Lighthouses In The Civil War

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Joshism

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My searching of the forums turned up nothing on this topic so I thought I would write up an overview of a subject that combines two of my favorite historical subjects.

Early Lighthouses
The earliest lighthouses in the United States were built in the colonial era. In 1789, the new Federal government placed all lighthouses under the Department of the Treasury. Early lighthouses were stone or wood. In the early 1800s, conical brick towers became the norm. Lighthouses were not especially effective, usually being visible for only a few miles away due to their height and lighting (oil lamps, usually with reflectors). The two people most associated with US lighthouses during the first half of the 19th century are Stephen Stephen Pleasanton, Fifth Auditor of the Treasury, and Winslow Lewis, lighthouse builder/designer. Stephen Pleasanton was in charge of the US Lighthouse Establishment (USLHE) from 1820 until 1852 and Winslow Lewis was paid to build many lighthouses during this time period - mostly of the same design and cheaply built (both in terms of cost and quality).

Lighthouse Board
In 1851, a group of military officers produced a lengthy report (800+ pages) criticizing the generally poor condition of lighthouses, lighthouse keepers, and the USLHE. Congress responded by creating the Lighthouse Board in 1852. The Board was a combination of the Navy officers, Army engineers, the Secretary of the Treasury, and a few other civilians (usually at least one scientist or professor). The membership of the Board changed from year to year, but it brought much needed improvements and oversight. The Atlantic, Gulf, and Pacific Coasts (plus the Great Lakes and Mississippi River valley) were divided into Lighthouse Districts. Each district had an Inspector (a US Navy officer, usually a LtCmdr or Cmdr) and an Engineer (a Army officer, usually holding a rank between Lt. and Major). Engineers designed new lighthouses and oversaw construction and repairs; Inspectors checked stations quarterly to ensure Keepers were doing their jobs. Keepers were still appointed by the local Superintendent of Lights, a secondary title held by some Collectors of Customs.

Numerous Civil War were involved with lighthouses during the 1850s, either as Board Members, Engineers, Inspectors, or assigned special duty to a specific lighthouse project. These include: P. G. T. Beauregard, William B. Franklin, Henry Halleck, Andrew A. Humphreys, George Meade,William Rosecrans, Raphael Semmes, W. F. "Baldy" Smith, and Daniel P. Woodbury.

The Lighthouse Board started construction many new lighthouses: lighting important areas of the coast that were previously dark and replacing old towers with new, bigger, better ones. They also rapidly introduced the cutting-age Fresnel lens from France. A Fresnel lens is made of prisms that concentrate light rather than simply reflecting it and were a massive improvement all forms of earlier lighthouse optics. Eventually every US lighthouse had a Fresnel lens, but this changeover was not complete by the start of the Civil War.

The Coast Goes Dark
Along with the more obvious Federal property seized by the Confederate government like forts, they also assumed control of lighthouses. The seceding states included the following Lighthouse Districts: part of the 5th (VA & NC) and all of the 6th (SC & GA), 7th (FL), 8th (AL, MS, eastern LA), and 9th (western LA & TX). The Confederate government established their own Lighthouse Board.

Soon after Fort Sumter, the Confederate Lighthouse Board ordered all Southern lighthouses darkened. The reasoning was twofold: the lights were more helpful to the Union navy than the Confederates, and the Fresnel lenses were valuable items to be removed and secured for the duration of the war. Since most lighthouse keepers were local residents, most of them complied voluntarily with this order. Even if a keeper was reluctant to follow Confederate orders, the local populace and government officials could ensure compliance or take matters into their own hands. Fresnel lens were removed (usually by local laborers untrained in proper handling of the special glass, crated, and transported to some nearby location believed safe. The former keepers often remained in some semi-official caretaker capacity during at least the first part of the war.

Not every lighthouse went out voluntarily or in some cases at all. I briefly talked about the somewhat remote Jupiter Inlet and Cape Florida lights in another post on these forums which were not darkened by the keepers, but were subsequently put out by local Confederate sympathizers. The Florida Keys remained under Union control throughout the war and as a result all the lighthouses there never went out: Carysfort Reef, Sombrero Key, Sand Key, Key West, Northwest Passage, and the two Dry Tortugas lights (Loggerhead Key and Garden Key - the latter within the walls of Fort Jefferson).

