Touring the Flagships of the Civil War U.S. Navy – In Letterheads…

Things have been a bit quiet on the Bluejackets blog of late as we were away in the Archives, seeking out historical detail to compliment the work being undertaken by our Citizen Science community over on Zooniverse. While there we uncovered lots of fantastic information that will help us add further context to what you are discovering in the Muster Sheets. Expect to see a lot more on that on the Bluejackets blog in the months to come!

During the research trip we also came across lots of interesting tidbits that we thought readers might be interested in. One of the quirkier ones relates to the appearance of some of the original documents themselves. As we sifted through contemporary correspondence, we noted the frequent use of pre-printed letterheads by senior Naval commanders- official stationery that was specifically produced for use on specific vessels or in specific roles. It seems to have become increasingly more prevalent as the war went on- for example we came across a lot more of it from 1864 and 1865 than 1861 or 1862. It’s very creation speaks to the longevity of the conflict, as the wartime naval infrastructure and organisation built up early in the war began to take on an air of permanence as the years dragged on.

We thought it would be fun to share some of the letterheads we came across from the fleet- a brief visual tour of some of the most important wartime ships, just through their letterheads 🙂 We have quite a number from U.S. Navy offices and stations on land as well, so you can expect a follow up post to look forward to down the line!

Our first letterhead was stationery that appears to have been designed to move with the commander rather than the ship. Printed “Flag-Ship, North Atlantic Blockading Squadron”, Rear Admiral Samuel Phillips Lee could take it with him if and when he moved about. This sheet was used off Newport News, Virginia in April 1864.
The letter above was written aboard this vessel, USS Minnesota, which served as the flagship of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron for much of the war (Library of Congress)
The designs weren’t static, and changed through time. This example, also from the North Atlantic Squadron, indicates that it was intended for sole use on the USS Malvern as the then Flag-Ship. It was used when Rear Admiral David Dixon Porter was in charge, at Beaufort, North Carolina in January 1865.
This image of the USS Malvern was exposed in 1865, the year she was flagship of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron (U.S. Naval History & Heritage Command)
This letterhead comes from the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, and despite dating to 1865 is of a simpler type- only “Flag Ship” is pre-printed, all the other text has been added. Used aboard USS Philadelphia in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, it dates to a period when Rear Admiral John Dahlgren commanded the squadron.
Another example from the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, from July 1864. This has more pre-printed elements, including “Port Royal S.C. [South Carolina]”. It seems likely that finite supplies could dictate the elegance and extravagance of the letterheads used, and how quickly they ran out. This was also composed aboard USS Philadelphia.
The USS Philadelphia, which spent time as flagship of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron and the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron (U.S. Naval History & Heritage Command)
We also have an example from the Western Gulf Blockading Squadron, again dating to 1864. It is of a blockier-style than some of the others, and this sheet could also “move” with the commander if he changed flagship. Used aboard USS Hartford off Pensacola, Florida, it dates to a period when Rear Admiral David Farragut commanded.
Not to be outdone, the U.S. Mississippi Squadron also had its own letterheads. Two designs used aboard the USS Black Hawk within 6 months of each other show how much they could change in style over a short period. These examples were both in use during a period when Rear Admiral David Dixon Porter was in command.
The second example from the USS Black Hawk, used in Cairo, Illinois in December 1863. It is of a much “blockier” style than the version of a few months previous.
The USS Black Hawk as she appeared when in use as a flagship (U.S. Naval History & Heritage Command)
It wasn’t just flagships that could make use of “official” stationery. The U.S. Mississippi Squadron appear to have employed quite a lot of it, and also had basic headed paper, which could be used by officers on different vessels. This example was employed aboard the City Class Ironclad USS Cincinnati in March 1863.
The USS Cincinnati as she appeared around the time the letterheaded paper was being used on board (Photographic History of the Civil War)
Another of the U.S. Navy vessels to enjoy special stationery was the Receiving Ship USS North Carolina, an important training boat where recruits were taken on board in New York. This letter was written in January 1865.
The Receiving Ship USS North Carolina (U.S. Naval Historical Center)
Our last example is also one of the most interesting. It comes from USS Shamrock (launched on St. Patrick’s Day, 1863) at a period when Commander William Macomb was responsible for operations in the North Carolina Sounds. Added to the letterhead is the information that the sheet is being used at “Newberne…on the way to Plymouth”.
An illustration of the capture of Plymouth, North Carolina in October 1864, a famous action in which the USS Shamrock played an important role- she is depicted at centre (U.S. Naval History & Heritage Command)

As mentioned above, down the line we will follow up on this post with one focusing on some of the letterheads and stationery used by the U.S. wartime Navy ashore. In the meantime, stay tuned for some more of our regular series, including the next installment of our Citizen Science Discoveries Posts. Remember, if you are interested in becoming part of our Civil War Bluejackets Citizen Science Community, all you need to do is head over to our Zooniverse Project Page here to find out more!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: