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Volume 37, No. 9 – February 2024

The President’s Message:

There will be no meeting on Wednesday, February 14, 2024.

Our next meeting will be on Wednesday, March 13th at 7:00 PM.  I am pleased to announce that our speaker will be Patrick Falci. He is a fine actor, devoted historian, and enthusiastic lecturer.  Patrick is well-known for his role as General A.P. Hill in the movie Gettysburg.  In addition to acting, he was also chief historical advisor for Gettysburg and Gods and Generals.  Because of his vast knowledge of history, John Jakes asked Patrick to vet the manuscripts for On Secret Service and Charleston.

Patrick will be presenting the Four Interments of General A.P. Hill or You Cannot Keep a Good Man Down.  I know that this will be a terrific program.  All guests are welcome.  I will be baking General Robert E. Lee’s favorite pound cake and serving it after the program.

Gerridine LaRovere

January 10, 2024 Program:

MacomberFor the 21st time, Robert Macomber treated our Round Table to a great presentation.  Although  most of us are quite familiar with Robert, for our new members he is the author of the “Honor” series of historical novels.  The series is now complete with the publication of Full Naval Honors, the 17th book.  Robert’s books tell the story of the late 19th and early 20th century via the fictional character of Peter Wake, USN.

Robert has been the recipient of the Patrick D. Smith Literary Award, the American Library Association’s W.Y. Boyd Literary Award, a Gold and Silver Medal winner in Popular Fiction from the Florida Book Awards, and a host of other accolades spanning over two decades.  He has earned rare experiences like being Distinguished Lecturer at NATO HQs [Belgium], and, for ten years, was invited into the Distinguished Military Author Series, Center for Army Analysis [Ft. Belvoir].  Robert was named Florida Author of the Year in 2020 by the FL Writers Association, and is a captivating storyteller helping spread a love for history!

The presentation focused on the yacht America, the Civil War, and Florida.  The lecture openedPoster with a question:  What do you think of when you hear of the America’s Cup?  We responded with suggestions like Dennis Connor, rich guys, the New York Yacht Club.  Robert explained that this talk will be about the schooner America and what she did during the Civil War in the State of Florida.  In 1851 the Royal Yacht Squadron proposed a race to determine the fastest yacht in Britain.  They did not expect a foreign entry, but when America showed up there was nothing in the rules to forbid her entrance.  The ship was constructed to be the fastest yacht in the States having just built in Brown’s shipyard and sailed across the Atlantic.  When they arrived, they had little time for adjustment, so, much to the miffed officials of the RYS, the race was on.  And this new entry sailed the course and finished well ahead of the entire fleet.

Among the spectators that day was none other than Queen Victoria herself.  All of the members of the RYS were nobles, dukes and earls etc., and the collective viewers were apoplectic at the sight of this common vessel sailed by commoners.  The following dialog entered sailing lore that Americaday.  Queen Victoria asked who was second, and received the famous reply: "There is no second, your Majesty."  The trophy, now called the America’s Cup, resided for the next 132 years in the New York Yacht Club.  You would think that the winners would take that schooner all over the world and race it as an example of yachting supremacy.  They did not do that.  Six months later they sold the boat to a Brit, who changed the name and successfully raced it for the next ten years.  It changed hands a number of times until Lord Henry Edward Decie brought it to Jacksonville, FL to become the property of the Confederate States of America.

The fast schooner was first used as a means of transporting Confederate officials from NorthDunns America to London.  Many trips were made by running the blockade out and running the blockade in.  Decie was in command of the vessel the whole time.  On his third trip the English Lord officially sells the ship to the Confederate Navy for use as a blockade runner.  About that time the US Army and Navy started to close in on Jacksonville; a city that changed hands five times.  The joke was that families in town had two sets of flags. 

The schooner was moved up the St. Johns River to Palaka to keep it out of Union hands.  From people along the river, the US Army begins to hear rumors that a famous blockade runner is up river.  And that is the same ship the won the America’s Cup.  It is not really believed, but there is one lieutenant who wants to check it out on his own.  Now young officers, on both sides, had a bit more freedom to make decisions on their own in those days. 

