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.

The Midshipman Who Really Wasn’t There – Joel Welcome Berry

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I am trying to be thorough in my canvassing of the midshipmen at the Naval Academy for the school year of 1860-1861. There are certain statistics I am collecting to include in the history I am writing. To that end I went about gathering the names of the midshipmen that were at the institution in all four classes that fed into that time period. This meant going back to the class that entered in the fall of 1857, ditto for the classes of 1858, 1859, and for the entering plebe class of 1860.

I learned about an annual publication listing the graduates of the Naval Academy, and I found one on eBay that had been published in 1944 and won the bid for it. This gave me a good base from which to start. So I dutifully harvested the names into a database – both those who had graduated, and those who had not. Those were the only two categories included therein.

I eventually realized that I was missing the complete picture. Nowhere had I come across a list of the people that had showed up for the exam, but failed to get in – either for academic or medical reasons. That is, not until I was able to look through the microfilm containing the correspondence of the Naval Academy Superintendent. In them I was able to locate the entire list of candidates that appeared before the boards for the target years I was studying.

I identified the missing ones and added them to the database.  I now had all the candidates listed with a date and a number, which represented the order in which they were examined. And it is this order that I utilized, when going through the names one by one for research.

A few years later when I arrived at Midshipman Joel Welcome Berry of Georgia, the 58th candidate for the class of 1859, I ran into a mystery. Here was someone who clearly had been accepted into the academy but was missing from all the official lists. I found him, no problem, in other documents – the 1850 and 1860 censuses; he was a student at Georgetown College in DC (just prior to his appointment to the academy); and ascertained that he fought in the Civil War on the side of the Confederacy in Phillips’ Georgia Legion.

The mystery was solved by delving further into the correspondence of the superintendent – in which I turned up this letter written to the Secretary of the Navy, Isaac Toucey:

                            Naval Academy
Annapolis Md
Oct 31 1859
Sir
I beg leave to state to the Department
that Mr Joel Welcome Berry, obtained from
the Store Keeper of the Academy the usual
outfit immediately after passing his exami-
nation, but subsequently returned the articles,
& left Annapolis without having joined the
institution.-
I would ask whether his name is
to be retained on the rolls.-
I am respectfully
Your obt servt
G S Blake
Superintendent

I had encountered short naval academy careers before, but none as short as Berry’s – which looks to be at most a single day, and just might possibly be measured in hours.

But why had he walked away?

It may be impossible to decisively conclude the exact reason for his action, but the other records I turned up, reveal specific circumstances that within themselves would give a young man strong impetus to pull away from the naval profession. (And I am not ruling out that it could be as simple as when he stepped aboard the schoolship Plymouth as a plebe, this brief view of what a naval life entailed, turned him off).

His father, Andrew Jay Berry, was a planter, a prosperous merchant and a local political leader in Coweta, the county he helped pioneer and settle. There he met and married Emily Elizabeth Parks in 1830. Their first born, William Byrd Berry, followed in his father’s footsteps. The next, Thomas J. graduated from West Point in 1857 and had a career in the army out west. Joel came next and was to represent the family in that other branch of government service, the Navy.

His mother passed away in 1857, and I surmise that he may have received an inheritance from her. For in the 1860 census (taken 6/8/1860) J W Berry was listed in his own household, right next door to his father and brothers in Newnan, GA. He was quite wealthy for an 18 year old – his real estate holdings of 10,000 ($312,000 in today’s dollars) and personal holdings of 13,000 ($405,000) meant that he did not have to find his way in the world. His occupation was listed as Farmer (in distinction to his father as Planter) and according to the slave schedules for that year, he owned 12 slaves to aid in his farm’s operation. This may have weighed foremost in his mind when after qualifying for the academy on that day in October, he immediately returned his uniform and left.

It was a short life for J W Berry after leaving the academy. As mentioned above he enlisted in Phillips’ Georgia Legion and was fairly active as his unit was sent north from Georgia to the battlefields of Virginia. But when 1863 rolled around he was absent without leave from the muster rolls for months on end.

