New Mexico Guard / Bataan Memorial Museum

bataan memorial museum in santa fe

Bataan Museum, Santa Fe New Mexico

There is a small gem of a museum in Santa Fe New Mexico, operated by the New Mexico Guard which is a must stop for anyone interested in the military as well as the history of the New Mexico National Guard/ Militia. The Bataan Memorial Museum is one of the more interesting New Mexico museums…a one of a kind venue and a real trip into history, displays an enormous amount of genuine military artifacts from centuries  past to today’s modern times. In addition to the amazing displays of uniforms, weapons, personal items, flags, patches, photos and more, the Bataan Museum also tells the story of the New Mexico National Guard/Militia from 1598 until today.

While this museum is named the Bataan Museum, the venue essentially honors the sacrifices made by the New Mexican’s in all U.S. wars. According to the museum, their goal is “to preserve the past, present and future of the New Mexico National Guard and to educate visitors about our proud history both in peace and war time”. The museum began as a tribute to the Veterans of the infamous Bataan Death March and has grown to showcase the contributions and sacrifices of soldiers in many theaters of war.

bataan memorial museum

Bataan Memorial Museum

Displays include Civil War weapons and uniforms, Japanese and German military artifacts, flags and weapons, United States military weaponry and uniforms which not only span the earlier times of the 1800’s and the first half of the 1900’s but also through the Vietnam and Desert storm eras. Also included is a 1859 McCellan saddle, a WWI Harley Davidson motorcycle, a WWI freight wagon, a Korean War commemorative Thompson submachine gun, two AK-47 assault rifles, and much more.

You can also view the 24 minute video titled, The Tragedy of Bataan, which was developed in conjunction with PBS.

Bataan Memorial Museum Exhibits

m61a1 cannon

M61A1 Cannon

One fascinating exhibit inside the Bataan Museum is a M61A1 six barreled rotary cannon firing a variety of electrically primed 20mm cannon shells. This cannon was used by aircraft during the late 1950’s into the 1960’s. Weapons such as this were designed after the Second World War with the creation of the Air Force. It was widely recognized that military aircraft needed improved weapons systems. The M61A1 weapon largely replaced the Colt Mk. 12 20 mm gun. The Colt had good muzzle velocity but was known to jam, especially in a dogfight.

The M61A1 could be mounted either inside the aircraft or mounted outside on a pod. It has also been used on land based vehicles and trailers as essentially an anti-aircraft weapon. As you can see from the photos, the gun is quite a complex bit of engineering. The M61A1 can be driven hydraulically, electrically, or by ram air. The rate of firepower  is between 4,000 and 7,200 rounds per minute.

civil war sword

Civil War Bayonette Sword

Another very interesting exhibit at the Bataan Memorial Museum is a collection of Civil War artifacts. The collection is large and impressive and includes a Civil War Bayonette Sword, a three inch cannon ball which was found at Glorieta Pass, twelve miles northeast of Santa Fe. The Battle of Glorieta Pass was the decisive Civil War battle in New Mexico which stopped and turned back the Confederate advance in the territory. Also featured in the Civil War collection is a Union Army cap.

The Bataan Death March

The Bataan Memorial Museum tells much about the story of what was referred to as the “Bataan Death March“. The Bataan Death March was one of the most brutal events during World War Two in the Pacific. The Japanese military captured and force marched 12,000 Americans and 68,000 Philippines from the island of Corregidor to northern Luzon. The prisoners were denied food and water and many stragglers were killed along the way. It is estimated that the Japanese killed about 1,000 Americans and more than 10,000 Philippine soldiers during the Bataan Death march. Many of those who did survive the initial march died later while being transported to Japan on what were called “hell ships”. It was beyond a doubt, one of the largest atrocities of World War Two.

civil war cannon ball

Three inch Civil War cannon ball found at Glorieta Pass New Mexico

The New Mexico National Guard

The history of the New Mexico National Guard goes all the way back to 1598 as the Spanish militia. The citizen soldiers were involved in their particular vocation during the day and were ready to serve when called to duty. The New Mexico Guard units were involved during the Indian War campaigns of the old west as well as during the Civil War years. The two most significant battles of the Civil War was the battles of Valverde and Glorieta Pass. New Mexican units were also involved in the Spanish American War as part of Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders.

