September 10, 2012. Fr. Stephen Duncan of Galveston, Texas conducts a memorial service for U.S.S. Hatteras Fireman John G. Cleary and Coal Heaver William Healy, who died in the battle with C.S.S. Alabama, January 11, 1863. This service, conducted over the wreck of Hatteras, is believed to be the first to honor these men, both of whom were Irish immigrants. The service marked the beginning of an intensive survey of the wreck conducted by a team of archaeologists and technicians assembled by NOAA, that will create a three-dimensional sonar map to document the storm-exposed remains of the USS Hatteras. The wreck itself will not be disturbed, and no artifacts will be recovered. The wreck is a protected site, and because the remains of the two crewmen were never recovered, the site is considered to be a war grave.
A memorial wreath and red and white rose petals scattered on the Gulf of Mexico at the site. I’ll have more to write about this project soon. In the meantime, here’s a NOAA press release providing the basic details. More Fr. Duncan here.
Not all war casualties are the result of enemy action. From the New York Times, March 20, 1864:
GALVESTON, Wednesday, Feb. 17.
A terrible accident occurred yesterday morning, near Fort Point. A torpedo, about to be deposited in the bay, exploded in the hands of JOHN T. BARRON, from Falls County, belonging to Co. A., COOK’s regiment. Mr. BARRON’s left leg was shot off below the knee; his right hand shattered, requiring amputation; his clothes took fire and severely burnt his face and legs. The unfortunate man was sent to the hospital. He was still alive when last heard from.
Private J. W. Barron of Company I, of the 1st Texas Heavy Artillery (Cook’s Regiment), was a 42-year-old conscript from Falls County in central Texas, near present-day Waco. His brief compiled service record suggests he was enlisted on January 28, 1864, less than three weeks before the accident; perhaps his inexperience in handling mines contributed to the incident. We’ll never know.
Barron died in the General Hospital at Galveston on either February 23, as noted in his CSR, or February 25, according to the city’s interment record. He was buried on that latter date in potter’s field, which was standard practice for soldiers who died here during the war. Although the interment record lists Barron’s cause of death as “leg blown off,” the week or more between the date of the incident and his death suggests that he died not from circulatory shock, but from the complications of infection that typically accompanied traumatic amputation and burns in the 19th century.
Oleander Cemetery, Galveston, 2011. This cemetery, located on Broadway between 41st and 42nd Streets, was established in the early 1900s, and all the markers here date from that time to the present. In the 1860s, however, this was the site of Galveston’s potters field, where transients and the poor were buried. During the Civil War, it was also the burial place of Confederate garrison troops who died in service here, including Private Barron.
Marker placed by the local UDC chapter at Oleander Cemetery, noting the unmarked graves of soldiers buried at what was then a potters field.
I haven’t found a record of this event in the local newspapers, although the New York Times story was picked up by several other Northern papers. I also haven’t found out much definitive about him outside of his military service, alth0ugh at the time of the 1860 U.S. Census there was a John Barron in Falls County, whose listed age of 60 would make him significantly older than Private Barron. Perhaps he was a relative, or the census rolls gave his age incorrectly.
In that census there was also a younger man, one J. W. Barron living near Tyler in east Texas, a 28-year-old farmer with a wife, Elizabeth (32), and three young daughters — Mary (8), Ann (6) and Theodosia (2). (See Vicki Betts’ update in the comments.)
Private Barron came to the ranks as a conscript, late in the war; it seems safe to say that one reason or another kept him from volunteering up to that date. In his early 40s, it seems likely that he had — or had had — a family, and perhaps those commitments kept him home. It’s entirely possible he has living descendants today; I wonder if they remember.
Thanks to the staff at the Galveston and Texas History Center, Rosenberg Library, for assisting with this research.
Just two days before Arthur Fremantle toured the batteries defending the eastern end of Galveston Island, the Confederate military engineer in charge of designing and building the defenses wrote out his report for the month of April 1863, outlining the work accomplished to date, and some of the challenges still to be overcome. Colonel Valery Sulakowski (1827-1873, right) was a Pole by birth, and a former officer in the Austrian army. After emigrating to the United States in the late 1840s, he worked as a civil engineer in New Orleans. He’d met General Magruder early in the war, in Virginia, and after the island was recaptured from Federal forces on New Years Day 1863, set about expanding the island’s defenses. Sulakowski had the reputation of a strict disciplinarian but, along with another immigrant engineering officer, Julius Kellersberger, is credited with quickly expanding the fortifications at Galveston and making the island a much more defensible post than it had been during the first eighteen months of the war.
Sulakowski’s report, being essentially simultaneous with Fremantle’s observations, also give a better sense of what the British officer saw but declined to record in detail due to the sensitive military nature of the information. From the Official Records, 21:1063-64:
ENGINEER’S OFFICE, Galveston, April 30, 1863.
Capt. EDMUND P. TURNER,
Assistant Adjutant-General, Brownsville
I have the honor to make the following report for the month of April, 1863:
Fort Point–casemated battery.–The wood, iron, and earth work was completed during this month; five iron casemate carriages constructed; the guns mounted; cisterns placed, and hot-shot furnace constructed. It has to be sodded all over, the bank being high and composed of sand. Two 10-inch mortars will be placed on the top behind breastworks.
