Civil War Archive of Naval Engineer, George S. Paul
124 letters, CDV of soldier in uniform, possibly George S. Paul, and paperwork related to engineering business, 1861-1898, (bulk 1861-1863).
George S. Paul (1837-1900) was the second oldest child of Hosea Paul Sr. and Ellen Gamble. Before the Civil War, he worked in New York City, Philadelphia, and Wilmington, DE, as an engineer and ship builder, and was involved with other mechanical projects. In 1863, he joined the crew of the USS Paul Jones, a gunboat commissioned in Baltimore, MD. George subsequently served on the ironclad USS Nahant, the ironclad USS Nantucket, and the gunboat USS Sonoma. George served as an engineer on all of the vessels, and spent most of the war off the coast of South Carolina and Georgia. Most notably, he participated in the blockade of Charleston and the Battle of Tulifinny. He considered continuing to work in the navy after the war, but returned to Ohio and began working as an engineer for the railroad. He married Olive Babcock and moved to Iowa, where he was employed by the railroad as an engineer. After their time in Iowa, George and Olive settled in Cuyahoga Falls, OH, where he worked as a civil engineer with his brothers.
The collection of letters chronicles in great detail George Paul’s experiences in the navy, as well as his experiences working on ships in New York and Wilmington before he joined the war. While living in New York in 1861 or 1862, he wrote about a military parade, There were some ten or a dozen regiments in all. The seventh and a regiment of school boys in zouave dress were the most noticeable…the Zouaves wore blue jackets and red pantaloons coming to just below the knee…some Zouaves that are now in the U.S. Service wear a kind of a red petticoat which is sewed up at the bottoms all excepting places for the legs to stick through. In this letter, he also drew a picture of the type of cap worn by the Zouaves. Other letters from this period of George's life feature descriptions of his boarding house, women he met, and seeing a hippopotamus for the first time. While working in New York, he considered entering the army or navy as an engineer, and discussed moving west or back to Ohio in order to make more money.
In October 1861, George went to Philadelphia to take the U.S. Navy engineering test, and his description offers a clear look at that experience: Reported to the Commandant of the yard. He signed my permit to go before the Surgeon who examined me yesterday and Reported me physically qualified to become an Engineer in the U.S.N. I then took my report to the chief of examiners who put my name down on the list to be examined. He said my number was forty six; and I could not be examined for two weeks yet… There are about eighty third assistants required so I stand a very good chance now to get into service as soon as examined (that is if I pass). The examination is very strict a person has to be a good penman and has to have a perfect scientific knowledge of the steam engine. George did not pass the examination, so he went to Wilmington to find work building ships. In reference to the exam, he said, But take it all round I think I have not lost anything in the long run. I know now very well what a man ought to know and before I did not. In Wilmington, he was hired by the government. George stayed in Wilmington through the fall of 1862 and early winter of 1863. In January 1863, he was ordered by the chief of the gunship Juniata to join the crew, and he worked on the gunship during the trial trips. He was then ordered to the U.S. Navy as Third Assistant Engineer. He spent his time awaiting orders to be assigned to a ship, studying, and visiting with ladies. George finally joined a ship in March 1863 and initially reported to the gunboat, USS Paul Jones.
The Paul Jones was best known for its involvement in the blockade of Charleston and capturing blockade runners. While George was on the Paul Jones, he wrote to his family and described his experiences. On April 19, 1863 he wrote, The P.J. started for them but they made for the shore, but we wanted to draw fire from the batteries on shore, so we went to within a mile and three quarters of the shore firing our one hundred lb. Parrot and they firing their short range guns so as to make us believe they could not reach us, but when we got into good range for their Blakely they sent a couple of good sized shot through our rigging…Blockading is a dismal business. Just before dark each Vessel takes its position. Every man get his guns and arms etc. ready… All our lights are put out, not even a light allowed in our Engine room, so everything looks dark enough. Then we take our position for the night. In the same letter, he wrote on April 22, Since writing the above, we went down to keep the Rebs. Off the Kiokuk, and after remaining in range a while, we saw the Rebel ram Chicora begin to make a good deal of smoke off Sumter and then begin to steam down towards us. Some of us began to think it was a big thing to stay, give her one or two long range shots anyhow. So we signalized the Ironsides that a ram was coming out and lay there at anchor waiting to see what she was going to do… Then we fixed our fifty again, hit pretty near her and then the Ironsides called us away...So we up anchor and left one way, and the ram ran back to C. She is shaped like this. –Drawing of the Ram—So we are the first wooden Vessel that has engaged their batteries or that has stood the ram. Night before last we tipped anchor and give chase to something which was afterwards caught by the Powhatan. It proved to be a small schooner loaded cotton and was worth about sixty five thousand dollars, and about the same time we saw the Housatonic come in with a Sloop. The two were worth about $75,000 (this is likely the Major E. Willis).
