Friday, June 24, 2016

June 24, 1861: P.G.T. Beauregard to Joseph Johnston

In Northern Virginia a jittery P.G.T. Beauregard corresponds with his fellow Confederate General, Joseph Johnston.

MANASSAS JUNCTION, VA., June 24th, 1861.

My dear General, Your two letters of the 23d instant have just been delivered to me. I regret much the change you have been compelled to make in your arrangements, but I can well appreciate them, although I do not believe in the hostile advance of General Patterson, for I am informed, on what I consider good authority, that they have quite a stampede in Washington thinking we are going to unite our forces for its attack, or that you are going to cross the Potomac at or about Edwards's Ferry to attack it in rear, while I attack it in front hence, probably, the proposed movement of Patterson to keep you at bay. . . . Not being able to obtain a full supply of cartridges for my increased forces, I am going to establish a manufactory of them here. Whenever you can spare a few guns for Leesburg, pray send them. Yours very truly,


To Genl. J. E. JOHNSTON, Winchester, Va.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

June 23, 1861: USS Massachusetts seizes five blockade runners

One key advantage enjoyed by the Union in the American Civil War was the control of the U.S. Merchant Marine. Most American steamships of the time were built and owned in the North and before the war most of these ships had avoided being caught in Southern ports and had returned North. These ships--hundreds of them--were available to the Union for charter and purchase for conversion to auxiliary warships. The USS
Massachusetts was one such steamer; she weighed about 1,150 tons, was 210 feet long, and 33 feet wide at her widest point. The Massachusetts had been acquired on May 3, 1861 and commissioned into the U.S. Navy on May 24, 1861. She had been armed with one 32-pounder 42 cwt. gun on a pivot mount and four 8-inch 63 cwt. guns on her broadsides (two each side.). Less than a month later the Massachusetts was part of the blockade of New Orleans and the mouth of the Mississippi River under the command of Melancton Smith. Contrast that performance with the months taken by the South to ready a single ship, the raider CSS Sumter, for service.

Captain Melancton Smith was another of the U.S. Navy's many tough, long-service officers. Smith had joined the Navy in 1826, and thus had 35 years of experience under his belt by the time he was called upon to enforce the blockade off New Orleans. On this day 155 years ago, Smith and the USS
Massachusetts pounced on five small schooners trying to slip through the blockade along the coast near New Orleans in the Mississippi Sound.

Off Pass a l'Outre, June 25, 1861.

SIR: I have to report that on the 23d instant I captured in Mississippi Sound, with the boats belonging to the vessel, five schooners, four claiming to belong to a government not recognized by the United States, and having on board the flag adopted by the States that are in rebellion, and one, a Mexican vessel, from New Orleans, that had violated the blockade.

The Mexican schooner
Brilliante, cargo 600 barrels flour, 2 dismounted guns, and one gun carriage, had been warned off by the boarding officer of the steamer Brooklyn, and her register was properly endorsed. She cleared for New Orleans four days after the expiration of the notice given to neutral vessels to depart. Captured the schooner Trois Freres (under Confederate papers), from New Orleans, bound to Mobile, with a cargo of salt and oats; schooner Olive Branch, from Mobile bound to New Orleans, Confederate papers; cargo, 100 barrels spirits of turpentine; schooner Fanny, from New Orleans, bound to Mobile, and loaded with 602 bars of railroad iron; schooner Basilde, from New Orleans, bound to Mobile, with coasting license from Confederate States custom-house; cargo, 30,000 bricks.

These vessels were sent forward to Key West, under charge of Lieutenant George L. Selden and Acting Master Sawyer, with prize crews numbering 25 men. Lieutenant Selden had orders to report to the senior officer present, and in the event of his being the senior officer, to Judge Marvin, U.S. district judge, to whom the papers of the captured vessels were addressed.

It may not be amiss to mention also that on the day of these seizures I interrupted the mail communication between New Orleans and Mobile, by turning back the steamboat
Oregon, one of the boats running regularly with mails.

This steamer, being out of range of my shot, was not disposed to change her course until I opened fire from a small sailboat of 6 tons (a previous capture), mounting one brass 6-pounder on a truck carriage, which had been used as a signal gun on board this vessel previous to her purchase. The projectiles used on this occasion consisted of grapeshot wound with rope yarns, and milk cans filled with canister shot, manufactured on board; with proper missiles the steamer might have been reached and captured. The Oregon, upon going about, hoisted the secession flag at the main peak and the American ensign, union down, forward.

