Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

The Blockade and San Luis Pass

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on September 20, 2014

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At the west end of Galveston Island lies San Luis Pass, a half-mile-wide channel between West Galveston Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Deep-draft vessels could not get safely over the bar across its entrance, but it was a popular spot for smaller, mostly sailing vessels running in and out of West Bay. And consequently, it was a headache for the U.S. Navy, that never seemed to have enough ships to watch every part of the coast continuously.

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A little after noon on April 5, 1862, lookouts aboard the screw steamer USS Montgomery spotted a large schooner anchored inside San Luis Pass. Montgomery’s commander, Lieutenant Charles Hunter, decided on a ruse and hoisted a British ensign at the peak and a Confederate flag at his foremast, making as if he wanted to communicate with the Confederate battery on shore. In due course, a boat from the nearby fort set out for the “British” ship anchored off the bar; Hunter had the nine men aboard quickly hustled down below as prisoners. Around sunset, he sent the captured boat, along with Montgomery’s whaleboat, across the bar with orders to capture or destroy the schooner. The boats tried to get in past the Confederate battery in the darkness without being seen, but they were spotted, and the troops on shore opened fire. None of the Union sailors was hit, and now they began pulling hard at the oars to get alongside the schooner. They succeeded in taking the schooner’s seven-man crew completely by surprise, despite the gunfire from the fort. The schooner turned out to be Columbia, of Galveston, loaded with cotton and ready to sail for Jamaica. As the Union sailors were preparing to get Columbia under way, a sloop appeared out of the darkness and came alongside. In it were Columbia’s master and seven passengers from Galveston, who intended to sail in her to Jamaica. These, too, became prisoners.
 
The officer in charge of the expedition, Acting Master Thomas Pickering, now had to deal with other problems. Both tide and wind were streaming against them, making it difficult or impossible to get the big schooner safely past the Confederate battery. Pickering ordered his men to set fire to Columbia and, with the sloop in tow, began pulling hard for the channel in their boats. They exchanged shots with the fort but succeeded in getting past it without injury. Pickering had his little flotilla anchor just inside the breakers on the San Luis Pass bar to await daylight. At dawn, the surf was still roiling, so Pickering, fearing the loss of the sloop in rough water with all on board, released the sloop and his prisoners to return to the safety of the bay. Pickering and the other two boats made it safely back to USS Montgomery. In exchange for the loss of one crewman seriously injured by the accidental discharge of another sailor’s carbine, Pickering had destroyed a large schooner and her cargo of cotton that, by daylight, was seen to be “burned to the water’s edge.”​

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I was coming back from Quintana this afternoon and snapped this image (top) from the bridge that now spans San Luis Pass. It’s a beautiful day here, but windy, and the water is rough. About a half mile away, you can see an almost continuous, horizontal white line of surf, with green water inside and blue water outside — those are the breakers on the bar that forced Pickering to release his prize and prisoners.

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Talking Blockade Runners (and Other Stuff)

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on August 21, 2014

I don’t know if I’m objectively busier than usual with the history thing right now, but some days it sure does feel like it. I sat down last night an worked out my speaking schedule for the next few months:

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The Steamboat Laura and the Coming of the Texas Revolution (presentation)
Friday, September 19, 2014 at 7 p.m.
Texas Navy Days
Stahlman Park, Brazoria County
For tickets and information, call 979-233-7330 or e-mail dortha-at-fortvelasco-dot-org.
 
Civil War Blockade Running on the Texas Coast (presentation and signing)
Friday, October 10, 2014 at 7 p.m.
University of Texas at Arlington Library
Arlington, Texas
 
The Blockade Runner Will o’ the Wisp: Lost and Found, and Found Again (presentation)
Saturday, October 25 (tentative)
Texas Archeological Society Annual Meeting
Embassy Suites in San Marcos, Texas
Registration info here.
 
