Saturday, July 03, 2004



"Elias, I do not steal as much here as I used to in the Army for I used to help myself to sugar and from the quartermaster. But here I steal fresh water to wash in. Every night I manage to steal a qt. to wash in. In the morning I have to be very sly about it for there is a guard constantly over it. But I have not been caught yet. It is great business stealing water when there is nothing to be seen but water." Bloom, October 1864

Correspondence written by a naval soldier covering three days, October 25, 26, and 27, 1864, while aboard the USS Vanderbilt. The soldier’s name was "Bloom" and he is writing to his brother. Bloom makes several interesting confessions regarding his less than becoming conduct. an interesting look into life aboard the Vanderbilt.

The letter comprises three pages dated Oct. 25, and one page dated Oct. 26, 1864). The fifth page is dated October 27, 1864, and is written on a half sheet lined paper


The Vanderbilt was originally a transatlantic passenger and mail steamer, built by Jeremiah Simonson of Greenpoint, Long Island, N.Y., in 1856 and 1857. It was chartered by the Union Army shortly after the start of the Civil War in April 1861, offered to the Army by her owner, Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, in early 1862; and transferred to the Navy on March 24, 1862.

Popularly known as "Vanderbilt's Yacht," the former flagship of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt's North Atlantic Mail Steamship Line began her military career in Hampton Roads, Va., intended for use as a ram against the Confederate ironclad CSS Virginia. Commodore Vanderbilt, suggested filling the bow of the vessel with concrete and reinforcing it with iron plating. This was not done, however, and the Vanderbilt was turned over to the Navy on and fitted with a heavy battery of 15 guns at the New York Navy Yard during the summer of 1862. The Vanderbilt left New York on November 10 and, after conducting a brief search for the CSS Alabama, the most destructive Confederate commerce raider of the entire war, was put into Hampton Roads on January 17, 1863.

Ten days later, the Vanderbilt received orders to conduct a much longer and more thorough search for Alabama. This year-long cruise took the vessel to the West Indies, eastern coast of South America, Cape of Good Hope, St. Helena, Cape Verde, the Canary Islands, Spain and Portugal. During the West Indies portion of her deployment, Vanderbilt served as flagship of Commodore Charles Wilkes' Flying Squadron. During the search, Vanderbilt captured the blockade-running British steamer Peterhoff on 25 February, off St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, causing a dispute between the British and Americans as to the disposition of mail carried aboard the steamer. President Lincoln eventually ordered the mail returned to the British. Vanderbilt's captures also included the British blockade runner Gertrude, taken off Eleuthera Island in the Bahamas on April 16, 1863, and the British bark Saxon, seized at Angra Peguena, Africa, on 30 October. Saxon was suspected of having rendezvoused with and taken cargo off CSS Tuscaloosa earlier. However, pursuing lead to the whereabouts of Alabama, became increasingly frustrating as Vanderbilt would often arrive at a port only to discover that her quarry had departed only a few hours earlier. She eventually returned to New York in January 1864 for repairs without ever having sighted the Confederate vessel.

About the time this letter was written, the Vanderbilt was deployed with the blockade off Wilmington in November and participated in the unsuccessful first amphibious assault upon Confederate Fort Fisher in the Cape Fear River, N.C., on December 24 and 25. The Fleet took the fort during a second amphibious assault on 13 and 15 January 1865.

Vanderbilt returned to New York in late January, remaining until March 24, when she left for the Gulf of Mexico ferrying new recruits. From there, she proceeded to Charleston, S.C., towing the uncompleted Confederate ram Columbia from Charleston to Norfolk in May, and towed the Onondaga from Norfolk to New York in June. Vanderbilt served as a receiving ship at the Portsmouth (N.H.) Navy Yard during the summer of 1865.

The Civil War now over, Vanderbilt sailed from Portsmouth on 14 August and put into the Philadelphia Navy Yard on 27 August to be fitted out for a cruise around Cape Horn. She left Philadelphia on 25 October and arrived in Hampton Roads three days later. There, she was designated flagship of a special squadron consisting of herself, Tuscarora, Powhatan, and Monadnock. The squadron was commanded by Commodore John Rodgers and intended to increase the Pacific Squadron to a 14-ship force. The vessels left Hampton Roads on 2 November and arrived at San Francisco, Calif., on 21 June 1866 after stopping at most major South American ports while circumnavigating the South American continent.

