Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Acting Ensign Paul Borner, U.S. Navy

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on January 18, 2015

Edited03Recently I was able to acquire an original, Civil War-era CDV of a young man named Paul Borner (right). I am not generally a collector of items like this, but there were special circumstances in this case.

Borner was a junior naval officer, first an Acting Master’s Mate and then an Acting Ensign, on several U.S. Navy ships on blockade duty during the war. In May 1864, twenty-eight-year-old Borner was put in charge of a boarding party on the captured schooner Sting Ray. What happened next is described in Chapter 3 of the blockade-running book:

A lack of available ships prevented the U.S. Navy from maintaining an around-the-clock watch off the Brazos until the latter part of 1863, but attempts to get in and out of Velasco continued right through the end of the war. One of the more remarkable incidents there occurred in May 1864, when USS Kineo stopped and seized the schooner Sting Ray, nominally of British registry, some miles off the mouth of the river. Kineo’s commander, Lieutenant Commander John Watters, was suspicious of the schooner’s paperwork, which claimed she was sailing from Havana to Matamoros. Not wanting to delay Kineo’s return to the river mouth, Watters put a boarding party on board the schooner, under the command of Acting Ensign Paul Borner, with instructions to follow Kineo back to her station.

Sting Ray’s crew, however, had other plans. While Borner was busy poking around in the schooner’s cabin, looking for incriminating documents, the schooner’s master, Dave McClusky, invited the enlisted Union sailors down into the hold to sample some of the liquor on board. The sailors, whose taste for alcohol exceeded their own good sense, complied and were soon so inebriated that two “lay helplessly on deck and the rest were so drunk that they did not know what they were about.”

Borner and another seaman who challenged McClusky and his crew were quickly overpowered and disarmed. One of the stuporous Union sailors, startled at the commotion around him, tried to get to his feet, lost his balance and fell overboard; McClusky tossed a wooden spar after him to use as a lifesaver. Another Union bluejacket, left in the ship’s boat tied astern as a boat keeper, was cut adrift as Sting Ray raced for the shore. Lieutenant Commander Watters pursued them in Kineo until the water became too shallow to continue and watched helplessly as McClusky ran his schooner gently up onto the beach, where they were soon joined by a troop of Confederate cavalry. Kineo doubled back to pick up the two sailors who went overboard from Sting Ray. The man who had fallen into the water was, despite his long immersion, still “in a beastly state of intoxication, crazy drunk and howling” when his comrades fished him out.

Borner and four other men — Steward Felix Sellin, Seaman Charles Zimmerman, Ordinary Seaman John Smith, and Landsman Daniel Hennessey — were eventually sent to Camp Groce, a prison camp near Hempstead. They were paroled back to the Federal navy at Galveston in the fall of 1864. Borner was honorably discharged from the navy in 1866. Over the course of five years in the navy, Borner served on six different vessels.  A tabulation of Borner’s service, compiled when he applied for a disability pension in his last years, lists these assignments:

Borner Assignments

Paul Borner was born in Breslau, Prussia (now Wrocław, Poland) on March 23, 1835. Nothing is known of his early life, or when he came to the United States. Borner filed an intent to become a naturalized U.S. citizen with the Court of Common Pleas for the City and County of New York on March 9, 1855. He may have arrived shortly before that as, according to my colleague Patrick Young, it was common for newly-arrived immigrants to so declare their intent to become citizens very soon after arrival. There was a mandatory five-year waiting period after making such a declaration before one could become naturalized, so there was no particular benefit to putting off declaring for citizenship.

On August 30, 1860, Borner returned to the Court of Common Pleas and was naturalized there as a U.S. citizen. During the year before the Civil War, Borner apparently worked as a seaman, as a later filing by him indicates that at the time of his enlistment, he was employed as an officer in the merchant service. Borner enlisted in the U.S. Navy on August 31, 1861, and was immediately designated an Acting Masters Mate, a warrant officer’s rank that indicates that Borner had considerable experience aboard ship. (The prefix “Acting” was used to distinguished officers appointed for the duration of the war, as opposed to regular, prewar naval officers.) At the time the U.S. Navy was expanding rapidly to put as many ships as possible on the blockade of southern ports, bringing into the service both merchant ships by the dozen, and merchant seamen by the thousands. Many years later, when applying for a pension, Borner noted that at the time of his enlistment, he was 5 feet 10½ inches tall, with a dark complexion, hazel eyes, and dark hair.