In addition to the above, New Mexican Guard units were involved in General John Pershing’s pcampaign in Mexico against the forces of Poncho Villa. Their duty extended to World War One, World War Two, and Vietnam. The 188th Tactical Fighter Squadron of the New Mexico Air National Guard spent one year in Vietnam. New Mexico Guard units were also involved in the Desert Shield and Desert Storm actions in 1990-1991.

Two additional articles you’ll find interesting are the World War Two Sinking of the Robert E. Lee in the Gulf of Mexico and on our Western Trips site, the World War Two Defenses at Galveston Texas.

world war two japanese hand grenade

Exhibit of World War Two Japanese hand grenade

Visiting the Bataan Memorial Museum

The Bataan Memorial Museum is dedicated to the bravery and sacrifice of the 200th and 515th Coast Artillery regiments who fought at both Bataan and Corregidor until ordered to surrender to the much larger force of the Japanese Army. It should be noted that New Mexico’s World War Two involvement extended past the Philippines. New Mexico’s 804th Tank destroyer battalion and the 120th engineers battalion fought in Europe.

The Bataan Memorial Museum, operated by the New Mexico National Guard, is located at 1050 Old Pecos Trail in Santa Fe New Mexico. Admission is free and the hours are 10A-4P, Tuesday through Saturday. The location is just a very short drive south of the Santa Fe plaza in the direction of Museum Hill.

The Bataan Memorial Museum is an extraordinary museum and would be a great addition to your things to do in Santa Fe trip planner. When you’re deciding which of the many New Mexico museums to visit, be sure to add this one to your itinerary.  Your stop there will be an interesting trip into history.

(Photos from author’s private collection)

 

Civil War Submarine

Confederate Efforts to Build an Effective Civil War Submarine

Drawing designs and constructing prototypes of 1860’s submarines was one thing, but keeping the crew alive was something quite different. The latter was more difficult.

Drawing of the Confederate submarine CSS Hunley

The impetus for the Confederate Navy to build an effective Civil War submarine was to aid in Union blockade running. Part of the Union plan to win the American Civil War was to choke off all southern ports. Union blockades were effective but not foolproof. The Confederate Navy did have a degree of success in running the blockades.

The Confederate side built their first submarine model in New Orleans in 1861. It was named the “Pioneer” made of heavy iron plates at a length of nineteen feet. A crude snorkel was used to supply oxygen to the crew. The ownership of this Civil War submarine wasn’t the Confederacy directly, but rather three southern Confederate supporters. Two were marine engineers named Baxter Watson and James R. McClintock. The third was a southern businessman by the name of Robert Barrow. Barrow was helped by his wealthy brother-in-law, Horace Lawson Hunley. Hunley, originally from Tennessee, had deep pockets.

Cartoon depicting Winfield Scott's blockade of the Confederacy

The submarine Pioneer was tested in the waters of Lake Pontchartrain. The vessel showed promise during the first test having sunk a barge with a torpedo. The second test didn’t fare quite as well in as much as the crew of four were killed. Not long after that, New Orleans was taken by the Union’s Admiral David Farragut in April 1862.

Another Attempt from Mobile Alabama

When Admiral Farragut took New Orleans, the builders of the Civil War submarine Pioneer fled east to Mobile Alabama with the plans. There, they teamed up with a British machinist and set out to build another southern submarine. The group did build another model but it soon sunk during tests without any loss of life.

The groups next creation would eventually become the submarine CSS Hunley. The basis of the CSS Hunley was an old twenty-five foot long boiler.

How the CSS Hunley Operated

The Civil War submarine CSS Hunley obviously operated quite crudely compared to the early German U-Boats of World War One. By the same token, it was engineered amazingly well for the year 1862 considering that covered wagons still crossed the Overland Trail.

Union sloop Housatonic

The power source that turned the vessels propeller consisted of the crew. A special rod bent to make handles was connected to the propeller which the crew turned by hand as shown on the CSS Hunley diagram in this article. This alone allowed the boat to move. The top of the boat’s hull had two hatches that were raised about eight inches above the top hull surface and which was fitted with glass and waterproofed by rubber edges. This was the one way the crew could observe where they were and what was on the water surface. The weapon was a torpedo that was hauled by the sub by a 200 foot long rope. When the vessel submerged the captain would light a candle and water would fill the tanks until the submarine submerged to about three inches under water. The depth was accomplished by the captain depressing a lever that worked the diving fins.

