Thursday, August 25, 2011

The "George Peabody boat" aka the USS George Peabody

One of the beauties of having this blog is that I pretty much explore and examine whatever I like as it relates to my web theme.    The civil war, being an era of much slower communications and pace-of-life, had me in a dilemma regarding material to use in a regular and timely fashion.  JWD wrote over 40 letters in the 4 years covering his service in the war, but spacing them out over the 47 months of his service leaves me with less than 1 per month.   I struggled with the idea of how to fill the gaps and as I have writing in prior posts, I have been using mostly artifacts contained in either the letters or his archival records to provide context for his life.   Now I will expand by researching elements in the letters and connecting them to other elements I have been researching online and in books.  Nothing really new….just connections.  During the past week while reading a letter JWD wrote in April of 1862, I ran across his reference to a ship he was on during the movement of the 48th PVI to Hatteras Island, NC during their North Carolina expedition.  JWD references the “George Peabody boat” in his letter dated April 7th, 1862.  I decided to study this ship a bit more and see what information I could find about a troop transport that carried my GG Grandfather.   I admit that I get a little thrill in finding connections to obscure little items that have, or may become, forgotten.   So…what was this “George Peabody boat”, he writes about?  Was it a big warship?  Was it a commercial sailing ship?  Was it a military transport?  A steamboat?  What else did the “George Peabody boat” do?  What happened to it?  All of these types of questions are what make doing this blog all the more fun.  Seemingly insignificant questions on obscure elements of the war can help with retaining the history that would otherwise be forgotten in time.   Fortunately, with the internet, most of these elements will never be lost...and I take no credit for reiterating that which has already been stated.  Hopefully, I am able to bring “linkage” between those elements and these letters which have never before been connected.

From the website:

North Carolina Civil War Sesquicentennial


The Burnside Expedition

Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside
On February 7, 1862, a hundred vessel Union flotilla steamed down Croatan Sound to land an amphibious force on Roanoke Island after destroying a small Confederate fleet in Albemarle and Pamlico sounds. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside led 15,000 U.S. Army troops while Flag Officer Louis M. Goldsborough commanded the naval contingent. By capturing the island, the Federals would have a base from which to attack Confederates in North Carolina from the sea. About 3,000 Confederate soldiers under Col. Henry M. Shaw opposed the landing, and Flag Officer William F. Lynch’s three-gun battery and seven gunboats supported them. Three forts stood on the northwestern part of the twelve-mile-long island, but were not positioned so they could help. Lynch led his gunboats out against the Federal fleet, but Goldsborough defeated them and landed the Union troops at Ashby’s Harbor. By midnight, the Federals occupied the beach, and at 8:00 a.m. the next morning, they set off in pursuit of the Confederates, who were retreating north. About halfway up the island, Burnside’s men encountered the battery and a force of 1,500 but soon outflanked them. The Confederates retreated once again, then surrendered near the northern tip of Roanoke Island.

Landing of Troops on Roanoke Island - Harper's Weekly
Burnside next turned his attention to New Bern. Confederate Gen. Lawrence O'B. Branch, commanding an inadequate number of troops there, decided to defend the city in fortifications located about six miles below it along the Neuse River. Burnside landed his men twelve miles downriver on March 13 and began marching toward New Bern. By then, Branch had redeployed his force closer to the city, and the men braced for the attack, which began the next morning. Although the Confederates held off the Federals for several hours, eventually the center of the defense collapsed, and Branch’s men retreated. Some crossed the Trent River into New Bern and burned the bridge behind them, but Union gunboats shelled them. Realizing his position was untenable, Branch withdrew his men by rail to Kinston. Burnside’s force occupied New Bern the next day, and the city remained in Federal hands until the end of the war. Confederate Gen. George E. Pickett attempted to recapture it in 1864 but failed. Burnside went on to take Beaufort and Fort Macon, for which he was promoted on March 18.

Assault on New Bern during the Burnside Expedition — Harper's Weekly

Timeline . . .