Other than neglect and the removal of their equipment, some Southern lighthouses survived the war relatively unscathed. The little lighthouse at the south end of Cockspur Island, GA took no hits during the bombardment of nearby Fort Pulaski and remains standing today. The Pensacola Lighthouse may have taken at least one cannonball hit during the Union-Confederate bombardment between Forts Pickens, McRee, and Barancas, but was not seriously damaged.

Many lighthouses were no so fortunate. The Confederates intentionally burned or blew up a number of lighthouses to deny them to the Union including Morris Island SC (outside Charleston Harbor), Tybee Island (mouth of the Savannah River, GA), St. Simons Island (near Brunswick, GA), and Sand Island (SW of Fort Morgan at the mouth of Mobile Bay). Other lighthouses are alleged to have been blown up or otherwise destroyed by either side of the war, but in some cases these stories are exaggerations or outright false. (St. Marks and Cape San Blas in the FL panhandle both survived the war, contrary to some stories.) At least one lighthouse in Texas was dismantled by Confederates to use the materials.

The elevation of Southern lighthouses ensured they were frequently used as observation posts by both sides of the war even if darkened.

Back In Action
The Lighthouse Board faced a mighty challenge with the Southern lights. Since most of Board, Inspectors, and Engineers were military officers, most were reassigned to more important duties during the Civil War and their responsibilities left to clerks or officers unfit for more active duty. Even properly staffed and equipped, the Board could do only so much while the lighthouses remained in Confederate hands.

As Union forces captured parts of the Southern coast, lights were slowly restored in a temporary capacity. Pensacola, FL had been recaptured by the Union navy in 1862, but it was not until 1864 that the lighthouse was reactivated. Even then, it only had a 4th order Fresnel rather than its normal 1st order Fresnel. Sand Key, AL was replaced by a temporary wooden tower after the surrender of Fort Morgan meant the island was once again safe for keepers.

After the war ended, repairs began in earnest. In some cases, the leading call for relighting the coast came not from locals, but worried insurance companies. The Fresnel lens that had been removed in 1861 were nearly all eventually recovered, but had to be sent back to France for repairs. Some eventually returned to their original lighthouses while others went to the main lighthouse depot at Tompkinsville, Staten Island, New York were they awaited use in a future lighthouse. Lights needing only a new lens and minor repairs were usually active again in 1866 or 1867. Lighthouses that had been complete destroyed during the war were in some cases not replaced until the early 1870s. (I haven't seen any claims for "last light restored after the Civil War", but I know St. Simons Island, GA was not rebuilt until 1872 so it was at least that late if not later.)

Aftermath
Many former Civil War officers served as members of the Lighthouse Board or as District Engineers or Inspectors in the years after the war. Perhaps the best known is Grant's trusted aide Orville Babcock. Babcock had survived the Civil War, but met his end in the 1880s when a boat capsized that was taking him ashore to supervise lighthouse construction at Mosquito Inlet, FL (now Ponce de Leon Inlet). Many postwar lighthouse keepers were former veterans, both North and South.

In some cases, prewar keepers resumed their old job after the war. Mills Olcutt Burnham, keeper at Cape Canaveral (FL), had a homestead near the lighthouse. His was the last lighthouse in FL to have the old lamps and reflectors. After obeying orders to put out his light in 1861, Burnham remained at his remote homestead throughout the war, taking care of the inactive lighthouse and other government supplies from the light station. His son died in the Confederate army. After the war, Burnham was commended for his caretaking of Federal property. The old Canaveral lighthouse was intact, but a new, bigger, better lighthouse was built next to it in 1868 and Burnham was appointed keeper. His daughters married some of his assistant keepers and the lighthouse essentially remained "in the family" until 1939.

The lighthouse service was transferred to the new Department of Commerce in 1903. The Lighthouse Board was abolished in 1910, being replaced by a purely civilian Bureau of Lighthouses. In 1939, the lighthouse service merged with the US Coast Guard.
 
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Joshism

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I hope Sabine Pass can be saved - not just for its Civil War connection and general lighthouse history, but also because I think that unusual style of its base (the large...buttresses? I don't know the correct architectural term) is pretty unique.
 
