- Mar 16, 2016
U.S. Lighthouse Service tender Van Santvoort was transferred to the Union Navy in 1861 and served as the gunboat USS Coeur de Lion during the Civil War. U.S. Coast Guard Collection.
The Long Blue Line: Lighthouse Service during the Civil War
Posted by Diana Sherbs, Thursday, June 22, 2017
Like other government agencies, many southern lighthouse personnel transferred their allegiance from federal service to the Confederate States Lighthouse Bureau. This included numerous lightkeepers as well as one-time U.S. Navy officer Raphael Semmes, who had previously served as secretary of the U.S. Lighthouse Service.
Semmes received appointment as the first superintendent of the Confederate Lighthouse Bureau. As Union forces occupied large sections of the southern coastline, the Confederate government required fewer Lighthouse Service staff. Keepers and support staff lost their jobs while former naval officers, such as Semmes, went on to serve in the Confederate navy. Later in the war, Semmes would earn fame as captain of the Confederate cruisers CSS Sumter and CSS Alabama. Semmes’s successors heading the Confederate Lighthouse Bureau would do little more than manage unlit lighthouses and idle assets.
In the early stages of the conflict, only certain lighthouses in Virginia and those located in the Florida Keys and Dry Tortugas remained in Union hands. For strategic purposes, Union and Confederate forces struggled to control the rest of the 160 lighthouses and aids to navigation in southern territory. Union military forces needed lighthouses and aids to navigation to facilitate naval operations and delivery of troops and supplies to the front-line units near the coast. The Confederate government wished to hinder Union use of these aids to navigation to increase the danger of enemy naval operations and night-time navigation. Both sides used the lighthouse towers to observe movements of enemy naval and land forces.
Both sides of the conflict sought other U.S. Lighthouse Service assets and were highly sought after. The Confederacy removed valuable lamp oil supplies from southern light stations to support the war effort. Eleven lightships stationed in the south before the war were either sunk by the Confederates to block waterways or used for other maritime needs. In addition, many contemporary lighthouse tenders were relatively modern steamers and put to use for military purposes. In the north, eight lighthouse tenders were transferred to the Union navy; and, in the south, eight lighthouse tenders were commandeered by the Confederate government.
During the war, the U.S. Lighthouse Service assisted the Union war effort in many ways. These activities included re-lighting light stations extinguished by Confederate forces and positioning special buoys, lights, and lightships to aid Union military operations. In 1862, the Treasury Department sent Special Agent Maximilian Bonzano to New Orleans to restore re-captured lighthouses to operational status, starting with those located in Louisiana. In spite of hostilities that continued to threaten lights in Union-occupied territory, Bonzano made steady progress and expanded his efforts to include lighthouses located along the entire Gulf Coast.
Full post with pics can be found here - http://coastguard.dodlive.mil/2017/06/the-long-blue-line-lighthouse-service-during-the-civil-war/