Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Smoke Break Aboard USS Cumberland

The Naval Museum's USS Cumberland collection houses six different smoking pipes, all of different shapes and sizes. Most of the pipes shown in these photographs are made of clay. Clay pipes were simple to make, easily customized into different shapes, and affordable for enlisted sailors. Two of the pipes in the museum's collection have words on them; however, we are not sure if these words mark the name of the manufacturer or of the sailor to whom the pipes belonged. The names do not appear on Cumberland's roster from the day she sank. There is also one pipe with an oyster shell in it. Since the ship’s destruction, oysters have formed large colonies on Cumberland’s wreck.

During the Civil War, sailors liked to smoke in order to pass the time. In the 1860s, Americans still frequently used snuff boxes, but pipe tobacco use in the U.S. Navy increased significantly during this time period. A mid-19th century writer described the smoke pipe culture when he wrote, "Then you wish to hear something about tobacco and the way people use it? Well, light your pipe, give me a match for mine, and sit down here in the shade, and I will tell you what observations I have made at home and abroad."

In more than one Civil War memoir, writers mentioned that during their downtime, they would light a pipe and stare at the endless ocean. Raphael Semmes, commanding officer of CSS Sumter and Alabama, ensured his sailors' tobacco pouches were never empty. He would take tobacco from a captured ship and distribute it among his company. When Alabama was in port, U.S. diplomats frequently tried to convince Semmes' sailors to desert the Confederate cause by offering them lavish amounts of smoking tobacco.

Surprisingly, the Navy did make attempts to persuade people to stop smoking during the Civil War. The Navy Journal, a 19th-century sailor's magazine, implored: "Indeed, smoking is a vile, barbarous habit, which ought not to be tolerated in a civilized community. We beg that our readers who are slaves to this unnatural propensity, will read the following extract, AND SMOKE NO MORE." After the war, doctors at the Naval Academy noticed that some midshipmen smoked so much that the doctors feared it would permanently damage the midshipmen's ability to think and function before they reached the Fleet. Nevertheless, given the number of pipes on board Cumberland and the fact that the grog ration was on its way out, those words and other warnings fell on deaf ears.

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