By January 1864, George was transferred to the Ironclad Nahant. He wrote to his family on January 6, In an Ironclad everything is under water and the men mess and sleep in the next room to the boardroom and at this time they are making considerable racket as they have got up a walk around dance and are playing “Dixie” on two violins and the bones. So you can imagine what kind of a noise we have got… The waves run over everything but the turret but that is nothing as it does not make any. Everything is made for it. In perfectly smooth water the deck is about eighteen inches out of water. George Paul expected to hate working on the ironclad, but he found it much more pleasant than he initially thought it would be. Much of the work involved picket duty, a dangerous job where an advance group of soldiers would prepare for the large forces to arrive.
In May 1864, he wrote, We were doing nothing but Picket duty two nights on and four off, but that is not any different from other duty only we have to sleep with our clothes on and when we go on picket we lay about a mile and a half from Fort Moultrie and about one mile from Sumter. We are so close that we can see everything that occurs with a glass and have an excellent view of the Rebs…I do not think there have been as many shells in the air at one time since the war began, and as we were on Picket and the shot were all discharged at Gregg, they passed not far from over us and such a howling. They were none of your thirty two pounders but a great many were large sized mortars and guns of the largest caliber. At first I did not know but they might give us a touch, as we were in such easy range, so I kept near the Turret so I could easily dodge behind it in case of any danger.
George’s final appointment of the war was on the USS Sonoma, where he participated in the Battle of Tulifinney, a Union naval force that landed Union army troops and marines in South Carolina in order to cut the railroad connection between Savannah and Charleston. He wrote: Since I last wrote you our troops have sanded up on the left bank of the Tulifinney and have had two days fighting. Both days we drove the Rebs and we are now within less than ½ mile from the R.R. On the day of the second fight I went to the front to see a little army fighting during my stay. There were quite a number killed and wounded and the killed and wounded probably amounted to some four or five hundred. We have taken a few prisoners but they do not seem to know much Sherman. For several nights back we have seen the “fire balloons” sent but we suppose that the Rebs are doing it in order to decoy us. The S. will leave here in a few days in order to coal ship. When I was ashore the other day I saw the Surgeons carve Col. Sellmans leg about halfway from the knee to the thigh. They seem to enjoy a good job of that kind and some of them keep their knife in their teeth the same as a butcher does when he is dressing a hog, and none that I saw took the trouble to wash their hands when they went to dinner. Several of my acquaintances were wounded, but none dangerously. This was the most important battle in which George participated during the war, and the passages represent a series of letters he wrote to his family describing battle conditions and experiences.
After the war, George wrote of the funeral services for Lincoln while he was still serving aboard the Sonoma in Fernandina, FL, on April 24th: Well I have turned up in this miserable and forsaken place we came in here on the 18th having attended the flag raising on Sumter which was a very nice affair the next morning much to my disgust we were ordered away down to this place but I do not go ashore here very much as there is not any body here…Yesterday we had Lincolns funeral sermon with all the variation but as there was no minister in the place the preaching or speaching had to be done by a lot of broken down lawyers…I am soon going to apply to go North as I am getting tired of this place ship and everything else connected with the Navy we seldom get a mail here sometimes the people have been six months without a mail. Before this place was quite a place but now it is a deserted city as I ever was every in in my life then there was once some very respectable people here but now they are scared. By September 1865, he returned to Philadelphia and began working with his brothers Hosea and Robert Paul.
The remainder of the collection is comprised of correspondence related to George’s life after the war, including his time working on the railroad in Iowa, his duties as an engineer in Ohio, and continued work with his brothers.