Journal-News, Wednesday, July 7, 2004
Hamilton-Burr duel approaches 200th anniversary
By Jim Blount
July 11 will mark the 200th anniversary of America's most famous duel -- Vice President Aaron Burr versus Alexander Hamilton. The latter was a founding father and the nation's first secretary of the treasury whose name was given to a fort on the Ohio frontier in 1791 and later to the city that developed around that supply outpost built by the U. S. Army.
Hamilton, hit by a single shot, died a day after the July 11, 1804, contest at Weehawken, N. J. Hamilton, who spoke against him, was challenged after Burr failed to win election as governor of New York.
Hamilton was no stranger to duels. He had been close to exchanging shots several times, including a 1797 name-calling battle with James Monroe, a future president. Hamilton's eldest son died in a duel Nov. 23, 1801, at Weehawken with a Burr supporter. Philip Hamilton, 19, who reportedly fired in the air, was killed by George I. Eacker, who had spoken against his father.
Dueling -- which has been traced to at least the Middle Ages -- was an early import to the New World. The first American duel -- fought with swords and causing only minor wounds -- was recorded at Plymouth in 1621. Also known as an affair of honor, the one-on-one confrontations continued until after the Civil War, despite anti-dueling laws and religious opposition to the practice.
Duelists were men of all occupations, but most pitted "gentleman against gentleman" -- lawyers, politicians and military officers. Political disagreements were a common basis for the violence in the early United States. One writer described dueling as "an accepted risk of American public life."
Pistols were the favorite weapon, but other means of maiming and death also were used. The challenged party usually chose the weapon.
There were several dueling codes, specifying the rules of engagement. Negotiations were conducted by seconds, not the disputants. Seconds decided time, place, distance and other details. Until the appointed time of combat, an apology from the challenged party could prevent bloodshed. Once the duel began, it could be stopped by the challenger when he believed his honor had been restored or preserved. Some contestants deliberately fired wildly to avoid injury.
Andrew Jackson, a future president, was accused of stretching the rules in winning an 1806 showdown with Charles Dickinson. Jackson was wounded by Dickinson's shot, but Jackson's gun misfired. He didn't consider it a shot and cocked his pistol and fired again, killing Dickinson. He won the duel, but his reputation suffered because of the alleged violation of the code.
Duels weren't always limited to one shot. In 1802, DeWitt Clinton -- later the New York governor who promoted the Erie Canal and started the nation's canal boom -- exchanged five shots with an opponent. After hitting John Swartout twice, DeWitt, then mayor of New York City, refused to continue shooting at a wounded man. DeWitt had been challenged by Swartout, a friend of Aaron Burr. Swartout claimed DeWitt had smeared Burr in a political dispute.
Burr and Hamilton were influential leaders in rival political parties, and bitter enemies since at least 1791. A flashpoint was the 1800 presidential election, decided in the U. S. House of Representatives. Hamilton was a leader of the Federalist Party that dominated the House. In electoral votes, two Democratic-Republican candidates tied. They were Burr and Thomas Jefferson, also a long time political enemy of Hamilton. Hamilton's backing of Jefferson influenced the House vote and won Jefferson the presidency. Burr became vice president.
In 1804, Burr lost the New York governor's race. During the campaign, a third person reported a "despicable opinion" of Burr expressed by Hamilton, also a New Yorker, at a dinner party. That led Burr -- whose term as vice president extended to March 5, 1805 -- to challenge Hamilton to the July 11, 1804, duel. They faced each other in New Jersey because dueling had been outlawed in New York.
Hamilton had fought in the American Revolution as a volunteer and rose to aide-de-camp and trusted adviser to Gen. George Washington. He served in the Continental Congress, promoted convening the Constitutional Convention, signed the Constitution and campaigned for its ratification. President Washington chose Hamilton as the first secretary of the treasury.
When the U. S. Army built a fort on the banks of the Great Miami River in 1791, Gen. Arthur St. Clair honored his friend by naming it Fort Hamilton.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, July 14, 2004
Miami’s Rowan Hall honors distinguished sailor
(This is the eighth in a series on Butler County connections to the Mexican War and the first of three columns on the navy career of Stephen Clegg Rowan.)
