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Admirers Present Silver Centerpiece to Commodore John Rodgers for his Naval Victory over Confederate Ironclad Atlanta
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This beautiful, historical silver piece is cast as a large fluted column rising to a flaring openwork basket above a pair of curved arms supporting glass bowls, all raised on a circular base with anthemion and shell decoration and a larger circular section with gadrooned border, engraved crest and presentation inscription “Commodore John Rodgers / June 17th 1863.

[JOHN RODGERS]. Presentation Silver Centerpiece to Commodore John Rodgers, June 17, 1863; presented August 1864. Produced by William Gale & Son, New York, ca. 1863. 925 Sterling silver, 72.92 ozt., 19¾ x 15½ in.

Inventory #25747       Price: $5,500

Historical Background

On July 16, 1862, John Rodgers was promoted to Captain in the United States Navy. On November 5, 1862, Zeno Secor & Company of Jersey City, New Jersey, launched the ironclad monitor USS Weehawken as an improved and enlarged version of the revolutionary USS Monitor. The Weehawken was commissioned in mid-January 1863, with Captain Rodgers in command. On its maiden voyage to Charleston, the Weehawken encountered gale-force winds but pressed on, surviving the storm that sank its prototype, the USS Monitor, off North Carolina.

Two years earlier, a shipyard in Glasgow, Scotland completed construction of the two-masted, iron-hull Fingal in early 1861. It was equipped with two steam engines and was capable of a top speed of 13 knots. In September 1861, Confederate agent James D. Bulloch purchased the ship and sailed with it to Savannah, Georgia. The ship could not return to Europe with a load of cotton because of the Union blockade around Savannah, so Confederate Secretary of the Navy Stephen Mallory decided to convert the blockade runner Fingal into the ironclad Atlanta. Refitted, the Atlanta had a top speed of 7-10 knots with two-inch armor backed by layers of oak and pine, angled at 30 degrees. It carried eight guns that could fire armor-piercing “bolts” or explosive shells, and it had a 20-foot solid-iron ram with a spar torpedo.

On June 17, 1863, the CSS Atlanta, under the command of William A. Webb, passed from the Wilmington River near Savannah into Wassaw Sound in an attempt to attack the Union ironclads USS Weehawken and USS Nahant. The Atlanta ran aground on a sandbar, and the Union ironclads attacked the stranded Confederate ship. Under the command of Captain Rodgers, the Weehawken’s guns did substantial damage, wounding and disabling several of the Atlanta’s gun crews and wounding both pilots. Webb surrendered his ship within fifteen minutes of opening fire, even before the Nahant had a chance to engage.

The Union ironclads pulled the Confederate captive free, and the Atlanta reached Port Royal under its own power. The Union Navy repaired the ship and commissioned it again on February 2, 1864, as the USS Atlanta. As a Union vessel, the Atlanta saw service on the James River in operations against Richmond.

For his actions in command of the USS Weekhawken at Wassaw Sound, Rodgers became a national hero. On December 8, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln recommended to Congress that Rodgers receive a vote of thanks from Congress “for the eminent skill and gallantry exhibited by him in the engagement with the Rebel armed Iron Clad Steamer ‘Fingal,’ alias ‘Atlanta,’ whilst in command of the U.S. Iron Clad Steamer ‘Weehawken,’ which led to her capture on the 17 June, 1863, and also for the zeal, bravery and general good conduct shown by this Officer on many occasions.” Lincoln made the recommendation in view of a law passed July 16, 1862, which allowed any officer of the Navy or Marine Corps to be advanced one grade or rank, if upon recommendation of the President, he received the thanks of Congress. The House of Representatives passed a joint resolution to this effect on December 17, the Senate concurred on December 22, and President Lincoln approved it on December 23. The Senate confirmed Rodgers’ appointment as commodore on February 2, 1864.[1]

In March 1864, newspapers announced that “a testimonial, in the shape of a magnificent silver service, costing $3,500, is to be presented to Commodore John Rodgers, by a number of citizens of New York.”[2] In what is probably the same presentation, on August 1, 1864, eight men from New York, two from Massachusetts, and one each from Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, and New Jersey presented Commodore Rodgers with a “most beautiful and valuable service of silver plate” which may have included this piece. Rodgers responded by calling attention to the contributions of others:

            While the praise has fallen naturally, perhaps, upon the commander more amply than on others, I have ever found officers and men contributing to the cause we support as actively, as zealously, and as bravely as you or I could wish.

