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 A Salute To The Navy And All The Ships At Sea
Civil War Records

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A Salute To The Navy And All The Ships At Sea

"July 3, 1861 - Gave chase and came up .... with the U.S. ship Golden Rocket of Bangor, ME. in ballast. Took out of her some provisions and a few other articles for the use of the ship, and .... set fire to and burned her. Our first prize made a beautiful bonfire and we did not enjoy the spectacle the less because she was from the black Republican State of Maine.

July 4, - Gave chase and came up with, first, the U.S. brigantine Cuba, and secondly, with the U.S. brigantine Machias, of the everlasting State of Maine. Captured them both and took them in tow for Cienfuegos."

-Commander Raphael Semmes, C.S.N., Commanding C.S.S. Sumter

The actual statistical involvement of the State of Maine in the Civil War at sea is hard to measure. Many hundreds of her native sons served in the U.S. Navy, in related Services, and as officers and men of merchant vessels who were the constant prey of the Confederate States Navy. As you can see, that most redoubtable of Confederate naval officers, Admiral Semmes, did not care for Yankees, and of all Yankees, he detested Mainers the most. Unfortunately for him, he kept running into them on the high seas. Read on! We're presenting a mixed bag of goodies in this installment, with additional observations by Confederate naval officers. But first meet a gallant fellow:

Charles A. Boutelle

Charles Addison Boutelle

1839 - 1901
Acting Master, USN
Acting Volunteer Lieutenant, USN
U.S. Congress, 1883-1901

Charles Boutelle was promoted to Acting Volunteer Lieutenant, the highest rank awarded to volunteer naval officers for his conduct aboard the "double-ended Ram" U.S.S. Sassacus which quite literally "rammed" the C.S.S. Albemarle off the mouth of the Roanoke River on May 5, 1864. The Sassacus exchanged fire with the Albemarle, along with other U.S. Naval vessals. As the Albemarle seemed to be getting away, Sassacus deliberately was driven into her side, receiving in return a direct hit in her starboard boiler, which blew up. Sassacus was severely disabled and several seamen were killed in the action. Albemarle eventually was destroyed in a famous expedition led by Lieutenant William B. Cushing, USN, on October 27, 1864. Unlike Cushing, who died in an insane hospital in 1874, Charlie Boutelle went on to lead a happy and prosperous life. He served out the war in command of other vessels and resigned the service in 1866.

Since this is February's Yarn, we might as well throw in a little romance in honor of Valentine's Day: Adjutant General John L. Hodsdon (who appears in many of our stories) was always desperate for clerical help in carrying out his duties, and at various times accepted the help of his daughter Elizabeth as a clerk.. This put young "Lizzie", as she was called, in a position to meet all manner of dashing officers who were forever in and out of Papa's office. She was courted by many promising chaps, including the son of U.S. Secretary of the Treasury William Pitt Fessenden, Lieutenant Samuel Fessenden, who was killed at 2nd Bull Run. Lizzy eventually chose to marry our hero of the month, Charlie Boutelle.

After the war, Charles Boutelle was involved in commercial shipping for a time, but then became editor-in-chief and principal owner of one of Maine's most influential newspapers, the Bangor Whig and Courier. He served in Congress from 1883 until shortly before his death in 1901.

Just below is an enlistment paper for volunteers going into the Navy. Interestingly, these papers are quite different from their Army counterparts which do not ask whether the volunteer could read or write; whether or not he had been vaccinated, how many children he had, or how many years he had served. An Army enlistment paper certainly did not ask for marks and scars. We can suppose that this volunteer's tattoos - "S.L. Taylor. Portland, Maine in India Ink in a wreath in a flower pot on right arm - ship on left forearm" - would have helped identify him should he drown and be washed ashore, provided the sharks didn't get him first. And we can suppose that the Navy would prefer to have men who had been vaccinated, since the ship's company might be confined at close quarters for long months at sea; but the fact remains that the army was officially uninterested in the literacy, dependent children, or particular identification of its hapless recruits. We thought you'd like to know!

Navy Enlistment Paper

Commander Semmes, now commanding the C.S.S. Alabama continued to take a jaundiced view of the prisoners he was obliged to take on board from Maine vessels he had captured and sunk.

"May 29, 1863. We came up with and captured the American ship Jabez Snow of Rockport, Me. Just at daylight, being within about four miles of her, we hoisted our own colors and fired a gun. She did not show any colors and stood a second gun before heaving to, and finally showed her colors .... and about sunset [we] set her on fire .... Another woman on board, under the name of "chambermaid" in a ship without any passengers. For decency's sake we were obliged to turn the junior lieutenant out of his stateroom for her."

Here is a letter from a brand new recruit to the navy from Maine, Edward Keene. In the manner of youngsters away from home for the first time - at summer camp, or boarding school, or college - he wants the folks at home to know he's settling in, doing well, and behaving himself.

