The Midshipman was an Inventor Roswell Evander Morey

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This time out I am writing about another appointee from the state of Maine, Roswell Evander Morey. The last time I wrote about a midshipman who hailed from the Pine Tree state (L. B. Foster), he was one who turned his back on his state and the Union, went south and became a rebel. Roswell left the state also, though he took a different direction. He went west and became an inventor.

Though the 1860 US census lists Roswell was born in Maine, other records (the earlier 1850 one and then all the later censuses) indicate he was born across the US border in St Stephen Canada. Had this fact been known, his appointment to the Naval Academy would have been null and void. I have run across another midshipmen, who was born in Canada and kept that fact secret also.

If it’s any consolation, both of Roswell’s parents, his father Gibeon and his mother Abigail Sarah Farnesworth, were born in Maine and hence American citizens. According to that same 1860 census, Gibeon was a machinist in Machias, Maine. The area was known for machinery that processed one of Maine’s major crops – converting pine trees into lumber. These circumstances may explain Roswell’s later interest in machinery and invention.

Roswell’s career at the Academy got off to a rough start, with his academic standings hugging the bottom of the class. However, he did follow the regulations closely, indicated by his extremely low accumulation of demerits in his plebe year (1857-58). They totaled only 38 on the year  – nearly half of them involving a two day contretemps with a fellow midshipman – upon whom he had thrown water from an upper window. He was sent on the summer cruise on the USS Preble and would continue as a plebe.

There is a noticeable improvement the next year (1858-59), academically speaking – perhaps because he repeated all the plebe classes. His standings jumped to the top third in his class, but so did his demerits, almost tripling to 92, officially. He shipped aboard the USS Plymouth for the 1859 summer cruise, and reported for the 1859-60 school year as a third classman.

Come the end of his third year at the academy, a mystery crops up.  In the official record for the year most of his classmates – 42 out of the 45 total were continuing on to the next year, 1860-61. Roswell would not. He was listed 44th, two below those passing – this despite placing well in 5 of the 7 classes. And it seems particularly odd given that his standing in Seamanship was number three. Such a high mark would carry a lot of weight when it comes to one’s standing in the naval service. The number of his demerits also declined (down to 74).

So what kept him from continuing at the Academy? Why was he forced to resign?

Looking back on other correspondence there is one severe sounding reprimand from the Superintendent in January of 1860. Was this the camel back breaking straw that resurfaced to haunt him?

“Naval Academy
 Annapolis Md
Jan 3 1860

Sir
You are reported to me for
breaking the lock of a trap door in the
quarters & opening the same.-  You will
please reply in writing through the
Commandant of Midn to this most serious
charge.-

I am respectfully
Your obt servt
G S Blake
Sup’t’d’t

Acting Midn
R E Morey USN
       Naval Academy
       Annapolis Md”

I could find no reply from Roswell to the charge. His conduct roll states only that “No excuse” was given for this infraction, for which he received ten demerits.

Yet, he was still at the Academy five months later with no sign of a problem. In fact, his name was put on a list of midshipmen granted leave for the summer to commence on 6/16.  But a few weeks later (7/6), he was notified by Superintendent Blake that because he had failed to tender his resignation, as so directed on 6/19, his appointment was revoked. What happened between those two dates in June?

The only clue I have points to a matter of timing. The June examinations closed on 6/16, so perhaps his standings were not known at the time his name was included with those allowed a furlough.

In any event one way or another Roswell was going home. He was back in Machias with his family just in time for the (already cited) 1860 census on 7/17, in which he was listed as a sailor. The draft registration records for 1863 indicate that he still followed the sea in the merchant marine, but curiously lay no claim to prior military service.

After the war, he moved out to Lake Valley near Tahoe in California, bringing his parents with him, and remained in the state for the rest of his life, moving to San Francisco, then Alameda, and finally, Oakland, along the way working as an engineer, a bookkeeper and finally the manager at the Union Box Factory in Oakland.

Something about the Box Factory inspired his creativity. He applied for four separate patents over a period of 15 years.

1879 – for a return-crate

1880 – an improved fruit and berry basket

1892 – for a machine to form berry baskets

1894 – for a fruit basket and a crate.

As far as I can ascertain Roswell’s family was not aware that he had been at the naval academy. In the obituary for his son Charles, it only mentions that Roswell was a pioneer in Oakland, and had a box making plant.

Perhaps the stigma of dismissal, like that trap door in his academy room, was something better left unopened.

