We are moving closer and closer to the full launch of the transcription phase of Civil War Bluejackets, where we will be seeking Citizen Scientists to assist us in transcribing all the Civil War Muster Rolls of the U.S. Navy on the Zooniverse platform. We have just entered the Beta Testing phase on Zooniverse, where we are trialling the transcription of a sample of sheets. If you are interested in participating in this Beta Test, we would love to have you aboard! To do so you can register for Zooniverse here and then begin classification work on the Bluejackets Zooniverse page here.
Once you are signed up, you can pick from four different workflows: transcribing Sailor’s Ship Nos., Names & Ratings; their enlistment details; their nativity age and occupation; or their personal description. On our Zooniverse page you will also find a link to a short survey where you can provide feedback and suggestions to us. We are very keen to hear what you think!
One of the central aims of the Civil War Bluejackets Project is to facilitate the “linking” of Civil War sailor’s data across different record types. Perhaps the richest of all of those records are the pension files of naval dependents. They were claimed when a serving or pensioned sailor passed away. Within files relating to men who died during the conflict, we occasionally come across original correspondence- submitted to prove a dependent’s relationship to the sailor. In our occasional “Crew Correspondence” series, we will be examining some of these letters- which are often the last words a sailor ever wrote home.
The first in our Crew Correspondence series relates to Thomas Brown, who served as a Paymaster’s Steward aboard USS Tecumseh. Thomas served under an alias (Burger) during his time in the Navy, though this was nto an attempt at subterfuge- rather he adopted the name of the man (Thomas J. Burger) who he had lived with since he was 6-years-old, and whom he considered his adoptive father. Thomas’s birth-father Charles Brown, an emigrant who was recorded as born variously in Berlin and Austria, had died in New York City on 14 May 1852. The letter in Thomas’s file was written some two months after his April 1864 enlistment, from aboard the Tecumseh on the James River:
U.S. Monitor Tecumseh
June 25 1864
Your favor of the 14th inst was received with much joy and I am very glad to here you are well and all the folks the same you say you saw an article in the paper stating the capture of Fort Darling it is intireley false for the Gun Boats have not been within 7 or 8 miles of it as yet. I am affraid they draw to much water especially the moniters. We had a nice little fight on Weds the 24th 22d inst with the battery I have spoke to you before it is on a high piece of land or hill about a mile and a half from where we lay they opened on us on the mornig of the 22d with a good will to do us damage if they could but they failed to do so to aney great extent but I forgot to say that we was under a cross fire from the Rebel Rams but they could not quite reach us and I am glad they did not for whill I was on deck it was all I wanted to do to dodge the Shot and Shell from the hill battery It was funn to be on deck and here the steel pointed shot come singing along like a Locust and the minute we would here them we would all run behind the Turrett and hung it up close and see the shot and shell go singing over our heads and drop in the water just astern of us.
The monitor named canoncus from Philadelphia laid close along side of us so you could jump from one to the other one was more unofortuinate than us one shot went through the Top of her smoke stack and made three holes and an other came along and struck her deck and made a dent about 4 inches deep and jumped up and tore her awning and skiped overboard and the Boston monitor called the Saugus just a little to our left got struck in on the front of her Turrett with a rifle ball and it made a large dent and bounced clear back about 20 feet and fell overboard that is the onley damage thats been done yet.
I think the Rebs are sick of us for we put the shot and shell in there at a fearful rate we knock there battery most all to pieces dismounting three of ther guns they stoped firing at sundown and have not fired since and we have remained quiet as they have repaired their works and remounted their guns and I supose already for us again so goes the war. but since I commenced this letter we have weighed anchor and are now on our way down the river so I will letter stop untill we get to our destination I think we are bound for norfolk.
[The action that Thomas is referring to here took place at Howlett’s on the James River. You can read the U.S.S. Tecumseh’s Official Report of that action here].
we arrived at Norfolk saturday at 12 O Clock we are at anchor of the citty I dont think the weather could be much warmer than it is at presant here. While I write the presperation is running of me like water a good many of our men ar sick with the Dier’h and I have it quite bad myself. The report is as soon as we get repaired wich will onely take about 6 days then we are bound for mobile I would give two months pay to be out of her the distance to mobile is about 1,500 miles right at sea all the time we will be battened down for about 10 days if we do not get swamped. I am affraid we will smother of the heat and after we get there we will be battened down al the time for it is very rough weather of mobile and the sand flies and mosquitoes will eat a fellow up. I will write you as soon as we reach our destination if ever we do wich I am sorry to say is doubtfull for it is the first monitor that has dared to my knowledge to venture so far at sea.