StevensThe lieutenant involved was Thomas Stevens in command of a gunboat, USS Ottawa.  So, on his own he decided to see if the rumors were true.  He steams up stream and when he gets to Palaka a pro-Union person tells Stevens that in addition to the schooner America, there is a steamer there too.  They are sitting on a tributary called Dunns Creek.  Now Ottawa is deep in hostile territory.  There were artillery batteries in Palaka, but they sailed right past and were never fired upon.

Following the pro-Union man Stevens finds America that the Confederate had tried to scuttle.  While the steamer was totally under water, the schooner was only partly down.  Note that the image on the left was the lieutenant as an older officer much later in his career.  While it was true that Stevens was acting on his own, that does not mean that he did not keep his superior officers informed.  In this case it was Admiral S.F. Du Pont.  Robert likes to quote from primary sources.  Here is the report:

U.S. Gun Boat Ottawa
Off Jacksonville Fla Mar 28/62

To Flag Officer S.F. DuPont
Com'dg South Atl'c Blk'dg Squadron


I returned this morning with the launch and 1st cutter of the Wabash and the Steamer Darlington and Ellen from Dunn's Creek with the Yacht America which after a weeks hard labor and valuable assistance of Lieut Irwin, Act'g Master Budd and 1st Asst Engineer Dungan, I succeeded in raising and bringing to this place, - where I shall keep her awaiting your further instructions. She is without ground tackle or sails & almost evrything(sic) else, but her lower masts, bowsprit, gaffs, and some light spars,_ I sent the Darlington with the boats of the Wabash, to St Augustine apprehending that you may have use for them. If not and I can have there(sic) services, I purpose to go to Hass Creek and raise the Str. St Marys, in which I have no doubt we shall succeed._ Further up the St Johns River there is a large amount of floating property, which is of value to the rebels, and will be of great use to the US Government.

Well, if you are the Admiral, and things have not been going well, this is a breath of fresh air.  On April 23, 1862 Stevens sends another report.

Sir: As you intimated it would be interesting to know more of the circumstances connected with the recovery of the yacht America than was contained in my official report, I have to inform you that the day after the occupation of Jacksonville I proceeded up the river as far as Palatka, and there met a person who informed me in general terms as to her whereabouts and that of the steamer Mary’s. On my way down on board the Ellen, a boat was discovered with two persons in it, to which we gave chase, when as we neared the shore the boat was abandoned. Upon searching the boat a letter was discovered from a Mr. Hemming, the person who was employed to sink the yacht and the steamer, giving all the information desired. I reached Jacksonville the same evening, and the next morning I started in the Darlington, with the Ellen and the launches of the Wabash, for Dunn’s Creek where I found the yacht sunk in about 3 fathoms of water, only her port rail being above water. Leaving the Ellen to protect her from any further injury, I proceeded on in the Darlington, with the two boats of the Wabash, through Dunn’s Lake into Haw Creek, a distance of about 140 miles from Palatka, and there found the St. Mary's, a fine and valuable steamer, also sunk.

As we had no suitable purchases to raise the vessels, I returned to Jacksonville in the Darlington for them, leaving the Ellen with the boats named, alongside of the yacht to make preparations for raising her. Finally, after procuring such imperfect means as I could find, and after a week’s hard and laborious effort on the part of all the command, our efforts were successful in raising the America, and I have to report her safe arrival in this place, where she was towed by the Ottawa, and where she awaits your orders.

The America was brought to Jacksonville by a Lord Dacy, and, I am well informed, was sold to the Confederate Government some four months ago (at which time she ran the blockade) for the sum of $60,000. It is asserted and generally believed she was bought by the rebels for the purpose of carrying Slidell and Mason to England.

Now Slidell and Mason actually made the voyage on another vessel, but they wanted to use the schooner America because she was so fast.  Bob had one more document to read.  It was from the Admiral in Port Royal aboard USS Wabash on April 5, 1862:

Sir: I have not had an opportunity to write to you since the receipt of your communication of 28th ultimo, informing me of your recovery of the yacht America.