Vanderbilt was decommissioned at Mare Island, Calif., on 30 June, but was soon recommissioned and on 13 October, sailed from San Francisco to Honolulu Hawaii, with the Hawaiian monarch, Queen Emma, on board. The cruiser returned to San Francisco on 3 December and remained there at anchor until placed in ordinary at Mare Island on 24 May 1867. She lay there, in ordinary, until sold on 1 April 1873 to Howe Company of San Francisco. Her new owners removed her machinery, gave her a graceful clipper bow, and full rigging. Renamed Three Brothers, she spent most of her time in the grain trade between San Francisco Le Havre, Liverpool, and New York where she acquired an enviable reputation for speed and handling. Vanderbilt's Yacht" served successive owners until 1899, at which time the vessel, now a coal hulk, was sold for scrap at Gilbraltar.


The letter is quoted in its entirety. For ease of reading, grammar and spelling have been corrected: "USS Vanderbilt at Sea Thursday Evening, Oct. 25, 1864

Dear Brother—

I write you these few lines under difficulties. I have wrote letters by moonlight and by campfire but this setting here and the ship rocking so hard that I scan scarcely sit still and the wind blowing the light out continually beats everything, so you must excuse the writing.
Well we left Boston yesterday 4. This morning I was up at 5 to wash some clothing. It was still dark. But as soon as I commence a heavy sea came over the vessel and wet me almost through. The sea was very high. I finished washing but no sooner hung them up then it commenced raining. It has been a very disagreeable day. I never saw the vessel rock so. I have done nothing all day. Near noon I was a little sea sick or rather had a headache. But I went [and had] my dinner. I never felt better as I do now. I ate some of mother’s doughnuts tonight and will eat more before retiring. I thank her very much for them. They make me think of her and home. Tomorrow we expect to arrive at Fortress Monroe, and I will send you these lines.

We have on board 25 or 30 men to leave there. I believe from there I don not know where we will go. The boys on here now are very lively and are enjoying themselves singing. But some of them was very sea sick this morning. Elias I would like to have you along on one cruise to know how you would like it. I guess if you could come aboard tonight you would give anything to get off before morning. You would be so sea sick. (Fifteen Minutes later). I have just been on the hurricane deck securing the accommodation ladders afraid they would be washed away. The sea washes clean over. It does not rain now.

Elias, I do not steal as much here as I used to in the Army for I used to help myself to sugar and from the quartermaster. But here I steal fresh water to wash in. Every night I manage to steal a qt. to wash in. In the morning I have to be very sly about it for there is a guard constantly over it. But I have not been caught yet. It is great business stealing water when there is nothing to be seen but water. Salt water is miserable stiff to wash in. I must now close for the present. You would think the sailors were wild. Could you be here now, they have all sorts of mineral instruments and they are all going tin pans and everything. It sounds like a ? at a wedding. I will write you a few more lines before I send this. Excuse this as it is written as hasty as some of yours was to me.

I remain. Your loving brother…Bloom.

At Sea Wednesday Eve. Oct. 26, 1864

Dear Brother—

We are still on the ocean sailing. We expect to land tomorrow. Today has been pleasant and warm. This morning I again washed some clothing at 5. What do you think of washing clothing at night. We have to do it here. I have been quite busy all day. I am glad to tell you that my friend Cosgrove has been promoted today as Ship Corporal. It will be an easy berth for him and he can have all night in[side]. We are sorry to loose him as a cook of our mess as he cannot be easily replaced. I ate some of that bolonie [sic] tonight only I want to take care of those army letters of mine under the bureau in your room. You must not read them. You can sell my silk hat if you can get any reasonable price for it and let the money go in my account. Nor more at present. I remain your loving brother, Bloom. P.S. Excuse the writing as I am writing by a dim light.

Oct. 27th 1864

— Dear Brother— We arrived here at noon as the mail ? and I am very busy. I write these lines to let you know I am well more tomorrow. Bloom.
Direct your letter to Fortress Monroe, USS Vanderbilt.

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