the government, the other by the owners of the vessel. A set value for the vessel was then determined and, if the ship was lost, one-half of this amount would be pa.id to the owners by the Confederacy. The expense of the expeditions was equally shared while the private owners provided the crew. The Quartermaster Bureau furnished cotton that would be carried to Havana and sold, and the profits were evenly divided between the two parties. The return cargo was also split, with the government half being provided by Helm. On return to Mobile, the ship would be reappraised and, if her value was found to be less than when she left Mobile, the difference would be paid to her owners by the government. The contracts were eagerly sought by steamship owners. The greatest attraction was the fact that the Confederacy would supply the outward cargo of cotton, thus saving the owners the expense and trouble of gathering the staple. Though their profits were not as high as if they owned the entire cargoes, their risks were less and they would receive compensation if their ships were lost. The vessels began running in late spring 1863, joining the Cuba and Alabama in challenging the blockade. None were very successful. By September all the river steamers, as well as the Cuba, had been destroyed
or captured, with the fast Union steamer De Soto accounting for five of the losses.
We know what became of Wiliam Bagaley and James Battle; they were captured on their first run out of Mobile for Havana. What about the others?
Alice Vivian was a 175-foot-long Alabama River sidewheel packet, built at New Albany, Indiana in 1856. In 1859 she was running a regular mail packet service between New Orleans and Memphis (right). She ran out of Mobile the first time around June 12, 1863, and returned safely from Havana around July 15. She was captured on her second run out of Mobile on August 16, 1863, by U.S.S De Soto and sold at Key West for $237,300.83 — almost all of which must have been for her cargo. Three attempts at the blockade, two successful.
Crescent was a 146-foot sidewheel steamer renamed Nita for the purposes of blockade-running. She made two successful runs out of Mobile to Havana, in April and June 1863, but was captured by De Soto on August 17, 1863 while on her second return voyage to Mobile. Four attempts at the blockade, three successful.
Kate Dale was a large sidewheel riverboat, 193 feet long and 428 tons burthen, built at New Albany, Indiana in 1855. She ran out of Mobile in July 1863 and was captured by the U.S.S. R. R. Cuyler on July 14 near the Tortugas. She was subsequently sold at auction to private buyers, who then sold or leased her to the U.S. Quartermaster Department. She burned on Mobile Bay in May 1865. One attempt, captured. Planter — not to be confused with the steamboat Planter stolen by pilot Robert Smalls at Charleston in 1862 — was a 156-foot sidewheeler built at Wheeling, (West) Virginia in 1860. She ran out of Mobile in mid-July 1863, and was captured on July 15 by U.S.S. Lackawana. She was sold by the prize court to the U.S. Quartermaster Department, and sold again to civilian interests in 1866.One attempt, captured.
Warrior was a 130-foor-long sidewheeler built at Mobile in 1857. She was captured by U.S.S. Gertrude on her first attempt to run out of Mobile, on August 17, 1863.One attempt, captured.
So out of these seven vessels (including Wiliam Bagaley and James Battle), only two — Alice Vivian and Crescent — successfully made a complete, round voyage (one each), Mobile-Havana-Mobile. Five were captured on their first run out. It’s a terrible record, particularly for that period of the war. The seven ships together made twelve one-way attempts to pass through the Yankee blockade, only five of which were successful (about 42%). Marcus Price, the historian who tallied up attempts by blockade runners throughout the war, calculated that during 1863 in the Gulf of Mexico, steamers made 99 attempts at the blockade, of which 73 were successful. On any given run, three out of four typically got through. In fact, the actual odds were probably better than that for the others, given that Price’s totals include these sad-sack cases out of Mobile.
The lesson, I suppose, is that riverboats make terrible blockade runners. Make a note.
The Fall 2014 issue of the Civil War Monitor is available online now, and should be appearing on newsstands and in subscribers’ mailboxes soon. As always, Editor-in-Chief Terry Johnston and his crew have taken a little different angle on the conflict and its participants. This issue includes sesqui-stories on the Battle of Nashville, and a visitor’s guide to touring Franklin. An article by Craig Warren on the famous rebel yell is notable not only for its discussion of the yell on the battlefields of the Civil War, but its use and reputation after — during Reconstruction, at San Juan Hill during the Spanish American War, and later. Warren reminds us that, like that other iconic symbol, the Confederate Battle Flag, the rebel yell’s use and meaning didn’t end with the echoes of the last guns at Appomattox.
