Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Private Hobbs’ Diary: “We found in the harbour three Gun boats. . . .”

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on February 2, 2013
U.S. Army chartered transport Saxon, 1862.


Alexander Hobbs was a private in Company I of the 42nd Massachusetts Infantry. It would be Hobbs’ and his messmates’ misfortune that Company I was one of the three companies of that regiment that eventually occupied Kuhn’s Wharf on the Galveston waterfront, and came under attack by Confederate forces in the early morning hours of New Years Day, 1863. Hobbs kept a diary that encompassed his experiences, which is now part of the collection at the Woodson Research Center at Rice University.

In an earlier post, we traveled along with Hobbs as he and his messmates boarded the chartered transport Saxon [1] at Brooklyn, and made the rough passage down the eastern seaboard, around the Florida Reef, and into the Gulf of Mexico to Ship Island, Mississippi. After a brief stop there for coal, Saxon continues on to the mouth of the Mississippi:

December 16
7 A.M. arrived at the entrance of the Mississippi after a very stormy and disagreeable night back lay-too for some hours waiting for day light to take a pilot the entrance of the river is through low marchy land which extends for (I think) twenty miles from the entrance the river is about three quarters of a mile wide and is very hansome
Pilot Town at the mouth of the Southwest Pass of the Mississippi. Harper’s Weekly via
We see the remains of many of the few rafts sent down by the rebels to burn Gen Butler [‘s] fleet passed forts St Phillips & Jackson which our gun boats took on thair way too New Orleans the marks of our shot could be plainly seen on the [fort’s] walls it is now garrisoned by a Massachusetts Regt  [2] [and we] stopped their untill the medical officer came on bord he found us all well and allowed us to proceed came to anchor at dark within twenty yards of the bank and within twenty miles of the city of New Orleans the scenery on the banks of the river for the most part has been delightful beautifull groves of orange trees which hung full of the golden fruit looked to us very inviting
December 17
Started this morning and arrived at the city at day-light we was all eager to see the “Cresent City”and enjoyed a fine viewfrom the deck of our vessail thare is little to see however as thare is but little business done now we had scarcely anchored before boats came off with fruit, pies, cake & bread the city is under Marsall Law but the poor are much better off than before it was taken by the Federals Flour which than sold for forty five dollars now sells from seven too ten dollars and others then as in proportion we expected to land here but orders came for us to go up the river nine miles to a town called Carrelton [3] accordingly in the evening we ran up the river but not knowing when to stop we went two miles further than we intended and stopped for the night beside a river Steamboat made to carry cotton with a saloon for passengers in the second story She is now laid up to dry and is used as a hospital
New Orleans, 1862Blank
December 18
Left and steamed down the river two miles and landed at Carrelton at 12 N. marched half a mile and piched our tents on a low wet pieces of land bounded on two sides by grave–yards one a rebel and the other the last resting place of Union Soldiers who had been camped in that vicinity thare was near four hundred from Maine, Mass, Vermt, New York, New Hampshire and some other states thare were two hospitals in the town, full of sick soldiers and it was a sad sight to see some each day carried to the grave without a friend to shed a tear over thair remains doubtless many tears will be shed when the sad tidings are wafted across the ocean to the home they left so lately I have wandered through grave yards before but never see so sad a place as this the graves are onely dug two or three feet deep and immediately fill with water the poor people praise Gen Butler and well they may some of the Ladies say all manner of bitter things about us “Yankees” and scoff at the idea of the Union ever being restored
 December 19
Friday gave all our clothes to the Washer women not expecting to leave here soon a few hours afterward the order came to strike our tents and go again on bord the transport we did not know where to find our clothes butafter hunting all over the town we returned to camp in dispare the order was countermandand we again piched our tents afterward some of our boys found thair clothes and before we left they were all recovered
December 21
 Broke camp at day light and marched to the bank and embarked on bord the good ship Saxon who was hawled along side the bank stopped a few hours at New Orleans and than proceeded down the river on our way to Taxes the day was verry fine and we had a fine view of the twenty miles passed in the night time on our way up a anchored at night in the river and proceeded toward and morning on our voyage after three days sail with a fair wind and a smooth sea
We arrived off Galveston [December 24] and was brought too by a shot across our bow from a United States Gun boat who spoke us and than signaled for a pilot At 2 P.M. The pilot came on bord but we were obliged to wait two or three hours for the tide to rise toward night we stood in across the bar and struck several times but got across in safety we found in the harbour three Gun boats the largest of which was the Harriet Lane who carried six guns also two Ferry boats [Westfield and Clifton] fitted up with some heavy guns and calculated for the harbour service as she drew only six or seven feet of water
The town is built on an Island connected to the main land by a bridg about two miles long the town form only contained about fifteen thousand inhabitants but nine out of evry ten have gone away since it has been occupied by by [Illegible: hily] by our gun boats

