November 8, 1861: Start of the Trent Affair


Charles Wilkes 160 years ago came perilously close to losing the Civil War for the Union.  Wilkes had achieved fame in 1838-1842 in command of the US Navy’s Surveying and Exploration Expedition in the Pacific.  He and his crew explored much unknown land in the Pacific and Wilkes is credited as the first man to establish that Antarctica was a separate continent.  On November 8 he was in command of the USS San Jacinto when he stopped the British steam mail ship Trent and took off James Mason and John Sliddell, Confederate diplomats on their way to France.  Wilkes was hailed as a hero in the North, receiving the thanks of Congress, while the British were outraged at what they regarded as piracy.

War seemed likely between the Union and Great Britain.  The British government despatched troops to Canada, and prepared an ultimatum to the Lincoln administration, demanding the release of Mason and Sliddell.  A dying Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband, acted to prevent war by toning down the ultimatum.  Lincoln decided that one war was quite enough and released Mason and Sliddell who promptly sailed for Europe aboard the sloop HMS Rinaldo. (more…)

Published in: on November 8, 2022 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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Diary of Gideon Welles


Called Neptune by President Lincoln, Gideon Welles was perhaps the most effective Secretary of the Navy the nation had, as he oversaw the expansion of the United States Navy from a miniscule force into a force of 84,000 men and more than six hundred ships, the largest fleet in the world in 1865.  His three volumes of diary entries from 1861-1869 are an invaluable source for a behind the scenes look at the Lincoln cabinet.  Welles was not afraid to put down on paper his opinion of the men and events of his time in blunt prose.  Here is his entry for June 25, 1864:

June 25, Saturday. There are some blunders in the finding of the court in Scofield’s case that I do not like. I telegraphed to Wilson, Judge-Advocate, to come here for consultation and explanation, but a telegram just received says he is unable from indisposition.

            The Treasury management is terrible, ruinous. Navy  requisitions are wantonly withheld for weeks, to the ruin of the contractor. In the end the government will suffer greatly, for persons will not under these ruinous delays deal with the government at ordinary current rates. The pay of the sailors and workmen is delayed until they are almost mutinous and riotous. There is no justifiable excuse for this neglect. But Mr. Chase, having committed blunders in his issues, is now desirous of retiring certain paper, and avails himself of funds of creditors on naval account to accomplish this. It is most unjust. The money honestly due to government creditors should not be withheld for Treasury schemes, or to retrieve its mistakes.

            I am daily more dissatisfied with the Treasury management. Everything is growing worse. Chase, though a man of mark, has not the sagacity, knowledge, taste, or ability of a financier. Has expedients, and will break down the government. There is no one to check him. The President has surrendered the finances to his management entirely. Other members of the Cabinet are not consulted. Any dissent from, or doubts even, of his measures is considered as a declaration of hostility and an embarrassment of his administration. I believe I am the only one who has expressed opinions that questioned his policy, and that expression was mild and kindly uttered. Blair said about as much and both [he and I] were lectured by Chase. But he knew not then, nor does he know now, the elementary principles of finance and currency. Congress surrenders to his capricious and superficial qualities as pliantly as the President and the Cabinet. If they do not legalize his projects, the Treasury is to be closed, and under a threat, or something approaching a threat, his schemes are sanctioned, and laws are made to carry them into effect; but woe awaits the country in consequence.

The diaries are available online from google books and they are well worth the time to read for any Civil War scholar.


Published in: on June 24, 2022 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Diary of Gideon Welles  
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General John Glover and His Marbleheaders

A good argument can be made that but for the presence of John Glover and his Marblehead Regiment in the American Revolution, the War might well have been lost.

Born on November 5, 1732, Glover grew up in poverty in Marblehead, Massachusetts, after the death of his carpenter father when Glover was 4 years old.  Glover became a cordwainer and rum trader, working his way up to become a merchant and a ship owner.  Elected to the Marblehead Committee of Correspondence following the Boston massacre, Glover’s political sympathies were firmly allied with the patriot cause.  A member of the  Marblehead militia since 1759, with the coming of the War Colonel Glover marched the Marblehead militia, Almost all fishermen, to the siege of Boston in April 1775.

While active on land in the fight for independence, Glover was also active on the sea.  General Washington commissioned Glover’s schooner Hannah, to raid British supply vessels.  The Hannah is considered to be the first ship of the US Navy.

The Marblehead militia regiment joined the Continental Army, becoming the 14th Continental regiment.

In 1776, Glover and his “amphibious regiment”, as it was called, saved the army after the disastrous defeat at the Battle of Long Island, by ferrying it to Manhattan in a nighttime operation.  On land throughout the New York campaign the regiment fought fiercely in every engagement.  It capped its service by ferrying the Army across the Delaware on Christmas 1776 to attack the Hessians at Trenton. (more…)

Published in: on December 26, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on General John Glover and His Marbleheaders  
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Oliver Hazard Perry

If ever a name given to an infant was prophetic for the life he would lead, it was certainly so of the infant christened Oliver Hazard Perry.  Born on August 23, 1785 to Christopher Raymond Perry and Sarah Wallace Perry, from earliest childhood his ambition was to be a US naval officer.  He came by this naturally as his father had served aboard a privateer in the American revolution, meeting Perry’s mother while he was a prisoner of war in Ireland.  In 1799 Christopher Perry was appointed a Captain and place in command of the US Navy frigate General Greene.  13 year old Oliver went with him as a midshipman, beginning his naval career.