Two additional Trips Into History articles you’ll enjoy are the Confederate Navy and the Explosion of the Steamboat Pennsylvania.

Off to Charleston

The CSS Hunley appeared to be a design and operational  success and by late summer of 1862 the Civil War submarine was shipped off to Charleston South Carolina by rail. Her task in Charleston would be to help penetrate the Union sea blockade.

Unfortunately for the Confederacy, submarine troubles were not behind them. One time when the Hunley was in Charleston harbor a passing steamer’s wake flooded the open hatch of the Hunley and sent her down. A Lieutenant who was just about to close the hatch ended up escaping and was the only survivor. This demonstrated just how dangerous this type of duty was. After the sub was raised, another series of trials were undertaken and additional volunteer crews were lost including the Lieutenant who had previously escaped the first sinking. Even more tests were performed with volunteers and after some further close calls the CSS Hunley was amazingly declared ready for duty.

Diagram of the CSS Hunley

The CSS Hunley vs the Union Sea Blockade

History records show that the Union Navy was not totally unaware that the Confederacy was working on a secret new marine weapon. Nevertheless, the Union ship Housatonic surprisingly ended up being the victim of the  CSS Hunley. Ship lookouts had spotted a strange submerged object approaching their vessel but couldn’t quite figure out what it was. At first it was thought to possibly be a porpoise. Shots were fired at this submerged object as it came even closer but the ships heavier guns couldn’t shoot at that low of an angle. Rifles and shotguns were shot at the object to no avail.

Even though the Housatonic began drifting, the Hunley made contact with the hull of the Housatonic and an explosion occurred. Her crew began evacuating the sinking vessel and were picked up by another Union ship. Eventually, the Housatonic sank in about twenty-eight feet of water. Five crew members were lost and the Union investigation afterwards determined that some type of torpedo had destroyed her.

Where Was the CSS Hunley?

The Hunley disappeared. When the Confederates learned about the sinking of the Housatonic about a year later, they figured that the Hunley must have been dragged down to the bottom by her victim and her entire crew lost. Years later however some witnesses would say that the submarine was a hundred feet away from the Housatonic when the explosion occurred.

The location of the attack was well known and the wreck of the sloop Housatonic was eventually moved. At the time, divers did indeed notice the Confederate submarine during this removal but made no effort to salvage the vessel. Again, when the Housatonic had been hit, the existence of the Hunley wasn’t a known fact. The only thing that was determined was that the Houstatonic was hit with some type of torpedo or other explosive device.

Retrieving the CSS Hunley

Today's Ben Sawyer Bridge which connects Charleston to Sullivans Island

The location of the CSS Hunley was unknown for over a century after the explosion. The Hunley was eventually discovered by the National Underwater Marine Agency archeologists Ralph Wilbanks, Wes Hall and Harry Pecorelli on May 3rd 1995. One of the Hunley’s conning towers was discovered under a few feet of sediment off Sullivans Island in Charleston Bay. The silt which covered the Hunley’s hull actually served to protect it from the salt water that is known to erode most sunken ships. The vessel was pretty much intact and in good condition aside from the front viewport.

Viewing the CSS Hunley Today

The discovery of the Confederate submarine CSS Hunley is obviously one of the more historic finds of the twentieth century. The public is invited to see the Hunley themselves. The old CSS Hunley can be seen on weekends only at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center, located at 1250 Supply Street (on the old Charleston Navy Base), North Charleston, South Carolina.

Two excellent books on this subject are The Civil War: Strange and Fascinating Facts by author Burke Davis and A History of the Confederate Navy by author Raimondo Luraghi.

(Photos from the public domain)

Homebuilt Airplanes / Heathkits

This article is about one of the more popular and unique of vintage planes. In fact, the Heath Parasol was sold as an aircraft kit in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. Buyers of the airplane kit would construct it at home. The Heath Parasol homebuilt airplanes were considered economical to buy and build and relatively easy to fly and it was certified for flight by the U.S. government. It was the only airplane kit of it’s era that was federally flight certified. This was among the first of personal aircraft.

heath parasol homebuilt airplanes

The Heath Parasol Airplane

The Heath Homebuilt Airplanes

The light airplane and kit was designed by Edward Heath in 1926. Heath was a self educated engineer having gained many of his skills being the son of a machinist. Heath actually built his first airplane in 1909 at the age of twenty-one. It was a monoplane that was modeled after the French Bleriot. Having a real love for aviation and spending some time working at Glen Curtiss’s motorcycle business, Heath relocated and founded the E.B. Heath Aerial Vehicle Company in Chicago in 1913.  World War One slowed his plans for marketing a home built airplane kit, although his airplane spare parts business did well during that time.

