Tuesday, January 29, 2013

C.S.S. HUNLEY UPDATE -- Scientists Uncover Evidence of Explosion

[Press Release, Courtesy Friends of the Hunley]
C.S.S. Hunley (U.S. Navy Historical Institute)

           The Hunley was less than twenty feet away from her torpedo when it exploded, according to new evidence uncovered by experts working to preserve the world’s first successful combat submarine. This is one of the most important clues found to date for archaeologists trying to discover why the Hunley vanished.
          Remnants of the torpedo that sank the USS Housatonic in 1864 were found securely bolted to the tip of the spar, a large pole that served as the Hunley’s weapon delivery system. The metal is jagged and peeled away from the aftermath of the explosion. It would have clearly created a risky situation for the Hunley’s crew if the torpedo stayed attached to the spar when it exploded.
           “There is overwhelming evidence to indicate this was not a suicide mission. The crew no doubt knew the dangers facing them, but still, they hoped to make it back home. They must have believed this was a safe enough distance to escape any harm,” said Hunley Commissioner Lieutenant Governor Glenn McConnell. “If so, they were at least partially right. Thus far, no damage has been found on the actual submarine caused by the explosion.”
          Plan of Attack: The new find is turning upside down the traditional understanding of how the Hunley’s weapon system functioned. Travelling to the target in a 19th century, hand cranked submarine was challenging enough. But how do you actually get the torpedo in the right spot and then trigger it once you are there? The answer has been sitting quietly in the Hunley lab underneath a brittle layer of concretion coating the spar.
          Until now, the conventional wisdom has been the Hunley would ram the spar torpedo into her target and then back away, causing the torpedo to slip off the spar. A rope from the torpedo to the submarine would spool out and detonate once the submarine was at a safe distance. This theory has always had difficulty under scrutiny since it would be very hard to actually lodge the torpedo into the hull of the enemy ship.
           Finding a portion of the original torpedo casing has enabled the team to confirm a long held suspicion that it was built and designed by a group associated with Edgar Singer (cousin of the famous sewing machine entrepreneur Isaac Singer). A period diagram housed at the National Archives indicates that this Singer torpedo held 135 pounds of gunpowder and was detonated by a trigger mechanism.
           This means the Captain had to position the torpedo while still attached to the spar and trigger it when the time was right. The Hunley’s crew was very strategic in their placement of the torpedo. It was detonated right under the stern to maximize the impact of the explosion and ensure destruction of the large Union ship. The explosion was not an accident. It was the result of careful planning.
Reconstructing the Past: There are dozens of possible theories to explain why the Hunley disappeared after sinking one of the mightiest ships in the Union’s fleet. Scientists have long wanted to digitally test the different scenarios using computer modeling. Until now, they have been missing key pieces of information such as the torpedo strength and the approximate location of the Hunley during the deadly explosion.
          With the torpedo charge and size now known from the diagram, understanding where the Hunley was in relation to the Housatonic and the blast that dragged her down to the bottom of the sea becomes a matter of arithmetic. The spar measures approximately 16 feet in length and the torpedo 2 feet, meaning the Hunley was at least 18 feet away from the bomb when it went off.
Now, scientists have the information they need to move forward with computer simulations of the attack, which could prove vital in solving the lingering mystery of why the Hunley did not come home on the fateful night of February, 17th, 1864.
          What’s Next: The submarine is covered with a layer of rock, sand and silt – often referred to as concretion – that built up over time while she rested on the ocean floor. The concretion serves as protective coating, but also inhibits the effectiveness of the conservation treatment needed to ensure the Hunley’s survival. Scientists will soon begin peeling away the concretion. “What has been concealed under this layer is anyone’s guess. As we remove it, we’ll be seeing the actual skin of the submarine for the first time. Hopefully, we’ll find many new clues to help us have a deeper understanding of the Hunley’s history,” said Lieutenant Governor McConnell.

