Updated: Mar 4
EDIT: This story has been in the works for a long time. It was birthed from my upcoming Civil War Saga, “The Boys in the Box”, still a long ways out. Time is so precious. I finally wrapped this short essay up at around 11,000 words, and I hope it’s worth your commitment. I do appreciate you taking the time to read my work. Grab yourself a sandwich, you know you want one, and a glass of milk. Enjoy some local history.
Our Lady of Victories
Monument Square, Portland, Maine
Monday Monument Series
Come to find out, that’s her real name. The Portland Soldiers and Sailors Monument, star of Monument Square. If you’re like me, you’ve driven by a hundred times without ever really looking at her. It’s a tough age for monuments right now, a trigger word in certain circles, but I’m not here to stir the pot.
Personally, I’m all about memorials. Gravestones are people, to me. You could drop me off in any little forgotten cemetery, and I’ll amuse myself until you come back. Take your time. That’s just me. I figure if somebody took the time and effort to carve a story into stone, so to speak, the very least we can do is take notice. Read the words. Try to imagine the circumstance, and personalities. The drama.
I’m working on a big Civil War project, wallowing in research and ever changing story lines. Monuments appeared on my horizon during the all-consuming process, and I felt it would be a good starting point. Please join me, if you have the time, for a little journey to the past. Our past. Here’s a 21st century book report about a significant local landmark.
The Civil War was terribly brutal. Horrific. The very idea of such a conflict, entirely within our Nation’s borders, is perverse and obscene. So much American blood, shed on our own sacred soil. It seems impossible that we could become so divided, but when you look at our social and political climate today, it’s not so far-fetched. People are people, and we aren’t so different from our great great grandparents.
That’s what it figures out to in my family, four generations back, my grandparents’ grandparents were the younger soldiers, while many of their parents would end up in the mix as well. It’s been 160 years, some of you less weathered folks might have an extra generation or two in between. You may resemble one of your grandparents, whether you realize it or not, and they probably took after their own. A few generations isn’t very far, in the grand scheme of time. We’re made of mostly the same stuff.
We’re going to walk through a lot of the Worst War, but not just yet. Down the road a piece. Today I’ve scraped up some stories behind Our Lady of Victories.
War is Hell. Four straight years of bloody back-and-forth skirmish had worn everyone thin, and Portland was no exception. We had been triumphant, on the side of Union, and finally put down the Secession, or Rebellion. The spoils, of such a costly victory? Peace? Shaky and uncertain. I’ll leave that to the scholars. Four years was an incredibly long time for so many men to be away in the fight, they would return worn or broken. Some crippled or sickly. Others lost to battle or disease. Some just lost, consumed by war. Daily home life was challenging to say the least. Women and children had to step up and shoulder extra shares of every chore.
By the end of the War, in 1865, Portland would send almost 5000 of her boys into the melee. At the time that number represented about 1/6 of the population. A man or boy from every household, more or less. Every family was affected, some much more than others. Around 500 souls would never return. The numbers are educated guesses, estimates, the actual totals can never be tallied. People just vanished, whether they deserted, or were captured by the enemy and sent off to some terrible prison camp. Soldiers might have been literally blown to smithereens, unidentifiable, or just lost in the scuffle, killed and buried hastily in a mass battlefield grave. A lot of families would wait in dread for a loved one that would never again come walking up the front path.
Still, they would wait.
The Civil War was over for Portland by the summer of 1865. Time of relief, and mourning the great losses on both sides. The assassination of President Lincoln. Reflecting, and imagining a new and improved America, where all might live in unity. Forever.
While Portland was reeling, on her proverbial knees, she got kicked right in the breadbasket.
The following summer, on the Fourth of July no less. The Country was healing but still had a ways to go. Independence Day was a pretty big deal back then, they even kept track of both dates. Properly stated, it would have been the year of our Lord 1866, the 90th year of America’s Independence.
I can’t help but wonder when we stopped keeping track. We hold out for the big centennials nowadays. This year is our 245th if you were wondering. Still going strong.
People would have been whooping it up. Many were still hurting from the shadows of war, the shooting and fireworks probably stirred up some horrible memories. It would have been a long overdue day of healing, celebrating together as a community.
As proud Americans, on her blessed birthday.
In a boathouse down around Hobson’s Wharf, someone was careless. A fire started.
There’s a special kind of panic when a fire is getting away from you, it happens so fast. I can feel the terror of those on the scene, when the sea breeze carried that little blaze past the putting-it-out phase. When running for buckets turned to running for their lives. Screaming to the neighbors.
