Civil War Interactive Discussion Board Home
Home Search search Menu menu Not logged in - Login | Register


Greek Fire - Weapons of the Civil War - Civil War Talk - Civil War Interactive Discussion Board
 Moderated by: javal1 Page:  First Page Previous Page  1  2   
 New Topic   Reply   Printer Friendly 
 Rating:  Rating
AuthorPost
 Posted: Sat Aug 23rd, 2014 09:26 pm
   PM  Quote  Reply 
21st Post
Hellcat
Root Beer Lover


Joined: Tue Nov 15th, 2005
Location: USA
Posts: 888
Status: 
Offline
Mana: 

  back to top

Still say maybe I'm being obsessive. The following is from Official records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion. ; Series I - Volume 26: Naval Forces on Western Waters (March 1, 1864 - December 31, 1864), pages 313-314. It's a General Order from Rear Admiral David D. Porter:

General order of Rear-Admiral Porter, U.S. Navy, for the arrest of certain Confederate sympathizers who furnish active aid.

U. S. MISSISSIPPI SQUADRON, FLAGSHIP BLACK HAWK,
Off Mouth Red River, May 20, 1864.

GENERAL ORDER,
No. 194.

The attention of all officers in the squadron is called to the facts mentioned below, and they will use every effort to have the persons names arrested and frustrate their designs:

Corbit, alias "Hickory Dick" resides at Mrs. Stewart's, upon Mrs. Lobdell's plantation, at or near Indian Point, about 5 miles below Prentiss, on Old River Lake, as it is sometimes called. Indian Point is where rebel dispatches to and from Richmond to the Trans-Mississippi Department cross the Mississippi River, and said Corbit, alias "Hickory Dick," is the bearer of said dispatches across the river, or is ferryman.

Ingram resides on the Davis or old Ross plantation, 2 miles east of Mrs. Lobdell's. Said Ingram is chief of couriers. Courier stations (going east) are at the following places: First, at Ingram's or Davis's plantation; second, at Strong's Ferry on the Sunflower; third, at Boyd's Ferry on the Tallahatchie; fourth, at Thompson's, 22 miles west of Grenada. Ingram's node of secreting dispatches while awaiting couriers is to bury them--sometimes at the corner of the house.

Mrs. Walker and Michael Bryan reside one-fourth of a mile back of Prentiss; profess to be loyal, but are spies for the rebels; go to Memphis occasionally; get all items they can and communicate with Mason and Nevil, rebel scouts.

Captain William Resin resides near Friar's Point; is a very bad man; carries news and is doing much harm.

Casteel resides above the mouth of White River (in Arkansas); is in the woods part of the time near Johnson's, and is occasionally at Johnson's house. He is chief of a gang who practice a system for putting torpedoes into wood, and it is likely to be done on islands [No.] 63 and [No.] 76 than at any other points. The plan is to use gas pipe or shotgun and musket barrels cut into pieces from 10 to 15 inches long, inserting a screw plug into the ends, fill the tube with powder, and then employ negroes to bore into the ends of the wood and insert the tubes, plug the auger hole and obliterate the surface appearance on the ends with dirt or otherwise.

General Dobbin is preparing to use Greek fire, and proposes to use it against steamboats. His present point of attack is between Helena and Memphis; he has some 1,200 men under his command and is provided with what he terms " rocket battery," with "hail shot." His battery was crossed from the east to the west side of the river above Helena not long since.

Howard is preparing to fell trees upon steamers in Yazoo River. The plan is to select places where the river is crooked and difficult to navigate; select such trees that lean over the water (of which there are many), saw into them on the side next to the water, then upon the opposite side some two or three feet above the first cut, making the two cuts very nearly sever the tree, then bore into the tree at right angles with and halfway between the cuts, put in a sufficient quantity of powder and attach a slow match, or put in a torpedo such as is proposed to use in wood and explode it with percussion at the time boats are passing.

DAVID D. PORTER
Rear-Admiral, Commanding Mississippi Squadron.


Ok, this dispatch is for the arrest of active Southern sympathizers, which makes me question who General Dobbin was. I can find a "General" Archibald S. Dobbins, a Confederate cavalry commander who was operating in the Helena area and was in northern Arkansas in 1864. Though he received a field promotion to general, he was officially still on the records only as a colonel. Also this promotion was supposed to come near the end of the war, May 1864 doesn't seem near enough to the end for him to have received that promotion. Could Porter have made a spelling mistake, or the transcriber have done so when it went into the volume, and General Dobbin is actually Colonel Dobbins? If so, this is interesting as Dobbins was court-martialed in November 1863 as he refused to serve under General John S. Marmaduke who had killed General Lucius M. Walker, Dobbin's former division commander (he took command of the division following Walker's death). Dobbin's may or may not have continued to unofficially commanded elements of his unit after the court-martial, but officially he lost his command and the unit, Dobbin's 1st Arkansas Cavalry Regiment, was broken up in January 1864 with elements attached to Colonel Thomas J. Morgan's regiment, the 5th Arkansas Calvary Regiment.

