Table of Contents and Excerpt
Chapter 1 The Battle Below New Orleans
Chapter 2 Ship Island, the Pearl River, and Lake Pontchartrain
Chapter 3 Pensacola
Chapter 4 New Orleans
Chapter 5 The Mississippi River
Chapter 6 Baton Rouge, Plaquemine and Donaldsonville
Chapter 7 Return to Pensacola and Ship Island
Chapter 8 Capture of Galveston
Chapter 9 Matagorda Bay
Chapter 10 The Battle of Galveston
Chapter 11 The Capture of U.S.S. Hatteras
Chapter 12 A New Commander
Chapter 13 Mississippi Sound
Chapter 14 The Swamps of Louisiana
Chapter 15 Butte a la Rose
Chapter 16 Mobile Bay
Chapter 17 Return to the Teche Country
Chapter 18 The Battle of Sabine Pass
Chapter 19 Letters from Prison
Excerpt from Introduction
On September 28, 1863, an unusual item made its first appearance in the Galveston Tri-Weekly News. By this time, mid-way through the Civil War, the Galveston newspaper was actually being published in Houston, where most of its regular readers had fled from the coast to escape the threat of Union blockade and bombardment. These transplanted readers opened their papers to see featured on page one the beginning installment of what was referred to in a large headline as “A Yankee Note-Book.” This “Note-Book,” covering more than 150 pages and 18 months of time, was in reality a journal that had been seized by Confederate authorities from a U.S. Marine captured on September 8, 1863, after the Battle of Sabine Pass.
Over the course of almost two months, the readers of the News, then one of the most influential newspapers in the South, were treated to the full contents of Henry O. Gusley’s remarkable narrative. This diary, or “Note-Book” as Gusley described it in the published version, recorded the private thoughts and experiences of one very articulate and witty Marine. Never intended for general publication, Gusley’s journal was originally created only as a convenient way for the Pennsylvania Marine to record his wartime experiences for the future amusement of his friends and family. He had no idea that his writings would eventually be front-page material in an enemy newspaper. The Note-Book covered an eventful period in its author’s life. During the period chronicled in his Note-Book, Gusley took part in a series of military operations up and down the Mississippi River and all along the Gulf Coast from Florida to Texas. These battles included large engagements at New Orleans and Vicksburg, as well as smaller conflicts in the coastal waters of Louisiana and Texas.
The Yankee Note-Book quickly became one of the most popular sections in the Galveston newspaper. To promote this unexpectedly popular feature, the News chose to publish Gusley’s Note-Book in serial fashion, tantalizing its readers with excerpts that usually covered no more than one to two months at a time. It quickly became the talk of the town. After the first installment, eager readers demanded that the Note-Book’s contents be published at least twice on succeeding days so that they would not miss a word of Gusley’s experiences. Thus, for example, the young Marine’s journal for the period May 4-5, 1862, was published in the Tri-Weekly News both on September 29, 1863, and again the following day.
To his enthusiastic Texas readers in 1863, Gusley’s narrative was something of a revelation. Here, for all to read in the newspaper, were nothing less than the candid observations of an enemy. But reading these private reflections was more than an exercise of voyeurism. Contrary to the initial expectations of his Texas readers, the Note-Book’s author did not sound much like an enemy. In fact, the private views Gusley expressed in his journal on subjects ranging all the way from slavery to the Lincoln Administration were not much different from those of his new Confederate audience. On many occasions the Note-Book read more like a simple travelogue or a study of classic poetry and literature. It was certainly nothing like the inflammatory rhetoric that was a common feature in most Northern speeches inserted in Southern newspapers to stoke the fires of secession. The Note-Book also failed to meet some readers’ preconceptions inasmuch as it was not the ravings of a fanatical abolitionist, as many Texans would have expected. Instead, what gradually emerged in the pages of the “Yankee Note-Book” was a literate, candid, and often humorous examination of the war as seen through the eyes of one very small cog in the immense Union war machine.
At first, the identity of the Note-Book’s author was kept a mystery from its readers, ostensibly because the News feared that publication of its writer’s name might “operate prejudicially to the author.” It was not clear whether this prejudice was feared to come from Southerners, Northerners, or literary critics. But, in any event, the anonymous status of the Note-Book’s author soon changed when Gusley wrote a letter to the newspaper from his place of confinement at Camp Groce near Hempstead, enclosing five dollars and asking for copies of all of the issues in which his narrative was printed. The Galveston newspaper complied with this remarkable subscription request and an unusual public and published correspondence then followed between the prisoner-turned-celebrity and Willard Richardson, the editor of the newspaper.
As preserved so fortunately in the pages of Richardson’s newspaper, Gusley’s Note-Book contains many wonderful and historically valuable descriptions of important military events. Perhaps even more significant, however, are the Note-Book’s vivid descriptions of ordinary daily life on board two active Union warships. For these reasons, the preservation of Gusley’s journal in the pages of a Texas newspaper was indeed a remarkable stroke of luck for modern historians. But in an even more remarkable coincidence, in addition to Gusley’s narrative, a number of remarkably detailed sketches have been independently preserved that provide a visual representation of many of the same places and events that Gusley visited and witnessed. These sketches have survived because yet another Union participant in a nearby ship (a ship to which Gusley himself was eventually transferred) felt the same compulsion that Gusley did to record his wartime experiences and environment in a tangible form.
Dr. Daniel D.T. Nestell, who served as Acting Assistant Surgeon on board the steamer Clifton, was (like Gusley) a keen observer of life aboard ship in the West Gulf Blockading Squadron. What Gusley preserved in words, Dr. Nestell preserved in his drawings. As the reader will soon recognize in these pages, Nestell was extremely talented as a sketch artist. We are indeed fortunate that more than eighty of his sketches are today preserved in the Special Collections of the Nimitz Library of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Combined here for the first time, Gusley’s words published in a Texas newspaper and Nestell’s pictures preserved at the Naval Academy together provide an unequalled glimpse into the U.S. Navy’s campaigns along the Mississippi River and the Gulf Coast.
In many ways, the written and pictorial descriptions that Gusley and Nestell produced serve the same function as if they had jointly written a series of picture postcards home from the war they experienced. Together, they document some spectacular Union successes (like the capture of New Orleans), as well as some of the most embarrassing incidents (like the Confederate victories at Galveston and Sabine Pass) in the U.S. Navy’s long history. They also provide some fascinating and unique glimpses into every day life in the naval forces operating along the Gulf Coast (“Uncle Sam’s nephews in the Gulf” as Gusley affectionately referred to them).
Ultimately, Gusley’s words and Nestell’s drawings serve to provide a valuable record of the conflict that so divided and yet in a strange way ultimately served to unite the states that today comprise America. That may ultimately be the most important value that publication of Gusley’s diary served. The Texans who read the pages of the young Marine’s diary in the newspaper during the fall of 1863 must have been struck with the same impression that we have reading it today. Gusley comes across as a person to whom almost anyone could relate, a man whom it would be easy to call a friend. Changing enemies into friends would, of course, not be an overnight transformation. But reading Gusley’s narrative may perhaps have begun at least part of the transition process through which his Texas readers would eventually begin to regard former enemies like Henry Gusley as fellow countrymen.
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