Captain Dave Whups the Yankees (presentation)
10:30 a.m., Saturday, November 8, 2014
Friends of the Clayton Genealogical Library Meeting
5300 Caroline
Houston, Texas
 
Civil War Blockade Running on the Texas Coast (presentation and signing)
Saturday, November 8, 2014
Houston History Book Fair
Julia Ideson Library, Houston Public Library
550 McKinney
Houston, Texas
 
Inseparable Enemies: Galveston and Houston in the Nineteenth Century (presentation and signing)
Tuesday, November 11, 2014 at 6 p.m.
Galveston College Fall Lecture Series
Abe and Annie Siebel Wing, Cheney Student Center
Galveston College
39th Street and Avenue Q
Galveston, Texas
 
Captain Dave Whups the Yankees
Monday, December 1, 2014 at 10 a.m.
Terry’s Texas Rangers Chapter, United Daughters of the Confederacy
George Memorial Library
Richmond, Texas
 
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You can always get an updated schedule of speaking engagements here. Hope to see y’all there!

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GeneralStarsGray

An Unlikely Blockade Runner

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on August 15, 2014

The subject came up yesterday on another forum about the CW history of a particular vessel, the sidewheel riverboat William Bagaley (or Bagley, as it’s often given in contemporary records). It’s an interesting story.

William Bagaley was built at Belle Vernon, Pennsylvania in 1854. She was 170 feet long, 32 feet 9 inches wide (not including the sidewheels and deck overhang), and had a depth of hold of 7 feet. Her measured tonnage was 396 30/95 tons. She was initially registered at Pittsburgh on November 28, 1854.[1]

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Abstract register of the steamboat William Bagaley, 1855.

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The boat was re-enrolled about year later at New Orleans, on December 7, 1855. Her owner at that time was listed as Ralph Bagley (Bagaley?) of Pittsburg, and her master was John C. Sinnott. At some point in the following years it appears that Bagley may have sold his interest in the boat, because April 1861 the boat is advertised as being part of the Cox, Brainard & Co. line of steamers running between New Orleans and the Alabama River, as high up as Montgomery. Dick Sinnott is listed as master at that time; it’s not clear how he is related to John C. Sinnott, although they appear to be different individuals.[2]

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New Orleans Advert 22 Apr 1861

April 1861 advertisement for the steamboat William Bagaley, running from New Orleans to Mobile, Selma and Montgomery. From Huber.

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Sometime in mid-1862 or later, William Bagaley was taken into Confederate service, probably for use as a tender or supply vessel supporting the military outposts around Mobile Bay. On at least one occasion, in early March 1863, the steamer was used as a flag-of-truce vessel for communicating with the Union blockading fleet off the entrance to the bay.[3]

That spring and summer, Confederate officials in Mobile began hiring vessels to run the blockade to Cuba. Most of these, like Bagaley, were shallow-draft riverboats. The Confederate government would split the profits of the venture with the boats’ owners, and reimbrse them half the value of the vessel if she were lost. On the night of July 17/18, 1863, William Bagaley ran the blockade out of Mobile Bay, passing under the guns of Fort Morgan and keeping along the Swash Channel to the east of the entrance. Her cargo consisted of 700 bales of cotton, 3,200 barrel staves, and 125 barrels of turpentine.[4] She was under the command of Captain Charles Frisk, with 29 other crewmen on board. Running with her was the steamer James Battle, both headed for Havana. The two ships were spotted by the blockaders U.S.S. Aroostook and U.S.S. Kennebec. The division commander, Captain Jonathan P. Gillis also slipped his cable and gave chase in Ossipee. The Union vessels quickly overhauled James Battle, and Gillis ordered the commander of another blockader that had arrived on the scene, W. M. Walker of U.S.S. De Soto, to put a prize crew aboard and send the steamer on to New Orleans for adjudication. Gillis, in Ossipee, continued on after William Bagaley.[5]

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U.S.S. Ossipee in a postwar image, c. 1900. Library of Congress.

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(It should be noted here that Kennebec, Aroostook and Ossipee were part of the West Gulf Blockading Squadron, under the overall command of David G. Farragut, while De Soto was part of the East Gulf Blockading Squadron, under Theodorus Bailey. This divided command structure probably helped precipitate what happened next.)

