Friday, July 11, 2014

Seavers in the News - James T. Seaver, Master of a Civil War Vessel - Post 2

While searching for interesting tidbits in databases about Seaver persons, I ran across an article concerning James T. Seaver, Acting Master of the U.S. Steamer Philippi in the Civil War.

Here are screen shots of two pages from Mocavo of the loss of the U.S. Steamer Philippi in Mobile Bay in 1864:

There are two reports - the first is the letter to the Secretary of War by Rear Admiral D.G. Farragut, which is transcribed in Post 1.

The second is the letter of James T. Seaver to Admiral Farragut explaining what happened in Mobile Bay that day:  Here is the transcription (provided by Mocavo):

U. S. S. Cowslip, August 6, 1864.

Sir : I beg leave to make the following report to you in regard to the loss of the U. S. steamer  Philippi:

At daylight, hove up anchor, and steamed I alongside the Tennessee, and discharged all the  ordnance stores and provisions belonging to other vessels ; not having orders to report to any one, and the verbal order I received being to discharge the stores into the Tennessee as quickly as possible, I did so. Wishing to be of assistance to the fleet in case any vessels were disabled, and knowing the power of my steamer, immediately after the freight was out, I dropped off from the Tennessee, got hawsers, lines, etc., all ready to be of assistance in towing any disabled vessel which would need my services. At forty-five minutes past seven stood up the channel for the fleet, keeping as far out of range of the Fort as I could judge was necessary to clear the shoal, the Quartermaster at the lead from the time of making the bar. At about fifteen minutes past nine, while going ahead slow, the Quartermaster gave the cast, a quarter less three, and the steamer immediately struck. 

I rang three bells and tried to back her off, but she did not stir. I kept backing for ten minutes; had about thirty-five pounds of steam on. The Fort then opened fire on us, and, getting our range, every other shell did execution—the second shell or shot, (as it did not explode, I could not tell which,) struck the rail about the starboard bow-port, and immediately killed Frank Wilson, landsman. One shot passed through the boiler, entirely disabling us, and another burst in the engine-room. At this time Fort Morgan kept up a constant fire at us, every shell doing more or less execution. The men, while I was forward, many of them, rushed aft, and commenced cutting the boats’ falls. Hearing this, I came aft and ordered them to stop, which they did, and the boats were lowered with safety, but the men crowded in, and two of the boats were immediately filled. I put the wounded in one of the boats, and sent the dying in charge of Acting Ensign L. R. Yance, to the Cowslip, for assistance.The deck being full of steam and smoke, and 
indications of the ship being on fire, and two of my men being wounded and one scalded, and almost every shell, either direct or ricochet, striking the steamer, and the boilers being disabled, and my men, several of them being almost paralyzed with fear; also, the sight of the rebel steamer coming out, and the utter impossibility to save the steamer or resist the enemy, I judged it best to abandon her.

I pulled alongside the Cowslip and Buckthorn, the two vessels being close to each other, and put the wounded on board ; both vessels then stood toward the Genesee. I went on board, and reported to Captain Grafton ; was ordered to put the wounded on board the Tennessee and report to Captain Grafton again, but as the Genesee steamed toward Pelican Channel, I was forced to remain on the Tennessee. The Quartermaster, William H. French, who was wounded in the stomach, died at twenty minutes past seven. 

List of Casualties—Frank Wilson, landsman, killed; William H. French, Quartermaster, mortally wounded; John Collins, coal-heaver, scalded ; and Joseph Boyd, slightly wounded.

The officers were perfectly cool throughout the time while under fire, and in leaving the ship.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant, 
James T. Seaver,
Acting Master.

To Admiral D. G. Farragut,
Commanding W. G. B. Squadron.

The source citation for this book found on is:

Frank Moore, editor, The Rebellion Record: A Diary of American Greats, with Documents, Narratives Illustrative Incidents, Poetry, Etc. (New York: D. Van Nostrand, Publisher, 1865), Volume 8, pages 143-144; digital images, Mocavo ( : accessed 10 July 2014); Report on sinking of U.S. Steamer Philippi, James T. Seaver Acting Master, 1864.

I thought that this book was fascinating.  This volume includes a set of reports from Admiral Farragut to the Secretary of the Navy concerning the Attack on the Defences of Mobile Bay during the Civil War.  The Philippi incident is only one of many reports.

After finding the book on Mocavo, I did a Google search and found the same report in several other resources, including the Congressional Serial Set and several other government publications, and the incident is described in several books.  I didn't find a picture of the Philippi online.  There is some information about the Philippi at

This is fascinating military and family history for an impartial observer, like myself.  For a family member, this information might be very disheartening and embarrassing. 

Naturally, I got to wondering "Who is James T. Seaver?  Who were his parents, where was he born, did he have a family, what happened to him?"  I will follow this rabbit trail in the next week or two.

The URL for this post is:

Copyright (c), Randall J. Seaver

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