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bdtex

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Port Isabel Lighthouse:
PortIsabelLighthouseCruseAviation.jpg


lighthouse-historic-marker-5.jpg



"...Work began in December 1851, and the tower was nearly complete by September of the following year. The spiral staircase and lantern room were shipped from New York aboard the Brownsville, but it wrecked en route, delaying the completion of the tower until early spring of 1853. Fifteen lamps, backed by twenty-one-inch reflectors were used in the lantern room, and the light was exhibited for the first time on March 20, 1853.

J.H.B. Ham, the first keeper, lived with his family in a structure surplused from the adjacent Fort Polk. After a visit to the site, the Galveston lighthouse inspector declared the dwelling inadequate and successfully petitioned for a new one that was finished in 1855. Two years later, the lighthouse received a third-order Fresnel lens illuminated by a single lamp, which greatly simplified the keeper’s chores. When Ham died in 1860, his wife Hannah, who had been serving as assistant keeper, assumed the role of head keeper and served until the tower was deactivated during the War Between the States.


After the lens was removed from the tower, Confederate soldiers used it as a lookout for monitoring the movements of Union forces. In May 1863, a Union ship entered the harbor to engage blockade-running vessels. The Confederates exploded a charge inside the lighthouse, blowing out the glass in the lantern room, but the Union forces did not try to occupy the port. Five months later, they returned with an invading force, and the retreating Confederates again exploded powder in the tower. This time they succeeded in causing more damage. The tower’s door was blown off, the brickwork was cracked, and the clockwork mechanism for revolving the lens was damaged.

With control of the port, Union officers petitioned the Lighthouse Board to repair the tower and return it to service, but due to the ongoing war, years passed before the repairs could be accomplished. The lighthouse was finally reactivated on February 22, 1866, with Benjamin Bergreen as its new keeper...."

http://www.lighthousefriends.com/light.asp?ID=159
 
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bdtex

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I couldn't find any pre-war or wartime pics of the Texas lighthouses. Maybe @AndyHall can.
 
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Joshism

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"A Short Bright Flash" by Theresa Levitt, half biography of Augustin Fresnel and half history of Fresnel lenses, devotes an entire chapter to the Civil War. She describes the August 1861 Union attack on the Confederate forts at Hatteras Inlet as being motivated by a desire to not only close the inlet to Confederate raiders and blockade runners, but also to restore the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse to operation. Union occupation of the area did allow the lighthouse to go back into operation during the war, albeit with a smaller lens than appropriate.

When USS Monitor later floundered and sank in a storm 16 miles off Cape Hatteras they should have been able to see the lighthouse...if the full-size lens was still in place. However, I suspect the Monitor's sinking had more to do with its design being unsuited for the weather conditions rather than being off-course, but maybe someone else knows more about the subject?

The Hatteras lighthouse that stood during the Civil War was built in 1802; it the 1850s it was extended to a height of 150 feet and given a 1st order Fresnel lens. A replacement 1st order lens was ordered from France, but after the original lens was finally located at the end of the war the replacement ended up at a California lighthouse instead. The current Cape Hatteras Lighthouse - tallest in the US at 210 ft - was built in 1870.

There was a book published several years ago the Hatteras lighthouse and it's lens: "The Lost Light: The Mystery of the Missing Cape Hatteras Lens" by Kevin Duffus.
 

Joshism

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Lighthouses were important enough to merit reports from top officers.

Flag Officer Samuel DuPont (commander of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron) to the the Lighthouse Board - April 1, 1862
(OR Series I, Vol. 12, Pgs 692-693)

"During a recent cruise...I have endeavored to ascertain the condition of the lighthouses left by the rebels... The tower at Cape Romain is standing, but the lantern and iron rail and top were all broken and the apparatus itself ruthlessly destroyed... The structure at Bull's Bay seems to have been treated in the same way; everything recklessly broken, down to the oil cans... At Charleston [Morris Island], the tower was blown up last winter. At St. Helena [Hunting Island, SC] the tower was likewise blown up. At Tybee...the tower is standing, but the interior was burned and the lantern much injured."

(Cape Romain and Bull's Bay are on the SC coast north of Charleston.)

DuPont further reports the lighthouses at Little Cumberland Island GA, Amelia Island FL, St. John's River FL, and St. Augustine FL all intact, but without their Fresnel lenses. The Fresnel lens from St. Augustine and apparatus from Cape Canaveral were missing, but were recovered after Paul Arnau, the local Collector of Customs and Superintendent of Lights, was arrested until he divulged their locations. Those were described having been found "carefully packed", but were the only lens recovered at that point - all others were removed by Confederates or broken.
 