Give my love and best wishes to all the folks and tell them I will write to them personaly if I should survive the passage ask mother to forgive me for not writing to her but will do so soon if —- I think I will take your advice about the Segars & Tobaco you need not send them for I think I will need them no more —–
God be with you all your adopt Son
Excuse the look of this I hope not my last letter
Remember me to my little Florence
It is extremely apparent that Thomas was hugely concerned about the prospect of the Tecumseh being swamped on the open ocean. Monitors sat extremely low in the water, and as such were vulnerable in heavy seas. This risk was a common complaint among sailors aboard the vessels, and the conditions aboard even led to offers of extra pay in an effort to entice men onto them. When writing this letter, Thomas was no doubt painfully aware of the fate of the famed U.S.S. Monitor, which had been lost at sea off North Carolina in 1862. As it happened, the Tecumseh and her crew made it all the way to Mobile, where they were quickly assigned a key role in the upcoming battle. Shortly after that engagement commenced, on 5 August 1864, the Tecumseh struck a Confederate torpedo, sinking in a matter of moments. Only a handful of her crew managed to escape to the stricken vessel- unfortunately, Paymaster’s Steward Tom Brown was not among them.
The Civil War Bluejackets team recently received an invitation from theAmerican Civil War Roundtable UK to guest edit a special edition of their magazine, Crossfire. The main theme of the issue was the Irish experience of the conflict, but we took the opportunity to highlight the Bluejackets project through both the introduction and in a feature piece in the body of the magazine. We were delighted to be joined by a stellar list of specialist Irish American scholars in contributing to the issue, including Dr Catherine Bateson, Brendan Hamilton, Dr Patrick Hayes, Dr Ryan Keating and Dr William Kurtz. We are pleased to now be able to share the full issue with followers of Civil War Bluejackets- If you would like to check it out, you can access (and download) the issue in PDF format below!
“Sheets from the Fleet” is a new occasional series we will be running to highlight some of the Muster Sheets we are working on and the potential we are hoping to unlock with the Civil War Bluejackets Project. Each post/thread will see us pick a random muster sheet from a random U.S. vessel and explore some of what it has to tell us. In this first instalment, we are looking a sheet from the 31 December 1864 muster of USS Argosy.
USS Argosy was 219 tonne stern-wheeler “tinclad” built in Monongahela, Pennsylvania in 1862. First commissioned in the Navy in March 1863, she spent her service with the Mississippi Squadron, with one of her most notable achievements being the taking of the steamer Ben Franklin in December 1863. She usually had a crew of a little over 70 men. After the war she went into merchant service, and was destroyed in a fire in 1872. (1)
Let’s take a look at the very first man on the page. He is recorded as Otto Anton, a 30-year-old from Norway who had enlisted in Chicago on 25 August 1864. Otto had grey eyes, dark hair, a florid complexion and was 5 feet 8 1/2 inches tall. Like many men from the Nordic countries who made their way into the U.S. Navy, Otto was a sailor by profession- he is listed as a Mariner.
Otto’s details on the Muster Sheet allow us to locate him in the records for the Chicago Naval Rendezvous when he enlisted. There we learn he had signed-on for one-year, and was credited to Illinois’s Bureau County, which had a significant Scandinavian population. His enlistment also recorded that Otto had a small scar visible on his right scapula. Sadly, the Remarks section for Otto’s entry tells us that by the time this Muster was taken, Otto was dead- the Norwegian had died on 24th November.
The sheet gives us a picture of the nationalities that served on the Argosy– as well as American-born men there are Norwegians, English, Canadians, Germans, Scots, Prussians and Irish-men recorded. George W. Chisholm from Scotland is listed as a 22-year-old Landsman on the Argosy. He was a new recruit, having joined the service in Chicago the previous August, where he had worked as a Machinist. Years later, George would apply for a pension based on his service aboard the Argosy which revealed much about his life. He was born on 17th July 1842 in Cromarty, on Scotland’s Black Isle. After his war service he wed Winifred Roney in Chicago in 1868, and they had three daughters- Cora, Eva and Estella. George lived in Bloomington and Farmer City in Illinois until 1908, when he moved to Los Angeles, California.
