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Journal of a graduate student in military history and the American Civil War

Archive for August 2008

Manet and the ACW – 4: Captain John A. Winslow and the U.S.S. Kearsarge

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Gideon Welles

Continuing my series on “Manet and the American Civil War,” (see posts 1 here, 2 here), in post 3 here, I introduced Captain Semmes of the C.S.S. Alabama, the target of U.S.S. Kearsarge in the waters off of Cherbourg France in 1864. This post provides background on the Kearsarge and her captain, John A. Winslow.

According to authors Juliet Wilson-Bareau and David C. Degener in their book Manet and the American Civil War, the U.S.S. Kearsarge was ordered built by U.S. Navy Secretary Gideon Welles (click here for bio) in 1861 as a part of the Civil War emergency shipbuilding program intended to augment the number of vessels available for blockade duty. [1]

As of March 4, 1961, the U.S. Navy possessed ninety vessels, twenty-one of which were being overhauled of those remaining only twenty-four were in commission. U.S. Navy Secretary Gideon Welles needed many more than that to blockade a coastline 3,500 miles long. Welles therefore launched an ambitious program of acquisition and construction. U.S.S. Kearsarge was one of the steam sloops that he ordered to be built. It was roughly 198 feet long, 34 feet across, and displaced 1,550 tons, third-rate in the navy’s classification system. Construction began on June 17, 1861. [2]

U.S.S. Kearsarge off Portsmouth, New Hampshire, shortly after her return from European waters in 1864.

The U.S.S. Kearsarge “was a Mohican class steam sloop of war, and was built at the Portsmouth Navy Yard, Kittery, Maine. She was commissioned in January 1862 and almost immediately deployed to European waters, where she spent nearly three years searching for Confederate raiders.” [3]

Her captain was John Ancrum Winslow (1811 – 1873), appointed in April of 1863 and given the task of patrolling European waters for Confederate raiders. He had begun his career as a midshipman in 1827 and saw action in the Mexican War and along the Mississippi during the Civil War.

Captain John A. Winslow, USN circa 1862-63

In the next post, the sea battle between the U.S.S. Kearsarge and the C.S.S. Alabama.

_______

References:

U.S. Library of Congress for photo of Gideon Welles available at http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cwpb.04842 , accessed August 18, 2008.
[1,3] Naval Historical Center, http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/sh-usn/usnsh-k/kearsarg.htm, accessed August 18, 2008.
[2] Juliet Wilson-Bareau with David C. Degener, Manet and the American Civil War, (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), 25.

Military History word of the day: “thalassocracy”

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I ran across this word in my reading today and have added it to “the terms” page (here) where I collect definitions of words I didn’t know. I’m continuing to finish the last book in my current course on Studies in U.S. Military History, Crusade: The Untold Story of the Persian Gulf War, by Rick Atkinson. This book is filled with new terms, many associated with the vernacular of modern warriors. I’ll have some catching up to do on the terms page after the course.

Here is the context of Atkinson’s usage of thalassocracy.

If desert warfare seized the imagination of American Army commanders, the battleship held similar sway over many a sea dog. Her strategic value had long been eclipsed by nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers. As a tactical weapon she appeared doomed to follow the crossbow and blunderbuss. Yet, for traditionalists, no maritime silhouette better symbolized the American thalassocracy: the pugnacious, jutting bow the looming superstructure; the trio of triple-barreled turrets, each heavy as a frigate. When employed as a gun platform, she remained nonpareil, capable of tossing a shell with the heft of an automobile more than twenty miles. In the gulf war, her hour had come round at last. (Atkinson, 259)

USS Wisconsin circa 1988-91

USS Wisconsin circa 1988-91. Source: Naval Historical Center

The definition…

thal·as·soc·ra·cy (thāl’ə-sŏk’rə-sē)
n. pl. thal·as·soc·ra·cies
Naval or commercial supremacy on the seas.
[Greek thalassokratiā : thalassa, sea + -kratiā, -cracy.]
tha·las’so·crat’ (thə-lās’ə-krāt’) n.
Source:
thalassocracy. Dictionary.com. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/thalassocracy (accessed: August 17, 2008).

The Untold Story of the Persian Gulf War

By the way, I’ve been so impressed with Rick Atkinson’s well researched book that I’ve purchased all of his other works including An Army at Dawn which won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize. See it on my virtual bookshelves here. Photo source: The Library of Congress which includes a biography here. I’ll be adding Mr Atkinson to my “the historians” page shortly.