Fort Magruder–heavy open battery.–The front embankment, traverses, platforms, and magazines were completed during this month; two 10-inch columbiads mounted. The Harriet Lane guns are not mounted, for want of suitable carriages, which are under construction. Bomb-proofs and embankment in the rear commenced and the front embankment sodded inside, top and slope. With the present force it will require nearly the whole of this month to complete it.
Fort Bankhead.–Guns were mounted and the railroad constructed during this month.
South Battery.–For want of labor the reconstruction of this battery was commenced within the last few days of the month; also the construction of the railroad leading to it.
Intrenchment of the town is barely commenced, for want of labor.
Obstructions in the main channel.–Since the destruction of the rafts by storm, before they could be fastened to the abutments, this plan of obstruction had to be abandoned for the want of material to repair the damage done. The present system of obstructing consists of groups of piles braced and bolted and three cable chains fastened to them, the groups of piles in the deepest part of the channel to be anchored besides. This was the first plan of obstructing the channel on my arrival here; but being informed by old sailors and residents that piles could not be driven on account of the quicksand, and not having the necessary machinery then to examine the bottom, it was rejected. Having constructed a machine for this purpose, it is certain that piles can be driven and are actually already driven half across. This obstruction will be completed and the chains stretched from abutment to abutment by the 10th of May. Sketch, letter A, represents the work.
Obstructions at the head of Pelican Island.–Two-thirds done. It will require the whole of May to complete this obstruction and erect the casemated sunken battery of two guns, as proposed in my last report. These works are greatly retarded by the difficulty of procuring the material.
Pelican Spit ought to be fortified, as submitted in my last report, with a casemated work. For its defense two 32-pounders and one 24-pounder can be spared. This work is of great importance, but it had to be postponed until the intrenchments around the town shall be fairly advanced.
The force of negroes [sic.] on the island consists of 481 effective men. Of these 40 are at the saw-mills, 100 cutting and carrying sod (as all the works are of sand, consequently the sodding must be done all over the works), 40 carrying timber and iron, which leaves 301 on the works, including [harbor] obstructions. The whole force of negroes consists, as above, of 481 effective, 42 cooks, 78 sick; total, 601.
In order to complete the defenses of Galveston it will require the labor of 1,000 negroes during three weeks, or eight weeks with the present force. The work of soldiers amounts to very little, as the officers seem to have no control whatever over their men. The number of soldiers at work is about 100 men, whose work amount to 10 negroes’ work.
Brazos River.–After having examined the locality I have laid out the necessary works, and Lieutenant Cross, of the Engineers, is ordered to take charge of the construction. Inclosed letter B is a copy of instructions given to Lieutenant Cross. Sketch, letter C, shows the location of the proposed works at the mouth of Brazos River.
Western Sub-District.–Major Lea, in charge of the Western Sub-District, sent in his first communication, copy of which, marked D, is inclosed. I respectfully recommend Major Lea’s suggestions with regard to procuring labor to the attention of the major-general commanding. I have ordered a close examination of the wreck of the Westfield, which resulted in finding one 8-inch gun already, and I hope that more will be found. Cash account inclosed is marked letter E; liabilities incurred and not paid is marked letter F.(*)
I have the honor to remain, respectfully, your obedient servant,
My emphasis. “Major Lea,” mentioned in the last paragraph, is Albert Miller Lea, a Confederate engineer and staff officer who, after the Battle of Galveston four months before, had famously found his son, a U.S. naval officer aboard the Harriet Lane, mortally wounded aboard that ship.
Sulakowski’s report also mentions the importance of sodding the built-up earthworks, as the sand of which they were constructed would otherwise blow down in drifts. That technique was also used in the fortifications around Charleston, as in this detail (above) of a painting of Fort Moultrie by Conrad Wise Chapman. At the center of the image, African American laborers gather sand to be used in repairing the fort.
Image: Detail of “Fort Moultrie” by Conrad Wise Chapman. Museum of the Confederacy.
Last week I had a post concerning (somewhat tangentially) the use of impressed African Americans as laborers on the defensive works at Galveston. It’s a subject that deserves much more close attention than I’ve had time to get into here, but I thought I’d pass along a few contemporary citations that address the prevalence of such laborers here, and the ongoing friction between the military, which needed every able-bodied hand it could get by any means, and slaveholders who were reluctant to turn their property over to the Confederacy for military labor.
Impressed slaves building fortifications at James Island, South Carolina. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library.
More crackerjack analysis from the leading online researcher of “black Confederates”:
Captain P.P. Brotherson’s Confederate Officers record states eleven (11) blacks served with the 1st Texas Heavy Artillery in the “Negro Cooks Regiment.” This annotation can be viewed on footnote.com. See the third line on the left. Also, the record is cataloged in the National Archives Catalog ID 586957 and microfilm number M331 under “Confederate General and Staff Officers, and Nonregimental Enlisted Men.”
Could this be one of the types of regiments many Confederate historians have documented as part of Confederate History?
