Results of the Court-Martial of Commander Walke

ed_flanagan

Private
Joined
Jan 26, 2018
Messages
31
On this day, March 29, 1861, the results of Commander Henry Walke's Court-Martial was published in The New York Evening Post. Commander Henry Walke got a mild "admonition," a relieved from arrest and a return to the inactive list for doing the right thing. At least our hero wasn't hung from the yardarm....

The Evening Post : New York, Friday, March 29, 1861 P. 1 Col. 4

Results of the Court-Martial of Commander Walke.


The Court-Martial of Henry Walke, commander of the storeship Supply, which was for some time in progress at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, has resulted in a virtual acquittal. He was found guilty on the specification of disobedience to orders, in not returning from Pensacola to Vera Cruz, and in bringing the Supply to New York; but in consequence of the extraordinary circumstances, the Court imposed the mild Sentence of admonition by Secretary of the Navy.
Mr. Welles, the Secretary of the Nary, in confirming the sentence, says:
“I have confirmed this sentence. In carrying it into execution it is my duty, lest you should misconstrue the lenity exhibited by the Court in your case, to remind you that the disobedience, by an officer, of a positive and lawful order of his superior, is one of gravest of military offences. It strikes at the very foundation of discipline; and therefore, in all cases, met with effective rebuke. I am willing to trust the judgment of the Court that the circumstances in your case are sufficiently palliating to exempt you from the proper punishment for such an offence; but I Would admonish you not to be misled as to the character of the offence.
“You are relieved from arrest.
“I am, respectfully, your obedient servant,
“Gideon Welles.”
 
Last edited:

Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

Mark F. Jenkins

Colonel
Member of the Year
Joined
Mar 31, 2012
Messages
12,948
Location
Central Ohio
The papers considered the judgment "merely technical," but it clearly rankled Walke.

There is a mention in Gideon Welles' diary some time later that could be construed as regret that he had followed through with the court-martial-- he made certain that Walke's name was on the captain's promotion list even though the board had not actually recommended him.
 
Joined
Jul 30, 2016
Messages
3,897
Location
berlin
The papers considered the judgment "merely technical," but it clearly rankled Walke.

There is a mention in Gideon Welles' diary some time later that could be construed as regret that he had followed through with the court-martial-- he made certain that Walke's name was on the captain's promotion list even though the board had not actually recommended him.
got a link what that's all about? don't want to wiki it :D
 

Mark F. Jenkins

Colonel
Member of the Year
Joined
Mar 31, 2012
Messages
12,948
Location
Central Ohio
Commander Henry Walke was in command of the armed provisions ship USS Supply when it arrived at Pensacola in the winter of 1860-1 to restock provisions for the U.S. Home Fleet, then off Veracruz, Mexico. Due to some work slowdowns because of insufficiency of pay and growing (pre-Secession) restiveness in the area, he spent longer in harbor than intended, and was there when the news of Florida's secession arrived. Walke sent one of his officers, Lt. Henry Erben, to the powder storage near Pensacola, with orders to destroy what he could not transport over to Fort Pickens, still in Federal hands, and he transported loyal personnel to Pickens and promised support to its commander, Army Lt. Slemmer. The commander of the naval base, James Armstrong, had been rather ineffective during the state's takeover of the facility, and considering that he himself had surrendered, that meant that Walke was the most senior Federal officer present.

The dilemma that Walke was now faced with was that there were a number of Navy Yard personnel and their families who now had nowhere to go; yet his most recent orders were to return straight to the Home Fleet off Veracruz. He decided that those orders were superseded by events, and transported the civilian and military personnel from Pensacola to New York.

James Buchanan's Navy Secretary, Isaac Toucey, had Walke written up for disobeying orders, and it became something of a minor cause celebre in the local papers in the New York area, with the newspapers clearly on Walke's side. The court-martial rendered a mixed verdict, clearing Walke of several charges but confirming that he had in fact disobeyed orders. The sentence given ("To be Admonished by the Secretary of the Navy") was relatively mild, but Walke, firmly believing he had made the right choice, was quite offended by it.

The much more dramatic events at Sumter soon overshadowed Pensacola, however, so it's now something of a footnote to history.
 
Last edited:

Mark F. Jenkins

Colonel
Member of the Year
Joined
Mar 31, 2012
Messages
12,948
Location
Central Ohio
As for the specific significance of Walke, he became one of the more active gunboat commanders in the Western Gunboat Flotilla/Mississippi Squadron, with his most famous exploit being the run of the gunboat Carondelet past the Confederate position at Island No. 10. Being a decent artist, he sketched and painted a number of scenes of the war on the Western rivers, and published a few of them in his memoirs; few histories of the river war do not have a Walke illustration accompanying them, though sometimes not attributed to him.

