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From September, 1863 until April,1865, the flag ship of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron was Pvt. Charles Leaman's home away from home. One of these was the 546-ton side-wheel steamship Harvest Moon, built at Portland, Maine in 1862 for commercial use.  She was one of many commercial ships purchased by the Navy. Converted to war use, she was sent to join the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron off Charleston.  Soon after Rear Admiral John A. Dahlgren was named as the squadron's commander in 1863 he made the Philadelphia and Harvest Moon his flagships.  Pvt. Leaman was named guard and orderly for Admiral Dahlgren after escaping a disastrous marine-sailor attempt to retake Fort Sumter.  Charley Leaman was at the admiral's side when he wittnessed or received word of dozens of significant events, including the sinking of several iron clad ships, among them the Housatonic, torpedoed by the Confederate submarine Hunley. Ironically, Charley had seen and mentioned in a letter "an infernal machine" at Washington Navy Yard as it was being repaired and outfitted for duty on the Charleston blockade. It  turned out to be the U.S. Navy's first submarine, the Alligator. He helped "put in irons," for questioning by the admiral, a survivor of a "David" torpedo attack on the New Ironsides. The young marine made several trips to Washington when the admiral was called back there by Secretary Welles or President Lincoln. The admiral's son, Colonel Ulric Dahlgren recuperated aboard the ship following loss of a leg persuing the Confederate Army retreating from Gettysburg. He later became involved in a still-controversial raid on Richmond, where he was killed. It was aboard the Harvest Moon that the admiral hosted General Sherman when he reached the coast of Georgia. Charley accompanied the admiral on desperate efforts to retrieve his son's body after Ulric was killed in the controversial Kilpatrick/Dahlgren Affair attack on Richmond. Dozens of Pvt. Leaman's letters are mailed from "Flagship Harvest Moon" detailing shipboard life, questioning of escaped Union prisoners and captured Confederates, describing action on inland waterways around Charleston and expressing opinion of officers, decisions and battle actions. He was aboard the ship with the admiral when it struck a torpedo and sank almost immediately.

 

 

From a defeat at Fort Sumter,  September 1863 

To the victorious flag raising, April 1865

 

 Politics, Intrigue, Drama in the midst of war

In mid-1863, Admiral John Dahlgren, with some behind-the-scenes maneuvering by President Lincoln, took command of the important South Atlantic Blockading Squadron stretching from North Carolina to southern Florida. His appointment was controversial and his orders were clear. Secretary of Navy Gideon Welles wanted the Navy to take Charleston and claim the glory of seizing the seat of the rebellion.  Welles and his assistant, Admiral Gus Fox, believed the answer was "ironclads," the Navy's newest weapon. The admiral soon found that the job was not possible without the assistance of the Union Army. In September he planned an attack on Fort Sumter by fleet sailors and a battalion of Marines he had recruited despite  some resistance by Marine officers who were engaged in a rivalry for command of the Corps. Resistance also came from Navy officers who wanted additional Marines as guards on new ironclad ships being manned by inexperienced recruits. The Army planned a similar attack the same night but Dahlgren refused to relinquish command of the attack to the Army. Confederates broke the signal flags code used to communicate between the fleet and the Army and were aware of their plans. The Army failed to show up and the attack was a failure with numerous Navy and Marine attackers killed, injured and taken prisoners. 

   Sixteen year-old Charles Leaman, who had enlisted the previous Christmas by forging his father's signature, was one of the Marines recruited for the mission. His vivid description of Confederates firing and tossing hand grenades down, cannons opening fire from nearby forts and finally fleeing while being chased by a Confederate ram, painted a tale of confusion and disappointment in his next letter home. The Admiral, who had been rowed to a position near the fort, lost a part of his eight-man Marine Guard during the attack. Pvt. Leaman was appointed as a replacement the next day. Because he was well educated by his prominent Lancaster County, Pennsylvania family, he was also assigned as an orderly. A prolific letter writer with an eye for detail, Leaman filled pages with details from his first week as a recruit at Philadelphia Navy Yard. He describes routine duty at Washington Navy Yard and the Marine Barracks there. With Confederate troops invading Pennsylvania, Pvt. Leaman wrote that workmen at the Washington Navy Yard were armed and sent with Marines to the Keystone state. Charley's letters halted for almost a month. Then, following what seemed to be a leave at home after the battle at Gettysburg, he chose to report to Brooklyn Navy Yard where he was stationed during the New York City Draft Riots and from which sailors and marines were sent to help quell th deadly riots.