Here’s the document in question:
Note that the critical phrase “Negro Cooks Regiment,” as quoted by the researcher, does not appear in the document, which is a routine statement of rations drawn for conscripted laborers. The actual text reads, “Provision for Eleven Negroes Employed in the Quarter Masters department Cooks Regt Heavy Artillery at Galveston Texas for ten days commencing on the 11th day of May 1864 & Ending on the 20th of May 1864.” There’s a similar document in the same collection, covering the period May 21 to 31, as well.
“Cook’s Regiment” is an alternate name for the 1st Texas Heavy Artillery. Like many Civil War regiments, it was widely known and referred to by the name of its commanding officer, Colonel Joseph Jarvis Cook (right). The regiment, formed from a pre-war militia unit, served at Galveston through most of the war, manning the artillery batteries around the island. The African Americans referred to in the document, attached to the regiment’s quartermaster, were likely used in maintaining the trenchwork and fortifications occupied by the regiment, or moving supplies and munitions between them. After the war, the former members of the regiment reorganized themselves as a sort of unofficial militia unit again, which eventually morphed into a social club. The Galveston Artillery Club exists right down to the present day. (Highly recommended for lunch, if you can score an invite.)
I wouldn’t expect most people, even Civil War buffs, to know what “Cook’s Regiment” was off the top of their heads, but it’s quite clear from the original document that it’s an artillery unit, as opposed to a regiment of cooks. The key phrasing quoted, “Negro Cooks Regiment,” is an outright fabrication. And 30 seconds with a search engine would’ve clarified the situation immediately.
Or maybe doing minimal due diligence like that is just a trick used by politically-correct, revisionist “pundits” like myself.
Forget interpretation. Forget analysis. Forget trying to understand the document within the context of the time and place it was written; these people don’t even seem capable of reading the documents they cite. This particular researcher has a track record of misreading documents, and drawing conclusions based on that misreading. A few weeks ago she claimed that the record of one African American, attached to a cavalry regiment, carried the notation, “has no home,” and went on to argue this showed special commitment to the Confederate cause: “with no home, [he] was not phycially [sic.] bound to the south. However, he stayed and served the Confederate States Army.” The actual notation, repeated again and again on cards throughout his CSR, was “has no horse.”
On another occasion, she quoted from a book on Camp Douglas, supposedly to show that a black servant held there had not been released as a former slave, but was held as a prisoner because the Federal authorities had determined that he was a bona fide soldier. This, she argued, was evidence that enslaved personal servants were deemed Confederate soldiers by the Union military. Unfortunately, the very next lines of the book she was quoting from verify that the prison camp did, after months of dragging their heels, determine the man was a slave, and released him on exactly those grounds by order of the Secretary of War.
And now, an entire regiment of “Negro cooks,” right here in my own home town. How did I miss that one?
Image: Order for the evacuation of Galveston, October 1862, signed by Col. Joseph Jarvis Cook, commanding Confederate troops on the island. Rosenberg Library, Galveston.
On July 2, 1861, the U.S. Steamer South Carolina appeared off the bar at Galveston, the first Federal warship to be positioned on the Texas coast since the state declared its secession several months before. South Carolina‘s commander, Captain James Alden, Jr. (right, 1810-77), later summarized the event in three brief sentences in a dispatch to the Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Welles (ORN 16 576):
I have the honor to report that I arrived here on the 2d instant, and immediately hoisted a signal for a pilot for the purpose of communicating with the shore. In a short time a pilot boat came off, bearing a flag of truce and a document, a copy of which is herewith sent. In reply to it I enclosed a copy of your declaration of blockade, with a single remark that I was sent here to enforce it, which I should do to the best of my ability.
Fortunately we have a fuller picture of the events of that day. The war was a new, untested thing — the shocking casualties of First Manassas were still almost three weeks off — and both sides were still feeling each other out. From the Galveston Civilian and Gazette Weekly, July 9, 1861:
The Blockade at Last.
Yesterday forenoon the lookout on Hendley’s buildings ran up the red flag, signalizing war vessels, with the token for one sail and one steamer beneath, bringing groups of curious observers to the observatories with which Galveston is so well provided. In due time the dark hull of a large steam propeller loomed up above the waters, followed by a “low, black” but by no means “rakish looking schooner,” and approached the anchorage outside the bar.
By order of Capt. Moore, of the Confederate States Army, Capt. Thomas Chubb, with the pilot boar Royal Yacht, with our fellow citizen John S. Sydnor, proceeded to board the steamer, which proved to be the South Carolina, formerly in the New York and Savannah trade, but now converted into a war vessel.
The Royal Yacht, in answer to the pilot signal of the steamer, hoisted a flag; but the steamer evidently intended to force them to board the schooner; but this was not the intention. Capt. Chubb, on seeing the jack was down, put about for the city, being at the same time out of range, when the steamer hoisted a white flag. The Yacht then sent a boar alongside, bearing Col. Sydnor and Capt. Chubb. They were received with due ceremony and marked politeness. Col. Sydnor having delivered Capt. Moore’s letter, Capt., Alden gave him written notice of the blockade. A conversation of about an hour ensured, during which Capt. Alden was assured of the entire unity of our people in reference to resisting the oppression of the North. Capt. Alden expressed great regret that matters had reached such a pass, but said he was here to do his duty to his government, and that the intention was to enforce obedience to it. He gave no assurances as to the means which would be adopted to carry out his intentions as far as we are concerned.