Eventually he renamed the company the Heath Airplane Company. Teamed up with designer Claire Linstead in 1925, Heath was able to go forward with his idea of affordable homebuilt airplanes. The first plane produced by the company was in 1925 and called the “Tomboy“. The Tomboy did very well in National Air Race competition and the pair won enough money to go ahead and design and construct the Heath Parasol. In addition to the prize money, Heath’s success also publicized the idea of building one’s own airplane.

heath aircraft kits

Single seat Heath Parasol

The Heath Parasol aircraft was designed as a single seat high wing monoplane. The plane was powered by a 27 HP Henderson motorcycle engine. The Heath Parasol was designed as an affordable, light aircraft that could be within the means of the average American. The concept was a bit similar to Henry Ford’s Model T. The Heath Parasol was considered the airplane for the masses. Buyers would have many options. They could purchase the plane fully built or purchase the plane built but without the engine installed. A buyer could also just purchase the blueprints and build the plane from scratch. Something  that would be interesting to the mechanically inclined and to people who had access to the word working and metal working tools required . Prices for the fully built plane were $975 and $690 without the engine. Blueprints sold for $5. Heath also offered a kit for $199 that could be paid by eleven installments. An engine and propeller were an additional $285. Sales went very well. Heath sold about 1,000 kits and about 50 fully built aircraft. Today, there are a great many homebuilt airplanes offered on the market. The FAA certifies all aircraft kits after construction and before they are allowed to fly.

As a cost comparison, Henry Ford sold Model A’s in the same period for a range of about $400 to $1,400 depending on style and models. Interestingly enough, the homebuilt airplanes that Heath was offering fell inside the range of a Ford Model A at the time.

vintage heath airplanes

Heath Parasol Engine

Specifications

Specifications of the Heath Parasol included a wing span of 37 feet, 6 inches…a length of 17 feet, 3 inches…a gross weight of 700 lbs and a maximum speed of 80 MPH. The airplane had a cruising speed of 68 MPH and a landing speed of 32 MPH. The engine was a flat four cylinder delivering 37 HP.

Edward Heath’s aviation career was cut short as he was killed in 1931 piloting a new low-wing test model Parasol aircraft. Historically, he is well known as the leader in home built aircraft kits and was the first American to successfully market and sell the home built airplane kit. Another interesting fact is that after the end of World War Two, Heath’s company became well known as Heath Electronics. Many might still remember the Heath Kit amateur radios and other electronic gear sold by this company. Their first product was an oscilloscope that sold for $50 and sold very well. Heathkits were very popular and relatively economical. Heath Electronics was located in Benton Harbor Michigan.

Two additional articles and photos on our Western Trips site you’ll be interested in are the Beech Model 18 at the Western Antique Aeroplane and Automobile Museum and the Grumman S2 A-Tracker at the Pacific Coast Air Museum.

wood aircraft propeller

The Heath Parasol wood propeller

See the Heath Parasol Airplane

There are a few good places today  to see a Heath Parasol aircraft on display. One is the Museum of Flight located at 9404 East Marginal Way S Seattle, WA. This is one of the largest aircraft museums in the world and is a great stop if your vacation or trip plans take you to Seattle. Their collection includes more than 150 historically significant vintage planes and spacecraft.The Museum of Flight is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution. The Heath Parasol aircraft on display there was constructed in 2008 from the original Heath blueprints.

Another good place to see this aircraft and dozens of vintage planes, and the one from which these photos were taken, is the Western Antique Aircraft and Automobile Museum in Hood River Oregon. This museum located about 63 miles east of Portland and along the scenic Columbia Gorge Highway is an amazing place. The museum features one of the largest collections of still-flying antique aeroplanes and still-driving antique automobiles in the country.

Yet another good museum to see the Heath Parasol is the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum. This museum, located at 11 Museum Drive in Reading Pennsylvania, exhibits one of the fully built 1932 Heath Parasol models.

