Pilot of CSS Atlanta "Battle" of Wassaw Sound

lelliott19

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#1
CSS Atlanda formerly Fingal.JPG

https://fineartamerica.com/featured/css-atlanta-color-profile-saxon-bisbee.html
You may already know that the Confederate Steamer CSS Atlanta was previously the well-known blockade runner Fingal. And that she was converted into an ironclad gunboat and ram at Savannah, GA where she was reportedly equipped with two 6.4" rifle broadsides and two 7" rifle pivots.

Weehawken captures CSS Atlanta.JPG

https://www.americancivilwar.com/tcwn/civil_war/Navy_Ships/CSS_Atlanta.html
And you may have even heard of the Battle of Wassaw Sound which occurred in Georgia on June 17, 1863. It was during this short battle that the CSS Atlanta ran aground and was surrendered to Union forces.

But here's something you probably didn't know....since the information lies buried in the files of an Infantry regiment!

The man who piloted the CSS Atlanta that day was Pvt. Thomas L. Hernandez of the 63rd Georgia Infantry.


The documentation is filed in the records of the 63rd Georgia Infantry. While scanning through the records of the regiment, I ran across this note in the Regimental Information:

CMR 63rd GA Infantry.JPG

For those who have trouble reading period handwriting, here is a transcription:

Company Muster Roll of the organization named above for May and June 1863
shows station of Company at Thunderbolt Battery [near Savannah]


RECORD OF EVENTS


Private T. S. Hernandez was Detailed by Dept. Hd Qrs to Pilot the Confederate States Steamer Atlanta and was wounded and taken prisoner in the Naval engagement in Warsaw [sic] Sound May [sic June] 17, 1863.
I'll follow up with more on Thomas S. Hernandez in a subsequent post. :wavespin: Another one of those obscure facts discovered through research on that "other" project. :D

@AndyHall Im guessing this is another one that will be of interest to you.
 
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lelliott19

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#5
Interestingly, there is no mention of the incident at Wassaw Sound on any of Hernendez's own personal cards. Just the one Record of Events in the regimental information.

Looks like he first enlisted August 6, 1861 in 1st (Olmstead's) Infantry at Savannah and then transferred to the 63rd GA at Thunderbolt Battery [Savannah]. Somebody must have know of his skills as a Pilot, because on the Company Muster Roll of 1st Olmstead's dated Sept/Oct 1861 he was already "Absent Detailed by Genl Lawton" and on the CMR dated Nov/Dec 1862 of the 63rd GA appears the remark: "Detailed by Special Order 660." The rest of the cards refer to him as "Detailed by Hd Qtrs" or "special service in Savannah." Until the Company Muster Roll dated Jan/Feb 1864 when he is listed as "Transferred to the CS Navy and dropped from Roll Feb 1, 1864.
1st Olmsteads.JPG

Hernandez cards 63rd.JPG
Hernndez cards2.JPG
 
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#6
It really is a stretch calling this a battle, the Atlanta was grounded at such an angle that none of her guns could be brought to bear and the Weehawken was able to cruise up to point blank range and hit her with 15" rounds which ruptured the Atlanta's casement and forced her surrender. After capture, the Atlanta was repaired and added to the Union's fleet. And thus ended the career of perhaps the Confederacy's best ironclad. While being built, it was reported that someone had attempted to sabotage the Atlanta by drilling a number of 1 1/2" holes in her sponsons.
 
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lelliott19

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Great find! Thanks for sharing!
I wonder if he was the pilot who ran her aground. If so, he had some 'splainin' to do....
I guess it didnt damage his reputation as a Pilot so it must not have been his fault? Or at least it wasnt held against him because he shows up in the 1870 and 1880 census in Savannah working at his trade.
1870 US census.JPG
1880 US census.JPG
 

lelliott19

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It really is a stretch calling this a battle, the Atlanta was grounded at such an angle that none of her guns could be brought to bear and the Weehawken was able to cruise up to point blank range and hit her with 15" rounds which ruptured the Atlanta's casement and forced her surrender. After capture, the Atlanta was repaired and added to the Union's fleet. And thus ended the career of perhaps the Confederacy's best ironclad. While being built, it was reported that someone had attempted to sabotage the Atlanta by drilling a number of 1 1/2" holes in her sponsons.
Thanks. Good point. Ill edit the title and put the word "Battle" in quotes.
 
