Commodore Josiah Tattnall, U.S.N., C.S.N.

This page was developed from selected sections of The Best Station of Them All and additional materials excised from the book for space considerations. Also included are additional illustrations and links to relevant web sites.

Dr. Melton on Tattnall. Cosmos Mariner Productions

Josiah Tattnall’s name was revered in Savannah—indeed, throughout the state. His father was a Revolutionary War hero and an early power in Georgia politics. The Commodore (as Josiah was known in later life) gained international fame by dashing to the aid of the British in battle against the Chinese on the Peiho River.

A naval officer was a man of the world, and by 1860 Josiah Tattnall had been gone from Georgia for many years. The family estate, Bonaventure, had been sold. The site would become blue blood Savannah’s burying ground. In the spring of 1861 London journalist William Howard Russell visited Bonaventure Cemetery, and as he walked among the graves under the live oaks, he reflected on the old estate’s history as it was told to him.

A house ought to be there somewhere you feel—in fact there was once the mansion of the Tattnalls, a good old English family, whose ancestors came from the old country, ere the rights of man were talked of, and lived among the Oglethorpes…. I don’t know anything of old Tattnall. Indeed who does? But he had a fine idea of planting trees, which he never got in America, where he would have received scant praise for anything but his power to plant cotton or sugar-cane…. The mansion was burned down during a Christmas merrymaking, and was never built again, and the young trees have grown up despite the Spanish moss, and now they stand, as it were in cathedral aisles, around the ruins of the departed house, shading the ground…1

The Early Tattnalls: Bonaventure, and all Those Josiahs

Russell’s old Tattnall was the original Josiah, one of three, and our subject’s grandfather. He came to Savannah from South Carolina (both Charleston and Beaufort are suggested) and was given a section of Edward Mullryne’s vast holding on the bluffs of St. Augustine Creek when he married Mullryne’s daughter. Tattnall named his new holding Bonaventure. The great live oaks that became its symbol, legend says, were originally planted to form the letters M and T, for Mullryne and Tattnall. Savannah tradition has it that when the mansion caught fire during a Christmas dinner, Tattnall had servants move table and feast outdoors, and guests continued dining while the house burned to the ground. When Britain’s main American holdings flared into revolt in 1775, Edward Mullryne and Josiah Tattnall (along with Governor James Wright and wealthy merchants like James Habersham) were driven from Savannah because of their loyalty to King George III. Mullryne and Tattnall took their families first to Bermuda, (where Mullryne died), then to England. Georgia confiscated their estates.2

Tattnall’s son, the second Josiah, was an ardent rebel. Yet another legend surrounding the early Tattnalls claims that as the ship carrying the family was leaving Savannah, young Josiah jumped overboard and tried to swim ashore, but was pulled back aboard. After six years abroad (and a stint at Eaton) he returned to America and joined Gen. Anthony’s Wayne’s Continental Army besieging Savannah. French forces under Count d’Estaigne were occupying the family estate. They had a hospital there, and some of the first burials at Bonaventure might have been of French troops who died during the siege. After the war James Habersham’s rebel son John bought some of the Mullryne-Tattnall lands, and Josiah began the process of repurchasing the family estate from him.

Now an acclaimed patriot and war hero, the second Josiah Tattnall entered politics and was elected to the state assembly, just in time to become embroiled (as an ally of James Jackson) in trying to clean up the legislature’s notorious Yazoo Land Frauds. He filled the last three years of Jackson’s term in the U.S. Senate, then was elected governor of Georgia. One of his acts as governor was to restore to the family the last of the old state-confiscated Tattnall lands.

Tattnall had married Harriet Fenwick, daughter of a substantial Charleston family. The couple had a number of children (four were buried at Bonaventure). She died on Dec. 3, 1802 (and was buried on the estate), leaving her husband with three surviving children. The Governor, in ill health himself, traveled to the Bahamas to recover. He died within another year, leaving Edward, Eleanore, and the third Josiah, then ten years old. Orphans, they were sent to England to live with relatives.

In the midst of the Napoleonic Wars and the deepening tensions between England and the United States, the youngest Josiah left England on the Isabella, bound for Charleston, S.C. She was a live-oak built vessel constructed on Cumberland Island, Georgia, Tattnall remembered. For her day she was a very fine vessel and sailed very fast.

Josiah’s guardians saw him as a future physician. They sent him back to Savannah to live with his cousin Maria and her husband, Dr. Lemuel Kollock, with whom he would study medicine. The lad made an honest effort, but his heart was already set on the sea. The fame and glory of the Royal Navy had ignited a love of the rolling deep, and his voyage on the Isabella only fanned the flames. Medical study he found repugnant. From stealing cadavers from Negro cemeteries3 to the dissection of the stolen corpses, it all disgusted me beyond endurance, he recalled. He was not made to be a doctor.

A Rising Power in the Old Navy

In late 1811 the Kollocks’ and Tattnalls’ political friends secured the boy a midshipman’s commission4 and young Josiah Tattnall soon received his baptism of fire against the British near Norfolk, Va. As a British assault on Craney Island was repulsed, Midshipman Tattnall led a counterattack that captured the British commodore’s barge.5 He was in Washington when Maj. Gen. Robert Ross’s British troops attacked the capital city, and he fought the British again at the Battle of Bladensburg.

A strapping young boy as a midshipman, he grew into a handsome, athletic man; blue-eyed, broad shouldered, and barrel-chested. He would become known throughout the navy for his prowess with the cutlass and his hunger for battle.

While career advancement in the Old Navy was impossibly slow for most, Tattnall’s experiences were all he could have asked. He served in the Mediterranean with Stephen Decatur; was promoted to lieutenant after just six years in service; sailed against pirates in the West Indies; selected and surveyed the site for Fort Jefferson at Dry Tortugas; and after the Texas War for Independence carried captured Mexican President Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna back to Mexico. The handsome sailor from Georgia was one of the rising stars of the country’s young navy.

In Savannah on a Christmas leave, the young lieutenant fell in love with a cousin, Harriet Fenwick Jackson, whose New England father had met her South Carolina mother while on business in the South. Josiah and Harriet married, and Tattnall was soon a family man. Edward was the first child, followed by a daughter Charlotte, sons John Roger Fenwick and Paulding (named for Tattnall’s brother officer and best friend Hiram Paulding), and two more daughters, Harriet and Mary.6

A commander by 1838, Tattnall saw combat during the Mexican War in attacks on Vera Cruz and other coastal cities. Under a hot fire off Tuxpan, an elated Tattnall shouted over the noise of battle to Lt. William C. Whittle: War may not make life longer, but it makes it a vast deal broader. It is a glorious pastime! Within minutes, both men were wounded. It only seemed to increase Tattnall’s thirst for combat. Added years and promotion to senior rank (captain in 1850) did not diminish it.

At sea Tattnall was known for the skill of his gun crews. A midshipman sailing under him in 1854 said: Captain Tattnall was a gunnery ‘sharp,’ who had his divisions drilled relentlessly. He demanded much of his subordinates. Lieutenants lacking in professionalism found themselves suspended from duty. Aboard the Independence on a cruise to the far Pacific, he suspended so many junior officers that his best young midshipmen took over watches and divisions. Tattnall put his trusted petty officers to watch over the lads, and was as proud of them as a doting father.7

Between cruises he commanded Boston Navy Yard, Warrington Navy Yard at Pensacola, then Sackett’s Harbor on Lake Ontario. In late 1857 he reached the pinnacle of his career with appointment as commodore of the East India Squadron and orders to the China Sea. It had been a work of years, this distinguished career, and Captain Tattnall was no longer a dashing young man. Heavyset now and feeling the onset of age, from China he wrote his young daughter Molly (Mary) that she would scarcely recognize him when he came home, for now he looked like an old man.

