Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

“13 Minutes”

Posted in Media by Andy Hall on March 1, 2013


The Spring 2013 issue of the Civil War Monitor is now online, and will soon be available on newsstands and in subscribers’ mailboxes. My colleague Ed Cotham and I have one of the issue’s feature articles, “13 Minutes,” describing the January 11, 1863 engagement between the Confederate raider Alabama and one of the Federal vessels on the Galveston blockade, U.S.S. Hatteras. It’s an action that’s often given a passing mention in accounts of the war’s naval conflict, but rarely covered in much detail. Our manuscript is an outgrowth of research done last summer, when we were part of the Hatteras project headed by NOAA. We ended up with a lot of material, some of which had not been published before. The CWM manuscript is the result. I’m really pleased with the outcome, because many accounts of the battle treat it as almost a stand-alone event that happened independently of the broader context of the war. This manuscript does a better job of providing both the context of the event, and its effect on the future course of the war in the western Gulf of Mexico, which was substantial — more substantial than I’d appreciated before we started digging into the subject in detail.


Detail of illustration in “13 Minutes.”


As a gesture to this blog’s readers, CWM Editor-in-Chief Terry Johnston has opened a special user account for y’all to read the Spring 2013 issue in its entirety. The username is deadconfederates and the password is cwm3321 , all in lowercase. This account will only be active for a few days, then the issue goes back behind the paywall. (Book reviews, and the Front Line and Behind the Lines blogs remain open-access.) If you like what you see, please do consider a subscription to the magazine — it’s well worth the money.

I’d also like to pass along my congratulations to Kevin Levin and Brooks Simpson, who also have feature articles in the same issue — Kevin’s on African American servants in the Confederate Army, and Brooks’ on the behind-the-scenes maneuvering by fellow Union Army officers against Grant during the Vicksburg Campaign in the winter of 1862-63. I knew Kevin had one coming, but no idea about Brooks’ piece until I opened an advance copy of the issue myself.

Ed and I originally submitted two sidebars to go along with “13 Minutes,” one on the NOAA expedition, and another on the memorial service held for the two Hatteras crewmen killed in the action. The latter didn’t appear in the magazine due to space limitations, so I’ve appended it here, below the jump:


Memorial Service

In the summer of 2012, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) marshaled a cross-disciplinary team of scientists, researchers, educators and archaeologists to document the wreck of USS Hatteras, sunk in the Gulf of Mexico during her brief engagement with the Confederate commerce raider Alabama on January 11, 1863. Participants included representatives of a dozen or more public agencies and private organizations, including the Flower Gardens National Marine Sanctuary, the U.S. Navy’s History and Heritage Command, Tesla Offshore LLC, the OceanGate Foundation and Teledyne BlueView. Funding and support for the underwater archaeology project was provided by the Edward E. and Marie L. Matthews Foundation, the OceanGate Foundation, and Teledyne BlueView.

Early in the planning stages of the project, someone suggested that there needed to be some formal recognition of the two men who died in the battle, both members of the engine room crew of Hatteras. None of the historians or others familiar with the Hatteras sinking had come across any evidence of a memorial service or remembrance being conducted at the site, either in 1863 or in the decades since, so a plan was immediately adopted to correct that long-standing omission.

The two Hatteras crewmen killed were 24-year-old John Cleary, a stoker, and 32-year-old William Healy, a coal heaver. Both were native Irishmen, from Counties Cork and Donegal, respectively. No one knows exactly how they died, although the engine space of the Union warship was heavily battered by Confederate guns during the battle, and flooded with scalding steam from the ship’s shot-through boiler. Genealogists working with NOAA were unable to find any evidence of the men’s marriage or descendants in the United States, and it’s unknown whether their families in Ireland ever learned of their fate. Though their religious affiliation is unrecorded, it is likely that both men were Roman Catholics.

To conduct the service, NOAA turned to the Rev. Father Stephen Duncan of Galveston. Father Duncan is an ordained priest in the Orthodox Catholic Church of America, but was raised Roman Catholic and attended seminary at Notre Dame. Father Duncan is of Irish extraction himself, and is a Civil War reenactor with the 69th New York State Volunteer Historical Association, recalling one of the founding regiments of the famous Irish Brigade. On September 10, the first day of diving work at the Hatteras wreck site, the first order of business was the memorial service for Cleary and Healy. On the upper deck of NOAA’s Research Vessel Manta, Father Duncan read a brief service in memory of the two Irish sailors, men who had enlisted to fight in a war not of their own making, but one that would determine the fate of the nation they had chosen for their own futures – futures that, in their cases, ended abruptly on the evening of January 11, 1863. At the conclusion of the service, a wreath was laid in the water over the wreck of USS Hatteras, where Cleary and Healy’s remains still lie. Red and white rose petals drifted on the Gulf swell.



2 Responses

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  1. Jeff Bell said, on March 1, 2013 at 11:07 am

    It’s likely that even if Cleary and Healy were not married, they still had family somewhere in America. It would be fascinating if one was to discover that the brother of their Great-great Grandmother was one of these men.

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