Spirits on the USS Monitor: A Daily Dose of Grog

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Commander Catesby ap Roger Jones, ca. 1863-64, Courtesy of the Naval History and Heritage Command, NH 48723.

Drinking and fighting always seem to have some type of connection. On the early morning of  March 9, 1862, the CSS Virginia prepared to destroy the remaining Union fleet in Hampton Roads. Its success the day before gave the crew confidence that they would secure a complete victory over the wooden federal fleet. Catesby ap Roger Jones, the Confederate ironclad’s acting commander, thought to give the men even greater encouragement. “We began the day with two jiggers of whiskey,” an elated William Cline wrote, “and a hearty breakfast.” [1] The crew was now truly ready for combat!

Grog was first introduced in the 18th century, eventually a mix of rum, gin, or whiskey with water, sugar, and lime or lemon. It was a boost to sailors fighting the doldrums suffered on long sea voyages or to give a surge of instant courage when preparing for battle. Enlisted men could only drink when their grog ration was issued or when they were on liberty. Officers, however, drank without care and were only punished when their intoxication got in the way of performing their duties. USS Monitor’s paymaster William Keeler fought to do away with the grog ration stating that drinking was the “curse of the navy.”[2] It was true: many Civil War sailors and soldiers were all too often plagued by whiskey, whiskey, and more whiskey.   Read more

African American US Medal Of Honor Recipients During The Civil War – Part I: US Navy

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U.S. Navy poster featuring Medal of Honor recipient Aaron Anderson. Courtesy of the Naval History and Heritage Command # NH 103775.

The Medal of Honor was established in 1862 to honor soldiers and sailors who served beyond the call of duty. It is the United States’ highest military decoration. Battle flags were such significant fixtures on Civil War battlefields for both Union and Confederate armies, and many recipients were awarded their medals for defending or capturing a flag. Twenty-six  Medal of Honor awards were conferred upon African American service members during the Civil War. Eight were presented to naval personnel, the rest to soldiers. 

Landsman Aaron Anderson

Landsman Anderson served aboard the stores ship USS Wyandank with the Potomac Squadron. Anderson, who is also referred to as Sanderson, received his Medal of Honor for a small boat action on Mattox Creek, Virginia. Wyandank was a sidewheeler built in 1847 and was armed with one 20-pounder rifle and one 12-pounder smoothbore. While on blockading duty on the Potomac River on March 17, 1865, a cutter with one boat howitzer was launched from the USS Don. Ensign Summers commanded the boat, and Anderson was detailed to be among several men rowing the vessel. While clearing the creek’s left branch, the cutter came under heavy fire from about 400 Confederates. The launch continued to move forward to burn three schooners successfully.   Read more

Capture Of Forts Henry And Donelson

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Map of Kentucky and Tennessee. Illustration from Battles & Leaders of the Civil War, vol. 1, 1887. Courtesy of Library of Congress.

General Albert Sidney Johnston, commander of Confederate forces in Kentucky and Tennessee, planned to defend eastern, middle, and western Tennessee using a series of forts to protect Union access to the Mississippi, Tennessee, and Cumberland rivers. Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant and Flag Officer Andrew Hull Foote attacked and captured Fort Henry on the Tennessee River and Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River in a bold move. This forced the Confederates to abandon Kentucky and much of Tennessee and opened the door into the Deep South. This campaign began the Civil War career of ‘Unconditional Surrender’ Grant. 

Confederate Defenses

Confederate president Jefferson Davis believed General Johnston to be the most outstanding soldier in America. They had studied at West Point, and fought during the Mexican War. together. Johnston realized that he did not have enough troops to block any Union advance effectively.    Read more

Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation During World War I

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The Chesapeake & Ohio Railway Systems, Newport News, VA, ca. 1913. The Mariners’ Museum P0001.008/01-424#PH804

The Virginia Peninsula was already engaged in wartime work when President Woodrow Wilson asked Congress to declare war against Germany on April 6, 1917. Local military bases, shipyards, air fields, ports, and people turned their faces toward the nation’s crusade to make the world safe for democracy.

Headquarters, Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation

The US Army, in anticipation of America’s entry into the war, surveyed the Hampton Roads area in early 1917 to ascertain where to establish a port of embarkation. Newport News was selected over Norfolk as headquarters for the Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation. Several geographical reasons influenced that decision. Norfolk was a congested port and already the center for many naval activities. Newport News offered good port facilities, a large harbor, excellent railroad connections, ship repair opportunities, and an abundance of available land.   Read more

IRONCLADS STRIKE: CSS PALMETTO STATE AND CSS CHICORA

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Map, “The Rebel defences of Charleston Harbor, SC, August 1863.”
Robert Knox Sneden, artist, 1832-1918. Courtesy of Library of Congress.

Something unusual occurred in the early morning darkness of January 31, 1863, when the Confederate ironclad rams, CSS Chicora and CSS Palmetto State, crossed the Charleston Bar and struck the Union ships guarding that blockade runners’ haven. It was the first time that Confederate ironclads had entered the open sea and, in the opinion of Confederate general P.G.T. Beauregard, had broken the blockade. While the Federal gunboats were quickly back on station, it was a great boost to the defenders of Charleston who were expecting a Union ironclad attack on their harbor.

When General P.G.T. Beauregard assumed command of the Department of South Carolina and Georgia on September 24, 1862, he immediately realized the need for active support of the Confederate navy in order to defend harbors like Charleston and Savannah. Beauregard, the hero of Fort Sumter and the Battle of First Manassas, knew that ironclad rams armed with rifled cannon offered the best opportunities not only to protect harbors; but also, to perhaps break the Union stranglehold on Confederate commerce — the cotton for cannon trade so important for the Southern war effort.   Read more