DescriptionUnion Navy Archive of Letters of George S. Paul, Naval Engineer. An extensive and remarkable archive consisting of 120 letters (116 from Paul and 4 to Paul; 7 appear to be incomplete) and one postcard to Paul, dating from April 1861 to November 1871; a carte de visite of a soldier in uniform, possibly George S. Paul; and documents related to Paul's engineering business, including business cards (5) for George Paul and Robert S. Paul (1), and political election hand cards for T. Dwight Paul (8).
George S. Paul (1837-1900) was born in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, to Hosea Paul Sr. and Ellen Gamble. Before the Civil War, he worked in New York City, Philadelphia, and Wilmington, Delaware, as an engineer and ship builder. In 1863, he joined the crew of the USS Paul Jones, a gunboat commissioned in Baltimore, Maryland. Paul subsequently served on the ironclad USS Nahant, the ironclad USS Nantucket, and the gunboat USS Sonoma, serving as an engineer on all of the vessels. Spending most of the war off the coast of South Carolina and Georgia, he participated in the blockade of Charleston and the Battle of Tulifinny.
The majority of the letters (98 of 121) in the archive covers George Paul's experiences working on ships in New York and Wilmington as well as his career in the U.S. Navy during the war. Eleven of his letters, written to his parents and family members, are from New York City and Brooklyn during the first months of the Civil War. In addition to describing his travels around New York City, including a visit to Barnum's Museum to see a hippopotamus, Paul's letters from New York mention the presence of a number of volunteer soldiers encountered in the streets. In one letter his parents, dated in late June 1861, Paul wrote that he saw the "thirty first Regiment...Marching down Broadway. It is a City Regiment composed mostly of foreigners and looks rather hard." He also mentioned that he had "occasionally seen some Zouaves. They all have their hair cut short it is not...more than one half an inch long and after they once get tanned up they look like anything but an American." In an October 13, 1861 letter to his parents, Paul told them of his attempt "to get an assistants berth in the U.S. Navy either as a vol. for 3 years on a Transport and if I can't get that I shall try for a regular service commission on Board of a gun boat. The pay is seven hundred per year and after that I will have to serve seven years then I become Chief and get twenty five hundred dollars per year." He desired an engineering position in the Navy for career reasons as much as patriotism. As he wrote to his brother in an October 31 letter, "I go into the Navy because I am sick of the machinist business and I never can gain anything of a reputation at it as long as I work in a large shop in a City because they do not respect a man for what he knows it is for what hard work he can do not as an equal but as a laborer and if I go into the Navy it will give me a reputation which will have to be respected by Steam Engine Builders." The examination that he was required to take was, in his words, "very strict. A person has to be a good penman and has to have a perfect scientific knowledge of the steam engine. Not as it was in the time of Bolton and Watt, but with all the improved valves, cut offs, boilers, etc. etc. of the present day and also has to understand mensuration of surfaces and solids perfectly." Paul failed the five-hour examination, quit his job in Brooklyn, and then moved to Wilmington, Delaware, to work on ships, where he began a new job working on federal government contracts in early November 1861. His letters from Wilmington primarily discuss his work and his social activities. In a July 12, 1862 letter to his parents, he remarks of his attendance at a lecture by William G. "Parson" Brownlow, a southerner temperance advocate and one who decried secession and vilified anyone who disagreed with him. "He is the roughest customer I ever heard speak. He is rather good looking on the stage but has more the appearance of a bully than a gentleman. He generally speaks with his hands in his pockets and when he comes down on a man he calls him all the hard names I ever heard and some I never did hear before."
Although Paul's letters from Wilmington mentioned little of the war, there was one, dated September 5, 1862, that described in vivid detail the passage of a train through the city carrying wounded Union soldiers. "Yesterday morning the citizens of W. received word that there would be fourteen hundred wounded soldiers through here at noon and citizens were invited to bring down refreshments so just before noon women began to string along the road with baskets of provisions and the track was lined on both sides for half a mile with people and their baskets....At about two oclock the cars came along....There were forty car loads of them...some had one ear shot off others had their heads all bandaged up. One had his chin shot off another had both heels shot of[f]." In an October 12, 1862 letter to his parents, Paul described seeing General George B. McLellan and his wife as they traveled through the city by train. "Friday as I [was] going to the shop...I saw a special car on the ½ past twelve train so we made a rush for it as it stopped in front of our shop and we found out that Gen. McClellan was in it...we gave three cheers for him and then called him out...so he came to the door with his cap off grinned at us awhile; as well he might for there was not one of us that either had a white shirt or a clean one. He is a very pleasant looking man brown hair red mustache...his wife was with him. She has very black eyes and hair and is rather pretty."