If it is Archibald Dobbins, this means that it wasn't just Confederate secret service agents engaged in using Greek fire. But could this General Dobbin been a Federal general ordered to use Greek fire against steamboats whose captains were sympathetic to the Confederacy? The nature of the order seems to be meant to list only Confederate sympathizers as a kind of wanted poster, if you will.

Also, what was this Greek fire. Porter only mentions it was to be used against steamships. Was it the same stuff used in the NYC plot? Or was it similar to Levi Short's solidified Greek fire. go back to the 7th post and you'll see that Admiral Porter was well acquainted with Short's Greek fire.

Edit: Found Dobbins's Find-A-Grave page. Discusses a little about the court-martial and how Dobbin's was "no longer an officer in the C. S. Army.". It does as trying to organize partisans during the spring of 1864, which would make him a "sympathizer" during that period, depending on how you view partisan groups. It also says that his being discharged following his court-martial may never have become official and that he may never have actually become a general.

Last edited on Sat Aug 23rd, 2014 10:03 pm by Hellcat



 Posted: Sun Aug 24th, 2014 02:27 am
   PM  Quote  Reply 
22nd Post
Hellcat
Root Beer Lover


Joined: Tue Nov 15th, 2005
Location: USA
Posts: 888
Status: 
Offline
Mana: 

  back to top

Ok, we already know Greek fire was used during the siege of Charleston so this post isn't really needed. I had at first believed this showed that the blockading fleet off Charleston was still carrying Greek fire in 1865 as A) it comes from Official records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion. ; Series I - Volume 27: Naval Forces on Western Waters (January 1, 1865 - September 6, 1865); Supply Vessels (January 1, 1865 - September 6, 1865) , and B) the line of abstract log has an illegible year. You can read 186, but then the actual year is not clear. But the date started me questioning this, it's August 11th, which was well after the war ended. So why would there still be a blockading fleet off Charleston August 11th, 1865? I went back through the log entries, that illegible year is 1863, not 1865. So this puts the date in the middle of the siege.

This is from the abstract log of the USS Arkansas, Acting Volunteer Lt. William H. West commanding the ship during this period. The entries are from June 28th to August 29th. From page 672:

August 11.--At 3:30 p. m. sighted fleet off Charleston, S. C. From 6 to 8 p. m. supplied fleet inside with fresh provisions. Sent a quantity of Greek fire to the flagship, and transferred a draft of 60 landsmen to tug Daffodil. At 9:20 stopped supplying.

Ok, so going back over the thread it seems so far it was the army that was firing Greek fire on Charleston. Here we have the USS Arkansas supplying Greek fire to the flagship of Charleston. Doing some research I think this was the USS Augusta Dinsmore. I tried looking up flagships of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron before getting tired of that and trying a different tactic, looking for the flagship during the siege of Charleston. I got this hit. That line about the flagship Augusta Dinsmore being off Morris Island on August 3rd caught my eye so I hit DANFS. And according to the DANFS page on the ship she was Dahlgren's flagship until the USS Philadelphia arrived in late August. So it seems likely she was the flagship Lt. West was referring to in the Arkansas's log. So was the Augusta Dinsmore equipped to fire Greek fire? This would seem to suggest so. So far it doesn't seem a special cannon was needed to fire Short's solidified Greek fire, only the shells were special.

Another option is that Dahlgren may have transferred the Greek fire to the army. The Wikipedia page on the Augusta Dinsmore says that she was sometimes used as a cargo ship due to her size. So it could be that Dahlgren delivered the Greek fire to Gilmore. But that theory raises the question of why use the flagship to deliver the stuff rather than the Arkansas.



 Posted: Sun Aug 24th, 2014 05:19 am
   PM  Quote  Reply 
23rd Post
Hellcat
Root Beer Lover


Joined: Tue Nov 15th, 2005
Location: USA
Posts: 888
Status: 
Offline
Mana: 

  back to top

Ok, I'm back again. My last post gave me a thought for the subject, do a search for Greek fire during the siege of Charleston. It gave me a great hit. What makes the hit so great? Patent Application #38424.

