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A Naval Physician Describes Tension
Between Lincoln and Admiral Goldsborough
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“the President [Lincoln] gives old [Admiral] Goldsborough fits, threatening to cashier him &c &c.  Good for the President. Had he known what I have, about him (G) he would have come to the same conclusion six months ago.”

A. S. HEATH. [CIVIL WAR]. Autograph Letter Signed, to his wife. 4 pp., 7½ x 9¾ in., “U.S. Steamer Daylight, Beaufort Harbor,” Beaufort, [North Carolina], May 23, 1862.

Inventory #22958       ON HOLD

Partial Transcript:

The little prize Steamer Constitution just came in for coal, from Wilmington; she was taken by the U.S.S. Victoria that only left here two or three days since. She is going to New York and so are our letters in her...

Mr. Orton - Tribune Reporter from Norfolk, tells us that the President [Lincoln] gives old [Admiral] Goldsborough fits, threatening to cashier him &c &c Good for the President. Had he known what I have, about him (G) he would have come to the same conclusion six months ago. This will prove to you that my judgement [sic] of him during the whole of that time, was sound. I now feel that justice will be done us and the Warior [sic]....

Two of Gen. Parke’s aids [sic] dined with us yesterday, and invited us to accompany them on horseback excursions any and every day. I think I will do it. The Army have made a general Hospital here and surgeons sent off word that I would be frequently invited to attend consultation. I am treated as though I was Flag or Fleet Surgeon, but can’t nor shall I try to prevent anything of the kind. This port will be opened on the first of June and then there will be no further need of us here....

Our men have been obliged to coal and uncoal all the steamers and schooners in the hot sun until nearly half of them are sick with diarrhea. In my sick report this morning there were 13 on the list besides half dozen complaining. But for this extra and unjustifiable work...little or no sickness would be met....

I am now called to attend another sick man. We have but half a crew and half of them are unfit for duty. The men’s time is out but it is most unjust for the government to cheat them of their rights.

Historical Background

Admiral Louis Goldsborough was in command of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron when, on February 8, 1862, he attacked and captured Roanoke Island on a joint expedition with General Ambrose Burnside. Goldsborough had 65 vessels under his command, but remained timid: he was unwilling to move on Hampton Roads, nor to send his vessels up the James River. Further, Goldsborough refused to subordinate his forces to George McClellan, Lincoln’s top general. Despite a fierce reputation, Goldsborough much preferred to maintain his 65-vessel fleet efficiently. Ultimately, Lincoln replaced Goldsborough with Admiral Samuel Phillips Lee, and Goldsborough spent the rest of the war doing what he did best—performing administrative duties.

Here, these tensions are revealed by naval physician A.S. Heath in a lengthy letter home during the occupation of Beaufort.

Dr. Allen S. Heath (1821-1910) was born in New Jersey and received a medical degree from New York University in 1844. He married Mary D. Dale in 1846. Heath practiced medicine until the outbreak of the Civil War, when he received a commission as a surgeon in the U.S. Navy. He later served as surgeon-in-chief on the staffs of Generals Rufus King and Michael Corcoran. He was seriously wounded in the campaign in Georgia, but resumed the practice of medicine after the war until 1897. He made extensive research into the pasteurization of milk and of hygenic dairy methods.


Craig Symonds, Lincoln and His Admirals (New York: Oxford UP, 2008) pp. 156, 174.

“Abraham Lincoln and Virginia,” The Lincoln Institute Presents: Abraham Lincoln’s Classroom.

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