By sunset that evening, Gillis could clearly make out the steamer up ahead. By 11 p.m. Ossipee was close enough to test the range with her 30-pounder rifle, at which the steamer immediately stopped her engines and hove to, waiting to be boarded. At that point they were about 176 nautical miles south-southeast of the entrance to Mobile Bay, more than a third of the distance to Havana. As Gillis was preparing to send a prize crew aboard, U.S.S De Soto churned up out of the darkness, stopped between Ossipee and her prize, and Walker began transferring his own prize crew. Gillis, who believed he had just made a solo capture – and thus making Ossipee and her crew eligible for the full award of prize money, was clearly incensed. He wrote in his report that he “doubted whether [De Soto] saw her, but had followed in our track, knowing we were in pursuit [and] seized clandestinely the opportunity in the darkness to throw on board a prize master and receive [the] steamer’s papers.” Gillis clearly saw Walker as poaching a share of a prize that was rightfully his. Gillis had Captain Frisk write out a statement that he had been chased by Ossipee since noon that day, that he had stopped in response to Ossipee’s gun, and “surrendered to the U.S.S. Ossipee.” Walker, for his part, formally reported to Gillis his taking possession of the prize, closing with the notation that “at the time of taking possession of the William Bagley the U. S. steamers Ossippee [sic.] and Kennebec were in sight.”[6]

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U.S.S. De Soto at anchor in Puerto Rico, 1868. Naval Historical Center.

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Walker’s notation about Ossipee and Kennebec being “in sight” at the time of capture is tremendously important, because U.S. Navy prize rules specified that all ships in sight or within signaling distance of a capture were entitled to a share of the proceeds, whether they had actively played a role in the capture or not. Not only did Walker dash in between Ossipee and Bagaley to claim the prize first, his mention of Kennebec being “in sight” at the time would effectively split the prize money three ways, reducing Gillis’ and Ossipee’s share by about two-thirds. Walker almost certainly believed that his own squadron commander, Rear Admiral Bailey, would defend Walker’s actions, particularly since a capture by one of the East Gulf Squadron’s ships would put prize money in Bailey’s own pocket.

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Map showing the approximate location to the capture of the steamer William Bagaley.

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Like James Battle, William Bagaley was sent in to New Orleans for adjudication at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. Bagaley arrived at New Orleans first, on July 23.[7] The court heard the case and condemned the steamer and its cargo on August 17, 1864, ordering them to be sold at public auction by the U.S. marshal, with De Soto and Ossipee listed as the official captors. A monition order was published in the local press giving ten days’ advance notice of the sale in the event there was a challenge, but none was forthcoming and the sale went ahead as scheduled.

Almost immediately after the auction, though – in fact, before the marshal could deposit the proceeds with the district court – a challenge to the sale was filed by a man from Indiana named Joshua Bragdon (1806-1875). Bragdon claimed to be a former resident of Mobile and a partner in the firm of Cox, Brainard & Co., that had owned the steamboat before the war. Bragdon claimed that, as a Union man, he had left Mobile and returned to his old home in Indiana at the outbreak of the war, while his partners remained in the South. More than a year after he went north, he said, the Confederacy had unlawfully seized his share in the boat, of which he claimed to hold a one-sixth interest. Bragdon insisted that he had never supported the rebellion and played no active role in it, and asked the court to award him one-sixth of the proceeds from the auction of both the steamer and her cargo, as being property that was rightfully his.

The district court in New Orleans rejected Bragdon’s claim and eventually the case made its way to the Supreme Court (The William Bagaley, 72 U.S. 5 Wall. 377). Remarkably, at this point Bragdon’s former partners also filed a motion with the Supreme Court, asking they be awarded the other five-sixths of the value of the ship and her cargo. They explained that while they had been Confederate citizens, they had subsequently been pardoned by President Johnson and were now ready to recover their lost investment, too.

Nathan_Clifford_-_Brady-HandyIn an opinion authored by Associate Justice Nathan Clifford (right, 1803-81), the court rejected both Bragdon’s and his former partners’ claims. The court held that Bragdon had effectively walked away from his property in Mobile and made no effort to remove or recover it for more than a year before it was seized by the Confederacy, effectively abandoning it. Bragdon claimed to have been loyal to the United States throughout the war, but Clifford wrote that with that loyalty came an obligation to break with his Confederate business partners and recover whatever interest he had in the boat. Ships, Clifford wrote, have a peculiar national identity that other forms of tangible property don’t, because they are formally registered, fly a national flag, and carry official government papers licensing their activities. By abandoning his vessel in what amounted to a foreign port during wartime, Bragdon had effectively handing over his interest in the vessel to the enemy government:

Open war had existed between the belligerents for more than two years before the capture in this case was made, and yet there is not the slightest evidence in the record that the appellant ever attempted or manifested any desire to withdraw his effects in the partnership or to dispose of his interest in the steamer. Effect of the war was to dissolve the partnership, and the history of that period furnishes plenary evidence that ample time was afforded to every loyal citizen desiring to improve it, to withdraw all such effects and dispose of all such interests. . . . Personal property, except such as is the produce of the hostile soil, follows as a general rule the rights of the proprietor; but if it is suffered to remain in the hostile country after war breaks out, it becomes impressed with the national character of the belligerent where it is situated. Promptitude is therefore justly required of citizens resident in the enemy country or having personal property there, in changing their domicil, severing those business relations or disposing of their effects as matter of duty to their own government and as tending to weaken the enemy. Presumption of the law of nations is against one who lingers in the enemy’s country, and if he continue there for much length of time without satisfactory explanations, he is liable to be considered as remorant, or guilty of culpable delay, and an enemy.[8]

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For his part, Joshua Bragdon spent his remaining years in New Albany, Indiana, where he invested in a rolling mill. The 1870 U.S. Census identifies him as a manufacturer of T-rail — a high-demand item in the railroad-building boom of the postwar years — with a combined worth in real and personal property of $100,000. Bragdon died in 1875.

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Federal troops at Point Isabel, Texas, as shown in a Febraruary 1864 issue of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper. At left are two riverboats, similar to William Bagaley, serving as Union army transports. Library of Congress.

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By the time Justice Clifford wrote his opinion in 1866, though, the steamer William Bagaley was only a memory. The ship had been purchased at auction by the U.S. Quartermaster Department and outfitted as a transport for Nathaniel Banks’ expedition to the Texas coast. Bagaley was one of fourteen transports that sailed from the Southwest Pass of the Mississippi on October 26, 1863, bound for the anchorage at Brazos Santiago, near the mouth of the Rip Grande. A little over three weeks later, after offloading at Brazos Santiago, Bagaley was wrecked on the bar at Aransas Pass, near Corpus Christi, on November 18, 1863.[9]

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Map from the OR Altlas showing the wreck location of Bagaley at Aransas Pass, Texas.

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I don’t know if the wreck of William Bagaley has ever been located or identified, but if it survives it presumably lies in Texas state waters and, on that account, should be considered a protected archaeological landmark under the Texas Antiquities Code.

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[1] Works Progress Administration, Ship Registers and Enrollments of New Orleans, Louisiana, Vol. V: 1851-1860 (Louisiana State University, 1942), 272; Frederick Way, Jr., Way’s Packet Directory, 1848-1983 (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University, 1983), 487.

[2] Works Progress Administration, 272; Leonard V. Huber, Advertisements of Lower Mississippi River Steamboats, 1812-1920 (West Barrington, Rhode Island: Steamship Historical Society of America, 1959), 68.

[3] Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies (hereafter cited as ORN), Volume 19, 656-57.

[4] The William Bagaley, 72 U.S. 5 Wall. 377 (1866, hereafter cited as Bagaley Case), (http://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/72/377/case.html).

[5] Stephen R. Wise, Lifeline of the Confederacy: Blockade Running During the Civil War (Columbia: University of South Carolina, 1988), 171-72; ORN 17:504-07.

[6] ORN 17:507.

[7] New Orleans Times-Picayune, July 24, 1863, p. 2.

[8] Bagaley Case.

[9] Charles Dana Gibson and E. Kay Gibson, Assault and Logistics, Union Army Coastal and River Operations, 1861-1866 (Camden, Maine: Ensign Press, 1995), 336; ibid., 339; Charles Dana Gibson and E. Kay Gibson, Dictionary of Transports and Combatant Vessels, Steam and Sail, Employed by the Union Army, 1861-1868 (Camden, Maine: Ensign Press, 1995), 338.

 

Thanks!

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on July 2, 2014

McCluskeySmallI’d like to extend my thanks to the folks who came out to my book events at the Brazoria County Historical Museum on Thursday, the Galveston Bookshop on Saturday, and Eighteen Seventy-One on Sunday. I enjoy meeting people with similar interests. In the last few days I’ve met some very interesting people, including the owner of a fishing camp called “Blockade Runners,” whose sailboat he named Rob Roy, after William Watson’s schooner, and the author of a wonderful new field guide to Texas lighthouses, Richard Hall (no relation), whose work I was unaware of until Sunday but I bought it on the spot. Maybe more about that later.