I take forty pounds of saltpeter, seven pounds of charcoal, six pounds of asphaltum, two pounds of antimony, seven pounds of sulphur, and two gallons of naphtha. These ingredients, substantially in the proportions described, I thoroughly mix in a large wooden tank lined with copper, and when thoroughly mixed I allow the compound to stand for two or three days to settle. A large amount of sediment collects at the bottom of the tank, and the liquid rises above. The liquid is then drawn off and combined with any vegetable fibrous substance, the said fibrous material to be fully saturated with the liquid. This is then packed in explosive shells or projectiles and used as a destructive war-missile to burn an enemy’s ships, forts, &c. The sediment which collects at the bottom of the tank is taken in its plastic state and pressed into metallic cases of any convenient size-say three inches in length and five-eighths of an inch in diameter, more or less. This makes a combustible missile which, when ignited by the explosion of the projectile will burn with great intensity. As many of these as maybe required are then put into and combined with an explosive shell or any form of explosive projectile for use. When the projectile explodes these missiles will take fire, collodium being sprinkled over their open ends for this purpose, and will dart out in every direction with ten thousand fiery tongues, hissing and burning wherever they go. The fire is unquenchable, Water will not extinguish it. It consumes and burns wherever it strikes. When thrown into an enemy’s fortifications, forts, ships, or camps these missiles will consume everything in their fiery course, sending death and desolation into the enemy’s ranks.

That is Levi Short, the inventor of solidified Greek fire. It's his description of his Greek fire.

For me this is one of the purposes of this thread, figuring out just what Greek fire was during the war. We already know from looking over this thread that there were at least two different types of Greek fire. The liquid type used in the NYC plot and the solidified type used against Charleston and Vicksburg. Of the stuff used in the NYC plot:
  • Headley described it as having a water like appearance. He also describes it as combusting when in contact with air. (Post 1)

  • Captain Kennedy claimed after his capture to have emptied a bottle of phosphorus in P.T. Barnum's museum. (Post 1)
  • Webb Garrison in his Civil War Schemes and Plots says that two of the active ingredients were phosphorus and hydrogen sulfide. According to Garrison it needed a flame to ignite it.(Post 1)
  • Clint Johnson's Civil War Blunders claims reason the NYC plot was not successful was that that the agents kept the windows closed indicating the need for oxygen (Post 14). But as a fire typically needs oxygen in general this doesn't seem a unique quality to this liquid Greek fire.
  • A December 10, 1864 Harper's Weekly article states "The fires were kindled by leaving quantities of phosphorus where it would become exposed to the air in the rooms..." (Post 15)
  • Headley states that the Greek fire smelled like rotten eggs, a smell that could be detected through the valise in which he carried it. (Post 16)

So that gives us some idea of what a liquid form of Greek fire might have been.

Here we have Shorts description of his own formula. His ingredients saltpeter, charcoal, asphaltum, antimony, sulphnr, naphtha which are used to make a liquid. In
Patent Application #38424 Short does say his Greek fire can be used as a liquid or a solid. And he tells us how he makes it solidified. This would also explain Porter's description of large flakes of fire (Post 7).

Last edited on Sun Aug 24th, 2014 05:20 am by Hellcat



 Posted: Fri Sep 12th, 2014 11:55 pm
   PM  Quote  Reply 
24th Post
Hellcat
Root Beer Lover


Joined: Tue Nov 15th, 2005
Location: USA
Posts: 888
Status: 
Offline
Mana: 

  back to top

Continuing my look at the use of Greek fire in the war. Up until now that look has had reports that confined the knowledge of the use of this particular weapon to the North American continent. With this next quote we travel all the way to Italy. The   Lateran Treaty is still over 65 years away so it's to Rome and a little place there that comes from the Latin phrase Mons Vaticanus.

The following is from Official records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion. ; Series II - Volume 3: Proclamations, Appointments, etc. of President Davis; State Department Correspondence with Diplomatic Agents,etc. on page 954 a report to the Confederate Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin from an Ambrose Dudley Mann of his meeting with Pope Pius IX. The letter is dated November 15th 1863. For those interested in reading it all, it begins on page 952 and goes to 955.

 His Holiness received this statement with evident satisfaction, and then said: "I would like to do anything that can be effectively done, or that even promises good results, to aid in putting an end to this most terrible war, which is harming the good of all the earth, if I knew how to proceed."

I availed myself of this declaration to inform his Holiness that it was not the armies of Northern birth which the South was encountering in hostile array, but that it was the armies of European creation, occasioned by the Irish and Germans, chiefly by the former, who were influenced to emigrate (by circulars from "Lincoln & Co." to their numerous agents abroad) ostensibly for the purpose of securing high wages but in reality to fill up the constantly depleted ranks of our enemy; that those poor unfortunates were tempted by high bounties (amounting to $500, $600, and $700) to enlist and take up arms against us; that once in the service they were invariably placed in the most exposed points of danger in the battle field; that in consequence thereof an instance had occurred in which an almost entire brigade had been left dead or wounded upon the ground; that but for foreign recruits the North would most likely have broken down months ago in the absurd attempt to overpower the South.

