James W. and Patricia R. McPherson, Oxford University Press, New
York, 1997, 234 pages.
Lamson of the Gettysburg
is a quick and easy read in an area of Civil War history that is
all too often ignored. Compared to the land war, naval
engagements were intermittent and very small in scale, although
naval blockade was essential to the outcome of the War Between
Lamson was Lieutenant Roswell Hawks
Lamson, U.S.N., and a former Oregon farm boy. Until his
voluminous and detailed correspondence was resurrected by the
McPhersons, he was largely ignored by historians.
The Gettysburg was the U.S.S.
Gettysburg. It was built in Scotland to serve as a
blockade-runner for the Confederacy until captured by the Union
Navy and converted into a blockader in 1863.
Lieutenant Lamson was chosen over
several older and higher ranked officers as the Gettysburg’s
captain. Their mission was to choke off supply lines and
discourage would be allies from joining the Confederacy.
The Gettysburg was well equipped for
her mission. She was the fastest ship in the Navy.
Lt. Lamson was an experienced combat officer and the crew were
volunteers handpicked by him.
In addition to his naval skills, Roswell Lamson was an
interesting and engaging correspondent. He wrote frequent
long letters home to his fiancée Kate, her sister Flora and his
father William, an Oregon farmer. Most of his letters were
saved and have become a close-up first person account of the
Atlantic coast blockade.
His career was ‘‘story book’’ in that
he was usually where the action was in the naval war:
of the big guns of U.S.S. Wabash attacking the forts at
Hatteras; (He was still a Midshipman.)
the captured Confederate ship Planter when a crew of slaves ran
her past the forts in Charleston harbor to join the Union fleet;
the gunboat fleet on the Nansemond River that helped stop James
Longstreet’s advance on Norfolk in 1863;
a ship with 200 tons of gunpowder in a highly dangerous but
largely unsuccessful effort to breach Fort Fisher in North
the Gettysburg he led the ground force that attacked Fort Fisher
from the sea. He was wounded here ending his combat
Kate (Catherine) Buckingham was quite interesting in her own
right. They met when she was 15 and he was on his way to
Annapolis. At the time he was more interested in her
sister Flora. During his 1862 Christmas furlough, his
affections switched sisters and he became engaged to Kate.
They were married after the war in 1867.
They had much in common insofar as the
war was concerned, they were deeply dedicated to the Union
cause. Lamson had a broad knowledge of military strategy
and was most capable aboard ship as well as in command of
Kate shared his interest from her Ohio
home. She also had an active interest in home front
politics. They were both open and candid with their
comments on the War, its generals and politicians. Theirs
was an interesting romance considering
he seldom had shore leave and even then they could not
usually be together. They were not together more than five
times in their five-year engagement.
Although Lt. Lamson has been forgotten
or ignored by historians, he was remembered by the Navy down
through World War II. Three combat ships were named after
him. The first U.S.S. Lamson was a World War I “torpedo
boat destroyer.” She was followed peacetime destroyer in
commission from 1920 to 1930. The third U.S.S. Lamson was
commissioned in 1936, fought through the Pacific from Pearl
Harbor to victory only to be intentionally sunk in the Bikini
Atoll atomic bomb tests in 1946.
The McPhersons have done their customarily capable job of
editing, contexting and blending these letters. The flow
is paced well and we are given an interesting, informative
picture of life on both the war and home fronts. We are
indebted to the McPhersons for a fascinating look at this facet
of the Civil War.
Review by Carl Greenawald