It was especially nice to meet the family (right) of one blockade runners I mention in the book, David McCluskey. Captain Dave, as he was known, was one of the more audacious blockade-running masters I’ve encountered, in a profession where audacity is a prerequisite. You’ll definitely be hearing more about him.

Finally, I got to do a Q&A about the book with Galveston.com blogger Richard Varr, that you can read here.

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GeneralStarsGray

 

Blockade Running “Headquarters” Discovered in Scotland

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on June 25, 2014
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An Appledore Sub Aqua Club diver over the forward boilers of the blockade runner Iona 2. Photo by James Wright, via The Independent.

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Via Civil War Talk user Daywalker, researchers in Scotland have identified what they view as the central “headquarters” of Civil War blockade running:

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Investigations by a leading Scottish maritime historian have succeeded, for the first time, in locating the main secret British headquarters of the American Civil War Confederate government’s transatlantic gun-running operation.
 
Other research, carried out over the past decade, has revealed the extraordinary extent to which substantial sections of Britain’s business elite were working with impunity to help the slave-owning southern states win the Civil War – despite the fact that Britain was officially neutral  and had outlawed slavery almost 30 years earlier. . . .
 
In total some 200 vessels were purpose-built or upgraded on Clydeside, in Liverpool or in London for the Confederate states – and hundreds of thousands of guns (including heavy artillery) were manufactured in Birmingham, Newcastle and near London for the Confederate Army.
 
The entirely illegal, but tacitly British-Government-approved pro-Confederate gun-running operation is thought to have lengthened the American Civil War by up to two years – and to have therefore cost as many as 400,000 American lives.
 
“The identification of the Confederacy’s main secret gun-running headquarters should serve to highlight the role played by key elements of the British business elite in helping the slave-owning states in the American Civil War,” said maritime historian Dr Eric Graham of Edinburgh University.
 
“The clandestine headquarters was established just 32 miles by railway from Clydeside because it was the big shipbuilding magnates there who were being contracted to build or upgrade more than half of the two hundred vessels supplied to the Confederacy by UK shipyards.”
 
“It demonstrates that Britain’s neutrality was, in reality, a complete sham,” said Dr Graham, the author of a major book on the Civil War gun-runners, Clyde Built: The Blockade Runners of the American Civil War.

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My own view is that Graham — whose book Clyde Built is outstanding — is overstating a bit both the role of the site in Bridge of Allan and the effect of blockade running on the prolongation of the war itself. The researchers do seem to have zeroed in on the center of blockade-running interests’ ship acquisition activities, but once selected vessels left the Clyde the site’s role must have been largely done. Blockade running was necessarily a decentralized business with lots of different players competing against each other, with the capital concentrated in and around Liverpool and (to a lesser degree) London. It was not a military operation with a central command; merchants operated through their agents and representatives in Halifax, Bermuda, Nassau and Havana. The story also focuses solely on the importation of munitions (“gun-running,” ugh), when a probably half or more of the cargoes carried by runners into the Confederacy were civilian goods, destined for private sale to the highest bidder.

Still, Graham and his colleagues are helping to fill in the blanks of the blockade-running story, and that’s all to the good. Be sure to click through and check out the images of the wreck of Iona 2 — quite spectacular, and very representative of runners like those that operated in the Gulf of Mexico, including Will o’ the Wisp, Banshee (II) and Owl.

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GeneralStarsGray

Darien, Georgia as a Military Target

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on December 20, 2013

Over the last several months, Craig Swain has been doing steady, diligent work in blogging (often in sesqui-real-time) the military campaigns around Charleston. He’s told some familiar stories, but much of his output is wholly original research, put together through a variety of official records, memoranda, and contemporary photos. It’s small-scale, fine-grained history at its best.

