2nd Feb, 2023 11:00 EST

Books and Manuscripts

 
  Lot 14
 

14

[Americana] [Civil War] Nields, Henry C.
Archive of Lieutenant Commander Henry C. Nields, U.S.N.

Archive of Lieutenant Commander Henry C. Nields, Union Hero of the Battle of Mobile Bay

Locations and dates vary, ca. 1863-1942. Archive of West Chester, Pennsylvania native, Henry C. Nields (1839-1880), Lieutenant Commander of the United States Navy from 1861-80. Comprising 67 partially-printed as well as manuscript military-related documents, including a four-page autograph letter, signed by Nields discussing details of the Battle of Mobile Bay; his copy of Report on the Secretary of the Navy...December, 1864, signed "Henry C. Nields", and with the book-plate from the U.S. Flagship Powhaton on front paste-down; his membership certificate for the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States; two of his Naval officer brass buttons; large manuscript message by Nields to his wife announcing his return home and promotion to lieutenant; contemporary albumen portrait of Nields in naval uniform, by Woodward; seven cased photographs depicting Nields in his youth as well as those of his wife and daughter; hand-colored photographic oval portraits of Nields and his wife; three pieces of Masonic-related items, notably a 14K gold pendant engraved with "H.C.N", and the USS Tecumseh, on a gold-tone chain; three albumen photographs of ships Nields served on (USS Pinta, USS Constitution, USS Speedwell); a framed carte de visite of Admiral David Farragut; three pieces of Confederate currency; ten hand-drawn illustrations by Nields depicting the USS Metacomet, the USS Pawnee, the Paraguayan War, etc., in portfolio; drawing tools in an enameled papier-mache box; undated newspaper article with speech given by Nields before his local philosophical society; photo of ship; copy of The USS Tecumseh in Mobile Bay: The Sinking of a Civil War Ironclad, by David Smithweck. Lot also includes a selection of photographs and ephemera related to the dedication of the Benson-Class Destroyer USS Nields, and Henry's daughter, Ella S. Nields, who was present at its launch ceremony with her niece Dorcas Scott. Size and condition vary.

The letters and documents follow a chronology of Nields's military assignments, and begin with a January 30, 1863 Naval Department order to report to the New York Navy Yard, and end with a March 15, 1880 letter from the Secretary of the Navy granting him sick leave. Notable signatures in the archive include Secretaries of the Navy, Gideon Welles (1802-1878) and Richard W. Thompson (1809-1900); Admirals David G. Farragut (1801-1870) and David D. Porter (1813-1891); Rear Admirals Thornton Jenkins (1811-1893), James E. Jouett (1826-1902), William Radford (1809-1890), John H. Russell (1827-1897), Charles H. Davis (1807-1877), Augustus Case (1812-1893), James Alden (1810-1877), Alexander Murray (1816-1884), Daniel Ammen (1820-1898), Clark H. Wells (1822-1888), Robert W. Schufeldt (1822-1895), Hiram Paulding (1797-1878), Silas H. Stringham (1798-1876); Commodores Henry W. Morris (1806-1863), William N. Jeffers (1824-1883), and Samuel P. Lee (1812-1897).

Henry C. Nields was working aboard a merchant ship and was away on a long voyage in the Atlantic Ocean when the American Civil War broke out in April of 1861. Upon returning to America he enlisted in the U.S. Navy, and was assigned as an Acting Master's Mate aboard the USS Kennebec. He served with distinction during the war, most notably at the Battle of Mobile Bay, and would serve another fifteen years after its conclusion, reaching the rank of Lieutenant Commander before his death in 1880. Nields served on or commanded a variety of vessels during his career including the steamers Susana, and Tennessee, sloops of war USS Potomac, USS Iroquois, USS Ticonderoga, USS Canandaigua, and USS Fortune, the training vessel USS Constitution, as well as stints in the U.S. Naval Yards at New York and Philadelphia. His gallant service and meritorious conduct led the United States Navy to honor him as the eponym of a Benson class destroyer, the USS Nields, commissioned on January 15, 1943, and that saw action during World War II.

