Archival Fun

Steam Tug Baltimore
The wheel of the Steam Tugboat Baltimore, a National Historic Landmark

Progress continues here at the word farm as I write the profiles to be included in a the “Steam Tug Baltimore” book (not the exact title). Historic research can be a lot of fun, as well as a lot of intense work in archives and libraries, not to mention hours and hours in front of one’s computer.

Recently I had the pleasure of finding some very good material at the Maryland Historical Society library about two of the gentlemen engineers of Baltimore, James Murray and Henry R. Hazlehurst. They were partners in the firm Murray & Hazlehurst that built the steam tug “Baltimore” for the city of Baltimore in 1857. 

You never know what you might find while poking around in history. Henry R. Hazlehurst was a descendent of an important American family from Philadelphia and New Jersey. His ancestors backed and signed currency that supported the Continental Army during the American revolution. And they also paid for some of the first vessels for the Continental Navy, small as it was back then. How cool is that?

continental-currency-1a-copy
Currency signed by Hazlehurst to support the Continental Army
robert-hazlehurst-by-peale-display_image-php-copy
Robert Hazlehurst by Peale

Doing this type of archival research is slow, however, and may account for the slowness of my writing. I’ve put myself under pressure to finish the profiles, and all of the other editorial parts of the book in time for History4All Publishing to publish it this summer. It’s been a project I’ve been working on for the past five years. I want to exhibit and sell copies of the book at the Baltimore Book Festival in Sept 23, 2017. I’ll also be selling copies of my history of the 31st Virginia, “Hoffman’s Army.”

Life is what you make it. Make it a good one!

Ashoken Farewell

Many years ago, I attended a concert of Jay Unger and Molly Mason, fiddle and guitar players. They passed out 4×6 prints of the dots (the sheet music) for Ashoken Farewell. It had been missing for years in my stuff, but this week I came across it tucked safely in a civil war history book I had chosen somewhat at random to file it in for protection. I’m preparing to sell my civil war books, and have been looking through them one last time to make a record of them.

I won’t post the scan of the dots – they are copyrighted, and I don’t have Jay Unger’s permission, but the YouTub is lovely.

It has always been a sad song for me. It is a lament. A farewell, and a sorrow. I wish we could say goodby to sorrow, but that has not been the case this week.

I thought this might be reflective for those who play, and the rest of you, go listen to it on YouTube.

https://youtu.be/2kZASM8OX7s

  • David W. Wooddell

Last man to leave the ship

Some years ago, when I worked for National Geographic magazine, I was assigned to do pre-research for a fun story being written by Priit Vesilind. The Steamship Republic had been found in extremely deep water by the treasure hunting company, Odyssey Marine Engineering. The ship went down in a mighty storm after the steam engine stalled. Despite the storm, most of the passengers and crew survived the shipwreck, as did the gold that she was carrying for the banks in New Orleans. One of the heroes who helped passengers survive that day was a young, Union army officer named Louis Caziarc.

I have a love of quirky people. I guess in that regard, I’m like all writers and photographers. We tend to be attracted to the ones with interesting stories. But a problem with that approach to story telling is that such people are not representative of the population at large, so one must be careful about drawing generalized conclusions from the tales of such men or women. That was a corollary of something I’d discovered when I was an art researcher for the magazine: when choosing reference photos of animals, artists tend to pick the photos that show anomalies. That is probably because the animal looks distinctive, or different, and artists, like writers, tend to appreciate the unique. Problem is, those anomalies make poor reference for the population in general. I discovered that on a story about lions in the Ngoro Ngoro crater. I had passed to the artist some photos of lions in zoos, to use as reference, but hadn’t considered that lions in zoos are an inbred population, and they do show unique, or non-representative physical traits.

As I researched the passengers on the Republic when she sank, I came across Caziarc, a young Union Army officer from Boston who was returning to the south from a long, well-deserved leave after the Civil War had ended. He was a lieutenant, and aide-de-camp of General Canby, who was in charge of the Restoration of Louisiana, South Carolina, and North Carolina.