The hatchways being closed and guns all covered, it was impossible to form any exact conclusions as to the strength of the steamer. She has six large guns, evidently 42 pounders, one large swivel near her bow, and at her stern two brass 6-pounders, all ready mounted for use as flying artillery. But a few men appeared on deck, and the only clue furnished as to her complement was in her clothing hanging up today. Capt. Chubb thinks there are about 150 on board.
Capt. Alden expressed the belief that his Government would soon be able to bring the Southern States into subjection, and, on being told that all classes of our people would suffer extermination first, seemed much surprised. He seemed disposed to converse freely in relation to our troubles, and received the plain talk and patriotic response on our two citizens on good humor. He said he was able to enforce the demands of his Government, and, if necessary, shell us out. He was assured that, whenever it came to that, we would give him a warm reception.
There was one feature in this affair worthy of note. Col. Sydnor is a native of the South, while Capt. Chubb was raised in the same town (Charleston, Mass.) with Capt. Alden. He was thus able to hear from his lips the unmistakable evidences that all our citizens of Southern, Northern, as well as foreign origin, are determined to fight to the last sooner than submit to the detestable rule of Lincoln.
The following is the reply of Capt. Alden to Capt. Moore’s note:
U.S. Steamer South Carolina
Off Galveston, July 2, 1861
Capt. John O. Moore, C.S.A., & c.:
In answer to your communication of this date, I take the liberty of enclosing a declaration of blockade, which I am sent here to enforce, and am
Respectfully your obedient servant,
James Alden, Com’r U.S. Steamer South Carolina
Declaration of Blockade
To all whom it may concern:
I, William Mervine, flag officer, commanding the United States naval forces comprising the Gulf squadron, give notice that, by virtue of the authority and power in me vested, and in pursuance of the proclamation of His Excellency the President of the United States, promulgated under date of April 19 and 27, 1861, respectively, that an effective blockade of the port of Galveston, Texas has been established, and will be rigidly enforced and maintained against all vessels (public armed vessels of foreign powers alone excepted) which attempt to enter or depart from said port.
Signed, William Mervine,
Flag Officer U.S. Flag Ship Mississippi, June 9, 1861.
I certify that the above is a true copy, James Alden, Com’r U.S. Navy.
Neutral vessels will be allowed fifteen days to depart, from this date, viz., June [sic.] 2, 1861.
James Alden, Com’g.
The Hendley Buildings on Strand Street, Galveston, in the 1870s and in 2011. As one of the tallest commercial buildings in town at the time of the Civil War, the Hendley Buildings (or Hendley’s Row) were a natural lookout point for observers watching both the Gulf of Mexico and Galveston Bay. A red flag flown from this building on July 2, 1861 announced the much-anticipated arrival of the Federal blockade. Upper image: Rosenberg Library.
U.S.S. South Carolina, as drawn in 1948 by Eric Heyl. Via U.S. Naval Historical Center. South Carolina was built as a civilian packet steamer to operate on the Atlantic seaboard between Savannah, Charleston, Norfolk and Boston. She was iron-hulled, 217 feet long, 1,165 tons burthen. She served in the Gulf Blockading Squadron in 1861 and 1862, and spent the balance of the war with the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron. Sold out of the Navy after the end of hostilities, she became the civilian steamer Juanita in 1886. Her hull survived until 1902 when, as a barge, she foundered in a blizzard.
Additional details of the meeting between Alden, Chubb and Sydnor appeared in the New York Herald Tribune of July 31 quoting another Galveston paper:
In the course of the conversation, Capt. Alden expressed a desire to receive friendly visits from our citizens, and stated that he should especially be glad to have a visit from Gen. Houston. Col. Sydnor informed him, in reply, that though Gen. Houston had been a devoted Union man to the last, yet that now he had declared that he could no longer support the Stars and Stripes, but would fight to the last for the flag of the Confederate States. Capt. A. expressed his surprise and regret at this, and that his Government has no friends in Texas. But he said, nevertheless, he desired a friendly intercourse with our city, and hoped he might be hospitably received should he make us a visit.
Col. S. replied that he could not promise what kind of reception our authorities would give him. Capt. Alden inquired if there was not plenty of fish along our shore; he had heard there was, and he desired to catch some. He was informed that they were abundant along the beach, but that it might not be altogether prudent for his men to approach to near. Much of the conversation was in a jocular vein.
For all the strained humor about Alden’s interest in catching “fish,” both sides were in deadly earnest. Alden and South Carolina‘s crew wasted no time, celebrating the Fourth of July by capturing six small schooners, Shark, Venus, Ann Ryan, McCanfield, Louisa, and Dart. After providing his unwilling guests a large dinner in honor of the date, he sent them into Galveston under a flag of truce on Venus, McCanfield and Louisa, after judging those vessels worthless as prizes. The others Alden retained in hopes of fitting them with armament and using them for work in shallow water, close inshore.
