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


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
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
I would ask whether his name is
to be retained on the rolls.-
I am respectfully
Your obt servt
G S Blake

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.



Day One Thousand One Hundred Thirteen #DiaryoftheEndoftheWorld

We did not see Tomas  the rest of the day yesterday. Because of the good report we did not think it odd. But when he did not show this morning, we wondered if another attack was underway.

We asked to go into the city and were denied. The first time ever.

When Elijah asked to go down to the harbor and the desalination plants, our guards granted the request.

To our surprise the docks were empty of ships. A few were out in the harbor – warships.

We expected to see Tomas at the desalination plants, but were again disappointed.

Sensing that he needed our intercession, we sought out a place to be in the presence of the One who sees.

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.

You Deserve an Escape from New York Today

You Deserve an Escape from New York Today

It’s funny (read strange), the things you remember out of all the things that happened in a certain time. What you are left with is a crazy mosaic when trying to recontruct it.
So it is when recalling the one summer we went on a long journey. Instead of our usual short jaunts around the surrounding New England countryside, we left Brockton in the family car, a 1950 something Dodge, and set our course south for Dover, Delaware, where my mom’s sister and her family lived. Our Dodge was second hand, with its best years behind it, though it was a few steps above its immediate predecessor – a Chevy which had as one of its unique features, rusted out holes in the footwells of the back seat through which we could watch the ground below as the vehicle passed over it. This old Dodge had a peculiarity all its own which I will go into later.
We took the Massachusetts turnpike over to New York, before hooking left and pointing the vehicle towards Delaware. Somewhere between that left hook and the city of New York we found ourselves tooling down a four lane highway that descended a long incline with tons of businesses on both sides. And one of those businesses was a McDonalds burger restaurant. And though my mom tells me that there were two McDonalds restaurants near us when we lived in Salem, MA – one of which we must have frequented – this is the first time I remember ever stopping at one for a meal. These weren’t anything like the burgers my mom made at home. Hers were always thick – fat really. These were thin and to be truthful – tasty, (and this was the era before the Big Mac). I was left to wonder why my Mom couldn’t make hers the same.
We then passed on through the Big Apple with only one side trip. According to my dad’s dictates we couldn’t miss the chance to swing by the Radio City Music Hall, that mecca in his estimation from his usher days. We just passed by though, having no time to stop and gawk. Though we didn’t go unnoticed, for you see the peculiarity with this Dodge was that whenever you moved the wheel to make a turn left or right, the horn blared. It went off all by itself. An embarrassment to be sure in our home town, but now even more annoying to the jaded New Yorkers warned back on the sidewalk by our noisy passage.
We soon made it out of town and somehow over to Staten Island where we got caught in such a downpour that I thought we were going to wash down the hills and into the bay. No matter how furiously the windshield wipers swished they could not clear off the wall of water flowing over us.
Somehow we made it over to the mainland safely. And another turnpike later, we arrived safely at our relatives and enjoyed a nice visit (they were Southern Baptist, so it meant another brush with religion). There wouldn’t be another get together on the East Coast. My uncle was in the Air Force and they were soon transferred out to McChord Air Force base. We also returned to Washington state some time soon after that, when my father’s company, General Cinema, moved him and us out to open their first twin cinema in the Seattle area.

E T Hits the Big Apple

E T hits the Big Apple

A note about railroads of the period – they were wide-spread, especially east of the Mississippi, and the war would develop them further when their strategic uses were realized. But they were usually just lines between two cities, you would come in on one line to a terminal, cross the city on foot or some other conveyance to another station and then take another line to your next destination. It is this distinction that when grasped will go a long way in understanding how the events unfolded as they did.
E T and the Eighth regiment MVM left Boston from the Worcester station. They passed through Worcester, then on to Springfield. There one more company met up with the regiment – the Allen Guard of Pittsfield, Massachusetts. They had come in on another train. The Allen Guard became Company K, assigned to lead the left flank of the regiment.
It was after 10 o’clock at night when the now completed regiment departed Springfield for New York City.   They travelled the entire night; a long sleepless night.
They arrived around 7am at the New York and New Haven depot at the corner of Fourth Avenue and 26th Street. It was another whirlwind, with no time to take in the sights. The local hotels feted them with breakfast, (the Zouaves were the guests of the famous Astor Hotel). By 11am the regiment had reassembled in City Hall Park and marched from there through crowds of well-wishers to Courtlandt Street. At the river they caught the ferry to Jersey City.
The rumors about what lay ahead were growing.

Army Days and Cuban Nights

Army Days and Cuban Nights

Just south of the Salem Willows was the mass of earth that was Fort Lee.  In my dad’s day it was called Cannon Hill. Ever since the turn of a century (from 1799-1800, that is) it had been an important fortification guarding the town and harbor of Salem Massachusetts.
We liked to play “army” atop its heights. It wasn’t often, for Forest River Park was much closer to where we lived. My dad had a friend who had a home towards the back end of the fort, the end that probably had the entrance to the structure.
The family had a nice swing set and other outdoor toys available in their yard, but we preferred to set off on our own, ranging into the area that was the old fort. It was a veritable sea of grass and if you were dropped down on your belly you disappeared completely from sight. We had ample room to practice our “army crawl,” rising only to charge a short distance before taking cover again.
Word was, a huge subterranean structure lay buried underneath where we were crawling. My Dad told me that he and his friends used to try to dig their way into it, sometimes in the side and then from the top once they discovered a vent structure in the middle of the topside area.  We never located the latter, nor did we try to dig anywhere.  We only investigated how to get into the tops of the trees that grew beside the earthen berms.
Those were carefree days soon to be invaded by world politics.
Just as on the west coast, we liked to go on family drives on the weekend.  On one such trip we set out for Newport, Rhode Island to see the sights there – the mansions and villas of the rich and famous of the late 1800s. We stopped in Fall River Massachusetts on the way down.  Usually I loved the opportunity to visit a new place just to see if there were any comics stores on the chance I might find a Classics Illustrated title or two that I did not already have. I don’t believe Fall River was any huge metropolis, but I felt like I was in a canyon when we stopped downtown to check out a cigar store that sold comics. The very buildings seemed to close in, crowding and overawing me. Though I was glad to browse the racks for the elusive missing numbers, my mind wasn’t fully with my quest. Their covers seemed drained of all color, just black and white and gray. A reflection of my mood. Would there be a future?
You see, this was October 1962. And the cloud overhead was a nuclear armed Cuba, and a growing confrontation between our government and that of the Soviet Union. There was no talk between us; parent to child, or sibling to sibling. Nor did we overhear any discussion between our parents. We were all left to our own thoughts and fears. Perhaps with the superstition that if it wasn’t acknowledged, it would all go away.
And it did. Eventually. But not without that valley of depression – the shadow of death.
How different years later, when my 21 year old son came out from his bedroom with the news of the airliner crashing into the World Trade Center in NYC. We watched with horror as the second plane hit. And the next day, after parking his Caddy in the NW district of Portland and walking together into work, I admit being unsettled and having a sense of having crossed a line into a new future. But this time around, I knew the One who holds the future and the One who holds me.