In late adult life, at the entrance to the Peiho River in China, Josiah Tattnall found world fame. Delivering diplomat John E. Ward (a Savannahian like Tattnall) to the royal court at Peking, he fell in with a British squadron entering the mouth of the Pieho River. The Opium Wars had been raging between the Chinese and the British and French interlopers. The Europeans at that moment had peace delegates in Peking, forcing the Chinese government into signing trade treaties and concessions. There were still Chinese forts guarding the mouth of the Pieho, and they seemed anything but pacified. But the Royal Navy was intent on exercising its right to go where it pleased.

Tattnall wrote Molly an account of the action. He was in the midst of a flotilla of thirteen small British war steamers when suddenly, and unexpectedly, a battle commenced between the English vessels and the Chinese batteries. He told Molly that circumstances obliged him to go aboard the British admiral’s flag vessel in the hottest of the action…. His barge was holed and sunk. His coxswain was killed, his flag lieutenant wounded.8

Tattnall was a neutral on a diplomatic mission. But when he saw British marines getting the worst of it, he leaped into the fray in a restrained—but heroic—fashion, taking several barges of British marines in tow and steaming straight into the teeth of the Chinese fire to put the marines in to rescue their comrades. Blood is thicker than water, he told the Navy Department in explaining his action, and although he hadn’t burned powder, the affair made him a hero in both the United States and England. Gallant Americans, enthused Blackwood’s Magazine, you and your Admiral did more that day to bind England and the United States together, than all your lawyers and pettifogging politicians have ever done to part us.9

In February of 1860 Tattnall brought Japan’s first diplomatic mission to the United States. In Washington, D.C. he joshed to South Carolina Senator John L. Manning that it was a pity to subject such an honest and genteel people to the demoralizing effects of American politicians.10

The transport of the Japanese diplomats was Tattnall’s last duty as flag officer of the East India Squadron. Once again he was posted ashore, commanding for a second time the navy yard at Sackett’s Harbor, New York.

Challenging Authority

Professionally, Josiah Tattnall bore a charmed life, for his career path was littered with scrapes with superiors. In his first year, on the heels of his brash capture of the British commodore’s barge, young Tattnall’s commander criticized his zeal in apprehending deserters. Tattnall angrily resigned his commission, then went to Washington to enlist the aid of Georgia Senator George Troup. The Senator took the matter to the navy department to seek vindication and a reinstatement for the young Georgian. It was then, while Tattnall was waiting, that Gen. Robert Ross’s British forces attacked and captured Washington, and Tattnall joined a company from the Washington Navy Yard and fought in the Battle of Bladensburg. Soon after, his commission was restored.

As a lieutenant, he had a disagreement with the captain of the frigate Macedonian, and was sent home under a cloud. He was vindicated by the navy and returned to duty. In 1840 he charged his captain with giving illegal orders and was arrested. The navy department found in Tattnall’s favor. In 1855, a senior officer, he was sent home under arrest after a disagreement over efforts to stem desertion. His course of conduct was upheld, and the navy restored him to service.

That an officer would so often challenge his superiors in a service where promotion was so difficult to attain suggests courage and a sense of honor, a strong stubborn streak, and perhaps an assumption of moral right in any situation. Of course, Tattnall’s family background and political connections provided him strong allies in any disagreement with authority. But Tattnall seemed born to the profession, and his instincts for the proper course of action were unerringly accurate.

The Winds of Change

The Navy was good to Josiah Tattnall. His life was entwined with it, and with the life of the new nation. Twice he was a guest at the White House, once by invitation of President Andrew Jackson, once at the behest of President James Buchanan. He had become a national treasure, and his affection for these United States seemed as strong as the country’s for him. At a banquet in Boston in the late 1850s, he voiced his opinion of the growing sectional animosities in the country with an after-dinner toast. Palsied be the hand of him who attempts the dissolution of this glorious Union.11

But Tattnall had imbibed more of Southern nationalism, and felt a deeper love for his state, than his Boston toast implied. The family still had property near Bonaventure (he was farming cotton on Whitemarsh Island between cruises in 1833),12and he maintained a close relationship with his kinfolk and other old Savannah families. He sent the Kollocks souvenirs from around the world, visited their upland estates between cruises, and talked wistfully of retiring to the growing community of Savannah families who kept summer homes in Habersham County. He bought bonds in Georgia banks, and had his modest investments administered by a Savannah attorney. He was a Southerner and a Georgian, and Georgia still considered him one of its own.


For Tattnall’s drift toward secession, the efforts of friend Capt. Hiram Paulding to keep him in the U.S. Navy, his family’s departure from Sackett’s Harbor Navy Yard and return South, see Ch. 5, “‘All We Want Is To Be Let Alone.’”


When Georgia’s senators left Washington Tattnall decided to resign his commission. But he waited, he told Georgia Adjutant General Henry Wayne, by the advice of Mr. [Senator Robert] Toombs, and in consequence of the remarks of Mr. [Senator Alfred] Iverson on the occasion of his retiring from the Senate, which latter seemed to point to an adjustment…. When Tattnall received confirmation of Georgia’s secession, he wrote Wayne that he would leave Sackett’s Harbor13 the next day (Feb. 11, 1861) for Washington, D.C. “to resign and take a kind farewell of my Commander in Chief (the President). I shall then hasten to Savannah.” He asked Wayne to let Governor Joseph E. Brown know his intentions, as he thought it best not to communicate officially with the Governor until his resignation from U.S. service was official.14

When Tattnall resigned and wrote Governor Brown offering his services, he followed the Governor’s directive to come not to Milledgeville (Georgia’s capital), but to Montgomery, Alabama to assist in the creation of the new Southern nation.15

The Northern press assailed their old saltwater hero for going South. The term “traitor” was attached to his name again and again as newspapers—particularly those in New York—flailed away at noted Southerners going home. Young Paul Tattnall took up his father’s defense, writing the Rochester Union in response to an attack:

If the ‘Republic of America’ is a thing of the past, with its Government a corpse, as I believe, then it may be claimed that all officers at present serving under the ‘stars and stripes,’ unless they renew their old oaths of allegiance under a different form, do so not from duty but their own free pleasure. They are de facto free to give their swords to whatever government they choose, and are surely not to be blamed if they accept service under that of the land which gave them birth, and has furnished them a home through life.

Paul laid out a brief history of his father’s service to the United States, telling the Yankees that during a career of forty-five years in the American navy, my ‘traitor’ father has never once swerved from his duty to the government.16 Like other Southerners, Paul had been raised in the tradition of the Founding Fathers’ reverence for the state, which led President Jefferson, while he inhabited the White House, to refer to Virginia as “my country,” and send greetings to the Indians of the new Northwest from “the seventeen great nations to the east.” It was a concept that had grown outmoded and forgotten in the bustling progressive regions of the North, which now worshiped Daniel Webster’s idea of the United States, a singular entity, with the emphasis on “United.” They would dismiss young Tattnall’s logic as Rebel claptrap. But to the South, Paul Tattnall spoke to the core of the American political ethic. It was an American’s duty to defend the concepts of the Founding Fathers—concepts that history had shown must be defended, or the government would become a tyranny—just as governments always had. The South stood firm against the centralizing, big-government neo-Hamiltonians who sought to reestablish the arrogant, dominating rule of empire…with the South as their colonies. Like the British and their American colonists of old, the North and South by now had different meanings for the same words. They couldn’t—or wouldn’t—understand each other.

