The Sea That He Adored & The Ship He Sailed in War

DBF

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Once again the sounds of ship building could be heard along the shoreline of the Mystic River in Connecticut. The year was 1859 and a new ship is laid and launched. It floats down the Mystic River, sails past Fishers Island and makes her way to the Atlantic Ocean. She would not be a “civilian” ship for long. On August 26, 1861, she is sold to the U.S. Government and is commissioned for active duty on October 29, 1861. The ship carries the name of her state’s county seat from whence she came and she served proudly in her duties.

The USS New London

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Photo from NavSource Online
"Old Navy" Ship Photo Archive

Lieutenant Abner Read

Abner Read was born in Urbana, Ohio on April 5, 1821. He studied at Ohio University, but the lure of the sea was in his blood and he left a year before graduation to accept a warrant as a mid-shipman. His first duty was aboard the USS Enterprise, and on that ship he was make his way to South America. He remained on the sea until the years of 1844-1845, at which time he attended the Philadelphia Naval School in Pennsylvania.

Throughout the years leading up to the Civil War, Read served among several vessels traveling many seas. He sailed into San Francisco Bay just in time for the gold rush. In 1853 he traveled to the Mediterranean Sea and in February, 1854, he was promoted to Lieutenant. He went on voyages to the West Indies and returned to New York to discover as of September 13, 1855, he was no longer part of the Navy, an apparent victim of the United States government’s drive for efficiency in the Navy. After 3 years of appeals, Abner Read was reinstated. This experienced Naval Officer was now groomed for the Civil War and the command that awaited him - the USS New London.


The USS New London - Destination Gulf Squadron

Her first assignment on the New London was to join another screw steamer, the R.R. Cuyler, in the Mississippi Sound. The New London took her first prize November 21, 1861. Within months, the New London with her commander Read took over 30 prizes. David Farragut was so impressed that he had the New London assigned in his command. He stated:

“Lieutenant Read's having made her such a terror to the Confederates in this quarter", that justice to the service required me to keep her. She was absolutely necessary to command the inland passage.”

The New London and Lieutenant Read would face any challenge over the next several months. He was so effective, that he was promoted to Lieutenant Commander on July 16, 1862.


The “Incident” at the Lighthouse - Sabine Pass

Perhaps her biggest challenge came near the lighthouse at Sabine Pass on April 18, 1863. According to J.R.M. Mulany Commander and Senior Officer. He ordered Lt. Read to take a boat from the New London, land at the lighthouse and reconnoiter.

We pick up the story from Lieutenant Commander Abner Read’s report - - -

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Photo of Sabine Pass Cameron Parish Lighthouse taken from across the pass
(Photo by Stan Fitzner), May, 1952" "Cameron Parish Lighthouse"

“Off Sabine Pass, Texas , April 18, 1863

Sir: Having sent in boats several times of late to take observations, and the result of the same seeming to show that the enemy was in small force at Sabine City, I concluded this morning to take a final observation in person, preparatory to making an attempt to cut out the steamboats lying at the town. My objective was to ascertain the positions of the steamers as to each other and their situation as to the probable relief from the troops in the town in case I should make an attack. I took a boat’s crew of five, together with James G. Taylor, pilot (more on him to follow), and at half past 9 o’clock this morning started to go in. Lieutenant Commander D.A. McDermut, of the gunboat Cayuga, with a boat’s crew, accompanied me. We directed our course toward the lighthouse, where our former expeditions have landed without molestation.

The lighthouse is situated upon the Louisiana side of the pass and about 4 miles from Sabine City. It stands upon an open piece of ground, affording no place of concealment for an enemy exception the lighthouse and keeper’s house and with proper precaution is considered a safe place to land.”

(He describes the landing and continues his report with a description of how they meet the enemy.)

“As Captain McDermut approached the lighthouse a party of the enemy, numbering between 60 and 70 suddenly make their appearance from behind the light keeper’s house and took three of the Cayuga's boat’s crew prisoners at once. The enemy commenced firing. We commenced retreating to our boats and succeeded in reaching them, but they were in shallow water and mud. The New London’s crew were ordered to jump in the water and try to shove in into deeper water which was done. Captain McCermut and two of his men were in his boat, and when we were about 10 yards from him I saw him standing up and waving his white handkerchief to surrender, probably thinking that further attempt at escape was useless. The enemy then directed their fire upon the boat of the New London, pouring in volley after volley of rifle balls and buckshot. We returned the fire as effectively as we could and succeeded in bringing off our boat, though in a crippled condition, and but one man in it was injured. Considering the murderous fire to which we were exposed and the overwhelming number of the enemy in comparison with our own, our escape is almost miraculous. The boat was completely riddled. Lieutenant Commander McDermut and his boat’s crew are in the hands of the enemy.”

He ends his report commending the actions of his crew, although wounded, they bravely fired back at the enemy and many, although injured, were able to get back safely to the New London. On April 19, 1863 Lt. Read would report that he had received a serious gun shot wound to his eye. Commander Read was able to sail her back to New Orleans for repairs.