Tracking Down a Marine Fifer

Tracking Down a Marine Fifer

I recently had the fun of running down information about a US Marine who had been assigned to the USNA in 1860. Or to be more precise, a marine who had been attached to the USS Plymouth, the naval academy’s school ship for their cruise the summer of that pivotal year. It was a convoluted task, that commenced with only the slimmest of leads.

My jumping off point was the US census for Annapolis for that year. I was scrolling down through the names of the superintendent, the professors and officers, and the midshipmen – and sandwiched between those midshipmen and some US sailors was a short list of seventeen names. All listed as ‘US Marines.’ And all with places of birth listed as ‘Unknown.’ I used their names as the springboard for my online searches.

So, I went through four names –

1- John Rossman age 25

2 – George Rymes age 30

3 – A. E. Clark age 40

4 – R. Hamilton age 37

– before I got a hit with number 5:

5 – L Reinburg age 34

I was using Ancestry.com which has an excellent database of scanned military documents.  My meagre ‘L Reinburg’ search returned a couple pages worth of US Marine muster rolls.

(I like the US Marine muster rolls. With them I have been able to trace the entire service career, month by month, of one of the midshipmen I have been researching – he had switched from the Navy to that branch).

Four of these records outlined Reinburg’s presence on the USS Plymouth, June through September of 1860. And gave me his first name – Louis. I input this new information and the year 1826 (calculated from his age in the census), a mistake as it later turned out.

Two different ‘Louis Reinburgs’ popped up. One born in Saxony, Germany seemed to be the one for whom I was looking. But he was a good deal older, having been born around 1819. The other had been born in Philadelphia, but twenty years younger than he should have been if the 1860 census was correct. It was obvious that they were father and son with the same names. But which was my marine?

I was leaning towards the older Louis until I found naval lists with this native of Saxony listed as a landsman, a naval rank. Since there were marine records for the second Louis in the same years as this navy man, I switched my hunch to the younger Louis.

But how was I to resolve the “age” issue?

A Google search did point to a Louis C. Reinburg who died in 1903, and had a career in the marines. But he had switched to the navy sometime in 1864. This was starting to get more confusing.

The Marine muster rolls proved to hold the key.

I compared all four muster rolls for the USS Plymouth. The names were the same on each one. I then compared them to the names in the census. They were all the same. Or almost all the same. (The census taker as you will see had some issues).

The first five for the USS Plymouth:

John Bauman – Orderly Sergeant, enlisted March 30, 1857 (not Rossman, whoever wrote out the name did not close the bottom of the “B,” wrote an “a” that looked like an “o” and the peaks of his “u’ looked like a double “s.”)

George Byrnes – Corporal, re-enlisted May 20, 1858 (not Rymes, the same issue with the “B”, plus an “r” and an “n” that looked like an “m.”)

Elisha A Clarke – Corporal, re-enlisted June 6, 1858 (not A. E. – perhaps dyslexic?)

Robert Hamilton – Musician, enlisted Feb 23, 1860

Louis Reinburg – Musician, enlisted Aug 29, 1856

The rest of the names on the muster lists are all privates, and match, in order, and almost exactly (save one), the names on the census. Tracing Reinburg back to his enlistment I found him on a muster roll for August 1856 at the Marine Barracks in Washington DC.  But his rank was delineated as “Boy.” (His comrade Robert Hamilton is on the same roll with the same rank).

I had to look up this rank to see what light it might shed on my marine. And I came up with this quote:

“’Boys,’ the lowest rung on the rating and pay scales and one
traditionally reserved for young men under the age of eighteen.”

     This Louis Reinburg was born in 1846, so he was the ripe old age of ten when he enlisted in the marines. Following forward he became a fifer in 1857, and was serving as such on the Plymouth. His fellow marine, Robert Hamilton, was a drummer.

     The two had served together in the same capacities on a cruise in the USS Jamestown between 1858 and 1860, just before their time on the Plymouth. So no doubt they were a team.

     Reinburg took his honorable discharge from the marines in 1864, and then enlisted in the Navy as an Acting Master in the Volunteer Navy. He served the rest of the war and beyond, taking his honorable discharge from that service in 1868 at the age of 22, having given twelve years of his life in service to his country. A service that he continued as a clerk in the Pension Office of the United States.

The Reluctant Midshipman Alexander Duer Gedney Pt 1

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The fifteen year old from Goshen, New York really did not want to be in Annapolis, but most of all Alexander Duer Gedney did not want to be at the Naval Academy. All of this I discovered later. For it was the date of admission listed for the young middie that first made me curious.