Thursday, January 24, 2013


[Editor's note: Maj. Chatham Roberdeau Wheat was born April 9, 1826 in Alexandria, Virginia to Rev. John Thomas Wheat and Serina Blair Patten. He commanded the 1st Special Battalion (Wheat's) Louisiana Volunteers in the First Battle of Manassas, Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862 and the Seven Days Battles around Richmond, where he was killed at  the Battle of Gaines' Mill on June 27, 1862. Company B (Tiger Rifles) of Wheat's Battalion wore colorful  Zouave uniforms and drew attention of reporters before and after First Manassas where they launched a famous bowie knife charge. Soon the whole battalion was being called Louisiana Tigers and then all Louisiana troops serving in the Army of Northern Virginia.]
The Richmond Daily Dispatch
Jan. 26, 1863
Maj. Chatham Roberdeau Wheat
Obsequies of Major C. R. Wheat.
       The funeral of this well known and gallant officer, who was killed at the battle of Mechanicsville [Gaines' Mill], before Richmond, in July [June 27, 1862] last while leading his command into action, took place in this city on Saturday last, from the Monumental Church, on Broad street.
          A large concourse of military and citizens, plentifully interspersed with ladies, assembled at the church at an early hour to hear the funeral sermon, which was delivered by the Rev. J. C. McCabe, after which the coffin, containing the remains of the distinguished dead, was removed from the church to a caisson, drawn by four span of horses, which had been appropriately selected to convey it to Hollywood Cemetery. The line of procession was then formed, as follows: City Battalion, Major Elliott commanding; Public Guard, Lieut. Gay commanding detachment of the Tiger Rifles; two bands or music; caisson, containing the coffin; after which followed Louisiana officers now in the city, Gen. Elzey and Staff, Gen. Henningsen, and officers of the army, citizens, &c., and the cortege closed with carriages containing friends and acquaintances of the deceased.
          Major Chatham Roberdeau Wheat was a native of Alexandria, Va., and was distinguished not only for his fine personal appearance, but for those qualities which constitute a gallant officer and true gentleman. Of a restless, roving and chivalrous disposition, the Mexican war first opened a path for his peculiar genius, since when his sword has not in its scabbard, but wherever struggling liberty needed a champion, whether it was upon the battlefields of Mexico, Nicaragua, Italy, or his own native South, he was among the first to respond to the call. Major Wheat wished to die, amidst the flashing of the guns, and with the flag of his country waving victoriously above him.

Two Louisiana Tigers from a
contemporary Harper's Weekly
sketch. Notice the bowie knife
worn by the Tiger at left.

Monday, January 21, 2013


[Editor's note: Lt. Gen. Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson was born January 21, 1824 in Clarksburg (West) Virginia. Orphaned at an early age, he was raised by an uncle. He attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. in 1846 and distinguished himself in the Mexican War, 1846-48. He became a professor at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Va. and with the outbreak of war in 1861, rapidly advanced in rank in the Confederate Army. His military genius shone forth at the First Battle of Manassas, where he got the nickname "Stonewall," at the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862, and at the Battle of Chancellorsville where he was mortally wounded. He died of battle wounds and pneumonia on May 10, 1863. Below are the personnel impressions of Lord General Wolseley, the great British soldiers under Queen Victoria, upon a personal interview with Jackson in October, 1862.]