From Brooklyn he was ordered to Morris Island in South Carolina where Admiral Dahlgren was building a Marine Battalion. The Marines were to support his inland waterways campaign aiding the Army. It was here that Charley and fellow Marines were the first Union troops to reach Forts Wagner and Gregg when the Confederates evacuated them.  He wrote of finding wounded left behind and described the forts' substantial defenses, noting "we hurried up to get there too late." Soon, orders came for the Marines to report to the flagship for the planned Navy - Marine operation to retake Fort Sumter.

With his new job as one of the Admiral's guards, Charley saw and heard much more interesting news and sights. His letters became much longer. He wrote of meeting Col. Ulric Dahlgren, the Admiral's son who lost a leg pursuing Confederates retreating from Gettysburg. He detailed the special crutch made for the Colonel. After recuperating on his father's flagship the young Colonel returned to Washington and was later killed in the poorly planned and controversial Kilpatrick/Dahlgren raid on Richmond. The thought of Ulric's mutilated body, which had been carried to Richmond where his wooden leg was run up a flag pole, took over the Admiral's mind. A Richmond newspaper was as intrigued with the crutch as Charley had been. It ran a story urging craftsmen to come view it in their office so it could be reproduced for Confederate amputees. Lincoln bypassed Secretary Welles and gave the Admiral permission to search for his son's body. Pvt. Leaman was at the Admiral's side during  trips up the James River under a flag of truce to recover his son's remains.  The Colonel's body disappeared from a grave where he was buried by Confederates and the Admiral's grief was so profound that Charley, and others, began to question his ability to command. Secretary Welles, who never liked Dahlgren's relationship with the President, ordered him back to Charleston to resume command of the blockade.

Admiral Dahlgren had a penchant for intelligence gathering and personally questioned escaped Union prisoners, Confederate deserters and "contrabands" who were brought to the flagship. This gave Charley several opportunities to write home of the terrible conditions the Union prisoners were in when they escaped. Confederates moved Union prisoners into an area of Charleston that was under Union artillery fire. The Admiral requested that ".... a like number of Confederate officers"  be sent from prison camps to him. When they arrived he advised the Confederate officer who had moved the Union officers into the danger zone that he would "chain the the Confederate officers to the monitor turrets and send them toward the city.

But, there was plenty of action to write home about as the Navy supported Army operations on the South's inland waterways. As the war was winding down, he accompanied the Admiral on trips to Washington for discussions with President Lincoln and Secretary Welles. At Charleston he was on hand at meetings the Admiral had with Army commanders discussing support for their operations around the city. Several letters express the anxiousness of the Admiral to fully support General Sherman as he approached the coast of Georgia. Charley was at the door as the two men dined aboard the flagship. After capture of Savannah and  Charleston, he was among the first Union troops to reach them, going to both cities with the Admiral. He wrote of the beauty of Savannah, spared by Sherman, and the effects of shelling Charleston. In prison camps he sought his fellow Marines captured during the Fort Sumter raid and attended the reburial of a Marine officer killed in that action. He noted Charlestonians' contempt for the Colored Troops that occupied the city. Charley wrote of the "glorious" celebration of ships gathered and decked out for the reraising the United States flag over Fort Sumter.  The war ended and  Pvt. Leaman was promoted to corporal, finishing his enlistment at the Marine Barracks in Boston.

Leaman's letters were saved by his sister, then by his daughters in China where the now-Reverend Leaman went in 1870 and started one of the largest missionary schools there. He became known as "China Charley," and interestingly, was rescued from an anti-missionary Chinese mob by U. S. Marines sent to protect the mission and school during the Boxer Rebellion. The letters came back to the United States when the daughters were expelled from China after the Communists seized control. The bundle, labeled "Papa's Letters," was sold at an estate sale listed as "Civil War soldier letters."  Separating the pressed-together, still folded for mailing 120-year old letters, was slow and frustrating. Then transcribing the individual folded pages where ink had bled though obscuring the tiny writing took almost two years. It was only after this was done that the "soldier's letters" were revealed as being written by a Marine. The novel is built around the exploits Pvt. Leaman mentions including submarine development, the Ulric Dahlgren raid, Confederate Secret Service coal torpedos, Marine engagements along the coast and Army-Navy relationships. Articles related to these incidents that appeared in period  publications, and information gathered from Official Records and the diaries of Admiral Dahlgren, Secretary Welles and others , are used to flesh out details of Leaman's letters. An 1861/62 prologue provides background on  Leaman, Dahlgren, Marine Corps of the period, President Lincoln's decision to implement a blockade and  information to understand questions raised by the letters which start in 1863.

To receive information on availability of the ebook version  open Ebook page above or send email to doncollins@journalist.com with Subject  ADMIRAL'S GUARD E-BOOK

 

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