One of the freed passengers, curiously enough, was John A. Wharton (right, 1828-65), who would later command the 8th Texas Cavalry, Terry’s Rangers, and eventually rise to the rank of Major General in the Trans-Mississippi Department. According to the Herald Tribune, Wharton was allowed to keep his personal valise, but the military goods he was coming back to Texas with — two boxes of arms purchased for Brazoria County, ten gross of military buttons, cloth for military uniforms “and a six-shooter” — were all seized by Alden’s men as contraband.
But these initial moves were still just a prelude; a few weeks later, Captain Alden and South Carolina would open the war for real along the Texas coast.
John Newland Maffitt (1819-1886, right) was one of the best-known of all Confederate naval officers. In 1861, after serving nearly 30 years in the U.S. Navy, Maffitt resigned his commission and entered Confederate service. Maffitt is best known for his command of the commerce raider Florida, which in a single cruise destroyed or captured 47 U.S. merchantmen, but he also commanded the ironclad ram Albemarle and ended the war commanding blockade runners. Maffitt was an aggressive officer. A reporter for the New York Herald who encountered Maffitt in neutral Havana wrote, “Captain Maffitt is no ordinary character. He is vigorous, energetic, bold, quick and dashing, and the sooner he is caught and hung the better it will be.”
Maffitt was particularly suited to blockade running, having spent half his Navy career surveying the U.S. coastline and preparing detailed hydrographic charts. In the closing months of the war, Maffitt commanded the government-owned blockade runner Owl, a 446-ton steel-hulled paddle steamer built at Liverpool in 1864. Owl was a large ship, though, which was a liability in shallow Texas coastal waters. During her one run into Galveston, Maffitt’s ship very nearly suffered the same fate as Denbigh would just a few weeks later, and in the same spot — on Bird Key. The following article, from the Galveston Weekly News of April 26, 1865, tells the story. One of the assisting vessels, the Laird-built steamer Lark, would soon become the last blockade runner to clear a Confederate port.
Galveston, April 16, 1865
Ed. News: — We regret to have to be under the necessity of condemning the press for any one thing, and are well aware that they have much to attend to from day to day, for the interest of their readers and the benefit of the Confederacy, but cannot imagine how the people of Galveston should ever have entertained the idea of allowing our Confederate friend, Capt. Maffitt, to be passed unnoticed. We are well aware of his previous history, connected with the U.S. Navy, where he has shown himself worthy of the recommendation of the Secretary of the Navy, and are, also, well aware that when hostilities between the United States and the Confederate States commenced, that he was among the first of the Navy to volunteer his aid and services for the freedom of that new and young Confederacy. His efforts have been untiring, and his usefulness, while in command of the C.S. Steamer Florida, in destroying the commerce owned by our enemies, is too well known to be repeated by us. All we will say, is that he was among the first to participate in the destruction of the commerce of the United States, which effect has been equal to battles won; and none can say that his career since, up to the present hour, has not been wholly devoted to the cause. How like a sailor and a man, did he stand by his ship, the Owl, when, in the hour of peril, within reach of Yankee guns, and had they known his situation, could have captured ship and crew.
A few of us, at the earliest possible moment, visited his ship, for the purpose of rendering assistance; and, among the number, was Capt. McGarvin, with his steamer, the Diana, whose timely assistance, together with the whole-souled Capt. George Blakely, of the steamer Lark, rendered timely and efficient aid. Upon arriving alongside, all were anxiously looking to see Capt. Maffitt, who was standing in the gangway of his ship to receive us, but none could recognize him, as we expected to find him fixed up with gold lace &c., but it was not so. He looked more like a cool, unconcerned passenger than a Captain in the C.S. Navy, with a Scotch cap, a torn coat, and a pair of rubber shoes, without socks. This was the condition in which we found him, but any sailor knows full well how to meet another. He was glad to meet us. His vessel had been in imminent danger for a long time. His previous reputation was at stake. His hard work, together with sleepless nights, and kind and encouraging words to to his men were, with the assistance of a few others, crowned with success, and the good ship Owl, with her gallant Captain and crew, are now safely anchored in our beautiful Bay – the first C.S. ship that ever visited our waters. . . .
The crew are good, as we call ourselves good judges, and witnessed their hard labor in the hour of trial, and their great regard for their commander.
The ship can’t be beat, as is as fine a craft as ever floated, and if Yankee gunboats ever get after her, she will show them a light pair of heels, and the officers will cry, “come on, old Abe!”
Decades later, this account would be resurrected by a Daily News reporter and rewritten. He kept most of the details the same, but changed the timeline to have it happen in broad daylight, with Maffitt braving a torrent of Yankee shot and shell to bring his runner into Galveston to the cheers of thousands lining the wharves. Thus historical fact became historical fiction.
This post is adapted from a piece I wrote for the Denbigh Project, here.
Jean Preckel is a fine arts ship model builder from Blacksville, West Virginia. She contacted me some time ago about her then-recent model of Banshee, a famous blockade runner during the war, and told me she planned to do another one of Banshee No. 2, profiled here. She contacted me again last week, with images of her new model, now complete. I believe this model is, like Banshee, done to eighth-inch (1:96) scale. You can view more of Jean’s models here.
