Talkin’ Texas Navy
Thanks to the Sam Houston Squadron of the Texas Navy Association for hosting me at their first anniversary dinner Sunday evening, at which I spoke on the role of the little steamboat Laura in the coming of the Texas Revolution. It’s a great little story that deserves more attention than it gets. I’ll have to blog about it some one of these days.
With me on the program were Ed Cotham, who gave a short talk outlining events in Texas during the sesquicentennial year of 1863 — it was a good year for the Union generally, but a disastrous one for them in Texas — and Justin Parkoff and Jessica Stika from the Nautical Archaeology Program at Texas A&M, who gave an overview of the efforts to conserve and exhibit artifacts recovered from the wreck of U.S.S. Westfield.
In his presentation, Justin joked that he tends to be quiet and, because he didn’t speak up soon enough in a meeting where the NautArch students were selecting projects, he got stuck with “the junk.” (At this point he flashed an image of Westfield‘s machinery as it came off the site, in a rusty, unrecognizable jumble of stuff.) In fact, Justin’s dived headlong into this subject with remarkable success, and has gone a long way toward not only reconstructing the gunboat’s machinery, but unlocking details of the vessel’s overall construction and conversion from a New York ferryboat to a warship. Before he’s done, I think we will know more fine-grained detail about U.S.S. Westfield than any other ship of her type. It will be a delicious irony that such knowledge ultimately came about because her commander, 150 years ago, blasted her to smithereens rather than let her fall into enemy hands.
We’ll be hearing more about Westfield in the next few months — a lot more.
________Image: Wikimedia depiction of foul anchor and star insignia for the Texas Navy rank of Passed Midshipman, by user Glasshouse.