Today, Craig has a new post up discussing the role that the little coastal town of Darien, Gerogia played in blockade-running. Darien is best known now as the town that was burned by Union Colonel (and former wild-eyed Kansas Jayhawker) James Montgomery in June 1863.  This incident is widely regarded as a wanton and unnecessary act of spite on Montgomery’s part, and formed an important story element in the 1989 film Glory. (If your knowledge of Darien is based primarily on its depiction in that film, you’d never realize it was a small port in the first place.) Craig uses the story of the capture of the blockade runner Chatham in December 1863, though, to make the clear case that Darien was not only a point for bringing supplies in (and cotton out) of the Confederacy, but that it served as a distribution point for Confederate military forces on that part of the Georgia coast. As such, the docks and warehouses of Darien — though not the town itself — was a legitimate military target:

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This minor incident does indicate Darien was a port which blockade runners could, and did, use.  The bar was but a few fathoms deep at most.  But light draft craft, of the type frequently used for running the blockade, could make Doboy Sound if well piloted.  So [Union Admiral] Dahlgren had to allocate one of his valuable gunboats to the sound.   The Huron was one of twelve blockaders assigned to the Georgia coast at that time, including two monitors guarding against any possible breakout of the CSS Savannah.
 
And turn this incident around.  The Confederates used the Chatham as a transport before this blockade running attempt. The steamer had descended down from Savannah by way of the backwater channels.  If the Chatham could work her way down, other light craft could work their way up the coast.  Darien was not only a possible port of call for blockade runners, but also along a waterway bringing supplies to the Confederate army.
 
Even with all this, I would not offer an excuse for Colonel James Montgomery’s actions.  But there is ample justification for the orders which sent the raid there in June of 1863.  The town was not removed from the war as some would contend.  The docks of Darien, Georgia were part of the Confederate war effort, and were a proper military objective.

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Kudos to Craig for telling these stories, and applying hard research to better understand a singularly inflammatory subject.

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Escape from Camp Douglas

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on December 26, 2011

James Knox Thomas (1844-1930) was born in Macon, Georgia. Although his family had subsequently moved to Arkansas, by the spring of 1862 seventeen-year-old Knox, as he seems to have been called, was back in Randolph County, Georgia. There, on May 16, he made his mark in lieu of a signature, and enlisted in Company H of what would become the 55th Georgia Infantry.

The 55th Georgia was sent to eastern Tennessee, where in September 1863 most of its number were captured at Cumberland Gap. Thomas soon thereafter found himself at Camp Douglas in Chicago, one of the more infamous Union prison stockades. There, as he would recall almost 40 years later, he and his comrades plotted an escape on the day after Christmas in 1864:

I was a private in Company H, Fifty-Fifth Georgia Infantry. My company was raised in Randolph and Stewart Counties, Ga.; was commanded by Capt. John Allen, whose field officers were Col. Harkey, Lieut. Col. Persons, and Maj. Printup.

On September 9, 1863, while in Frazier’s Brigade, Buckner’s Division, we were captured at Cumberland Gap, and after a tedious journey, were landed in Camp Douglas, a prison in the suburbs of Chicago. In that prison, on Christmas day, 1864, I was walking across the open premises with Bill James, of Company A. of my regiment, and I remarked that if I could only scale the walls I would turn my head toward Dixie. He replied that he could easily arrange for us to scale the wall, but we had no money and no citizen’s clothes. I was a shifty little red-headed fellow, and could generally raise a small amount in case of an emergency, and had already bought me a suit of citizen’s clothes from a Yankee soldier. I told James that I had the money and would get the clothes, but wished to know how he proposed to scale the wall. His scheme was this: he was a laborer in the kitchen department, and the kitchen superintendent, an old Irishman nick-named “Old Red.” had placed a couple of scantlings parallel along the wall of the kitchen, on the ground, for some barrels to rest on, and James proposed to nail some pieces of plank on the scantlings and thus make a ladder. Seeing that his plan was feasible, I then said : “All right; we will go to-morrow night at seven o’clock, by which time I will have the clothes ready. James then replied that we could not hoist the ladder up on the wall by ourselves, and said we would have to get two more companions. I then said: “You choose one of them, and I will choose the other.” He chose Hope Williams, of his own company (A), and I selected Ben Johnson, otherwise known as “Babe” Johnson, of my own company (H). At the appointed time we met at the kitchen, and I was chosen to walk out and see if any of the inside police were near; and if they were, I was to quietly return; if they were not, I was to walk quickly back, pass the kitchen door, whistle, and pass on toward the prison wall to Barracks No. 72, where they were to follow with the ladder. I quietly took the walk, found no police, hurried hack as agreed, and in a few minutes we had the ladder up against the wall. As we accomplished this a sentinel halted us; Babe Johnson instantly sprang on the ladder, and was killed by the sentinel.[1] As Johnson staggered and fell back, James mounted the ladder, followed by Williams and myself, and we all three escaped amidst a shower of bullets. We were clad with citizen’s clothes, purchased by me from the Yankee soldier, and we safely reached the city, and registered at the Sherman House in our own names, but as hailing from Louisville, Ky.