The Tragic Ending

Abner Read and the New London would join up again after her repairs. Together they patrolled the Mississippi between Donaldsonville and New Orleans. Then came the morning of July 7, 1863. While she was about 10 miles south Donaldsonville, the Confederates opened fire on the ship. A shell smashed through the bulwarks on her port side hitting Lieutenant Commander Abner Read in his abdomen and his right knee. Although he arrived at a hospital in Baton Rouge alive he succumbed to his injuries the next day. He was 42 years old.

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Grave Site of Lieutenant Commander Abner Read (1821-1863)
Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia - Find a Grave (Photo-Russ Dodge)

The greatest tribute was given by none other than Rear Admiral David Farragut when he said - - -

“The very mention of his name, was a source of terror to the rebels. I know nothing of him prejudicial as a man, but I do know that no Navy can boast a better officer and I deem him a great loss both to the Navy and to his country.”

The New London served in the West Gulf Blockading Squadron until the end of the war. She arrived in Boston and was decommissioned on August 8, 1865. She was sold to M.M. Comstock on September 1865 at a public auction She acquired the name Acushnet on December 27, 1865 and sailed in the merchant service until 1910.

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Photo from NavSource Online: "Old Navy" Ship Photo Archive


“And when at length her course is run,
Her work for home and country done,
Of all the souls that in her sailed
Let not one life in thee have failed;
But hear from heaven our sailor's cry,
And grant eternal life on high!”
Author/date Unknown



Sources
  1. http://www.navsource.org/archives/09/86/86390.htm
  2. Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies
  3. https://www.co.jefferson.tx.us/historical_commission/files/History/Jefferson_County_History_2015-12-03.pdf
  4. https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth202672/
  5. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/46633948/abner-read
  6. https://www.navy.mil/navydata/nav_legacy.asp?id=172
  7. Wikipedia - USS New London/Abner Read
 
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DBF

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A Final Word Regarding the Pilot of the USS New London - - -

James G. Taylor, a New York-born ship captain and in 1839 he moved to Jefferson County, Texas, in 1839. At the time of the Civil War, although he had a wife and children, he remained an avowed Unionist, He was arrested by Confederate authorities at Sabine on Sept. 29, 1862. Soon he would escape his captives and find a Union ship in the Sabine Pass and was able to flee and joined the Union Navy. He was given command of the “Velocity”, which happened to be a confiscated confederate gunboat. The Confederates placed a $10,000 bounty on Taylor’s head.

In April, 1863 the Confederates had another opportunity to “capture” Taylor again when he arrived on the New London. Although the New London was damaged in the gun fight, Taylor for a 2nd time evaded his enemies.

He was now the pilot of the “Clifton” in September of ’63, once again at the Battle of Sabine Pass. His ship was captured, but for the 3rd time, Taylor managed to escape from the Confederates.

It is believed that the $10,000 bounty on Taylor’s head was never collected. Although he was captured twice, he managed to escape before his trial. During one incident he hid in the marshes around Sabine Pass, until he found a way to rejoin the blockade fleet. His wife and children stayed in Jefferson County and one of his sons would eventually join the Confederate Army. James G. Taylor died from “unknown circumstances” in 1864.

http://www.wtblock.com/wtblockjr/lighthou.htm
http://www.wtblock.com/wtblockjr/JeffCnty.htm
 

DBF

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Thanks - I think I might have it right now - this was the only picture I could find. It looks like the 1st ship named is only 1/2 in the picture? maybe.
 

FenianPirate

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Thanks - I think I might have it right now - this was the only picture I could find...
It's great that you found that image of New London. Notice how far sternward her stack is; I think that is characteristic of the simple inverted vertical direct-acting steam engine that became popular in the 1850s. Thank the Scots.
 
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FenianPirate

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Foreshortening in the engraving greatly distorts the size of the ships:
New London was 135 feet and 260 tons,
90-day gunboats Winona, Sagamore, and Wissahickon were 158 feet and 507 tons, and
Niagara was 329 feet and 4580 tons.

New London particulars - Jrnl. Franklin Inst. V39p212.jpg
 

FenianPirate

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A Final Word Regarding the Pilot of the USS New London - - -

James G. Taylor, a New York-born ship captain and in 1839 he moved to Jefferson County, Texas, in 1839. At the time of the Civil War, although he had a wife and children, he remained an avowed Unionist, He was arrested by Confederate authorities at Sabine on Sept. 29, 1862. Soon he would escape his captives and find a Union ship in the Sabine Pass and was able to flee and joined the Union Navy. He was given command of the “Velocity”, which happened to be a confiscated confederate gunboat. The Confederates placed a $10,000 bounty on Taylor’s head.
...
Of all the naval and maritime figures choosing up sides, I wonder why Taylor warranted a large bounty?
 

FenianPirate

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Thanks for posting her specifications. I was trying to locate what company gave her power - but I was starting with the Morgan Iron Machinery Company, as I saw they were located in New London, CT, but could not verify. You saved me some time.
Are you researching USS New London for the purpose of modeling the ship?
 
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DBF

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No - I grew up in New London County (not far from Mystic, CT) and I have always enjoyed the "ship building" heritage of that area. I'm still a "babe" in understanding all the mechanics that went into the great ships, but I find it an extremely interesting area of study, especially when the area I'm studying is so near and dear to my heart. I find it amazing that Taylor would warrant a large bounty - yet his wife and children stayed behind and could have been used as a bargaining chip.
 


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