A steamer of light draft, acting in concert with the
Massachusetts, will effectually cut off all communications between New Orleans and Mobile by way of the sound.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,


Flag-Officer Wm. MERVINE, U.S. Navy.
Smith's seizure of these five schooners was part of the U.S. Navy's ongoing efforts to dismantle the South's coasting trade. The small sailing ships that were the backbone of the South's coastal transportation system were unable to evade the steamships used by the North to enforce the blockade. Note that the steam powered mail packet Oregon was able to dodge the Massachusetts, but the five sailing vessels were captured and sent to the prize court in Key West. An important link in the South's transportation network was crumbling.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

June 22, 1861: Abraham Lincoln wants to know how big his army and navy are

North and South, the race to mobilize armed forces was chaotic. The task of recruiting troops had--again, both North and South--been largely delegated to the governors of the various states. Everything was new and growing: bureaucracies could not keep up with the growing forces and both Lincoln and Davis had only the vaguest idea of what armed forces were actually at their command. On the Union side, Abraham Lincoln acted on June 22, 1861 to begin reining in the chaos. On this day 155 years ago, Lincoln sent a message to the heads of all the various government bureaus concerned with raising and supplying the army and navy asking them to provide detailed reports describing the soldiers, seamen, equipment, and warships available for service.
June 22, 1861

To the Heads of Bureaus in the War, Navy and other Departments.

You will please, under the direction of my private Secretary, make to me such abstract reports, as will show the number of men now enlisted as soldiers or seamen in the service of the United States, or mustered into the service as State Militia or Volunteers, the state of their equipment and drill, the time of their probable readiness for active service, and the place of rendezvous or present station. Also (if practicable) like information in regard to the organization of military forces in the Free States, under State authority. Also the number and kind of arms and ammunition furnished, and yet on hand, and being manufactured. Also the number and description of War vessels and transports at present owned or chartered by the government, where and on what service at present stationed and the number description and time of probable readiness for service of those being prepared. A LINCOLN

Washington June 22, 1861.
The South was at something of a disadvantage in the race to organize since Davis was forced to create a national government from scratch at the very same time he was expected to organize the South's armed forces. When it came to the South's military, the chicken and the egg would both have to come first.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

June 21, 1861: CSS Sumter nearly ready for sea

CSS Sumter

For several weeks Commander Raphael Semmes had been struggling with the inefficiency of the New Orleans port facilities, trying to get his new command, the CSS Sumter, ready for action. The Sumter was a fully-rigged steamship of 500 tons displacement and she was being converted into a commerce raider. Sumter would use her sails for long-range cruising and her steam engine to maneuver against enemies. The greatest obstacle was obtaining the armament for his vessel along with the necessary gun carriages and the copper gunpowder tanks for storing the Sumter's ammunition. Semmes had thought he would be ready for sea at the beginning of June 1861, but he was unable to complete the work before June 21, 1861. As he put the finishing touches on his ship, Semmes also kept a wary eye on the Union blockade of the entrances to the Mississippi River, knowing that he would have to run the blockade on his way out to the high seas. This would involve a certain amount of risk, which might explain why Semmes was having difficulty in locating a pilot to take him down the river.
[Friday], June 21.--Practiced the crew at division quarters in the morning and at general quarters in the afternoon and tried a couple of shell with the Borman fuse. Just at nightfall I received the following dispatch:
June 21, 1861.

CAPTAIN: I am desired by the commanding officer to state that the Ivy [a privateer] reports that the Powhatan has left in pursuit of two ships, and that he has received a telegram from Pass a l'Outre to the effect that a boat from the Brooklyn had put into the river and was making for the telegraph station, where she was expected to arrive in a few minutes.
Got up steam and steamed down to the Head of the Passes, where we came to at 10:30 p. m. Dispatched a boat to the lighthouse to procure a pilot, but the keeper knew nothing of the pilots and was unwilling to come on board, though requested. Sent a boat also on board the Ivy, privateer, with a request either that she would supply us with a pilot or go down to the Southwest Pass and procure one.
As finally completed, the CSS Sumter was armed with one 8-inch shell gun and four 32-pounder guns. Semmes mentions an important new technology in his report: the Bormann fuse, a Belgian invention that allowed much better control over the time delay of explosive shells.