Gedney’s entry record shows that he arrived at the academy on November 24th, 1859. That looked like a misprint or an outright error (by navy regulation, Sept 30 is the prescribed cut-off). Then I noticed that a good number of his fellow candidates arrived at the academy in late October and November of that year, well after the normal September window. So what exactly was going on?

I turned to the correspondence of the Naval Academy Superintendent, Captain George S. Blake, to look for any clue as to this anomaly. I started with his letters to the Secretary of the Navy, Isaac Toucey. In the beginning of the school year of 1859, Blake was dealing with various problems  – a watchman drunk while on duty, fall out from the Foot Outrage, selection of new text books, etc. All of these important and unimportant items, Blake was discussing with the secretary. Then, towards the close of that month, I found the answer.

The ship selected as the school ship that year was the USS Plymouth. It had returned from the summer cruise September 27th, had disgorged the upper classmen two days later, and began to be outfitted to house the plebe class. At that time, Blake tallied the plebes at 85 in number, and asked Toucey to hold off on any further candidates until November first, when he would have a better idea of how many they could accommodate aboard the vessel.

So after Blake issued word that there was room for more, Gedney was among those forty plus candidates that were given the chance to join the plebe class.

Gedney’s was a short career as a midshipman – in, on Nov 24th, and out, forty-nine days later, on Jan 12th. The fact that his career was ended by a dismissal, is a clear indication that a serious infraction was involved. Another curiosity, so I checked his demerits next.

A perusal of his conduct records show that he was on a tear to collect all he could. None are recorded for the few days left of November when he started, but once December rolled around, he racked up 126 in that single month. (Two hundred in a year were grounds for dismissal). The bulk of the demerits were for disruptive behavior; he was constantly annoying his teachers and his fellow midshipmen. In fact, he managed to tick off one fifth of the members of the plebe class on board the school ship with him. And once he hit January, Gedney upped the ante. He pushed his demerits above the two hundred mark before his dismissal on the 14th.

But his dismissal was not for his demerit count. The name of Gedney is conspicuous in Blake’s correspondence for the first part of January 1860, but not for gallantry. Officers were writing reports about his activities to Blake, and he in turn was writing to the navy secretary. On New Year’s Day, Gedney was in custody, locked in one of the ward rooms of the school ship. He used his locker key to unlock this door and was caught. He repeated this feat by using a “false key” three times on the fifth of January, and again was reported each time. On the eighth, he picked the lock on the door and was turned in by a fellow midshipman and penalized with ten demerits. But Gedney was not through that day. One of the Lieutenant’s caught him red handed with a book into which he had pasted obscene prints that he had cut out of a pornographic volume, and thereby doubled his demerits for the day.

This letter from Blake’s correspondence from earlier in the month began to make sense:

  Naval Academy
Annapolis Md
  Jany 5 1860

Sir
In order to prevent the introduction of
obscene books on board the Plymouth, you
will direct the officer in charge to have all
books and packages received on board for
the Acting Midshipmen opened and
carefully examined in the presence of
the owner and all books of this description
and articles that are prohibited by the
Regulations will be retained and the owner
punished as the nature of the offense
may require.-
I am very respectfully
Your obt servt
G S Blake
Sup’t’d’t

Commander
Thos T Craven
Comdt of Midn

I ran a check on the other midshipmen who reported Gedney’s misbehaviors and found that one of them, William Knox Wheeler, had been himself reported for loaning an obscene book to a crew member on January 1st. I haven’t created a database for the conduct files for that school year, so I decided to comb through them one by one. I discovered that a total of five midshipmen were involved with obscene material on New Year’s Day. Besides Midshipman Knox, one was cited for possession of an obscene book, and three others for the reading of one. Since Gedney was in custody on that date I did not see a direct connection, but evidently the Commandant of Midshipman, Thomas T Craven did. About Gedney, he states:

The example which he has set by
the introduction of obscene books and prints,
had already done amongst his young class-
mates, an immense deal of harm.

To my mind his shenanigans were consciously entered into, having as their goal to be expelled from the academy. The obscene books just brought him closer to his ticket out of there. Blake records Gedney’s frame of mind, in this observation to Toucey:

When remonstrated with by me, he has
replied that he came to the Academy
against his wishes, & intended to leave it.”

So he got his wish and more. Gedney did put in a resignation (and Blake notes that it was without the consent of his father). With this in hand, Blake advised Toucey not to accept his resignation, but rather recommended that he be dismissed outright.

Toucey took Blake’s recommendation and dismissed the midshipman. Gedney probably did not even care as to the stigma attached, I surmise he was just happy to be out.

Stay tuned for part two next week in which I look into who or what brought him to the academy, and about his latter end.