Posted by: Mr.V | 11/10/2014

It’s Time to Wind Down

I normally don’t interrupt the flow of website content for administrative news, but I believe it’s important in this case.

Effective immediately, this website (, as well as my classroom technology-integration blog at, will shut down. The sites may go down as soon as this weekend or within the next three weeks. The parallel sites will similarly close their doors.

While the content of CW Ironclads will be incorporated into my flagship site (, T4C’s content will not be replicated. The T4C Logo will be retained and become the sole logo of

The decision to initiate these changes was planned some time ago. I thought now was a good time to do it. My experiences over the last four months has been less-than-stellar to say the least. Self-reflection during this time has also convinced me to choose my professional retirement date as well, but I’ll wait to announce that until it’s appropriate and relevant.

The site will also undergo a change. Effective immediately, the site will gradually turn away from it’s course-bound structure to a purely ‘History’ content website. It will still be aimed at the History enthusiast of any age, but not continue to be an exclusive portal into the courses I teach at Stuyvesant High School. Teachers and students will still be able to use the content for their high school courses without fear of any changes in that realm. Initially, the administrative course content will be lightened and then completely disappear. Other, non-history related, content will similarly vanish in lock-step with my plans to professionally retire.

As always, you can reach me about this or any other post made on by writing to Thanks for following!

Posted by: Mr.V | 07/08/2014

Damn the Torpedoes! –

Damn the Torpedoes!

Aug 5, 1864, 3 a.m.
On a sultry night, 18 ships of the Union navy rest uneasily at anchor off the bar of Mobile Bay, Ala. Led by four ironclads, and strengthened by 14 experienced wooden warships, the Union flotilla is part of the West Gulf Blockading Squadron, commanded by Rear Adm. David G. Farragut. The admiral was the United States’s most experienced, and celebrated, flag officer. He had spent 51 years in the Navy: After service as a youth in the War of 1812, and fighting pirates in the West Indies, Farragut established his Civil War reputation by capturing New Orleans after a daring dash up the Mississippi.

Photo Commodore Franklin Buchanan
Commodore Franklin BuchananCredit Library of Congress

Opposing Farragut was Franklin Buchanan, the South’s only admiral, who by 1864 had served a combined 49 years in the Union and Confederate navies. Buchanan was no stranger to Union forces. He had commanded the ironclad Virginia, formerly the Merrimac, in her maiden voyage at the Battle of Hampton Roads, where she sank two ships, the Congress and the Cumberland, and disabled the frigate Minnesota. Buchanan commanded a modest naval force at Mobile Bay from his flagship, the Tennessee, the most powerful ironclad in the Confederacy, and the equal or better of any Union ironclad. But only three gunboats were available as a complement.

By 1864 Mobile, Ala., was one of the last working ports of the Confederacy. Three forts guarded the entrance to the bay, 30 miles south, allowing Mobile to receive frequent blockade runners bringing urgently needed food, arms and supplies to confederate troops and civilians. An effective railway system then dispersed those supplies from Mobile throughout the South.

Along with the forts, Confederate engineers had placed wooden obstructions, heavy propeller-fouling rope and hundreds of “torpedoes,” or primitive underwater mines, along the mouth of the bay, forcing all naval traffic eastward to enter the bay through the only clear channel, directly under the guns of Fort Morgan.

Farragut’s options were limited, but he had a plan. Enjoying a calm sea, gunboats and smaller ships were lashed to larger ships in pairs, the larger ship to starboard closest to Fort Morgan. Farragut would send his four ironclads first, followed immediately by the seven pairs of wooden vessels, reducing the number of targets for confederate gunners. As soon as the fleet entered the bay, the smaller vessels would be cast loose to attack the Confederate fleet. As Farragut designed it, the larger union vessel would protect its consort from the guns of Fort Morgan, and if either ship became disabled, the southwest wind and flood tide would push both vessels into the bay.

Photo Rear Adm. David Farragut
Rear Adm. David FarragutCredit Library of Congress

Farragut had wanted to move against Mobile for two years. In vain he had requested further resources from Navy Secretary Gideon Welles and cooperation from War Secretary Edwin Stanton, but the shortage of men and matériel for this large an operation prevented those orders from issuing. Assistant Navy Secretary Gustavus Fox broke the news to Farragut in the fall of 1862: “We don’t think you have force enough, and we don’t want you to run risks … we only expect a blockade now, and the preservation of New Orleans.”