Raphael Semmes

Monday, June 20, 2016

June 20, 1861: "Proceedings of the Wheeling Convention"

Francis Harrison Pierpont

The citizens of western Virginia wasted no time in moving to separate from the eastern half. On June 19, 1861 the Wheeling Convention made several important decisions which were reported the next day in the New York Times:

WHEELING, Va., Wednesday, June 19.

The time of the Convention was occupied today with a debate on the ordinance for reorganizing the State Government.

Mr. WEST, of Wetzel, offered an amendment, that no one who voted for secession be allowed to hold office in the State during the war.

This was supported by Mr. WEST and his colleague, Mr. MARTIN, who, among other statements, said that the Secessionists in his County were in the habit of taking the oath of allegiance and afterwards repudiating it. There was no confidence in the oath of men, who had to learn to disregard an oath to be good Secessionists.

The amendment was lost -- Ayes, 10; Nays, 66.

The ordinance was finally passed -- 73 to 3.

The ordinance provides for the entire reorganization of the State Government; every officer to be obliged to swear allegiance anew to the United States, and repudiate the Richmond Convention.

The Convention will now proceed to choose a Governor and Council. A new State seal and other emblems of authority had been ordered.

WHEELING, Va., Wednesday, June 19 -- P.M.

FRANK PIERPONT, of Marion County, was unanimously nominated for Governor by the Convention in caucus to day.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

June 19, 1861: "Give up that Sword"

Lieutenant General Winfield Scott was one of the greatest soldiers the United States has ever had in its service. Scott served this nation for 47 years, included 20 years as its highest ranking general and commander of the army. When his native state of Virginia seceded from the Union and joined a combination of states that had fired upon the national flag that Scott had served for nearly half a century, the old soldier did not hesitate: he stayed with the Union. Scott's loyalty to the Union was not respected in his native Virginia, however, and he soon became the target of venomous attacks in the Richmond press, as this poem from the Daily Dispatch illustrates:
‘"Give up that Sword."’

By request, we publish the following, which originally appeared in the Richmond Whig:
I hear that a deputation of the ladies of Virginia intend waiting on General Sco't and demanding the sword he received from his native State. As I cannot go in person, I send you the following lines to the old gentleman, hoping they may act as a persuader to ‘"Fuss and Feathers "’ to give up the sword. If you think them worthy of publication, insert them in the Weekly Whig, as I take that paper. --A Virginia Mother.
‘Give up that sword, old traitor.
To the State of the gallant and free;
Who blushes with shame to know she hath found
The first base traitor in thee.

Freedom or death was the cry
First heard on thy native pisins,
As it came from Henry's imprisoned lips
More thrilling than martial strains!

To that war-cry our freemen rallied
And clamored to meet the foe.
And drive the invaders from their sacred home,
Or nobly in death lie low.

Scott I will thy blood not tingle
And burn like the lava's flood.
When leagued with the treacherous usurper you come
To deluge your country in blood?

Will not the sword she gave you
Gleam with ill-omened fires.
When you lead your invading thousands
To the homes and the graves of your aires!

The dagger of Macbeth was nothing
To what that sword shall be;
Sleeping or waking, its phantom shall still
Forever be present to thee.

And when with assassins and traitors,
Who disgrace their country's name.
Thon shall sneak to they grave with terror and fear,
It will prove a sword of fiame:

A sword, whose lurid shining
Shall rival the place of the lost;
Then shrieking, despairing, too late thou'll find.
What that treacherous blade hath cost.

Its point shall force thee an entrance,
Even thro' the gates of hell,
And gain thee a full and free admission
To the traitors thee hast loved so well.

Arnold will meet thee all smirking,
But only to hide the tear;
He known his pre-eminence now is gone,
For a greater than Arnold is here.

Then the Prince of Darkness shall say,
"Do come up higher, my son;
"Since the fall of man no darker deed
"Than thine hath ever been done.

"Now, Arnold, cease that growling,
"Scott's is the greater name;
"His sword he hath plunged in his mother's heart.
"Thon did'st only plan the same."’