Drink may have been increasingly the driving factor in his life (his brother Thomas once advised him in a letter “to shun it as you would the most poisonous reptile”). The advice went unheeded, for in one drunken episode in 1864, Joel killed two men in his hometown, and fled northward from the expected retaliation of the slain men’s families – not just to the Carolinas or Virginia, but clear out of the Confederacy, and held up in New York City.

There he remained. He never returned to Georgia, and died in NYC in 1869.

 

The Midshipman Who Wasn’t There – Thomas Theodore Turner

The Midshipman Who Wasn’t There T T Turner

I have researched 400 plus candidates who came to the Naval Academy between the years of 1857 and 1861, (both those who were accepted and those who failed either the academic or the medical exam).

In the course of running down what had happened afterwards to the successful candidates, I ran into numerous instances of obits and histories (family ones, written years later) that claimed such and such an individual graduated from the USNA. But according to government records, he hadn’t. Assumptions had been made that since ‘he’ was there – ‘he’ was a graduate.

The instances are almost too numerous to tally (a project for another day, perhaps). I was surprised then to come across a claim by an historian that one midshipman had not been there, whom I knew to have been there.

It happened early on when I was trying to winnow down the details behind the life of Thomas Theodore Turner.  Turner was appointed to the US Naval Academy from the first congressional district of Missouri in 1859.

One of my online researches turned up a reference in a book edited by Terry L Jones – “Campbell Brown’s Civil War: With Ewell and the Army of Northern Virginia.” The explanatory footnote for the individual mentioned in the diary on page 63 reads:

“Thomas Theodore Turner, of Baltimore, was eighteen years old and had received some military training in European schools and the Virginia Military Institute.  He accepted an appointment to the US Naval Academy when the war began but never attended. Turner also refused an offer by Brigadier General William T Sherman, a close friend of Turner’s father, to secure him a lieutenant’s commission in the 7th US Cavalry.  Instead, Turner apparently joined the Confederate navy but then resigned his naval commission and joined Ewell’s staff in the fall of 1861 as a volunteer aide.  Upon the recommendation of Ewell, Johnston, and Stuart, Turner was appointed first lieutenant on April 29, 1862, and was assigned to Ewell as aide-de-camp.  He stayed with Ewell for most of the war, was wounded at Spotsylvania in 1864, and was captured along with Ewell and Campbell at Sayler’s Creek on April 6, 1865.  In October 1865, Turner married Campbell’s sister, Hattie.”

This flummoxed me. The only detail that appeared correct was his age when examined. Through further research I was able to ascertain that most of the information could be tied back to my T. T. Turner from Missouri, but not the Baltimore reference, nor the statement that he did not attend.

What I could tell for sure, Thomas Theodore Turner of St Louis MO was at the USNA. I have the date that he appeared before the examination boards and was accepted (11/24/1859), and the pages from the Register of Demerits for 1859-1860 in which his infractions are listed. Then there was all that correspondence from Superintendent Blake about Turner’s dabbling in alcohol in the spring of 1860. The first instance was overlooked and not reported to Isaac Toucey, the Secretary of the Navy, predicated upon a promise from the guilty middie that he would not touch it again. The second time he crossed the line, the report went all the way to the top with details about the first, and much details about the second (which was tied to a third). Evidently Thomas sought to excuse his behavior (to Superintendent Blake’s obvious annoyance) in a sea lawyer fashion by claiming that he had not broken his promise.

“I once gave you my word of honor Sir, that I would never have any thing more to do with liquor on board the ‘Plymouth’ & I have not-“

To his thinking, since he had been found drunk on a cutter “stowed away in her sails,” just hoisted from the water, and NOT on the schoolship Plymouth, his honor was intact.

A subsequent search gave me the answer to the confusion of identity in the Jones book footnote. Here another diary (In the Shadow of the Enemy: The Civil War Journal of Ida Powell Dulany) contained a footnote about the cousins Turner, all with the given name of Thomas (to honor their mutual grandfather). To distinguish them within the family, each one’s locale was appended to their names – ‘Baltimore’ Tom, ‘Kinloch’ Tom (the Virginia family plantation), and our middie – ‘St Louis’ Tom.