February 7-8 — Battle of Roanoke Island — Casualties: roughly 2,907 on both sides
February — Freedmen's Colony established during the Federal occupation of Roanoke Island. Former slaves built a thriving settlement, erecting churches and schools.
February 10 — Action at Elizabeth City, including naval action
February 12 — Naval expedition to Edenton
February 18-21 — Expedition to Winton and skirmish, including naval expedition on Chowan River
February 19 — Skirmish at Winton
February 19-20 — Expedition to Currituck Sound
R. B. Forbes near Currituck Inlet
March — Union occupation of Beaufort, including Havelock Station, Carolina City, and Morehead City
March 11-13 — Movement to New Bern
March 14 — Battle of New Bern — Casualties: roughly 1,080 on both sides.
March 17 — Escape of Nashville from Beaufort
March 20-21 — Expedition to and occupation of Washington, including naval cooperation
March 23-April 26 — Siege of Fort Macon — Casualties: roughly 490 on both sides.
March 31 — Skirmish at Deep Gully
April — Marcus Erwin and Buncombe County militia flush 80 anti-Confederates from Laurel Valley (WEST)
April 6-11 — Expedition from Greenville, Tenn. into Laurel Valley, N.C. (Gen. Kirby Smith sends three companies under Lt. Col. David M. Key to clean out Unionist marauders operating out of Madison County. (WEST)
April 7 — Skirmish at Foy's Plantation
April 7 — Skirmish near Newport
April 7-8 — Expedition to Elizabeth City
April 12 — Skirmish at Fort Macon
April 12 — Destruction of schooner Kate off Wilmington
April 13 — Skirmish at Gillett's Farm, Pebbly Run
April 17 — Naval expedition to Dismal Swamp Canal
April 19 — Engagement at South Mills
April 19 — Skirmish at Trent Road
April 24 — Escape of blockade-runner Nashville into Wilmington
April 25-26 — Bombardment and Capture of Fort Macon
April 27 — Skirmish at Houghton's Mill, Pollocksville Road
April 29 — Skirmish at Batchelder's Creek
May 1 — Capture of British brig Intended
May 2 — Skirmish at Deep Gully, Trenton Road
May 7-8 — Expedition from Roanoke Island toward Gatesville
May 15 — Skirmish at Young's Crossroads
May 15-16 — Reconnaissance toward Trenton
May 15-16 — Skirmishes at Trenton Bridge
May 15-16 — Skirmish at Pollocksville
May 22 — Skirmish at Trenton and Pollocksville Road
May 28 — Naval reconnaissance up Blackwater River (upper extension of Chowan River, into Virginia)
May 28 — Capture of Nassau
May 30 — Skirmish at Tranter's Creek
May — Minor Federal raid into Haywood County leads to release of Unionist man condemned to death in Waynesville (WEST)
June 2 — Skirmish at Tranter's Creek
June 5 — Action at Tranter's Creek
June 24 — Reconnaissance from Washington to Tranter's Creek
June 26 — Destruction of Emily
June 26 — Expedition up Little River
June 27 — Skirmish at Swift Creek Bridge
June 27 — Blockade-runner Modern Greece forced aground by Union blockaders. Artifacts from this wreck are currently on display at Fort Fisher (Cape Fear).
June 27 — 1st North Carolina Volunteer Infantry (Union) organized (as authorized by Gen. Ambrose Burnside).
July 9 — Capture of Hamilton, including naval cooperation
July 24-28 — Expedition from New Bern to Trenton and Pollocksville
July 26 — Skirmish at Mill Creek near Pollocksville
July 26-29 — Reconnaissance from New Bern to Young's Crossroads
July 27 — Skirmish at Young's Crossroads
July 28 — Expedition from New Bern, Batchelder’s Creek, on Neuse River Road

So…the “George Peabody boat”…. aka… the USS George Peabody, was a converted steamship probably used as a short haul passenger boat of the day.  It was a side-wheeler with the propulsion paddles being on the side of the ship.  The first account of the Peabody I can find show that it participated on August 31st, 1861 with the capture of the Confederate brig Henry C. Brooks in the Hatteras Inlet.  The Peabody, along with many larger support vessels provided a key link the in the blockade chain enacted by the north during the war.  1861 was a year of easy pickings for the northern fleet as the south tasted the first indications of the northern strategy for “starving” the south.

Later in 1862 the USS George Peabody participated in the both the troop transportation for the Burnsides expedition as well as the bombardment of the confederate forts Clarke and Hatteras.  Based on the pictures I have found of the Peabody, this most certainly was in a supporting role with the actual cannon bombardments being done by capital ships of the line.