U.S. Gun-Boat Osceola
Boston Harbor, March 16, '64
Wednesday Morning

Dear Father

Your words of caution were not only gladly recieved but I shall try very hard to profit by them as I have by all your words. Thank God! The Capt's name is Mr. Clitz who is about fifty years old and had rather fight two rebels gun-boats like this than to eat a harty dinner provided they both fought him at the same time. The Lewt. name is Mr. Wideman who is a young man with the Master's Mates. The Sailing Masters with the Ensigns are middle aged men and are masters at their business. I have got the good will of all the Officers and shall keep it. Am in hope that they will promote me to Gunner by and by. One of my Chums herd the Capt. ask who that smart fellow was when I was furling the Square-Sail and the Lewt. said it was me and said there was not a smarter man aboard when any work was to be done. I have not commenced to use either tobacco or rum yet and trust I never shall. I am naturally cool and collected in time of danger as you know and hope I shall always be especially if I get a grip on one of those Southern hounds. I am glad to hear that Martha Pilsbury and May Cowel are married and send my regards to Mr. Fogg if you please.

Do not know when or where we are going. Went on a tryal trip last week about thirty miles from here and she can sail and steam eighteen or twenty nots.

Write often and tell all to do the same. Give regards to all and believe me ever as your affect. son. E.B.K.

There is a monitor repairing here. She is a savage looking craft!

C.S.S. Shenandoah Lieutenant James Waddell, commanding C.S.S. Shenandoah captured the bark Delphine of Bangor, Maine, in the South Pacific on December 29, 1864. Before the Delphine was destroyed, her captain, a fellow named Nichols, and everyone else on board were ordered aboard Shenandoah. Waddell was rather amused at the Nichols entourage over the next few days:

When Captain Nichols was informed that his vessel was a prize and would be destroyed, he replied, "It may cause the death of my wife to remove her. The report of the gun has made her very ill." I referred him to the surgeon, upon whose report I would act. The surgeon decided there would be no risk to her health

C.S.S. Shenandoah

in removal, and a chair was prepared, a whip fitted to the main yard, and very soon two women and a child were safely landed on our deck.

I was in the act of leaving my cabin when they were being conducted to the "ladies' chambers." Mrs. Nichols asked in a stentorian voice if I was the captain, and wished to know what I intended doing with them and where they would be landed. "On St. Paul, madam, if you like." "Oh, no; never. I would rather remain with you." I was surprised to see a tall, finely proportioned women of 26, in robust health, standing before me, evidently possessing a will of her own, and it soon became palpable she would be the one for me to manage, and not the husband. A refractory lady can be controlled by a quiet courtesy, but no flattery. I took only the live stock from the Delphine, and burned her ....

The 1st of january, 1865, was a lovely day; the sea was smooth and a fair wind blew us along. The new year was welcomed by the hoisting of a flag which had never before been unfurled to the breeze, and the Shenandoah had then been in commission two months and eleven days, and had destroyed or ransomed more property than her original cost. The case is without parallel. The prisoners were quite accustomed to the situation, and no longer entertained a doubt as to their personal safety. The captain of the late Delphine expressed shame for having introduced the condition of Mrs. Nichols' health to save from destruction his vessel, and said enquiringly, "I did not think a lie under the circumstances was wrong." He told me after he sailed on that voyage his little son called his attention to the tenth verse, twenty-seventh chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, Paul's dangerous voyage. The little boy was not over 6 years.

On the following day saw the island of Amsterdam and hove to off the latter to communicate and explore in search of American whalers; sent an armed boat, in charge of Lieutenant John Grimball, with orders to destroy all prperty belonging to citizens of the United States which he might find on or about the island ....

The officers brought fish, eggs, a few chickens, and a penguin from the settlement. The penguin was not so large as some I have seen, but in every respect the same species of bird which I have seen on the Falkland Islands. The note is identical with that of the bray of the ass. Covered by gray down, unable to fly, and walked with military erectness. Someone pinned a rag around its neck, resembling a shawl in its folds, which created much merriment, and as the bird walked away Mrs. Nichols exclaimed, "Like an old woman for all the world." She had tamed down somewhat, and I rather admired the discipline she had her husband under.

On the following morning soon after daylight I was aroused by voices in the adjoining cabin, and I heard Mrs. Nichols say: "If these chronometers and sextants were mine I guess I'd make him give them to me." She had claimed every book which was brought from the Delphine and requested their restitution, which was granted. Uncle Tom's Cabin Mr. Whittle threw overboard. The early rising was preparatory to desertion. They were getting their things together for an early departure from the steamer. They were told they could go on shore, but they would not be allowed the use of any of the steamer's boats. A shore boat was called and themselves, with their luggage, placed in it and shoved clear from the vessel. Mrs. Nichols's last words were, "I wish that steamer may be burned."

You would think that the many Mainers like the Nicholses who spent time as prisoners on board Confederate cruisers like the Sumter, the Alabama and the Shenandoah would have left accounts of their adventures aboard such famous vessels. On the whole, such persons were very well treated and were put safely ashore in neutral ports or transferred to neutral vessels as soon as possible, as the Confederates were anxious to avoid any violations of maritime law. If anybody knows of any accounts or diaries left by civilians who were captured by the Confederate Navy, we'd sure like to hear from you!

Sources: Navy records in the Maine State Archives; Published Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion Series I, Operations of the Cruisers. Washington. Government Printing Office. 1896

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This page was last updatedon September 26, 2001.

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