During the Battle of Mobile Bay, the last major Naval battle of the Civil War, Nields's heroic actions earned him nationwide fame. A month before the battle, a Naval order dated July 11, 1864, instructed Nields to report to Lt. Commander James E. Jouett of the USS Metacomet, a ship of the West Gulf Squadron under the command of Admiral David G. Farragut. The squadron was positioned outside the bay near Mobile, Alabama, the last major Gulf port controlled by the Confederacy since the fall of New Orleans in 1862. Farragut's goal was to complete the Northern blockade on the Confederacy, so that Union ground forces under Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman would have the upper hand as their armies advanced South. While the war was entering its final stages and Confederate opposition was starting to wane, Mobile Bay was still heavily fortified. There were three Forts positioned around the Bay with powerful batteries (Morgan, Gaines, Powell), four Confederate ships including one ironclad (CSS Tennessee), and a plethora of "torpedoes", or early naval mines laid in the bay's western waters. The Union squadron had 18 ships at its disposal, including four ironclads (USS Winnebago, USS Chickasaw, USS Manhattan, USS Tecumseh), and on the morning of August 5, 1864, Admiral Farragut ordered the attack. The Union ironclads advanced to engage the Confederate ships, yet for unknown reasons the Tecumseh veered too far into the mined waters, and almost immediately struck a torpedo. As the ship began to quickly sink to the bottom of Mobile Bay, Farragut signaled Commander Jouett of the Metacomet to send a boat for survivors, which he did, putting Henry C. Nields in charge. In the background of one of the most decisive naval battles of the Civil War, Nields's efforts saved 10 sailors who would have otherwise perished on board the Tecumseh with their other 104 crewmembers. After the Tecumseh sank, Farragut reportedly uttered his famous order that has since been paraphrased to "Damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead", although most accounts of whether this happened are inconclusive.

Following the battle, Farragut praised Nields's actions in his official report to the Secretary of the Navy, dated August 12, 1864, "In this connexion I must not omit to call the attention of the department to the conduct of Acting Ensign Henry C. Nields, of the Metacomet, who had charge of the boat sent from that vessel when the Tecumseh sunk. He took her in under one of the most galling fires I ever saw, and succeeded in rescuing from death ten of her crew, within six hundred yards of the fort. I would respectfully recommend his advancement." (Report on the Secretary of the Navy...December, 1864, p. 403). On November 4, 1864, Nields received a promotion from Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy (included here), endorsed by Admiral Farragut on back with words of commendation: "This promotion was bestowed in consequence of your gallant conduct in saving the few survivors of the unfortunate 'Tecumseh' on the 5th August--1864"; further annotated by James E. Jouett, "delivered with much pleasure."

In a letter in the archive dated April 14, 1863, Nields wrote to the sister of a fellow seaman, Rebecca Heed. "You no doubt will be somewhat astonished at the liberties I am taking in addressing you thus. But when you find what an unfortunate being I am, hope you will forgive me. The amount of the matter is that week after week we have had a mail and no letters for me. Now as it is extremely aggravating to see all my brother Officers receieveng (sic) letters all the time, and myself none, have taken the liberty of writing to you to see if I could not interest you enough in me to keep up a friendly correspondence...You are an Unionist and would no doubt do all you could for its defense. At least you have made a sacrafice (sic) by giving your brother. And still I think you might do something towards keeping anothers spirits in good condition by such a trifle as a few lines..." For the next two years they corresponded, and on September 25, 1865, while home on a three-month leave, they married. They would go on to have five children together. He remained an officer in the Navy for another 15 years, and his assignments took him to ports all over North and South America, the Indian Ocean, and Southeast Asia. Henry C. Nields died on December 13, 1880, from pneumonia likely contracted while he was at sea.

