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(CIVIL WAR--NAVY.) Henry M. Lowe. Diary aboard the blockade gunboat Penobscot, collecting prizes and contrabands, and doling out grog. 115 manuscript diary pages. 12mo, original full calf, worn and singed, front board detached, partly illegible inscription on front board; moderate dampstaining to contents. Various places, 1 August to 16 December 1862
Henry Martin Lowe (1840-1907) of Rockport, MA served as the paymaster's steward aboard the gunboat USS Penobscot. The ship spent most of this period along the North Carolina coast on blockade duty.
The diary begins on 1 August with the spotting of the sloop Lizzie off New Inlet. It raised first the British and then the American flag. The captain did not believe their story of being bound for Baltimore: "They were into the wind when we saw them and the wind was fair for Baltimore. There was five men on board. The three seamen (young fellows) seem well contented with the change, but the Capt. and the mate are sulky fellows. . . . We now have them on board as prisoners." On 22 October they took another prize, the Robert Burns off Cape Fear: "We was soon near enough to open fire on her from the twenty-pound Parrott gun. She then hoisted the English flag and came too for us. The Capt. says 'The English flag is played out on this coast, she is my prize.'" Lowe describes the complex process of dividing the prize money and then paying off those crew members assigned to bring the prize into port. On 2 November, the blockade runner Pathfinder was chased to shore during a storm. Its crew got away, but the ship was found to have a British flag and a cargo of shoes, oil, and hardware. Because of the weather, "it was so rough that we could not get her off. At 6 o'clock she was set on fire."
As with many Union vessels plying the Southern waterways, the Penobscot sometimes encountered refugees from slavery. On 23 September, "a lot of contrabands hove in sight. They was in a small boat. . . . They are the best-looking ones I ever seen. . . . They have every quantity of clothes, some of which are very good ones. All of them have good trades. One of them had a seven-barralled revolver, another a dirk & pistol. One had a lot of silver ($48.00) and any quantity of Confederate money, another had a gold watch and chain." On 29 September: "The men and contrabands are now on deck haveing a dance, and once in a while a song. The contrabands are very well contented with the change. They are now thank God free men." One of these men almost died in a storm on 26 November: "We shipped a heavy sea, carrying away with it the head boards. Lewis McCrea (contraband) was in the head at the time, washing out spit boxes, two of which was washed overboard, and he was thrown from one end of the forecastle to the other."
Lowe's diary is filled with plenty of other interesting shipboard details: desertions, prisoners, conflicts, and heavy weather. On 21 September he describes with apparent fascination and horror a beast caught by a crewman, most likely a hammerhead shark. Yet more horrifying to some of the crew was on 31 August: "The Capt. read the new act passed by Congress, abolishing liquor from the Navy. He then made a few remarks, stating that he should enforce it vigorously, but said he, 'I will give you the last chance today.'. . . The Capt. of the fore castle Thomas Brannon asked me to let him issue it out. Brannon gave the men their grog as fast as I called them up. Some got two lots. As it was the last chance, I thought I would not say anything. . . . The tub was then washed out and put away, some of the men saying that they was glad of it, others cursing the men that done it."
After the war, Lowe returned to his wife in Rockport, worked as a fisherman, and raised several children.
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