The article that’s really going to raise hackles, though, is the cover story by Glenn W. LaFantasie on Robert E. Lee, “Broken Promise.” LaFantasie cuts right to the core of Lee’s character, depicting him as a man fundamentally out of place in mid-nineteenth century America, “a rambunctious nation of go-getters and scramblers who sought to make their way in the world by whatever means might come along.” Lee, the FFV tidewater patrician, very consciously modeled his own demeanor on that of George Washington, an approach that served him well until the secession crisis of 1860-61. It was then that Lee, up to that point so unrelenting in his desire to emulate Washington and (to a much lesser degree) his own father, broke from their example and resigned his commission in the Old Army. LaFantasie goes on to detail how, after the war, Lee went to considerable effort to contort the well-known political philosophies of Washington and Light-Horse Harry — both men being strong Federalists by word and deed in their own lifetimes — into somehow justifying his own renunciation of the United States and taking up arms against it:
It is, in fact, open to question whether Light-Horse Harry [right] was as die-hard as his son claimed in his loyalty to state over nation. The elder Lee had been a fierce nationalist during and after the War for Independence. If, after the ratification of the Constitution and Washington’s two terms as president, he had decided that his state was more important than the Union, it is a wonder that he did not shift his political allegiance to the Jeffersonian Republicans, the party that became the beneficiary of the Anti-Federalist legacy. Instead, Light-Horse Harry spoke passionately against the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of1798 (in which James Madison and Thomas Jefferson introduced the idea of state nullification of federal laws), denounced Jefferson and his presidency, and, like other Federalists, distrusted the public and feared the growing excesses of “wicked citizens. . . incapable of quiet.” If states could override federal laws such as the Alien and Sedition Acts, he predicted, insurrection and disunion would be the result. “If we love the Union,” wrote Light-Horse Harry, “if we wish peace at home, and safety abroad; let us guard our own bosoms from a flame which threatens to consume all reason, temper and reflection.” He did not condone disunionism in his own time, so it was unlikely he would have approved the creation of the Confederate States of America or his son’s prominent involvement in fighting a bloody war for the southern nation. . . . These were the very things his father had warned his countrymen to avoid at all costs.
In short, Lee’s decision to take up arms against the United States went against the very things that Washington and his own father stood for. I told ya, it’s gonna raise some hackles.
LaFantasie’s manuscript will not be the last word on Lee, of course, but it does poke a sharp stick in 150 years of far-too-generous evaluations of Lee, the man. The Civil War Monitor was founded to be a new sort of CW magazine, one that challenges traditional ideas about the events and personalities of the war. It’s not the magazine you want to be reading if you’re looking for reassurance that what you always believed is The Truth. “Broken Promise” forwards those colors. Do yourself a favor and subscribe today.
Here’s a gem — Pete Seeger, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee performing “Rock Island Line” on Seeger’s Rainbow Quest television show, c. 1966. There were only 39 episodes of the show, which was broadcast locally in New York City by a (mostly) Spanish language UHF station. Very few people actually saw these episodes when they originally broadcast, even though they featured well-known performers like Johnny Cash, June Carter, Mississippi John Hurt, Doc Watson, the Stanley Brothers, and Judy Collins. Elizabeth Cotten, who was “discovered” by the Seegers in her middle age, performed on the show as well.
“Rock Island Line” was originally recorded by musical anthropologist John Lomax in 1934 in Arkansas, during a “collecting” trip across the South. He recorded a chorus of African American prisoners, with lead singer Kelly Pace. Lomax’s second recording had a strong gospel component. Five years later Lomax returned and recorded another version at the Cummins unit.
Many artists have recorded “Rock Island Line” since then, from Lead Belly (who accompanied Lomax on his first recording trip) to John Lennon and Paul McCartney and George Harrison and Paul Simon. But my favorite may be Little Richard:
“I may be right and I may be wrong, but you’re gonna miss me when I’m gone!”
I don’t know if I’m objectively busier than usual with the history thing right now, but some days it sure does feel like it. I sat down last night an worked out my speaking schedule for the next few months:
The Steamboat Laura and the Coming of the Texas Revolution (presentation)
Friday, September 19, 2014 at 7 p.m.
Texas Navy Days
Stahlman Park, Brazoria County
For tickets and information, call 979-233-7330 or e-mail dortha-at-fortvelasco-dot-org. Civil War Blockade Running on the Texas Coast (presentation and signing)
Friday, October 10, 2014 at 7 p.m.