Three decades after his service, George suffered from increasing problems with his right knee, something that would eventually impede his ability to work. He claimed that “in July 1865 while on U.S. steamer Argosy I first had rheumatism and it has continued ever since. It has resulted in stiffness of right knee. I am incapacitated totally from manual labor.” George would eventually secure his pension- he passed away on 1st January 1927.
Like many of the U.S. vessels that operated on the Mississippi and her tributaries, the Argosy had a significant complement of African American men who had escaped enslavement and enlisted. The birthplaces of these men stands in testament to the sundering apart of families and kinship groups by slavery- on this muster sheet alone are men born into bondage in Tennessee, Mississippi, Maryland, North Carolina, Kentucky, Louisiana, Virginia and Arkansas. Yet all had joined the Navy in either Louisiana or Mississippi (the majority in Natchez), suggesting they had been enslaved nearby in the immediate antebellum period. One of the African Americans listed on the crew was 22-year-old First Class Boy Simon Baker, who had been born in Wilmington, North Carolina, but had enlisted in Simmesport, Louisiana- a town on the Atchafalaya River that was more than 1500km from his childhood home. Simon’s hardships were most certainly not over when he escaped enslavement to don the Union bluejacket. His service aboard the Argosy came at considerable cost to his physical health. While shovelling coal aboard the vessel to feed her boilers, Simon fell down a hatch severely injuring his knee. In later life it would cause him to need a stick to walk. The war also damaged his hearing- for the remainder of his days Simon struggled with deafness in both ears, something he put down to the “roaring of the guns” during his service.
We hope you have enjoyed this first instalment of “Sheets from the Fleet”, our random dip into the enormous potential of the Muster Sheets we are exploring as part of Civil War Bluejackets. Say tuned for another example in the near future!
(1) Silverstone, Paul H. 1989. Warships of the Civil War Navies (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press).
For Memorial Day 2022 Civil War Bluejackets took to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to share the stories of some of the men who lost their lives aboard USS Tecumseh at the Battle of Mobile Bay, Alabama in 1864. Covering the vessel and four of her crew, the stories were presented as threads, and are replicated on the blog for the benefit of readers. The final thread focused on Robert Harwood, a Seaman aboard the Tecumseh:
In the Civil War, the U.S. Navy- unlike the army- was racially integrated. When USS Tecumseh went down, European immigrants, white northerners and African Americans perished side-by-side. One African American lost was Robert Harwood, 4th subject of our #MemorialDay threads.
During the Civil War, the U.S. Navy recruited many recently enslaved men- often called “Contrabands”- into the service. It’s unclear if Robert was born into bondage- he came into the world in Washington D.C. c. 1841 (slavery was legal there until 1862) but grew up in free New York.
Whether or not Robert endured bondage, it’s likely his mother Ellen did. She was born in Maryland in 1806- slavery remained established there until 1864. In the 1830s she had married Robert’s father Edwin in Washington D.C., but in 1851 he abandoned Ellen and their 5 children.
In pre-war New York life for Robert and his family was hard. As well as dealing with ever-present racism, they also had to struggle to eke out a living. While the children sought work where they could, Ellen took a position as a Cook at the famed Colored Orphan Asylum (below).
When war came, the Harwood family stood ready to fight. Robert and his brothers Eli and Chapman all donned Union blue. On enlistment in February 1863, Robert was recorded as a 22-year-old billiard-table maker- though his mother said he was an irregularly employed waiter.
Robert was not long at sea before dreadful news arrived from home. The Colored Orphan Asylum where his mother lived and worked had been burned down by Draft Rioters targeting African Americans. Thankfully Ellen survived, but she lost most of her possessions in the blaze.
Robert went to sea as an Able Seaman, suggesting prior maritime experience. He served aboard the USS North Carolina, Clara Dolsen and Key West before discharge in February 1864 (his surname spelt as Howard). Within weeks he had re-enlisted-and was soon en-route to Mobile Bay.
Robert’s drowning at Mobile Bay was not the only loss the family suffered during the War- Eli also died in U.S. service. Chapman came home, but was a physically changed man. Partially paralysed, he struggled to make a living. Things had gotten even harder for the Harwoods.
Ultimately it was the rebuilt Colored Orphan Asylum who came to Ellen’s aid. Thanks to her long service, they agreed to keep a roof over her head, allowing her to stay as an “inmate free of expense” for more than 15 years.
