Friday, December 2, 2022

Her Great-Great-Grandfather Was Chief Engineer on USS Monitor: Alban Stimers

From the November 29, 2022, Victoria  Advocate (Texas) "A walk down memory lane:  Morada residents showcase fascinating personal memorabilia" by Tamara Diaz.

Morada resident Carol Miller is shown in a photograph holding a pamphlet about the USS Monitor on which her great-great-grandfather, Alban Stimers, was chief engineer.

It was a "Cheesebox on a Raft" that helped the Union win the Civil War, claiming a Union victory when things were looking bleak.  (Well, it wasn't so much of a victory as a draw.)

The  USS Monitor was the first ironclad ship successfully deployed by the Union Navy and defeated the Confederate casemate ironclad CSS Virginia.  (Well, it was more of a draw, but the Monitor did stop the Virginia from destroying the rest of the Union fleet in Hampton Roads.)

Carol Miller shared her family's connection to the famous ship at a a meeting of Walk Down History program put on by the residents at the Morada Victoria East Independent Living Community. that showcased items from their family history.

--Old B-Runner

Thursday, December 1, 2022

CAM's 60th Anniversary & First USCT Park-- Part 2: Naming the Battle

Said Chris Fonvielle after his research and excavating of the grounds of the Cameron Art Museum (CAM) in Wilmington, N.C., "It convinced me that a firefight had taken place there, but I found no documentary evidence to support the archaeological record."

He began focusing his studies on the battle, piecing together information and eventually giving it a new name.

"Scarce Confederate correspondence from the battleground was postmarked Cross-Roads and Forks Road, as an intersection of the Federal Point Road.  A byroad  that ran towards the Cape Fear River stood about where you enter the Cameron Art Museum's parking lot today," he explained.  "I thought the Battle of Forks Road had a nicer ring to it."

Fonvielle wrote about his discoveries in 2007's "Last Stand at Wilmington:  The Battle of Forks Road."

His research has caused CAM staff for years to embrace the story.  They have hosted living history days with reenactors, but this next step, starting a park devotedb to the United States Colored Troops (USCT) takes the story even further.

--Old B-Runner

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

CAM Celebrates 60th Anniversary and Opens Nation's First USCT Park to Honor Black Soldiers

From the November 12, 2022, Port City Daily, Wilmington, N.C., by She Carver.

Lights dot the area between tall pine trees near the 2,500 pound sculpture "Boundless" created by Durham artist Stephen Hayes which was installed on Federal Point Road last year.  The sculpture memorializes 11 men and a drummer boy on a place where 1,800 black USCT soldiers fought for their freedom more than 150 years ago during the closing days of the Civil War.

This historic site will be  christened as the nation's first USCT (United States Colored Troops) this weekend.  CAM (Cameron Art Museum)  is hosting a community day Sunday, welcoming locals to explore the park and all museum exhibits are free.

Roughly 250 feet from the museum's front door, the park is situated where the Battle of Forks  Road took place, which sealed the fate of Wilmington, North Carolina in the month after Fort Fisher fell.

Since 1980, local historian Chris Fonvielle has studied the grounds where CAM is located -- excavating  rathworks, bullets, cannonball fragments, military uniform  buttons and other relics.

--Old B-Runner

Monday, November 14, 2022

Robert Smalls & the Planter-- Part 7: The Plan

Robert Smalls put his plan onto action on May 12, 1862.  That afternoon, the Planter had returned from two weeks of setting up artillery on James Island.   Smalls correctly predicted that the officers would be tired and leave the ship that evening.

As the officers went ashore from the ship's berth at the Southern Wharf, the crew banked the fires in the Planter's boiler and remained aboard.  Smalls' plan was to depart quietly in the pre-dawn hours and pick up the crew's families at the North Atlantic Wharf on the Cooper River.

Their departure  was tricky:  leaving the city just before dawn would put them near the forts at first light, but Smalls knew that of they were moving in the harbor in the darkness they would come under suspicion.  They had one piece of luck:  Smalls had learned that then guard boat, usually outside the harbor entrance, was under repaor and would not be on station that evening.

