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Returning the Western World to Blockade Duty to Squeeze the Confederacy
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GIDEON WELLES. Manuscript Document Signed, to Samuel B. Gregory, February 16, 1863; Endorsement signed by Acting Rear Admiral SAMUEL P. LEE. 1 p.

Inventory #22844       Price: $1,000

The USS Western World served in the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron from 1861-1862. In November 1862, it went to New York for an extensive overhaul.[1] Once complete, by this order Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles transferred the ship to the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron for service in the Chesapeake Bay. The ship was successful in intercepting blockade-runners, and Confederate President Jefferson Davis offered a reward for Gregory’s capture.

Complete Transcript

                                                                        Navy Department, / February 16, 1863.

Sir: / As soon as the U.S. steamer Western World is ready for sea, proceed with her to Hampton Roads Va and report to Acting Rear Admiral Lee for duty.

                                                                        I am respecty / Yr. obt. servant,

                                                                        Gideon Welles / Sec’y of the Navy.

Acting Master / Saml B. Gregory, U.S.N.

comd’g U.S. steamer Western World, / Boston.

[Endorsement:] Forwarded by Your Obdt Svt / JB Montgomery Commandant

[Endorsement:] Reported Mar 11, 1863 / S. P. Lee A.R. Adml, comdg N.A.B.Sq.

Gideon Welles (1802-1878) was a Connecticut native, journalist, Democratic state legislator, Hartford Postmaster, and Chief of the Bureau of Provisions and Clothing for the Navy early in his career. In the 1848 presidential election, Welles left the Democratic Party over the issue of the expansion of slavery. Welles founded an influential Republican organ, the Hartford Evening Press, in 1856. Abraham Lincoln appointed Welles as Secretary of the Navy, and Welles was highly effective in mobilizing the resources of the country for an extensive blockade and offensive operations against the Confederacy. Abraham Lincoln nicknamed Welles his “Neptune,” and Welles served as Secretary of the Navy from 1861 to 1869.

Samuel B. Gregory (1813-1884), a shoemaker, came from a family of sea captains. He and his brother enlisted in the navy in 1861, and were assigned to the USS E. B. Hale in New York harbor, but were dismissed based on rumors of disloyalty. Returning home, the brothers obtained a petition signed by nearly every voter in Marblehead, Massachusetts, testifying to their loyalty. Commissioned on October 3, 1861, Samuel was assigned to be the Acting Master Commanding of the USS Western World, aiding successful Union patrolling of the Savannah River to prevent and capture blockade runners. (Gregory also put down a potential mutiny late in October 1862. His executive officer, Acting Master Byron G. Pettengill (1823-1869), was court-martialed and sentenced to six months’ imprisonment at hard labor [2].) In March 1863, Secretary Welles ordered Gregory and the Western World to the Chesapeake Bay, where they intercepted blockade runners. Gregory took command of the brig USS Perry in the autumn of 1863, and commanded several other ships during the remainder of the war.[3]

Samuel P. Lee (1812-1897) was born in Virginia, the grandson of Declaration-signer Richard Henry Lee and third cousin of Robert E. Lee. Appointed a midshipman in the U.S. Navy in 1825, his extensive service included combat in the Mexican War. In 1843, he married a daughter of Francis Preston Blair, who in 1859 built a house for the couple next to his own house within a block of the Executive Mansion. Lee was at sea off the Cape of Good Hope when he learned of the beginning of the Civil War. He returned and was assigned to blockade duty off Charleston, South Carolina. He and his crew earned more than $100,000 in prize money. In 1862, Lee commanded one of three gunboats that successfully ran past the forts protecting New Orleans, and he also participated in the naval bombardment of Vicksburg. In September 1862, he was promoted to acting Rear Admiral and given command of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron. In 1864, he was transferred him to command the Mississippi Squadron, on the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers.

John B. Montgomery (1794-1872) was born in New Jersey and entered the U.S. Navy as a midshipman during the War of 1812. During his long career, he commanded several vessels, and then the Pacific Squadron from 1859 to 1862. He served as commandant of the Boston Navy Yard from June 1862 to December 1863, and of the Washington Navy Yard in 1865.

Additional Background, From the Naval History and Heritage Command

On 2 January 1862, Western World was ordered to Port Royal, S.C., to join the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron. On the 26th, she participated in a major reconnaissance sweep of the Savannah River, Ga., and its tributaries … carrying over 2,400 troops under the command of Brigadier General H. G. Wright. The Union flotilla repulsed an attack by five Confederate vessels on 28 January and the next day completed invaluable survey work. On 14 February 1862, Western World and E. B. Hale drove off four Confederate vessels which attempted to break the Union blockade of the Mud and Wright’s Rivers…returned to Port Royal on 2 June.

