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

RAPHAEL SEMMES AND CSS SUMTER

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Raphael Semmes. The Mariners’ Museum P0005—UPP434

The CSS Sumter was fitted out as a cruiser by the CS Navy at New Orleans, Louisiana. Commander Raphael Semmes, a former US naval officer who had served with distinction during the Mexican War, had resigned his commission and joined the Confederate navy. Immediately, he sought an active command. He met with Confederate Secretary of the Navy Stephen Russell Mallory seeking the command of a cruiser that could harass Union shipping. Consequently, Mallory gave Semmes command of a ship in the making, CSS Sumter. The Sumter’s cruise  launched the career of one of the greatest commerce raider commanders in history.

EARLY DAYS

Raphael Semmes was born in Charles County, Maryland, on September 27, 1809. Orphaned at   an early age, he was raised by his uncle, Raphael Semmes. The young Raphael was a cousin of Brigadier General Paul Semmes and Union Captain Alexander Alderman Semmes. He attended Charlotte Hall Military Academy and at age 17, thanks to the influence of another uncle, Benedict Semmes, he was appointed to the US Navy as a midshipman. He took a leave of absence to study law and was later admitted to the Maryland Bar in 1834. Continuing on shore duty he was able to expand his law practice. Semmes was promoted lieutenant in February 1837. During the same year he married Anne Elizabeth Spencer of Ohio. The happy union produced six children. [1]   Read more

USS Hatteras: The First Warship Sunk by CSS Alabama

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CSS Alabama, Confederate States Steam Auxiliary Sloop-of-War, 1862. Builder’s Model. The Mariners’ Museum 1985.0024.000001A

When President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a blockade of the entire southern coastline, the US Navy only had 93 warships, and almost half of these were outdated or unusable. So, the US Navy went on a buying spree purchasing every steamer that could mount cannons. One of these vessels was the St. Mary which was soon commissioned as USS Hatteras. In turn, the Confederacy did not have a navy and sought to obtain ships overseas to attack Northern merchant ships. The most successful of these commerce raiders was CSS Alabama. These two warships would have a fatal encounter on January 11, 1863, off Galveston, Texas, resulting in the sinking of USS Hatteras.

From the Steamer St. Mary to USS Hatteras    Read more

Hampton Roads History: The Founding of Newport News

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Map of Virginia. John Smith and William Hole, ca. 1624. Courtesy of Library of Congress.

Although several sections of modern Newport News were visited when the English colonists first came to Virginia, Newport News remained just a place name on maps for more than 250 years. Yet, the Civil War brought attention to this point of land and 30 years later, the city of Newport News was born.

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

So, where did the unusual name of Newport News come from? The city’s downtown was labeled Point Hope on Captain John Smith’s map of Virginia. The first references to “Newportes Newes,” with eight different spellings, appears in the Virginia Company’s record of 1619, making it one of the oldest English place names in the New World.   Read more