--Old B-Runner

Saturday, November 12, 2022

Robert Smalls & the Planter-- Part 6: Reasons to Make the Attempt

Sometime in early May 1862, Smalls  considered a bold plan to seize the Planter.  

First, any attempt to escape would have to include the families of the crew.    Smalls could not contemplate being separated from  Hannah and his children if he was captured and the other men were risking just as much as he was.

Second, although the Union Army was in Beaufort, just fifty miles away,  Union Navy warships were just off the coast and Smalls knew the harbor defense very well.  Third, the white officers of the Planter trusted the black crew to operate the boat and were in the habit of leaving them aboard  overnight in order to be with their families ashore.  (This was in direct violation of orders from the Confederate Army.)

Fourth, Smalls had learned the signals the ships used to  communicate with harbor sentries standing guard in the forts.  Lastly, the Planter frequently made trips to other ports, so her use of  the outgoing ship channel was not uncommon.

Smalls believed at night, with a little  bit of luck, he and the other black crewmen could make their escape.

--Old B-Runner

Friday, November 11, 2022

Project Oklahoma to Identify USS Oklahoma Unknowns-- Part 2

Continued from my Saw the Elephant: Civil War blog.

Bud Hannon's remains were unknown along with so many of his shipmates and were buried in graves marked Unknowns.  However, in 2015, it was decided that would have to be corrected.  Project Oklahoma began which was by and large reliant on DNA testing.

Said Carrie Legarde, a project lead for Project Oklahoma: "For a large project like this, where the remains are reallly commingled, we had to do a lot of DNA testing.  And so that's where we need family members involvement, because we need a DNA reference sample from the family that we can compare  to the remains."

The project takes time and involves labs across the country.  For this project, initial processing was done at  the defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency lab at the Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam Field, then, further analysis at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, and DNA testing at the Armed Forces Laboratory at Dover, Delaware.

"And they provide us thatn information to help us kind of piece together the remains basically, it's kind of like a big puzzle that we have to put together and sort out," Legarde said.  "And, once we can figure out which remains go together,  we can figure out who they belong to."

Thursday, November 10, 2022

In Honor of the USMC's Birthday Today: The Confederate States Marine Corps

The official birthday of the USMC on November 10, 1775.  On this day, the Second Continental Congress established the Continental Marines.  All across the world, Marines, current and retired, will be celebrating today.

There was also a little-known second Marine Corps and that was the CSMC, The Confederate States Marine Corps from 1861 to 1865.  It was set up the same way as the USMC.

I was preparing a list of Confederate States Navy and Marines captured at Fort Fisher from Richard Triebe's book "Confederate Fort Fisher: A Roster 1864-1865"and will list some of the Marines today.

**  Ranson J. Adcock, private, Co. B, CSMC.  Duty on CSS Tallahassee.

**  James Barrett, Co. E, CSMC.  Duty on CSS Savannah  (Sailors and Marines from the Savannah Station were transferred to Wilmington after that city fell to Sherman)

**  Michael Bow, private, Co. B, CSMC, Duty on CSS Richmond and CSS Tallahassee.  Wounded in breast and bowels.  Not sent to prison.  Died of wounds at Fort Fisher Jan. 17, 1865.

--Old B-Runner

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Robert Smalls & the Planter-- Part 5: Good Reasons to Escape

Smalls and his black friends aboard the Planter also knew that the army had established a new experiment there.  The black residents were  permitted to live together without white owners or overseers under the protection of the Union army and navy.  They grew and sold cotton and other crops and even built schools and acquired their own property.

News of the progress of this community reached Blacks in Charleston.

Around this time, in March 1862, Union Major General David Hunter, an abolitionist, took command of the Department of the South.  On May 9, he issued a miltary order freeing slaves in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.  Although his order was quickly rescinded by President Abraham Lincoln as premature,  Hunter began to recruit former slaves into volunteer infantry companies.