Lt. Gen. T. J. "Stonewall" Jackson
Wolseley on Jackson
                Shortly afterwards [leaving General Lee’s headquarters] I had the advantage of an interview with 
General Jackson, always spoken of then and to be remembered for all time as “Stonewall Jackson” a man of stern principles, who took seriously whatever he had to do and in whom the beautiful side of his character had been developed by this war. What a hero! And yet how simple, how humble-minded a man! In manner he was very different from General Lee, and I can class him with no one whom I have ever met or read of in history. Like the great commander whom he served with such knightly loyalty, he was deeply  religious, but more austere, more Puritan in type. Both were great soldiers, yet neither had any Gothlike delight in war. He did not, as Lee did, give one the idea of having been born to the hereditary right of authority over others. General Lee, the very type, physically and socially, of a proud Cavalier, would certainly have fought for his king had he lived when Rupert charged at Naseby; Jackson would have been more at home amongst Cromwell’s Ironsides upon that fatal June 14. More than any one I can remember, Jackson seemed a man in whom great strength of character and obstinate determination were mated with extreme  gentleness of disposition and with absolute tenderness towards all about him.
Stonewall Jackson
I had expected to see in Stonewall Jackson something of the religious moroseness we find attributed to the Commonwealth Puritan in our Restoration literature; but he was, instead, most genial and forthcoming during the extremely pleasant hour I spent in his tent. In repose it might be said there was something sad about the expression of this most remarkable man’s face. As his impressive eyes met yours unflinchingly, you knew that his was an honest heart. His closely compressed lips might have lent a harsh coldness to his features had not his face been lit up by a fascinating smile which added to the intense benignity of expression that his Maker had stamped upon it. In all the likenesses I have seen of him this marked characteristic is wanting. In their endeavours to represent it on canvas or in marble most have missed that bright light of highly gifted benevolence and spiritual contentment which, without doubt, must have preeminently distinguished the face of “Him whom  they crucified.”
Lee was a born aristocrat in features and in manner. There was nothing of these refined characteristics in Stonewall Jackson, a man of huge hands and feet. But he possessed an assured self-confidence, the outcome of an absolute trust in God, that  inspired his soldiers with an unquestioning belief in him as their leader. They did not ask him where he was going: they were content to follow him. Many were the stories told me on this score during my stay in Virginia. On the march through a village one day a father standing at his door saw his boy go by in the ranks. “Where are you bound for?” asked the parent as he grasped his son’s hand. “I don’t know, but old Jack does,” was the prompt reply.  That was enough for this young solder; it was enough for every man who fought under Stonewall Jackson.

Saturday, January 19, 2013


[Below is an excerpt about General Robert E. Lee from The Story of a Soldier’s Life by Field-Marshal Viscount Wolseley. This is a tribute to General Lee on the occasion of his 206th birthday anniversary, January  19, 2013.]

General Robert E. Lee
Robert E. Lee described as 'ablest general' - 'greatest man' by Lord Wolseley

                As soon as I could do so I proceeded to General Lee’s Headquarters, about six miles out of town, on the road to  Harper’s Ferry. Every incident in that visit to him is indelibly stamped on my memory. I have taken no special trouble to remember all he said to me then and during subsequent conversations, and yet it is still fresh in my recollection.  But it should be so, for he was the ablest general, and to me, seemed the greatest man I ever conversed with; and yet I have had the privilege of meeting Vom Moltke and Prince Bismark, and at least upon occasion had a very long and intensely interesting conversation with the latter. General Lee was one of the few men who ever seriously impressed and awed me with their natural, their inherent greatness. Forty years have come and gone since our meeting, yet the majesty of his manly bearing, the genial winning grace, the sweetness of his smile and the impressive dignity  of his old-fashioned style of address, come back to me amongst my most cherished recollections. His greatness made me humble, and I never felt my own individual insignificance more keenly than I did in his presence. He was the about fifty years of age, with hair and beard nearly white. Tall, extremely handsome and strongly built, very soldier-like in bearing, he looked a thoroughbred gentleman. Care had, however, already wrinkled his brow, and there came at moments a look of sadness into his clear, honest, and speaking dark brown eyes that indicated much his overwhelming national  responsibility had already told upon him. As he listened to you attentively, he seemed to look into your heart and to search your brain. He spoke of the future with confidence, though one could clearly see he was of no very sanguine temperament. He deplored the bitterness introduced into the struggle, and also the treatment of the Southern folk who fell into hostile hands. But there was no rancor in his tone when he referred to the Northern Government. Not even when he described how they had designedly destroyed his home at Arlington Heights, the property on the Potomac he had inherited from General Washington. He had merely “gone with his State” – Virginia – the pervading principle that had influenced most of the soldiers I spoke with during my visit to the South. His was indeed a beautiful character, and of him it might truthfully be written: “in righteousness he did judge and make war.”

