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U.S. Navy Rear Admiral John Ancrum Winslow

$100

Item No. CV49943 Category

Description

Winslow’s Civil War career began at St. Louis, Mo., where he commanded the gunboat Benton. In December 1861 a freak accident, in which Winslow was struck in the arm by a piece of flying chain, deprived him of the chance to participate in the Fort Henry, Island No. 10, and Memphis operations. He would return to duty in May 1862 and was dispatched to lead an expedition up the White River into Arkansas, but shallow water, river fever, and local guerrillas prevented the expedition from making any substantial gains. Promoted to captain in July 1862, the choice three months later of Admiral David D. Porter, his junior on the naval officers’ list, to replace Davis, as well as the Navy Department’s discovery that Winslow had spoken disparagingly of President Abraham Lincoln and of General John Pope, raised the possibility that his usefulness might be over. His request for relief from unhealthy river duty got him placed on furlough. Winslow wrote urgently to Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles to make known his antislavery views; apparently the explanation was satisfactory, because in December 1862 he received command of the USS Kearsarge. The Kearsarge ‘s mission was the prevention of European-built and -manned Confederate raiding cruisers like the Florida and Georgia from putting to sea and the interception of the famous Alabama should it try to make port and refit. A shortage of Union cruisers allowed the first two vessels to get away, and Winslow’s incessant patrolling soon led to an unpleasant incident with Great Britain. In November 1863 the Kearsarge recruited some Irish hands in Queenstown; Winslow immediately released the men when the British government protested, but he insisted on returning them to Ireland rather than risking their taking service with the Confederates. The Kearsarge was at Flushing when, on 12 June 1864, Winslow learned that the long-awaited Alabama had landed at Cherbourg; within two days he was outside the harbor. The refusal of French authority to permit Captain Semmes, Winslow’s old shipmate, a long period in port for overhaul and Semmes’s natural pugnacity led him to send out a challenge. When the Alabama steamed out on the nineteenth, the Kearsarge dropped well beyond the three-mile limit to avoid any diplomatic complications. Seven miles offshore she put about; the two ships made seven opposite-course circuits with the range gradually dropping to seven hundred yards. Though their specifications were virtually identical, the Kearsarge was in much better condition than her adversary, which had been long at sea and had a foul bottom and deteriorated ammunition. Winslow had taken the added precaution of strengthening his ship’s wooden sides by draped spare chains; moreover his gunnery, although slower, was considerably more accurate. Except for one lucky shot, which fortunately failed to explode, the Kearsarge escaped virtually unscathed and managed to sink the Alabama.

On returning home to Boston in November 1864 to decommission the Kearsarge, Winslow was voted the thanks of Congress and promoted to commodore with rank to date from his victory. He spent the remainder of the war at patriotic gatherings, on courts-martial, and in the supervision of ship construction in Boston. In December 1865 he assumed command of the Gulf Squadron for a brief period before it was merged with that of the North Atlantic. He hoisted his rear admiral’s flag over the Pacific Squadron in 1870, but his ailments—he had already lost an eye due to long neglect of it at sea—forced him ashore to stay two years afterwards. He would die at Boston Highlands. No back mark on this one.

 

 

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