Word of Hunter's actions reached the slave community still under Confederate control.  It seemed to Smalls that wherever the Union military went, freedom would be there as well.

--Old B-Runner

Monday, November 7, 2022

Robert Smalls & the Planter-- Part 4: The Crew of the Planter and the Beginning of a Plan

Smalls was just one member, albeit very important, of the Planter's crew.  The ship was captained by  Charles J. Relyea.  The other white officers were first mate Samuel Hancock and engineer Samuel Pitcher.  None of the three were from the South, nor were the Confederate Navy officers.  They were merchant sailors hired on as  contractors and reported to Ferguson, the ship's owner.

Six other enslaved  black men, two engineers and four deckhands made up the rest of the Planter's crew.  Three of the six were owned by Ferguson, while the other three and Smalls were emplyed by their owners.

For defense, the Planter was armed with a 32-pounder pivot gun on the bow and a 24-pounder howitzer astern.  Smalls and the other black crewmembers would have been trained  to use those guns if needed.

As Smalls watched the Confederates closely, events would convince him to make a bold move.  

On November 7, 1861, the Union Navy captured Beaufort and the sea islands around the harbor of Port Royal.  Although the town was damaged and most of its white residents fled, Smalls was thankful to learn that his mother was safe among the now ownerless 10,000 former slaves.

--Old B-Runner

Saturday, November 5, 2022

Robert Smalls & the Planter-- Part 3: Supplying Charleston Defenses

Keeping the men scattered around the harbor fed and equipped was a constant requirement, so military commanders relied on boat traffic nearly continuously.  That year (1861) Smalls was hired on board the Planter, a new 147-foot long sidewheel steamship owned by John Ferguson, a wealthy Charleston shipowner and businessman.

Ferguson leased the Planter to the Confederates to use around the harbor.  By 1862, Robert Smalls had worked in and around Charleston Harbor for ten years and his skills were evident to the new white officers of the Planter and he was relied upon to move the ship safely around the harbor.

As the military fortifications grew, Smalls and the Planter ferried men, dispatches,  supplies and guns from the city to the forts and back again.  Smalls watched carefully at how the Confedrates maintained their network of harbor defenses.

He also took note of the increasing number of Union blockading vessels offshore.

--Old B-Runner

Friday, November 4, 2022

Groundbreaking Set for New Fort Fisher Visitor Center

From the November 3, 2022, Coastal Review "Groundbreaking set for new visitor center, lab at Fort Fisher."

A groundbreaking ceremony is set to take place at  Fort Fisher State Historic  Site at 12:30 p.m. Thursday, November 10 to mark the construction of a new visitor center and conservation lab for the Underwater Archaeology Branch of the  Office of State Archaeology. 

Located at 1610 Fort Fisher Boulevard South, Kure Beah, North Carolina. it is a part of the  Division of State Historic Sites in the North Carolina Department of Natural and  Cultural Resources.

Attendees at the groundbreaking are expected to include Secretary  D. Reid Wilson of the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, members of the North Carolina General Assembly and members of the Friends of Fort Fisher (to which I belong).

Light refreshments will be served.

Construction is expected to be finished in April 2024.  The new facility is expected to cost about $25.5 million, most of whih has been appropriated by the General Assembly since 2016.

In planning since 2010, the new visitor center is to be about 22,000 square feet, three times the size of the existing facility which was built in 1965 (and I remember when this opened).

The new visitor center will have  nearly double the museum exhibit space, plus amenities such as a 100-seat orientation theater and a multipurpose room suitable for rental and eduactional activities such as wedding eceptions and classroom instruction.

I Can't Wait.  My Favorite Place Gettng Even Better!!  --Old B-Runner

Thursday, November 3, 2022

Robert Smalls & the Planter-- Part 2: War Comes to Charleston

For a slave making a meager wage, the price to buy your freedom was expensive, and knowing what plantation life for a slave family was like,  Smalls began to think of other ways to obtain freedom for his wife and family.

