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November 23, 2011
Voyage of the EnchantressBy Greyhawk
The Union gunboat Albatross recaptures the schooner Enchantress, July 22nd, 1861 (note Jacob Garrick in water at lower right)
November 21, 1861: The editors of the New York Times had some difficulty deciphering the handwritten letter they'd received (and the forwarded letter included with it), but as the contents were highly newsworthy they published the best interpretation they could manage. "Our Prisoners in Richmond," read the headline. "LETTER FROM A LIEUTENANT OF THE SIXTY-NINTH."
In his letter to his brother, Lieutenant Gannon initially explained that prison life offered little to write home about: "I have nothing of any importance to [???] the dull and [???] of a [???] life would be a somewhat [???] tale..." was the Times interpretation. No news would be welcome news under the circumstances - but a few days earlier an exception had occurred. Their captors made the senior ranking prisoners draw lots; the losers were removed to another location to await death by hanging.
The paper's readers would already be familiar with the essential background facts, as coverage of a recent (and now-related) courtroom drama in Philadelphia had been something of a sensation in the North. The same New York Times article that had announced the Union victory at Ball's Bluff ("THE FIGHT NEAR LEESBURGH.; The National Troops Successful at all Points") had also briefly noted the start of the trial.
The United States Circuit Court has commenced the trial of WALKER W. SMITH, of the pirate Jeff Davis, who was captured on board the schooner Enchantress. Six of the jury have been selected.
In the days since, both stories had been followed closely in the pages of the Times - with news of Ball's Bluff eliciting mounting anger and frustration among readers, and progress of the piracy trial considerably more satisfaction. (Though responses of those readers whose sympathies were with the South were reversed.)
Jacob Garrick's adventure had begun in early July, when the schooner Enchantress set sail. Little did the ship's cook expect he'd serve three crews before returning to port. The first change came on July 6th, when the Confederate ship Jeff Davis captured the Enchantress off the coast of Delaware. Five members of the Jeff Davis crew transferred to the Enchantress to bring her to Charleston, while the civilian crew of the Enchantress were taken as prisoners aboard the Jeff Davis - with one exception. Jacob Garrick was a black man; he was to be taken to port with the ship, and sold into slavery. ("He'll bring $1,500 when we get him into Charleston" was the estimate made by Smith - the new captain of the Enchantress, according to the trial testimony of her original First Officer.)
From the prosecution's opening statement at Smith's trial:
Smith's trial was not a lengthy one. On the 25th of October,
He'd been charged with piracy and found guilty; the punishment for piracy was death. His trial was followed by those of the remaining Jeff Davis crew members. All but one were found guilty, and more captured Confederate privateers were awaiting trial...
Two views of Libby Prison (a former tobacco warehouse) in Richmond, Virginia. Above: 1865 photograph. Below: an illustration from Lieutenant William Harris' book.
Lieutenant William Harris of Baker's "California" Regiment was among the hundreds of Union soldiers captured at Ball's Bluff and confined in Richmond. Years later he described the Confederate response to the piracy trials.
On Sunday, November 10, 1861, General John H. Winder, commanding the Department of Richmond, accompanied by his staff, was observed to alight at the prison-office. It being an unusual occurrence for his visits to be attended with such ceremony, much surmise arose as to its cause and consequences; but we readily believed that it portended evil, as his visits invariably curtailed our restricted prison-privileges. A few moments elapsed, and he entered the building, attended by the staff, in full-dress uniform. Directing one of them to clear the room of all persons excepting the Federal officers, he took a position in the centre of the floor and announced that he had a most unpleasant duty to perform. He then read the following order from the Confederate War Department :
Once the process was completed, several of the captured officers from Ball's Bluff found themselves among those selected. Colonel Cogswell of the (Tammany Hall) New York 42nd, Colonel Lee and Major Paul Revere of the (Harvard) 20th Massachusetts, Captains Henry Bowman and George Rockwood from the 15th Massachusetts and Captain Francis Keffer of Senator (deceased) Baker's Regiment were now condemned to share whatever fate was suffered by the privateers.
Harris' first-hand account would not be published until after the war. For now New Yorkers would have to make do with the version provided by Lieutenant Gannon. "That if SMITH be hanged so shall [???]," Times readers were told.
A month after it was fought and lost, the battle at Ball's Bluff had become an even bigger disaster for the North.
"All but one were found guilty..." from the trial transcript:
"A little surprise was manifested at finding LANE, of Massachusetts, in such company," the Philadelphia Ledger reported when the prisoners (the Times used the term "pirates" - arguably accurate but definitely the point of a trial) were brought to the city, "and he seemed to be ashamed of it."
In explanation, he said that he sailed from Liverpool for Charleston last Spring, arriving there on the 16th of May. The port was soon after blockaded, and he could not get away. Being without means, he was compelled to accept any kind of service that offered. He was the navigator; none of the others, though two of them were pilots, having any knowledge of navigation. LANE is twenty-seven years old. He has friends in this city.
Posted by Greyhawk / November 23, 2011 10:45 AM | Permalink
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
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