Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Cutlass of USS Zouave's Commanding Officer

On this anniversary of the first day of the Battle of Hampton Roads (March 8, 1862), we present the cutlass of Henry Reaney, who was a volunteer naval officer that served in the battle.  The museum received and accessioned the weapon just a few weeks ago.

The weapon is a standard cutlass manufactured for the U.S. Navy by the Ames Manufacturing Company. Ames made thousands of such weapons during the war. The stamp "D.R." stands for Daniel Reynolds, a U.S. Navy weapons inspector.

Reaney was the commanding officer of USS Zouave, an armed tug assigned to blockading naval forces in Hampton Roads at the time of the battle. Reaney's original standing orders were to assist the sloop-of-war USS Cumberland, if and when Confederate forces attacked. When CSS Virginia launched her assault, Reaney was told by Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge on board Cumberland to go ahead and find out what ship was coming up the Elizabeth River (and not to assist Cumberland). Renaey compounded the mistake by firing the tug's 30-pounder Parrot Rifle at Virginia at long range (to no effect). After seeing Cumberland rammed and sunk by Virginia, Reaney moved Zouave over to the frigate USS Congress and assisted that ship in getting to shallow water.

Reaney wrote about his ship's action for Battles and Leaders of the Civil War.

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