Finally, in the spring of 1864, with support from newly appointed General in Chief Ulysses S. Grant, Farragut began laying plans for the assault on Mobile Bay. First on his list — after being assured of army support — was obtaining several ironclads to breach the line at Fort Morgan. Welles cooperated, sending the Manhattan, the Chickasaw, the Winnebago, and the most powerful monitor of all, the Tecumseh. The Tecumseh, commanded by Tunis Craven, arrived only hours before the assault, and her captain missed the general briefing.

5:30 a.m.
At breakfast aboard his flagship, the Hartford, Farragut learned that all ships had completed their pairings, and he ordered the signal to get underway. Capt. James Alden commanded the Brooklyn, the lead Union wooden warship. With the Octorara lashed to her side, she headed slowly north, the remaining pairs following in her wake. “At twenty minutes to six, the line was formed, and we commenced to steam in slowly, the Admiral’s order being to carry the lowest possible pressure, so as to avoid as much as possible the fearful scalding effect of steam, should the boilers be pierced,” one surgeon aboard the Lackawanna, recalled.

6 a.m.
Four union ironclads began to stir from their anchorage off Sand Island. Anchored closer to Fort Morgan, they were to cross in front of the approaching Union fleet and lead them up the channel into the bay. Craven and the Tecumseh led the way.

6:47 a.m.
The Tecumseh entered the main channel ahead of her sister ironclads. The main fleet picked up speed, but was still almost 1,000 yards behind. The crew primed its 15-inch Dahlgren guns by firing two 350-pound shells into the fort. The battle commenced.

7:05 a.m.
The Union ships were still over 2,000 yards from Fort Morgan, out of any reliable range of the fort’s guns. Nonetheless, the fort’s commander, recognizing the need to boost his troops’ morale, ordered firing to commence, and the fort’s garrison raised a “soul stirring cheer” that the battle had been joined.

7:25 a.m.
Now abreast of the fort, with shells exploding everywhere, the Brooklyn inexplicably stopped, and actually reversed her engines, her captain later noting “a row of suspicious-looking buoys were discovered directly under our bows.” Immediately behind in the Hartford, which was in danger of ramming the Brooklyn, Farragut ordered the Brooklyn to “Go ahead.” He was ignored.

7:40 a.m.
An Army signalman named John Kinney was aboard the flagship, relaying messages to and from the admiral. Kinney climbed the rigging almost 100 feet above the deck to get a view above the smoke of battle. At that moment, against orders, the Tecumseh steered westward into the minefield, in an effort to keep the approaching rebel ram Tennessee in its sights. Kinney relayed what happened next. “Just at this moment, to the horror of us all, the monitor Tecumseh, a few hundred yards in the advance, seemed to stagger for a moment, then suddenly careened, and almost instantly disappeared beneath the water, carrying with her, her noble commander, Captain Craven, and one hundred and twenty officers and men, hopelessly imprisoned in their iron coffin.” The Tecumseh had struck a torpedo, the muffled explosion hardly audible above the din of battle, and she sank in less than a minute, bow first, her propeller still turning. Only 21 of her officers and men were able to exit the stricken vessel and swim to safety. The remaining 94 crewmen, including Craven, are entombed to this day.

Photo The sinking of the Tecumseh during the Battle of Mobile Bay
The sinking of the Tecumseh during the Battle of Mobile BayCredit Library of Congress

7:50 a.m.
The attack was unraveling, which Farragut saw firsthand after climbing the rigging himself. Fearing for the admiral’s safety, his captain sent a quartermaster aloft with a rope, and Farragut permitted himself to be tied fast to the rigging, freeing both hands to use his spyglass and signal his officers. The Tecumseh had vanished, and Farragut realized the Brooklyn, like an obstinate mule, simply was not going to proceed. Meanwhile, his fleet was taking merciless fire from the fort, as well as from the Tennessee and three confederate gunboats in the bay. Now almost abreast of the Brooklyn, whose captain shouted a warning of torpedoes ahead, Farragut replied: “Damn the torpedoes!” Then to his helmsman he added, “”Four bells, Captain Drayton, go ahead.” Though his exact words are lost to history, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” has survived as Farragut’s famous command. What is not in doubt is that he ordered the Hartford around the Brooklyn’s stern, through the minefield and into the bay. The other union vessels, including the Brooklyn, followed carefully in his wake, all expecting at any moment to feel the shudder of an exploding torpedo.

