UPCOMING PROGRAMS 2019 - 2020
|Sep 12||John Moyer||Robert E. Lee|
|Oct 3||Michelle Clarabut||Civil War Propaganda|
|Nov 7||Gord Sly
|Civil War Songs: Part 2|
|Dec 5||Rod Holloway||TBA|
|Jan 9||Mark Pearce||Reuben Pearce - 2nd NY Mounted Rifles|
|Feb 6||Susan Schmidt||Black History Month|
|Mar 5||Paul Van Nest||Patrick Cleburne, One of the South's Best
Who Was Never Promoted to Corps
|Apr 2||Derek Sykes||William T. Sherman|
"Admiral John Dahlgren"
presented by Lloyd Therien, Treasurer CWRT/GK
Admiral John Dahlgren and "his gun"
Longtime member Lloyd Therien was our speaker on the evening of May 2, 2019 when the Civil War Round Table of Greater Kingston convened. Lloyd spoke to us about John Adolphus Bernard Dahlgren, who joined the U.S. Navy as a midshipman in 1826 and was still on active duty as a Rear Admiral in charge of the Washington Navy Yard at the time of his death in 1870. Lloyd explained that his presentation on Admiral Dahlgren was complementary to last month's talk by Bill Cookman on "Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs". Both men were high ranking officers in the Union forces during the Civil War, and both men's interests and energies lay more in the field of technology, logistics, and resource management rather than strategy and tactics. Their careers were a foreshadowing of the increasing role of engineers, managers, and technocrats as warfare entered the modern era.Editor: Tom Brzezicki
Lloyd commented that Dahlgren remains one of the lesser known figures of the Civil War and that his chief invention, the Dahlgren gun, is probably more famous than he is. From an early age, Dahlgren was fascinated by the technological aspects of naval gunnery and warfare. Although he joined the U.S. Navy as a midshipman in 1826 when the world's navies were still comprised of wooden-hulled sailing ships armed with broadsides of muzzle-loading cannon, young Dahlgren looked towards the future and the advances that science promised to bring to naval warfare. He advocated for the adoption of steam powered vessels equipped with longer range, more accurate rifled naval cannon, and during the Civil War he welcomed the advent of ironclad warships.
Lloyd pointed out that Dahlgren, as a naval officer, had one serious handicap: he suffered from seasickness. It was probably a fortunate turn of events, therefore, when in 1834, he was transferred from duties at sea to the U.S. Navy Coast Survey. As the name implies, this federal bureau was charged with preparing surveys and maps of the U.S. coastline for purposes of navigation and defense.
Dahlgren still aspired to promotion and command of a ship at sea. With this goal in mind, in 1843 he applied for a position at the Ordnance Department in Washington. He planned to use his knowledge of mathematics, metallurgy, ballistics, and related subjects to upgrade his qualifications as a specialist in naval gunnery, and so enhance his chances of being given a ship. Upon arriving in Washington, Dahlgren was told he would be based at the Washington Navy Yard.
The Navy Yard was--and still is--located near Washington D.C. where the Anacostia River joins the Potomac. Although most naval officers would have considered this to be a backwater post, Dahlgren was in his element and reacted like a boy receiving his first electric train set. At the Navy Yard he was free to carry out his experiments in naval gunnery using a firing range that he had laid out himself as well as a foundry for producing cannon and machine shops for manufacturing other ironwork. Basically, Dahlgren turned the Navy Yard into a research and development base.
One day in 1849--in fact, it was his fortieth birthday--Dahlgren had a near-death experience. This occurred while he was supervising a gun crew test-firing a 32-pounder cannon. At the command "Fire!" there was a tremendous explosion. When the dust and smoke cleared, one man was dead and another wounded. The force of the blast had blown off the whole breech of the gun. Dahlgren immediately set to work trying to find a method of strengthening the rear of the gun tube, the place where the powder charge and projectile were loaded and where the force of the discharge was most strongly felt.
Eventually, Dahlgren had a moment of inspiration that Lloyd described as an "epiphany", though in retrospect the solution to the exploding cannon seems obvious enough. Dahlgren designed a gun which had an enlarged breech in order to safely contain the force of the propellant when the weapon was fired. To military traditionalists, the bulbous end of the Dahlgren gun gave it an unorthodox appearance and it was scornfully referred to as the "soda-bottle gun". Nevertheless, it was the most formidable ship-borne cannon of its time.
