River Monitors

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Map of Mississippi and Ohio Rivers.
Courtesy OhioRiverCorridor.com.

At the onset of the Civil War, General Winfield Scott noted that a Union victory could be achieved by controlling the Mississippi River. Scott believed the entire Mississippi Valley could be controlled using only 12 to 20 gunboats and 60,000 soldiers. More resources would eventually be needed; however, the Federals ultimately enabled, as President Abraham Lincoln said, the ‘Father of All Rivers to flow unvexed to the sea.’ 

Because the Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles was preoccupied with establishing a blockade of the Confederate coastline, he placed control of the Western Gunboat Flotilla to the War Department. This action would give a strong unity of command as the Union army and naval forces endeavored to wrestle the river from the Confederacy. Commander John Rodgers was initially placed in command of the flotilla; however, he was soon replaced by Flag Officer Andrew Hull Foote.    Read more

Naval Intelligence in Hampton Roads: 1861-1862

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CSS Virginia.
The Mariners’ Museum.

There was no formal naval intelligence system established during the American Civil War. While a few examples exist of Northern sympathizers, free Blacks, like Mary Louvestre of Portsmouth, sent messages to various Union commanders about the Confederate ironclad construction effort. These links were unofficial and were generally between one Union officer and an individual. The Union nor the Confederacy needed to rely on such clandestine methods since Northern and Southern newspapers provided ample information, usually in a boastful manner. Each antagonist simply needed to obtain a copy of The New York Times or Mobile Register to gather all they needed to know about ironclad development. 

Union intelligence was able to receive valuable knowledge about the construction and impending attack of CSS Virginia. The information appeared to flow back and forth across Hampton Roads. On October 6, 1861, Major General John Ellis Wool, stationed at Fort Monroe as commander of the Union Department of Virginia, wrote to Lieutenant General Winfield Scott:   Read more

The Capture of Hatteras Inlet

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Map of Cape Hatteras. Courtesy of weather.com

The first combined operation of the Civil War was the capture of Hatteras Inlet. This inlet was used by Confederate gunboats and privateer merchantmen sailing around Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. These Southern commerce raiders’ depreciation was lucrative for the Carolinians; however, Northern losses became so significant that several major maritime insurance brokers demanded something be done about this situation. This prompted the development of the Union’s Hatteras Inlet operation. [1]

North Carolina’s Outer Banks

The North Carolina Sounds reached from the Virginia border to Cape Lookout, the eastern border of North Carolina. Four major inlets could be used to reach the Atlantic Ocean from the Sounds: Hatteras, Oregon, Ocracoke, and Beaufort (Old Inlet). Hatteras Inlet was best situated for commerce raiding. Cape Hatteras was the easternmost point within the Confederacy, overlooking the Gulf Stream. This current was very popular with merchant ships trading between Northern ports like New York, the Caribbean, and South America. Using the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, the Confederates could signal waiting raiders about tempting merchantmen targets. “The enemy’s commerce,” wrote North Carolina governor John Ellis on April 27, 1861, “could be cut off by privateers on the coast of No. Carolina.” [2]   Read more

Tied up in rope conservation and more! 

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SEM at ARC William and Mary
Molly carefully inserting a wooden sample in the SEM chamber and the computer monitor displaying a previous sample image

I have been meaning to write a blog about progress on the Monitor ropes but, although archaeological objects conservators are currently focused on this part of the collection, we do all sorts of other things that I thought would also be interesting to share with you. 

If you have not done so yet, check out Laurie’s latest blogs about the gun sponge she has been treating lately. It looks so good!!    Read more

Burnside’s North Carolina Expedition: From New Bern to Beaufort

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Ambrose Burnside. Courtesy of the Library of Congress,

This is a continuation of the story I shared in another blog about the Burnside Expedition and the battle for the NC Sounds and the capture of Roanoke Island. 

Brigadier General Ambrose E. Burnside’s invasion of the North Carolina inland seas was a major success. In seven days, Burnside, with the support of Flag Officer L.M. Goldsborough’s naval forces, had captured Currituck, Albemarle, Roanoke, and Croatan Sounds. This placed Burnside’s army in a position to capture his next objective, New Bern, North Carolina.   Read more