On February 28, 1861 Tattnall was appointed Senior Flag Officer of the Georgia Navy. Adjutant General Wayne sent his commission to Montgomery.17 Meanwhile, Congress had authorized the creation of a Confederate Navy Department, and Jefferson Davis appointed Stephen R. Mallory of Florida to head it. There was some opposition: As a U.S. Senator, Mallory had made some political enemies. As chair of the Senate’s Committee on Naval Relations and architect of its hated Retirement Board, he had enemies in the Navy, too.18 Because of Tattnall’s fame and influence, it was assumed he was one of the senior naval officers whose support broke the opposition in Montgomery and put Stephen Mallory in office.19


For Tattnall and the Georgia Navy, their transition to Confederate service, the origins of the Savannah Squadron, and Tattnall’s responsibility for South Carolina, see Ch. 3, “The Georgia Navy” and Ch. 4, “’Old Abes Blockade’.” For his development of Savannah’s “Mosquito Fleet” and the roles and responsibilities of sailors aboard men-of-war, see Ch. 6, “Sailors.”


The Virginia

On March 9, 1862 some good news drifted into Savannah. Rumors began to circulate that the Virginia had steamed out and whipped the Yankees in Hampton Roads near Norfolk. Soon it was confirmed: Franklin Buchanan20 had taken the ship straight into battle without even a trial run, pouncing on the blockaders, destroying the frigate Congress and sloop of war Cumberland.21

Savannah took heart. And Tattnall was thrilled for Old Buck, the Virginia’s captain, though concerned that he had been wounded. Tattnall had respected Buchanan as a brother officer and counted him as a friend. Now he genuinely admired him. The patrician Marylander, the first superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy, was a no-nonsense professional, strict on discipline and insistent on high levels of professionalism. He had not the Puritan’s intolerance of human failings, but he did not tolerate professional lapses. Tattnall’s feelings for him were warm and brotherly, feelings Buchanan did not go out of his way to inspire. Tattnall sent Old Buck a quick letter. I congratulate you, my dear friend, with all my heart and soul, on the glory you have gained for the Confederacy and yourself. The affair would be known all over the world, Tattnall promised, and Buchanan’s name would be on the tongue of every man who deals in salt water. I hope that Congress will make you an admiral, he said, and put you at the head of our Navy. You have my vote for it from my very heart, and I am sure that all your seniors will cry Amen.22

Commodore Josiah Tattnall, C.S.N.

Commodore Josiah Tattnall, C.S.N.

That was unlikely. Officers jealously guarded their seniority, for it was the criterion by which advancement came. None senior to Buchanan (save Tattnall) would be happy to see the Marylander jumped over them. In fact, more than a few of his peers felt Old Buck had used his position as Chief of the Bureau of Orders and Detail to assign himself the premier position each had coveted.23 Buchanan would, indeed, be recommended for promotion to admiral for his exploits with the Virginia. When Mallory informed him of it he demurred, suggesting that Josiah Tattnall, not he, should have first rank in the Navy. He is my senior in the service, said Buchanan, and an officer of high tone, bearing, and gallantry….I therefore sincerely hope he may be placed above me.24 Josiah Tattnall had, in fact, been senior both in service and reputation to every other Confederate naval officer when the war began. But Buchanan’s victory with the Virginia was a stunning feat, and it would be rewarded.

Two weeks after Buchanan’s spectacular foray into Hampton Roads, Josiah Tattnall received marvelous news: A telegram from Mallory ordered him to Norfolk to take command of the Virginia. Buchanan had been wounded in the fray (his executive officer had commanded in the next day’s famous battle with the Monitor), and a senior officer of outstanding reputation was needed to command the nation’s premier warship. It was not to be any of those gray mollusks clustered at the capital. Instead it would be the pride of Savannah, Blood Is Thicker Than Water Josiah Tattnall.

The Commodore took the news in stride, calmly preparing to turn the Mosquito Fleet and the Savannah station over to Commander Thomas Brent. But kinfolk could see that the old man was delighted. Paul Jones and Midshipman Barron Carter were delighted, too, when Tattnall told them to come along. Jones would be the Commodore’s flag lieutenant.25

In Richmond and Norfolk there were some who thought Tattnall was wrong for the job— at age 67, too lacking in mental and physical vigor. The Virginia’s officers wanted command left in the hands of her executive officer, Lt. Catesby ap R. Jones. But Jones was too young and too far down the promotion list to command the pride of the Navy. Tattnall had experience, seniority, and reputation, and he won out over the likes of Duncan Ingraham, French Forrest, and Sidney Smith Lee. So Tattnall was bound for Norfolk, the theater of war, and a chance at greater glory.

On his way to Virginia, Tattnall stopped to see Buchanan, mending his wounded leg in Greensboro, N.C. Buchanan told him to get the Virginia’s gun ports fitted with shutters—without fail. Two of his unprotected guns had been damaged, Buchanan said, and all but two of his casualties had been from fire coming through open gun ports. Since both ironclads seemed impenetrable, the unprotected ports were the Virginia’s greatest weakness.26

Tattnall found the Virginia in dry dock, still undergoing repairs. And a feud was simmering between Secretary Mallory and Commandant Smith Lee over Gosport’s seemingly casual approach to repairing and strengthening the ship.

The army and Norfolk’s citizenry were all wondering: Where was the Virginia? Gen. John B. Magruder was complaining of “criminal” neglect in the navy yard. The yard had, in fact, run out of armor in the middle of the repair effort. Mallory wanted Lee to get control of the situation and get the Virginia repaired. Lee resented Mallory’s meddling.27

The Virginia

The Virginia in dry dock at Gosport Navy Yard.
#NH 42222, Department of the Navy, Naval Historical Center

Tattnall knew that commanding the Virginia put him at tremendous professional risk. After Buchanan’s brilliant sortie, the public expected even greater victories. But with the arrival of the Monitor, the situation had changed. “I shall never find in Hampton Roads the opportunity my gallant friend found,” Tattnall wrote Mallory.28 But he hoped to break out of Hampton Roads and take the Virginia on a raid. Like Mallory earlier, he dreamed of attacking New York City…or striking Port Royal…or sweeping the blockade from the mouth of the Savannah River and freeing his home city. But the ironclad’s chief engineer told him the ship’s steam engine couldn’t be trusted. Chief Henry A. Ramsay had spent two years on the Merrimack before the war, and the engine was “continually breaking down,” he said. As the Merrimack, she had been primarily a sailing frigate, her engine merely auxiliary. At the time of Virginia’s secession, she happened to be in Gosport for engine repair. Now, she relied completely on her steam plant for all movement. And nothing that either navy had tried had ever made her machinery any good. On its first trial after refitting, her engine gave out after only a few hours’ running. And there was no way Ramsay could insure that he could keep it operating in combat, or even in normal cruising.29

On the peninsula, Gen. Magruder was trying to hold off Gen. George B. McClellan’s great invasion force. Magruder wrote Tattnall that McClellan would try to move his army up the James River on transports and flank Magruder’s defenses. If Tattnall could put the Virginia on guard off Sewell’s Point during the day, and off Newport News at night, he could block that flanking movement and force McClellan to take the hard way, fighting all the way up the peninsula. Then, Magruder said, “we can concentrate and prevent him, and thus save Norfolk and Richmond.” He understood Tattnall’s desire to have it out with the Monitor, but told the old Commodore: “We have a country to save and no time for individual duels.”30

But an individual duel was exactly what Tattnall—and the Navy—needed. All around the Confederacy its armies were faltering, retreating in disarray and giving up great pieces of the country. Now the Navy had turned the tables in Hampton Roads: and Tattnall—and the people—expected more. Sinking or capturing the Monitor might be enough of a shock to stop Gen. McClellan’s grand invasion and save Norfolk, John Magruder’s army, and Richmond. Tattnall had the opportunity to become the Robert E. Lee of the water, the Virginia his Army of Northern Virginia, while Lee was still desk-bound in Richmond, his future greatness unknown. Everybody but Magruder thought the Virginia should go out and fight: And all had a plan for taking or sinking the Monitor.