Lloyd explained that he didn't intend to go into all the details of Dahlgren's research and developments in the field of artillery, but he did touch upon one of Dahlgren's innovations from the antebellum years, the boat howitzer. The stimulus for this invention came from the U.S. Navy's experiences during the Mexican War of 1846-48. Amphibious operations on the coasts and rivers of Mexico had highlighted the need for some type of light artillery that could be mounted on smaller vessels to provide covering fire when putting troops ashore. There was also a need for artillery to help the landing forces protect their beachhead. Dahlgren's solution was the boat howitzer, a bronze, smoothbore, muzzle-loader. The advantage of boat howitzers was that they could be fired from shipboard mountings and then removed and placed upon wrought iron gun carriages for use ashore as light field artillery.
On the personal level and in respect to his peers, Lloyd said that Dahlgren was not well liked or respected. He was secretive about his work and preferred to do everything himself rather than sound out his ideas with fellow officers. These feelings of resentment towards Dahlgren only increased during the war years when he was perceived as having a special relationship and currying favour with President Lincoln.
When war broke out in April of 1861, Dahlgren's superior officer at the Navy Yard, Captain Franklin Buchanan, resigned his commission and joined the Confederacy. [Ed. Paul - Buchanan was captain of the CSS Virginia in its epic battle with USS Monitor.] Through Lincoln's intervention, Dahlgren received the necessary promotion to replace Buchanan. Lloyd described how Dahlgren responded promptly to the need to organize his defenses, including launching a raid to seize the ground on the Virginia side of the Potomac River opposite the Navy Yard.
With the war now well under way, President Lincoln soon began to feel the strain and pressure of his job of defending the Union. He shared with Dahlgren an interest in gadgets and scientific developments and would often ride out from the White House to pay a call at the Navy Yard. As Lloyd described, these were casual visits, not official meetings and Lincoln would sometimes arrive to have a chat with Dahlgren wearing a night-shirt, slippers, and a shawl thrown over his shoulders. As a naval officer, Dahlgren came under the authority of the Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Welles, who soon became suspicious of what seemed to him to be Dahlgren's attempts to subvert the chain of command through his talks with the President. Dahlgren was astute enough to realize how Welles would view the situation and he took care to brief the Secretary on all of his conversations with Lincoln.
As the war continued, Dahlgren continued his research into new types of artillery and other weaponry. Lloyd outlined a few of these experiments. One was the Hyde rocket, an improvement on the Congreve rocket employed by the British army during the Napoleonic Wars. One day in November 1862 President Lincoln arrived at the Navy Yard accompanied by his Secretary of State, William Seward, and Secretary of the Treasury, Salmon P. Chase, to watch the new weapon in action. The rocket was ignited, but instead of shooting into the air it simply exploded on the ground, fortunately without injuring any of the distinguished party of spectators.
Other demonstrations were more successful. In August 1862 President Lincoln came to the Navy Yard to witness the firing of a Rafael Repeater, an early form of machine gun. The test went well and Dahlgren was impressed with the range and accuracy of the new weapon. Another successful test-firing took place in April 1863, but thereafter the prototype plans languished in the military bureaucracy and the Rafael Repeater was never used on the battlefield.
For his work at the Washington Navy Yard, Dahlgren was rewarded with a promotion to rear-admiral in February 1863. He continued to long for a command at sea and in July 1863, with Lincoln's support and over the objections of Gideon Welles, he took over the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron operating off the coast of the Carolinas. He was to remain in this post for the next two years.
With his new command, Dahlgren now had the opportunity to implement some of his theories on the use of U.S. Marines as special amphibious landing forces. The traditional role of marines in most navies was to help maintain discipline over the ship's crew, add firepower in ship-to-ship engagements, and provide support to landing parties. Dahlgren, however, envisaged a broader role for these shipboard fighting men. His idea was that marines should be trained to operate in large formations with special weapons such as the boat howitzers and the Model 1861 Navy Rifle, known as the "Plymouth Rifle", which Dahlgren had developed before the Civil War. Eventually, Dahlgren trained three battalions of marines for amphibious and land operations, which he dubbed the Fleet Brigade.
Under the demands of active warfare, it was difficult for Dahlgren and his officers to find time and opportunity to train their men for their new combat role at sea and on land. However, the Fleet Brigade did perform well in the closing phases of the war and assisted Sherman in his capture of Savannah in November and December 1864. According to Lloyd, Dahlgren's ideas on the use of what he called "sea infantry" anticipated the theories and doctrine that would be adopted by the U.S. Marine Corps later in the 20th century.