Paul moved to Philadelphia in November 1862 to work on the gunship Juniata, but was back in Wilmington by the end of the year following his work on the vessel. He informed his parents in a January 16, 1863 letter that he had been "passed into the regular U.S.N. as Third Asst. Engineer for about six weeks...and am getting ready for sea. I am now waiting orders to some vessel." In a January 29 letter, Paul described the duties as Third Assistant Engineer. "It is the duty of the Third Asst. Engineer to keep water in the boilers keep an account of the amount of coal used, to register the pressure of steam per square in. every hour and to keep the register of the height of water. His duties are not hard. His watch is four hours on and eight hours off so it makes the days work eight hours each day. The rest of my spare time I can spend in studying and as I will carry all my books with me, I can get along very well." He finally received his orders in early March 1863 to report to the USS John Paul Jones, a gunboat that participated in the Union blockade of Charleston, South Carolina, and capturing Confederate blockade-runners. According to Paul's April 5 letter from Port Royal, South Carolina, the John Paul Jones was "the heaviest armed vessel in the service for the tonnage and has been in the most engagements of any vessel on the S. Atlantic blockade. She carries a full Captain and is flag ship in every fort between Port Royal and Key West." On April 19, Paul provided his family with a typical blockading experience. In this case, the John Paul Jones attempted to prevent Confederate forces removing guns from the sunk Union ironclad USS Keokuk. "In the day time we lay about eight miles from Fort Sumter but in plain sight of the place. The Rebels have built a battery so as to cover the Keokuk which is about four miles down the beach from Fort Sumter and day before yesterday they made a raft and prepared to go out and [take] the guns etc. out of her.... The P.J. started for them but they made for the shore but we wanted to draw fire from the batteries on shore so we went to within a mile and three quarters of the shore firing our one hundred lb. Parrot and they firing their short range guns so as to make us believe they could not reach us but when we got into good range...they sent a couple of good sized shot through our rigging....Blockading is a dismal business. Just before dark each Vessel takes its position. Every man get his guns and arms etc. ready. The Parrot is run out to one side...and the eleven inch to the other. The nine inch etc. broad side guns are loaded and ready. All our lights are put out not even a light allowed in our Engine room, so everything looks dark enough. Then we take our position for the night."
During the summer of 1863, Paul was in St. Simons Island off the cost of Georgia. In an undated June letter, Paul offers his view on African American soldiers and regiments he encountered in the Union Army. "Tuesday the fifty fourth Mass. came in and Col. Shaw came on board. He is a young man of twenty six or seven and when...introduced...to me he said he recognized me but I did not him. He is not as well adapted to this kind of warfare as we. Our capt. is particularly down on Colored Regiments. But...I call any body Traitors Copperheads, etc. if they say one word against darky regiments as we believe in...darkys." The First Battle of Fort Wagner, which involved an assault by the 54th Massachusetts, took place on July 10-11, 1863. The Second Battle of Fort Wagner, also known as the Second Assault on Morris Island, was fought on July 18. Two days before, the John Paul Jones participated in a bombardment of Cummings Point on Morris Island, which Paul describes in a July 16 letter. "Today we have had a great engagement....The Ironsides went in and took their stations in good easy range of Cummings Point. Then came the Paul Jones, Wissahickon, Ottawa, Chippeway & Senaca. PJ was flag ship of the wooden gun boats...all opened on the Point and the Point and Sumter opened on us principally on the Ironsides as she anchored in good easy range. Sometimes we would all open at once and it would do you good to see the sand fly on the Battery. Some times it would fly fifty feet high. The Ironsides did splendidly. One of the Broadsides did more good than anything else. At 2P.M. we burst our one hundred pounder but as luck would have it nobody was hurt....At four we went in again using nothing but our smooth bore guns. At about seven o'clock we saw any quantity of troops drawn up on the beach ready to charge the Battery. When our troops began to form in line for a charge our ironclads opened and fired as fast as they could on the Point....We could not much on account of smoke but to see the shells bursting on the Point was awful. Our ironclads kept up a brisk fire until just dark then out troops made a rush and for half an hour there was one continual string of musketry and rattle."
