Cruise of the U.S. Flag-Ship Hartford – From the Personal Journal of Wm. C. Holton

January 28 to February 22, 1862

On the 28th of January, we sailed for Fortress Monroe, and proceeded down the Delaware, amid a quantity of ice, which was daily increasing. The weather had been stormy for several days, and the men working in the cold rains had in many instances contracted severe lung diseases, so that at the time of sailing there were some fifteen patients in bed and a large number of others under treatment; besides, the ship was in a disordered state, which is always the case with a ship just in commission under such circumstances.

Our ship is a first class steam sloop-of-war, carrying twenty nine-inch Dahlgren guns, besides two twenty-lb. rifled pivots, and a supply of howitzers.

We arrived at Fortress Monroe on the 29th, where we found five men-of-war, three of them American and two French; among them was the U. S. Frigates Minnesota and Roanoke. We lay there four days, during which time Surgeon Wood was detached and ordered on board the Minnesota, with the understanding that we were to find an experienced surgeon on board the frigate Niagara, which then lay off Ship Island. We left here on Sunday, February 2d, and stood for Port Royal, and had a middling kind of passage, the weather being somewhat stormy and the ship rolling considerably.

On Tuesday at 3:10 P. M., a man died of measles, and an hour afterwards we reached Port Royal and cast anchor among a fleet of naval vessels. The land here is low and sandy, and covered with trees which to all appearances were the Palmetto. As I looked inland from our anchorage I could see one of the captured forts on our left; but few buildings of any kind were visible; quite a number of Commodore Dupont’s fleet were still here, a prominent one being the flag-ship Wabash, which had been somewhat damaged in the recent taking of the place.

We left the place on the 6th for Key West, and having a head wind all the way made slight progress, though the weather was pleasant, having lost much of the chilliness of the Delaware region. We arrived at Key West on the 11th February, where we met and were saluted by the U. S. steam sloop of war Pensacola; the U. S. steamer Connecticut was also here, and the famous yacht Wanderer, and several mortar boats of Captain Porter’s fleet.

Fort Taylor at this place is quite a formidable looking structure, mounting fifty to seventy-five guns, I should judge, and situated near it is the U. S. Hospital, surrounded with evergreens and quite inviting. The inhabitants are said to number about five thousand. After being at sea this place looks pleasant; cocoa trees spring up here spontaneously, and for a few cents each I obtained a small supply of oranges. We coaled ship here, and sent our letters home by the U. S. steamer Connecticut; here we buried another man, an aged fireman; the weather strongly reminded me of hats, and several of the officers laid in a supply for future use.

We left Key West on the 15th for Havana, and had a pleasant passage, arriving there after dark on the same day, a Spanish pilot coming off and taking us into the harbor. The bay in the evening was beautiful in the extreme; there were several large men-of-war in port, of different nations; also a large number of merchantmen. The evening sky was clear as day, and locomotives snorting so naturally reminded one forcibly of home, sweet home.

The day following was Sunday, and it was nearly all spent in exchanging salutes with the English, French and Spanish men-of-war, receiving the U. S. Consul on board with a salute, saluting the Governor, &c. Our war feelings were much excited by seeing two or three Confederate State flags, “the very articles that we were destined to suppress,” floating high in the air from the masts of three Confederate merchantmen that were enjoying the protection of this neutral port.

Havana is a pleasant city, situated mostly on a sort of peninsula formed by a pretty bay setting into the land, making a beautiful harbor, with only one narrow and deep outlet which is guarded by the renowned Moro Castle. It is well lighted with gas and supplied with evergreen shade trees, causing a comfortable appearance night or day. Bumboats, so-called, swarm around the ships at anchor, selling oranges, guava jelly, pies and fruit, and articles peculiar to the place and climate.

On the night of the 17th we left this place for Ship Island, to relieve the flag-ship Niagara, then stationed there. The weather was pleasant and wind favorable, and we had an agreeable trip. We fell in with schools of the little flying fish which abound in these waters. On the second day out we overhauled and boarded a schooner with the British flag protecting it, though circumstances caused the belief that she was American born at least; on the same afternoon we met and spoke the beautiful new steamship Constitution, from Ship Island.

We arrived at Ship Island on the evening of the 20th, received and returned a salute from the frigate Niagara, which hauled down her blue pennant on our coming to anchor, thereby transferring her importance to the Hartford, and gave us a salute of thirteen guns in honor of our flag-officer, which was duly returned. The Niagara had in tow the Confederate steamer Magnolia, loaded with eleven hundred bales of cotton, which had been captured on the day previous by the U. S. sloop-of-war Brooklyn and the U. S. steamer South Carolina, while attempting to run the blockade off the Mississippi.

We here found several U. S. gunboats; among them the New London and Water Witch, which were scouring the adjacent waters in search of prizes. There were also a few thousand troops on the island, belonging to Brig. Gen. Butler’s command. The island is merely a low sand bank, nearly destitute of vegetation, with a little extemporized fort mounting two or three guns, erected, I believe, simply for the present exigencies.

The 21st was signalized by the capture of eleven oyster sloops by the New London, which afforded us a taste of the bivalves, which we much enjoyed. On the 22d more prizes arrived, and in the evening the U. S. steam transport Rhode Island, loaded with provisions, letters, &c., to gladden the hearts of the sailors and cause a reaction in their monotonous life.

Washington’s birth-day was commemorated by salutes from the Hartford and Niagara and dressing the ships in flags.

Cruise of the U.S. Flag-Ship Hartford–Wm. C. Holton

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