Originally Blake had recommended ‘St Louis’ Tom’s dismissal based on his flagrant disregard for the regulations – and for the fact that he should have known better given his age – (at 18 he was one of the oldest members of the plebe class).

Turner had two uncles, both holding the rank of commander in the Navy. One Charles Cocke Turner then posted to the Washington Navy Yard may have lobbied Toucey upon his nephew’s behalf. Toucey wrote Blake and instructed him to supply a fuller explanation about the matter, Thus prompted to take a closer look Blake uncovered a possibility that Turner had not been intoxicated in the first instance.

The upshot was Turner remained in the class completing his plebe year in June, and went on the summer cruise as a member of the Third class. But almost immediately upon his return from the cruise – with the permission of his father, ’St Louis’ Tom Turner tendered his resignation from the naval academy – almost a year after his entrance.

Adventures Along the Rabbit Trail

Adventures along the Rabbit Trail

Research is always fun (for me). Especially when I find what I set out to discover. But sometimes it becomes a delight when something I was not looking for falls under my purview.

Such is the case recently when I was looking into the family background of Adolphus Dexter, a midshipman who had been appointed from the state of Ohio in 1857.
Adolphus was a first generation American. His father Edmond Dexter, had emigrated from England through Philadelphia in 1823. And soon found his way to Cincinnati where over the next quarter century he built a very successful business rectifying and selling whiskey. Trade was good, helped greatly via the nearby Ohio river, which extended his reach all the way down to New Orleans.

One of my web searches turned up a diary by someone who had worked for Adolphus’s father. Joseph J Mersman was the whiskey maker’s apprentice. He was an immigrant too, who went to work for Mr Dexter at the age of 15 for a total of ten years, during which he learned everything he needed to know to go out on his own. This journal which he kept between 1848 and 1862, was unearthed by Linda A Fisher. (She was researching a cholera outbreak in St Louis to which Joseph had moved when he went into business for himself). She found more than she was looking for. It was a treasure trove of daily life in Cincinnati and St Louis for that epoch in American history. Ms Fisher ended up transcribing the entire diary for publication, and copiously and in great depth annotated the text as an aid for the reader, creating a who’s who of the people therein and explanations for the customs etc. alluded to.

And here’s where I branched out once again on a rabbit trail. Joseph had a younger sister, Maria Agnes Mersman. She lived an unconventional life. A young girl with an affinity for horses, by age 16 (1842) she was performing as an equestrian. She ran off and joined the circus that headquartered near Cincinnati and exercised her equine gifts in the ring. While in their employ, she added to her repertoire – high wire and slack wire walking, and lion taming, and married the star (and clown) of the troop, William Lake Thatcher (stage name Bill Lake), eloping with him when they were performing down in Louisiana.

I was carried further afield, following what happened later in her life. She and her husband acquired their own circus company in 1861 (the year that Adolphus graduated from the Academy and went to war). Tragedy struck in 1869 when a bully at one of the performances in Granby Missouri shot and killed Bill Lake. She assumed control of their troop at the loss of her husband.

It was in this capacity that she met her future husband in Abilene Kansas in 1871. The town marshal, James Butler ‘Wild Bill’ Hickok took an interest in the vivacious widow. And the interest was mutual. They kept up a romantic correspondence over the next five years, which culminated in their marriage in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

She was a widow again only five months later, when Hickok was murdered in that infamous incident in Deadwood.

There were more rabbit trails branching out from here, but I’ll let you pursue those if you’ve a mind to.

Now I just want to circle back to my midshipman Adolphus Dexter and indulge in a rabbit trail of a purely imaginary kind (but not implausible). Maria’s brother Joseph mentions that he gave Christmas presents to the Dexter children in 1847, and I can’t help but wonder if he could have taken young Adolphus to see his sister that next spring when she debuted her new act as a rope walker somewhere out on the outskirts of Cincinnati – a decade before he would climb the rigging in a warship of the US Navy.

