Can anyone say why this was made?

Joined
May 8, 2015
Location
Pittsburgh, PA
Civil War soldiers of both armies carried at least half a million to perhaps as many as a million pocket watches to war with them, but in almost all cases, these were articles of personal property that were either previously owned or bought and paid for by the soldiers themselves during the war. In rare instances, however, watches were procured by government offices for certain servicemen, who were typically enlisted men, who performed some function requiring the use of a watch that was considered sufficiently important that the provision of a watch for the purpose was considered warranted. For instance, the American Watch Company factory records preserved in the Baker Library of Harvard University indicate that Wm. Bond & Son of Boston, a major Civil War era retailer of clocks, watches and marine chronometers, sold a number of watches to the US Navy. These were garden variety production watches of very ordinary qaulity and accuracy with no special features, like a hack feature for stopping and restarting the watch, or a sweep second hand for more easily reading short time intervals, that would have especially suited them for any particular purpose other than telling the normal time of day. So why did the US Navy procure these watches?

Then there is the watch shown below. It is an ordinary enough English fusee lever with fifteen jewels in a Sterling silver swingout case. The markings on the interior of the case indicate that the case was made by William Hammon of Coventry and it was assayed at Chester, England in 1863. Neither the case nor the movement carries a maker's mark, which is not unusual for English export watches of the Civil War period, but the movement is engraved "Ord. Hydrography," with a serial number, 903, matching that on the case. The exterior of the case has a corresponding inscription, "C.S.N., O. & H.", which stands for Confederate States Navy, Bureau of Ordnance and Hydrography. That bureau (or perhaps department?) was responsible for Confederate arms and munitions procurements, as well as for depth charting of waterways, harbors and inlets.

One is tempted to suppose that this watch was used for some purpose related to depth mapping the southern coastline or navigable rivers connecting with it. So called "comparing watches" often were used to carry the time from a marine chronometer, which was kept in a safe and dry location below decks up to the top deck where a celestial observation would be made to determine the longitude. Comparing watches did not need to be supremely accurate, as the time elapsed between reading a ship's chronometer and a celestial observation above deck was typically only a matter of minutes. Normally, though, near-land navigation along the coasts was most often accomplished based on sighted land marks, and did not require longitude determinations. One could imagine, though, that blockade runners seeking to avoid the Union blockading squadrons may have sought to avail themselves of little known, narrow, tide-dependent and perhaps even ephemeral channels through shallower water, which needed to be accurately located on local charts to be safe enough to attempt to use. So I suppose it is conceivable that a ship's chronometer and a comparing watch would have been useful for coastal depth charting. But ultimately, I am far from convinced that this is the right answer. So I am seeking others' ideas.
 

Attachments

  • CSN O&H Watch.pdf
    388.9 KB · Views: 10
Joined
May 8, 2015
Location
Pittsburgh, PA
I have another idea. I'm thinking now that these watches were used on depth charting craft for recording the times of depth readings so they could be adjusted based on the tide cycles. A very ordinary watch, occasionally reset against a more accurate clock on land, would have sufficed for such a purpose.
 
Last edited:
Top