On the 6th, Western World called briefly at St. John’s River, Fla., to reprovision Union ships on blockade duty there. She immediately returned to Port Royal and was dispatched on the 10th to the blockade off Georgetown, S.C….

On 25 June 1862, Western World, Andrew, and E. B. Hale entered the North Santee River, S.C., intending to destroy an important railroad bridge inland. En route, parties from the warships set fire to several plantations and took over 400 slaves on board the steamers. During an expedition in Winyah Bay, S.C., Western World captured the British schooner Volante on 2 July. However, intense shore fire and the sharp, unnavigable bends of the river prompted Comdr. Prentiss to abandon the expedition the following day. On the 25th, Western World sailed for Port Royal carrying contraband. However, she soon left the squadron base for blockade duty off Doboy Sound, Ga…. until the end of October when she sailed north to the New York Navy Yard for extensive overhaul.

Western World departed New York on 16 February 1863 and arrived at Newport News on 11 March for duty with the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron…. Through the spring and summer, Western World participated actively in operations along the Virginia coast and in the Chesapeake Bay. On 19 April, she and Commodore Morris escorted transport units of the Army of the Potomac up the York as far as the Pamunkey River. Together with Samuel Rotan, she captured schooners Martha Ann and A. Carson off Horn Harbor, Va., on the 24th. With Crusader, she destroyed two abandoned schooners in Milford Haven, Va., on 1 May 1863. On the 27th, she captured two large sailboats, took two prisoners, and confiscated Confederate coin and currency in Stokes Creek, Va. On 13 June 1863, Western World proceeded north to search for Confederate commerce raider Tacony. However, she lost her rudderhead during a storm and returned to the Norfolk Navy Yard for repairs on 17 June 1863.… Beginning on 23 June 1863… she escorted and covered a troop landing at White House, Va. During the week-long operation, Western World brought up and landed nearly 300 cavalry. On 1 July 1863, she was deployed in the Pamunkey River, Va. Late in the month, Western World returned to Hampton Roads … On the voyage to North Carolina waters, she also carried 150 seamen to Beaufort for blockade duty in the sounds. On 10 September 1863, the worn-out vessel proceeded to the Washington Navy Yard for repairs.

[1] Welles may have misdirected the order to the Boston Naval Yard Commandant John B. Montgomery, who forwarded it to New York. Gregory had been in Charlestown, Massachusetts, in January 1863, to testify in the court-martial trial of his executive officer Byron G. Pettengill for his role in the October 1862 near-mutiny.

[2] From Gregory’s testimony at the trial of his executive officer Byron G. Pettengill:

“The trouble seems to have started when a Union sailor Michael Whaley threw a half of an orange at a contraband named Jacob. When Jacob confronted him and told him that he would inform the captain, Whaley struck Jacob “a severe blow just below his eye,” which caused him to bleed…

Later, after confronting his crew, asking if they intended to mutiny, and gaining their obedience to his orders, Gregory listened to their complaints.

Among them were “that I loved a nigger better than a white man, and would believe a nigger quicker than I would a white man. I then told them that my record was clear with regard to my past life, that I belonged to the Democratic Party… that I believed the Anglo Saxon race was far superior to the colored race, that a white man had his rights, and a black man also, that I should defend the rights of both, and if a black man struck a white man, I should punish him, or if a white man struck a black man, according to the rules of the Navy, that I did not believe a black man in preference to a white man. I would believe either when I had proof of their statement…. I put Whaley in irons, not for striking Jacob, but for his impudence to me in saying that he would disobey orders. I said, I punished Whaley for that. I shall punish Jacob and I kept the two men in irons until they agreed to do their duty afterwards. This explanation appeared to satisfy them.”

Later in his testimony, Gregory said that Commander Stedman advised Gregory to revise the charges against Pettengill and “insert in it the language of Mr Pettingell that it was ‘nigger stealing’ when I took contrabands, which I had done under the order of Flag Officer Dupont.”

[3] Samuel Roads, The History and Traditions of Marblehead (Boston: Houghton, Osgood and Company, 1880), 304-11; Mark Roman Schultz, “Acting Master Samuel B. Gregory: The Trials of An Unexpected Captain on the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron,” The American Neptune: A Quarterly Journal of Maritime History 50 (Spring 1990): 89-93; Navy Courts Martial Records, 1799-1867, Volume 93, Case 3173 (Pettengill).

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