Union Jacks: Yankee Sailors in the Civil War

Union Jacks: Yankee Sailors in the Civil War

Union Jacks: Yankee Sailors in the Civil War

Union Jacks: Yankee Sailors in the Civil War

Excerpt

During the Vicksburg campaign, sailors from the Manitou of the Mississippi Squadron found themselves grounded on battery emplacements constructed by General William T. Sherman's soldiers. Off the boat for the first time in months, the sailors followed their normal routine. Working with instinctual determination, they re-created their ship on shore. They quickly constructed a wooden plank floor similar to the deck of a ship. Over this, they raised a tent and slung their hammocks. Every morning, to the continuing amazement of onlooking soldiers, they pulled a stone attached to ropes back and forth across their miniature wooden deck until it was declared shipshape. After cleaning, the sailors sat down in their mess groups and ate from nautical mess tables using knives. Amused soldiers who saw this odd re-creation knew they were witnessing a service and brand of men entirely different from their own.

Reactions like these replayed themselves throughout the war. As soon as sailors sailed into port or made landfall, curious civilians, watchful policemen, and mindful Northern soldiers dropped whatever they were doing and gawked. "We are a great curiosity to them," wrote landsman Joseph Fry from Pensacola, Florida, "and they make the most original remarks you ever heard." The Cincinnati Daily Commercial reported that residents of Cairo, Illinois, proved instantly intrigued by the sailors landing in their town. Even though they had witnessed thousands of soldiers pour through their rumpled village, the newspaper reported that the sailors' black-ribboned hats, short blue jackets, and voluminous breeches drew the rapt attention of Cairo's citizens. As one onlooker wrote as he gazed upon a group of sailors working and playing aboard a blockade vessel: "There are characters enough among them to furnish material for a volume."

Yet no volume exists. Even though sailors proved instrumental in the North's victory by manning the blockade and helping subdue the Mississippi River, the Civil War was and continues to be a soldiers' war. During hostilities, politicians, newspapers, and citizens ignored the contributions made by sailors. After the war, sailors enjoyed little of the hallowed glow enjoyed by soldiers. In 1894, a still angry Cornelius . . .

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