When is a naval officer not a naval officer?

When is a naval officer not a naval officer

When is a naval officer not a naval officer?

The question does not rest upon what the word “IS” means. Rather it pivots upon what the phrase “naval officer” can mean in two different circumstances. The fact that the same two words describe or denote two different offices is the source of the confusion.

At least I was confused when I first came upon the designation of “naval officer” when reading about the makeup of the US Customs Service in the 19th Century, and in this specific instance I was looking at the appointed officials of the Port of New York. The chief officer in charge was called the Collector, the one responsible for collecting the import tax due on any foreign goods entering via that port. These taxes were the only revenue for the US government from the inception of the country until the beginnings of an income tax which saw its introduction at the time of the American Civil War.

(Aside – the Port of New York at times supplied as much as two thirds of all the revenue, and never less than half of what was taken in by the US Treasury).

The Collector, therefore, was a very important position, and he was appointed directly by the President of the United States. In practice it was a political plum, awarded to a fellow member of the President’s political party, as thanks for his aid in a successful election campaign. The Collector in his turn appointed the officials that would serve with him – with titles such as Auditor, Appraiser, Weigher, and their assistants such as Deputy Collector, etc., and in the case at hand – the Naval Officer and his deputy.

Originally I thought that this Naval Officer must be an officer of the US Navy who had been assigned duty to help out the US Customs Service. It would seem a simple request for the Treasury Department (the branch of the US government controlling the Customs and Revenue services) to ask for the loan of an officer from the Navy Department. In a similar vein I had found many examples where Acting Midshipmen left the Naval Academy (usually by resignation or dismissal) and ended up in the Revenue Service to command the ships that agency employed to enforce customs law, to interdict smuggling and occasionally to aid in life-saving. But this was not the case. The Naval Officer in the Customs House was a civil appointment, and he had a particular purpose to fulfill. The position was designed as an important check and balance to the Collector. The naval officer had to sign off on all the transactions that his boss approved. That was the theory, but in practice the fact that they owed their position to the Collector colored their judgment when it came to what their boss was doing, a recipe for fraud and corruption

I learned more about all of this when looking into the father of Midshipman Morgan Lewis Ogden jr., the subject of my two recent Research posts. His father Morgan Lewis Ogden Sr. had been the deputy naval officer of the Port of New York, commencing in May of 1843. From his time at the New York Customs House, Ogden learned some valuable lessons about the workings of this agency. He parleyed that knowledge into a whole new profession after his time there.

Ogden was instrumental in the 1850 Supreme Court decision (US vs Southmayd) that changed the way duties were assessed “on all future importations of sugar and molasses.” He advised Benjamin F Butler, the lawyer who was hired to argue the case before the court. According to prior statute, the assessments were made on the weight stated on the invoice – prior to shipment. By the time the shipment arrived in New York the weight was always less due to leakage and drainage. You can understand the shipper’s sense of injustice when he was taxed on the portion that was lost in transit. Now thanks to this decision “the duties are to be levied upon the actual quantity arriving in the United States.”

Subsequent to this, Ogden became a claims attorney, representing firms or individuals with claims against the US government for overcharges on import taxes. He kept a home and office in Brooklyn, and also a home and office in Washington DC. One might say that he was a bit of a “fixer” in these matters for he had a lot of clout in both cities. And it did not hurt that his older brother Samuel Gouverneur Ogden was the Auditor of the New York Customs House between 1841 and 1878.

So, when is a naval officer not a naval officer? It’s a bit of a trick question. Both are. But a civil appointee who is a part of the Treasury Department is not the same as a commissioned officer in the armed services of the United States.

(Side note – I have found, so far, ten individuals who were appointed to the US Naval Academy in the ante bellum period with relatives that were Collectors in the Customs service. And only one who was related to a naval officer in the Customs Service).

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.

The Sad Tale of Lieutenant Bayard E Hand Part Two

The Sad Tale of Lt Bayard E Hand Part Two

When I was researching Bayard E Hand via Google an interesting article was listed high in the results. It was entitled “A Sailor’s Odd ‘Cruise.’” Someone had copied the entry to their family history from the book, A History of Rome and Floyd County by George Magruder Battey, Jr.

In summary, it relates that Bayard fell in love with a young Virginian girl just after graduating from the academy. They were joined in marriage but only had a short time together before he shipped out to South America. She then went to live with his mother and stepfather in Rome GA to await his return. The length of time of his absence is not noted, just that his ship put in to Wilmington NC, from whence he went on another 30 day leave to visit his wife and his parents. He returned to Wilmington, somehow contracted pneumonia and died on July 16, 1855 (a glaring error as will be seen below). His stepfather had him buried in Rome GA and placed a tombstone over him that referenced his career in the USN. This led to an unforeseen problem much later, when Sherman’s forces occupied the area in 1864. Someone took it into their head to remove Bayard from “traitorous” soil and had him shipped north to be reburied in a more friendly land. His stepfather was understandably outraged, but could do nothing about it until sometime after the war, when he successfully retrieved his step son’s body.