University of Texas at Arlington Library Arlington, Texas The Blockade Runner Will o’ the Wisp: Lost and Found, and Found Again (presentation)
Saturday, October 25 (tentative)
Texas Archeological Society Annual Meeting
Embassy Suites in San Marcos, Texas Registration info here. Captain Dave Whups the Yankees (presentation) 10:30 a.m., Saturday, November 8, 2014 Friends of the Clayton Genealogical Library Meeting 5300 Caroline Houston, Texas Civil War Blockade Running on the Texas Coast (presentation and signing)
Saturday, November 8, 2014 Houston History Book Fair Julia Ideson Library, Houston Public Library
Houston, Texas Inseparable Enemies: Galveston and Houston in the Nineteenth Century (presentation and signing)
Tuesday, November 11, 2014 at 6 p.m.
Galveston College Fall Lecture Series Abe and Annie Siebel Wing, Cheney Student Center Galveston College 39th Street and Avenue Q Galveston, Texas Captain Dave Whups the Yankees Monday, December 1, 2014 at 10 a.m. Terry’s Texas Rangers Chapter, United Daughters of the Confederacy George Memorial Library Richmond, Texas
You can always get an updated schedule of speaking engagements here. Hope to see y’all there!____________
Some months back it was announced that the new institution formed by the merger of the Museum of the Confederacy and the American Civil War Center at Tredegar, will operate under the name “American Civil War Museum,” with the tagline, ““Confederacy, Union, Freedom.” I like it; unlike most ideas arrived at by committee, this one is clean, concise, and descriptive. I hate cutesy, too-clever-by-half names; by ears bleed every time I hear the word, “Newseum.”
Ever since the collaboration between the MoC and Tredegar was announced, though, there’s been a steady chorus in some quarters about the need to “take back” the artifacts in the Museum of the Confederacy’s collection. Now, more than six months after the merger was announced, the Virginia Division of the SCV has begun soliciting funds to save “our pricesless [sic.] heritage.”
The tagline is “Save the Museum of the Confederacy,” but clearly the intent is nothing of the sort — it’s to use a civil lawsuit to dissolve the what is likely the best single collection of Civil War material outside of the Smithsonian Institution and scatter it to the winds, to a hundred or a thousand people, most of whom never held title to those items before, in the hope of someday reassembling them in a more Confederacy-friendly organization.
So how likely is it that such a lawsuit would be successful? The answer seems to be, “not very.” This seemed like a good opportunity to drag out my old museum law book for reference and, sure enough, the legal rights of donors in cases like this is one of the first topics covered. Most donors, the author argues, would be unable even to demonstrate that they are in a position to claim they are being harmed by the actions of the MoC:Based on this traditional rule that enforcement of charitable trusts is reserved to the Attorney General, donors and heirs of donors usually are denied standing to sue for the enforcement of such trusts. Having made a gift for the benefit of the public, a donor is viewed as having no stronger claim to its enforcement than any other member of the public. With regard to conditional gifts or gifts which reserve a right to revoke or terminate, there is a division of authority as to whether donors, or their representatives, can sue for enforcement. If they are permitted to sue, there is the added question whether they can sue individually in their own names or only with the Attorney General as a consenting party. The Restatement of Trusts favors the view that the Attorney General is necessary party in any such suit, on the theory, perhaps, that a gift to charity, even though conditional, involves a public interest that must be represented. Decisions regarding standing of donors to enforce conditional gifts turn on the particular facts of each case, and it would appear that courts have little trouble in fashioning theories to support desired results. In Amato v. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, for instance, a restricted bequest was made to the museum. The museum had six months in which to accept the gift, otherwise the bequest passed to the donor’s daughter. The museum accepted. Years later, the daughter sued claiming that the museum had not honored the restriction. The court denied relief, one of the grounds being that once the museum accepted the gift, any interest the daughter had in the property terminated. Since the daughter now had no special interest, she lacked standing to sue. Another approach taken by the courts which inhibits donor intervention is the theory that a conditional or restricted gift does not fail just because its terms cannot be followed exactly. For instance, if it proves impractical or impossible to carry out a restricted gift, a museum may seek court approval to alter the restriction in either a cy pres action or a petition for deviation. If the court approves the change, there is deemed to be no failure of the gift because the general charitable intent of the donor is still being effected. If there is no failure, the donor and his heirs have nothing to enforce in court. In Abrams v. The Maryland Historical Society the heirs of a donor sued to prevent the sale of an object given to the historical society claiming that the society accepted the gift with the understanding that the object would never be sold. There was some evidence to support the claim, namely correspondence from individual members of the Society’s board of trustees, and there was no executed deed of gift. The court ruled that the heirs had no standing to sue, stating, “Gifts cannot be presumed to be conditional. Their conditions must be clearly set forth.” 