For Memorial Day 2022 Civil War Bluejackets took to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to share the stories of some of the men who lost their lives aboard USS Tecumseh at the Battle of Mobile Bay, Alabama in 1864. Covering the vessel and four of her crew, the stories were presented as threads, and are replicated on the blog for the benefit of readers. This third thread focused on William Churchill, another of the First Class Firemen aboard the Tecumseh:
Our third #MemorialDay sailor focus is another English emigrant who died aboard the USS Tecumseh at Mobile Bay- William Churchill. On the reconstructed Muster Roll for the vessel, William is shown as enlisting in New York in January 1864 as a 1st Class Fireman.
As with a number of the other crewmen, William’s 1864 enlistment was his second of the War. He had already spent nearly two years in U.S. naval service between January 1862 and July 1863. He was recorded as a 5′ 8” machinist, and was 27-years-old in 1864.
William also bore the scars of a hard life. It was noted in 1864 that he suffered from a “slight deformity” of his right forearm, perhaps the result of a workplace injury- an major occupational hazard for machinists in the 19th century.
Like his fellow Englishman George Chapman, William Churchill also left dependants at home in 1864. While George had married a Scottish woman, William had wed an Irish emigrant, Ellen Costello, at the Church of the Nativity (below) on 2nd Avenue in August 1859.
William and Ellen’s first child, Susan, was born on 7 June 1860, and was just a couple of weeks old when the Census enumerator recorded her on the Census that year. At the time the family were living in New York’s Sixth Ward.
William’s 1860 description as a glass worker highlights the differences that often occur between how employment was described on the census when compared with military records (where he was listed as a machinist). William and Ellen had a second child, John, born in 1863.
For those left behind after the Civil War life-and loss- went on. Often painfully so. After William had gone to the bottom with the Tecumseh, Ellen applied for a pension, but her application only lists her eldest child – suggesting little John had not long outlived his father.
For Memorial Day 2022 Civil War Bluejackets took to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to share the stories of some of the men who lost their lives aboard USS Tecumseh at the Battle of Mobile Bay, Alabama in 1864. Covering the vessel and four of her crew, the stories were presented as threads, and are replicated on the blog for the benefit of readers. This thread focuses on George Chapman, a First Class Fireman aboard the Tecumseh:
Our second #MemorialDay USS Tecumseh sailor is George Chapman. This Muster Sheet entry records his fateful transfer to the doomed monitor at New York in February 1864. He was one of the vessel’s 1st Class Firemen at Mobile Bay.
Linking records is a major aim of the Civil War Bluejackets Project. The muster allows us to find the record of George’s enlistment in New York on 24 February 1864. This tells us he was 40-years-old, a Machinist, and was born in England. He had a scar under his right eye and on his forehead.
George’s machinist skills likely led to his 1st Class Fireman Rating. He certainly bore the physical marks of a hard working-class life. His age also increased the likelihood that he was married- and so it proved. His wife’s widow’s pension reveals still more about his life.
George was English, but his wife Alice was Scottish. They married on 3 September 1857 in #Edinburgh, indicating that George spent time in #Scotland before emigration. Given later evidence from 1860, we know George was a widower with three young children when they wed.
By 1860 the family were in New York’s 16th Ward, where George was a locksmith. The realities of life for working-class children are seen in George’s 14-year-old son (George Jr.) who was a soap boiler. There were 3 other children, Frederick (9), William (7) and Henry (9 months).
While George’s eldest son had been born in England, his next two children had entered the world in Canada during the early 1850s. We know George was in Scotland by 1857, so had crossed the Atlantic more than once. Perhaps he had been in the British military?
By 1860 George and Alice had one child together, Henry, born in 1860. But more followed- John arrived in 1861. When George enlisted in 1864, Alice was around six weeks pregnant. The need to support his growing family may well have influenced his decision to enlist.
Tragically, George and Alice’s last child, Stephen, was born in October 1864- a little over two months after his father had perished on USS Tecumseh. Alice would remarry, going on to live a long life into her nineties.
For Memorial Day 2022 Civil War Bluejackets took to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to share the stories of some of the men who lost their lives aboard USS Tecumseh at the Battle of Mobile Bay, Alabama in 1864. Covering the vessel and four of her crew, the stories were presented as threads, and are replicated together here for the benefit of readers. This is not the last will be hearing from the USS Tecumseh– some more of her crew’s stories will be featured here shortly. For now, here are the stories we featured for Memorial Day, beginning with the story of the USS Tecumseh herself:
Thread 1: USS Tecumseh
Our first #CWBMemorialDay thread explores the background of USS Tecumseh. She was a Canonicus-Class Monitor (named for USS Canonicus, seen here). Building commenced in Jersey City in 1862, and Tecumseh was commissioned into the U.S. Navy on 19 April 1864.