8:05 a.m.
The gunboat Metacomet was finally cast loose from the Hartford, and like a bull terrier took off after the closest confederate gunboat, the Selma. As go the fortunes of war, the Selma’s captain, Patrick Murphey, was an old Navy friend of Capt. James Jouett of the Metacomet. Jouett, in the faster Metacomet, pursued the Selma across the bay through a blinding rain squall, cornering it in shoal waters, and fired from almost point blank range, killing an officer, and wounding Jouett’s friend and five other crew members. The Selma struck her colors immediately.

8:30 a.m.
The heavily damaged Union fleet had now passed into the bay, and assembled at anchor to treat their wounded and conduct emergency repairs. The Hartford was hit particularly hard: By the time the battle was over, 25 of its crew were dead, and as many wounded. But aside from the Tecumseh, the remaining 16 ships suffered just 27 fatalities.

8:57 a.m.
Though Fort Morgan had been passed, the battle was not over. Admiral Buchanan believed the Tennessee could match any of the Union ships. After raking the fleet with his huge guns as they passed into the bay, Buchanan got up steam and headed to single-handedly ram the fleet. As Farragut saw the slow-moving Tennessee approaching, he signaled his vessels to “Run down the ram.” Buchanan, however, was fixed on the Hartford. An officer on the Union the sloop Monongahela described the scene: “With colors flying, [the ram] made directly for the flagship, ignoring all lesser fry. The perfect confidence which the commander of the Tennessee had in his vessel … rendered the fight which then took place … one of the most desperate on record.”

9:25 a.m.
As Buchanan methodically stalked the Hartford, the Monongahela and the Lackawanna each rammed the Tennessee at full speed. Kinney, above the Hartford’s deck, reported that the Monongahela’s blow “inflicted not the slightest damage on the solid iron hull of the ram.” The Lackawanna, at 150 tons, then rammed the Tennessee at 14 knots, but again, nothing. As each ship backed away from impact, much damaged, the Tennessee’s huge guns delivered broadsides, tearing enormous holes in their sides.

9:35 a.m.
As Buchanan continued for the Hartford, the ironclad Manhattan approached, rotating her turret for a 440-pound solid shot from her 15-inch gun. The shot exploded against the Tennessee, penetrating 5 inches of iron plates and 24 inches of solid wood, daylight reaching the crew below. By now the Hartford had charged the Tennessee as well, the two vessels scraping side by side and exchanging broadsides from 12 feet away. Other Union vessels got into the action, and the Tennessee was taking fire from all quarters.

9:45 a.m.
After several successful rounds from the Chickasaw, the Tennessee’s steering became unmanageable, and her gun doors became jammed shut. A shot penetrated a port door, killing two seamen instantly, and breaking Buchanan’s leg. He ordered the ship’s commander, James Johnston, to take over. With her steering now disabled, and no functioning guns, the ship was little more than a floating target.

10 a.m.
After three hours of raging combat, with over 300 Union casualties, the Tennessee surrendered. Commander Johnston reported later on his decision, “with an almost bursting heart, to hoist the white flag, and … placed it in the same spot where but a few moments before had floated the proud flag for whose honor I would so cheerfully have sacrificed my own life.”

Despite the Union victory, Fort Morgan held out for almost three weeks in the face of almost round the clock bombardment. It finally surrendered the morning of Aug. 23, and the Battle of Mobile Bay was finally over at last. Admiral Farragut later pronounced it “the most desperate battle I ever fought.” Although blockade runner traffic was shut down, the city of Mobile never fell.

Follow Disunion at or join us on Facebook.

Divers recover U.S.S. Monitor turret

On this day in 2002, the rusty iron gun turret of the U.S.S. Monitor broke from the water and into the daylight for the first time in 140 years. The ironclad warship was raised from the floor of the Atlantic, where it had rested since it went down in a storm off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, during the Civil War. Divers had been working for six weeks to bring it to the surface.