My emphasis. The author goes on to discuss a handful of unusual cases where the courts granted standing to people representing donor trusts that have donated large sums of money to organizations, but those seem to be the exception rather than the rule. None of the examples given deal specifically with museum collections, whether historical artifacts or artwork.
One phrase we’re likely to hear tossed around in this discussion is cy-près (“as near as possible”), which is a legal doctrine under which a donor trust does something different with its gift than was earlier specified, because the original requirement could not practically be met. The idea is to use the gift in a way that is as close as possible to the original intent. For example, if a person left a bequest in her will to a certain animal shelter, but by the time of her death that shelter was no longer in operation, the executor could cite the cy-près doctrine to obtain permission to donate the funds to a different shelter, in that way remains true to the basic intent of the original bequest, if not the precise letter of it.
One critical aspect of a cy-près action, though, is that every description or example of it I’ve found appears to be one that deals prospectively with gifts or donations that are to be made, rather than withdrawing gifts that have been lawfully made in the past.
We’ll have to wait and see if the Virginia SCV ever actually files a lawsuit on this matter; the last one didn’t go so well. If they do, it will be interesting to see if they cite any specific case law that supports their claim. Maybe there’s something out there I’m not aware of, but otherwise I don’t see how such a lawsuit goes very far.
 Marie C. Malaro, A Legal Primer on Managing Museum Collections (Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 1985), 20-22.
David Letterman has been phoning it in for at least a decade. (And I say that as a Letterman fan from way back.) But Monday night, his first day back from break, he gave this personal remembrance of Robin Williams:
The subject came up yesterday on another forum about the CW history of a particular vessel, the sidewheel riverboat William Bagaley (or Bagley, as it’s often given in contemporary records). It’s an interesting story.
William Bagaley was built at Belle Vernon, Pennsylvania in 1854. She was 170 feet long, 32 feet 9 inches wide (not including the sidewheels and deck overhang), and had a depth of hold of 7 feet. Her measured tonnage was 396 30/95 tons. She was initially registered at Pittsburgh on November 28, 1854.
Abstract register of the steamboat William Bagaley, 1855.
The boat was re-enrolled about year later at New Orleans, on December 7, 1855. Her owner at that time was listed as Ralph Bagley (Bagaley?) of Pittsburg, and her master was John C. Sinnott. At some point in the following years it appears that Bagley may have sold his interest in the boat, because April 1861 the boat is advertised as being part of the Cox, Brainard & Co. line of steamers running between New Orleans and the Alabama River, as high up as Montgomery. Dick Sinnott is listed as master at that time; it’s not clear how he is related to John C. Sinnott, although they appear to be different individuals.
April 1861 advertisement for the steamboat William Bagaley, running from New Orleans to Mobile, Selma and Montgomery. From Huber.
Sometime in mid-1862 or later, William Bagaley was taken into Confederate service, probably for use as a tender or supply vessel supporting the military outposts around Mobile Bay. On at least one occasion, in early March 1863, the steamer was used as a flag-of-truce vessel for communicating with the Union blockading fleet off the entrance to the bay.
That spring and summer, Confederate officials in Mobile began hiring vessels to run the blockade to Cuba. Most of these, like Bagaley, were shallow-draft riverboats. The Confederate government would split the profits of the venture with the boats’ owners, and reimbrse them half the value of the vessel if she were lost. On the night of July 17/18, 1863, William Bagaley ran the blockade out of Mobile Bay, passing under the guns of Fort Morgan and keeping along the Swash Channel to the east of the entrance. Her cargo consisted of 700 bales of cotton, 3,200 barrel staves, and 125 barrels of turpentine. She was under the command of Captain Charles Frisk, with 29 other crewmen on board. Running with her was the steamer James Battle, both headed for Havana. The two ships were spotted by the blockaders U.S.S. Aroostook and U.S.S. Kennebec. The division commander, Captain Jonathan P. Gillis also slipped his cable and gave chase in Ossipee. The Union vessels quickly overhauled James Battle, and Gillis ordered the commander of another blockader that had arrived on the scene, W. M. Walker of U.S.S. De Soto, to put a prize crew aboard and send the steamer on to New Orleans for adjudication. Gillis, in Ossipee, continued on after William Bagaley.
