Ben Butler and the Contrabands

Posted on
Fort Monroe, Old Point Comfort, Virginia, ca. 1862. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

When Union general Benjamin Franklin Butler arrived at Fort Monroe, Virginia, he immediately sought to show the Virginians that his troops could go anywhere they wished on the Peninsula. On May 23, 1861, Butler sent Colonel J. Wolcock Phelps into Hampton. The Union troops marched into the town and then returned to the fort. In the ensuing confusion, three men enslaved by Colonel Charles King Mallory escaped. Frank Baker, James Townsend, and Shepard Mallory seeking their freedom, made their way onto Fort Monroe. Butler refused to return the runaways and called them ‘Contraband of War.’ Their decision helped transform the Civil War into a conflict between the states and a struggle for freedom.

FORT MONROE: THE KEY TO THE SOUTH

Winfield Scott recognized Fort Monroe as key to his policy of bringing his native state of Virginia back into the Union. He believed that the enforcements he had already sent and the additional troops he intended to transfer to the Peninsula necessitated a change in command. Scott needed a high-ranking officer to command the growing number of troops on Old Point Comfort.  He wanted an aggressive leader who would actively contest Confederate positions threatening the Hampton Roads anchorage and secure the Peninsula as an avenue of approach against Richmond. Scott’s selection was somewhat of a surprise. Instead of detailing a veteran officer to this critical post, he chose the sharpster lawyer and slick politician turned militia officer, Major General Benjamin Franklin Butler.    Read more

Spirits on the USS Monitor: A Daily Dose of Grog

Posted on
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

The Emancipation Proclamation: What did it actually say and mean for African Americans in the 1860s?

Posted on
Abraham Lincoln. The Mariners’ Museum MS0311/-01#005

Do a Google search for important documents in US history and you get lists that include the Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, Bill of Rights, the Constitution, and of course, the Emancipation Proclamation.

Going to school in the mid to late 80s in the panhandle of Florida, it was constantly being drilled into my head that the Emancipation Proclamation, written in 1863, freed all slaves in the United States of America. Having studied the Emancipation Proclamation document for various positions that I have held over the years, I have come to understand the significance of this important document so much more.    Read more

New Year, New Project: USS Monitor’s rope

Posted on
This piece I worked on in 2019 has a splice in it forming two loops. Features like this may help us understand more about its purpose.

What’s your New Year’s resolution? I’m not great about setting personal resolutions, but we do have one for USS Monitor; 2021 is the year of rope! This year the archaeological conservators are working together, separately, to finish all of the rope fragments in our walk-in fridge.

Normally our yearly work plan focuses on the larger items which require multiple people. We then fill in our extra time with smaller artifacts. Because of social distancing and limiting people in the lab space, this project is a great alternative. The four of us will work together on our own time to treat the remaining 90 accessioned rope pieces. Not only will this free up space in our cold storage area, but it means that an entire material type will be treated and available for research.   Read more

LAST DAYS OF USS MONITOR

Posted on
The Monitor Boys. Officers on deck.
The Mariners’ Museum
P0001.014-01–PN5987

After the ironclad’s showdown with CSS Virginia on March 9, 1862, USS Monitor was considered the ‘little ship that saved the nation.’ The Monitor continued to serve in Virginia waters until September 30 when the ironclad was sent to Washington Navy Yard for much needed repairs. The ship’s complement changed due to desertion and re-assignment; nevertheless, it left the yard on November 8 to return to Hampton Roads. Having received a variety of improvements, Monitor  was positioned off of Newport News Point, guarding against any excursion by the Confederate ironclad CSS Richmond.  

CAN WE ATTAIN FRESH LAURELS?   Read more