Baltimore Sun’s Civil War Books Discussion

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Dave Rosenthal, the Sunday and Readership Editor for the Baltimore Sun, asked me to contribute to a discussion of Civil War Books on their book blog, Read Street. I’m up for any opportunity to talk about books. Check out my recommendations and those of fellow commentators here.

Blogkeeping…hello, goodbye

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I am making a couple of blogroll updates, both fellow WordPress bloggers…

First, John Maass is closing shop which is sad but understandable. John – hope you’ll continue to stay in touch. I really enjoyed your blog. And best of luck in future endeavors. I plan to keep his link on my blogroll because there is some good stuff there.

Second, a new WordPress blogger at Past in the Present. I’m pleased to see the focus on the American Revolution, an area of interest for me as well. Welcome!

Written by Rene Tyree

August 15, 2008 at 6:27 pm

On History Grad Student Fitness…

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http://transition2008.wordpress.com/2008/04/08/think-tanks-and-other-players-transition-2008-part-ii/     News flash…

Graduate students in history sit on their backsides and read…a lot.
I’ve noticed the impact on my fitness level.
I have found a solution…
I plan to walk while I work, read, and write.

LifeSpan TR2000

LifeSpan TR2000

I just bought one of these bad-boys… and it was worth every penny. Quiet, easy, and tilts up and down. Did a ton of research before I bought it.

My laptop fits perfectly on a small board that I lay across the arms. And my new Thai Book Rest from Levenger’s (my favorite store for all things for readers) fits perfectly so that I can read away while I walk.

James “walk-while-you-work” Levine (Mayo Clinic), has become my new fitness guru…

Written by Rene Tyree

August 14, 2008 at 10:31 pm

Manet and the ACW – 3: Captain Semmes and the CSS Alabama

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Continuing from posts 1 here and 2 here, in this post I begin to examine what authors Juliet Wilson-Bareau and David C. Degener in their book Manet and the American Civil War call “one of the most celebrated naval battles of the American Civil War.”

Queen Victoria 1861

The authors adeptly set the scene by providing the reasons why an American Civil War naval battle would take place in European waters and capture the imagination of artist Edouard Manet. They chronicle the debate that led to “Lincoln’s blockade” of the south contending that the very word “blockade” ultimately gave the “Confederate organization” the status of a “quasi government” which would have “a position among nations.” [i] This ultimately led to both Queen Victoria (see bio here) of Great Britain (May 13, 1861) and Emperor Napoleon III of France (June 11, 1861) declaring the neutrality of their respective countries. “The evolving rules and policies of neutrality would eventually play a large role in determining the circumstances under which, in June 1864, U.S.S. Kearsarge – a ship originally built to enforce Lincoln’s blockade – engaged and sank the Confederate raider Alabama off the coast of France…” [ii]

CSS Alabama Captain, Raphael Semmes

Captain Raphael Semmes on the CSS Alabama

Captain Semmes on the deck of the CSS Alabama

The Alabama, a six screw steamer, was built in Great Britain by John Laird Sons and Company and found its way into Confederate hands because the “British customs agents, port authorities, prosecutors, judges, and courts found ways of understanding England’s Foreign Enlistment Act and the Queen’s declaration of neutrality.” [iii] Enacted during the reign of George III, the Act “prohibited the outfitting of, or aid to, vessels that would be used to commit hostilities against a nation with which England was not currently at war.” [iv} But in a clandestine series of events surrounding the vessels shake down cruise, the ship, known initially as simply No. 290, was acquired by Confederate agent James Dunwoody Bulloch (1823 - 1901) [a fascinating fellow who deserves a post of his own] who saw it supplied and crewed sufficiently to sail to the Azores where its new captain, Southern “son” Raphael Semmes (1809 – 1877), would christen it the CSS Alabama on August 24, 1862. The “enterprising” and “abrasive” Semmes would become a celebrity for his raiding of Federal ships. His exploits would be enthusiastically covered by the London media, indicative of Great Britain’s sympathy for the “Confederate cause for almost the entire duration of the American Civil War.” [v]

"The Pirate 'Alabama,' Alias '290,' Certified to be correct by Captain Hagar of the 'Brilliant'"

[i - v] Juliet Wilson-Bareau with David C. Degener, Manet and the American Civil War, (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003).

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