The editorial researchers at National Geographic were responsible for writing a short article for the magazine’s website, to bring to light something extra that didn’t make it into the feature article. I chose Lt. Caziarc because he had some real depth as a person, and as a military officer in the post war years. It helped that he was credited as a genuine hero after he saved lives as the Republic sank. In that regard, he was singled out for praise. Telling his individual story was a way to shed extra light on the story of the shipwreck itself. Was he representative of Union officers who helped the restoration of government and commerce in the South despite the ravages of war? You tell me.

Here’s the original Did You Know (scroll down the page)

 

– David W. Wooddell

 

 

 

 

Lost at Sea

0‰U
Polish Navy sonar image of S. S.Steuben laying on her side.

“Past the promenade deck I saw the entrance to the concert halls that had been packed with wounded German soldiers, and I knew that inside there must be the remains of thousands of them. I remembered what Polish Navy officers had told me after they’d investigated the wreck in late May 2004. They’d taken a good look at the sea bottom with a remotely operated vehicle and found the entire area around the wreck “covered with human remains, skulls, and bones.” – Marcin Jamkoswki, “Ghost Ship Found,” National Geographic, February 2005

Jamkowski was the Polish editor of National Geographic Poland. An adventure writer and expert diver, he brought to the magazine an amazing story about the German liner, S. S. Steuben. She was filled with 4500 (some say more) men and women, including thousands of wounded German soldiers, and more than 1,000 refugees when she was torpedoed by a Soviet submarine. Jamkowski’s eyewitness account is of finding and examining the wreck in deep water, below 150 feet.

I was the fact-checker on the article, and helped with arranging some of the firsthand accounts from survivors to be translated into English. Working on the article brought me to the stark realization of what war does to non-combatants. A very powerful visualization of the deaths during WWII, especially the civilians, is shown at the video at Omeleto: The Fallen of World War II: A Data Visualization of War and Peace.

I wrote a “Did You Know” on the three largest losses of human life in wrecks at sea. People throw a lot of statistics around. It’s always interesting to chase down what the actual numbers are, and who they represent. Because it is always about the people, from children to women and men of all ages. Along the way in my research for the article, I had read Antony Beavor’s piercing study of war crimes perpetrated against civilians as the Red Army moved westward in 1945. I expanded into the refugees that streamed, and were herded across Europe, against their wills, forced out of their traditional homes for political reasons. Some of those migrations, which were then considered the largest movements of people in history, remain a thorn in the side of countries in Eastern Europe today. The loss of the S. S. Steuben, a German passenger liner that had been converted to serve as an ambulance ship comes out of the large, forced migrations of Europe at the tail end of World War II.[1]

“Did You Know: The Three Largest Marine Disasters”

David W. Wooddell, for National Geographic, February 2005

The three largest marine disasters in history were the 1945 Baltic losses of Wilhelm Gustloff, Goya, and Steuben. But how many people were on these ships? Approximately 5,200 people were on Steuben when it set sail on February 9, according to our article, and 4,500 people died when the ship sank. This is based on the eyewitness testimony of Joachim Wedekind, a German merchant marine officer who was on Steuben as a passenger and says he was involved in helping the ship’s officers estimate the number of people on board: “I counted 5,200, but we reported only 3,600 or so.” Wedekind claims they reported less than were on board because German authorities had forbidden such large evacuations.

Counterbalance that with historian Heinz Schön, who claims that a smaller total is accurate. Schön says Steuben had 2,800 injured soldiers, 800 refugees, 100 returning soldiers, 172 navy hospital crew including doctors and nurses, 12 Red Cross nurses, 64 crew for the ship’s anti-aircraft guns, 61 navy seamen, radio operators, signal men, machine operators, and administrators, and 165 navy crewmen, for a total of 4,267 people. Since 659 survivors were counted after Steuben sank, according to Schön, 3,608 died when the ship went down.