His Holiness expressed his utter astonishment, repeatedly throwing up his hands, at the employment of such means against us, and the cruelty attendant upon such unscrupulous operations.

"But, your Holiness," said I, "Lincoln & Co. are even more wicked, if possible, in their ways than in decoying innocent Irishmen from their homes to be murdered in cold blood. Their champions, and would your Holiness believe it unless it were authoritatively communicated to you, their pulpit champions have boldly asserted as a sentiment: Greek fire for the families and cities of the rebels and hell fire for their chiefs."

His Holiness was startled at this information, and immediately observed: "Certainly no Catholic could reiterate so monstrous a sentiment." I replied: "Assuredly not. It finds a place exclusively in the hearts of the fiendish, vagrant, pulpit buffoons whose number is legion and who impiously undertake to teach the doctrines of Christ for ulterior sinister purposes."

His Holiness now observed: "I will write a letter to President Davis, and of such a character that it may be published for general perusal." I expressed my heartfelt gratification for the assertion of this purpose. He then remarked, half inquiringly: "You will remain here for several months?" I, of course, could not do otherwise than answer in the affirmative. Turning to my secretary, he asked several kind questions personal to himself and bestowed upon him a handsome compliment. He then extended his hand as a signal for the end of the audience and I retired.

Ok, not much there about Greek fire, only that line of it for the families and cities of the rebels. This more reads like propaganda being used to sway the mind of a foreign power and the mention of Greek fire was a minor one but one thrown in to help sway that power. We know that the population in the North was considerably larger than that off the South. We also know that there was indeed quite a number of immigrants who fought in the Northern armies over the course of the war. Probably quite a few who immigrated during the course of the war found themselves ending up on the front lines, especially after the draft started. And we know bounties were issued to entice folks to enlist. So there certainly is truth in what is said.  But at that time when you were trying to sway a foreign power to your side would you want to tell the whole truth or just what could help your side?

But at the same time this is a report by the Commissioner of the CSA for Belgium and the Vatican to the Secretary of State of the CSA. So could Mann have been making a different kind of propaganda. Various kinds of propaganda, could this have been the kind told to one's one people to make them think everything is going better than it really is? Or could it also be that Mann felt he had been more succesful than he had been and this report reflects those feelings?

In either case, we can clearly see that the use of Greek fire by Federal forces is known about in Europe by the end of 1863. How widely know we can't say from the above text.

The possible mention of Greek fire abroad wasn't limited to Mann's meeting with the pope. On Janurary 8, 1864 Benjamin sent a letter to John Slidell, better known for his role in the Trent Affair (by his role I mean the removal of him and James Mason from the RMS Trent by orders of the USS San Jacinto's commander Captain Charles Wilkes). At the time Slidell was in Paris. The following comes from the same source as the above, this time page 991 (the full letter is pages 990 to 992)
I am not at all surprised at the account you give of the action of the Northern emissaries in suborning perjury, committing thefts, and forging documents for the furtherance of their objects. No crime is too revolting for this vile race, which disgraces civilization and causes one to blush for our common humanity. You have been removed from the scenes of their outrages, and are evidently startled at conduct on their part, which we look for as quite naturally to be expected. A people who have been engaged for the last three years in forging our Treasury notes, cheating in the exchange of prisoners of war, exciting slaves to the murder of their masters, plundering private property without a semblance of scruple, burning dwellings, breaking up and destroying agricultural implements, violating female honor, and murdering prisoners in cold blood, not to speak of Greek fire, stone fleets, and other similar expedients of warfare, would scarcely refrain from such trifles as those which excite your indignation. I entertain no doubt whatever that hundreds of thousands of people at the North would be frantic with fiendish delight if informed of the universal massacre of the Southern people, including women and children, in one night. They would then only have to exterminate the blacks (which they are fast doing now), and they would become owners of the property which they covet, and for which they are fighting.
So what we see here seems to be more Benjamin responding to a report from Slidell concerning the efforts of federl Comissioners in Paris. This one feels much less like it could be propaganda to me as it is between the Secretary of State of the CSA and the Commissioner of the CSA to France. Again Greek fire is only a minor mention. It does beg the question of if Slidell had mentioned the use of Greek fire to those in power in France prior to this or if he would do so after recieving Benjamin's letter. If so mentioned then Slidell's opposite sounds as if they had already convinced the French authorities not to take such comments so seriously.



 Current time is 11:30 amPage:  First Page Previous Page  1  2   
Top




UltraBB 1.17 Copyright © 2007-2008 Data 1 Systems
Page processed in 0.3174 seconds (10% database + 90% PHP). 26 queries executed.