[Onboard the U.S.S. Dacotah in pursuit of the Merrimac during the Civil War, with a vivid description of the Merrimac's destruction, and including important passages describing interactions with runaway slaves, encounters with President Lincoln, and Peltz's experiences with yellow fever]. Philip G. Peltz.
[Onboard the U.S.S. Dacotah in pursuit of the Merrimac during the Civil War, with a vivid description of the Merrimac's destruction, and including important passages describing interactions with runaway slaves, encounters with President Lincoln, and Peltz's experiences with yellow fever].
[Onboard the U.S.S. Dacotah in pursuit of the Merrimac during the Civil War, with a vivid description of the Merrimac's destruction, and including important passages describing interactions with runaway slaves, encounters with President Lincoln, and Peltz's experiences with yellow fever].
[Onboard the U.S.S. Dacotah in pursuit of the Merrimac during the Civil War, with a vivid description of the Merrimac's destruction, and including important passages describing interactions with runaway slaves, encounters with President Lincoln, and Peltz's experiences with yellow fever].
[Onboard the U.S.S. Dacotah in pursuit of the Merrimac during the Civil War, with a vivid description of the Merrimac's destruction, and including important passages describing interactions with runaway slaves, encounters with President Lincoln, and Peltz's experiences with yellow fever].
[Onboard the U.S.S. Dacotah in pursuit of the Merrimac during the Civil War, with a vivid description of the Merrimac's destruction, and including important passages describing interactions with runaway slaves, encounters with President Lincoln, and Peltz's experiences with yellow fever].

[Onboard the U.S.S. Dacotah in pursuit of the Merrimac during the Civil War, with a vivid description of the Merrimac's destruction, and including important passages describing interactions with runaway slaves, encounters with President Lincoln, and Peltz's experiences with yellow fever].

[Onboard ship and in various locations along the eastern seaboard, mostly in the Hampton Roads region of Virginia (Fort Monroe, Sewell's Point, Newport News, and Norfolk), but also including New Orleans, Key West, Havana, North Carolina, and New York. 78 pp. Contemporary three-quarter calf and marbled boards. Spine perished, extremities worn, boards detached (but present). Occasional staining and foxing to text, but very clean and neat internally, and very easily readable. Four leaves of a January 1863 article from Harper’s New Monthly Magazine mounted to rear pastedown, likely by the author. Binding in good condition, text very good. In a blue cloth folding box and chemise, gilt leather label. Accompanied by a printed transcription of the entire diary.

A unique and valuable record of a year in the life of the Union steam sloop U.S.S. Dacotah, kept by the ship's chief engineer, Philip G. Peltz. Such detailed, firsthand accounts from the Union Navy are rather scarce, especially with such important and research-worthy content.

Chronologically, the first point of interest in the diary relates to the Dacotah's hunt for the Confederate ironclad warship the C.S.S. Virginia, which the Union referred to as the Merrimack (or Merrimac). Eventually, Peltz would record the demise of the Merrimac in a vivid firsthand entry, detailed below. The diary also covers the movements of the Dacotah during a year of the Civil War (mostly off the coast of Virginia), mentions encounters with President Lincoln, details the author's experiences with bitter southern residents in Norfolk, Virginia and New Orleans during the Union occupation of those cities, includes firsthand passages on the Yellow Fever outbreak in the southern United States and Cuba, and perhaps most importantly, records the employment and transport of runaway slaves, known during the war as "contrabands."

This apparently unpublished diary begins with the launch of the Dacotah from the Brooklyn Navy Yard on March 2, 1862. It arrived for duty on March 13, 1862, just five days after the Battle of Hampton Roads, which is also often referred to as the Battle of the Monitor and the Merrimack. On this date, the text reads (with all quoted entries retaining original spelling and grammar): "Arrived at Fortress Monroe and heard for the first time the news of the terrible encounter between the Merrimac (rebel) and Cumberland and Congress (Federal), also the timely intervention of the Monitor. We all listened with much attention to account of the battle, and the glorious and noble, and the never before equalled bravery and heroism of officers and crew of the Cumberland. She sank with her crew still at and firing her guns, and still the noble and unpolluted ensign of our country waves from her masthead as the emblem of the bravery that sure fought under folds. We are now under heavy banked fires and ready for a start at a short notice. Constantly on alert and anxiously await the coming of the enemy."

For the first two months of the diary, the main focus is squarely on the aforementioned enemy ironclad, the Merrimac, which the Confederates knew as the C.S.S. Virginia. Peltz refers to the Merrimac as "the iron monster" and often records news of the Merrimac's movements, position, and disposition, including alterations to the ship while at port in Richmond. The ship is mentioned more than forty times over the next two months, with a seemingly constant expectation of a confrontation with the dreaded ironclad. Peltz mentions drills intended to prepare his ship and others for the ultimate encounter with the Confederate ship. On March 18, Peltz writes: "We have just received orders in the event the enemy again appears, and we get a chance at them, we are to run them down at full speed.... I think we shall cleave her sure if once an opportunity offers." On March 29, he worries that "In carrying out the orders we now have, to run her down at full speed, at the same time we all expect to be compelled to take to the water for the want of a ship to hold us.... Sweethearts and wives have been drank to." He reports on debates among the men about "how soon they will remove their boots as soon as she begins to go down rapidly."

