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Simpson, Edward (1824-1888) Diary of Lt. Commander Edward Simpson

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Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC05911.04 Author/Creator: Simpson, Edward (1824-1888) Place Written: s.l. Type: Autograph manuscript Date: 20 July 1863-15 May 1864 Pagination: 1 v. : 108 p. ; 16 x 10 cm.

Diary of captaincy of the "Submarine Battery 'Passaic'". Details attacks upon Charleston, Fort Moultrie and Battery Gregg; inner workings of a Monitor and intraservice rivalries. Quarter calf, marbled boards, pencil loops.

The USS Passaic, one of a series of single-turret ironclad gunships designed by John Ericsson, was commissioned in November of 1862 and assigned to the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron. She saw action at Fort McAllister in March of 1863 and at Fort Sumter in April of that year. Following the latter engagement, she was sent to New York for repairs and command was given to Edward Simpson in June. She subsequently saw action at New Smyrna, Florida (July 1863) and in operations against Charleston (July-November 1863). She grounded near Fort Sumter (August 1863) and later shelled the CSS Presto near Fort Moultrie (February 1864). Simpson retained command until May of 1864.

[20 July 1863] "Under water puffing & blowing...These craft are not made to go to sea in...."

[26 July] "recd. an order from Admiral [Dahlgren] to be ready at daylight to fire on attacking party of the enemy, as Genl Gilmore expected an attack - of course we worked - but attack was not made. At dark got underway & stood up to about 1200 yds. of Fort Wagner on Picket duty..."

[29 July] "Went up to Fort Wagner with Ironsides & Patapsco - fired away 23 shots."

[6 August] "Went on picket and laid within a mile of Sumter & Moultrie"

[7 August] "Visited the Admiral who is charmed with my position of last night. rewards me by sending me on picket again to-night."

[17 August] "Admiral went on board Weehauken. Monitors Weehauken, Nahant, Montauk, Passaic, Catskill & Patapsco in company with the gunboats Canandaigua, Wissahickon, Mahaska, Ottowa, Conemaugh and last not least the Ironsides, engaged Wagner which was silenced by 9.30 when Admiral came on board Passaic & ran up to about 2000 yards of Sumter when with the Patapsco (the only other Monitor with a rifle gun) we fired at Sumter, the Army firing at the same object...Heard that a shot struck the roof of pilot house of Catskill, killing Commander G.W. Rodgers and Paymaster Woodbury of that vessel. Flags at half mast. At 2.30 Admiral ordered Passaic & Patapsco to engage Wagner where they were mounting guns. Ran close in & silenced their fire - we were hit severely eight times, making thirteen times during the day...."

[18 August] "...Fort fired at us altogether, hitting us five or six times very hard, making nuts fly in the turret, scattering the lead fitting in between the old pilot house and the outer new thicknesses, striking me smartly on the arm & face with small pieces of lead; a shot also struck the deck breaking plates near turret...."

[19 August] "...Sumpter is not materially injured by the bombardment. The batteries are from 3300 to 4800 yards distant, and, notwithstanding the accuracy of the fire of the Rifle Cannon, the velocity with which the projectiles strike is so little that it will require an enormous amount of firing to destroy the wall. If this is our only hope of getting Charleston we stand a poor chance. Besides, look out now for Hurricanes!!!"

[21 August] "Council of all Ironclad Captains with the Admiral arranging a night attack on Sumpter. All have pilots except me, and I am to lead in. At 10.30 P.M. got underway and ran up to about 750 yds of Sumter when I ran aground...."

[22 August] "...came to anchor about 750 yds from Sumter & commenced firing. A thick mist set in...I was hit five times, once by Sumter which only fired from one gun..."

[31 August] "Rebels have sunk some new obstruction (like an old dry dock) in channel below Sumter. At 2 P.M. went up with Patapsco, Nahaut & Weehawken, & engaged Moultrie and adjacent batteries, I got aground and was hammered unmercifully..."

[1 September] "At night all monitors went up to Sumter and fired away during all the Ebb tide. Hard & wearing night, and I came down exhausted. We fired 46 shells & shot, and no accidents happened, thanks be to God."

[6 September] "The firing of yesterday and our going into the shelling business this morning was all part of a plan for assaulting Wagner this forenoon at 9 A.M. The assault is suddenly postponed and we were withdrawn from action about 9A.M. This laying of plans for Sunday fights is a poor business, and will always turn out badly.

[7 September] "Found that the Rebels had evacuated Morris Isld last night. The army took possession of Wagner and Gregg. The Admiral sent in a flag of truce demanding the surrender of Fort Sumter."

[8 September] "All ironclads (Ironsides included) went up & engaged the Sullivan's Island batteries... a shell from the Weehawken exploded a magazine in Fort Moultrie, creating much explosion apparently of shells. The fire on both sides was tremendous, The fire of the enemy was much slackened when we got underway …We were struck 51 times, three holes through the deck, making now seven in all. …At high water the Weehawken floated & came out, cheered by the Monitors. Much activity of boats during early part of night said to be preparation for an assault on Sumter."

[9 September] "Flag of truce occupied some two or three hours of the morning. Heard later that the attack was made, and we were met by a tremendous fire from the garrison, using hand grenades besides muskets rifles & c. The boats went in too irregularly, and officers were rash, and do not seem to have been supported by their men. The loss is estimated at about 40 killed & wounded..."

[8 October] "Received news that a torpedo had been exploded under the bows if the Ironsides, damaging a few men but not hurting the ship much. The Admiral expects more torpedos to come down, and is getting up something to protect the Monitors from them."

[20 October] "After reading a letter from the Secy. on the Charleston affairs in which he expresses himself against an attack on Charleston if the risk of losing the vessels is great, we were called upon to ventilate our ideas... would the Admiral be justified in incurring the risk, inside for the purpose of destroying the rebel iron clads & shelling the city? Decided that he would not be justified... In case of no Navy attack being made alone, would it be advisable to cooperate with the army in an attack on Sullivan's Isld. (as on Morris Isld) for the purpose of gradually overcoming the defences and destruction of Charleston? Decided in the affirmative...Throughout I voted for action, although the last plan mentioned is my preference…"

[27 October] "Nothing new, but smallpox about."

[5 November] "400 men have come to the squadron lately, of whom 275 are contrabands, 40 are boys and the rest white men but Landsmen. These are the men to take Charleston!"

[6 December] "I received a report that the "Weehawken" had signallized for assistance and was sinking. I rushed on deck just in time to see her go down at her moorings. Her Pilot house just above water with a dozen men on it. She disappeared all but the top of her smokestack. …At night 29 were missing. No satisfactory reason is given for the disaster ..."

[9 December] "Admiral remarked that the Passaic was not battered as much as the other Monitors, which shows that he is ignorant of what is patent to the whole fleet VIZ. the Passaic is the worst hammered Monitor in the fleet. It seems to me that the man must have a mortal aversion to me, and that it distorts his mind & judgement as to anything done by the "Passaic", I spoke on the subject to him - I was much annoyed and felt very ugly. I shall try hard to do my duty notwithstanding this incubus who reminds me of a vampire. A bloodless man, cold without a feeling. God guide me."
[7 January] "Went on board Ironsides to meet Adml. & Iron cladders on account of late news, brought by a deserter, about the rebel torpedo - boats (or Davids, as they call them, the Ironsides being the Goliah). The Rebs intend to operate with them on every favorable chance and we must look out."

[24 January] "A man from "Coolie" (named Sinclair) came on board and took some negatives for stereoscopic views."

[2 February] "Went up & opened fire; Fired 68 rifle & 3,XV in shells at 2350 yds, Pretty well destroyed her, the Lehigh also firing, and Nahant with rifle howitzers. Forts on shore also firing …"

[19 February] "Heard of the sinking of the Housatonic by a torpedo." [The Housatonic was sunk by the Confederate submarine H.L.Hunley in Charleston Harbor on 17 February 1864. The Hunley sank not long after.]

[26 February] "played whist till Mid. with Major Corwin & Capt. Somebody of 1st S.C. negro regiment."

[12 May] "Fillebrown arrived and relieved me in command. Finished Council of war and concluded not to try to take Sumter, Bradford and I alone voting for the fight."

[Additional excerpts available.]

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