The Commodore and his officers laid their own plans. When the Virginia and the Monitor next fought, the squadron’s gunboats would come alongside the Yankee and board her. They’d jam her turret with wedges, throw turpentine-soaked rags and burning tar balls down her stacks and ventilators, then cover the ventilators with wet sail cloth and smoke the Yankees out. Secretary Mallory had seen an article on the Monitor in Scientific American, and wrote suggesting these same ideas. And he added another suggestion—throw a wet sail over the pilot house to blind the helmsman.31

It would be a jolly coup to capture the Yankee and steam back to Norfolk with her in tow, even though Tattnall knew he would lose half his squadron in the process, for this whole scheme sent the fragile little steamers directly into the line of fire. But there had to be another battle with the Monitor. Tattnall told Mallory so, and it was just the kind of aggressive intent Mallory wanted to see.

Taking the Monitor became Josiah Tattnall’s driving obsession. And despite all the obstacles thrown in the way by Smith Lee, Prince John Magruder, and the Virginia’s own wheezing, anemic steam plant, Tattnall was determined to have a battle. One of the Virginia’s midshipmen saw the Commodore pacing the spar deck, muttering: I will take her. I will take her if hell itself is on the other side of her. The old man’s rheumatism was on the attack, but the excitement of impending combat kept him going.32

At 6 a.m. of April 11, while Savannah’s Fort Pulaski was under bombardment, Commodore Tattnall and his James River Squadron were getting underway. Today, everyone hoped, the navy would add another brilliant chapter to the Virginia’s story. A master’s mate on the Beaufort recalled the flotilla steaming gaily down the river, the Virginia leading the line. The wharves along the river were crowded with ladies and soldiers. Hats were tossed in the air, handkerchiefs were waved, and cheer after cheer rent the air. The enthusiasm of the hour made everyone feel like a hero.33

As the squadron moved into Hampton Roads the Commodore made a brief battle speech to the men, concluding with: Now you go to your stations, and I’ll go to mine. He mounted a ladder to the spar deck (the top of the casemate) and settled into an armchair. Out in the open, he could see everything. But he wouldn’t live long if he stayed there once the shooting started.

Tattnall expected to draw the Monitor down toward Sewell’s Point, where his gunboats might have a better opportunity to get alongside and board her. The Monitor wanted to draw the Virginia out into open water and let the big steamer Vanderbilt—leased to the U.S. Navy to run down and destroy the Virginia—ram her and sink her.

Neither ship would take the other’s bait. U.S. Navy Secretary Welles had ordered the Monitor not to risk another battle with the Virginiaunless it was unavoidable. If the Monitor were lost, Washington feared the Virginia would ascend the Potomac and shell the city. So the Monitor had orders to maintain a strictly defensive posture and not be lured into anything dangerous.34

Tattnall sent a gunboat to capture three Union transports too slow in seeking refuge. The Monitor wouldn’t be drawn into defending them. Tattnall took the Virginia out into the Roads, steaming in large, slow circles, daring the Yankee to come get him. No luck. He taunted the Yankees, hoisting the transports’ U.S. flags under his own banner, flaunting his trophies. Still, the Monitor refused to bite. Finally, a long seven hours after he had first entered the Roads, Tattnall had a gun fired to windward (the sailors’ gesture of contempt), and the old man and the pride of the Confederate Navy steamed, empty handed, back to their anchorage.35

The Confederacy’s defensive policy—and the dominant status of the army over the navy—soon overtook Josiah Tattnall. On April 12 President Davis’ chief military advisor, Robert E. Lee, issued Special Order No. 6, directing that, as Gen. Joseph E. Johnston’s army now had responsibility for the departments of Norfolk and the Peninsula, all military and naval operations would be directed by him. Tattnall learned of it two weeks later through a copy of the order sent to Commander John R. Tucker, captain of the gunboat Patrick Henry. The old man was furious at being made subordinate to a general. This would place me, he told Mallory, …in a position never held hitherto by an officer of my rank in any naval service…. It would put his squadron and its movements at the whim of a soldier wholly ignorant of the complexities of wind, tide, depth of water, or even the importance of visual marks, someone with no knowledge of the realities of the movements and usage of warships on inland waters. This was a time for frankness, Tattnall said, and frankly, he could not accept being ordered about by the army. If he were to be placed under army command, and being a seaman, am to hold my action and reputation subject to the judgement of a landsman, who can know nothing of the complicated nature of naval service, I earnestly solicit to be promptly relieved from my command. Some younger man, whose backbone is more supple than fifty years of naval pride have made mine, can be found, I hope…to take my place and carry out the views of the Government.36

He was not relieved—either of his command, or from subordination to the army. Within a few nights he took the Virginia out again, up the Elizabeth River toward Hampton Roads, only to be signaled to a halt by the batteries at Sewells Point. Gen. Huger wanted him to stay at Norfolk and defend the city. The War Department had succeeded in taking over the Virginia. Josiah Tattnall was fully immersed in the world of war under a revolutionary government.

He found himself trapped in a web of conflicting orders and responsibilities. He’d lost his autonomy, and now had a host of masters. Mallory ordered him to take the Virginia to the mouth of the James River. Keep the Federal Navy off Gen. Johnston’s flank, Mallory said, and don’t let them use the James as an open highway to Richmond. As soon as Gen. Huger heard this, he rushed to Tattnall’s headquarters to protest. Taking the ironclad to the mouth of the James would uncover his batteries at Sewell’s Point and Craney Island. They would be left on their own to confront a growing host of ironclads the enemy was gathering around Fort Monroe.37 If the Virginia left, the Yankees would attack; and Huger feared they’d overpower his batteries like Du Pont had the forts at Port Royal. Then they’d land troops and march on the city. The Virginia must stay where she was and protect Norfolk.

My orders are imperative, Tattnall told Huger, and I must obey. But he suggested that the general telegraph Mallory and state to him the consequences of moving the ironclad. Huger did, which resulted in a new order from Mallory, charging the old man with defending the mouth of the James and Norfolk as well. Tattnall anchored the ironclad off Sewell’s Point with steam up, keeping the Monitor and all the blockading squadron on alert.38

As McClellan’s army inched up the Virginia peninsula and Johnston fell back, a decision was made in the capital to abandon Norfolk. Mallory soon had small steamers pulling flats of construction materials and the hull of the new ironclad Richmond out of Norfolk and up the James. Commander Richard Page was scouting cities inland for a new naval manufacturing center to replace Gosport.

Tattnall called a council of army and navy officers at Gen. Huger’s headquarters to discuss the deteriorating situation, and to make a decision on the best use of the Virginia. Capt. George Hollins and Tattnall’s friend Capt. Isaac Sterett sat in, as did yard commandant Sidney Smith Lee. Tattnall offered to move the ship up the York River to protect the army’s flank. But what he really wanted was to break out. He wanted to bull through the blockade, gain the open sea, and steam down to Savannah. He could scatter the Federal gunboats and frigates there, lay just-captured Fort Pulaski under his guns, and reopen the port.39 The council rejected that: The Virginia would stay and defend the area. It would take a week to ten days to evacuate Norfolk, the council thought, and a decision could be made then on the disposition of the Virginia.

