Henry Walke: Faces the CSS Arkansas with a scimitar, a navy revolver and a wig

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Jan 26, 2018
I came across a April 1897 newspaper article on how the government refused to authorized navy Medal of Honor winners the right to wear the ribbon and knot. One of the naval MOH winners mentioned, John G. Morrison of the USS Carondelet, describes how Commander Henry Walke faced the CSS Arkansas with big East Indian scimeter in his right hand and a navy revolver in his left and a wig on his head.


New York Press
April, 11, 1897

Some Modest Medal-of Honor Men

Ribbon and Knot, Just Authorized for the Army Only—Bluejackets Forgotten

Medal-of-honor men who served In the navy in the civil war will not get the official ribbon and knot authorized by the last Administration to be worn with the medal of honor. In January Thomas Corcoran, who received his medal from Gideon Welles before the war was over, wrote to the War Department for the ribbon and knot which he understood was to be issued. Secretary Lamont returned the letter with the endorsement, "For the army only."

This bit of Information will amaze the bluejackets who won the medal of honor, and for whom It was originally designed. There seems to be a general agreement among the later recipients of the medal to disregard the fact that others before them got the medal. It is commonly accepted that the medal of honor for the army was first established as a reward for military service by a law approved July 12, 1862. But nearly a year before this the Navy Department had provided for the decoration of its brave men, and there are at least five or six of these men [Thomas E. Corcoran, Thomas Davis and John G. Morrison] in New York to-day who hold this first of all medals of honor.


A bill has been introduced In Congress to give the navy medal winners the right to wear the ribbon and knot, and also to confer upon officers and enlisted men of the navy the medal for specific deeds of bravery in the War of the Rebellion.


"I was showing my medal of honor to some of the old boys once," said John G. Morrison, "when a young fellow who stood near said: "What did you do to get It—hold the captain's horse" I looked at him for a minute or two and said: “Yes, I guess so— something of the sort.' You see, people haven't the slightest conception of what such a thing means. When we old fellows get together we go over our war days, but most of us are getting less and less talkative to folk generally."

Morrison lives at No. 256 Henry Street He holds a small position at the Barge Office. He has a family to inherit his honors, but he doesn't seem at all fond of relating his war achievements. His grandfather came from Ireland to America, but his father lived in the old country, and Morrison himself was born there. He was brought to this country when two or three years old. Having served In the navy before the war, the spring of 1861 found Morrison living In Lansingburg, near Troy.

"I enlisted In the Thirtieth New York Volunteers on April 25," said Morrison. "I served two years in that regiment, and got my discharge. About that time the navy wanted men, and as I had had some experience of the kind, I enlisted in the navy, expecting to go out upon the blue again. But I was sent to the yellow, as you might say, for It was to the Mississippi and the Western flotilla. In July, 1862, I was serving on the gunboat Carondelet, which was commanded by Henry Walke, the retired rear admiral who died last year In Brooklyn. I was captain of two guns on the Carondelet, one of them a broadside gun and the other a stern gun.


"On the 15th of July we were In the Yazoo River, and having a hot fight with the rebel ram Arkansas. She was built like the Merrimac, and we were no match for her. We were so close to her that the muzzles of her guns rubbed the paint off the muzzles of ours. We could look straight into her portholes as we fired. One of her shots passed through thirteen beams of our gunboat. After we had swung beyond the Arkansas the stern guns were the only ones we could fight with. One of these had been made useless by a rattled gunner, and had to be thrown overboard. , That left only the gun was working. It was pretty bloody around there. A man stood by my side, with his hand on the small of my back, peering through the port hole. A shot came in and took his head clean off. At one time the commander put his head in the room and said: 'They are calling to me to surrender.' 'Don't you do It!' I yelled. 'Blow her up first.' "Soon the rattle sounded for boarders. I was captain of the detail, and stood on the plank behind Commander Waike. He had pulled his coat off and had a big East Indian scimeter in his right hand and a navy revolver in his left. I wore a handkerchief around my head and a pair of pants. The commander had a wig on, and as I stood there behind him, what do you suppose I was thinking of? Well, his wig was on hind side fore. I noticed that and nothing else, and I can see it now. We walked the plank and boarded the ram, but couldn't get into her. Every means of entrance was closed down tight with her iron shutters. So we had to return. As the Carondelet slid by the Arkansas I ran below and fired every gun that was loaded, the stern gun last Years after I heard from the gunner on the Arkansas, who wanted to meet 'that naked gunner with the red mustache on the Carondelet that he saw firing the last shot' "During the fight a shot from the ram had gone through one of our boilers and the escaping steam scalded many of our men. In one of the other boats on the Western service a negro gunner was sitting on a board over a bucket of water when a shell came through the open port, met an obstruction and stopped near him. He saw that it hadn't exploded, and picked It up and shoved it in the pail and sat down upon it. What do you suppose I have heard men say when they were told of that? Why, that the 'dam*ed ni**er didn't know any better.'

"Well, I came through that fight, and. In fact, the whole war, without a scratch. I was recommended by the old man (as Morrison lovingly called his old commander) for a medal of honor, and I got It in 1865. In the meantime my term expired, and I enlisted In the Twenty-first New York Cavalry and served to the end of the war. The old man told me one day that the ram of the Arkansas was in the Brooklyn Navy Yard marked 'Mississippi'
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