Mystery Submarine

I’m disappointed that this article doesn’t have more answers as to why and when this sub was designed, but its guesses that it was an answer to the blockade of New Orleans’ port certainly fits. Strange that there’s no accompanying history to the Hunley and the David, both of which were well-known and documented.

Imagine this. It’s Bayou Boogaloo and you’re on the raft you built with your buddies. You plunge your oar into the waters of Bayou St. John and feel it scrape something hard.

What could it be? A hunk of concrete? A stolen car? Or … a submarine?

If you found a sub in these waters, it’d definitely be a story, but it wouldn’t be the first time. Because that distinction goes to a mysterious vessel discovered here way back in the spring of 1878./blockquote>

Source: Today a picturesque waterway, Bayou St. John once harbored a Civil War submarine | Entertainment/Life |

The Union’s Mad Scientist

I knew about Thaddeus Lowe, chief of the Union Army’s Balloon Corps, but clearly I’ve never read about him in-depth, as most of these facts were new to me. Sounds like I have some entertaining research ahead of me!

There was a definite need for air superiority, and using hot air balloons to get a height advantage gave Northern scouts an edge. The Balloon Corps actually played a valuable role in yielding Union success at Antietam, Yorktown, and the various battles along the Potomac River.

The balloons themselves weren’t bizarre. The Chief Aeronaut and Commander of the Union Army Balloon Corps, Professor Thaddeus S.C. Lowe, on the other hand… was basically a cartoon mad scientist who somehow wound up in the service o

Source: Why the commander of the Army’s Balloon Corps was just as crazy as you’d expect – We Are The Mighty

Civil War subs: Lost no more?

A museum director appears to have unearthed the remains of a Confederate “sub base” in Louisiana. I’ve read about the David and the Hunley, but had no idea there were others in the “fleet”. Fascinating discovery!

There’s evidence the Shreveport subs existed. Reports of Union spies in Shreveport, as well as Confederate reports, detail the appearance and dimensions of the submarines as well as operations to put mines in Red River for a Union invasion that never came. Five submarines were built, with one sent to the Houston/Galveston area in Texas, and lost in transit. The late historians and authors Eric Brock and Katherine Brash Jeter did considerable research on the subs and the Confederate Navy Yard and found documentation a number of machinists and engineers who had built the Hunley and other submarines for the South were in Shreveport the last year of the conflict.

via Civil War subs: Lost no more?.

Looking Through Lee’s Eyes

I went to the Smithsonian site through another link, but found this new article (penned by Tony Horwitz!) in the sidebar.  A fascinating look at how technology can be used to evaluate historical mysteries, such as why Lee pressed an assault at Gettysburg when Longstreet was convinced it would fail.

Her principal tool is geographic information systems, or GIS, a name for computer programs that incorporate such data as satellite imagery, paper maps and statistics. Knowles makes GIS sound simple: “It’s a computer software that allows you to map and analyze any information that has a location attached.” But watching her navigate GIS and other applications, it quickly becomes obvious that this isn’t your father’s geography.

First, a modern topographical map of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, appears on her screen. “Not enough detail,” she says, going next to a contour map of the same landscape made in 1874, which she has traced and scanned. “Here’s where the carto-geek in me comes out,” she says, running her finger lovingly across the map and noting how it distinguishes between hardwood forest, pine woods and orchards—the kind of fine-grained detail that is crucial to her work…

What emerges, in the end, is a “map” that’s not just color-coded and crammed with data, but dynamic rather than static—a layered re-creation that Knowles likens to looking at the past through 3-D glasses. The image shifts, changing with a few keystrokes to answer the questions Knowles asks. In this instance, she wants to know what commanders could see of the battlefield on the second day at Gettysburg. A red dot denotes General Lee’s vantage point from the top of the Lutheran Seminary. His field of vision shows as clear ground, with blind spots shaded in deep indigo. Knowles has even factored in the extra inches of sightline afforded by Lee’s boots. “We can’t account for the haze and smoke of battle in GIS, though in theory you could with gaming software,” she says.

via Looking at the Battle of Gettysburg Through Robert E. Lee’s Eyes | History & Archaeology | Smithsonian Magazine.