But that very evening Federal troops landed at Willoughby’s Point and got in the rear of the batteries at Sewell’s Point. The next morning (May 10) officers on the Virginia noticed that the flag wasn’t flying over the shore batteries. Tattnall sent Paul Jones to investigate. Hours later he returned and reported that Sewell’s Point had been abandoned. Tattnall sent him off to Norfolk to find out what had happened. He returned around 7 p.m. with the news that Norfolk was abandoned, too. The army was gone, and the Virginia was alone. Neither the army nor Commandant Smith Lee at Gosport had thought to notify Tattnall of the evacuation.

At the meeting the day before, as alternatives and possibilities were discussed, Tattnall’s chief pilot had suggested that if the ship were lightened to 18 feet, he could get her over the bar at Day’s Neck and up the James River. Now he (and all the pilots aboard) reiterated that the ship could be moved up the James. With that assurance, Tattnall ordered the ship lightened.

The old man’s rheumatism was on the attack. He was so sick that he retired to his cabin, leaving the work of lightening the ship to the executive officer, Lt. Catesby Jones. But after the crew had put in hours of work lightening the vessel, Jones called Tattnall with a problem of enormous proportions. The pilots had changed their tune. The prevailing westerly winds meant there was too little water to get the ironclad over the bar, after all. And now she was so light in the water that several feet of her unarmored hull was exposed. She had lost her base, she was low on coal, and as vulnerable as those wooden warships she had so easily destroyed in March. Tattnall was out of options, save that most disastrous course—abandon the ship and blow her up. In anguish, he accepted the inevitable.40

When he destroyed the ironclad, Virginia newspapers were shocked, as was the Navy Department.41 President Davis and the War and Navy Departments were already under attack for the loss of New Orleans, middle Tennessee, and the upper Mississippi River. Now, this: The destruction of the Confederacy’s great hope, the one shining beacon of victory in this disastrous spring. Tattnall would be pilloried by the press and the people,42 lumped together with Gen. Mansfield Lovell and Capt. George Hollins—sacrificial offerings to the public’s expectations and the government’s inability to defend all points with its limited resources. And the government, needing a scapegoat, would turn on Tattnall.

The only public defense of Tattnall would come from his old shipmate Capt. William C. Whittle, who wrote in the Richmond press that Tattnall’s destroying the Virginia had, in fact, saved Richmond by freeing her officers and crew to man the guns at Drewry’s Bluff and stave off the ironclads Monitor and Galenawhen they came up the James to conquer the city. But Whittle’s argument was lost in the storm of national criticism.43

A court of inquiry convened under Capt. French Forrest to look into the loss of the Virginia. It blamed both Tattnall and his officers. The destruction of the ship was not necessary, said the court, at least not at that time and place. The vessel should have been taken up the James River to Hog Island. There, later, a better determination might have been made to fight the enemy or destroy the ship. The court concluded that the collapse of the area’s defenses—the abandonment of the city, the navy yard in flames, Gen. Huger’s precipitate retreat—had all conspired to create in the minds of Tattnall and his officers an overly pessimistic view of their own situation. They had overreacted, said the court, and not thought the situation through.44

Executive Officer Catesby Jones and the ship’s lieutenants, assistant surgeon, and paymaster all protested in a joint letter to Mallory, and in another to Buchanan. They were outraged at the intimation that they had panicked. The court had, by innuendo, attacked their professional reputations, without going far enough to allow them to defend themselves. Mallory politicked. “Holding the commanding officer of the Virginia as immediately and exclusively responsible for the order to destroy the ship, the Department has neither reason nor purpose to subject your conduct to a court of enquiry.” Of course, Tattnall’s court had already found that events had conspired to produce in the minds of the officers of the Virginia the necessity of her destruction….

Buchanan wrote Catesby Jones a conciliatory note, astounded, he said, that the court had implicated Jones and the other officers. The commander, in the opinion of the court, may have erred in judgement, he said, but certainly, no blame should be attached to the officers. I have great confidence in my old friend Commodore T., he added, and can not believe that he acted without reflection, or was governed by any other motives than those his judgment told him were right.45

Tattnall blamed the pilots. And Buchanan admitted: I had no confidence in them, and told him so, and less in the master than in either of the others.46 Furious at the court’s finding, Tattnall demanded a court martial.47


Commodore Tattnall’s defense was prepared by old China diplomat John E. Ward. The court awarded Tattnall an honorable acquittal on all charges, lauded his efforts in command of the ironclad Virginia, and commended his decisions in the disposition of the vessel. But when Tattnall returned to Savannah, the Southern press and people still assailing him, and the Navy Department halved his command, giving responsibility for South Carolina to the old naval hero from Charleston, Duncan Ingraham. Administratively, it was a logical adjustment. But to Tattnall it smacked of a continued departmental assault. He began to see a government vendetta against him. The misadventure in Virginia and its aftermath soured relations between Tattnall and the Navy Department for the rest of the war.

At the end of 1862 the Savannah Squadron, with Tattnall back in command, acquired the ironclad Atlanta, converted from the blockade runner Fingal. Through the spring of 1863 Tattnall would battle both low water and the obstructions placed by Confederate engineers in the Savannah River channels in an effort to get the ironclad into combat.


In March of 1863 Commodore Tattnall received an order from Richmond that staggered him. He and Duncan Ingraham at Charleston were both sacked, relieved of command afloat and left with only their stations ashore.

This stripping of combat command from two of the hotbloods of the Old Navy was only in part the result of Lt. John Taylor Wood’s February inspection tour. Mallory was exasperated with the lack of daring and creative thinking among those who had grown up and grown old under the stifling regimentation of the Old Navy. James Bulloch and Edward Anderson had seen it, experienced it, and found other careers. Mallory had seen it as a member of the Naval Retiring Board. And here in the Confederacy he saw it through the exasperation of Isaac Brown in Mississippi, trying to fit out the Arkansas over the obstructionism of old Commander Charles McBlair (“I came near shooting him,” the young lieutenant told Mallory). He’d experienced it in the stubborn negativism of William W. Hunter, who made the navy a non-participant in the recapture of Galveston; the foot-dragging of Sidney Smith Lee refitting the Virginia at Norfolk; the aged, wooden uselessness of old Isaac Sterett, Victor Randolph, and French Forrest; the lack of action out of William F. Lynch, Duncan Ingraham and Josiah Tattnall. Lt. Wood had confided to Catesby Jones: “We want at Charleston, Savannah, and other points young men. With almost as many iron vessels in commission as the enemy, we must be doing something.” Those senior officers were “old, infirm, drones,” he said, who would never get these vessels into action.48

Secretary Mallory had created a provisional navy to advance younger men in rank for the war and give them command without regard to the seniority list. Now, Lt. Wood’s findings provided the last push he needed to clean house on the Atlantic coast and bring forward young men, men of action—not only to ship command, but to squadron command. Now, perhaps, the navy would show its worth.

Duncan Ingraham had been ill and absent from duty for months at Charleston. John R. Tucker ran the squadron in Ingraham’s absence, and now he was appointed flag officer—just as the north’s ironclads were massing to attack.