During the First War Against the Barbary Pirates, he served aboard the USS Adams.  At the age of 17 he was promoted to Lieutenant.  In 1804 when the pirate stronghold at Derna was taken, he commanded the schooner, the USS Nautilus.

After the Barbary War, he supervised the construction of a flotilla of small gunboats during 1806-07 in Rhode Island and Connecticut, a task he found tedious at the time, but which would serve him in good stead later.

In April he obtained the sea command he had been eager for and was appointed to command the schooner USS Revenge.  Perry’s command aboard the Revenge turned out to be the low point of his career.  The Revenge suffered extensive damage in a storm in June of 1810, Perry was plagued with illness, and on January 8, 1811, the schooner struck a reef off Block Island Sound off the coast of southern New England and sank.  Perry was cleared in the ensuing courtmartial, but he could be excused if he suspected that his naval career was coming to an abrupt end. (more…)

Published in: on September 12, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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The American Revolution at Sea

I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast; for I intend to go in harm’s way.

Captain John Paul Jones, November 16, 1778

Last October 13 marked  the 245th birthday of the United States Navy.  On October 13, 1775 the Continental Congress passed the following resolutions:

Resolved, That a swift sailing vessel, to carry ten carriage guns, and a proportionable number of swivels, with eighty men, be fitted, with all possible despatch, for a cruise of three months, and that the commander be instructed to cruize eastward, for intercepting such transports as may be laden with warlike stores and other supplies for our enemies, and for such other purposes as the Congress shall direct.

That a Committee of three be appointed to prepare an estimate of the expence, and lay the same before the Congress, and to contract with proper persons to fit out the vessel.

Resolved, that another vessel be fitted out for the same purposes, and that the said committee report their opinion of a proper vessel, and also an estimate of the expence.”

Congress thus threw down the gauntlet against the mightiest sea power in the world.  Vastly outnumbered by the Royal Navy, the United States Navy gave a good account of itself, raiding British commerce, bringing desperately needed supplies to Washington’s Continental Army, shipping diplomats like Benjamin Franklin and John Adams to Europe to enlist the aid of France and other sympathetic countries, and demonstrating to an astonished world, again and again, that it was possible to beat a British warship in battle, as John Paul Jones did commanding the USS Bonhomme Richard against HMS Serapis on September 23, 1779:

The traditions of daring, courage and professional skill that have ever been the hallmark of our Navy were first established in the lopsided fight our seamen waged during the Revolution.  Go here to read a post on the  Father the United States Navy, Commodore John Barry, and here to read a post about the swashbuckling exploits of the Commodore Joshua Barney,  both American patriots and both sailors of preternatural skill.  May our Navy have men of such calibre whenever it goes into harm’s way.


Published in: on November 16, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The American Revolution at Sea  
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April 22, 1863: Farragut Complains of New Uniforms

Admiral Farragut

Admiral Farragut throughout his career was fairly outspoken, and on April 22, 1863 he sent a letter to Assistant Secretary of the Navy Gustavus Fox.  Among other topics, Farragut expressed his dislike for the new uniforms for naval officers.  Farragut had served in the Navy for 53 years by 1863, beginning his career as a nine-year old midshipman in 1810 and seeing combat duty in the War of 1812.  Over a half century he had seen many changes in the uniforms of the Navy, and no doubt he was simply sick of what he clearly viewed as frequent and unnecessary changes:

Pray do not let those officers at Washington be changing our uniform every week or two.  I think there should have been but one change made.  As you made a new grade it would have been but right to make a uniform of it, and I wish that uniform [for Rear Admiral] had been simply a broad stripe of lace on the cuff say an inch and a quarter wide with a narrow stripe of a quarter of an inch above it, and a little rosette with a silver star in the centre. The star is the designation of the Admiral and therefore should be visible.  The other uniforms were all well enough but this adding stripes until they reach a man’s elbow, appears to me to be a great error .   In the first place you must count the stripes to ascertain the officer’s rank, which at any distance is almost impossible, and I presume the objects of uniforms are principally for the purpose of recognizing the grades in order to pay the honor due on all official occasions.  It appears to me, however, that the object of the present change of uniform is to blend the grades as much as possible;  or, in other words, to avoid distinctions.  If such is the case, bring us down to the simple blue coat with navy buttons;  but if the grade is to be marked, let it be distinct and unmistakable.  (more…)

Published in: on April 22, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on April 22, 1863: Farragut Complains of New Uniforms  
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Father Thomas Michael Conway: Last US Chaplain to Die in World War II

Father Thomas Michael Conway

(Much of the information contained in this post was taken from a post on Father Conway written by Bill Millhome.  Go here to read his post.)

