City Point, August 9th, 1864 " Five Minutes Ago An Ordnance Boat Exploded "

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JPK Huson 1863

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city point ex shambles.JPG

We're so used to viewing the shambles created by this war that these images might seem a little tame, if not uninteresting. BOY are they neither. City Point, Virginia, August 9th, 1864. An ordinance ship rained death.

August 9, 1864. Mrs. R.h. Spencer, Sanitary Commission agent ( which means nurse, first responder and general saint ) sat her horse overlooking the organized confusion that was City Point's wharf. Wounded, supplies, ammunition loaded, unloaded, wagons, steamers, schooners, tugs, barges, house boats and floating relief stations. Then it all went to heck. Elvina Spencer remembered human body parts splattering around her. Ammunition barge J.E. Kendrick vanished along with the crew.
city point ex nettie close.JPG

So many images depicting wharves at City Point, Belle and White House Landings, Aquia Creek and a few others look so much like an explosion has already created chaos, easy to miss what this one tells us.



city point ex aug 9 2.JPG


Lt. Col Theodore Lyman wrote that as shock reverberated, the single man running towards the scene, through the dust hanging in the air was Grant. " ( @Cavalry Charger , thought you'd like that. 88 year old mother's a huge Grant follower too, must remember to show her this )

city point ex aug 9.JPG

Later thought to have been an enemy ' torpedo ' ( bomb ) and an act of sabatoge, think that wasn't know until post war? Tom Elmore's excellent thread on the shambles created when munitions went poof sounds similar.

Grant to Halleck " Five minutes ago an ordnance boat exploded, carrying lumber, grape, canister, and all kinds of shot over this point. Every part of the yard used as my headquarters is filled with splinters and fragments of shell. I do not know yet what the casualties are beyond my own headquarters. Colonel Babcock is slightly wounded in hand and 1 mounted orderly is killed and 2 or 3 wounded and several horses killed. The damage at the wharf must be considerable both in life and property. As soon as the smoke clears away I will ascertain and telegraph you. "

city point ex close up.JPG

In the interests of ' photo examinations ', this is what I mean when I say it can be tough ascertaining which images depict an explosion's aftermath? Snipped this from an LoC " City Point " photo- and still can't tell. Just a day or post August 9th?

Chief Ordnance Officer Cpt. Morris Schaff
" From the top of the bluff there lay before me a staggering scene, a mass of overthrown buildings, their timbers tangled into almost impenetrable heaps. In the water were wrecked and sunken barges, while out among the shipping — where were many vessels of all sizes and kinds — there was hurrying back and forth on the decks to weigh anchor, for all seemed to think that something more would happen. I at once went down to the ruined building, a large frame structure six hundred feet long, under the charge of my Sergeant, Harris, an old regular and one of the gentlest and most faithful and honest men I ever knew. I could hear the cries of some of the men, and soon heard Corporal Bradley call out, "For God's sake, Captain, come and help me out." He was pinned down under some heavy timbers with one of his legs crushed. It was amputated, and I saw him after the war at West Troy, New York. Later, I found Sergeant Harris lying on his back dead, with the smiling expression of a sleeping child. I had his body sent back to Watervliet Arsenal, and there his gallant clay is lying. I have met men and soldiers of high rank and proud birth, but I do not believe I ever met Sergeant Harris's superior in the qualities that go to make a soldier and a man. "
-From an excellent book in Hathi I can't link because there's 3 lines of code, will try to discover the briefer version


city point ex jpg.JPG

Wider view of Nettie dockside, men in the rubble.

" Among the flower beds of the garden behind my office one of my clerks fell, with a large piece of his skull torn off by the fuse of a shell that had burst over him. It was the most singular wound I ever saw, in this, that the substance of the brain apparently was not touched, but stood in place, a firm, white convoluted mass. We carried him back into the office from which he had fled when the projectiles that were hurled in every direction began to enter it. "



city point ex aug 9 3.JPG
 
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TerryB

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View attachment 341053
We're so used to viewing the shambles created by this war that these images might seem a little tame, if not uninteresting. BOY are they neither. City Point, Virginia, August 9th, 1864. An ordinance ship rained death.