The Reluctant Midshipman Alexander Duer Gedney Pt 2

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So, whose wish was Alexander Duer Gedney bucking when he was attempting to have himself discharged from the Naval Academy? No brainer there. Most likely his family, so let’s take a look at them.

His father, Daniel Fowler Gedney was a lawyer, and in fact the District Attorney of Orange County NY at the time of Alexander’s appointment. His was the voice of a person who would have had the clout to ask for, and get that appointment. There was a nautical element on his side of the family. From way back they were boat builders. In fact they were proud of the fact that when they came from England to settle in Salem, MA in 1636, they came in a ship of their own making.

From Salem, succeeding generations of Gedneys moved westward. By the time of the American Revolution they had made it as far as New York (on the west side of the Hudson). But the family was increasingly involved in other pursuits other than boats and ships, and never to my knowledge with the Navy.

Aside – I did find one Thomas R. Gedney in the US Navy dating from 1815.  He was the naval officer who was involved in the affair of the slave ship Amistad. But this Gedney was a native of South Carolina, and I have not been able to establish if he had a connection to the New England/New York branches.

Looking up Alexander’s mother, Henrietta Robinson Duer, I tumbled to the origin of my midshipman’s name. He was named after her father Alexander Duer. This Alexander was a lawyer, a newspaper publisher, and a state politician from Goshen, NY, and may have himself been named after a family friend (and distant relation), Alexander Hamilton. His older brother, also carried Alexander as his middle name, but in this instance it was probably for his maternal grandfather, William Alexander, one of George Washington’s generals.

This older brother, William Alexander Duer opened the door to all the naval connections in the family. He had a son who was a naval officer (John King Duer), and two grandsons (one in the class before Gedney, and the other after). William Alexander Duer, himself, had been a midshipman, having been appointed in 1798, and served under Decatur in the Quasi War with France. He resigned from the Navy in 1800, to study law and entered on a career that eventuated in service as a judge, and later became President of Columbia College (1829-1842).

And the naval connections did not stop with his own family. His niece (and cousin to Gedney’s mother), Catherine Alexander Robinson, married naval officer Alexander Slidell Mackenzie and they had two sons who later became naval officers (one at the academy before Gedney, the other after). Alexander S Mackenzie is a controversial naval figure, famous or infamous depending upon whom you consult. Before there was a naval academy, he was the captain of the USS Somers in 1842, sent on a cruise to deliver dispatches and train up young midshipmen. When one of these middies and his two co-conspirators had been discovered plotting a mutiny, Mackenzie and his other officers condemned them to death on the evidence and hung them. This middie was the son of the then Secretary of War in the Tyler administration. A big controversy ensued. In the next administration, Secretary of the Navy George Bancroft, successfully used it as a call and a rationale for a naval school.

Perhaps, a little irony there, an irony whose base, Alexander Duer Gedney may or may not have been aware.

So, then, what happened to Gedney after his dismissal from the academy? I know the “what,” and the “when,” but can only surmise about the “why.”

Gedney died at sea, having been lost overboard from the clipper ship Jacob Bell, drowning off Cape Horn. This was on May 21, 1860.

In checking out the Jacob Bell I found out the following information: she had been built in 1852 for the NY shipping firm A. A. Low & Bros., which was involved in the China trade. I had to consult a couple of different sources to piece together how their vessels operated. There was a cyclical pattern to their voyages, they departed NY in January and returned the same month, the following year. They passed Cape Horn in both directions, rather than circumnavigating. I surmise that Gedney left in the Jacob Bell in January of 1860, the same month he was ejected from the academy, and lost his life on the outbound voyage.

What is unclear in this instance is whether he was operating under his own wishes, or that of his parents. He may have been of an adventurous spirit and desired to be out on his own and not under the discipline of a military school. But I think that his family had the last say. They would have wanted him to make something of himself, especially after squandering the opportunity that the Naval Academy had afforded. And they easily had the connections to get him a berth on the clipper ship to China.

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.