Provenance

Henry C. Nields, thence by descent in the family

Estimate
$5,000 - $8,000
 

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Archive of Lieutenant Commander Henry C. Nields, Union Hero of the Battle of Mobile Bay

Locations and dates vary, ca. 1863-1942. Archive of West Chester, Pennsylvania native, Henry C. Nields (1839-1880), Lieutenant Commander of the United States Navy from 1861-80. Comprising 67 partially-printed as well as manuscript military-related documents, including a four-page autograph letter, signed by Nields discussing details of the Battle of Mobile Bay; his copy of Report on the Secretary of the Navy...December, 1864, signed "Henry C. Nields", and with the book-plate from the U.S. Flagship Powhaton on front paste-down; his membership certificate for the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States; two of his Naval officer brass buttons; large manuscript message by Nields to his wife announcing his return home and promotion to lieutenant; contemporary albumen portrait of Nields in naval uniform, by Woodward; seven cased photographs depicting Nields in his youth as well as those of his wife and daughter; hand-colored photographic oval portraits of Nields and his wife; three pieces of Masonic-related items, notably a 14K gold pendant engraved with "H.C.N", and the USS Tecumseh, on a gold-tone chain; three albumen photographs of ships Nields served on (USS Pinta, USS Constitution, USS Speedwell); a framed carte de visite of Admiral David Farragut; three pieces of Confederate currency; ten hand-drawn illustrations by Nields depicting the USS Metacomet, the USS Pawnee, the Paraguayan War, etc., in portfolio; drawing tools in an enameled papier-mache box; undated newspaper article with speech given by Nields before his local philosophical society; photo of ship; copy of The USS Tecumseh in Mobile Bay: The Sinking of a Civil War Ironclad, by David Smithweck. Lot also includes a selection of photographs and ephemera related to the dedication of the Benson-Class Destroyer USS Nields, and Henry's daughter, Ella S. Nields, who was present at its launch ceremony with her niece Dorcas Scott. Size and condition vary.

The letters and documents follow a chronology of Nields's military assignments, and begin with a January 30, 1863 Naval Department order to report to the New York Navy Yard, and end with a March 15, 1880 letter from the Secretary of the Navy granting him sick leave. Notable signatures in the archive include Secretaries of the Navy, Gideon Welles (1802-1878) and Richard W. Thompson (1809-1900); Admirals David G. Farragut (1801-1870) and David D. Porter (1813-1891); Rear Admirals Thornton Jenkins (1811-1893), James E. Jouett (1826-1902), William Radford (1809-1890), John H. Russell (1827-1897), Charles H. Davis (1807-1877), Augustus Case (1812-1893), James Alden (1810-1877), Alexander Murray (1816-1884), Daniel Ammen (1820-1898), Clark H. Wells (1822-1888), Robert W. Schufeldt (1822-1895), Hiram Paulding (1797-1878), Silas H. Stringham (1798-1876); Commodores Henry W. Morris (1806-1863), William N. Jeffers (1824-1883), and Samuel P. Lee (1812-1897).

Henry C. Nields was working aboard a merchant ship and was away on a long voyage in the Atlantic Ocean when the American Civil War broke out in April of 1861. Upon returning to America he enlisted in the U.S. Navy, and was assigned as an Acting Master's Mate aboard the USS Kennebec. He served with distinction during the war, most notably at the Battle of Mobile Bay, and would serve another fifteen years after its conclusion, reaching the rank of Lieutenant Commander before his death in 1880. Nields served on or commanded a variety of vessels during his career including the steamers Susana, and Tennessee, sloops of war USS Potomac, USS Iroquois, USS Ticonderoga, USS Canandaigua, and USS Fortune, the training vessel USS Constitution, as well as stints in the U.S. Naval Yards at New York and Philadelphia. His gallant service and meritorious conduct led the United States Navy to honor him as the eponym of a Benson class destroyer, the USS Nields, commissioned on January 15, 1943, and that saw action during World War II.

