Is this Captain Henry Gadsden of the Transport Arago?
If you’ve read much about the U.S. Navy in the Civil War, you’ve probably come across this much-published image:
Sometimes this image is identified as being David Dixon Porter (see here, and here, and here), but that’s almost certainly wrong. Apart from the full, bushy beard, it doesn’t much look like him, the build is wrong (Porter was not a pudgy guy), as is the sleeve braid — in fact, it doesn’t follow any of the sets of uniform regulations that applied during the war for line officers.
Well, I think I found him — he’s the officer conducting gun drill aboard the chartered Army transport Arago:
Check out the irregular spacing between the top stripe and the lower set on the left cuff.
What do you think? Same dude?
The Library of Congress caption identifies the ship with the prefix “U.S.S.” Arago, but that’s incorrect — she was never formally commissioned into the U.S. Navy. Arago was a big, ocean-going sidewheel steamer, launched at New York in 1855. She was 285 feet long, with a beam of just over 40 feet. Her iron-framed paddlewheels were 33 feet in diameter.
Arago probably would have spent her career running between New York or Boston and Europe, but in 1862 she was chartered by the U.S. Navy to hunt down the Confederate ironclad Virginia (Merrimack). The timely arrival of the U.S. Navy’s warship Monitor at Hampton Roads on the night of March 8-9, 1862 would put an end to the threat posed by Virginia, and Arago spent most of the rest of the war under charter to the U.S. Army, transporting men and supplies up and down the eastern seaboard. In July 1863, Arago even captured a blockade runner off the Carolinas, which must have been an extremely rare occurrence for a chartered merchantman. Although she was an important part of the Union’s logistical effort, as far as I can tell Arago was never a commissioned warship, or directly owned by the U.S. government.
But back to the man supervising gun drill on the steamer’s deck. Can he be identified? There is a candidate, Arago‘s master, Henry A. Gadsden. Captain Gadsden appears to have been in command of the ship for much (or perhaps all) of her wartime service. He was in command of her before the war, on the route between Harve, France, Southampton, United Kingdom, and New York. He was in command when Arago took the blockade runner in mid-1863, and finally, in April 1865, when the ship brought back from Charleston the U.S. Secretary of War’s delegation to the ceremonial raising of the U.S. flag over Fort Sumter. (Arago‘s apssengers on that trip included Generals Robert Anderson and Abner Doubleday, both veterans of the Sumter bombardment in 1861, N. H. Swayne, an Assiciate Justice of the Supreme Court, and numerous other members of Congress and government officials.) While I cannot say for sure that his command of the ship was continuous from 1861-65, it might have been.
Is the man with the cuff stripes, the one photographed by the rail with the telescope under his arm, and photographed again supervising gun still on the ship’s main deck, the Arago‘s master? It certainly seems plausible. If so, it’s likely Captain Gadsden himself.
I’d sure like to find out.