We have added a new collection of naval records to our archives! The Navy Officers’ Letters 1802-1884 is a collection of letters to the Secretary of the Navy from officers assigned to naval ships, stations, and Navy bureaus.
The letters contain routine personnel matters such as duty assignments, leave or furloughs, desertions, resignations, court-martials, and other administrative issues. The collection is organized by year and then alphabetically by sender. The letters offer a glimpse into military history and provide valuable genealogical records for ancestors that served in the Navy.
During the War of 1812, the USS Chesapeake was captured by British forces in a battle with hundreds of casualties including the death of Captain James Lawrence. Surviving soldiers were taken prisoner and sent to Halifax, Nova Scotia. George Budd penned this letter while imprisoned in Halifax, “The unfortunate death of Captain James Lawrence and Lieutenant Augustus C. Ludlow has rendered it my duty to inform you of the capture of the late United States Frigate Chesapeake.” Budd detailed the battle in his correspondence.
In this letter dated just two weeks after the Civil War began, US Navy Gunner James D. Borton from Gallipolis, Ohio, writes, “The excited state of the country, and my desire to be actively employed prompt me to write to you respectfully requesting that I may be ordered to some vessel as soon as possible.”
In 1862 during the Civil War, the USS Westfield participated in a blockade and assault on the city of Galveston. In early January 1863, a Confederate attack caused her to run aground on a sandbar. Rather than be captured, her crew destroyed the ship. In this letter, the Westfield’s paymaster struggled to organize payroll for the sailors who’d served on the ship because so many records were destroyed. “All their accounts can be made up, but all other matters are in a confused state, and it will take some time for me to ascertain whether I can do anything with them.”
Also contained in this collection are letters that document historical accomplishments of the era. This letter dated January 23, 1847, to President James K. Polk, announced the inaugural launch of the steamer mail ship Washington. It reads, “I have the honor to inform your Excellency that the Washington, the first mail steamer, will be launched on Saturday, the 30th of January at 9:00 A.M. It would afford the undersigned as well the builder of this noble ship much satisfaction if your Excellency will honor the occasion of putting afloat the first sea steamer with your presence.” The Washington carried letters across the Atlantic to Europe.
Get started searching this new collection of naval records today!