By Jim Blount
Rowan Hall was just another building on Miami University’s Oxford campus until April 15, 1970, when the structure became the focus of an anti-war rally, part of a nationwide demonstration against the Vietnam War. The building, now an art center, had opened in 1949 to house the Navy ROTC. It was named in honor of a distinguished admiral who served in three wars during 63 years in the U. S. Navy. Stephen Clegg Rowan was a Miami student in 1825-26 before earning a naval appointment Feb. 15, 1826. He had been b orn Dec. 25, 1808, near Dublin, Ireland, and came to the United States at age 10. He entered Miami University seven years later, listing Piqua, Ohio, as his hometown.
In 1949, as the opening of the naval science armory approached, Dr. Ernest H. Hahne, Miami president, said an "outstanding person should be honored" in naming the building. A navy historian offered suggestions, including Rowan. Dr. Hahne said "the fact that Rowan attended Miami University should be given special consideration."
There was no naval academy or training stations in 1826 when Rowan left Miami. It was on-the-job training -- duty in navy yards and on ships at sea. Rowan's initiation was an historic cruise aboard the USS Vincennes when it became the first U. S. Navy ship to sail around the world, Sept. 3, 1826, to June 8, 1830.
During the Seminole War, he served on patrols off Florida's Gulf coast from October 1832 until May 1836. After rescue missions and pursuit of Indians in small open boats and land expeditions in Florida swamps, Rowan was "much broken in health" and in 1836 came to Ohio to recuperate.
Rowan won promotion to lieutenant March 8, 1837, and served in the coastal survey for about three years before cruises that took him to South America and the Mediterranean. From May 1844 to June 1845, he was on a receiving ship, the USS Ontario, a training vessel stationed at Baltimore.
In 1845, Rowan was assigned to the USS Cyane at Norfolk, Va. Sea duty extended from June 20, 1845, to Oct. 11, 1848, and included combat in his second war.
When the Mexican War erupted in 1846, Rowan was executive officer on the Cyane, a sloop in the Pacific squadron. The ship had a major role when the U. S. wrested control of California from Mexico. Men from the ship were among marines and sailors sent ashore July 7, 1846, at Monterey to raise the U. S. flag and claim possession of the city and all of Upper California.
July 26, 1846, Lieutenant Colonel John C. Fremont's California Battalion boarded the Cyane, commanded by Captain Samuel F. DuPont.
July 29, 1846, Rowan led a marine platoon on a five-mile march into San Diego, to what today is Old Town Plaza, where the men raised the first U. S. flag in Southern California. His action is considered the start of U. S. possession of San Diego, destined to become a major American port.
Later, the 22-gun Cyane was credited with destroying or capturing 30 vessels as it cleared the Gulf of California of enemy ships. Rowan suffered a shoulder wound and was commended for his valor and ability during victories at San Gabriel and La Mesa Jan. 9-10, 1847.
The Cyane, with other U. S. ships, captured Mazatlan, Mexico, Nov. 11, 1847. Rowan also won praise for leading a land expedition 10 miles into Mexico’s interior, defeating a larger force that had attacked U. S. positions.
He had a variety of peacetime assignments between 1848 and 1861, highlighted by promotion to commander Sept. 14, 1855. His duties included ordnance inspector; command of a supply ship operating between New York and Rio de Janeiro; and command of a training ship.
By 1861 -- when the Civil War started -- Rowan had 35 years of naval service. His varied experience since 1826 prepared him for the increased responsibilities he would assume in a changing U. S. Navy.
Next week's column will cover some of his Civil War accomplishments.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, July 21, 2004
Rowan leader in transforming Civil War navy
(This is the second of three columns on the navy career of Stephen Clegg Rowan.)
By Jim Blount
By 1861, Stephen Clegg Rowan had fought in two wars over 35 years of naval service. During the Civil War, the 1825-26 Miami University student relied on his varied experiences as the U. S. Navy underwent changes in ships and tactics. The veteran of the Seminole and Mexican wars was a leader in the makeover, commanding ships and squadrons in some major events of the Civil War.