Woman With Flare

Disunion discusses a rare duck: Lady scientist of the 1860s, Martha Coston.  Nice to see that the Coston name remained tied to the product, though I wonder how many flare users were aware that the Coston in question wore petticoats?

Coston made her mark in history because she needed to survive, after her husband´s untimely death. At age 16, Coston eloped with the promising Boston scientist Benjamin Franklin Coston, who headed the Navy´s pyrotechnic laboratory. She had four children with him over the next five years. Apparently due to his work with toxic materials, Benjamin Coston died a somewhat mysterious death in 1848, leaving his 21-year-old widow and children nearly penniless.

Luckily, Martha Coston had followed her husband’s work, and knew that he had developed a revolutionary new signaling system: a wand signal that displayed three colors on a rotating rod. On the advice of Secretary of the Navy Isaac Toucey, Coston persuaded the home fleet to test the signal prototypes her husband had crafted. After testing it, Commodore Hiram Paulding wrote Coston that the idea was an excellent one.

But because her husband died in mid-development, he hadn’t left much behind in the way of schematics or formulas. Coston basically had to start from scratch to determine how to make the signal lights. Over many months Coston labored tirelessly to perfect the flare signals.

via Woman With Flare –

The Telegraph: A Series of Wires

Another fine Disunion piece, this one on the importance of the telegraph in disseminating war news to the nation. There is plenty of documentation of Lincoln’s time spent in the Telegraph Office, but I hadn’t realised the genesis nor the explanation for this habit. We have McClellan to thank for the many anecdotes relayed (ahem – little telegraph joke there) by the office’s staff. I’ve listed two more Library “holdings” below as examples.

Perhaps the most consequential adoption of the telegraph was in journalism. In the late 1840s, the establishment of the New York Associated Press made it possible for member newspapers to share the costs of the new technology in order to gather news. By the early 1850s, content from the A.P. comprised at least two columns of every major daily newspaper, and many readers considered this “telegraphic news” to be the most compelling and urgent part of the paper.

By 1860 the A.P. was distributing its news not just in New York but around the country, and this practice began to transform the very meaning of news. Local papers now had the capacity to report national events to their readers in a timely manner, so that “the news” gradually came to connote not just events, but events happening at almost that very moment. Prior to the telegraph, the distribution of news was regulated by the speed of the mail, but now news was potentially both instantaneous and simultaneous.

The immediacy of the news fed a public frenzy for the latest information. Circulation of New York papers rose by more than 40 percent during the war, and in other areas of the nation by as much as 63 percent. During a major battle, editors could expect to sell up to five times as many copies of their papers. While newspaper reporting remained highly competitive throughout the war, the A.P. came to dominate wire news, and this also served the interests of the Administration. The A.P. had regular access to the president and the War Department, and was given exclusive bulletins and announcements to disseminate to the papers. In exchange, the A.P. gave the administration a way to reach the public in a manner that could be carefully controlled and rapidly disseminated.

The Disunion article can be found here:

The free books are:
Lincoln in the Telegraph Office, by David Homer Bates – This one is promising! A quick search for “Tad” (there was a great anecdote about Tad Lincoln and a bottle of the Telegraph Office’s ink) reveals a fair number of hits, and there are some facsimiles of Lincoln’s handwritten messages in the HTML version.

A similar, yet much shorter, book is available here: – William Bender Wilson’s A Glimpse of the United States Military Telegraph Corps. There are a few, less consequential, personal anecdotes about Lincoln. Still, any time with Lincoln is well spent.

The Hunley – Photo Gallery

National Geographic offers a small photo gallery of the newly restored and displayed Hunley. If you’ve read any of the previous Hunley posts, you’ve probably seen most of these pictures, but the first is pretty revealing: The fully “restored” (it looks extra crumbly) sub with a restorer or museum staffer next to it. It’s bad enough to think about what the Hunley crews went through, but to have suffocated after spending hours trapped in that claustrophobic tin can makes it all the worse.