[1] Saxon was a relatively small, 413-ton screw steamer, built at Brewer, Maine, opposite Bangor on the Penobscot River in 1861. She was first registered at Boston, but would spend much of the Civil War under charter to the U.S. Army as a transport. She would continue in civilian for almost three decades after the war, before being abandoned in 1892. Mitchell, C. Bradford, ed. Merchant Steam Vessels of the United States, 1790–1868 (The Lytle-­Holdcamper List), (Staten Island, New York: Steamship Historical Society of America, 1975), 196.
[2] Probably the 31st Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.
[3] Carrolton was a town upriver from New Orleans from 1833 to 1874, when it was annexed to become part of New Orleans. During the Civil War, Carrolton was somewhat infamous for its various forms of vice, particularly liquor, that caused ongoing discipline problems for the Union military governor, Benjamin Butler. The general’s civilian brother, Andrew, was widely believed to be engaging in all manner of shady business dealings, operating mostly out of Carrolton.
Saxon illustration by Andy HallGeneralStarsGray

The Short, Eventful Life of the U.S. Transport Che-Kiang

Posted in Technology by Andy Hall on January 27, 2013



In my recent post on Private Hobbs’ passage from Brooklyn to Ship Island, Mississippi aboard the steamer Saxon, I included an image of another transport on that same expedition, Che-Kiang, which is reported to have collided (above) with a Confederate schooner off the Florida Reef, resulting in the latter vessel’s immediate demise. Che-Kiang was carrying at that time six companies of the 28th Connecticut Infantry, and parts of the 23rd and 25th Connecticut Infantry as well. All reached Ship Island, Mississippi safely, although some were perhaps a little green around the gills from the very rough weather encountered during their passage.

While poking around the interwebs for more information on this ship, though, I came across this article from the June 20, 1863 Straits Times, published in Singapore. Che-Kiang‘s rough passage to the Gulf of Mexico was just the start of her adventures.


The American paddle-wheel steamer Che Kiang (so called from the name of a province in China), which arrived here last Monday night, was launched at Greenpoint, opposite New York, on the 3rd of July 1862. Her builder is Henry Steers, a nephew and not unworthy successor to George Steers, whose reputation as a skillful ship-builder has been so well established by the Yacht America and the U.S. Steam Frigate Niagara.
The dimensions of the Che Kiang are as follows; length 260 feet, beam 38 feet, tonnage 1264. Draught of water, when light, 5 feet forward, 5 feet 4 in. aft. Paddle wheels, 31 feet in diameter.
Her engines are 70 inch [diameter] cylinder 11 feet stroke of 700 horse power with return boilers; although nominally of 700 horse power yet capable of working up to a thousand. The engine and boiler were constructed at the Morgan Iron Works, New York, and cost $103,000; the cost of the hull and joiners-work was $60,000.
The average speed of the steamer in smooth water, is 18 knots. She made 23 knots on the Mississippi River.
For both a passenger and freight boat the Che Kiang is admirably adapted. As a passenger boat she combines all the requisites for a temperate or warm climate. Her after-saloon, airy and commodious, situated on the upper deck, is divided into 16 large state-rooms, each affording greater accommodation than is usually found on board steamers, and two of them, the Ladies’ saloons, are 18 feet deep and 12 feet wide each, furnished with two berths, bath-rooms and water-closets. Two passages — one containing the store-room pantry & c., and the other running past additional staterooms — conduct into a large, well-lighted, well-ventilated and comfortable dining rooms capable of seating some 30 guests. The saloons, in cold weather, are warmed by means of steam. As a freight boat, her great breadth of beam and 13 feet depth of hold offer superior advantages; and an immense amount of cargo can be carried between decks and on the wide guards perfectly protected from the weather.
The sea-going qualities of the Che-Kiang have been well tested in the voyages she has made since being launched.
In the month of November she was chartered by the U.S. Government to carry 1,600 soldiers, forming part of the expedition under Major General Banks, to New Orleans; and during her voyage to that city, although meeting with very rough weather, she gave universal satisfaction, which was in no manner diminished when the vessel began to develop her true capabilities on the swift current of the Mississippi, where, being employed as a transport, she conveyed soldiers, army stores, munitions of war & c., between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, which latter place General Banks was then making his base of operations prior to the attack on Port Hudson; and also, for similar purposes, plied between New Orleans, Fort Pickens and Pensacola — occasionally making a short trip to the Passes of the Mississippi and towing off vessels aground on the mud of that shifting bar.
In February, she was released by the Government and returned to New York, whence on the afternoon of the 30th of March she started for her original destination — Shanghai; to ply between that place and Hong Kong on the Yang Tse River.
Very heavy seas were encountered after leaving New York, but the Che Kiang rode them all with ease and safety; and having put in for coal at St. Vincent’s, Cape-de-Verds; Simon’s Bay, Cape of Good Hope and Port Louis, Mauritius; at last dropped anchor off Singapore at 10 o’clock on the evening of June 10th 1863. [1]