He led the USS Pawnee, a 15-gun steam sloop modified for river operation, as it stood guard in the Potomac River March 4, 1861, during the tense inauguration of President Abraham Lincoln.
The Pawnee was to rendezvous with ships off Charleston, S. C., to supply and reinforce Fort Sumter, then under threat of attack from Confederates. Bad weather and contradictory orders spoiled the plan. Rowan's ship arrived outside the harbor at 7 a.m. April 12, 1861. Confederate guns had fired on Fort Sumter about two and a half hours earlier, starting the Civil War. Instead of reinforcing the fort, Rowan aided in evacuating troops from the besieged garrison April 14.
Next, the Pawnee, with 800 troops aboard, was ordered to Gosport (Norfolk), the largest U. S. naval station with extensive warehouses and boat-building facilities. The shipyard stored nearly 2,000 cannon of various caliber, thousands of rounds of ammunition and tons of powder. Several ships in varying condition were in the yard. Rowan arrived too late to help.
Following a Virginia convention vote for secession April 17, Gosport's commander evacuated, rather than fight or await assistance. He ordered the yard and ships burned.
Starting in May 1861, Rowan patrolled the Potomac River to discourage the flow of rebel trade and information and protect the District of Columbia. That task was part of the Anaconda Plan -- the blockade of about 3,500 miles of southern coast line ordered by President Abraham Lincoln April 19, 1861.
The blockade was one element of the Union navy's three-point war strategy. The others were to support the Union army in river operations and develop superior technology to counter Confederate naval advances. An example of the latter was the rush by both sides to launch ironclad war ships.
May 24, 1861 -- the day after Virginia voters ratified secession -- Rowan directed the Pawnee across the Potomac from Washington and demanded the Confederate surrender of Alexandria, Va. Instead of praise for his bold action, Rowan was chastised for upstaging Union army units that were marching toward the city. Rowan believed he had followed earlier orders to protect shipping from Confederate attacks and to establish a buffer zone around Washington.
May 31, the Pawnee and three other ships participated in the war’s first naval engagement, attacking Confederate shore batteries near the mouth of Aquia Creek in Virginia. It was not a large or pivotal encounter. It was important because it was a preview of Union navy offensive tactics.
Early in the war, northern navy planners recognized the advantage of capturing strategic southern ports that could be used as bases to support the Union blockade squadrons, and possibly as launching points for land campaigns into the Confederate interior.
In August, Rowan was part of a combined army-navy assault on rebel batteries in Hatteras Inlet, the first coastal objective.
In 1862, Rowan commanded more successful attacks in North Carolina waters. In February, he directed a 19-ship attack on Roanoke Island, coordinated with an amphibious landing of about 7,500 Union troops. In another army-navy operation in March, Rowan led 13 ships in an offensive that captured New Bern. With New Bern's fall, Confederates lost control of the North Carolina coast and sounds with the exception of the area around Wilmington.
In July, Rowan was among six naval officers honored for leadership by President Abraham Lincoln and Congress. He was promoted to commodore and recognized for conspicuous gallantry. His promotion was a byproduct of changes in the navy's rank structure, bringing it in line with the army's system. It was necessary because of the increased size of the navy and the complexity of organizing and commanding fleets and detachments scattered in the oceans, on coastal patrols and river combat. The change authorized the title of admiral for the first time and created the ranks of ensign, lieutenant commander and commander.
From July 1862 to July 1863, the commodore -- the namesake for Miami University's Rowan Hall -- supervised repairs and armament changes to ships in the Philadelphia and New York navy yards. In July 1863, the 37-year navy veteran began an extended combat stint as commander of one of the premier ships in the Union navy. That assignment will be covered next week in this column.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, July 28, 2004
Rowan commanded most powerful Civil War ship
(This is the last of three columns on the navy career of Stephen Clegg Rowan.)
