This month, Fold3 is pleased to highlight two new collections of naval records we’ve added to our archives. The first collection is Letters Received by the Secretary of Navy (“Captains’ Letters”) dated 1805-1885. The second collection is Letters Received by the Secretary of the Navy from Commanding Officers of Squadrons between 1841-1886. These letters are in original manuscript form.
The Captains’ Letters collection is organized by year and contains correspondence from captains at sea to the Secretary of the Navy related to a variety of issues, including shipboard discipline, repairs of vessels, and conflicts with foreign governments. For example, this letter is from Captain Stephen Decatur. He was the youngest man to reach the rank of captain in the US Navy. In January 1812 he wrote to Secretary of the Navy Paul Hamilton requesting a court-martial for seaman Daniel Dailey. Dailey had strangled his fellow seaman, William Brown.
Another example is this letter from Captain Sam Evans. He informed Secretary of Navy Benjamin W. Crowninshield about a duel that had taken place in 1817 between Lt. Richard S. Heath of the USS Saranac and midshipman John D. Hopkins of the USS Enterprise, that resulted in the death of Heath.
In addition to captains’ letters, there are letters from the commandants of navy yards and shore facilities like this letter from Thomas Tingey of the Washington Navy Yard. It’s dated July 1805, and was sent to Congressman Charles W. Goldsborough to inform him that the heavy canvas needed to make sails for the brigs USS Hornet and USS Wasp was available.
Our second new collection contains correspondence from commanding officers of squadrons. This collection is organized by squadron location; date; and finally alphabetized by the author of the letter. In this letter from the James River Flotilla during the Civil War, Commander Maxwell Woodhull wrote to Commodore Charles Wilkes commending a gunner’s mate named John Merrett. Merrett was sick during an engagement at Harrison’s Landing, but managed to get out of bed and report to his station. There he bravely engaged and repelled the enemy, then collapsed from exhaustion and had to be carried to his hammock, where he almost died.
In 1864, the steamship USS Connecticut was part of the North Atlantic Blockade Squadron. In this letter to Rear Admiral Samuel P. Lee from May 1864, Captain John J. Almy described a dramatic four-hour chase to capture the English Steamer Minnie. To avoid capture, the Minnie dumped 40 bales of cotton, but she was still taken. She contained 540 bales of cotton, 25 tons of tobacco, 12 barrels of turpentine and $10,000 in gold, and was one of the most valuable prizes taken during the war. On board, they discovered Lt. Lincoln C. Leftwich of the Confederate Army. He was taken prisoner.
Come search these historic naval correspondence collections and other naval records, on Fold3!