Smalls' work led him to the wharves and piers of bustling Charleston where he eventually settled in and worked various jobs as a longshoreman, sailmaker and a rigger.  He grew to like the sea and as he worked on boats, he became intimately familiar with the tides, currents and sandbars of Charleston Harbor.

Harbor pilots were needed to safely guide the big, cotton-carrying ships to and from the piers.  At that time, Blacks could not be hired as pilots, but by all accounts, Smalls was well-qualified to be one.  His experience and navigational skills led him to be trusted by the white shipowners up and down the waterfront along Bay Street.

In April 1861, of course, Fort Sumter was fired upon and forced to surrender, starting the Civil War.  War came to Charleston which became increasingly more fortified.  Confederate defenders built a series of forts and batteries around the harbor.  Many of them were located on low-lying islands only acessible as by boat.

Pilots were in huge demand.  And, Robert Smalls was an emminent one.

--Old B-Runner

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Robert Smalls and the Planter-- Part 1

 From the American Battlefield Trust.

Robert Smalls eased the vessel away from the pier and backed into the harbor.  The night air was still, and Smalls could smell the sea life as his ship churned up the brackish water and turned southeast.  As Smalls passed the Confederate batteries, he took note of the soldiers standing their watches as he had a hundred times before.

When the ship entered the main channel, Smalls looked around and was comforted to see his family and many of his friends on board with him.  Moving faster toward the open sea in the first light of dawn, Smalls must have felt the freedom and exhilaration that only the master of a ship at sea can truly feel.

Except that this was not Smalls' ship; and he was not quite a free man.

Robert Smalls was born into slavery in 1839 in Beaufort, South Carolina,.  As a boy, he worked with his mother in the relative comfort of their owner's home on the plantation.  His mother had worked hard in the fields, so she made sure that Robert witnessed the horrors that other slaves endured.

When Smalls turned 12, at his mother's request, the owner sent Robert to nearby Charleston to be hired as a worker.  Smalls worked at odd jobs around thecity as a lamplighter, a stevedore and in a hotel, where he met Hannah Jones  Robert and Hannah were married in 1856 and they had two children.

--Old B-Runner

Monday, October 31, 2022

While on the Subject of Shipwrecks-- Part 3


Shipwrecks can snag nets of passing fishing boats.  Many times, these "ghost nets" help to discover long lost wrecks.

In 1994, for example, the fishing boat Mistake threw down a trawling net on the Gulf of Mexico and it  became ensnared on the Spanish warship El  Cazador.  It sank in 1783 full of silver coins and its final resting place remained a mystery until then when the crew of the Mystery began pulling up shiny bits of metal and rocks in the nets.

The recovered treasure included a large topaz stone and  approximately 37,500 pounds of silver


Shipwrecks are abandoned vessels, and therefore  are considered very a problematic type of marine debris.  Even decades after a ship sinks, new dangers can arise as tanks holding supplies and fuel degrade.

When the tank barge Argo sank in Lake Erie in 1937, it was carrying about 100,000 gallons of crude oil and 100,000 gallons of benzol.  When the ship was discovered in 2015, it turned into a large  and complicated remediation project.

All divers to wreck sites should familiarize themselves with state and federal laws pertaining to shipwrecks before approaching a site.

--Old B-Runner

Sunday, October 30, 2022

While on the Subject of Shipwrecks-- Part 2


The iconic Civil War ironclad USS Monitor was built to withstand intense naval battles when it was launched in 1862.  But its design -- advanced for its time--  was still not enough to help the vessel withstand the tracherous winter storms off the coast of North Carolina on New Year's Eve that same year.

The resulting shipwreck has been intensely researched since it was rediscovered in 1973.  In 2002, the Monitor's turret was recovered in a joint U.S. Navy and NOAA mission, it still held the skeletal remains of two of the 16 men who lost their lives on the vessel 140 years earlier.

--Old B-Runner