Monday, June 9, 2014

Class Picture Day, James River, 1864

When the U.S. Navy made its way up the James River toward City Point, Virginia, as part of the Bermuda Hundred Campaign, several members of the Northern press accompanied the ships to document what they thought would be the final days of the Confederacy (it was not to be). Many ship's companies, particularly the wardroom, took advantage of the photographers present to get their pictures taken. The result is a disproportionate number of Civil War Navy photographs labeled "James River, 1864."

Naval historians are fortunate to have these images available. While the images do not tell us much about the campaign, they do give us a better understanding of shipboard life. In particular, one will notice the casual dress of the officers on the smaller ships commanded by volunteer officers, such as USS Hunchback. Compare this to officers aboard ships like the captured Confederate ironclad USS Atlanta, which were typically commanded by Naval Academy-trained officers.

An obviously staged action shot aboard USS Hunchback. Of more than 600 ships that served
in the U.S.  Navy during the Civil War, Hunchback is one of the most photographed.
An up-close shot of Hunchback's wardroom and some of the enlisted sailors.
Another image of Hunchback and one of the ship's 12-pounder Dahlgren boat howitzers.  Note the straw hats
and open coats of the officers, suggesting a more relaxed routine aboard ship. 
In contrast to Hunchback, the wardroom of the monitor USS Saugus is wearing
their formal uniforms.  This could be due to the weather (note the lack of leaves on the
trees, suggesting the picture was taken in Fall or Winter).
The wardroom of the ironclad USS Atlanta is also very formal in their
group picture, wearing full-length, buttoned coats.  However, like Saugus, this also
could be due to the time of year.
This is the ship's company of the double-ender gunboat USS Mendota
Uniform historians take note: the enlisted sailors are wearing white covered hats. 

The monitor USS Lehigh provides us with a happy medium.
The wardroom is far more relaxed; however, the uniform is still more formal
than that worn aboard the wooden gunboats.
Lehigh also gives us an image of the ship's company of engineers and enlisted sailors. The engineers are the men with open jackets on the sides. Note that they are not included with the officers. This type of image
is valued by historians because it shows the makeup of the company in terms of age and ethnicity.

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