(Photos from author’s private collection)

The Stolen Boat

An Incredible Journey

While researching the subject of steamboats and the people who piloted them, I came across a very strange, amusing and unique story. The story of the Stolen Boat actually has it’s tragic elements while at the same time is somewhat comical.

new york harbor

New York Harbor painting by George McCord

It’s the story of a steamboat company whose owners and captain eluded eastern creditors and a sheriff and then managed to relocate the stolen boat to California where it had an illustrious life on the busy Sacramento River. Obviously, a steamboat is not the easiest thing to make off with and certainly not easy to hide.  How was this new vessel able to sneak out of New York harbor without being stopped by the sheriff who just happened to be one of the boat’s financial partners and creditors? 

What did the sheriff, who also just happened to be on the boat, think when the boilers were suddenly fired up? When asked…the skipper simply replied to the sheriff…”To wear the rust off the bearings and see that the engine worked well”. After riding around in the New York harbor for awhile, the crew then forced the outnumbered sheriff and his deputies off the vessel and headed out to the open sea. Thus the story of the stolen steamboat began.

This is one of those strange but true tales that just needs sharing. Here’s how the adventure began.

The Voyage of the “New World”

The steamboat “New World” was a 530 ton, 320 foot long sidewheeler. A fairly large vessel, the New World was actually built to steam from New York to San Francisco via Cape Horn. As I mentioned in other articles, several of the steamboats on the western rivers were originally from New York and since there was no Panama Canal in 1851, going around the tip of South America was how a boat sailed from New York to California. In the year 1850, at the beginning of the great California Gold Rush, there were some twenty-eight steamboats operating on the Sacramento River. In future years this would only increase.

cape horn

Cape Horn

A Close Call in Rio

The first leg of the trip of the stolen steamboat began after the hasty departure of the New World from New York was Rio de Janiero.

Like many of her sister steamers, the New World endured her share of Atlantic storms. Weather forecasting was non existent and the ocean storms were expected.The storms however were not her major problem on the first leg down to South America. While on the way, the crew and passengers picked up yellow fever. The story down to Rio de Janiero gets even better. While approaching Rio the New World was chased into the harbor by a British frigate since she had no legal paperwork. Apparently, the paperwork was with the boat’s creditors who allegedly were owed a lot of money by it’s owner, William A. Brown. The creditors and the harbor police would not find out until after the fact that the vessel was steaming to California.

The skipper of the New World was a man by the name of Ed Wakeman. Wakeman worked for William Brown. It was under Brown’s instructions that Ed Wakeman was to take the vessel to San Francisco. With a British vessel in pursuit and no papers to show the authorities at Rio de Janeiro, Wakeman came up with an idea to fall overboard. When he was retrieved from the sea soaking wet he explained to the authorities that the papers had been with him in the water and were lost. He convinced the American consul of this tale in Rio and was given the clearance to depart.

Also, see our Trips Into History articles on the Steamboat Natchez and The King of the Steam Boat Men on the Columbia River.

The Much Shortened Quarantine in Valparaiso

Ed Wakeman departed Rio de Janeiro but with eighteen less crewmen who died from the yellow fever. All went well however and the New World successfully rounded Cape Horn and steamed up to Valparaiso Chile. When he reached the coastal city the authorities there demanded that the vessel be quarantined for twenty days. This of course didn’t suit Wakeman. The story is that the captain argued continuously with the authorities and many believe he was pretty liberal in handing out cash to the right people. It’s not sure which did the trick, the arguing or the cash, but nevertheless, he departed from Valparaiso after only eight days.

valparaiso harbor

Valparaiso Bay, 1830

Captain Ed Wakeman also picked up some useful information while handing out money in Chile. He learned that New York authorities, on behalf of the vessel creditors, were waiting for him in Panama hoping to make an arrest. They also had extradition papers already signed. All they needed was Wakeman in person along with the vessel. A man who had already thrown himself overboard to escape trouble in Rio was not going to steam all the way up to Panama just to get himself arrested and transported back to New York. Ed Wakeman had another plan.