Gen. Lord Wolseley
Who was Viscount Wolseley?
      Garnet Joseph Wolseley, the First Viscount of Wolseley, was one of the great British generals of the last half of the 19th Century. He was known as a tireless advocate of modernization of the British Army and was the "go-to" man whenever there was trouble in some far-flung area of the British Empire.
      He was  the son of a British Army officer born June 4, 1833 in Dublin, Ireland. Wolseley was educated in Dublin and commissioned into the British Army in  1852 in the King's Own Borderers, but transferred to the 80th Regiment of Foot. He served in the Second Burmese War, wounded at the Battle of Donabyu; the Crimean War in Russia;  the Indian Mutiny; the Anglo-French Expedition to China in 1860; the Fenian Invasion of Canada; the Ashanti Campaign in Africa; the Egyptian Army revo0lt; attempted to relieve Gordon at Khartoum; and the Boer War, 1899-1902.
      Wolseley was promoted to Field Marshal in 1894 and to Commander in Chief of the British Army, 1895-1901. He retired in 1903 and died March 26, 1913 in Mertone, France.
      In October, 1862, while stationed in Canada, took a leave of absence to  visit the Confederate Army. He had interviews with both General Robert E. Lee and Lieutenant General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson. Wolseley left behind his impressions in his auto-biography and in periodical articles.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

150-Years-Ago -- The Battle of Prairie Grove, Arkansas 7 Dec. 1862

[Battle Summary, National Park Service]

Maj. Gen. Thomas C.
 (Library of Congress)
          Maj. Gen. Thomas C. Hindman sought to destroy Brig. Gen. Francis Herron’s and Brig. Gen. James Blunt’s divisions before they joined forces. Hindman placed his large force between the two Union divisions, turning on Herron first and routing his cavalry. As Hindman pursued the cavalry, he met Herron’s infantry which pushed him back. The Rebels then established their line of battle on a wooded high ridge northeast of Prairie Grove Church. Herron brought his artillery across the Illinois River and initiated an artillery duel. The Union troops assaulted twice and were repulsed. The Confederates counterattacked, were halted by Union canister, and then moved forward again. Just when it looked as if the Rebel attack would roll up Herron’s troops, Blunt’s men assailed the Confederate left flank. As night came, neither side had won, but Hindman retreated to Van Buren. Hindman’s retreat established Federal control of northwest Arkansas.

150-years-ago VAN DORN'S RAID AT HOLLY SPRINGS, MISS. 20 Dec. 1862

The Richmond Daily Dispatch
Jan. 15, 1863
Van-Don's brilliant Cavalry raid
interesting particulars.
Gen. Earl Van Dorn
(Library of Congress)
          The recent cavalry raid of Gen. [Earl] Van-Dorn in the West was one of the most brilliant feats of the war, not falling short of any that have been made by the renowned Stuart or ubiquitous Morgan. A correspondent of the Mobile Register gives the following interesting particulars of his brilliant achievements in the vicinity of Holly Springs, Miss:
          Van-Dorn took a by-way and meandering route through the swamp, and came within eight miles of Holly Springs in the evening, where he bivouacked his force until two hours before day, when he moved cautiously into town, leaving the Texas brigade upon the heights outside as a reserve. As our forces dashed in from all sides, the entrance proved a complete surprise, the breaking streaks of daylight showing the Yankee tents with their yet undisturbed slumberers. A charge was ordered upon them, and the torch applied to the canvas which covered them. To paraphrase "Belgium's" picture--

"Ah, then and there was hurrying to and fro,
And, running in hot haste
And checks all pals and blanched with woe,
Exhibiting Yankees cowardice"