Borner’s initial seagoing assignment was to the little steamer R. B. Forbes, that was assigned to the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron and participated in the Battle of Port Royal in November 1861. Late the following month, R. B. Forbes was towed to New York for repairs, where she was decommissioned. Borner was assigned temporarily to the Brooklyn Navy Yard’s receiving ship, the old line-of-battle ship North Carolina, before being reassigned to U.S.S. Dacotah as his next seagoing assignment.

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North Carolina
The Brooklyn Navy Yard in June 1861, during the initial mobilization of the navy at the beginning of the war. The receiving ship North Carolina is the large ship at left center. Naval Historical Center.

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Borner likely saw considerable action in the year-plus he spent aboard Dacotah. During most of that period Dacotah was attached to the U.S. fleet at Hampton Roads and (later) the James River flotilla. Borner missed witnessing the famous engagement between Monitor and Virginia by just four days, when Dacotah arrived at Hampton Roads from Boston on the morning of March 13, 1862. Nevertheless, Borner and Dacotah participated in several fights with Confederate shore batteries on the James River, and ventured as far south as New Orleans in the late spring of 1862 to carry dispatches to Admiral Farragut and the West Gulf Blockading Squadron. Borner was promoted to Acting Ensign on March 14, 1863, and six days later transferred to U.S.S. Victoria.

 

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Kineo and Hartford
A ship believed to be U.S.S. Kineo (right), with Farragut’s flagship U.S.S. Hartford astern, anchored off the coaling wharf at Baton Rouge, Louisiana, March 1863. Library of Congress image.

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Borner served about ten months on U.S.S. Victoria, before being transferred to Kineo. It was a few months after joining Kineo that Borner had his unfortunate encounter with Dave McCluskey.

Borner and the four sailors captured with him were soon transferred to Camp Groce, a PoW camp near Hempstead, about 50 miles northwest of Houston. As prison Confederate prison camps go, Camp Groce was a relatively tolerable place, with adequate rations and not dangerously overcrowded. Perhaps because the camp was located so far behind Confederate lines, prisoners there were also allowed much more time outside the pen than at other facilities, to serve on work details or other assignments.

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USSMercedita
U.S.S. Mercedita. U.S. Naval Historical Center.

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After being paroled in the fall of 1864, Borner was assigned in February 1865 to his last ship, U.S.S. Mercedita, again assigned to the West Gulf Blockading Squadron. In the fall of 1865 Mercedita returned to New York, where she was decommissioned on October 14, 1865. Borner was placed on inactive status, “awaiting orders,” until being discharged from the navy on February 3, 1866. Released from his obligation to the navy and (possibly) with several months of back pay in his pocket, it appears that Borner made a trip back to Prussia to visit friends and family there. His name appears on the passenger manifest of the German steamship Saxonia, arriving back in New York on May 12, 1866. Borner’s occupation is listed as militär — military.

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Saxonia2
The Hamburg-Amerika Line steamship Saxonia, on which Paul Borner returned to the United States after a trip to Europe in the spring of 1866. UK National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.

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After returning to the United States, Borner made his home in New York City — in fact, he appears to have lived in New York his entire life in the United States, apart from his naval service in 1861-65. He may have returned to the merchant service and shipped as a seagoing officer, but direct evidence of that is lacking. What remains in the historical record is tinged with tragedy. In June 1883 he married Kate de Glay Bruce, the daughter of prosperous New York insurance executive. It appears to have been a first marriage for both. Paul was 48; Ketty, as she was known, was 28 or 29. Theirs was not to be a long marriage; Ketty died in October 1884, a little more than a year after their marriage. They had no children, and Paul never remarried. Borner’s former sister-in-law, Adeline Hamilton Bruce, died in New Smyrna, Florida in a gruesome murder in December 1891.