Following the end of the Civil War, Dahlgren remained at sea and in 1867 he was given command of the South Pacific Squadron stationed off the west coast of South America. In 1869 he was returned to his positions as Chief of Ordnance and Commander of the Washington Navy Yard, where he continued his work on design and experimentation of new firearms and artillery. He was still actively working when he died of a heart attack on July 12, 1870. Although, as Lloyd said, the name of Admiral John Dahlgren is not as well-known as other prominent figures of the Civil War, he well deserves his title as "The Father of Modern Naval Ordnance".
Lloyd concluded his talk with a few words about Dahlgren's personal life. He was married twice; first, to Mary Bunker with whom he had three sons--Charles, Ulric, and Paul. Ulric Dahlgren was, of course, killed in the unsuccessful raid on Richmond in February-March 1864 known as Dahlgren's Raid. Ten years after Mary Bunker's death in 1855, Dahlgren took Sarah Vinton as his wife. Sarah was a widow who had two children by a previous marriage, and she and her new husband had three more--John, Eric, and Ulrica. Sara was a novelist, translator, and writer on various topics including the anti-suffragette movement; i.e., she championed the idea that women should not have the vote. After the Admiral's death, Sarah established a country estate including a chapel at South Mountain, Maryland, on the 1862 battlefield. It was here that she died and was buried in 1889, and where Lloyd took the photograph of the Dahlgren Chapel with which he closed his presentation.
FROM THE SECRETARY
ELECTION OF OFFICERS: 2019 - 2020
Member Donations for American Battlefield Trust: Civil War Trust Division
I lied last month. We have held off in mailing in our money in hopes that some more of you will still contribute this month towards our total. And now we'll be adding to the total from this month's book sale. See the advertisement below.
And despite my editorial below on the needs for preserving lands at Fredericksburg, recall that this year`s target is the restoration work at five sites:
BOOK SALE THIS MEETING
The American Battlefield Trust's Greatest Gamble
Whenever one hears about the Battle of Fredericksburg, one thinks of the fighting for the Sunken Road and the thousands of Federal dead and wounded lying on the slopes approaching Marye's Heights. However, according to most historians including the renowned Ed Bearss and the most recent authority, author Frank O'Reilly, the battle would be won or lost to south of town: the Slaughter Pen Farm, shown in blue on the map. Burnside threw his whole Left Grand Wing, 47,000 troops commanded by William Franklin, across these 209 and adjoining acres towards Jackson's line on the crest ahead. Most of us recall the valiant effort of the gallant Pelham who, with 2 cavalry guns, held up John Reynold's 1st Corps advance on the left for an hour. Most of us recall the near break-through of Meade's division overrunning Archer and Lane at the base of the ridge but, in turn, being overwhelmed by Jackson's defense in depth, driving his 3 brigades back to the Bowling Green Road. But most of us don't recall the similar advance of John Gibbon on Meade's right (closer to town), supported by 'Baldy' Smith's 6th Corps, across what would be called the Slaughter Pen Farm: a flat open field then as now, against A.P. Hill's left, held by Thomas and Pender. Looking down from his head-quarters on what is now called "Lee's Hill", the general was looking towards his right, not his left, this flat plain which he could clearly see when he said "It is well that war is so terrible, else we should grow too fond of it." The Slaughter Pen Farm was covered with 9,000 casualties.
Of special interest, at Gettysburg just over 6 months away, Reynolds will be dead, Meade will command the army, and Gibbon will command the division that met the Pickett-Pettigrew-Trimble charge!
This field is today virtually unchanged from one and a half centuries ago. The Bowling Green Road is still there. So is the railroad and the ridge rising to Prospect Hill on the Union left. But there is today, nearby, an airfield and acres covered by industrial buildings. This open field was owned by a farmer, hanging on to his vocation under increasing pressure from commercial land buyers. When he died, his progeny put the land on the open market but the Civil War community, world-wide, rallied to save these hallowed acres. The year was 2006. Under Jim Lighthizer of The Civil War Trust and other groups, the Trust bid and acquired title for $12 million. Our obligation (over 20 years) was to pay out annually $300,000 to pay off the mortgage to retain this land: a tall order when the Trust is doing so much besides. The capital owing this year is down to $3.3 million. To finish the obligation, the annual payment needs to be raised to $400,000 from 2022 until 2027. We cannot fail. An anonymous donor has pledged to match any donations this year up to $150,000 so the Trust must raise only $150,000 to meet this year's commitment. You'll hear about this for the next 9 years, but it's worth it.
EXECUTIVE - 2018-19
|Vice-President||To Be Voted Upon|
|Past President||Roger Taylorfirstname.lastname@example.org||613-546-2396|
|Sec - Archivist||Paul Van Nestemail@example.com||613-544-6802|
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