Making New Friends in Panama

Panama was a must stop for any vessel heading up the Pacific coast to San Francisco. Ed Wakeman knew it and so did the New York authorities. But skipper Wakeman had a plan. Instead of steaming right into Panama he went to an island offshore and anchored the vessel on the far side of the island. He then was crafty enough to make his way onshore in Panama. Panama City was filled with gold seekers trying desperately to find passage to San Francisco and ultimately to the California gold fields. These were men who had spent days if not weeks trekking through the malaria filled Panama jungle to make it from the eastern shore to the western side. Being stranded in Panama City waiting for passage was not pleasant.

isthmus of panama map

Isthmus of Panama

After coming ashore in Panama, Ed Wakeman looked for several hundred Americans desiring to get themselves to San Francisco. They weren’t hard to find. Captain Wakeman offered them passage on the New World for $300 per man if, and this was a big if, they would intimidate the two deputies from New York and about a ten man guard unit assigned them. After spending a long time in Panama waiting to find a vessel heading north, it didn’t take much convincing. The New York deputies and the guards were threatened by the mob to such an extent that they tore up the extradition papers and fled the country. It was then that Wakeman could bring the New World into Panama and pick up his unexpected paying passengers. The ship left for San Francisco without incident.

san francisco harbor in 1851

San Francisco Harbor, 1851

The Luck of Captain Ed Wakeman

Three things that worked well in Wakeman’s favor was that in 1850-51, there was no railroad to California where New York authorities could simply send people directly there to retrieve the boat and Wakeman. Secondly, there would be no transcontinental telegraph system for over another ten years. Thirdly, Wakeman was lucky that a California Gold Rush had just begun where large groups of men were willing to do just about anything to gain passage. The route through the jungles of Panama, despite the hardships of the jungle, was more popular than the Cape Horn route or the overland Oregon Trail route. It wasn’t so many years since the ill fated Donner Party tragedy in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

A New Life on the West Coast

After reaching San Francisco, the New World steamboat found work on the booming Sacramento River. This was the river heading into the gold country from San Francisco. The stolen boat New World ended up spending fourteen years going up and down the Sacramento under the operations of the California Steam Navigation Company. There is no information as to what action, if any, the New York creditors took to get the vessel back. It appears that the boat was sold prior to any action they could have taken in later years.

The New World was sold in the 1860’s to the Oregon Steam Navigation Company which had a monopoly at the time on the northwest rivers. As fate would have it, the New World returned to California after several years and was put in service as the Vallejo Ferry on San Francisco Bay.

In regards to Captain Ed Wakeman, the only information I could uncover was that he apparently lived out his years as a resident of San Francisco. I think we can assume that he didn’t have the urge to visit back east. It’s unknown what money, if any, the vessel’s questionable owner, William A. Brown, received after the boat was sold in California.

There is a great deal of information about the Sacramento River steamboats, including the New World, at the Maritime Museum-San Francisco located at Fisherman’s Wharf.

Another excellent museum regarding the old steamboats of the Columbia River is the Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria Oregon.

(Photos from the public domain)

 

Confederate Navy

 

confederate navy flag

Confederate States Navy Jack

The American Civil War battles were waged all over the south, in the far west in the present state of Arizona and in the north at Gettysburg. One of the somewhat under publicized actions undertaken by the Confederate Navy were hostile events in the Atlantic as far north as Nova Scotia. Not only did significant action occur in the North Atlantic but damage to Union shipping was widespread. The navy in the Civil War was very active in the North Atlantic.

The CSS Tallahassee

This story’s focus is on the Confederate Navy’s ironclad coal powered steamer CSS Tallahassee and the nineteen days of raids during 1864. The Confederates named the ship after the Florida state capital. Interestingly enough, the CSS Tallahassee was able to obtain coal at Halifax. Neutrality laws applied to Nova Scotia but part of those laws required that a Civil War ship could only remain there 24 hours.The Tallahassee was originally named the Atalanta and had bee built on the Thames River in England. She was a fast vessel and very stable. With her twin screws, the Talllahassee was said to be able to cross the English Channel in 77 minutes. After the ship successfully ran the Union blockade in Wilmington several times, the Confederacy purchase her in 1864.

css tallahassee

Drawing of the CSS Tallahassee

The CSS Tallahassee was successful in running the Union blockade at Wilmington North Carolina on August 6th and steamed northward. The Confederate steamer was described as about one thousand tons, painted a light lead color, no bowsprit, with two smoke-stacks and a red bottom. The Commander of the CSS Tallahassee was John Taylor Wood. Wood was a relative of Jefferson Davis and a grandson of President Zachary Taylor.