Early this year the Navy rejected efforts to have Father Thomas Michael Conway awarded the Navy Cross.  I would be angrier at this injustice if I was not certain that the Chaplain had not been awarded the ultimate blessing of sainthood and the Beatific Vision immediately after his heroic death in shark infested waters at the tail end of World War II.

Born on April 5, 1908 in Waterbury, Connecticut, he was the oldest of three children of his Irish immigrant parents.  Ordained a priest in 1934 he served as a priest in various parishes in Buffalo, New York.  His main leisure activities was sailing a boat on Lake Erie.  On September 17, 1942 he enlisted in the Navy and was commissioned as a chaplain.

On August 25, 1944 he was assigned to the cruiser USS Indianapolis as a chaplain.

July 29, 1945 was a Sunday, and the Chaplain had said Mass for the Catholic sailors, and conducted a service for the Protestant sailors.  Fourteen minutes past midnight two torpedoes fired by the Japanese sub I-58 ripped into the starboard bow of the Indianapolis.  The ship sank in twelve minutes, taking 300 men to the bottom with it.  Nine hundred sailors, including the chaplain, were adrift in the pitch black shark infested waters.

Frank J. Centazzo, one of the 317 survivors of this ordeal, recalled what the Chaplain did, as he swam from group to group, tending the wounded, leading the men in prayer and giving the  Last Rites to sailors beyond all human aid:

“Father Conway was in every way a messenger of our Lord. He loved his work no matter what the challenge. He was respected and loved by all his shipmates. I was in the group with Father Conway. … I saw him go from one small group to another. Getting the shipmates to join in prayer and asking them not to give up hope of being rescued. He kept working until he was exhausted. I remember on the third day late in the afternoon when he approached me and Paul McGiness. He was thrashing the water and Paul and I held him so he could rest a few hours. Later, he managed to get away from us and we never saw him again. Father Conway was successful in his mission to provide spiritual strength to all of us. He made us believe that we would be rescued. He gave us hope and the will to endure. His work was exhausting and he finally succumbed in the evening of the third day. He will be remembered by all of the survivors for all of his work while on board the ‘Indy’ and especially three days in the ocean.” (more…)

Published in: on August 4, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Father Thomas Michael Conway: Last US Chaplain to Die in World War II  
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March 21, 1917: Loretta Perfectus Walsh Enlists in the Navy


A bit of naval history was made a hundred years ago when twenty year old Loretta Perfectus Walsh enlisted in the Navy as a Yeoman F, becoming the first woman to be a member of the US military.  Some 13,000 women would serve in the Navy as Yeomen, or Yeomanettes as they were often unofficially called,  during World War I as clerical personnel, freeing up men for sea duty.  Walsh served her four year tour and tragically died of tuberculosis at age 29 in 1925.  She was buried in Saint Patrick’s Cemetery in Olyphant, Pennsylvania.  Her tombstone bears the following inscription:

Loretta Perfectus Walsh
April 22, 1896–August 6, 1925
Woman and Patriot
First of those enrolled in the United States Naval Service
World War 1917–1919
Her comrades dedicate this monument
to keep alive forever
memories of the sacrifice and devotion of womanhood


Published in: on March 21, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on March 21, 1917: Loretta Perfectus Walsh Enlists in the Navy  
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Quotes Suitable for Framing: Pius VII



“The American commander, with a small force, and in a short space of time, has done more for the cause of Christianity than the most powerful nations of Christendom have done for ages”.

The above comment of Pius VII was in regard to Commodore Edward Preble, commander of the American naval squadron that humbled the power of the Barbary States that had for centuries sent forth pirates to prey upon Christian commerce in the Mediterranean, the white captives being held for ransom, or sold at a handsome profit in the slave marts of the Arab world.  The first of two wars fought by America against these pirate principalities, the First Barbary War, 1801-1805, established that the United States Navy, although tiny by European standards, was highly professional, with an officer corps filled with “Salamanders”, men who were quite willing to seek out hot enemy fire to accomplish their missions.  The Marine Corps Hymn recalls “the shores of Tripoli”, where eight Marines, after a 600 mile forced march, led 500 mercenaries to victory in an all out attack, seizing the key city of Derna in Cyrenaica, an astounding, near miraculous victory. (more…)

Published in: on April 8, 2016 at 5:57 pm  Comments Off on Quotes Suitable for Framing: Pius VII  
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Anchors Aweigh

Something for the weekend.  Anchors Aweigh.  The fight song of the United States Naval Academy, it was composed in 1906 with music by Charles A. Zimmerman and lyrics by Alfred Hart Miles.  Universally regarded as the song of the United States Navy, it has never been officially adopted, although that has not stopped it being loved by most of the sailors who have served in Uncle Sam’s Yacht Club. (more…)

Published in: on March 22, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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