The Illusive Midshipman Charles Polhemus

The Illusive Midshipman Charles Polhemus

Probably the most difficult midshipman to get a bead on was Charles Polhemus. I first looked him up back in 2009, with nothing but the slimmest of clues. I had no indication, where he had been born or from what state he had been appointed.

I concentrated on the censuses for 1850 and 1860 and got a hit on a Charles G. Polhemus of NY. Though each census showed a different NY county, I knew him to be the same individual in both because the other family members’ given names were the same in each instance, with a corresponding increase in ages. And the ages listed for Charles was on track to be my midshipman, but there was nothing else that confirmed that he was the actual person for whom I was looking. I noted down the details from the two censuses, hoping to track down some links that could corroborate his identity.

Many people with the name Polhemus popped up for the state of New Jersey, and in particular Burlington County, but no one there matched my midshipman. So, Charles G of NY was looking more and more plausible. Besides I learned that “Polhemus” was of Dutch origin which again can fit nicely with the Knickerbocker state. Further research revealed that this Charles Polhemus served in the Civil War in a New York Regiment, the 13th Heavy Artillery – a fact that would not be unusual, as other midshipmen had switched from webfeet to landlubbers, especially those middies who had resigned from the Academy.

But it was all a false trail.

When I found the list of the candidates for examination for the Naval Academy, I filled in some important details for my illusive Charles Polhemus. He held an appointment from the 2nd Congressional District of New Jersey (which includes Burlington County) and  passed his examinations on 9/26/1857. The possibility that the Charles G from NY was my midshipman began to dim. (Not totally, as I had come across appointments that originated from one state even though the candidate lived in another – especially when the appointing Congressman was a relative).

And so things sat for several years.

With the inclusion recently of the naval hospital records on Ancestry.com, I was able to zero in on the right Charles Polhemus.  For three days in November 1857, Charles was admitted to the naval academy hospital for bronchitis.  As with all the Acting Midshipman admitted, their place of birth was recorded. C. Polhemus was born in Chile. This “rare” tidbit combined with the other data that has accumulated on the internet in the intervening years gave me the breakthrough I needed.

This Charles Polhemus was related to the New Jersey family that I had run across earlier. His father was John Hart Polhemus sr., who was a grandson (and namesake) of John Hart, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. John moved down to South America sometime in the late 1820s and entered into business.  In Lima Peru he met and married an English woman Marianna Dean on August 28, 1836. My Charles was born to the couple in Valparaiso, Chile on December 27, 1841. Some sources state that President Andrew Jackson had named John, the American consul in Valparaiso.

As you can guess, there was a very good reason then for the family of my midshipman not to show up in my earlier searches of the US census for 1850.  They were out of the country. The future midshipman returned to the US from Valparaiso on February 8, 1851 entering through Baltimore, with two of his brothers (their mother had died in Peru in 1849).

And there is another good reason why my midshipman is missing in the 1860 census.

Charles’ naval career was very brief. Having entered the Naval Academy in the fall of 1857, he resigned six months later – though  not through overindulgence in demerit worthy activity. His demerit total stood at 108 for that time period, half of what would have called for dismissal. (He did have a notable doozy, receiving 6 demerits for throwing a fellow midshipman down the stairs. And he evidently had a problem keeping his room clean, being cited a total of ten times for a dirty room – I have a suspicion he relied on servants at home for that chore). As the saying goes, he bilged (i.e. failed) in the February academic exams. The family genealogy shows that Charles died at sea on December 2, 1858, nine months after leaving the Academy.

I am in the dark about the circumstances behind his death. Had he gone to sea in the merchant marine? Was he out on a pleasure craft, or merely taking passage on a commercial carrier? Was he lost overboard or did he go down with his ship? I can only speculate.

For now, this final detail about Midshipman Charles Polhemus remains illusive.

