338: Uss Brooklyn Landsman George Tittle, Civil War Arc
USS Brooklyn Landsman George Tittle, Civil War Archive
This archive of seven letters, written between January 16 and June 18, 1861, by Surgeon’s Steward George A. Tittle aboard the USS Brooklyn, gives the reader an eyewitness account of some of the earliest actions of the war at Fort Pickens in Pensacola, as well as Brooklyn’s encounter with a notorious English blockade runner at the start of her illicit career.
On January 16, 1861, Tittle writes his sister, mentioning obliquely the Brooklyn’s mission to besieged Fort Sumter: Since you received my last, we have been to Charleston - arrived there on the 12th and returned here on the 14th... Only two of our officers have resigned, they are from Alabama, all the others are “true blue.” The Brooklyn had been sent to deliver new orders to the ship Star of the West, which was en route to Fort Sumter with desperately needed supplies. However, Confederate shore gunners forced the supply ship to abandon her mission before the Brooklyn caught up with her.
After reconnoitering the defenses at Charleston, the Brooklyn returned to Hampton Roads, where she was loaded with troops and artillery to reinforce various forts in Florida in an attempt to prevent their seizure by Rebel forces. On January 31, Tittle writes from Key West: ...tomorrow we leave for Tortugas, where we will leave a lot of Howitzers and Field Pieces we have on board for the Fort there, then we will proceed to Fort “Pickens” (Santa Rosa Island, near the Pensacola Navy Yard) where we will leave the Soldiers we received on board from Fort “Monroe. The Brooklyn arrived at Fort Jefferson on Dry Tortugas on February 2, and then proceeded on their mission to reinforce Fort Pickens.
When they arrived off Pensacola on February 6, they found a truce in effect at Fort Pickens similar to the one governing events at Fort Sumter. The Pensacola Navy Yard and the other surrounding forts had been seized, but the rebel commander promised not to attack Fort Pickens if the US did not reinforce the tiny garrison there. Since neither side wanted to be the one to start a shooting war, the Union warships were ordered not to land their reinforcements. Quoting Tittle’s February 7 letter (note that this letter is mistakenly dated 1860, but references the contents of the January 31, 1861 letter): The troops are still on board of us... On our arrival here we received dispatches, ordering us not to land the troops until further orders from Washington. The Union squadron, comprising USS Wyandotte (which had escaped Pensacola Navy Yard where she was under repair when Florida seceded from the Union), USS St. Louis , USS Sabine, and USS Brooklyn, packed with soldiers, patrolled off Fort Pickens for the next ten weeks.
On April 12, Fort Sumter was attacked by Confederate forces in Charleston, igniting the war. Events quickly developed in Pensacola when the news arrived, as Tittle relates in his letter of the 21st: On the night of the 12th inst. it was rumored that the secessionists were making preparation for an attack on Fort Pickens before sunrise, in consequence of which, we received the “Sabine’s” & “St. Louis” Marines and some of their sailors on board, and ran up near the Fort, and landed them with the soldiers and our Marines (in all about 350 men) who immediately marched into the Fort; this manouver being seen by the secessionists, caused them to postpone the attack... Yesterday the Sailors & Marines returned from the fort to the fleet - there are now over one thousand men (soldiers) in the fort, and they are engaged, day and night, in mounting guns inside, and erecting Sand-Batteries, and placing large Mortars along the beach, while the sailors are busy with boats landing Ordnance, provisions &c from the Store Ships. Two weeks later, he proudly writes his sister that: The work on Fort Pickens and the several Batteries on Santa Rosa island is so nearly completed, as to be able in a very few days, to defy the whole force of the Southern Confederacy.
The last letter of the archive is dated June 8, 1861, and finds the Brooklyn off the mouth of the Mississippi River in company with USS Powhatan, capturing blockade runners. On May 31, the Brooklyn encounters the soon-to-be notorious British blockade runner General Miramon: on the 31st a steamer hove in sight with a secession flag at her peak, and on discovering us, hauled down the secession and hoisted the English flag, and stood off to the S.W.; we immediately went in pursuit of her, and when we were about a mile and a half astern of her, fired a shot to heave her to, but she paid no attention to it; we then gave her a 10 inch shell (from our pivot Gun) which burst directly over her, and had the desired effect; she proved to be the “Genl Miramon” (formerly a Mexican Man of War) bound from Havana to New Orleans. - as our captain had some doubts as to her being a legal prize, he sent her in charge of a prize crew to the captain of the U.S. Str. “Niagara”, off Mobile, who left her at Havana a short time ago, for him to decide if she is a prize or not.
A former warship belonging to the conservative rebel faction in the Mexican civil war of 1860, the General Miramon had recently been purchased in New Orleans by blockade runners. Official records show that Mr. Golding, the British captain, carried British registration for the ship and claimed that he sailed from Havana with a cargo of cigars before news of the blockade had arrived, hence the question of her status.
The Brooklyn’s prize crew sailed the Miramon to Mobile, where records show that Captain Golding begged Captain McKean of the USS Niagara to let him into port. The Miramon was out of coal and food, and had a very sick woman passenger on board. Despite signing a pledge to not offload or accept any cargo in exchange for being allowed to dock, Golding promptly sold his cargo and bought another to export, escaping to Havana before he was caught. His actions led to a serious diplomatic incident between the US and Britain at the highest level. The Miramon made five blockade runs before being captured for good under the name Elizabeth on May 27, 1862, by USS Keystone State while inbound to Charleston.
George A. Tittle enlisted in the US Navy on January 11, 1859, as a surgeon’s steward. He served aboard the USS Brooklyn until she was decommissioned for overhaul in October 1861, re-enlisting as surgeon’s steward on December 3, for duty on the USS Kearsarge. He was on board Kearsarge when she sank the