Tattnall’s health was failing, too. Almost everyone who saw him was struck by his rapid decline. He had persevered, on duty most of the time, maintaining a cheerful heartiness before the men whenever he came aboard ship. But removal from command afloat was a shattering blow, and it destroyed whatever recuperative ability his aging body had left.49


Tattnall remained as commandant of the Savannah Station until the end of the war, working as his failing health allowed. He was energetic in saving as much war material as possible on the evacuation of Savannah; accompanied the squadron’s personnel to Charleston; then was left awaiting orders in Augusta, Ga., where Commodore William W. Hunter had taken the remains of the squadron’s vessels. Personnel there surrendered in May of 1865.



By July of 1865 Commodore Tattnall had returned to Savannah. George Noble Jones saw him and noted that he was feeble, but bears his adversity like a Hero. He had no income, and he and his family were existing on the generosity of friends and kin. When he dined with Jones at the Pulaski House, Jones paid. I wish I could help them, Jones said, but he had no income, either.50 The Tattnalls moved into Aunt Fen Neufville’s three story brick home at 109 S. Broad St. [now Oglethorpe]. Her sons Frank and Ned were there, with their wives and families. So, as large as the house looked, it was crowded.51 The next year Aunt Fen, Ned and Mary Tattnall Neufville, and their daughter moved to the corner of Lincoln and President Streets.52

Paroled naval officers continually sought Tattnall’s advice on their immediate future vis a vis the United States. Junior officers had a presidential offer of amnesty, requiring their taking an oath of allegiance. Tattnall recommended that they all take it. But he, and other senior officers of the navy and army, along with government officials, had no blanket amnesty. They were each required to apply for pardon. For Tattnall, it was a problem. “Pardon,” to him, implied “a crime committed,” specifically, treason. When, “in the due course of law,” he wrote Robert E. Lee, it shall be decided that the South has committed treason, I shall readily acknowledge the validity of the decision and make all honorable amends in my power….” But until then he could not, with honor, “acknowledge the authority of any man, however exalted (meaning the President), or any body of men, however August (meaning the Congress), to denounce me as a traitor.

And there was another, and greater consideration…Jefferson Davis. “Although I disapproved entirely of secession,” he told Lee, and had to give evidence to that effect before a jury at Savannah a year after the commencement of the war, still, as I accepted a commission signed by President Davis, I considered it, and still consider it my duty to support him as my commander-in-chief and the exponent of the political principles of the Southern Confederacy.

Davis was about to be tried for treason.53 To apply for pardon is to acknowledge treason, and this acknowledgment by the leading political men and senior army and navy officers… may seriously influence the jury, and seems to me equivalent to turning States evidence against him. Tattnall told Lee that he did not personally know Davis. He had met him but three times, and for only a few minutes each time. I should not, I think, be likely to recognize him on the streets. But he could not, in good conscience, jeopardize the defense of Mr. Davis for his own personal safety or comfort. Nor could he advise others to do so. Yet, he had read in the New York National that Lee had applied for pardon, sending with his application (according to the National ) “‘a full statement of those things which had made his (your) past conduct seem right and proper….” Tattnall had discounted the report In view of the politics of the paper in which it was published, but had since seen a letter from Gen. Wade Hampton that verified it. Tattnall told Lee he felt assured that a step which you have taken must be honorable and a fitting example, and asked for advice for himself and those who consult me.

Lee replied that he held a slightly different opinion than did Tattnall. Both junior and senior officers and officials of the Confederacy were required to perform a certain act, he said, and I do not see that an acknowledgment of guilt is expressed in one more than the other. Nor did he think requests for pardon would jeopardize President Davis. Once the allayment of passion, the dissipation of prejudice, and the restoration of reason returned, It will, I think, then be admitted that Mr. Davis has done nothing more than all the citizens of the Southern States, and should not be held accountable for acts performed by them in the exercise of what had been considered their unquestionable right. I have too exalted an opinion of the American people to believe that they will consent to injustice; and it is only necessary, in my opinion, that truth should be known, for the rights of every one to be secured.54

Astor House Hotel

Astor House Hotel

Tattnall tried to find a way to survive in Savannah, but he was physically worn out; and there were no jobs for old men. The insolence of the Northerners in Savannah was becoming intolerable, particularly to Harriet and the daughters. In the spring of 1866 Tattnall applied to the U.S. War Department for permission to leave the country. It was granted in June. Josiah, Harriet, and their adult children departed for Halifax, Nova Scotia, where there was still a number of old Confederates, a sizeable amount of Confederate sentiment, and the possibility that something would turn up.55 On the way to Nova Scotia they stopped in New York City, where Hiram Paulding saw Tattnall on Broadway outside the Astor House Hotel.56

Paulding shouted out: “What is this old Rebel doing here?’” Paulding prevailed on Tattnall to come home with him, and the Old Commodore spent a few days with his dear friend. After that, Paulding said, “we parted forever, with an occasional interchange of a few lines.”57

In Halifax, Tattnall was treated to a celebratory dinner by British naval officers. The Royal Navy still remembered his action at Pieho River, and once again he was a hero.58 People in Halifax were more than cordial to the old Confederate, too. But there was no productive employment.

Tattnall managed to scrape out a bare existence, but there was really nothing an old man of the sea could do. At the end of 1869 he returned to Savannah, leaving the family in John R.F.’s care until he could find some sort of job in his old home town. Old Confederates had begun to reestablish some measure of control in the city, and at the beginning of the new year the mayor and city council created for the old man the position of Inspector of the Port of Savannah, with a salary of $1200 per year.59

Buchanan and Tattnall

Buchanan and Tattnall

Franklin Buchanan came to Savannah to see his daughter and grandchildren in the Screven household on Ossabaw Sound. While in town he and Tattnall, in Confederate gray sans brass buttons and other ornamentation, sat for a dual portrait. The photographer posed them with the younger Buchanan, still lean and imposing, gesturing to his senior as if telling the old man what he should have done with the Virginia. The old Commodore bore it like a gentleman.

In early June of 1871 Tattnall fell ill, and on the 9th was told he would not recover. He informed his family, and as pain became intolerable, he asked Dr. Thomas Charlton to begin administering morphine. He died on June 14.60

In death, Savannah honored Josiah Tattnall. On the day of his funeral the city’s businesses closed. The Exchange bell and church bells tolled for hours. Masses of people turned out to watch his funeral procession pass. His pallbearers included Gens. Joseph E. Johnston and Alexander R. Lawton, and some of his old naval officers–Joel Kennard, John Rutledge, Edwin Maffitt Anderson, Julian Myers,61 Taylor Minor, Gilbert Wilkins, William Snead, and Perry M. DeLeon,62 as well as Aldermen Edward C. Anderson, Jr. and William Starr Basinger. Gen. Richard H. Anderson led the funeral procession from Christ Church to Bonaventure, where Tattnall had begun life. There, the old man was buried among his family. His biographer, Charles C. Jones, Jr., wrote:

He sleeps in the kindly embrace of the mother earth whose soft bosom his infant feet first pressed; and those grand live-oaks at Bonaventure which sheltered him in youth, attired in sober green and with pendant moss swaying solemnly in the evening air, bed as aged, heartfelt mourners over his hallowed grave.63

On Easter Sunday, 1885, his children presented to Christ Church a solid brass cross three feet high in memory of Josiah and Harriet Tattnall. It stood on the altar that Sunday, the centerpiece of the day’s adornment.64

1. William Howard Russell, My Diary North and South (Boston: T.O.H.P. Burnham, 1863), 153.

2. In 1847 Peter Wiltberger, the Savannah hostler who owned famed Pulaski House, bought the estate and created Bonaventure cemetery. 1868 is given as the year Bonaventure officially became a cemetery, but by Russell’s 1861 visit the site was already on its way to becoming the tourist attraction it is today. Adelaide Wilson,Historic and Picturesque Savannah (Boston: The Boston Photogravure Company, 1889), 173-74; Russell, op. cit.