The Puzzle of Midshipman Morgan Lewis Ogden jr Part 2

The Puzzle of Midshipman Morgan Lewis Ogden Jr. Part 2

A second puzzle related to Midshipman Morgan Lewis Ogden jr. surfaced in the results of one of my Google searches with his name as the subject. The link led me to a page in a book (A Civil War Soldier of Christ and Country by John Rodgers Meigs, edited by Mary A Giunta, and published in 2006 – Univ of IL Press) and the following quote:

“Morgan Ogden I am sorry to tell you is turned away from the Naval School.  Mary says for drunkenness.”

It is from a letter written by Ann Minerva “Nannie” Rodgers Macomb to her nephew John Rodgers Meigs dated 10/7/1859.  And by the dates indicated, the news travelled fairly fast (his dismissal letter was dated 9/23/1859).

The names of Meigs and Macomb I had encountered before. They are famous in the history of the US military. Other midshipmen I have researched have ties to these two families, but their connections were obvious. Why were they writing about Morgan Ogden? What was his connection to these two illustrious family names?

I tried one avenue after another to find the connection. There were no intersections in the ancestors of either Morgan’s parents. And I saw no connection to any Ogdens in the Meigs or Macomb lines. I decided to look sideways at the problem, and finally found it, by performing a genealogical do si do, so to speak.

Morgan’s mother was Eliza Glendy McLaughlin. She had an older brother named John Thomas McLaughlin. I was surprised to learn that he was an US naval officer (and thus possibly an inspiration for Morgan to enter the navy). John entered the navy in 1827, and was in charge of all the naval forces during the Second Seminole War in Florida. His wife, Salvadora, came from another illustrious American military family – the Meades (one of her brothers was George G Meade, the victor of Gettysburg). Salvadora lost her husband John in 1847, remarried in 1852 and was living in New Jersey at the same time that the Ogdens were in New York City. Eliza probably visited her sister-in-law, for many of the Ogdens lived and worked in that state.

Another of Salvadora’s brothers was naval officer Richard Worsam Meade II. He was married to Clara Forsyth Meigs, a cousin to army officer and engineer Montgomery C Meigs. He is the father of the John Rodgers Meigs mentioned above, to whom his aunt was conveying the news about Morgan.

In 1860 the Montgomery C Meigs and the John N Macomb families were living in the same residence in the second ward of Washington DC. Each had married a daughter of senior naval officer, Commodore John Rodgers; Macomb, the Ann Minerva Rodgers mentioned above, and Meigs, her sister, Louisa Rodgers. The house may well have been that of the deceased Commodore, whose widow was then living with her daughters’ families.

Since the Ogdens were also in Washington DC from perhaps as early as 1855, they were probably aware of the Meigs and Macombs, either through the salons of Washington society or the rather roundabout familial connections that I’ve traced above.

The Puzzle of Midshipman Morgan Lewis Ogden Jr. Part 1

The Puzzle of Midshipman Morgan Lewis Ogden Jr. Part 1

The first puzzle about Midshipman Morgan Lewis Ogden jr. was his appointment from New York state to the US Naval Academy. I only called it into question because his state of birth was listed as Alabama. I thought it might just have been a transcription error on my part, writing down that particular southern state designation meant for another midshipmen. But the designation kept popping up in other records: the NY state census for 1855, and three federal censuses, two for 1860 and one for 1870. (He is listed twice in the 1860 census, once in Annapolis [as Wm L Ogden] and also for Washington DC Ward 1). His father and all his siblings list New York as their birth state. Only Morgan and his mother are different, though her state of Maryland is closer to the New York than his.

This mystery was cleared up by an Ogden family history. His father was down in Mobile Alabama in the 1840’s, working with his brother Charles W. Ogden in a cotton shipping business. There he married Eliza Glendy McLaughlin, and the future midshipman was born a year later. The 1855 NY state census indicates that the family relocated to New York City sometime in 1846. So this put him in the right place for his appointment from the 7th NY Congressional District when he was fifteen and a half.