Borner seems to have worked at a variety of jobs in his later years, including as “broker” of unknown type, and at one point as a motorman. He lived at a variety of addresses around Manhattan, always apparently as a boarder. He joined New York City’s Naval Post 516 of the Grand Army of the Republic. Borner filed for a Navy veteran’s Invalid Pension in November 1904.

Paul Borner died in Manhattan on February 6, 1911, at the age of 75. It appears he had no close family to look after his affairs, as his remains were quickly buried by local authorities in the Cypress Hills National Cemetery in Brooklyn. There he lies today, in grave No. 6912.

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Discharge
Paul Borner’s U.S. Navy discharge certificate, found in the files of his old GAR post commander in 1912.

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Almost a year after Borner’s death, the former commander of his old GAR post was clearing out some old papers, and found a copy of Borner’s original Honorable Discharge certificate, signed by Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles (above). The former post commander, Andrew J. Gillman, sent it on to the Navy Department, from which it eventually ended up in Borner’s pension file in the National Archives.

The CDV of Paul Borner I acquired has been transferred to the Galveston & Texas History Center at Rosenberg Library, where it will be available for other researchers for a long time to come.

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8 Responses

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  1. Chancery said, on January 19, 2015 at 2:25 am

    Fascinating!

    • Andy Hall said, on January 19, 2015 at 9:21 am

      Finding it was the dumbest serendipity you ever saw. I happened to type Borner’s name into a search engine, and an online auction popped up for the image. If I’d done that four days earlier, I never would’ve known the image existed. Four days later, and it would’ve been sold. Borner is not a well-known personage, and this seemed like a good move to make.

      The other part of this is that I wouldn’t have been thinking about Borner were it not for some folks I met at a book signing, descendants of Captain McCluskey. They wanted to know if I had additional information about him (I didn’t), but it got me to doing research on him, which turned out to be a worthwhile task as well. Retaking his schooner the way he did turns out to be completely in character for him.

  2. David Bright said, on January 19, 2015 at 6:54 am

    Very nice, Andy.

  3. H. E. Parmer said, on January 20, 2015 at 12:13 am

    That must have been some right powerful stuff that McCluskey let those enlisted sailors sample. I’ll bet the officers and sailors on the Kineo expressed some very uncharitable feelings toward Borner and the skeleton crew who lost that nice prize money.

    Even without the serendipitous historical tie-in, I can see how people might get into collecting CdVs. While helping my mother clean out her house last year, I came across a box full of the larger “cabinet cards”, most of them from the late 1800s, although I believe some dated from a decade or so earlier. All those prim and proper young women and very, very serious young men … Some of the cards have these incredible early Art Nouveau designs on their backs, too, advertising the different photographic studios. Pretty cool stuff, if you’re into that kind of thing.

    Nice acquisition, Andy.

    • Andy Hall said, on January 20, 2015 at 3:09 pm

      It probably was strong stuff. Later, McCluskey went on board the Federal flagship off Galveston under a flag of truce, to request Borner’s personal effects that could be forwarded to him. (This was granted.) While he was there, though, he asked for his own bags, that had been stashed in the longboat that was cut away during the struggle on the schooner’s deck. McCluskey couldn’t help tweaking the Federal officers — on their own quarterdeck — about how they actually owed him, because of how good he had been to their sailors, providing them with very good, expensive alcohol. He also asked if he could have the liquor back that had also been stashed in the boat, pointing out that the Union officers would have no use for such a thing, anyway.

      He never got his bags back, or the liquor, but he obviously enjoyed himself asking for them. And the Yankees couldn’t touch him.

  4. Pat Young said, on January 24, 2015 at 7:39 am

    Very good article. I shared it it with The Immigrants’ Civil War facebook community.

  5. Danial Francis Lisarelli said, on January 26, 2015 at 9:57 pm

    Follow Camp Groce CSA at:

    https://www.facebook.com/dlisarelli


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