We remained at the Sherman House until five o’clock, the 27th inst, when we took a train for Detroit. We reached Detroit on the 28th, and immediately crossed the river to Windsor, Canada, where we were under the British flag. From Windsor we proceeded by various points to Halifax. At Halifax we sailed for the Bermuda Islands on a British brig, and reaching them we went to Nassau, on the Bahama Islands, and from Nassau we went to Havana.

At Havana I sat for my “photo,” which is herewith submitted [right] for the inspection of my surviving comrades. We remained in Havana two weeks, and then shipped on the blockade runner Fox for Galveston, Tex. Sometime in March [sic., April 1] we reached Galveston, and in attempting to enter the port our vessel was shot to pieces by the blockading fleet, but we managed to reach the shore safely.[2] From Galveston we went to Marshall, Tex., where James decided to remain.

Williams and I proceeded to Shreveport, and thence down the river by steamer to Alexandria. From Alexandria we took it “afoot” across the country to the Mississippi, and crossed it in a blockade skiff. Continuing, we reached Meridian, and there learned for the first time that the war was ended. [3]

After the war, Thomas married Nancy Elizabeth Cowart (1848-1926), and they eventually moved to Texas, where they settled in Montague County. Knox Thomas died on February 27, 1930, at the age of 85. Both he and Nancy are buried in Restland Cemetery at Olney, Texas.


[1] Private Benjamin “Babe” Johnson was not killed outright; Federal records show he lingered for more than two weeks, finally dying on January 13, 1865. He was buried in Grave 470, Block 2, Chicago City Cemetery. His remains were probably among those later exhumed and reinterred at Oakwoods Cemetery. Benjamin Johnson CSR, National Archives.

[2] Fox was a well-known blockade runner, under the command of Simpson A. Adkins. A detailed account of her dramatic run into Galveston on this occasion appears here.

[3] “Escape from Camp Douglas,” Confederate Veteran, Vol. 9, No. 1, (1901), 30.

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Image: Confederate prisoners at Camp Douglas, Chicago, Illinois. Via Abraham Lincoln Bookshop, Chicago.

Jean Preckel’s Banshee No. 2

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on June 29, 2011

Jean Preckel is a fine arts ship model builder from Blacksville, West Virginia. She contacted me some time ago about her then-recent model of Banshee, a famous blockade runner during the war, and told me she planned to do another one of Banshee No. 2, profiled here. She contacted me again last week, with images of her new model, now complete. I believe this model is, like Banshee, done to eighth-inch (1:96) scale. You can view more of Jean’s models here.


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On the Road

Posted in Education by Andy Hall on May 19, 2011

There are lots of good things about living where I do, but one you won’t find in the Chamber of Commerce brochures is that there are four wrecks of Civil War steam blockade runners right along this stretch of the Upper Texas Coast. Two of them, Acadia and Denbigh, have been positively identified; a third, Will o’ the Wisp (above), has been tentatively identified, and a fourth, Caroline (or Carolina) may have been located. Good, good stuff.

I’ve had the opportunity to dive on a couple of these sites, and from 1997-2003 was one of the lead investigators on Denbigh, the only one of the four to be formally excavated as an archaeology project. Denbigh was a remarkable ship, built in the same Birkenhead yard as the Confederate raider Alabama — which has its own connection to Galveston, thankyouverymuch — the second-most-successful runner of the war, having completed a total of eleven round voyages between Havana and Mobile, and Havana and Galveston, before being lost on the inbound passage of her twelfth trip into the Confederacy in May 1865.

But I digress. I’ve accepted an invitation to speak on Civil War blockade runners on the Texas coast on Thursday, October 20 at the Brazoria County Historical Museum in Angleton as part of Texas Archaeology Month. It’s been a long time since I talked about blockade runners, so it will be nice to return to that subject. More details closer to the date.

More blockade runner aye candy here.

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