            Chief engineer John Faron who rose from a sick bed to join the Tecumseh in the attack upon the defences of Mobile, and who was lost when that vessel was sunk by a torpedo near Fort Morgan, aided nobly in making the voyage of the Weehawken a success. Without his aid, and his courage, it is probably I should not have received your congratulations.

            Against the Atlanta good tools did good work. The destructive energy of the fifteen inch shot overcame all resistance to them; with a few blows crushed out all hope. I merely used the instruments which cleverer men devised.[3]

John Rodgers (1812-1882) was born in Maryland, the son of the famous Commodore John Rodgers (1772-1838). The younger Rodgers joined the Navy as a midshipman in 1828 and served on ships in the Mediterranean Sea before service in Florida during the Seminole Wars. In 1854, Rodgers succeeded Cadwalader Ringgold as commander of the North Pacific Exploring and Surveying Expedition and completed it. In 1855, Rodgers was promoted to Commander and married Anne Elizabeth Hodge (1823-1897). In April 1861, he was sent to the Gosport Navy Yard in Portsmouth, Virginia, to remove vessels from the reach of the Confederacy. Virginia had seceded, however, and Rodgers was captured by the Virginia State Militia but returned to Washington. He then organized the Western Flotilla on the Mississippi and tributary rivers. He commanded the USS Flag in blockading operations off Savannah, Georgia, and then the experimental ironclad USS Galena, which he commanded in April 1862 on the James River in an expedition that came within eight miles of Richmond. On July 16, 1862, Rodgers was promoted to Captain and took command of the ironclad monitor USS Weehawken. He successfully navigated it from Brooklyn to Charleston through a storm that sank the USS Monitor. The Weehawken participated in the attack on Fort Sumter in May 1863, and captured the Confederate ram Atlanta on June 17, 1863. For his actions in the latter engagement, Rodgers received the thanks of Congress and promotion to Commodore. After recovering from an illness, Rodgers took command of the ironclad monitor USS Dictator, but design and construction problems with that vessel kept him out of active duty for the remainder of the war. He commanded the Boston Navy Yard until 1869, when he was promoted to Rear Admiral and given command of the Asiatic Squadron. In 1871, he commanded the United States expedition to Korea and served as the president of the United States Naval Institute from 1879 to 1881. He died the following year while serving as superintendent of the United States Naval Observatory.

Provenance

By descent in the John Rodgers family, Sion Hill Estate, Havre de Grace, Maryland.


[2] The Press (Philadelphia), March 23, 1864, 1:8.

[3] The World (New York), November 25, 1864, 8:2-3; The New York Herald, November 25, 1864, 5:6. Presenters included Swedish-American inventor John Ericsson (1803-1889), who designed the USS Monitor; shipbuilder Harrison Loring (1822-1907) of Massachusetts; former Illinois state senator George C. Bestor (1811-1872), who converted steamboats to gunboats on the Western rivers; Zeno Secor (1799-1875) of New Jersey, who built monitors and ironclads for the Union navy, including the USS Weehawken; Cornelius H. DeLamater (1821-1889), at whose ironworks the boilers and machinery for the USS Monitor and the USS Dictator were built; George W. Quintard (1822-1913), manager of the Morgan Iron Works in New York City that manufactured marine engines; and brothers John B. Cornell (1825-1887) and William W. Cornell (1823-1870), iron-founders and inventors in New York City.


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