Csn Engineer Benjamin S. Herring Archive, 1853-189
CSN Engineer Benjamin S. Herring Archive, 1853-1891
This fine lot features the following: Benjamin Herring's gray military vest with four attached naval buttons, plus six unattached naval buttons, most likely from the vest; Herring's pre-war chapeau in original tin box; one war-date engineer's drawing for engines of CSS Vicksburg; Herring's monogramed fork; 21 letters (8 war-date); 2 manuscripts; 19 photographs; 4 postcards; 3 magazines; Reynolds family genealogy book; newspapers and clippings.
A North Carolinian by birth and southerner by inclination, Benjamin Simms Herring (1837-1915) was an engineer aboard the USS Richmond when hostilities commenced between the north and south. As a graduate of the US Naval Academy, he found himself with a difficult test of loyalties, and depending on which account one believes, Herring either resigned his commission on July 8, 1861, or was dismissed, but regardless, he resurfaced two weeks later as a Third Asst. Engineer in the Confederate Navy. His service for the Confederacy was anything but nominal. In addition to his engineering prowess, his service was highlighted by a stint aboard the most famous Confederate ironclad of the war, the Merrimac -- he was on board during its engagement with the USS Monitor at Hampton Roads -- he served at the Naval Works in Columbus, Ga., and saw action aboard the CSS Tennessee in the Mobile Squadron, surrendering there on June 4, 1865.
Within this significant collection are fourteen letters relating to Herring’s extraordinary naval career. Eight of the letters date from the war years:
1864 April 1: Manuscript letter to the editor of the Caddo Gazette with a poem scribbled by Missourians sung to the tune of Missouri. The Yankee lads and ironclads / are welcome now to try us / with shot and shell will greet them well / before they shall go by us. / Let the foe but come before us / every gun will swell the chorus / Bomb - bomb - bomb -bomb. Robert Frost: not so much.
1864 Oct. 28: Herring ALS Cy to Lt.Com. James L. Phillips, datelined CSS Webb.
1865 Jan. 6: Special order No. 45 (manuscript) ordering Herring, now out of hospital, to report to his command at Mobile, Ala.
1865 Jan. 19: Flag officer, Mobile, Ala., granting leave of absence to Herring to visit Columbus, GA.
1865 Feb. 26: Herring letter to Commander G.W. Harrison, datelined CSS Morgan, asking why he is quarantined.
1865 May 12: from Flag Officer, Naval Commandant’s Office, ordering Herring on detached duty from CSS Morgan for duty aboard the CSS Tuscaloosa.
1865 April 16: from Flag Officer, Naval Commandant’s Office, ordering Herring to report for duty aboard the CSS Nashville.
1865 May 10: invoice from M. M. Seay, paymaster, for pay to Herring. Partially printed form completed in manuscript, and datelined C.S. Steamer Nashville, Bigbee River, Ala.
More important still are two Confederate naval engineering documents, scarce as hen’s teeth. The first, dated Oct. 20, 1864, is a closely written letter describing tests on boilers and pumps on the CSS Webb with discussion of Herring’s efforts to rectify the failing equipment. The pump in its present condition cannot be relied upon, for its valve-seats are so worn that a vacuum cannot be maintained even should it be formed... The engines were moved with ease, and all of the moving parts seemed to be in good order except the steam and exhaust valves and pistons... (The letter shows iron ink damage on text with some loss of paper beneath). The second document is a 22pp technical report from Webb, explained in his covering letter (presumably) to Lt. Commander J.H. Carter: I respectfully submit the following, based upon experiences, relative to the amount of power necessary to propell a vessel 80 feet long, 10 feet beam, and drawing 5 feet of water, ten miles per hour through still water... Herring recommended adding surplus power, using a three-bladed screw and many more technical specifications.
The postwar items in the collection add a coda to Herring’s exploits. These include an 1894 letter from an old comrade from the Merrimac, H.B. Littlepage, written on Navy Department letterhead, making reference to their common history (Can’t you come to Richmond to the unveiling of the Confed. Soldiers & Sailors Monument on the 30th inst. We’ll have a big time...). There is also a 1915 letter from another Merrimac comrade, E.V. White, lamenting how few veterans of that ship remained alive, as well as a 1916 account of Herring’s naval career written by his daughter, Mary. Seven family letters include one pre-war letter and the rest scattered in the post-war period. Finally, the collection includes an engineer drawing for Herring Bedstead.; three issues of the Confederate Veteran (two copies of 1915 Nov., 1917 May); and two early 20th century postcards depicting the Merrimac.
Among the 19 photographs in the collection-- all with backmarks of southern photographers -- are images of three Confederate servicemen: Herring: two cartes-de-visite, a gem tintype, and cabinet card; George Lining (CS Navy): carte-de-visite (not in uniform) and two later (post-1900) images; Isaac Herring (51st NC Infantry) in Civil War uniform (mouse chewed on top and right margin, affecting image). Also included is a modern copy of image showing the crew of the Merrimac including Herring.
The exquisite rarity of Confederate naval material is well known, but technical documents from highly trained Confederate naval engineers are vanishingly difficult to find.
Some wear and tear, as expected with Confederate materials, but sound.