Lamson of the Gettysburg: The Civil War Letters of Lieutenant Roswell H. Lamson, U.S Navy
Trask, Benjamin H., The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography
Lamson of the Gettysburg: The Civil War Letters of Lieutenant Roswell H. Lamson, U.S. Navy. Edited by JAMES M. MCPHERSON and PATRICIA R. MCPHERSON. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997. xvii, 240 pp. $25.00.
IN recent years, historians have sung a refrain that maintains the number of Civil War monographs on military campaigns has far exceeded the works on naval activities. James M. McPherson and Patricia R. McPherson have made a contribution to correct that imbalance with their editing of the letters of Union naval officer Roswell Hawks Lamson (1838-1903). They have titled their effort Lamson of the Gettysburg, linking this officer not to the epic struggle in Pennsylvania but to the warship he commanded and named in honor of the watershed battle.
The editors have concentrated on Lamson's wartime career. Most of the more than 160 pieces of correspondence are notes from Lamson to his future wife. In addition, the written dialogue has been judiciously selected from the original collection at Princeton University not only to show Lamson's development as a leader but also to provide a peek into the familial and romantic dynamics among Lamson, two of his female cousins, and his father. One of the women, Catherine Buckingham, later became Lamson's wife, and their relationship blossomed while the war raged.
After leaving the United States Naval Academy, Lamson served first as a midshipman on the USS Wabash. Other choice assignments followed, such as responsibility for a small picket squadron on the James River and command of the USS Commodore Barney and USS Nansemond. He ended his wartime service as the commanding officer of the USS Gettysburg. Throughout the war, his initiative and courage under fire brought praise from senior officers.
Geographically, Lamson's steady correspondence centered on the waters of Virginia and the Carolinas. He complained about the thankless task of blockade duty off Cape Fear and the nuances of rules concerning prize money for captured blockade-runners or their discarded cargo that cut into his share of the money. He also discussed the attempts to take Port Royal and Wilmington. He boasted of his support of the army during the Suffolk campaign and of minesweeping on the James River. …