Let’s compare that to the sinking of Wilhelm Gustloff on January 30, 1945. The Gustloff’s records cite 918 naval officers and men, 173 crew, 373 women’s naval auxiliary, 162 wounded, and 4,424 refugees, for a total of 6,050 people. In 1980 a trio of British journalists studied the tragedy and reported an estimated 7,000 to 8,000 deaths on board Gustloff. But Schön, a survivor of the Gustloff tragedy, has revised the Gustloff numbers in his more recent works, based on an analysis of the movement of people conducted by a documentary film company. “When it sank,” Schön wrote to me, “there were 10,582 passengers on board. 8,956 were refugees, mainly women and children. 9,343 died when the ship sank (it took 62 minutes after the torpedo attack) and 1,239 survived.”

And Goya? One of the more reliable reports says 7,000 refugees and wounded soldiers were on board when it departed Hela, near Danzig. When Goya was hit by Soviet torpedoes and sank in four minutes, all except 183 survivors went down with the ship. And until Schön revised his figures in the late 1990s, Goya was reported to be the largest loss of life in maritime history. Now it is the second largest loss. And Steuben remains third.

—David W. Wooddell


[1] Beevor, Antony. The Fall of Berlin 1945. Viking, 2002.

Beevor, Antony. “They raped every German female from eight to 80.” The Guardian (May 1, 2002).

De Zayas, Alfred-Maurice. A Terrible Revenge: The Ethnic Cleansing of the East European Germans, 1944-1950. St. Martin’s Press, 1994.

Dobson, Christopher. The Cruellest Night. Arrow Books, 1980.

Schieder, Theodor (editor). The Expulsion of the German Population from the Territories East of the Oder-Neisse-Line. Federal Ministry for Expellees, Refugees, and War Victims, 1959.

Christmas 1861 at Camp Allegheny

WooddellLandscapes

 

Christmas 1861, Camp Allegheny*

©  David W. Wooddell, December 22, 2015

Up at Top of Allegheny, the soldiers who had not fallen sick, or been wounded or killed, or were on leave of absence in Richmond or elsewhere were guarding the Staunton to Parkersburg Turnpike through the remainder of December’s frigid winter. The men were put to work during the day digging the trenches deeper, and digging proper fortifications for the artillery on Battery Hill, making embrasures for the guns and barricades to protect the gunners. Private James Hall said on December 18, “We are expecting another attack. I have been working on some batteries today. We have to sleep with our arms and accouterments fixed.”

Hall was a 20-year-old former student from the Monongalia Academy in Morgantown. The son of John and Harriet (Rightmire) Hall, he’d returned home to his father’s farm near Philippi before enlisting in the middle of May in Company H, 31st Virginia Infantry. Hall’s great ambition the first year of the war was to serve as an officer. He was elected 3rd lieutenant in June the following year, to replace one of the lieutenants killed in battle.

Hall was less than sanguine about his cold existence on Allegheny Mountain on the 25th of December, when he wrote:

“This is Christmas, and as is common there must be some amusement and festivities going on. We are amusing ourselves hovering around a fire in our tent, which smokes us nearly to death. Though last night was Christmas Eve, I did not sleigh ride much! Instead of that, we were marched out with the regiment on the mountain, to guard the batteries and artillery. We spent our Christmas Eve very gaily, sure. We are still living in our tents, but we make them tolerably comfortable by constructing rude fireplaces in them. At night we do not fare so well. Some mornings when we awaken our blankets are wet with frost, and the inside of our tent lined with hoarfrost. Many times our hair is frozen stiff by congealed respiration, and our floor is covered with snow. This is a pleasant life, sure. I was at home this time one year ago.”