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#9
I guess it didnt damage his reputation as a Pilot so it must not have been his fault? Or at least it wasnt held against him because he shows up in the 1870 and 1880 census in Savannah working at his trade.
View attachment 199081 View attachment 199082
I guess being wounded bought him some credibility and after all, he did ground in possibly the worse place that he possibly could have and in the worse position. When bad luck strikes, it strikes in a big way.
 

lelliott19

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I guess being wounded bought him some credibility and after all, he did ground in possibly the worse place that he possibly could have and in the worse position. When bad luck strikes, it strikes in a big way.
Did I read somewhere that the Pilot house was damaged? I know it says Hernandez was wounded, but just wondering how and how badly the Pilots might have been injured? And was there more than one Pilot on a steamer such as the Atlanta?
 

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#11
I guess it didnt damage his reputation as a Pilot so it must not have been his fault? Or at least it wasnt held against him...
Thanks for your response.
Being in the midst of a battle in close quarters would seem a reasonable extenuating circumstance....
 
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#12
Did I read somewhere that the Pilot house was damaged? I know it says Hernandez was wounded, but just wondering how and how badly the Pilots might have been injured? And was there more than one Pilot on a steamer such as the Atlanta?
As the pilot house was located near the front of the craft, was at least partially exposed to the gundeck and the Weehawken's rounds hit on the front corner of the casement, I can see how occupants of the pilot house could have been wounded. I believe that more than one pilot would have been aboard due to the possibility of the pilot being injured and someone else that was qualified would need to take over.
 

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#13
And was there more than one Pilot on a steamer such as the Atlanta?
"The final shell was also from the 15-inch Dahlgren and it struck the top of the pilothouse, breaking the armor there and wounding both pilots in it."

Emerson, William C. "Unfounded Hopes: A Design Analysis of the Confederate Steamer CSS Atlanta". Warship International.

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lelliott19

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"The final shell was also from the 15-inch Dahlgren and it struck the top of the pilothouse, breaking the armor there and wounding both pilots in it."

Emerson, William C. "Unfounded Hopes: A Design Analysis of the Confederate Steamer CSS Atlanta". Warship International.
Thanks! I'm guessing we can assume there were two pilots aboard since it says "wounding both pilots" instead of wounding two of the pilots? Does that source name either of them?
 

lelliott19

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Was Pvt. Thomas L. Hernandez taken prisoner after the 'battle'?
Yes. The Record of Events card from the 63rd GA I posted says, "Private T. S. Hernandez was Detailed by Dept. Hd Qrs to Pilot the Confederate States Steamer Atlanta and was wounded and taken prisoner in the Naval engagement in Warsaw [sic] Sound May [sic June] 17, 1863."
 

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#17
Does that source name either of them?
Not that I recall ma'am.

It would seem the water was causing it's own issues that day...

"...Atlanta ran aground on a sandbar; she was briefly able to free herself, but the pressure of the tide pushed her back onto the sandbar."

Emerson, William C. "Unfounded Hopes: A Design Analysis of the Confederate Steamer CSS Atlanta". Warship International.

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Yes. The Record of Events card from the 63rd GA I posted says, "Private T. S. Hernandez was Detailed by Dept. Hd Qrs to Pilot the Confederate States Steamer Atlanta and was wounded and taken prisoner in the Naval engagement in Warsaw [sic] Sound May [sic June] 17, 1863."
Ma'am, any record on how long he was kept as a prisoner? Only reason I ask is because it is my understanding that pilots were considered HVTs, (High Value Targets, to put it into modern parlance...), and not repatriated like their fellow crewmembers.

Thanks!
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lelliott19

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Ma'am, any record on how long he was kept as a prisoner? Only reason I ask is because it is my understanding that pilots were considered HVTs, (High Value Targets, to put it into modern parlance...), and not repatriated like their fellow crewmembers.
Oh wow. I had no idea. I'm guessing his POW record might be in CS Navy records? Unfortunately, there are no POW records in the 63rd GA - just that one note in the regimental info that even mentions the incident.
 
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#20
Ma'am, any record on how long he was kept as a prisoner? Only reason I ask is because it is my understanding that pilots were considered HVTs, (High Value Targets, to put it into modern parlance...), and not repatriated like their fellow crewmembers.
That was certainly true on blockade runners, where the crew and officers were mostly foreign nationals (or at least carried paperwork attesting to such), but those selected as pilots were usually local mariners, known to the blockade officers, and retained as guests of the U.S. government for as long as possible.

Not sure about how that would have worked out in this case, though. Perhaps his nominal status as a soldier played a part in that.
 



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