U.S. Navy/U.S. Marine Corps
Green Mountain Mariners in the Civil War
By Thomas J. Ledoux, Lieutenant, U.S. Navy (Retired)
"The story of the naval operations of the civil war is a record of wonderful energy and inventive skill in improvising and building war-vessels, vigilance and courage in handling them, and desperate bravery and dash displayed by officers and seamen in the great engagements in which vessels of either side took part."1
At the start of the conflict, several Green Mountain Boys were already veterans of the high seas; others were just getting their sea legs, and would later attain rank as senior commanders, captains and admirals because of their Civil War experiences. Many volunteer officers, including surgeons, paymasters and engineers, as well as hundreds of common landsmen, seamen and petty officers in the ranks were Green Mountain Blue-Jackets as well.
But George Benedict, in his otherwise admirable Vermont in the Civil War, shortchanges the State's contributions to the Navy; out of 1,458 pages, he allocates a measly 6 to the Navy and Marine Corps. More than 960 Vermonters went to sea, but he barely mentions 90, let alone adequately describes their experiences, and only acknowledges 619 in total, 38% below the currently known number.2
Just four years later, the Vermont Adjutant General's Revised Roster of Vermont Volunteers at least mentions all the names, and gives somewhat more detail on some of the officers, but overall did not improve much on Benedict's treatment.3
More recently, if Howard Coffin had done his "Full Duty" on Vermont's participation in the war, he would have mentioned more than just one Vermont sailor. Even at that he erroneously lists George Dewey as a graduate of Norwich University. For the record, Dewey, who had a self-admitted "gift for stirring up the other boys," got himself in trouble, found himself involved in a county court case, "The State vs. . . . George Dewey," and was pulled from the school by his father. West Point having no opening, Dewey was sent to the Naval Academy, from whence he graduated on June 18, 1858.4
While this treatment can not do justice to all Vermont blue-jackets, it will, at least, provide a foundation for a larger work; Vermont's contribution to the naval history of this country stretches well before and after the Civil War and deserves a substantive study.
As the war began, Vermonters were serving throughout the Navy. Commander Simon Bissell was in command of the sloop Cyane in the Pacific Squadron; in the same squadron were Lieutenant William Temple, and First Assistant Engineer Edward Robie, both on the steam frigate Lancaster. Commander Francis Lowry, retired in 1855, offered his services to the government at the beginning of the war, and was assigned to the Portland (Maine) Rendezvous, a recruiting station. Lieutenant George Blodgett was a gunnery instructor at the Portsmouth Naval Yard, New Hampshire. Lieutenant Edward Lull was an instructor at the Naval Academy. George Dewey had completed his first post-academy tour on the steam frigate Wabash in the Mediterranean Squadron, and was, in April 1861, a Lieutenant, "a full-fledged and commissioned naval officer." Midshipmen Henry Johnson and Edwin Woodward were in their second year at the Naval Academy and Charles Clark was just finishing his first year. George Converse, a cadet at Norwich University, would be appointed to the Naval Academy in November 1861. The exploits of these and others are detailed in the following articles.5Articles
Mortimer L. Johnson, Rear Admiral
1. Willis J. Abbot, "The Naval History of the United States," (Peter Fenelon Collier, New York, 1896), ii:563.
2. G. G. Benedict, "Vermont in the Civil War," (Free Press Association, Burlington, Vt., 1888), ii:793-798.
4. Howard Coffin, "Full Duty, Vermonters in the Civil War," (Countryman Press, Woodstock, Vt.), 1995, 203; George Dewey, "Autobiography of George Dewey, Admiral of the Navy," (Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1913; Naval Institute Press edition), 18-9, 29.
5. Peck, 690-5; Benedict, ii:794; Dewey, 41; Charles E. Clark, "My Fifty Years in the Navy," (Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, 1917), 15-18.