          The rapidity with which the tents of the enemy were vacated was marvelous; and impelled by burning torches and rapid discharges of side arms, the Yankees took no time to prepare their toilets, but rushed out into the cool atmosphere of a December morning clothed very similarly to Joseph when the lady Potiphar attempted to detain him. The scene was wild, exciting, tumultuous. Yankees running, tents burning, torches flaming, Confederates shouting, guns popping, sabres clanking, Abolitionists begging for mercy, "rebels" shouting exultingly, women en dishabille clapping their hands, frantic with joy, crying "kill them, kill them"--a heterogeneous mass of excited, frantic, frightened human beings, presented an indescribable picture, more adapted for the pencil of Hogarth than the pen of a newspaper correspondent.
            The surprised camp surrendered 1,800 men and 150 commissioned officers, who were immediately paroled. And then commenced the work of destruction. The extensive buildings of the Mississippi Central depot, the station house, the engine houses, and immense store houses, were filled with supplies of clothing and commissary stores. Outside of the depot the barrels of flour, estimated half a mile in length, one hundred and fifty feet through, and fifteen feet high. Turpentine was thrown over this, and the whole amount destroyed — up town, the court house and the public buildings, livery stables, and all capacious establishments, were filled, ceiling high with medical and ordnance stores. These were all fired, and the explosion of one of the buildings, in which was stored one hundred barrels of powder, knocked down nearly all the houses on the south side of the square.
       Surely such a scene of devastation was never before presented to the eye of man. Glance at the gigantic estimates: 1,809,000 fixed cartridges and other ordnance stores, valued at $1,500,000, including 5,000 rifles and 2,000 revolvers, 100,000 suits of clothing and other quartermaster stores, valued at $500,000; 5,000 barrels of flour and other commissary stores, valued at $500,000.
$1,600,000 worth of medical stores, for which invoices to that amount were exhibited, and 1,000 bales of cotton and $600,000 worth of sutlers' stores!
          While the capture of the camp, paroling of the prisoners, and destroying of the stores was going on, the Texas Rangers, comprising the 9th, 6th, and 3d legions, became engaged with the Michigan cavalry, and drove them pell-mell through town and run them off north, with a considerable lose to the Abolitionists, and a loss of thirty in killed and wounded on our part.
          The ladies rushed out from the houses, wild with joy, crying out: "There's some at the Fair Grounds. Chase them, kill them, for God's sake!" One lady said: "The Yankee Commandant of the Post is in my house; come and catch him;" and a search was instigated, but without success, when the noble woman insisted that he was there, concealed; and finally, after much ado, the gallant (save the mark!) Colonel Murphy, the intrepid Yankee Commandant of Holly Springs, was pulled out from under his bed, and presented himself in his nocturnal habiliments to his captors.
          The Provost Marshal was also taken, and, addressing General Van Dorn, said: "Well, General, you've got us fairly this time. I knowed it. I was in bed with my wife when I heard the firing, and I at once said: "Well, wife, it's no use closing our eyes, or hiding under the cover; we've gone up."
          Our attention was given to Grant's headquarters, which he had left twenty-four hours before. All his papers, charts, maps, etc., were captured, together with his splendid carriage, which was burned. Among his papers was found a pass, to pass the bearer over all railroads and steamboats in the United States, at Government expenses; to pass all pickets and guards, and other papers, at once interesting and valuable. Mrs. Grant was also captured, but no indignity was offered to her.
Nearly every store on the public square was filled with sutler stores, and after our men had helped themselves the balance of the goods were burned.
           When our forces first reached the depot, there was a train about leaving. The engineer jumped off and run away, and one of our men took his place, shut the throttle valve, and stopped the train. Sixty cars and two locomotives were then tired and destroyed.
          After the complete destruction of all public property about the place, and after each man had supplied himself with a suitable quantity of clothing and boots, at six o'clock in the morning the march was renewed, and Davis's mill was the next place attacked. Here the enemy were entrenched, and sheltered themselves in a block house and fort formed of cotton bales. The cavalry were commanded to charge, and attempted to do so; but the swamp and intricate lagoons breaking off in front of the enemy's position would not permit it. The Yankees opened fire with some effect from their fort, and were supported by a 9-pound rifled gun, mounted on an iron- clad railroad car, forming a railroad battery.
            The Texans were again ordered to charge, and Major Dillon, of Van Dorn's staff, whose gallantry during the expedition was particularly conspicuous attempted to lead them to the attack; but the men refused to follow, believing the way impassable and the position too strong for cavalry demonstration alone. Col. McCullough, of the Missouri cavalry, was ordered to get in the rear of the railroad battery, cut the track to prevent its escape, and capture it. I believe he succeeded in cutting the road, but our forces were compelled to withdraw, and the steam battery was not taken. The force then pushed on to Middleburg and Bolivar, and attacked both places, but found them too strongly defended and garrisoned to succeed in taking either of the points.
            When the command turned back after its unsuccessful attack upon Bolivar the enemy sent a force of 10,000, comprising the three branches of the service, out after Van Dorn, and made great efforts to flank and cut off its force; but this dashing officer was too wary for them, and succeeded in returning with 400 head of captured horses and mules, laden with spoils taken from the enemy.
The people of Tennessee are represented as having been almost frantic with joy at the appearance of our forces once more upon their borders. They fed our soldiers with a bountiful hand, and wept for joy. "Thank God, you have come at last!" one and all exclaimed.--Their hospitality was not a little surprising to our soldiers, who have been so uniformly swindled and extorted from in Mississippi.--The people of Tennessee had been induced to believe that Gen. Grant's headquarters were at Jackson, Miss., and that our whole army had been captured. Judge, then, of their surprise, when they were visited by Van-Dorn's command.
           The entire number of prisoners captured and paroled during the raid is 2,100 privates and 175 commissioned officers.