U.S.S. Ossipee in a postwar image, c. 1900. Library of Congress.
(It should be noted here that Kennebec, Aroostook and Ossipee were part of the West Gulf Blockading Squadron, under the overall command of David G. Farragut, while De Soto was part of the East Gulf Blockading Squadron, under Theodorus Bailey. This divided command structure probably helped precipitate what happened next.)
By sunset that evening, Gillis could clearly make out the steamer up ahead. By 11 p.m. Ossipee was close enough to test the range with her 30-pounder rifle, at which the steamer immediately stopped her engines and hove to, waiting to be boarded. At that point they were about 176 nautical miles south-southeast of the entrance to Mobile Bay, more than a third of the distance to Havana. As Gillis was preparing to send a prize crew aboard, U.S.S De Soto churned up out of the darkness, stopped between Ossipee and her prize, and Walker began transferring his own prize crew. Gillis, who believed he had just made a solo capture – and thus making Ossipee and her crew eligible for the full award of prize money, was clearly incensed. He wrote in his report that he “doubted whether [De Soto] saw her, but had followed in our track, knowing we were in pursuit [and] seized clandestinely the opportunity in the darkness to throw on board a prize master and receive [the] steamer’s papers.” Gillis clearly saw Walker as poaching a share of a prize that was rightfully his. Gillis had Captain Frisk write out a statement that he had been chased by Ossipee since noon that day, that he had stopped in response to Ossipee’s gun, and “surrendered to the U.S.S. Ossipee.” Walker, for his part, formally reported to Gillis his taking possession of the prize, closing with the notation that “at the time of taking possession of the William Bagley the U. S. steamers Ossippee [sic.] and Kennebec were in sight.”
U.S.S. De Soto at anchor in Puerto Rico, 1868. Naval Historical Center.
Walker’s notation about Ossipee and Kennebec being “in sight” at the time of capture is tremendously important, because U.S. Navy prize rules specified that all ships in sight or within signaling distance of a capture were entitled to a share of the proceeds, whether they had actively played a role in the capture or not. Not only did Walker dash in between Ossipee and Bagaley to claim the prize first, his mention of Kennebec being “in sight” at the time would effectively split the prize money three ways, reducing Gillis’ and Ossipee’s share by about two-thirds. Walker almost certainly believed that his own squadron commander, Rear Admiral Bailey, would defend Walker’s actions, particularly since a capture by one of the East Gulf Squadron’s ships would put prize money in Bailey’s own pocket.
Map showing the approximate location to the capture of the steamer William Bagaley.
Like James Battle, William Bagaley was sent in to New Orleans for adjudication at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. Bagaley arrived at New Orleans first, on July 23. The court heard the case and condemned the steamer and its cargo on August 17, 1864, ordering them to be sold at public auction by the U.S. marshal, with De Soto and Ossipee listed as the official captors. A monition order was published in the local press giving ten days’ advance notice of the sale in the event there was a challenge, but none was forthcoming and the sale went ahead as scheduled.
Almost immediately after the auction, though – in fact, before the marshal could deposit the proceeds with the district court – a challenge to the sale was filed by a man from Indiana named Joshua Bragdon (1806-1875). Bragdon claimed to be a former resident of Mobile and a partner in the firm of Cox, Brainard & Co., that had owned the steamboat before the war. Bragdon claimed that, as a Union man, he had left Mobile and returned to his old home in Indiana at the outbreak of the war, while his partners remained in the South. More than a year after he went north, he said, the Confederacy had unlawfully seized his share in the boat, of which he claimed to hold a one-sixth interest. Bragdon insisted that he had never supported the rebellion and played no active role in it, and asked the court to award him one-sixth of the proceeds from the auction of both the steamer and her cargo, as being property that was rightfully his.
The district court in New Orleans rejected Bragdon’s claim and eventually the case made its way to the Supreme Court (The William Bagaley, 72 U.S. 5 Wall. 377). Remarkably, at this point Bragdon’s former partners also filed a motion with the Supreme Court, asking they be awarded the other five-sixths of the value of the ship and her cargo. They explained that while they had been Confederate citizens, they had subsequently been pardoned by President Johnson and were now ready to recover their lost investment, too.