Bombardment of Forts Hatteras and Clark by U.S. Ships (1862)

USS George Peabody

Accounts of another action by the Peabody show the ship providing an assist and rescue for the USS Oriental during a brutal storm just off the Hatteras point.   The Oriental was a transport ship that sank in May of 1862 and accounts from the New York Times from May 22nd, 1862.  A good description is provided at the website:

The last account I could find was regarding the sinking of the West Point in a collision with the USS George Peabody at Ragged Point, Maryland on the Potomac River on August 12-13, 1862.  

Could the Peabody have been lost in that collision too?  The records seem to indicate not….a A record of an 1862 repair of the USS George Peabody shows that work was done on the ship at the Skinner Shipbuilding at their facilities in the Baltimore Inner Harbor.

A further reference to the Peabody off the coast of Texas in October of 1863 seems to indicate that the ship operated there after the collision..  That reference seems a bit strange to me given the apparent size of the vessel, though coastal support might be a realistic role for the USS George Peabody.
From the website:

“Henry Carl  Ketzle of Company A, 37th Illinois Volunteer Infantry and called the Illinois Greyhounds, also put down his sea transport experiences in a Civil War Diary. He relates of the passage:
Embark by noon of the 23rd on the G. Peabody along with two troops of 1st Texas Cavalry.  Drop down past Crescent—26th go down to head of passes and by noon October 27th steam through southwest pass into Gulf—on the 28th under convoy of gunboats start in regular line across the heaving bosom of the Gulf of Mexico (need I say how he exacted his tribute of nearly all of us) had fair weather and sailing on the 29th, but on the morning of the 30th it was quite stormy and rough, so much so that our rudder chain snapped and thus left the boat unmanageable—boat hands with the assistance of our boys (most of Company D being old lake sailors) soon fixed the steering apparatus with ropes, block and tackle thereby we were able to keep in our course but soon we noticed other boats having apparently worst trouble than we, as some we could see white flags hoisted
Morning of October 31st found us on place of rendezvous, assigned by General, where we found a dispatch boat and soon others followed till afternoon when Generals Banks and Dana, in their boats ordered us into proper line, but 7 vessels of the fleet were still missing.  On the 1st of November by 4 p.m. we dropped anchor near Brazos San Diego.
 Private (later sergeant) Benjamin F. McIntyre kept a record of his service in the 19th Iowa Infantry. Tilley's annotated The Federals on the Frontier: The Diary of Benjamin F. McIntyre 1862-1864 details his experiences in the Rio Grande Expedition. He and fellow infantrymen commanded by Col. Kent boarded the Gulf steamer General Banks at Carrollton, Louisiana on 10/23/1863. The entire fleet according to Major John Bruce's 19th Iowa report consisted of 16 large vessels and three gunboats.There was also anumber of schooners used for troop, munitions, and provisions transport. The convoy left New Orleans on the 24th. Also aboard the Gen. Banks were two companies15th Maine and a portion of Battery "B" 1st Missouri Artillery. The captain of the Banks complained at the excess number of personnel brought aboard but to no avail.
Sunday, the 25th, saw the ship anchored off the lighthouse at the Southwest Pass awaiting the arrival of other ships to be in the convoy. Lt. Col. Benjamin B. Murray Jr. of the 15th Maine was the ranking senior officer aboard and excersized his privileges much to the chagrin of the Iowa officers over the 239 enlisted Iowans.After an inspection on the 27th, 60 rounds of cartridges were issued to each soldier. The fleet departed the Mississippi Delta that evening and the very next day began to encounter rough seas.
With 23 vessels in sight of the Banks, a gale commenced on the 29th. This however was not the peak of the storm; that was to arrive the next day. Soon a flag of distress was raised on the masthead of the Banks. Col. Murray reluctantly consented to having the eleven mules aboard, one battery wagon, and other items such as forage thrown overbaod and "deep-sixed." The fact of the matter was that many vessels of the fleet that had been requisitioned by the Federal government had years before been condemned.
On the 31st with its fuel nearly exhausted the Gen. Banks was taken in tow by the Empire City. It had been taking on water and was in very poor physical state due to the battering by the waves. Captain Edward Gee Miller of the 20th Wisconsin was another who described the rough seas. He noted one sailor being swept overboard and lost. In a later report after landfall had been made by the fleet, Commander J. H. Strong of the gunship Monongahela reported that one small steamer, one schooner, and one launch had been lost in the storm, but all hands aboard them had been rescued. Among the vesels that made the journey were the George Peabody; Thomas A. Scott with Captain Chester Barney; the flagship McClellan with Generals Banks and Dana aboard; the General Banks, formerly the Creole; Empire City; Monongahela; Crescent; Drew; Belvidere; Bagley; Owasco; Zephyr, a transport saved by the Owasco; J. W. Hancock, a tug that sprang a leak off Brazos Island on 11/4 and was run ashore in several feet of water; Nassau, lost on the Brazos Santiago bar due to its excessive draft and poor manuveurability; and the Clinton, a new steamer of the Crescent City Line.