Monday, January 14, 2013


U.S.S. Westfield being blown up by its commander, Commodore
William B. Renshaw, killed accidentally in the explosion,
Jan. 1, 1863 at Galveston. (U.S. Naval Historical Center)
The Richmond Daily Dispatch
January 10, 1863

Latest from New Orleans.
Brilliant naval Exploit.
the "Harriet Lane" captured!
another shipsteamer
Blown up with all on Board.
Mobile, Jan'y 8.
     A special dispatch, dated Jackson to-day, says the New Orleans Delta, of the 6th, received at Ponchtonia, contains the following:
     About 2 o'clock on New Year's morning, four rebel gunboats came down Buffalo Bayou into Galveston Bay, and ran alongside the shipsteamer Harriet Lane, one on each side. The Texan sharp-shooters then commenced an assault on her, and soon succeeded in killing all the gunners and Capt. Wagnewyth, her commander. The assailants then boarded her, and after a desperate struggle, captured the vessel.
     The rebel gunboats were lined and fortified with cotton bales, after the manner of the boats in New Orleans known as the Montgomery fleet.
      The Westfield, under Commander Renshaw, determined not to be taken, and, after a consultation, officers and men all agreeing, they blew her up, with all on board, including the commander. Only eight escaped.
      The balance of the Yankee fleet, and one transport, escaped. Two coal boats at the wharf, with two companies of the 42d Massachusetts Regiment, were captured.
       A Federal vessel was pinched to reconnoitre around the harbor to watch the Harriet Lane and prevent the Confederates sending her to sea.

Official account of the Affair.
      The following official dispatch from Major-Gen. Magruder was received at the War Department yesterday. It came via Natchez:
Maj. Leon Smith, Texas Marine Dept.
(Six Decades in Texas)
Headq'rs Galveston, Texas.
      This morning, the 1st January, at 3 o'clock, I attacked the enemy's fleet and garrison at this place, and captured the latter and the shipsteamer
      Harriet Lane, and two barges, and a schooner of the former. The rest, some four or five, escaped ignominiously under cover of a flag of truce. I have about six hundred prisoners and a large quantity of valuable stores arms, etc. The Harriet Lane is very little injured. She was carried by boarding from two high-pressure cotton steamers, manned by Texas cavalry and artillery. The line troops were gallantly commanded by Colonel Green, of Sibley's brigade, and the ships and artillery by Maj Leon Smith, to whose imitable energy and heroic daring the country is indebted for the successful execution of a plan which I had considered for the destruction of the enemy's fleet--Col. Bagby, of Sibley's brigade, also commanded the volunteers from his regiment for the naval expedition, in which every officer and every man won for himself imperishable renown.
(Signed) J. Bankhead Magruder,