In an opinion authored by Associate Justice Nathan Clifford (right, 1803-81), the court rejected both Bragdon’s and his former partners’ claims. The court held that Bragdon had effectively walked away from his property in Mobile and made no effort to remove or recover it for more than a year before it was seized by the Confederacy, effectively abandoning it. Bragdon claimed to have been loyal to the United States throughout the war, but Clifford wrote that with that loyalty came an obligation to break with his Confederate business partners and recover whatever interest he had in the boat. Ships, Clifford wrote, have a peculiar national identity that other forms of tangible property don’t, because they are formally registered, fly a national flag, and carry official government papers licensing their activities. By abandoning his vessel in what amounted to a foreign port during wartime, Bragdon had effectively handing over his interest in the vessel to the enemy government:Open war had existed between the belligerents for more than two years before the capture in this case was made, and yet there is not the slightest evidence in the record that the appellant ever attempted or manifested any desire to withdraw his effects in the partnership or to dispose of his interest in the steamer. Effect of the war was to dissolve the partnership, and the history of that period furnishes plenary evidence that ample time was afforded to every loyal citizen desiring to improve it, to withdraw all such effects and dispose of all such interests. . . . Personal property, except such as is the produce of the hostile soil, follows as a general rule the rights of the proprietor; but if it is suffered to remain in the hostile country after war breaks out, it becomes impressed with the national character of the belligerent where it is situated. Promptitude is therefore justly required of citizens resident in the enemy country or having personal property there, in changing their domicil, severing those business relations or disposing of their effects as matter of duty to their own government and as tending to weaken the enemy. Presumption of the law of nations is against one who lingers in the enemy’s country, and if he continue there for much length of time without satisfactory explanations, he is liable to be considered as remorant, or guilty of culpable delay, and an enemy.
For his part, Joshua Bragdon spent his remaining years in New Albany, Indiana, where he invested in a rolling mill. The 1870 U.S. Census identifies him as a manufacturer of T-rail — a high-demand item in the railroad-building boom of the postwar years — with a combined worth in real and personal property of $100,000. Bragdon died in 1875.
Federal troops at Point Isabel, Texas, as shown in a Febraruary 1864 issue of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper. At left are two riverboats, similar to William Bagaley, serving as Union army transports. Library of Congress.
By the time Justice Clifford wrote his opinion in 1866, though, the steamer William Bagaley was only a memory. The ship had been purchased at auction by the U.S. Quartermaster Department and outfitted as a transport for Nathaniel Banks’ expedition to the Texas coast. Bagaley was one of fourteen transports that sailed from the Southwest Pass of the Mississippi on October 26, 1863, bound for the anchorage at Brazos Santiago, near the mouth of the Rip Grande. A little over three weeks later, after offloading at Brazos Santiago, Bagaley was wrecked on the bar at Aransas Pass, near Corpus Christi, on November 18, 1863.
Map from the OR Altlas showing the wreck location of Bagaley at Aransas Pass, Texas.
I don’t know if the wreck of William Bagaley has ever been located or identified, but if it survives it presumably lies in Texas state waters and, on that account, should be considered a protected archaeological landmark under the Texas Antiquities Code.
 Works Progress Administration, Ship Registers and Enrollments of New Orleans, Louisiana, Vol. V: 1851-1860 (Louisiana State University, 1942), 272; Frederick Way, Jr., Way’s Packet Directory, 1848-1983 (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University, 1983), 487.
 Works Progress Administration, 272; Leonard V. Huber, Advertisements of Lower Mississippi River Steamboats, 1812-1920 (West Barrington, Rhode Island: Steamship Historical Society of America, 1959), 68.
 Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies (hereafter cited as ORN), Volume 19, 656-57.
 The William Bagaley, 72 U.S. 5 Wall. 377 (1866, hereafter cited as Bagaley Case), (http://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/72/377/case.html).
 Stephen R. Wise, Lifeline of the Confederacy: Blockade Running During the Civil War (Columbia: University of South Carolina, 1988), 171-72; ORN 17:504-07.
 ORN 17:507.
 New Orleans Times-Picayune, July 24, 1863, p. 2.
 Bagaley Case.
 Charles Dana Gibson and E. Kay Gibson, Assault and Logistics, Union Army Coastal and River Operations, 1861-1866 (Camden, Maine: Ensign Press, 1995), 336; ibid., 339; Charles Dana Gibson and E. Kay Gibson, Dictionary of Transports and Combatant Vessels, Steam and Sail, Employed by the Union Army, 1861-1868 (Camden, Maine: Ensign Press, 1995), 338.
Yes, alcohol was involved. Language NSFW.