(I first noticed Walke when I realized that his gunboat, the Carondelet, seems to have been at the forefront in nearly every riverine action, and I began trying to find out who he was... when I realized his book was cited in just about every history of the war along the Mississippi, I began trying to find it. This being pre-"Google books," it was far from easy, so it kept whetting my appetite, so I kept collecting information on him...)
 
Last edited:

Michael W.

First Sergeant
Joined
Jun 19, 2015
Messages
1,276
Location
The Hoosier State
Commander Henry Walke was in command of the armed provisions ship USS Supply when it arrived at Pensacola in the winter of 1860-1 to restock provisions for the U.S. Home Fleet, then off Veracruz, Mexico. Due to some work slowdowns because of insufficiency of pay and growing (pre-Secession) restiveness in the area, he spent longer in harbor than intended, and was there when the news of Florida's secession arrived. Walke sent one of his officers, Lt. Henry Erben, to the powder storage near Pensacola, with orders to destroy what he could not transport over to Fort Pickens, still in Federal hands, and he transported loyal personnel to Pickens and promised support to its commander, Army Lt. Slemmer. The commander of the naval base, James Armstrong, had been rather ineffective during the state's takeover of the facility, and considering that he himself had surrendered, that meant that Walke was the most senior Federal officer present.

The dilemma that Walke was now faced with was that there were a number of Navy Yard personnel and their families who now had nowhere to go; yet his most recent orders were to return straight to the Home Fleet off Veracruz. He decided that those orders were superseded by events, and transported the civilian and military personnel from Pensacola to New York.

James Buchanan's Navy Secretary, Isaac Toucey, had Walke written up for disobeying orders, and it became something of a minor cause celebre in the local papers in the New York area, with the newspapers clearly on Walke's side. The court-martial rendered a mixed verdict, clearing Walke of several charges but confirming that he had in fact disobeyed orders. The sentence given ("To be Admonished by the Secretary of the Navy") was relatively mild, but Walke, firmly believing he had made the right choice, was quite offended by it.

The much more dramatic events at Sumter soon overshadowed Pensacola, however, so it's now something of a footnote to history.
Given the circumstances, I can see where Walke would be incensed at the rebuke. Especially with the country falling apart, and he was trying to salvage what he could out of Pensacola, who the hell would care about Mexico?
 

Mark F. Jenkins

Colonel
Member of the Year
Joined
Mar 31, 2012
Messages
12,948
Location
Central Ohio
The ship, USS Supply, had quite a career herself. Both before the CW and after.
Walke's illustration of the Supply at Pensacola, from one edition of his book (the illustrations included vary slightly with the edition):

SupplyAtPensacola.JPG

And a postwar photo... this is the only photograph of her I can recall seeing:

USSSupply_NRLO21480.jpg
 

ed_flanagan

Private
Joined
Jan 26, 2018
Messages
31
I first noticed Henry Walke, USN, when researching Lt. Adam Slemmer and the Fort Pickens crisis of January 1861 for a talk at my CWRT, and came across how the Captain of the USS Supply was Court Martialed for disobeying orders by sailing back to New York with the paroled Officers, sailors, Marines and their families. I was able to download his memoirs "Naval Scenes" and had his Battles & Leaders articles, more than enough for a Round Table talk. Plus I was able to find online a ton of Civil War newspaper articles on Walke. Plus living and working in New York City I had access to the New York Public Library, the Brooklyn Historical Society and Green-Wood Cemetery.

But the more I found about Henry Walke, the more fascinating I found him: a real life salty seadog who like his adult refreshments and swore like a sailor. A real flesh and blood person. Also he was gifted artist and one of the fightingest Captains of the Union Navy. Admiral Walke seems to be everywhere on the Mississippi from Belmont to Vicksburg.

Grog, Oh!
 
Last edited:

Mark F. Jenkins

Colonel
Member of the Year
Joined
Mar 31, 2012
Messages
12,948
Location
Central Ohio
One item I like to bring up is that his third command on the Mississippi, the ironclad Lafayette, had been the pre-war steamer Aleck Scott. One of the Aleck Scott's pilots was a Horace Bixby, who mentored a young Samuel Clemens aboard her, as related in Clemens' (Mark Twain's) Life on the Mississippi.

I've seen no evidence that Walke was ever aware of the connection, though. He would likely have known Bixby, who served as a pilot in the Western Flotilla/Mississippi Squadron, often at the helm of the flagboat Benton.
 


Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!
Top