3. The medical students called it “resurrection.” Tattnall could force himself no deeper into the desecration than “standing guard” somewhere outside the cemetery grounds. Charles Colcock Jones, Jr., Life and Services of Commodore Josiah Tattnall(Savannah: Morning News Steam Press, 1878), 5.

4. His commission is dated January 1, 1812.

5. Jones, Jr., Life and Services,1-9. Three men earned commendation in this fight, Capt. Joseph Tarbell, Lt. Benjamin Neale, and Mdn. Josiah Tattnall. William L. Calderhead, “U.S.F. Constellationin the War of 1812–An Accidental Fleet in Being,”Military Affairs, Vol. 40, No. 2 (Apr., 1976), 81.

6. The eldest son, Edward, seemed aimless and destined for a wastrel’s life. He died in 1850. Edith Roelker Curtis manuscript of unpublished Tattnall biography in Naval History Library Special Collections, Washington Navy Yard, coll. E 182 T3 R6, p. 344. Another, less complete copy is in the Georgia Historical Society, Savannah, Ga.

7. William N. Still, Jr., ed., What Finer Tradition: The Memoirs of Thomas O. Selfridge, Jr., Rear Admiral, U.S.N.(Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1987), 12, 15.

8. Tattnall to Molly (Mary Drayton Tattnall), July 24, 1859 in Josiah Tattnall Papers, Coll. No. 1016 in Georgia Historical Society, Savannah, Ga.

9. Tattnall’s comment, borrowed from Sir Walter Scott, was the quote by which he became known on both sides of the Atlantic. Well into the 1900s British and American naval officers were still using it as a symbol of their brotherhood. See Jones, Jr., Life and Services, 80-104, Robert M. Langdon, “Josiah Tattnall—Blood is Thicker Than Water,’” in United States Naval InstituteProceedings, LXXXV (June, 1959), and Peter Karsten, The Naval Aristocracy: The Golden Age of Annapolis and the Emergence of Modern American Navalism(New York: The Free Press, 1972), 108.

10. Tattnall’s commentary on Washington’s effect on the Japanese diplomats is in Joseph T. Durkin, S.J., Confederate Navy Chief: Stephen R. Mallory(reprint, Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1987), 15n.

11. Tattnall’s U.S. naval career is traced in Jones, Jr., Life and Services, 6-124. His Boston toast is quoted in Alexander A. Lawrence, A Present for Mr. Lincoln: The Story of Savannah from Secession to Sherman(Macon, Ga.: Ardivan Press, 1961), 22.

12. Tattnall to Hiram Paulding, June 14, 1833 in Letters of Josiah Tattnall to Hiram Paulding. Naval History Center, Special Collections, E 182 .T3 T3, Washington Navy Yard.

13. An inventory of personal possessions the Tattnall family packed and left in storage at Sackett’s Harbor is in Josiah Tattnall Papers, Coll. No. 1016 in Georgia Historical Society, Savannah, Ga.

14. These details of Tattnall’s transition were uncovered in a letter from Tattnall to Wayne (Feb. 10, 1861), found on,accessed Oct. 19, 2011.

15. In Montgomery, the Committee on Naval Affairs asked people with naval experience to come to the capital and lend their expertise. Georgia’s Senator Robert Toombs telegraphed Tattnall to come to Montgomery at once, a request which Governor Brown made a directive. For the Committee, Toombs, and Tattnall, see J. Thomas Scharf, History of the Confederate States Navy from its Organization to the Surrender of its Last Vessel(New York: Rogers & Sherwood, 1887), 27-28, and Jones, Jr., Life and Services, 129.

16. Reprint (undated) of Paulding Tattnall’s letter to RochesterUnion, in Cornelius R. Hanleiter Scrapbook No. 1, Atlanta History Center. A response to Paul’s letter from “AN OFFICER OF THE U.S. NAVY” in The New York Times (March 11, 1861. See NYT Archive, was probably the letter that so angered Tattnall and goaded him to ask former Savannah Mayor Edward Anderson, while in Washington, D.C., to discover which U.S. naval officer had written it. See Ch. 5, “All We Want Is To Be Let Alone.”

17. Wayne to Tattnall, Feb. 28, 1861 in Adjutant General’s Office Papers—Naval Matters. Munroe d’Antignac, Georgia’s Navy, 1861(Griffin, Ga.: The Goen Printing Company, 1945), 7.

18. For Mallory’s nomination and the organization of the Navy Department, see Durkin, Mallory, 130-156; Tom Henderson Wells, The Confederate Navy: A Study in Organization (University: The University of Alabama Press, 1971), 3-13; and William C. Davis, A Government of Our Own: The Making of the Confederacy (New York: The Free Press, 1994), 179-181.

19. Royce Shingleton, in High Seas Confederate: The Life and Times of John Newland Maffitt. (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1994), 34, states the common view that Mallory gained confirmation only “after he was endorsed by Southern naval officers such as Captain Josiah Tattnall.” Neither Mallory biographer Durkin, nor Davis in his work on the Confederate cabinet uncover evidence that Tattnall had a hand in the selection or confirmation process.

20. Buchanan, from Maryland, used the Southern pronunciation–BUCK-hannon. Thus, his nickname, Old Buck.

21. William D. Dixon Journal, March 10, 1862. Typescript copies at Fort Jackson and Fort McAllister, Savannah, Ga. George A. Mercer Diary, March 9, 11, 1862. Typescript in Mercer Family Papers, collection no. 553, Georgia Historical Society, Savannah, Ga. Original in Southern History Collection, Louis Round Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

22. It was a matter of courtesy to extend an ornate note of congratulatory praise ( see Maj. Gen. John Bankhead Magruder’s note to Buchanan, following Tattnall’s in Official Records, Navies). But Tattnall’s came from the heart. Tattnall to Buchanan, Mar. 12, 1861 in United States Navy Department, Naval War Records Office. Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1865 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1894-1922), ser. I, vol. 7, 57-8.Hereinafter cited as ORN.

23. Wells, The Confederate Navy, 14-16.
One of the Virginia’s officers later told Executive Officer Catesy ap R. Jones that there was “too much jealousy” among the officers in Richmond. “Everyone wants notoriety and promotion,” he said, “and I think a good many are looking out chiefly for ‘No. 1.’” Lt. Hunter Davidson to Jones, Oct. 25, 1862 in ORN, I, 7, 61.

24. Quoted in Craig L. Symonds, Confederate Admiral: The Life and Wars of Franklin Buchanan (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1999), 174.

25. Mallory’s Mar. 21 telegram to Tattnall is in ORN, I, 7, 748. George J. Kollock, after a visit with Tattnall in Savannah, wrote his wife Susan: “The Commodore leaves for Norfolk tomorrow to take charge of the Steamer Virginia. He is quite delighted with the appointment.” George J. to Susan Kollock, Mar. 23, 1862 in Kollock Family Papers (folder 9), Georgia Historical Society. Dixon Journal, Mar. 23, 1862. William C. Davis, Duel Between the First Ironclads(Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Co., 1975), 142-43. Tattnall to Mallory, May 14, 1862 in ORN, I, 7, 336.

26. Tattnall to Mallory, April 4, 1862 in ORN, I, 7, 756.

27. Mallory, still anathema to some in the navy over his Retiring Board activities, was reluctant to tongue-lash officers for disappointing performances. But his dispatches to Capt. Lee showed consistent irritation at Lee’s inability to make things happen in the Confederacy’s premier naval facility. See, for example, Mallory to Lee April 4, 1862, ORN, I, 7, 757-58.

