Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Focus on U.S.S. Fort Jackson

Posted in Media, Memory by Andy Hall on June 8, 2012

My friend Ed Cotham e-mailed me recently with this photo of U.S.S. Fort Jackson, one of the ships making up a part of the blockade fleet off Galveston in the final months of the war. Fort Jackson had a long and active service history, capturing several blockade runners off the East Coast and taking part in the bombardment of Fort Fisher at the end of 1864. When she took up station off Galveston in the early part of 1865, she served as the flotilla’s flagship, under Captain Benjamin F. Sands (1811-1883, right). It was Sands who formally took the surrender of Galveston in June 1865.

When I first saw the image, I thought I’d not seen it before, and told Ed so. Soon after I realized that we’d used a much smaller version of this image on the Denbigh Project website, as it was a lookout aboard Fort Jackson that first sighted the stranded blockade runner at dawn on May 23, 1865, and Sands who ordered the gunboats Cornubia and Princess Royal to open fire. Simultaneously, Sands ordered boats from the blockaders Seminole and Kennebec to board and destroy Denbigh.

A very large proportion of both the U.S. and Confederate navies were vessels that were never built for military service, merchant ships that were either bought while still on the stocks, or pressed into service to meet the rapidly-expanding need for warships. Fort Jackson was one of these. She was built for Cornelius Vanderbilt’s service between New York and Panama, but was purchased by the Navy upon completion in the summer of 1863.

Fort Jackson was a big ship, 250 feet long and 1,850 tons burthen. She normally drew 18 feet of water, which would have made operations close inshore in the Gulf of Mexico difficult. (In fact, when Sands went into the harbor at Galveston to formally take possession of the city, he had to transfer to U.S.S. Cornubia, a smaller ship with a 9-foot draft.) Her two sidewheels were powered by a vertical beam engine, consisting of a single cylinder 80 inches in diameter, with a 12-foot stroke. Fort Jackson was armed with a 100-pounder rifle, two 30-pounder rifles, and eight 9-inch smoothbores.

Anyway, looking at the image there seemed to be a lot of good detail, so I downloaded the full-resolution version from the Library of Congress, and thought it would be fun to see what’s visible. Here we go. . . .

From her foremast, Fort Jackson displays what appears to be a triangular pennant, with one light color and two darker ones. Soon after the war, in 1866, the Navy authorized new regulations for naval flags, including this description of the pennants distinguishing the commanders of individual squadrons within divisions:
The flags of the commanders of the first seven squadrons of divisions had the middle part of a different color from the rest, in the form of a wedge, the base occupying one-third of the hoist or head, and the point extending to the extremity of the flag.
The flag of the first squadron of division was blue — white — blue ; 2d, red — white — red ; 3d, white — blue — white ; 4th, white — red — white ; 5th, white — yellow — white ; 6th, red — white — blue ; 7th, white — blue — red. The flag of the 8th squadron of division was yellow and blue vertical ; the 9th, white and yellow vertical ; and the flag of the reserve squadron blue and yellow vertical.
This pennant aboard Fort Jackson looks very much like an early version of the pennants authorized in 1866, and in his posthumously-published autobiography, Sands makes several references to hoisting his “division pennant.” Today’s official policy is what yesterday’s unofficial practice, and it may be that this photo shows the prototype of squadron pennants authorized after the war.

The “walking beam,” so called because it oscillated back and forth as the paddlewheels turned, can be seen here. Interestingly, this position of the beam is almost “dead center” for the paddlewheel crank (i.e., near the vertical), which would be an unusual position to stop the engine. An officer stands on the far, port-side paddlebox.

Sailors stand watch atop the deckhouse, just forward of the funnel. The glazed-in pilothouse forms a half-deck at the front end of the deck house. The ship’s bell is visible just below the pilothouse windows.

Two officers, distinguished by their undress frock coats, standing on the starboard paddlebox.

Another 30-pound rifle on Fort Jackson’s fantail, with two of her 9-inch smoothbores projecting from gunports on the deck below.

Closed gunports for Fort Jackson’s forward 9-inch guns on the starboard side. Many ships, both runners and blockaders, were painted white or a very light gray color to reduce visibility and keep the interiors of the ship cool.

Fort Jackson’s biggest gun, her 100-pound rifle, probably a Parrott (right center). This gun, like the two 30-pound rifles, was mounted on apivot to fire on either side of the ship. Large sections of the ship’s rail (center) were hinged to drop out of the way to give the guns a clear arc of fire.

Fort Jackson’s port-side stream anchor, hauled up and secured to the cathead. Semicircular scars and rust stains show where the arm of the anchor scraped against the protective plating, mounted over the ship’s wooden hull timbers.

Finally, Fort Jackson’s second 30-opound rifle, mounted on the forecastle.



18 Responses

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  1. theravenspoke said, on June 8, 2012 at 12:44 am

    Where is the * like * button?

    I really want to click the * like * button.

    • Andy Hall said, on June 8, 2012 at 8:06 am

      Thanks. Disqus sucks, of course, but it does have its better features.

  2. pedrog said, on June 8, 2012 at 2:26 pm

    Can I like Sands’ beard?