By Jim Blount
A 37-year navy veteran with a Miami University background commanded the largest and most powerful ship in the Union navy during the Civil War. Although little noticed by scholars, Commodore Stephen Clegg Rowan's leadership of the USS New Ironsides exemplified advances in naval tactics during the war. Emphasis shifted from boarding and capturing enemy ships or dismasting them with gunfire to a combination of large guns, steam propulsion and armor. New objectives were to sink the enemy in the water, and bombard enemy land positions, often in concert with the army.
Commodore Rowan -- a veteran of the Seminole and Mexican wars and more than two years of Civil War action -- took command of the USS New Ironsides off Charleston, S. C., July 6, 1863.
The 4,120-ton broadside ironclad was the last and largest of the first group of three salt water armored U. S. warships. The others were the Galena and the Monitor, the latter famed for its March 9, 1862, combat with the Confederacy's Virginia (formerly the Merrimac) in the first battle between ironclads.
Also July 6, 1863, Rear Admiral John A. Dahlgren assumed command of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron. Dahlgren would utilize the 16-gun New Ironsides' unique offensive capabilities.
She had been built to fight Confederate ironclads. At Charleston, her first task had been to protect Union blockading ships from Confederate ironclads. In July 1863, New Ironsides' prime mission shifted from ship-versus-ship action to shore attacks aimed at Fort Wagner, Fort Sumter and Fort Gregg.
Under her previous commander, Commodore Thomas Turner, New Ironsides guns had been fired only 334 times in 89 days between April 7 and July 6, 1863, an average of 3.75 shots a day.
Under the aggressive, offensive-minded Rowan, the Bureau of Ordnance was taxed to keep the ship supplied with ammunition. Between July 18 and Sept. 8, Rowan's guns fired 4,439 times and his ship was hit 164 times. In combat the ironclad was at anchor, usually within 1,200 to 1,500 yards of Confederate shore targets.
The 4,439 shots from Rowan's ironclad were more than the total fired by Dahlgren's five other ironclad monitors. Each gun on the other monitors could fire one round in 2.4 minutes. Rowan's guns averaged a round every 1.33 minutes. In an hour, the New Ironsides' 16 guns could deliver 360 rounds.
While 250 men manned her 16 gun carriages, others worked below in the magazines and shell rooms. Her guns were fired in rotation, one at a time. After several rounds, the ship turned to fire the eight guns on the other side of the vessel, called the largest and "the strongest ship ever built by the Northern Navy." In an indirect tribute to Rowan, naval historian Donald Canney said the "New Ironsides proved to be probably the most useful single ironclad" of the Civil War.
Because it was the most effective Union offensive weapon, the New Ironsides and its crew of 487 became prime targets for the Charleston Confederates. A $100,000 reward was promised for its sinking. Confederate attempts included mines -- explosive devices called torpedoes in Civil War terminology. The New Ironsides survived two stealth attacks.
Dahlgren, because of a planned absence, appointed Rowan acting commander of the South Atlantic Squadron for 94 days, Feb. 5 to May 2, 1864. The squadron included 83 ships patrolling the coasts of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, including 24 off Charleston.
With Dahlgren's return, Rowan asked to "be relieved . . . for the purpose of recruiting my health, which is breaking down from a long confinement of 10 months to this ship, without opportunities of visiting the shore for necessary exercise." The 55-year-old Rowan had been aboard the New Ironsides 308 days when he received Dahlgren's order. The ship sailed into Philadelphia June 30 for needed repairs. The Miami student of 1825-26 formally relinquished command Aug. 1, 1864.
After the war, in July 1866, Rowan was promoted to rear admiral and commanded the Norfolk navy yard, 1866-67. While commander of the Asiatic squadron, 1868-70, he was promoted to vice admiral. Later duties were command of the New York naval station, 1872-79; president of the board of examiners, 1879-81; governor of the Naval Asylum at Philadelphia, 1881; superintendent of the Naval Observatory, 1882; and, after January 1883, chairman of the lighthouse board, stationed in Washington, D. C.
Admiral Rowan -- who retired Feb. 26, 1889, with 63 years service -- died March 31, 1890, near Washington. Fifty-nine years later, in 1949, Miami University named its new Navy ROTC building, Rowan Hall, in his honor.