The CSS Tallahassee at War

After running the Union blockade on August 6th 1864, the CSS Tallahassee under the command John Taylor Wood went on a nineteen day spree of raids along the North Atlantic seaboard. The Tallahassee was responsible for the destruction of twenty-six ships. This Confederate Navy vessel had great success finding ways to steam through the blockades.

These raids on shipping were not lost on the Union Navy. In fact, the CSS Tallahassee had two Union gunboats on her tail as she sailed northward toward Halifax Nova Scotia. When the Tallahassee entered Halifax Harbor, Wood believed that the Union war ships anchored in the sea lane just outside the port. Commander Wood was well aware that he could be in a tight situation. While in port, the Confederate vessel loaded enough coal to make it to the nearest Confederate port and did repair work to her mast. The Tallahassee skipper met with luck. After spending some thirty-six hours at Halifax because of the mast repair, Commander Wood hired at local harbor pilot to guide him past the waiting federal vessels. This, the pilot did by using another more shallow channel generally used by fishing boats. The CSS Tallahassee reached the open sea and made her way back to Wilmington North Carolina.

confederate ship css shenandoah

CSS Shenandoah

As it turned out, there were no federal war ships waiting to intercept the Tallahassee. The first federal vessel that did arrive on the scene at the harbor entrance was the USS Pontoosuc which got there a few hours after the Tallahassee departed.

The Ship that Wouldn’t be Caught

Not only did the CSS Talahassee have a successful raiding run in the northeast in August of 1864 and then return safely to Wilmington from Halifax, but this well commanded Confederate Navy vessel continued to be very active in the Confederate war effort. The vessel took on a new name, the Olustee, and was put in command of Lt. W.H. Wood.

Again, the Olustee was successful in running the Union blockades. During the last part of October 1864 she ran a blockade and destroyed six ships off Cape Delaware. This time she did suffered damage while exchanging gunfire with federal war ships, nevertheless the Olustee did make it safely back to Wilmington.

Three additional Trips Into History articles and photos you’ll be interested in are the Jeremiah O’Brien Liberty Ship in San Francisco,…Piracy on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. and a Visit to the World War Two Submarine USS Pampanito.

A New Name and the Final Confederate Voyage

For a third time, the vessel received a new name by it’s Confederate owners. When the Olustee arrived back at Wilmington after the Cape Delaware action, the Confederacy changed her name to the Chameleon and removed her battery. Her new commander was Lt. J. Wilkinson. In late December 1846, the new Chameleon steamed toward Bermuda. Her mission was to obtain badly needed supplies and return to Wilmington.

css ship alabama

CSS Alabama

The problem was that when the Chameleon tried to enter Wilmington or any other southern port she found it impossible. Commander Wilkinson decided to steam in the other direction and took the ship all the way across the Atlantic to Liverpool England.

The Chameleon arrived in Liverpool on April 9th 1864. The American Civil War was essentially over. The British seized the Chameleon and sold her to the merchant shipping fleet. Interestingly enough, the United States Government filed suit to have the vessel returned. After about one year, the Chameleon (aka Tallahassee and Olustee) was returned to the American consul in Liverpool and the U.S. government took ownership of the ship.

The CSS Tallahassee and History

There are several things that make the story of the CSS Tallahassee a significant American Civil War event. As mentioned at the beginning of this article, the danger to Union shipping in the Atlantic off New England by the Confederate Navy has not been an overly publicized element of Civil War history. This alone is significant. The fact that the then named CSS Tallahassee was able to raid for nineteen days and while being chased by federal war ships was able to find shelter in Halifax Harbor is another fascinating story. Add to this the fact she escaped from Halifax and safely steamed back to Wilmington is another unbelievable twist. In addition to all of the above, this same vessel under other names and other commands was able to continue running blockades and sink more Union vessels later the very same year.

The only real end to the story of the CSS Tallahassee was when she sailed to England in April of 1865 and effectively surrendered to the British government. In many ways, this vessel ended her wartime service to the Confederacy under her own terms, not by fire from a Union war ship.

Two good books on the subject of the Civil War navies are Blue and Gray Navies:The Civil War Afloat, by author Spencer Tucker and the book The Civil War at Sea, by author Craig Symonds.

(Photos are from the public domain)