One last account of the voyage is provided by J. S. Clark, historian of the 34th Iowa Regiment.  He comments:
On the 24th of October 1863, our division embarked at Carrollton on Steamer Belvidere, reaching the mouth of the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico on the 27th, and after a tedious and stormy voyage, during which storm to save the ships the cavalry horses of the command were thrown overboard, and on the third of November arrived at Brazos de Santiago.  Nine days were occupied in the passage for which three was the usual time.
Nearly all were very sea sick, and during the 30th, men lashed themselves to the sides with ropes, otherwise they would have been washed overboard. 
While the worst part of the passage was behind them there still awaited some dangers associated with landing. When the fleet did arrive off the island, seas were still too rough to chance a landing that day. Some of the larger vessels let the cavalry horses swim for shore. The George Peabody, the ship carrying some of the First Texas Cavalry, slung twenty-five horses overboard; only seven made it to the beach. Even the next day as the surf had subsided somewhat two sailors and seven soldiers drowned when a boat from the Owasco was swamped during the embarkation. A dispatch dated Nov. 3 states "Commenced landing by lighters and small boat on Brazos Island, consuming several days, and losing two steamers and two schooners."

I will share the related letter from JWD later in April of next year.

Jim D

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Documents, Thoughts and Apologies

Ok...I've been very negligent with the blog over the last 3 weeks.  I was on vacation in England and in India, but to be perfectly honest, I had internet access at both places and decided to be lazy.  I'm finding the that longer I go between posts, the tougher it is to stay focused, get inspired and get excited.  This happened over the last 3 weeks as I had kind of a writers block trying to decide how to organize this blog.  The general layout is fine...e.g...publishing the letters on the same day 150 years after they were first penned by John W. Derr (JWD), but the real challenge is to put some context around the letters and the man.  This is the so called "putty" in the story which is a lot more challenging to construct and organize.

My last post revolved around various affidavits that were submitted by family members and fellow soldiers in the 48th PVI.   I plan to post more of those documents in the future.  They will be timed to correspond with the events they describe.  For example, the pension depositions by fellow soldiers in the 48th PVI regarding the digging of the Petersburg Mine, that resulted in the Battle of the Crater in July of 1864, will be accompanied by a letter written by JWD just before the explosion occurred.  In that letter, which had no censorship, he describes how "there will be a great explosion" and how they are undermining the rebel lines.  This be my overall approach to the design of the blog.  The "putty" posts in between letters will put other documents, thoughts and comments into play as backup and context filler.

For this week, I plan to present some of the many documents I have that are part of the pension application process pursued by JWD's wife, Magdalena.  The more I delve into these documents, the more fortunate I feel that I am to still have them in my possession.  They are an invaluable asset in the development of this project.

It was common for war veterans and veteran widows to obtain a copy of the subject soldier's discharge orders.  Many times original discharge papers were lost or destroyed in the course of returning home from the war and so it was necessary to obtain copies from Washington, DC.  I can't imagine how long that must have taken, especially after the pension law was passed in the late 1870s and hundreds of the thousands of soldiers and widows applied for copies of discharge papers, as well as the actual pensions.

In this case, the discharge certificate copy was requested in 1909 by JWD's wife, Magdalena, a full 33 years after his death and nearly 30 years after the pension was first issued to her.  The reason for this will become clear later in this 4 year project when I show the overall battle she had with the pension she fought to her dying days...and part of our family's "secret".

Discharge Copy #1 showing JWD's service from 1861-1863

Discharge Copy #2 showing JWD's service from 1863-1865

Pension Certificate for Soldier JWD to support Magdalena Derr and her sons

George W. Derr...son of JWD and Magdalena and my Great-Grandfather