Major General.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

150-Years-Ago - Sinking of the USS Hatteras by the CSS Alabama

Admiral Raphael Semmes
(Service Afloat)

[Editor’s note: Excerpted from  Memoirs of Service Afloat During the War Between the States by Admiral Raphael Semmes, Baltimore, Md., 1869]
In the interval between our leaving the West Indies, and arriving off Galveston, this city had been retaken by General Magruder, assisted by a gallant seaman of the merchant service, Captain Leon Smith. Smith, with a couple of small river steamers, protected by cotton bags, and having a number of sharp-shooters on board, assaulted and captured, or drove to sea the enemy’s entire fleet, consisting of several heavily armed steamships.
What was best to be done in this changed condition of affairs? I certainly had not come all the way into the Gulf of Mexico, to fight five ships of war, the least of which was probably my equal. And yet, how could I very well run away, in the face of the promises I had given my crew? for I had told them at the Arcas islands, that they were, if the fates proved propitious, to have some sport off Galveston. Whilst I was pondering the difficulty, the enemy himself, happily, came to my relief; for pretty soon the look-out again called from aloft, and said, “One of the steamers, sir, is coming out in chase of us.” The Alabama had given chase pretty often, but this was the first time she had been chased. It was just the thing I wanted, however, for I at once conceived the design of drawing this single ship of the enemy far enough away from the remainder of her fleet, to enable me to decide a battle with her before her consorts could come to her relief.
At length, when I judged that I had drawn the stranger out about twenty miles from his fleet, I furled my sails, beat to quarters, prepared my ship for action, and wheeled to meet him. The two ships now approached each other, very rapidly. As we came within speaking distance, we simultaneously stopped our engines, the ships being about one hundred yards apart. The enemy was the first to hail. “What ship is that?” cried he. “This is her Britannic Majesty’s steamer Petrel,” we replied. We now hailed in turn, and demanded to know who he was. The reply not coming to us very distinctly, we repeated our question, when we heard the words,“This is the United States ship ——” the name of the ship being lost to us. But we had heard enough. All we wanted to know was, that the stranger was a United States ship, and therefore our enemy. A pause now ensued—a rather awkward pause, as the reader may suppose. Presently, the stranger hailed again, and said, “If you please, I will send a boat on board of you.” His object was, of course, to verify or discredit the answer we had given him, that we were one of her Britannic Majesty’s cruisers. We replied, “Certainly, we shall be happy to receive your boat;” and we heard a boatswain’s mate call away a boat, and could hear the creaking of the tackles, as she was lowered into the water.
The USS Hatteras, right, beginning to sink following its classic sea battle
with the CSS Alabama off Galveston, January 11, 1863.
(US Naval Historical Center)
Things were now come to a crisis, and it being useless to delay our engagement with the enemy any longer, I turned to my first lieutenant, and said, “I suppose you are all ready for action?” “We are,” he replied; “the men are eager to begin, and are only waiting for the word.” I then said to him, “Tell the enemy who we are, for we must not strike him in disguise, and when you have done so, give him the broadside.” Kell now sang out, in his powerful, clarion voice, through his trumpet, “This is the Confederate States steamer Alabama!” and turning to the crew, who were all standing at their guns—the gunners with their sights on the enemy, and lock-strings in hand—gave the order, fire! Away went the broadside in an instant, our little ship feeling, perceptibly, the recoil of her guns. The night was clear. There was no moon, but sufficient star-light to enable the two ships to see each other quite distinctly, at the distance of half a mile, or more, and a state of the atmosphere highly favorable to the conduct of sound. The wind, besides, was blowing in the direction of the enemy’s fleet. As a matter of course, our guns awakened the echoes of the coast, far and near, announcing very distinctly to the Federal Admiral—Bell, a Southern man, who had gone over to the enemy—that the ship which he had sent out to chase the strange sail, had a fight on her hands. He immediately, as we afterward learned, got under way, with theBrooklyn, his flag-ship, and two others of his steamers, and came out to the rescue.