The family history also brought up some interesting points about his ancestors. Through his father’s mother they are related to the Lewis family of New York. Her uncle was Morgan Lewis (hence their name sake), a soldier in the Revolution and the governor of New York in the early 1800s. And this same Lewis line traces back to Francis Lewis one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Morgan jr.’s naval career was a short one – two years – both of them in the plebe class. The total of his demerits were well below the threshold for dismissal, and were generally of the nature of absences of one form or another (seven the first year and five the next). The more serious ones involved the use of tobacco, either smoking, or the chewing and spitting variety; and one during the school year for intoxication. After this drinking incidence, he must have been called on the carpet, and had to give exacting promises never to repeat the offense.

So what happened?

Like Stephen Austin McCarty referenced in the last research post, Morgan became embroiled in the Foote Outrage. Like McCarty he was dismissed from the service on 4/27/1859, and like McCarty he was reinstated on 5/20/1859 and required to ship out on the USS Plymouth for the summer cruise. It was on this cruise that he again ran afoul of the bottle.

On September 20, 1859, George Blake, the Superintendent of the Naval Academy reported to Isaac Toucey, the Secretary of the Navy:

“The Department directed that the usual
indulgence of leave on shore should not be accorded
to these young gentlemen & it will be seen that in
contempt of this positive order they separated
themselves from Lieut. Carter under whose charge
they were sent on shore at Plymouth [England] on duty &
that Actg Midn Ogden was taken alongside the
ship intoxicated to utter insensibility & in that
condition was lifted on board by sailors.”

And goes on:

“Mr Ogden’s general conduct at the Academy
has been bad.-  He has been once found deficient
in his studies & put back.-  I have had occa-
sion to report him to the Department twice before
to recommend his dismissal last spring in which
recommendation the department concurred.-
Under his most solemn assurances of amendment
I subsequently ventured to suggest his restoration
in which the Department was also pleased
to concur.-  I fully concur with Commander
Craven in earnestly recommending the immediate
dismissal of Actg Midn Ogden.-“

Three days later Morgan received his dismissal from Secretary Toucey. He returned to his family. Which brings us back to the First Ward of the City of Washington in the District of Columbia where the family was living at the time of the 1860 census. Here his father is listed as a lawyer, and Morgan jr. a law student.

When the war came, like McCarty, Morgan joined the army, (the regular army not a state unit) receiving a commission as first lieutenant in the US 18th Infantry. Unlike McCarty he did not make a switch to the navy. Morgan had pretty effectively burnt that bridge. He served along the Mississippi (Vicksburg and Jackson), then on to the Tennessee campaign, followed by that of the move on Atlanta. He was brevetted a captain for his gallant service in the battle of Murfreesboro, in which he was also wounded. The 18th Infantry was part of the US Ninth Army Corps, and he served that organization in the commissary of musters department, i.e. recruiting. The last year of the war he spent in that service, first in Wisconsin, and then in Indianapolis.

After the war, he remained in the US 18th Infantry as it served in the Dakotas against the Sioux. He ended his career in Columbia, South Carolina in 1877, as the 18th was then posted to the Military Department of the South (involved in the reconstruction of the southern states). The ending was not a happy one. He was dismissed from the service by court martial. I do not know what the charges were against him, though I suspect “demon” rum may have reared its ugly head again.

There were a couple of surprises that popped up in my research about Morgan and his family, both touching on Abe Lincoln. When in Indianapolis on recruiting duty, Morgan stood honor guard on April 30, 1865 when the Lincoln funeral train made its stop there on its slow journey to Springfield, Illinois.

He may have met the President earlier in 1861. His little seven year old brother Sydney had. Sydney was about Tad Lincoln’s age, and had been invited over to play “soldier” at the White House. Either Tad or his older brother Willie recruited Sydney into their company – “Mrs. Lincoln’s Zouaves.”

This last item I find particularly fascinating. My third screenplay was about Willie and Tad, and seeing their famous father from their view. The sequel I have planned covers some of the “famous battles” of this unit.

The In and Out Career of Midshipman Stephen A McCarty

The In and Out Career of Midshipman Stephen A McCarty

When I started to research the midshipmen of the  ante bellum US Naval Academy, all I had was a list of names from the official register. I input each name into a database and commenced to look them up. I recorded any datum that I came across from a variety of sources. Slowly, bit by bit, I was able to build up a “sketch” for each name.