August 9, 1864. Mrs. R.h. Spencer, Sanitary Commission agent ( which means nurse, first responder and general saint ) sat her horse overlooking the organized confusion that was City Point's wharf. Wounded, supplies, ammunition loaded, unloaded, wagons, steamers, schooners, tugs, barges, house boats and floating relief stations. Then it all went to heck. Elvina Spencer remembered human body parts splattering around her. Ammunition barge J.E. Kendrick vanished along with the crew.
View attachment 341052
So many images depicting wharves at City Point, Belle and White House Landings, Aquia Creek and a few others look so much like an explosion has already created chaos, easy to miss what this one tells us.



View attachment 341047

Lt. Col Theodore Lyman wrote that as shock reverberated, the single man running towards the scene, through the dust hanging in the air was Grant. " ( @Cavalry Charger , thought you'd like that. 88 year old mother's a huge Grant follower too, must remember to show her this )

View attachment 341049
Later thought to have been an enemy ' torpedo ' ( bomb ) and an act of sabatoge, think that wasn't know until post war? Tom Elmore's excellent thread on the shambles created when munitions went poof sounds similar.

Grant to Halleck " Five minutes ago an ordnance boat exploded, carrying lumber, grape, canister, and all kinds of shot over this point. Every part of the yard used as my headquarters is filled with splinters and fragments of shell. I do not know yet what the casualties are beyond my own headquarters. Colonel Babcock is slightly wounded in hand and 1 mounted orderly is killed and 2 or 3 wounded and several horses killed. The damage at the wharf must be considerable both in life and property. As soon as the smoke clears away I will ascertain and telegraph you. "

View attachment 341050

In the interests of ' photo examinations ', this is what I mean when I say it can be tough ascertaining which images depict an explosion's aftermath? Snipped this from an LoC " City Point " photo- and still can't tell. Just a day or post August 9th?

Chief Ordnance Officer Cpt. Morris Schaff
" From the top of the bluff there lay before me a staggering scene, a mass of overthrown buildings, their timbers tangled into almost impenetrable heaps. In the water were wrecked and sunken barges, while out among the shipping — where were many vessels of all sizes and kinds — there was hurrying back and forth on the decks to weigh anchor, for all seemed to think that something more would happen. I at once went down to the ruined building, a large frame structure six hundred feet long, under the charge of my Sergeant, Harris, an old regular and one of the gentlest and most faithful and honest men I ever knew. I could hear the cries of some of the men, and soon heard Corporal Bradley call out, "For God's sake, Captain, come and help me out." He was pinned down under some heavy timbers with one of his legs crushed. It was amputated, and I saw him after the war at West Troy, New York. Later, I found Sergeant Harris lying on his back dead, with the smiling expression of a sleeping child. I had his body sent back to Watervliet Arsenal, and there his gallant clay is lying. I have met men and soldiers of high rank and proud birth, but I do not believe I ever met Sergeant Harris's superior in the qualities that go to make a soldier and a man. "
-From an excellent book in Hathi I can't link because there's 3 lines of code, will try to discover the briefer version


View attachment 341051
Wider view of Nettie dockside, men in the rubble.

" Among the flower beds of the garden behind my office one of my clerks fell, with a large piece of his skull torn off by the fuse of a shell that had burst over him. It was the most singular wound I ever saw, in this, that the substance of the brain apparently was not touched, but stood in place, a firm, white convoluted mass. We carried him back into the office from which he had fled when the projectiles that were hurled in every direction began to enter it. "



View attachment 341048
See my mention of the book where I found Schaff's account.
 

James N.

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While sabotage was suspected, it may have been something as simple as careless handling of ordnance. Among the barges sunk or destroyed were several carrying military equipment salvaged from the Overland Campaign.
This was a very big deal at the time and receives a good deal of attention in both Bruce Catton's Grant Takes Command and Horace Porter's memoir Campaigning With Grant. According to one of them - Porter, I believe - it was revealed postwar how two Confederate agents slipped through Union lines around Richmond-Petersburg. One got cold feet and refused to go through with the scheme, but the other boldly walked down to the wharves carrying a box that contained the time bomb and joined other workmen loading a vessel, placing it in the hold with ammunition and/or other combustibles, before calmly returning to land and disappearing among the other laborers. The resulting explosion was indeed devastating and it took a long time before Grant's Headquarters staff lost their jitters. Another big fuss was caused in early 1865 when it was feared that the CSS Virginia II was coming down at the head of a small squadron, but that turned out to be greatly exaggerated.
 