The Dacotah's movements helped seal the Merrimac's fate, as the ship assisted in gradually bottling up the James River between March and early May. Peltz writes of the Merrimac engaging briefly with two Union ships on April 11, before running aground at Sewell's Point the next day. Here, "anxious rebels" feared for "the welfare of the helpless Monster ashore" but the Merrimac was able to get seaward again and escape without incident. Reports of the Merrimac continued to come to Peltz over the next month, and he dutifully records them here. Peltz details the shelling of Sewell's Point, Virginia on May 8, 1862, which led to the Confederate evacuation of Norfolk and Portsmouth, the Rebel abandonment of Sewell's Point, and ultimately to the demise of the Merrimac. He writes: "No doubt a number were killed and wounded on the Rebel side.... The Merrimac came part way out just far enough to see all that was going on. We withdrew after fully being satisfied of the rebels obstinacy, and determination to hold Norfolk as long as possible. The Monitor drew up in battle order and stood in front of the Merrimac but she dare not come out from Craney Island where the Monitor would have a chance at her. The sight was something like a cat watching a mouse, but the mouse dared not come out of her concealment." Despite such close calls, the Monitor and Merrimac never re-engaged after their one and only battle at Hampton Roads. On May 9, Peltz observes "the Monitor cruising around in the neighborhood of the Merrimac and saluting her with a few shots, [but] none were returned." The Monitor "being tired of the enemy" then withdrew. Thereafter, Peltz records that "the Merrimac lays in view, apparently disconsolate and disheartened."

The story of the Merrimac culminated with its sinking two days later, on May 11, at Norfolk when the famous ironclad was destroyed at the hands of her own Confederate Navy. Peltz records the historic event here: "This morning at three o'clock the Merrimac was discovered on fire. Soon the flames spread over her entire length, enshrouding her in one sheet of fire. The fire and smoke came pouring out of the smoke pipe greater than from a cupola. Anxious eyes gazed upon her waiting for the explosion of her magazine. At 4:54 a.m. the entire mass of flame, a great portion of her iron sheathing, &c., were seen to ascend high into the heavens, presenting one of the most magnificent pyrotechnical views I ever beheld. With this explosion the Merrimac was no more. Not a vestige of her was left. Not even the slightest trace of fire, or of any portion of her hulk were to be seen in a few seconds after the explosion. We at once informed the flag officer of the destruction of the much feared vessel." The U.S. Navy was so obsessed with the Merrimac that in the present diary, even after the famous ship was destroyed, Peltz refers to the C.S.S. Richmond as "the 2nd Merrimac" at least four times. In addition to the first-hand reporting on the demise of the Merrimac, Peltz memorializes a long second-hand discussion of the loss of the U.S.S. Monitor at sea in the January 3, 1863 entry.

In addition to the Merrimac content, Peltz reports on shipboard activities (such as procuring various foodstuffs and flying the flag at half mast for a week in honor of Martin Van Buren who died in late July 1862), sightings and movements of other naval vessels, numerous mentions of the transport of troops and munitions, other nearby battles and skirmishes (including a brief recounting of a battle at Yorktown in April 1862), news of the capture of New Orleans (where Peltz and the Dacotah were briefly assigned after Norfolk), the reception of the Union military during the occupation of Norfolk ("Norfolk shows too clearly the effect of being blockaded, no business, no nothing.... The ladies particularly vamoosed for fear of being ravished by the horrible Yankees"), prisoner exchanges, and much more.

After arriving in New Orleans in late May, Peltz and his crew encounter "quite bitter" southerners who accuse the Union of "buying General Lovell and Jeff Davis for tens of millions of dollars." They also meet southern women who scowl at them and remark that "if the Yankee Officers could not stay away from their church, they would remain at home and pray there." They only spend about a week in New Orleans before heading back to Norfolk, where Peltz records more interesting observations about the occupied citizenry: "The people here at Norfolk are certainly much more opposed to the Federal Government than the people of New Orleans.... The ladies walk near the side, and often draw their dresses at one side that the Federal Officers may not pollute them with a touch." Peltz worries about "the inevitable Guerilla war that would follow the destruction of the Rebel army, and its many years duration" and relates that the "prayer books in some of the churches here had altered that portion in praying for the President of the United States to read for the President of the Confederate States."

While patrolling the coast of Virginia, and participating in various maneuvers in July, Peltz also includes an intriguing account of a pilot employed by the Union Navy who had once served the Confederacy on the Merrimac, and had been on board when it fought the Monitor: "He says when they got back to Norfolk all the sailors were presented each with fifty dollars and allowed to go on shore and spend it. Whiskey was fifty cents a drink so their fifty dollars was soon disappeared." Peltz also reflects on the effects of the Union Navy on the war: "We learned from the attack on City Point and vicinity that our boats done considerable damage to the rebels and killed quite a number. It is wonderful to see how our shrapnel slaughter the enemy, no wonder they skedaddle at the report only of our 11 inchers" (August 7).