28. “I have been aware from the first that my command is dangerous to my reputation,” Tattnall told Mallory. Apr. 10, 1862 in ORN, I, 7, 764-65.

29. Chief Engineer H.A. Ramsay to Tattnall, April 5, 1862 in ORN,I, 7, 758-59.

30. Magruder to Tattnall, April 3, 1862 in ORN, II, 7, 755. See also Robert W. Daly, How the Merrimac Won(New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1957).

31. Correspondence between Tattnall and Mallory, April 1, 4, 1862 in ORN, I, 7, 753-54, 756-57. This may have been the article “‘The Steam Battery ‘Monitor’” in Scientific American, Vol. VI, No. 12 (March 22, 1862). See also Davis, First Ironclads , 148; Ashley Halsey, Jr., “Seal the Turtle in its Shell,” Civil War Times Illustrated , V (June, 1966), 29-31; Francis W. Dawson, Reminiscences of Confederate Service, 1861-1865 (ed., Bell I. Wiley, Baton Rouge and London: Louisiana State University Press, 1980. Originally published Charleston: News & Courier Press, 1882), pp. 39-40. Robert W. Daly, ed., Aboard the USS Monitor: 1862. The Letters of Acting Paymaster William Frederick Keeler, U.S. Navy To his Wife, Anna (Annapolis: United States Naval Institute Press, 1964), 184.

32. Dawson, Reminiscences, 39. Daly, How the Merrimac Won, 151. William C. Whittle, “The Late Commodore Tattnall: The Attack on Tuspan—Destruction of the Merrimac.” Savannah Republican, July, 1871, clipping in Josiah Tattnall Papers, The Georgia Historical Society.

33. Dawson, Reminiscences, 39.

34. Davis, First Ironclads, 146-47. Tattnall to Mallory, Apr. 10, 1862 in ORN, I, 7, 764-65.

35. Davis, First Ironclads, 148-49. Daly, How the Merrimac Won, 153-56.

36. The controversy is partially chronicled through Lee’s order and correspondence in ORN, I, 7, 776-77. See also Daly, How the Merrimac Won, 160-64, and A.A. Hoehling, Thunder at Hampton Roads: The U.S.S. Monitor—Its Battle with The Merrimack and Its Recent Discovery (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1976), 178.

37. The Galena had joined the Monitor, and the Federals were hoping to get the New Ironsidesthere, too.

38. Daly, ed., Aboard the USS Monitor, 100.

39. See extracts from Tattnall court martial, court’s findings, ORN, I, 7, 798.

40. Tattnall to Mallory, May 14, 1862 in ORN, I, 7, 335-38. Daly, How the Merrimac Won, 175-81.

41. The Daily Richmond Enquirer was suspicious of the government’s claims of innocense. The newspaper said the government contended that “Commodore Tattnall determined, on his own responsibility, to destroy the vessel….” But the Enquirer said the Navy Department had prior knowledge of the event. The newspaper knew “as a positive fact, that the destruction of the Virginia was known in the department Sunday morning,” so the government must have known beforehand of the intent to destroy her. Daily Richmond Enquirer, May 15, 1862.

42. Jones, Jr., Life and Services, 179, 181.

43. For Whittle, see Tattnall obituary in Telfair Family Papers, Coll. #793, Box 16, Folder 132, Georgia Historical Society.

44. The court’s findings are in ORN, I, 7, 787-88.

45. Buchanan to Jones, June 19, 1862 in ORN, I, 7, 788-89.

46. Tattnall’s official report to Mallory, with his criticism of the pilots, was published in the Daily Richmond Examiner, eliciting a long rebuttal from pilots William Parrish, George Wright, William T. Clark, and Hezekiah Williams. See Examiner, May 24, 1862.

47. ORN, I, 7, pp. 787-99; Jones, Life and Services, 218.

48. Wood to Jones, Mar. 24, 1863 in ORN, I, 8, 862-863.

49. Surgeon Gibbes entered in his diary on Saturday, April 4: “We learn today that Commodore Tattnall, who for months past has been failing, mentally and physically has been relieved of his command afloat on this station—retaining the mere name of commanding officer of station ashore which amounts to nothing.” See also Tattnall to Mrs. Virginia McBlair, July 9, 1863 in McBlair Letters, Emory University Library.

50. Jones to George Kollock, July 24, 1865 in Kollock Family Papers, Georgia Historical Society.

51. Purse & Son, Purse’s Directory of the City of Savannah Together with a Mercantile and Business Directory (Savannah, Purse & Son, 1866), 137.

52. Butcher, “Life and Times of Edward Fenwick Neufville,” 8.

53. That was the intent of the Radical Republicans who were battling Andrew Johnson for control of the Reconstruction process. Davis was kept imprisoned for two years, but the Radicals were never able to build a case against him. They felt particularly stymied because no Rebels would testify against him.

54. Correspondence between Tattnall and Lee, Aug. 23, Sept. 7, 1865 in Jones, Life and Services of Tattnall, 234-38.

55. Edith R. Curtis, “Blood is Thicker Than Water,” The American Neptune, vol. XXVII, no. 3, 1967, p. 175.

56. Before the war Southern naval officers stayed in the Astor House when in New York City. The hotel was at 1515 Broadway (now Times Square) between 44th and 45th Streets. It was demolished in 1967. See

57. Meade, Life of Hiram Paulding, p. 207. Paulding made no mention of Harriet or any other family members with Josiah.

58. Curtis, “Blood is Thicker,” 175.

59. Curtis, “Blood is Thicker,” Tattnall’s biographer Charles C. Jones, Jr. said: “Of this office he was the only incumbent. For him it was called into being, and with him it expired.” Jones, Life and Services of Tattnall, 239.

60. Harriet died a year and a half later, on Jan. 16, 1873. For Tattnall’s death, see Jones, Life and Services, 240-51; Savannah Morning News, June 16, 1871, p. 2, col. 5; Jan 17, 1873, p. 3, col. 6. William B. Hesseltine and Larry Gara, “Georgia’s Confederate Leaders After Appomattox,” in Georgia Historical Quarterly, vol. 35, no. 1 (March, 1951), 3. See also Charles O. Paullin, “Josiah Tattnall” in Dictionary of American Biography, XVII, 310-11; Walter L. Fleming, ed. The South in the Building of the Nation

61. Although Myers served most of the war in Mobile, captaining the ironclad Huntsville late in the war, he was from Georgia. Like John R.F. Tattnall and others, his transition from U.S. to C.S. service had included a stint in Ft. Warren for refusing to take an oath of allegiance. Register of Officers, 141.

62. Midshipman Wilkins had served on both the old Savannahand the Georgia in 1862 and ‘63, before transfer to Drewry’s Bluff, then the Naval Academy. He finished the war in Charleston. Snead transferred from the Confederate Army with a master’s mate’s warrant in 1863, was promoted to acting midshipman, and served aboard the Georgia in 1863-64 before going to the Naval Academy. Assistant Paymaster Perry M. DeLeon, who had his name changed from J. Calhoun Moses in November of 1863, served all over the Confederacy, including a brief stint on the old Savannah in 1863. Register of Officers, 48, 185, 211.

63. Jones, Life and Services, “Prefatory Note,” and 240-255.

64. Savannah Morning News, Apr. 6, 1885 in WPA of Georgia, Annals of Savannah, Vol. 36, 22.