In early January 1864 Paul was transferred to the ironclad monitor USS Nahant, which was also part of the Union squadron blockading the Southern Atlantic coast. In a January 6 letter home, Paul provides two drawings of the vessel and writes that in an ironclad "every thing is under water and the men mess and sleep in the next room to the board room and at this time they are making considerable racket as they have got up a walk around dance and are playing 'dixie' on two violins and the bones so you can imagine what kind of noise we have got...the waves run over every thing but the Turret....In perfectly smooth water the deck is about eighteen inches out of water." Paul's letters from the Nahant over the next several months concern the daily life on board an ironclad monitor and his routine activities and those of his fellow crewmen, including engine room watches and picket duty. In a May 1863 letter to his parents, Paul recounts some excitement that occurred on two nights of picket duty off the coast of Charleston: "we lay about a mile and a half from Fort Moultrie and about one mile from Sumter. We are so close that we can see everything that occurs with a glass and have an excellent view of the Rebs works on Sullivans Island....Night before last as soon as Sumter hauled down her flag at sundown Gregg & Chatfield discharged fifteen guns, all loaded with shells....And last evening we anticipated something of the kind again so we were all on the lookout and the minute Sumter hauled down her flag they discharged them again and at the same time exactly most all the works on Sullivans Island and Fort Johnston discharged their guns all loaded with shells and it was the greatest display of fire works I ever saw. I do not think there have been as many shells in the air at one time since the war began, and as we were on Picket and the shot were all discharged at Gregg, they passed not far from over us and such a howling. They were none of your thirty two pounders but a great many were large sized mortars and guns of the largest caliber. At first I did not know but they might give us a touch, as we were in such easy range, so I kept near the Turret so I could easily dodge behind it in case of any danger. "Although the Union forces were unable to retake Fort Sumter in 1863, they continued to bombard the fort until 1865. Paul describes one such bombardment in which the Nahant was involved in a May 17, 1863 letter in which highlights the damage done to the vessel and the severe injury to one of the crew. "We went into action at 11 AM, and in one hour we were struck nine times three times cutting holes in the deck each one three feet long. One cut through in the Engine room and knocked a good many splinters down into the room. They were very fine, and not capable of doing much damage...and the third shot that cut the deck, cut it nearly over the powder magazine and knocked a piece of the deck plate through the deck which struck a fireman....It cut him in the head just above the right ear cutting a frightful gash, and then went down and struck him in the collar bone, breaking it and cutting him badly."
During the summer and part of the fall of 1864, the Nahant underwent repairs in Port Royal, South Carolina. In late October, Paul was transferred to the USS Sonoma, a sidewheel gunboat that was assigned to the Union South Atlantic Blockade Squadron from 1863 to the end of the war. It was not long before the Sonoma was in action, when it participated in the Battle of Tulifinney, South Carolina, from December 6-9, 1864. In a December 12 letter, Paul describes what he witnessed. "Since I last wrote you our troops have landed up on the left bank of the Tulifinney and have had two days fighting. Both days we drove the Rebs and we are now within less than ½ mile from the R.R. On the day of the second fight I went to the front to see a little army fighting during my stay. There were quite a number killed and wounded and the killed and wounded probably amounted to some four or five hundred....When I was ashore the other day I saw the Surgeons carve Col. Sellmans leg about halfway from the knee to the thigh. They seem to enjoy a good job of that kind and some of them keep their knife in their teeth the same as a butcher does when he is dressing a hog, and none that I saw took the trouble to wash their hands when they went to dinner. Several of my acquaintances were wounded, but none dangerously."
Charleston, South Carolina, fell to Union troops on February 18, 1865. Weeks later, in a March 1 letter, Paul relates the enthusiastic reception the crew of the Sonoma received from freed slaves as it sailed up the Cooper River. "After we got back into the country the darkies would flock down to the river side...some would jump up and down and yell glory-others would get down on their knees and pray-others yelled that Massa had gone up the river and hurry up one would catch him. And when we got up to the forks of the river...they came down to the banks by the hundreds bringing Turkeys, chickens, Geese, ducks, small pigs and eggs to us." After attending the flag raising at Fort Sumter on April 18, the Sonoma was ordered to Fernandina, Florida, which Paul referred to as a "miserable and forsaken place" in an April 24 letter. In the same letter, Paul mentioned funeral services for President Lincoln, who had died on April 15. "Yesterday we had Lincolns funeral sermon with all the variation but as there was no minister in the place the preaching or speaking had to be done by a lot of broken down lawyers who had taken Govt. positions as Tax Collectors Treasury Agts. etc. etc."
Letters from after the Civil War in the archive are comprised of correspondence related to George's employment for a time in the oil business in Pennsylvania; as chief engineer on the Waterloo & McGregor Narrow Gauge Railroad in Waterloo, Iowa; and his duties as an engineer in Ohio.
Also included in the archive is research material on the vessels on which Paul served as well as copies of transcripts of many of the letters in the collection.
Condition: The letters show the usual folds but overall their condition is good to very good.
After the war, Paul worked for s short time in Pennsylvania before moving to Ohio, where he worked as an engineer for the railroad. He married Olive Adell Babcock (1842-1920) and moved to Iowa, where he was employed by the railroad as an engineer. Paul and his wife eventually moved back to Ohio and settled in Cuyahoga Falls, where he worked as chief civil engineer at the Northern Ohio Traction Company with his brothers until his death.
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