In his History of American Steam Navigation (1903) author John Harrison Morrison explains that Che-Kiang was one of several big steamers built in and around New York, to run in Chinese waters. Most were patterned after boats running on Long Island Sound, with the addition of a sailing rig. Although Che-Kiang herself apparently did not, Morrison notes that several of these ships that were built during the war, following the same route as Che-Kiang to the Far East, stopped first at Halifax, Nova Scotia, where they took out British registry in case they were intercepted on the high seas by a Confederate raider. [2] It was not an imaginary threat; the most famous Confederate raider, Raphael Semmes’ Alabama, did in fact follow a similar route and ventured as far east as Singapore in late 1863.


Track chart showing the known travels of the American steamship Che-Kiang, 1862-64. Original map via National Geographic.


Che-Kiang even played a sad, tiny footnote role in the aftermath of the Battle of Galveston. In late February 1863, U.S. Admiral David Farragut reported to the Navy Department the desertion of Acting Master Leonard D. Smalley, at that time assigned to the gunboat Estrella. Smalley had been one of the officers aboard U.S.S. Westfield when that ship was blown up by her captain, William Renshaw, at the end of the battle on New Years Day 1863. Renshaw and several of his men had been killed in the blast, which Smalley almost certainly witnessed from a short distance. Immediately after, Smalley was called on to serve as pilot to guide the transport Saxon, followed by the rest of the Union squadron, safely out of Galveston harbor. Smalley, it seems, may have been suffering the post-traumatic effects of this incident, for Farragut writes that


Mr. Smalley was surveyed at different times since the loss of the Westfield by three different medical boards, and the enclosed report is almost a duplicate of either of the other two. At his own request, I ordered him outside on the blockade, but he neglected to obey my orders, saying he was too unwell to do so, and I have now received information that he left for New York per Government transport Che-Kiang, which sailed about the 23d instant.
I regret to state that I have reason to believe that other officers from the Westfield have pursued a course similar to Mr. Smalley. [3]


Acting Master Smalley was dismissed from the service soon thereafter.

In her first few months of service, Che-Kiang had seen and done some remarkable things, but her eventful life would not be a long one. She caught fire and burned at Hankou (now Wuhan), about 670 statute miles up the Yangtze River from Shanghai, on August 7, 1864. There were no reported fatalities in the disaster. [4]


[1] “The Steamer Che Kiang,” The Straits Times, June 20, 1863, 1.

[2] John Harrison Morrison, History of American Steam Navigation (New York: W. F. Sametz & Co, 1903), 511.

[3] D. G. Farragut to Gideon Welles, February 26, 1863. Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion, Series I, Vol. 19, 634.

[4]  C. Bradford Mitchell, ed. Merchant Steam Vessels of the United States, 1790–1868 (The Lytle-­Holdcamper List), (Staten Island, New York: Steamship Historical Society of America, 1975), 249.