Nine months before sinking into its watery grave, the Monitor had been part of a revolution in naval warfare. On March 9, 1862, it dueled to a standstill with the C.S.S. Virginia (originally the C.S.S. Merrimack) in one of the most famous moments in naval history–the first time two ironclads faced each other in a naval engagement. During the battle, the two ships circled one another, jockeying for position as they fired their guns. The cannon balls simply deflected off the iron ships. In the early afternoon, the Virginia pulled back to Norfolk. Neither ship was seriously damaged, but the Monitor effectively ended the short reign of terror that the Confederate ironclad had brought to the Union navy.

Designed by Swedish engineer John Ericsson, the Monitor had an unusually low profile, rising from the water only 18 inches. The flat iron deck had a 20-foot cylindrical turret rising from the middle of the ship; the turret housed two 11-inch Dahlgren guns. The shift had a draft of less than 11 feet so it could operate in the shallow harbors and rivers of the South. It was commissioned on February 25, 1862, and arrived at Chesapeake Bay just in time to engage the Virginia.

After the famous duel, the Monitor provided gun support on the James River for George B. McClellan’s Peninsular Campaign. By December 1862, it was clear the ship was no longer needed in Virginia, so she was sent to Beaufort, North Carolina, to join a fleet being assembled for an attack on Charleston. The Monitor served well in the sheltered waters of Chesapeake Bay, but the heavy, low-slung ship was a poor craft for the open sea. The U.S.S. Rhode Island towed the ironclad around the rough waters of Cape Hatteras. As the Monitor pitched and swayed in the rough seas, the caulking around the gun turret loosened and water began to leak into the hull. More leaks developed as the journey continued. High seas tossed the craft, causing the ship’s flat armor bottom to slap the water. Each roll opened more seams, and by nightfall on December 30, the Monitor was in dire straits.

That evening, the Monitor’s commander, J.P. Bankhead, signaled the Rhode Island that he wished to abandon ship. The wooden side-wheeler pulled as close as safety allowed to the stricken ironclad, and two lifeboats were lowered to retrieve the crew. Many of the sailors were rescued, but some men were terrified to venture onto the deck in such rough seas. The ironclad’s pumps stopped working, and the ship sank before 16 of its crew members could be rescued. The remains of two of these sailors were discovered by divers during the Monitor’s 2002 reemergence.

Many of the ironclad’s artifacts are now on display at the Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, Virginia.

Fact Check We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn’t look right, contact us!


Sent via Flipboard


Since December of 2013, My father has been battling an ailment complicated by his advanced age (92) and pre-existing conditions he has managed to bear over the decades. The conditions would surprise no one, a long life means many opportunities to get sick. But, whereas several of these conditions would have struck-down individuals of lesser countenance, my father persevered.

A long life has its benefits. However, it will leave one susceptible to trials and tribulations. Some are emotionally gut-wrenching and could easily have incapacitated the strong amongst us. On this list we can add the death of three sons, a wife, and multiple bouts with Cancer. These and many other events are the chapters of my father’s life- Nicomedes Valentin.

92 years is a very long time. There is a story to tell.

Before the advent of fatherhood, my father toiled as a peasant laborer in the sugarcane fields of Depression-Era Puerto Rico. The island was the home of his ancestors dating to, and beyond, the European colonial period. He toiled at this back-breaking work for years only because he was full of the strength and vitality that accompanies youth. This could have been his lot for the rest of his life and for the generations that he would ‘father’. Events, however, would intervene as it did for everyone else, leading up to and during World War II.

Pearl Harbor ushered the US into World War II, but it could be said that the nation was already preparing for a conflict it hadn’t entered yet. When the nation ‘called’, my father ‘answered’ by enlisting in the US Army in 1941. For the duration of the war, my father was sent to numerous stations throughout the Caribbean, Central America, and the Pacific basin. Among his stops we can include: Puerto Rico (his home), St. Thomas, Panama, Galapagos Archipelago, and Hawaii. One of his assignments was ‘cleanup’ of the debris resulting from the attack on Pearl Harbor.

When the war ended in the Pacific, it marked the official end of WWII and the start of my family. My mother and father had their first child as the nation started it’s conversion from a wartime footing to one of peace. It began with the birth of my eldest brother.

From the 1940s through the 1950s, the nation leaped to global preeminence, militarily and economically. My father road the wave of ‘opportunity’ and moved the growing family to New York City. By 1960, my family had moved to Brooklyn and swelled to seven children, I being the youngest. The “good times” we associate with the Post-WWII period and the 1950s, was fading as the decade of the 60s began.