I beg you to receive my commendations and congratulations on this interesting service in the performance of which you have shown so much untiring determination and skill. I have received from Lt. Irwin, of whom you have spoken so favorably in your report, a full account of the event.

Please convey my thanks to Acting Master Budd, and First Assistant Engineer Dungan, whose valuable assistance is also referred to by you.

The historic interest which attaches to this vessel and the incidents attending her career up to the time of your remarkable capture and recovery of her, make me very anxious to get her safely to Port Royal, where I propose to refit her and send her North.

You will, therefore, use your best judgment in getting her towed up by the first Army transport that may, with the approval of General Wright, undertake the service, recommending great caution to the captain in the performance of it. If you think any other mode be preferable, please suggest it.

Respectfully, etc.,

S. F. DuPont


CharlestonSo, Stevens got an attaboy which is what they got in the Civil War in lieu of medals.  It helped his career as he ended his career as an admiral.  As we continue the story, they took the yacht America and brought her to Newport, RI where she was repaired and fitted out with armaments and so she became USS America.  As a sailing gunboat USS America was sent to Charleston, SC.  As you can see the city was lined with Confederate forts.  The gunboat was assigned the in-shore blockade.  USS America captured several ships trying to run the blockade.  In addition, she had several duels with shore fortifications; she served the Navy well.

In June of 1863 USS America was reassigned to Boston.  You can see from the photograph some of the weapons of war on her deck.  This was a pivotal point in the Civil War.  Vicksburg and Gettysburg were about to happen.  Riots were breaking out in northern cities.  Lynchings of blacks were taking place due to the draft. 

BostonUnplanned by the government in Richmond two lieutenants in the Confederate Navy, stationed in the South Atlantic, began raiding the New England coast.  They sank 26 ships and plunged the entire American merchant marine into chaos.  Insurance rates skyrocketed.  Officials from New England sent telegrams to Washington demanding that the Navy send a fleet to New England.  Well, the Navy did send a fleet of several ships including USS America.  However, she did not find any of the raiders.  There was an encounter off of Portland. ME.  The raiders were captured and that ended the great New England Raid.  The next station port for USS America is Newport, RI.  She stays there and the Civil War ends.

Post war finds her in Annapolis, MD as a training ship at the United States Naval Academy.  There she returns to racing with a crew of midshipmen.  She is still fast, but she does not win.  On August 8, 1870, the Navy entered her in the America's Cup race at New York Harbor, where she finished fourth.  Robert went on to explain that in 1972 he raced against Navy crewed vessels.  The USNA had a fleet of Luders 44s, a 44-foot racing yawl.

In 1873 she is put up for sale.  Yes, and a guy you all know buys her, Benjamin “Beast” Butler.   He got the yacht America into racing shape once again and kept her for 35 years.  Butler does not live that long but he and his family raced her.  Ben died in 1893 and the boat passed on to his son, Paul.  But he was tired of sailing such that in the early 1900s America was in terrible, terrible shape.  Many people were upset about that, but the family would not sell the yacht.  After Paul died some people convinced the family that this veteran of both sides of the Civil War should go back to the Navy.

wreckAmerica was sold to a company headed by Charles Foster in 1917, and in 1921 was sold to the America Restoration Fund, which donated her to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis.  She sits at the USNA and in the 1930s she was redesignated a Navy vessel and given a pennant number IX-41.  The IX means experimental.  But she just sat at the dock and never raced.  President Roosevelt, a great yachtsman, wanted her renovated and kept at Annapolis as a museum ship.  This would be similar to USS Constitution in Boston.  The plan fell apart on December 7, 1941.  The administration was busy during the 1930s rebuilding the navy’s warships so there were no funds for a museum ship.  And then tragedy struck.  She was up on the “hard” when a great blizzard hit.  The shed which housed America collapsed during a heavy snowstorm on March 29, 1942.  The remains of the shed and ship were scrapped and burned in 1945. 

But you can still sail on the schooner America.  In 1995 a replica was built.  During the winter you can sail on her out of Key West, Florida.  You can sail the America replica today.  Here is a link to the schooner America in Key West:


Last changed: 01/29/24