Joshism

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In another thread, there was a reference to the South not benefiting from antebellum lighthouses. (The claim was not made by the poster, but was summarizing a Confederate apologist's argument.) Anyone who makes any such a claim is making a blatantly false statement.

"At the beginning of the rebellion January 1, 1861, there were in operation on the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts of the United States, 367 lighthouses, light vessels, and lighted beacons. Of this number, 177 were within the limits of the seceding states, and by the 1st of June follow were all either extinguished with more or less damage to buildings and apparatus, or were totally destroyed. The only exceptions were the light stations on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, at Fort Monroe and Alexandria, VA, and at Carysfort Reef, Dry Bank [Sombrero Key], Sand Key, Key West, and Dry Tortugas in Florida."
-William Shubrick, Chairman of the Lighthouse Board, 1866

Including the Southern light stations that remained in Union hands, slightly more than half of all lighthouses in the United States were located in the seceding states. This includes not only the Atlantic Coast north of Virginia, but also the Great Lakes and early efforts to light the Pacific coast. Lighthouses in the seceding states included both sides of the entrance to Chesapeake Bay (Cape Henry & Cape Charles), Wilmington NC (Cape Fear), Charleston SC, Savannah GA (Tybee Island), Brunswick GA (St. Simons), Fernandina FL (Amelia Island), Jacksonville FL (St. Johns River), St. Augustine FL, Key West FL, St. Marks FL (ports servicing Tallahassee), Apalachicola FL and the Apalachicola-Chatahootchie-Flint Rivers system (Dog Island & Cape St. George), Pensacola FL, Mobile AL (Sand Island), several passes of the Mississippi River, Sabine Pass (TX/LA border), and Galveston TX (Bolivar Point). Nearly every port of any substance in the South benefited directly from one or more lighthouses.
 
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AndyHall

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Bolivar Point Lighthouse:
BolivarPoint_1891_na.jpg




Couldn't find a pre-war pic of it. According to this source the pre-war lighthouse was darkened and dismantled during the war and rebuilt after the war.

http://www.lighthousefriends.com/light.asp?ID=152
This one dates from the 1870s. There is nothing left of the lighthouse that existed at Bolivar during the Civil War, although I believe it was on the same site. This lighthouse still stands, and has been in private hands for many years. During the 1900 Storm it sheltered dozens of residence of the Bolivar Peninsula, when virtually everything over there besides of the lighthouse got wiped out. (If you've seen photographs of the area after Hurricane Ike, you get the idea.) The lighthouse keeper, Harry Claiborne, is credited with saving dozens of lives in the lighthouse. Local residents spent the night sitting on the winding stairs going up to the top of the tower. The Coast Guard station here has a cutter named in Claiborne's honor.

image.jpeg


On the Galveston side of the channel entrance, the lighthouse keeper in 1900 was Charles DeWitt Anderson, a former Confederate colonel who had commanded Fort Gaines at the time of the Battle of Mobile Bay in 1864. One of Admiral Farragut's last requests before he died was that Colonel Anderson's sword be returned to him in recognition of his current church in defense of Fort Gaines.
 

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AndyHall

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I believe the Aransas Pass light house was built in the 1850s, and the upper part of it was blown up at the beginning of the war to eliminate it as an aid to navigation. It was rebuilt after the war, and still survives. It is now privately owned.
 
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The Biloxi, Mississippi light house still stands.

Constructed during 1848, "quaker guns" were mounted around the base during the Civil War.
Thus delaying Union landing parties from Ship Island during the early war years.

This photo was taken in 1901 (the structure was still at the water's edge)
370.jpg

Library of Congress Prints and Photographs

However instead of being on the beach, it's now in the middle of US Hwy 90.
The light house hasn't been moved, but the shoreline has changed over the years.
biloxi08.jpg

image courtesy of WLOX.
 
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donna

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Another lighthouse designed by George Meade is Cedar Key Lighthouse, Florida. It was completed in 1854. At begining of the Civil War, Confederate sympathizers extinguished the light. The lighthouse was put back in service after the war.

I know Herminie, Hurricane hit Cedar Key this month. Just wondered if the lighthouse was okay. I tried to check on goggle but couldn't find any updates.
 
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