University Archives


John A. Dahlgren Works with Foundry Owners Before the Civil War and Commands Blockading Squadron During Civil War

JOHN A. DAHLGREN, Manuscript Letter Signed, to Charles Knap and William Wade, January 16, 1855. 1 p. Together with four printed orders, signed in print by Dahlgren aboard his flagship the USS Philadelphia, August 17, 1864–May 22, 1865. 5 pp., various sizes. Expected folds on letter; very good; some scattered staining and adhesive residue on orders, not affecting readability.

In this interesting letter, John A. Dahlgren, ordnance officer at the Washington Navy Yard, tells the partners of the Fort Pitt Foundry that he has sent a pattern for locklugs for the 9-in. shell gun, likely of his own design. While at the Navy Yard, Dahlgren devised a smoothbore howitzer for use on ships and shore batteries. He also introduced a muzzle-loading cannon with superior range and accuracy that became known as the Dahlgren gun. It was the Union Navy’s standard armament during the Civil War.

Founded in 1814 by Joseph McClurg, the Fort Pitt Foundry had several owners over the next half century, including the partnership of Charles Knap Jr. (1816-1888) and William Wade (1789-1875) from 1852 to 1858.

Complete Transcript of Letter:

Ordnance Office U.S. Navy Yard
Washington, January 16th 1855.
A pattern for the Locklugs of the IXin Shell Gun was sent you by Rail Road on the 12th instant. I hope it may reach you safely.
Very respectfully
Jno A Dahlgren
Messrs. Knap & Wade
Fort Pitt Foundry / Pittsburgh, / Pa.

In February 1863, Dahlgren took command of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron as a Rear Admiral. His flagship was the USS Philadelphia, a side-wheel, iron-hulled steamer built in Chester, Pennsylvania, in 1859. The mission of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron was to intercept all ships attempting to enter or leave blockaded southern ports in South Carolina, Georgia, and the Atlantic coast of Florida. A counterpart North Atlantic Blockading Squadron and parallel East and West Gulf Blockading Squadrons completed the coverage of the Confederate coast.

Excerpts from Orders:

Order No. 64, August 17, 1864
On the 30th July, Acting Vol. Lieut. R. P. Swann, commanding U.S.S. Potomska, penetrated with his boats in the vicinity of Darien, Ga., and destroyed several extensive Salt Works.

Order No. 97, November 22, 1864
Vessels on Blockade will be careful to scout thoroughly the rivers or estuaries where they may be, and as far as it is possible to do so; the object being to keep advised of the Rebel positions and forces,—also to gain all early information from deserters and refugees of movements elsewhere, whether of our own forces or the Rebels. Anything new in relation to the movements of the Union forces under General Sherman, or generally important, will be immediately transmitted to me.

After capturing Atlanta, Georgia, in September 1864, General William T. Sherman and his army cut ties with their supply lines on November 15 and marched southeast through Georgia. The army supplied its needs by foraging food from local farms, while destroying the transportation, manufacturing, and agricultural infrastructure of Georgia. Both President Abraham Lincoln and General Ulysses S. Grant had serious reservations about Sherman’s plan, and they anxiously awaited news from Sherman. His forces first made contact with the U.S. Navy on December 12, and the city of Savannah surrendered to Sherman’s forces on December 20. Sherman presented the city to President Lincoln as a Christmas gift.

Order No. 98, November 26, 1864, 2 pp.
With a view to probable contingencies, a Corps of Howitzers and Seamen with Marines will be organized without delay.
Each howitzer will be in charge of a section (20 men), thirteen of whom will be assigned solely to the service of the howitzer, and the other seven will be armed with the Plymouth muskets. The Battalion of Skirmishers will be formed into sections, half companies and companies, armed with the Plymouth muskets. The Marines will be divided into companies of fifty men.
The Marines are to be drilled as Skirmishers, and will always form on the Artillery—in action. On the march they will be thrown out to the front and flanks as skirmishers.

John A. Dahlgren (1809-1870) was born in Philadelphia to the Swedish consul in the city and joined the U.S. Navy as a midshipman in 1826. After working on the coastal survey beginning in 1834, he was promoted to ordnance officer in 1847 and stationed at the Washington Navy Yard. He founded the U.S. Navy’s ordnance department and made major advances in gunnery. During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln promoted Dahlgren to captain and made him chief of the Bureau of Ordnance. Promoted to Rear Admiral in February 1863, Dahlgren took command of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, where he worked with General Quincy A. Gillmore on the siege of Charleston and with General William T. Sherman on the capture of Savannah in December 1864. After the war, he commanded the South Pacific Squadron from 1867 to 1869, before returning to the Washington Navy Yard.

This item comes with a Certificate from John Reznikoff, a premier authenticator for both major 3rd party authentication services, PSA and JSA (James Spence Authentications), as well as numerous auction houses.


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