The Galveston Daily News — which was actually composed and printed in Houston during the war — regularly ran notices of major auction sales of goods brought in through the Federal blockade. Most of the time, it’s impossible to tell whether these materials came into Galveston aboard ship, or perhaps were hauled overland from the Mexican border. Occasionally, though, the advertisements identified the sale with a particular vessel, giving modern researchers at least a partial manifest of that ship’s inbound cargo.
Such is this advertisement for cargo brought in aboard Banshee No. 2, which ran into Galveston in a daring daylight dash on the morning of February 24, 1865. This advertisement ran for several consecutive days in mid-March. Although private blockade runners at this time were required to devote at least half their capacity to materials consigned to the Confederate government, wealthy merchant Thomas William House (right, 1814-80) of Houston held much (or perhaps all) of the ship’s remaining cargo. Note, then, that these materials are all ultimately intended for private consumption and sale on the open market. The buyers at the auction would likely be small- to mid-sized merchants, and each of these lots would be divided and divided again –with a price markup each time — before reaching individual consumers.
CARGO OF THE STEAMER BANSHEE
On TUESDAY, 21st inst., at 10 o’clock, A.M.
BY ORDER OF T. W. HOUSE.
J. S. & J. B. SYDNOR,
J. S. and J. B. S. will proceed to sell, at the time mentioned, the CARGO of the STEAMER BANSHEE, consisting in part the following Goods, and many others that are not herein enumerated:
4,356 pairs LINEN TROWSERS
200 LINEN JACKETS
25 dozen CALF SKINS [boots?]
100 dozen FLAT CALF SKINS
3 pieces BROAD BLACK CLOTH
3 pieces NARROW BLACK CLOTH
5 pieces COLORED TROWSERING
311 dozen men’s Brown Cotton Half HOSE
150 dozen Women’s White Cotton HOSE
60 dozen Men’s Striped Half Hose
80 dozen Men’s Brown Cotton Half Hose
17 dozen Men’s Gray Cotton Half Hose
50 dozen Men’s Fine MERINO SHIRTS
45 dozen Women’s Fine MERINO VESTS
15 dozen Men’s Striped MERINO SHIRTS
15 dozen Nova Spun MERINO SHIRTS
5 dozen Assorted Striped Spun SHIRTS
100 dozen WHite and Mixed Dove Striped Cot. Hose
400 dozen Women’s Stockings
300 dozen Men’s SOCKS
200 dozen Children’s STOCKINGS
108 nests Strong TIN TEA KETTLES
3 dozen Glass LANTERNS
9 dozen TINDER BOXES, with Steels and Flints
1/4 dozen Japanned BATHS
3 dozen Brass PRESERVING PANS
3 dozen LAMPS
3 dozen PORRINGERS
9 Japanned PORRINGERS
3/4 dozen TEA KETTLES
72 nests SAUCEPANS and Covers
25 dozen Strong Tim CAMP KETTLES and Covers
1 Brass PRESERVING PAN
1/4 dozen Glass LANTERNS
1 dozen nests SAUCEPANS and Covers
1 Tin STILL and WORM — 1 gallon
1 Tin COPPER FILTER
1/4 dozen Japanned CASH BOXES, with Trays
1/4 dozen SPICE BOXES
1/2 dozen Tin OIL CANS
4 dozen TIN FUNNELS
A QUANTITY OF IRON POTS
170 Military BITS and CURBS
13 bales HARNESS HIDES
12 boxes SPERM CANDLES
100 gross Small BRASS BUTTONS
500 gross Large BRASS BUTTONS
150 boxes Price’s Belmont SPERM CANDLES
10 Barrels COFFEE
A few days later, on March 24, the Houston Telegraph reported on the sale:
The great auction sale of the Banshee’s cargo came off day before yesterday at Mr. T. W. House’s store, as per announcement. As is generally the case in such heavy sales many good brought all they were worth and others were sold at a heavy sacrifice. Some idea of the prices the goods brought may be gained from the following:
Children’s Hose were sold from $1.99 to 2.17
Men’s Hose, $1.75 to 2.30
Ladies’ Hose, $2.00 to 5.00
Gents’ silk undershirts per doz., $26.50
Gents’ Merino undershirts per doz., $10 to $12.00
Gents’ linen bosom shirts [per doz.], $15.00
Rio coffee, 30¢ per lb.
Manila rope, 30¢ per lb.
Kentucky rope, 18¢ per lb.
Powder, $1.30 per lb.
Calf skins, $28 to $31.00
Galveston Daily News, February 28, 1865:
Galveston, February 25, 1865:
Editor News: The steamer Banshee arrived yesterday morning from Havana. About 25 shots were fired at her, while running in by the Yankee fleet, but without effect.
In his book Running the Blockade: A Personal Narrative of Adventures, Risks, and Escapes During the American Civil War, Tom Taylor devotes one of his latter chapters to his last run into the Confederacy, aboard the big runner Banshee No. 2. This steel-hulled paddle steamer, one of the best-known runners of the war, was built by Aitken and Mansell of Glasgow, measuring 252 feet x 31 feet x 11 feet, and 627 gross registered tons. (By way of comparison, Will o’ the Wisp was 209.5 x 23.2 x 9.7, and 117 grt.) She made a total of four round voyages into Confederate ports — three into Wilmington, North Carolina, and one into Galveston. Banshee No. 2 survived the war and returned to the U.K.