Of particular note are two encounters with President Lincoln mentioned in the diary. While still on the hunt for the Merrimac, on May 8, 1862, Peltz writes: "The president looked on at the bombardment with apparent great interest and felt a great anxiety for our side. He passed close to our vessel, bowed, and moved on with his little tug. His pleasing countenance indicated entire satisfaction with the day's bombarding." Exactly two months later, on July 8, Peltz reports his ship at anchor at Harrison's Landing "in front of Gen. McClellan's headquarters, but a few hundred yards from us several balloons were sent up to make observations. The president visited the Gen. incog., and witnessed the balloon reconnaissance.... It is reported that the president made an ascension with the balloon." Lincoln did indeed visit that day, although the balloon ascension seems to have been an apocryphal tale. The next day, Peltz and the Dacotah were detached "to convoy the President apast the dangerous points on the river. When near Jamestown Island we ran aground through the awkwardness of the pilot. We had passed all the points on the river where there were danger so the Chief Executive went on his way."

Another historically-important aspect of the diary concerns encounters between Peltz (and his Dacotah crew) and runaway slaves, whom he mostly refers to by the then-popular term, "contrabands." These encounters provide a rare record of the movements of African Americans fleeing from the South to the North in an attempt to gain freedom, and often fighting for the Union to assist in that effort. On May 12, Peltz learns that the local Norfolk women "went so far as to tell the poor deluded beings that the Yankees would bridle them and put the bit in their mouths and drive them like oxen or horses, and haul stone." Several escaped slaves reported for duty on the Dacotah on June 28. Peltz writes: "We shipped a band of contrabands consisting of ten. Recd. them at 'Old Point.' All are well pleased so far with their new vocation, and are also uncontrollably proud of Uncle Sam's uniform. Their duties on board will be in a great measure menial. Thereby saving the men a deal of unpleasant duty. They were shipped as first class boys."

Peltz's entry for July 30 reads: "We have taken on board several contrabands who came down to the beach and begged to be taking [sic] on board. Sometimes they would be possessed with passes from their owners at the same time the pass would read so that the Picket attention would be drawn to the look out for them for fear of their being inclined to join the 'Yankees.' The negros not being able to read were not aware of the contents of the pass. When these fellows were closely interrogated as to what their motives were in running off they only seemed to think that their condition could not be any wosser [worse] so they would try it anyhow. Some left their wives and families behind through their great eagerness to leave their state of bondage."

On August 12, Peltz again records encounters with runaway slaves, who were helping to fortify Malvern Hill: "A large number of contraband are now engaged in throwing embankments on the south side of the James." And again on August 12: "Rec'd on board one contraband. He tells his tale like all the others. This fellow says he left his master to avoid a flogging. The provocation not being sufficiently great to warrant it according to his estimation, he thought he would skedaddle. I learned that the plantation from which we foraged has lost some two hundred negroes! They are now with the army, digging trenches." And once again on August 23, near City Point (which he describes as in "dilapidated condition... the majority of the buildings being entirely destroyed"): "Contrabands continue to come on board every few days. Generally forward them to the army."

Peltz also reports briefly from Key West, where he hears about the yellow fever raging in Cuba. He touches on the disease a couple more times, as well, and writes long entries about it on October 6, 14, and 23, the latter from quarantine in New York. Peltz apparently contracted the disease himself, but was treated successfully by a naval doctor. He also spends a brief amount of time in Havana, where he records that "The feeling in Havana appears to be divided, many are in favor of the Confederacy, particularly those who came originally from New Orleans. While we say that many secessionists exist here, I can say with equal if not greater force and truth that the sympathizers for the Union are very numerous." Interestingly, Peltz writes on November 5 that the Dacotah was assigned to "chase after the '290,' Alabama," a reference to the recently-completed Confederate raider which had launched from Liverpool, England (its shipyard number was 290). By the end of November, the ship was reassigned as part of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron. Peltz reports from Wilmington and Beaufort, North Carolina and Newport News, Virginia while on this mission, recording examinations of numerous ships through the end of the diary.

The identification of Peltz as the author of the present diary derives from his position as Chief Engineer of the Dacotah, which he achieved on May 2, recording the promotion in his diary. Philip G. Peltz (1832–1868), a Philadelphia native, served throughout the Civil War and remained in the Navy afterwards. He was identified as chief engineer of the Dacotah in the February 8, 1862 issue of the Philadelphia Enquirer. Peltz also makes two mentions of his brother, a naval assistant surgeon, on August 29 and upon his brother's appointment to the gunboat Chocura on February 20. Philip Peltz's brother Samuel H. Peltz (1838–1865) was the assistant surgeon aboard the Chocura until his transfer, according to the September 29, 1863 issue of the Washington Evening Star.

A unique and highly informative manuscript diary of Union Navy life during a critical year of the Civil War, providing a fresh new source on the most important naval theater of the conflict, with an eyewitness account of the Merrimac's destruction, substantial information on runaway slaves serving in the Union military, and passages detailing the Yellow Fever outbreak in the southern Atlantic.

Item #6705

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