Cdr James C. Williamson, "so mean his own shadow wouldn't follow him"

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John Hartwell

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Commander of gunboat USS Flag (1864-5):

"The steamer Flag was commanded by Commander James C. Williamson, better known in the navy as "Old Pap." He was one of those old fogies of whom there were not a few, who at the breaking out of the rebellion had been a lieutenant for forty years or upwards, and who would have died or been laid on the shelf with the same rank had it not been for vacancies caused by the war. He had never attained any very great reputation as a naval officer, possibly from the fact that he was never very well liked by his shipmates, and it was said he was so mean that his own shadow would not follow him. I will not vouch for the truth of what I heard a man say once, that while the captain was going down the ladder his shadow went over the side of the ship and was drowned, so that he never had any afterward. There were some hard stories told about him, principally by the surgeon and paymaster, who messed with him and who were willing to be invited to dine with other officers three times a day. It was difficult to tell to what navy he belonged by his dress, from the fact that he always wore some old-fashioned uniform — sometimes the short-waisted pigeon-tailed coat that belonged to some deceased classmate when he was a midshipman, and with his pantaloons at half-mast. The other officers were all volunteers except the chief engineer, and if we occasionally did not observe the strict naval regulations it was thought no harm." from Frank Butts, Cruise along the Blockade (1881) (Note: I will soon be adding a transcription of this memoir to my Civil War Miscellany.)

I have been unable to find out much more about Cmdr Williamson other than that in 1861-2 he had commanded USS Penguin in the East Gulf Squadron. Beyond the above paragraph, Butts' memoir makes little further mention of his captain, providing no real information about him. One would hope there is something more to his story than the drowning of his shadow.
 

Mark F. Jenkins

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Interestingly, I find no mention of him in Du Pont's notes from the Naval Efficiency Board, which (while negative evidence) means that he had kept his nose clean in his early career. I was wondering if it was a pseudonym for a different officer, but then I found the notice of a Captain James C. Williamson dying in 1871 in one of the Navy registers.
 
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Mark F. Jenkins

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James C. Williamson, from all appearances, was a run-of-the-mill officer... he was number 202 on the Lieutenants list during the Naval Efficiency Board deliberations in 1855, and attracted no attention from the Board, positive or negative. No ships were named for him. He served on the sloop Albany, assigned to the Home Squadron, in the early 1850s as the second ranking lieutenant, and in the late 1850s on the steam frigate San Jacinto in the East Indies, also as second-ranking lieutenant. He seems to have been utterly ordinary and not left much of a wake behind him, save in Butts' recollections.
 

AndyHall

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From the Naval Register:

Williamson, James C.
Midshipman, 7 January, 1832. Passed Midshipman, 8 July, 1839. Lieutenant, 25 November, 1844. Commander, 16 July, 1862. Captain, 10 October, 1866. Died 24 July, 1871.

So by the outbreak of the war he'd been Lieutenant for 16 years, which was not an unusual thing in the peacetime Navy.
 
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