The Tecumseh was 223 feet long and a little over 43 feet wide. Initially the class was supposed to have a crew of 85. Tecumseh went to war propelled by a steam-engine that gave her a speed of 8 knots. She also boasted 2 15-in. Dahlgren guns and 5 in. steel armour on her sides.
Upon her commissioning in New York, USS Tecumseh was ordered to the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron. In May she began service on Virginia’s James River, where in June along with the Canonicus and Saugus (below) she engaged Rebel batteries at Howlett’s Farm.
Shortly after her baptism of fire on the James, the Tecumseh received orders to steam south, to the West Gulf Blockading Squadron. Her crew were nervous about the open-sea passage, but successfully linked up with the Squadron on 4 August 1864- off Mobile Bay, Alabama.
The Confederate port of Mobile Bay had long been a target for the U.S. Navy. With the arrival of the Tecumseh, Admiral David Farragut now had 18 vessels with which to engage the Confederate forts and ships that sought to protect one of the Confederacy’s last major ports.
Battle commenced on 5 August 1864. That morning USS Tecumseh led 4 monitors past Fort Morgan, shielding the fleet’s wooden ships to their port from that position’s guns. At about 7.35 am, she moved to intercept Confederate vessels moving to the attack, led by CSS Tennessee.
Positioning to engage the Tennessee, USS Tecumseh moved through a field of Confederate mines, then called torpedoes. Suddenly an explosion rend the air. Tecumseh went down in a matter of seconds- Farragut recalling she disappeared “almost instantaneously beneath the waves.”
Some figures place the Tecumseh crew at 114 men that day. As many as 93 of them perished, a fatality rate of more than 80%. The tragedy is often considered the largest loss of life from a single command during a single action in the American Civil War.
Despite the Tecumseh’s loss, Farragut (below), supposedly cried “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” and continued the Battle, which ended in victory. Today the Tecumseh still rests in the waters off Fort Morgan, a buoy marking the spot where she-and her crew-rest.
The horrifying final seconds of her crew remain the defining image of USS Tecumseh. But what of the individual stories of the men who perished, those names on the Muster Roll? Some will be the focus of later #MemorialDay threads. Follow along using the hashtag #CWBMemorialDay.
Professor David Gleeson has been awarded a major Research Grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council UK for Civil War Bluejackets: Race, Class and Ethnicity in the United States Navy, 1861-1865 (CWB) to go well beyond this initial pilot study and transcribe all the Civil War US Navy Muster rolls. In collaboration with University of Sheffield Information Scientists, Dr Morgan Harvey and Dr Frank Hopfgartner, the project will use the publicly available rolls, which included information such as name, age, and place of birth, and other records, such as pension files, in innovative ways to provide a new history of the 118,000 or so sailors (30 percent of whom were British or Irish (see, for example, this pilot study blog post), and c.15 percent were African American). Working with project partners, the Cooperative Institute for Climate, Ocean & Ecosystem Studies (CICOES) and the US Naval Academy Museum, CWB will produce a new crowdsourced Civil War Sailor Internet Resource to promote research in the history of sailors, the Civil War, and the social history of the 19th century. The resource will also be useful for those interested in family history, particularly African American genealogists, because many of the formerly enslaved first appeared in their own right with full names on ship musters as they claimed equality through naval service (see, for example, this pilot study blog post). CWB will provide a mass analysis of all digitised sailor data, opening research avenues that simply are not possible through traditional direct archival research. Along with historians, project outcomes will also benefit many scholars working on information retrieval, digital archives, and the wider digital humanities. The project begins in March 2022 and culminates with final conference at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, in February 2025. In light of this great news, we’ll be revamping the webpage over the next few months in preparation for the project launch next March. Check back with us but also keep up with updates on Twitter @BluejacketsWar.
Where were the men who served aboard U.S. naval vessels from the American Civil War born? What proportions of their crew were African American, and how many were immigrants? The answers to these questions varied from ship to ship, but could have a profound impact on how the vessel’s on-board community functioned. In our new infographic, we use the data our volunteer transcribers compiled as part of the Civil War Bluejackets Project to share that information as it relates to one vessel- USS Louisville. By exploring the images below you will learn about African American and immigrant representation, where those men were from, and their proportional place in the shipboard community. To explore the infographic in more detail, you can click directly on the images to enlarge them.