When it came to Stephen Austin McCarty, the first results were very sketchy. I confirmed that he was born in New York and appointed from the same; that he graduated in May of 1861 (with the war underway, the top three classes went straight into service, Stephen was in 2d); that he was at the battle of Mobile Bay; that he retired Nov 1 1874 and that he died in DC on Dec 23, 1883.

I was hoping to fill in a few more details when I found the academic records for all the midshipmen for November 1860. When I came to McCarty, however, there were no grades, which was strange given the fact that he graduated the following year. So, I simply left a note in that field that read (Why no grades?), and continued on.

I found another list that gave me the date of their entry examinations (academic and physical) and the order that they appeared for those ordeals. I counted back from the 1860-61 school year to those entering the plebe class of 1857-58, but there was no McCarty. Other members of the second class that entered at this time were covered. (Actually my list of names grew, because all those who had failed the exams were also listed, and I added them to the database). So, I checked the prior year (1856-57), which showed him entering the academy on September 25th 1856, indicating that he was held back and repeated his plebe year.

More of the picture came into focus when I located him in the 1850 federal census. It shows him living with his parents in Oswego County NY. [Aside – the region they inhabited was affected weather-wise by its proximity to the Great Lakes, especially in winter, with heavy snowfalls (and still is). He must have loved winter sports, so much so that he ran afoul of the regulations to pursue them, pulling down demerits for “Neglect of duty – skating” and “Breaking a glass in No 61 with a snowball”]. His father was Andrew Zimmerman McCarty, a lawyer and politician (his mother, born Elizabeth Austin, explains the choice of his middle name). In fact, at the time of Stephen’s appointment to the Naval Academy, his father was the New York congressman from the 22nd District, and hence the one who had appointed him.

The big breaks came when I read through the letters of the Superintendent of the Naval Academy. Here I discovered that McCarty was dismissed from the Naval Academy on 4/27/1859. He was one of six so condemned for their involvement in the “Foot Outrage” that transpired in early April. However, Stephen was back in again a month later when he was reinstated on 5/20/1859. It is possible that his father, though no longer a congressman, exerted some influence to get him back in.  The other five were similarly brought back at the same time and put under confining restrictions, all being sent to sea for the summer cruise in the USS Plymouth.

Stephen was only returned a short time when he was on the outs again, this time resigning on Oct 17, 1859. Though I do not know why he resigned, it does explain why McCarty had no grades in November of 1860; he’d been gone a year by that time (the 1860 census showed him back home with his parents in New York, with no occupation noted). So how did he get back into the navy in September of 1861?

And the answer to that looks to be in a round about way – through the army. Stephen’s name pops up on the rolls for company K of the “Irish Rifles,” the 37th Regiment New York Infantry. He enlisted at nearby Pulaski, NY in May of 1861, taking a commission as a first lieutenant a month later. The regiment left the state for Washington DC at the end of June, and went into bivouac at the foot of East Capitol Street. While there it’s my theory that he took the opportunity to drop over to the Navy Department and there petitioned Gideon Welles to rejoin his classmates from the Academy, who were no longer at school, but serving on active duty in the navy.  I located a letter from the academy superintendent Captain George Blake to Navy Secretary Welles that stated he had no objection to McCarty rejoining the service. Blake only recommended that his placement be at the bottom of the class, rather than at the position he held at the time of his resignation.

A similar type sentiment may have acted against McCarty later in his career. He served faithfully and gallantly throughout the Civil War, rising to the rank of lieutenant commander. However, in 1872 when attached to the USS Powhatan, he succumbed to the influence of alcohol and was court martialled. Given a second chance, he slipped again, and resigned rather than be dismissed from the navy. When he petitioned Congress six years later to be reappointed, he explained that he had resigned so that he could reform away from the temptations surrounding life in the navy. Though the Senate Naval Committee voted to promote his request, it failed. One of the telling arguments was the complaint that it would put him ahead of many who came up behind him in the intervening years.