Cavalry Charger

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Lt. Col Theodore Lyman wrote that as shock reverberated, the single man running towards the scene, through the dust hanging in the air was Grant. " ( @Cavalry Charger , thought you'd like that. 88 year old mother's a huge Grant follower too, must remember to show her this )
Thanks, JPK. I see from what is written here that Grant was there when this explosion/act of sabotage occurred so there's a good chance it was him. And how fortunate he was once again in the circumstances when it appears many others were not so lucky.
Grant to Halleck " Five minutes ago an ordnance boat exploded, carrying lumber, grape, canister, and all kinds of shot over this point. Every part of the yard used as my headquarters is filled with splinters and fragments of shell. I do not know yet what the casualties are beyond my own headquarters. Colonel Babcock is slightly wounded in hand and 1 mounted orderly is killed and 2 or 3 wounded and several horses killed. The damage at the wharf must be considerable both in life and property. As soon as the smoke clears away I will ascertain and telegraph you. "
When I was living in Belfast I remember there being an explosion which occurred several miles from where I was living at the time. I won't go into details, but it was a massive bomb and though it detonated several miles away I thought a car bomb had detonated outside our front door as a visitor left. It is hard to describe the impact of huge explosions such as these and how the effect can be felt miles away.
 
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JPK Huson 1863

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See my mention of the book where I found Schaff's account.

Thanks very much! Elvina's account got to me first. She'd been sitting on her horse overlooking the wharf when it went off, perfectly horrifying description. These accounts by men like Schaff are brand new ( to me ).

it was revealed postwar how two Confederate agents slipped through Union lines around Richmond-Petersburg.
So it was sabotage? I just couldn't tell, thank you! You know that ' thing' where made-up stuff becomes written in historical stone? Era newspapers and accounts all assume it was one of those dreadful accidents, someone dropped something, couldn't find anything definitive either way. Were there other instances like this, please? Just curious. I mean gee whiz, talk about successful, seems to follow both sides would have continued trying?

I see from what is written here that Grant was there when this explosion/act of sabotage occurred so there's a good chance it was him. And how fortunate he was once again in the circumstances when it appears many others were not so lucky.

Grant always makes me smile, reading these accounts. The guy just had no nerve endings, you know? I don't know how he made it past childhood. I don't know much of his childhood but I know THAT type of boy. Hannah must have turned gray very young.
 
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jackt62

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The City Point explosion was attributed to sabotage but those type of incidents involving munition explosions due to human error were not uncommon. The most tragic event was the accidental collision of a munition carrying ship in Halifax Harbor during WWI in which about 2,000 people lost their lives.
 
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The City Point explosion was attributed to sabotage but those type of incidents involving munition explosions due to human error were not uncommon. The most tragic event was the accidental collision of a munition carrying ship in Halifax Harbor during WWI in which about 2,000 people lost their lives.
As i recall, the Halifax explosion was the largest until the atomic bomb hit Hiroshima.
 
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As i recall, the Halifax explosion was the largest until the atomic bomb hit Hiroshima.
For those that are interested in the Halifax explosion, see the link:


A half ton chunk of the anchor was blown 2.5 miles away. 2,000 people died. I read a story about buckets of eyeballs in the hospital...eyes blown out by the explosion. Eastern seabord cities like Boston replied with relief missions. To this day, the city of Boston receives a massive Christmas tree from the city of Halifax, a symbol of enduring thanks, that their help will never be forgotten.



Though I digress from the ACW, the point is that these explosions are devastating.
 
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JPK Huson 1863

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hough I digress from the ACW, the point is that these explosions are devastating.

No worries on digressing. We forget these disasters awfully swiftly, always helpful to remind us. I hadn't heard of the Christmas tree, what a wonderful, enduring thank you!


A similar event happened at Vicksburg on August 18, 1863, when a crate of artillery shells being loaded into the steamboat City of Madison was accidentally dropped into the hold, which was already packed with ammunition. The resulting explosion destroyed the steamboat and killed approximately 150 men.
If there's not a thread about the City of Madison disaster, hopefully there will be. Like steamers weren't dangerous enough. Can't count the number of boiler explosion tragedies you see in old newspapers, apart from Sultana. The one Twain wrote of resulting in his brother's death is horrendous.
 
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