* Excerpted from David W. Wooddell, Hoffman’s Army: The 31st Virginia Infantry, CSA [Baltimore: David W. Wooddell/Createspace, 2015] Available exclusively at: http://www.amazon.com/Hoffmans-Army-31st-Virginia-Infantry/dp/1515396991

 

Hall’s quotes are from: James E. Hall, The Diary of a Confederate Soldier, edited by Ruth Woods Dayton, [Philippi, W.Va.: 1961]

 


 

 

Scouts and Raiders At D-Day

One of my enjoyments as an editorial researcher at National Geographic was writing a “Did You Know” article for the magazine website. This was reserved for the fact-checkers for the article text. It was an additional task that I never minded, for it gave a place to put some of the extra facts turned up while researching an article.

Did You Know: Scouts and Raiders at D-Day

Did You Know?
Early in the war Allied planners realized the value of scouts for reconnoitering enemy-held beaches. From this need the Scouts and Raiders were born. Originally a joint Navy-Army unit, by 1944 the outfit was all Navy and all volunteer. Scouts and Raiders were trained in long-distance swimming, small-boat handling, and the use of weapons and explosives. They used rubber boats and a type of kayak-like craft called a Folboat to sneak onto the shore without being seen. 
In the weeks just prior to D-Day, Scouts and Raiders visited many Normandy beaches, checking on such things as the type of sand—to see if it would hold up a tank—or the placement of steel obstacles and teller mines on wooden poles. They also verified water depths and the speed of currents, then slipped back to sea, sometimes swimming miles to their moored Folboats before paddling quietly and swiftly to waiting motorboats for return to their base in England.The Scouts and Raiders trained closely with other special teams such as the naval combat demolition units (NCDUs), whose specialty was demolition of beach obstacles: welded-steel hedgehogs, Belgian gates, and other impediments to landing craft. The Navy recruited civilian experts from coal mines and quarries to train the NDCU teams in handling explosives.

As landing craft approached Omaha and Utah Beaches on June 6, 1944, they were guided by Scouts and Raiders in several LCC—Landing Craft, Control. One of the boat captains off Omaha Beach was Lt. Phil Bucklew, who saw that sea conditions were too dangerous for launching amphibious duplex drive (DD) tanks from landing craft several miles at sea. Unfortunately, his radio report was ignored. Most of the DD tanks that were launched toward Omaha Beach sank, some taking crewmen to the floor of the shallow but deadly Bay of the Seine.

Other Scouts and Raiders teams were close to the beaches in LCS—Landing Craft, Support—armed with twin .50-caliber machine guns, .30-caliber machine guns, and rockets mounted in racks. Their job was to give covering fire for landing craft as they approached the beaches.

In the water near the tide line on Omaha Beach, NCDUs worked with Army teams from the 146th and 299th Engineer Combat Battalions, placing charges against steel obstacles and blasting eight clearings through to the beach. They had trained together before the invasion and were combined for this operation to form part of the Special Engineer Task Force, arriving on the beach five minutes after the first landing craft came to shore. The NCDUs accomplished their task at a heavy cost to themselves and were sometimes hampered by soldiers who tried to use the obstacles as shelter while under heavy fire from German machine guns. The NCDUs on Omaha Beach lost 31 men and suffered 60 wounded out of a total of 180 men. They later received a presidential unit citation.

On Utah Beach, where the firefight was much less intense than on Omaha Beach, the NCDUs lost only 6 men, and 11 were wounded. There, Navy teams worked with Army demolition men from the 237th and 299th Engineer Combat Battalions and cleared the beach of all steel and concrete obstacles—by day’s end they could claim 1,600 yards (1,463 meters) of cleared beach available for safe landings. It was an invaluable accomplishment, allowing the Navy to unload 20,000 troops and 1,700 vehicles onto Utah Beach by the end of the day.

The Navy’s use of Scouts and Raiders, NCDUs, and other special operations groups including underwater demolition teams (UDTs) in World War II eventually led to the creation of a dedicated unit that handles many secret tasks that involve the sea and land. Called SEALs (for Sea, Air, Land), they are one of the elite forces in the United States military today. As their command historian, Don Crawford, says, they are “busier than ever answering ‘911 calls’ from around the globe.”

—David W. Wooddell