During the Battle of Mobile Bay, the last major Naval battle of the Civil War, Nields's heroic actions earned him nationwide fame. A month before the battle, a Naval order dated July 11, 1864, instructed Nields to report to Lt. Commander James E. Jouett of the USS Metacomet, a ship of the West Gulf Squadron under the command of Admiral David G. Farragut. The squadron was positioned outside the bay near Mobile, Alabama, the last major Gulf port controlled by the Confederacy since the fall of New Orleans in 1862. Farragut's goal was to complete the Northern blockade on the Confederacy, so that Union ground forces under Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman would have the upper hand as their armies advanced South. While the war was entering its final stages and Confederate opposition was starting to wane, Mobile Bay was still heavily fortified. There were three Forts positioned around the Bay with powerful batteries (Morgan, Gaines, Powell), four Confederate ships including one ironclad (CSS Tennessee), and a plethora of "torpedoes", or early naval mines laid in the bay's western waters. The Union squadron had 18 ships at its disposal, including four ironclads (USS Winnebago, USS Chickasaw, USS Manhattan, USS Tecumseh), and on the morning of August 5, 1864, Admiral Farragut ordered the attack. The Union ironclads advanced to engage the Confederate ships, yet for unknown reasons the Tecumseh veered too far into the mined waters, and almost immediately struck a torpedo. As the ship began to quickly sink to the bottom of Mobile Bay, Farragut signaled Commander Jouett of the Metacomet to send a boat for survivors, which he did, putting Henry C. Nields in charge. In the background of one of the most decisive naval battles of the Civil War, Nields's efforts saved 10 sailors who would have otherwise perished on board the Tecumseh with their other 104 crewmembers. After the Tecumseh sank, Farragut reportedly uttered his famous order that has since been paraphrased to "Damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead", although most accounts of whether this happened are inconclusive.

Following the battle, Farragut praised Nields's actions in his official report to the Secretary of the Navy, dated August 12, 1864, "In this connexion I must not omit to call the attention of the department to the conduct of Acting Ensign Henry C. Nields, of the Metacomet, who had charge of the boat sent from that vessel when the Tecumseh sunk. He took her in under one of the most galling fires I ever saw, and succeeded in rescuing from death ten of her crew, within six hundred yards of the fort. I would respectfully recommend his advancement." (Report on the Secretary of the Navy...December, 1864, p. 403). On November 4, 1864, Nields received a promotion from Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy (included here), endorsed by Admiral Farragut on back with words of commendation: "This promotion was bestowed in consequence of your gallant conduct in saving the few survivors of the unfortunate 'Tecumseh' on the 5th August--1864"; further annotated by James E. Jouett, "delivered with much pleasure."

In a letter in the archive dated April 14, 1863, Nields wrote to the sister of a fellow seaman, Rebecca Heed. "You no doubt will be somewhat astonished at the liberties I am taking in addressing you thus. But when you find what an unfortunate being I am, hope you will forgive me. The amount of the matter is that week after week we have had a mail and no letters for me. Now as it is extremely aggravating to see all my brother Officers receieveng (sic) letters all the time, and myself none, have taken the liberty of writing to you to see if I could not interest you enough in me to keep up a friendly correspondence...You are an Unionist and would no doubt do all you could for its defense. At least you have made a sacrafice (sic) by giving your brother. And still I think you might do something towards keeping anothers spirits in good condition by such a trifle as a few lines..." For the next two years they corresponded, and on September 25, 1865, while home on a three-month leave, they married. They would go on to have five children together. He remained an officer in the Navy for another 15 years, and his assignments took him to ports all over North and South America, the Indian Ocean, and Southeast Asia. Henry C. Nields died on December 13, 1880, from pneumonia likely contracted while he was at sea.

Provenance

Henry C. Nields, thence by descent in the family

  

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