Banshee No. 2 was known in the Confederacy as a fast boat. In October 1864, the Columbus, Georgia Daily Enquirer repeated an item from an unknown Liverpool paper, describing a race between Banshee and a local mail steamer:
EXCITING RACE. — On Monday last, by special arrangement, a trial of speed took place from Holyhead [across the Irish Sea] to Kingstown [Dublin], between the mail steamer Ulster and the Banshee, a vessel built by Mssrs. Aitken & Mansell, of Glasgow, for a well known firm ib this town, for the purpose of running the blockade. The Ulster left the harbor of Holyhead two boats’ lengths ahead of the Banshee, which followed her out at 2:35 p.m. In ten minutes after this, the Banshee came gallantly alongside her opponent, and notwithstanding some loss of time, occasioned by heated bearings, she reached Kingstown fifteen minutes before the Ulster, making the passage from the harbor wall to Kingstown in three hours and twenty-five minutes, or at an average speed of over eighteen statute miles per hour, and carrying 280 toms of dead weight. The Banshee is [built of?] steel, and is 1,190 [tons] R.M., and is propelled by paddles driven by engines of 250 horse power.
Interestingly, in her last run Banshee followed the identical path that William Watson would about a month later, while serving as navigator for a screw steamer he called “Phoenix” in his book, but was probably Pelican. Banshee even grounded at about the same spot in the swash channel, although Taylor’s big steamer finally pushed over by wave while making the dash in daylight, while Watson had to wait silently, in darkness, while the tide rose enough to refloat his ship.
When Wilmington was on the point of falling [January 1865] there was nothing for it but to transfer our operations to Galveston, and to accomplish this I took the Banshee No 2 over to Havana with a valuable cargo accompanied by Frank Hurst, in order to make an attempt to run into Galveston: this proved to be my last trip, but it was far from being the least exciting. When all was ready we experienced the greatest difficulty in finding a Galveston pilot. Though, owing to the high rate of pay, numbers of men were to be found ready to offer their services, it was extremely hard to obtain competent men. After considerable delay, we had to content ourselves at last with a man who said he knew all about the port but who turned out to be absolutely worthless. We then made a start, and with the exception of meeting with the most violent thunderstorm, in which the lightning was something awful, nothing extraordinary occurred on our passage across the Gulf of Mexico, and we scarcely saw a sail — very different from our experiences between Nassau and Wilmington, when it was generally a case of “sail on the port bow,” or “steamer right ahead,” at all hours of the day.
The third evening after leaving Havana we had run our distance and, on heaving the lead, and finding that we were within a few miles of the shore, we steamed cautiously on in order to try and make out the blockading squadron or the land. It was a comparatively calm and very dark night, just the one for the purpose, but within an hour all had changed and it commenced to blow a regular “Norther,” a wind which is very prevalent on that coast. Until then I had no idea what a “Norther” meant; first rain came down in torrents, then out of the inky blackness of clouds and rain came furious gusts, until a hurricane was blowing against which, notwithstanding that we were steaming at full speed, we made little or no way, and although the sea was smooth our decks were swept by white foam and spray Suddenly we made out some dark objects all round us, and found ourselves drifting helplessly among the ships of the blockading squadron, which were steaming hard to their anchors, and at one moment we were almost jostling two of them; whether they knew what we were, or mistook us for one of themselves, matters not; they were too much occupied about their own safety to attempt to interfere
As to attempt to get into Galveston that night would have been madness, we let the Banshee drift and, when we thought we were clear of the fleet we steamed slowly seaward, after a while shaping a course so as to make the land about thirty miles to the south west at daylight. We succeeded in doing this, and quietly dropped our anchor in perfectly calm water, the Norther having subsided almost as quickly as it had risen. Having seen enough of our pilot to realise that he was no good whatever, we decided after a conference to lie all day, where we were keeping a sharp look-out, and steam handy and determined as evening came on to creep slowly up the coast until we made out the blockading fleet, then to anchor again and make a bold dash at daylight for our port. All went well; we were unmolested during the day, and got under weigh towards evening, passing close to a wreck which we recognised as our old friend the Will o’ the Wisp, which had been driven ashore and lost on the very first trip she made after I had sold her. Immediately afterwards we very nearly lost our own ship too. Seeing a post of Confederate soldiers close by on the beach, we determined to steam close in and communicate with them, in order to learn all about the tactics of the blockaders and our exact distance from Galveston. We backed her close in to the breakers in order to speak, but when the order was given to go ahead she declined to move, and the chief engineer reported that something had gone wrong with the cylinder valve, and that she must heave to for repairs. It was an anxious moment: the Banshee had barely three fathoms beneath her, and her stern was almost in the white water. We let go the anchor, but in the heavy swell it failed to hold; the pilot was in a helpless state of flurry when he found that we were drifting slowly but steadily towards the shore, but [Captain Jonathan W.] Steele’s presence of mind never for one moment deserted him. The comparatively few minutes which occupied the engineers in temporarily remedying the defect seemed like hours in the presence of the danger momentarily threatening us. When at length the engineers managed to turn her ahead, we on the bridge were greatly relieved to see her point seawards and clear the breakers. I have often thought since, if a disaster had happened and we had lost the ship, how stupid we should have been thought by people at home.