Our broadside was returned instantly; the enemy, like ourselves, having been on his guard, with his men standing at their guns. The two ships, when the action commenced, had swerved in such a way, that they were now heading in the same direction—the Alabama fighting her starboard-broadside, and her antagonist her port-broadside. Each ship, as she delivered her broadside, put herself under steam, and the action became a running fight, in parallel lines, or nearly so, the ships now nearing, and now separating a little from each other. My men handled their pieces with great spirit and commendable coolness, and the action was sharp and exciting while it lasted; which, however, was not very long, for in just thirteen minutes after firing the first gun, the enemy hoisted a light, and fired an off-gun, as a signal that he had been beaten. We at once withheld our fire, and such a cheer went up from the brazen throats of my fellows, as must have astonished even a Texan, if he had heard it. We now steamed up quite close to the beaten steamer, and asked her captain, formally, if he had surrendered. He replied that he had. I then inquired if he was in want of assistance, to which he responded promptly that he was, that his ship was sinking rapidly, and that he needed all our boats. There appeared to be much confusion on board the enemy’s ship; officers and crew seemed to be apprehensive that we would permit them to drown, and several voices cried aloud to us for assistance, at the same time. When the captain of the beaten ship came on board to surrender his sword to me, I learned that I had been engaged with the United States steamer Hatteras, Captain [H.C.] Blake.
There was very little said by the enemy, about this engagement, between the Alabama and the Hatteras, as was usual with him when he met with a disaster; and what was said was all false. My own ship was represented to be a monster of speed and strength, and the Hatteras, on the other hand, to be a tug, or river steamer, or some such craft, with two or three small guns at the most. The facts are as follows: The Hatteras was a larger ship than the Alabama, by one hundred tons. Her armament, as reported to us by her own people, was as follows: Four 32-pounders; two Parrot 30-pounder rifles; one 20-pounder rifle; and one 12-pounder howitzer—making a total of eight guns. The armament of the Alabama was as follows: Six 32-pounders; one 8-inch shell gun; one Blakeley rifle of 100 pounds—total, eight guns. There was, besides, a little toy-rifle—a 9-pounder—on the quarter-deck of the Alabama, which had been captured from a merchant-ship, and which, I believe, was fired once during the action. The crew of the Hatteras was 108 strong; that of the Alabama110. There was thus, as the reader sees, a considerable disparity between the two ships, in the weight of their pivot-guns, and the Alabama ought to have won the fight; and she did win it, in thirteen minutes—taking care, too, though she sank her enemy at night, to see that none of his men were drowned—a fact which I shall have occasion to contrast, by-and-by, with another sinking. The only casualty we had on board the Alabama was one man wounded. The damages to our hull were so slight, that there was not a shot-hole which it was necessary to plug, to enable us to continue our cruise; nor was there a rope to be spliced. Blake behaved like a man of courage, and made the best fight he could, ill supported as he was by the “volunteer” officers by whom he was surrounded, but he fell into disgrace with the Demos, and had but little opportunity shown him during the remainder of the war, to retrieve his disaster.
[Editor's note: The casualties on both sides were amazingly light. The  Hatteras had two men killed and five wounded. As Admiral Semmes noted, only one man was slightly wounded on the Alabama.]

Saturday, January 5, 2013


The recently refurbished 1911 Confederate Monument
in front of the Galveston Courthouse. It was rededicated
in June 2012.

Here are some photographs of historic sites in Galveston related to the Battle of Gavleston by Mike Jones.

Another view of the Confederate Monument.

The Hendley Building, seen here, played a prominent role
in the battle. The first shot of the battle was fired from near
here at 20th and Strand by General Magruder.
Scars of the battle are still
visible on the building.

A view of Galveston Harbor and the approximate
location of Kuhn's Wharf, which no longer exists.
It is not far from the Hendley Building at 20th and
Strand. The main part of the Battle of Galveston
was fought in this area.

The 1861 Custom House at Post Office Street, now the
headquarters of the Galveston Historical Foundation at
520 20th Street, suffered damage in the battle. It is
beautifully restored.