Though the historian was most likely well versed in the history of the disposition of the lieutenant’s body, the case is somewhat different when it comes to the details he relates about Bayard when he was alive.

Carrying forward from where I left off in last week’s post, Bayard left on a cruise on August 9, 1853 to the Brazil station shortly after graduating from the naval academy. There was no mention of him being married at this time. He was promoted twice in the time he was gone, coming back a lieutenant in November of 1855. (It can be seen by this date that the historian was in error as to Bayard’s death date, though to be fair his may have been a printer’s typo).

Throughout 1856 up until September 1858, Bayard was attached to vessels serving in the Coast Survey. This was a service run by the Treasury Department which had as its mission to map rivers, creeks, bays, harbors, etc. along the coastline to promote and protect the nation’s water borne trade and commerce. Often they were called on to rescue merchant vessels in dire straits. Bayard was awarded a gold chronometer for his part in one such rescue.

I have records that indicate that Bayard served in the Coast Survey from as far north as New York to as far south as Florida. And my guess is that he spent a good deal of his time in the Carolinas, and in North Carolina in particular. For on September 27, 1858, Bayard married Alice Whitfield in Carteret County, NC, most likely in or near the county seat – Beaufort. Further research revealed that she was not a Virginian, but a North Carolinian.

The rest of my chronology for Bayard follows the order, if not the time period put forward by the historian. After his honeymoon with his sixteen year old wife, Bayard reported for naval duty in the Paraguay Expedition. This expedition was a punitive action triggered by an insult to the flag, when forces of the Paraguayan government fired on a US vessel in 1855, killing a US seaman.  I have differing records as to which vessel he served on. Both were steamers that were especially chartered for the expedition. One possibility was the steamer Fulton under John Jay Almy, the other (my money is on this one) was the steamer Southern Star under Alexander M. Pennock. Both returned to the US in May of 1859, which lines up with the rest of his story. Bayard would have had one more one month’s leave with his wife before his death at Wilmington NC on July 16, 1859.

The poignant inscription at the bottom of Bayard E Hand’s tombstone reads:

The anchor of his soul was Faith in Christ.

Rebel Treasure thirteenth post

ON THE USS CONSTITUTION – QUARTERDECK
LT. UPSHUR, a naval officer of 20 years, turns his eagle gaze from the work party to the approaching midshipman.

LON
(saluting)
Acting Midshipman Turner, reporting, sir.

LT UPSHUR
At ease, Mr. Turner. The Commandant has asked to see you.
(notices his sudden discomfort)
This is not about demerits.

An older naval officer, the COMMANDANT OF MIDSHIPMEN arrives on deck with ROMEO BROWN in tow, a handsome black man about Lon’s age, and CONGRESSMAN CLAY, a florid faced gentleman. A flicker of anticipation rises in Lon’s eyes.

COMMANDANT
(in answer to Lon’s salute)
Good afternoon, Mr. Turner. Getting right to the point you have a letter from home.

ROMEO
(with a grin, hands him the letter)
For you, Massa’ Lon.

Lon grins too and hurriedly breaks the seal and opens the letter. His grin fades and his face grows grimmer with each passing second.

COMMANDANT
I have a letter from your father also. He’s instructed me to receive your resignation, if you so desire.

LON
If you please, sir, would you accept my resignation?

COMMANDANT
(with a sigh)
Have it on my desk in the morning. Mr. Clay here, has requested the honor of asking you to dinner.
(hands him a pass)
So you are excused until the evening gun.

Mr. Clay steps forward and in a bit of a daze Lon shakes his hand. For his part, Mr. Clay pumps his quite approvingly.

ON THE USS CONSTITUTION – NEAR THE ENTRY PORT – LATER
The work crew of plebes struggles to bring up a howitzer barrel in their sling from the dock below. Lon and his new companions wait nearby for them to complete their task and for the way to clear.
Louis and Jimmy arrive to pepper Lon with questions.

JIMMY
So, what did he want?

LOUIS
(whispering)
Did he see us in the tops?

JIMMY
We’ve all got demerits, right?

LON
No. I got a letter from home.

LOUIS
You’re resigning, aren’t you?

LON
(nodding)
My father put it simple enough, “Resign or be disowned.”

Shouts of alarm erupt from the plebes behind them. Before Lon can look around, Louis rushes by and launches a flying tackle, sweeping two plebes from the path of the falling howitzer.
Romeo catches the tipping end and by raw strength arrests its fall. Lon recovers the loose end of the sling and slips it back in place. And Jimmy helps the plebes stabilize the spar, bringing the heavy iron cannon safely down to the deck.

LT UPSHUR
(coming up)
Well done, gentlemen, well done!

[next pt 14]