As soon as we reached deep water the damage was permanently repaired, and we steamed cautiously up the coast, until about sundown we made out the topmasts of the blockading squadron right ahead. We promptly stopped, calculating that, as they were about ten to eleven miles from us, Galveston must lie a little further on our port bow. We let go our anchor and prepared for an anxious night; all hands were on deck and the cable was ready to be unshackled at a moment’s notice, with steam as nearly ready as possible without blowing off, as at any moment a prowler from the squadron patrolling the coast might have made us out. We had not been lying thus very long, when suddenly on the starboard bow we made out a cruiser steaming towards us, evidently on the prowl. It was a critical time; all hands were on deck, a man standing by to knock the shackle out of the chain cable, and the engineers at their stations. Thanks to the backing of the coast, our friend did not discover us, and to our relief disappeared to the southward.
After this, all was quiet during the remainder of the night, which fortunately for us was very dark, and about two hours before daylight [on February 24] we quietly raised our anchor and steamed slowly on, feeling our way cautiously by the lead and hoping, when daylight fairly broke, to find ourselves inside the fleet, opposite Galveston, and able to make a short dash for the bar. We had been under weigh some time, when suddenly we discovered a launch close to us on the port bow, filled with Northern blue jackets and marines. “Full speed ahead!” shouted Steele, and we were within an ace of running her down as we almost grazed her with our port paddle-wheel. Hurst and I looked straight down into the boat, waving them a parting salute. The crew seemed only too thankful at their narrow escape to open fire, but they soon regained their senses, and threw up rocket after rocket in our wake as a warning to the blockading fleet to be on the alert.
Daylight was then slowly breaking, and the first thing we discovered was that we had not taken sufficient account of the effects of the Norther on the current; instead of being opposite the town, with the fleet broad on to our starboard beam, we found ourselves down three or four miles from it, and the most leeward blockader close to us on our bow. It was a moment for immediate decision: the alternatives were to turn tail and stand a chase to seaward by their fastest cruisers, with chance of capture and, in any case, a return to Havana, as we had not sufficient coal for another attempt ;or to make a dash for it and take the fire of the squadron. In an instant we decided to go for it, and orders to turn ahead full speed were given, but the difficulty now to be overcome was that we could not make for the main channel without going through the fleet. This would have been certain destruction, so we had to make for a sort of swash channel along the beach, which however was nothing but a cul-de-sac, and to get from it into the main channel, shoal water and heavy breakers had to be passed, but there was now no other choice open to us.
By this time the fleet had opened fire upon us, and shells were bursting merrily around as we took the fire of each ship which we passed. Fortunately there was a narrow shoal between us, which prevented them from approaching within about half a mile of us; luckily also for us they were in rough water on the windward side of the shoal, and could not lay their guns with precision. And to this we owed our escape, as although our funnels were riddled with shell splinters, we received no damage and had only one man wounded.
But the worst was to come; we saw the white water already ahead, and we knew our only chance was to bump through it, being well aware that if she stuck fast we should lose the ship and all our lives, for no boat, even if it could have been launched, would have lived in such a surf. With two leadsmen in the chains, we approached our fate, taking no notice of the bursting shells and round shot to which the blockaders treated us in their desperation; it was not a question of the fathoms, but of the feet; we were drawing twelve feet, ten, nine, and when we put her at it as you do a horse at a jump, and as her nose was entering the white water, “eight feet” was sung out. A moment afterwards we touched and hung, and I thought all was over when a big wave came rolling along and lifted our stern and the ship bodily with a crack which could be heard a quarter of a mile off, and which we thought meant that her back was broken.
Approximate track of Banshee No. 2 entering Galveston on February 24, 1865. Full version here.
She once more went ahead; the worst was over, and after two or three minor bumps we were in the deep channel, helm hard-a-starboard, and heading for Galveston Bay, leaving the disappointed blockaders astern. It was a reckless undertaking and a narrow escape, but we were safe in, and after an examination by the health officer, we steamed gaily up to the town, the wharves of which were crowded by people who, gazing to seaward, had watched our exploit with much interest, and who cheered us heartily upon its success.
Banshee No. 2 sailed again in March, and short item in the Atchison City, Kansas(!) Freedom’s Champion of April 27:
The blockade runner Banshee, with one thousand bales of coton [sic.], arrived at Nassau, N. B., on the 30th ult. [March], from Galveston. She reports Galveston garrisoned by twelve hundred troops. Twelve Union ships were off the bar. Six steamers had sailed, recently from Havana for Galveston.
As would be expected, Banshee stopped at Havana before proceeding on to Nassau, so it’s not clear if her thousand bale-cargo represents her haul out Galveston alone. What is clear, though, is that by continuing on to Nassau, instead of refitting for a return to Texas, Banshee‘s owners showed their unwillingness to risk another run through the Galveston blockade.