  3. g2-132541380fdf5651404aa716e6ac486e said, on June 8, 2012 at 2:57 pm

    Very cool Andy, thanks. I love the detail on these old photos…

  4. John Betts said, on November 22, 2014 at 10:45 pm

    Andy, I just learned that my 2x great grandad Andrew Connery served aboard the Fort Jackson. I can’t thank you enough for posting this!!!

    • Andy Hall said, on November 23, 2014 at 11:19 am

      When was he on the ship?

      • John Betts said, on November 23, 2014 at 12:26 pm

        He enlisted when he was 16 and served from 1 Aug 1862-24 Apr 1865 in the USN. From what I can tell he was there during both battles of Fort Fisher as a “1st Class Boy”. I guess that’s some kind of cabin boy? I also have record of him first serving on the USS Ohio, then a receiving ship. After the War he enlisted in the Army and served on the Western frontier until 1869 when he went to Fitchburg, Mass.

        • Andy Hall said, on November 23, 2014 at 12:32 pm

          Fort Fisher was a big damn deal.

          I ask because the last major Confederate command surrendered aboard Fort Jackson on June 2, 1865.

          • John Betts said, on November 23, 2014 at 12:36 pm

            General Hood, right? I looked up something on that last night but haven’t read all of it yet. I do know that thanks to his service, Andrew was very active in the Grand Army of the Republic in Fitchburg for many years.

            • Andy Hall said, on November 23, 2014 at 12:39 pm

              Kirby Smith, Department of the Trans-Mississippi.

              • John Betts said, on November 23, 2014 at 1:01 pm

                Ah, okay. Thanks. Guess I didn’t read it carefully. 😉

  5. John Betts said, on November 23, 2014 at 12:34 pm

    Sorry, I somehow messed up his USN service dates. That should read 21 Aug 1863–24 Aug 1865.

    • Andy Hall said, on November 23, 2014 at 12:41 pm

      Then he was on board in June, presumably.

      From the blockade runners book:

      The looters who swarmed over Lark at Central Wharf on May 24 [1865] didn’t know it, but that same morning General Magruder, commanding the Confederate District of Texas, addressed a letter to Captain Sands off Galveston, asking Sands to convey Colonel Ashbel Smith and a prominent Galveston attorney, William Pitt Ballinger, to New Orleans to begin negotiating an armistice between Union and Confederate forces in Texas. The state’s governor, Pendleton Murrah, concurred in the request. General E. Kirby Smith, commanding the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department, was initially astounded to read dispatches from his subordinate Magruder in which Prince John explained that he had “lost control” of his command. Nonetheless, Smith quickly came to understand the reality that his military command was one that existed only on paper.

      Late on the afternoon of Friday, June 2, 1865, Generals Smith and Magruder boarded Sands’s flagship, USS Fort Jackson, anchored off Galveston. U.S. brigadier general Edmund J. Davis, a lawyer from Laredo who had opposed secession and eventually cast his lot with the Union, was present to represent Federal forces. At 5:00 p.m., in Captain Sands’s cabin, these men signed the document surrendering the Trans-Mississippi Department, the last major Confederate command to yield to the Union. The American Civil War was over.

      Three days later, after allowing sufficient time for word of the surrender to be passed to the few Confederate forces remaining in their defensive works up and down the coast, Sands boarded the light-draft Cornubia and, with USS Preston trailing behind, entered Galveston Harbor. Sands disembarked with a handful of naval officers—but no armed escort—and was met on the wharf by a Confederate officer, who accompanied them to the mayor’s office above the old city market, just one block from Hendley’s Row and the old JOLO watch tower. There, the mayor and Sands both briefly addressed a crowd of soldiers and civilians “who had assembled in considerable numbers.” Both men made assurances of their goodwill and urged the population to go about their business peaceably. Sands told the crowd that he carried a sidearm that day not out of any fear for his own safety but as a sign of respect for the mayor and local officials. Then, along with the mayor, Sands continued on to the old U.S. Customs House, where he “hoisted our flag, which now, at last, was flying over every foot of our territory, this being the closing act of the great rebellion.”

      • John Betts said, on November 23, 2014 at 1:03 pm

        Now that’s interesting. Wish I had something from Andrew like a journal entry on this. He had a good life from everything I’ve seen, although at the end an injury was too much for him financially and he ended up passing away in the Old Soldier’s Home in Washington, DC.

        • Andy Hall said, on November 23, 2014 at 1:07 pm

          Thing is, by the time Kirby Smith surrendered here, Washington had already cleaned up and gotten over its hangover from the official celebration of victory, the Grand Review, more than a week before.

          • Mike Musick said, on November 23, 2014 at 4:04 pm

            Thanks for highlighting Kirby Smith’s surrender. Far too many people are under the impression that the war ended neatly at Appomattox on April 9, 1865. It’s important to realize that when Lincoln was killed the war war still going on. There was precious little that was neat and tidy about that conflict.

  6. John Betts said, on November 24, 2014 at 12:11 pm

    I found an interesting account of both battles at Fort Fisher in this 1893 book:

    Look on pp. 374 & 375.

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