From 1960 – 1975, the economy failed to show the robustness of the Post-war era and my father’s inability to find steady, consistent work landed us on the ‘Public Dole’. Public Assistance, better known by it’s colloquial name, Welfare, kept us fed with the nations agricultural surplus. I remember the huge, silver-colored cans with black print that we were given as recipients of the government’s largess. Powdered eggs, huge bricks of butter and cheese, and peanut butter populated our cupboards. To this day, I love eating peanut butter and bread with butter.

The earliest I recall my mother working outside our home was in the 1970s. Her work in a nursing home provided steady income and benefits that my father’s intermittent work could not obtain. Always, my mother did whatever she could, from working in a seamstress factory to piecemeal work at home, to help make ends meet. My father and mother took turns caring for my sisters and I as my four older brothers were semi-independent by then. I recall my father bringing lunch to our elementary school every day for my youngest sister and I. Invariably, the lunch consisted of hotdogs wrapped in aluminum foil. To this day, hotdogs remain a favorite treat for me. When my father was working my mother would be home tending to us. Like two eagles, one parent would care for the chicks while the other hunted. Then, they switch and reverse the roles. Only a short 8 – 10 hour period (often during the late night) saw an overlap of their schedule.

At ten years of age, the 70s introduced me to life’s trials and tribulations. The passing of one of my twin brothers in 1970 was a lesson in growing-up that I could do without. While death is part of life, I have never come to terms with it. I did not like the impact death had on my immediate family in that first encounter and I still don’t in my most recent encounter.

The 1980s was the beginning of a lifelong medical obstacle course for my father. He was first diagnosed with colon cancer and had to endure painful treatment that ultimately left him without a significant portion of his intestines. This would handicap him ‘publicly’, but privately he could not keep from doing work in and out of our Brooklyn apartment. He would be, depending on the day and hour, a gardner (vegetables), carpenter, plumber, cook, home painter, plasterer (?), disciplinarian, and exterminator (rodents). As medical problems reappeared, he endured additional procedures and a temporary cessation of routine activities while bedridden in the hospital. When he returned home, he was active once again.

Medically, my father received blows that could have cut his life short. Unfortunately, he was also receiving blows of a more emotional nature. From November 1970 through January 2007, my father endured the passing of three children and his wife. How he survived that is beyond me.

The last 14 years had slowed my father and ultimately confined him to a wheelchair or bed by December 2013. Since then, his health and will to live were visibly evaporating. Every time I spoke with him he would try very hard to convince me that he was fine. But, I could see otherwise.

In his final hospitalization, he would argue with my sisters to take him home. He complained that he had responsibilities to attend to. Not the least of which were the lost wages his favorite home attendant was enduring because her services were not needed while he was hospitalized. When news from his doctor indicated that medical intervention may not improve his condition, the family decided to accept his desire to return home. Within a few hours of returning home, the agitated behavior ceased and he became calm.

My father, the strongest human I’ve ever known, lasted one week in his home. At 92, he passed into the hands of his creator late Wednesday evening, 11 June. He left behind four remaining children and nearly 100 grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren. To the youngest in our family, his life is now a story; His exploits, myths.

As we laid him to rest near his wife and son, a military honor guard performed the ritual that culminates with the words found in this post’s title. I couldn’t help thinking how grateful we all are for having known him and being his children.

Posted by: Mr.V | 31/03/2014

Dead Cattle and Greek Fire –

Confederate constitution adopted

In Montgomery, Alabama, delegates from South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas adopt the Permanent Constitution of the Confederate States of America.

The constitution resembled the Constitution of the United States, even repeating much of its language, but was actually more comparable to the Articles of Confederation–the initial post-Revolutionary War U.S. constitution–in its delegation of extensive powers to the states. The constitution also contained substantial differences from the U.S. Constitution in its protection of slavery, which was “recognized and protected” in slave states and territories. However, in congruence with U.S. policy since the beginning of the 19th century, the foreign slave trade was prohibited. The constitution provided for six-year terms for the president and vice president, and the president was ineligible for successive terms. Although a presidential item veto was granted, the power of the central Confederate government was sharply limited by its dependence on state consent for the use of any funds and resources.

Although Britain and France both briefly considered entering the Civil War on the side of the South, the Confederate States of America, which survived until April 1865, never won foreign recognition as an independent government.

Fact Check We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn’t look right, contact us!


Older Posts »



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.