When it spread to the roof the wind off the water would have really stoked it up, sending flame and embers straight toward the beautiful city. Most buildings were wooden, aged and dried like good tinder. Panic spreads as fast as fire, the streets would quickly be flooded with terrified citizens. Fleeing, with no time to save any belongings, no time to look back.
Grab your children and run.
Next door was a lumberyard. Across the street was a big sugar storehouse, owned by a local success story John Bundy Brown. He imported molasses straight from the West Indies and did very well. He also dabbled in groceries, railroads, shipping, milling, fuel oil, glass, steamships, hospitals, and banks. Several local banks. He was wealthy. The kind of investor that made Portland great. He also steered clear of politics, a quality that made me like him right off the bat.
Where were we? Ah, yes. The fire. The lumberyard was now ablaze, flames reaching halfway to the stars, I would imagine. The cracking and snapping of the inferno would grow louder, the smoke would billow and spew in all colors, sounding the silent alarm to every neighboring town. The lumberyard fire leapt across the street, sparking up John Brown’s sugar house, now unbelievably fierce.
The monster would roar through the city, a big swath headed northeast, fanned by that evil sea breeze. The wharves would be spared, the fire would stay north of Commercial Street. Downtown got the worst of it, right up Congress Street, all the way to the East End.
All of Portland’s banks burned that day. City Hall. The Post Office. The Customs House. The Old Port area, all the way past India Street. From Longfellow Square clear up to Munjoy Hill. Toast. All of it. 10,000 people had nowhere to sleep that night, and for many nights to come. The variance of social classes were squared up a bit that day, innkeepers and immigrant laborers stood together in disbelief and tears, as they watched their ways and means go up in smoke.
Response was quick. Food and supplies came in from all around. Rail cars from Canada and Boston, so many neighbors came to our aid. Food, clothes, blankets, whatever they could spare. The government set up a tent city on the Hill, rows of white Army surplus tents left over from the War. Another sore spot for the Veterans, I would think, looking just like a regiment camp from the awful days of battles and death.
This fire would be the worst in an American city up until that point. A record that nobody wants to hold. Just 5 years later Catherine O’Leary’s cow would take the title belt by sparking the great Chicago blaze. The damage there was tenfold.
Portland was at a pitiful low point, spirits were dismal, but it wouldn’t last. Neighbors helping neighbors, on both a local and regional scale. Yankee Spirit, the American Way, it’s mostly all about not giving up.
Never surrender. There’s always a solution. Portland would put herself back together. Brick and stone would replace many of the lost wooden tinderboxes, resulting in some of the beautiful architecture that still graces her streets. Public spaces were incorporated in the new design, spots like Lincoln Park were designed as fire breaks, to prevent future conflagrations.
It was around this time that the idea for a War monument started to get tossed around. It would take several years, referendum votes, and funding drives, but eventually, she would take shape. Men like John Bundy Brown would be among the biggest supporters. John’s wife was Ann Greely. Ann’s uncle Eliphalet (A heck of a name) Greely had once been Mayor of Portland, and had started the Greely Institute, a private school that would eventually become Greely High School.
Their sons were notable as well. John Marshall Brown had been studying law when the war started, and would enlist as an officer in the now famous 20th Maine Infantry. He went in as a 1st Lieutenant, and Adjutant, and saw plenty of action. President Lincoln made him a Captain, and Assistant Adjutant General of all the Volunteer regiments. He did so well with the 20th at Gettysburg that he would be promoted again, to Lieutenant Colonel, in command of his own regiment, the 32nd Maine. After a few battles and a few months, J.M. Brown was injured while fighting near Petersburg, Virginia, in June of ‘64. It was serious enough to get him discharged. He received two more rank upgrades for excellent service, but both were “brevet” promotions. It’s fuzzy, but as near as I can figure, they’re more of a polite gesture. John’s were two big ones, full Colonel, and then Brigadier General. Apparently, one could write home to Mother with the good news, and brag to his friends, but his paychecks and pension would still say Lieutenant Colonel. Did they pin stars to his collar? Probably not.
John Marshall recovered, and went to work at his father’s sugar house after the conflict. He was also successful in his business ventures, and involved with Veteran and community organizations. He was a key player in the fundraising and building of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, and would give the dedication speech when she was finally realized. John settled in Falmouth, and is laid to rest with his wife in a unique monument of their own. The Browns were behind the construction of Falmouth’s Episcopal Church of Saint Mary, and are interred in a special private crypt built under the church’s altar. Front row at every sermon, I suppose.
A bunch of good local folks were involved in bringing Our Lady of Victories to life.
The sculptor, Maine boy Franklin Simmons. Born up in the County. That’s Aroostook County, if you aren’t a local. He went to Bates College, and was pretty well known by the time the Civil War started. His statue of General U.S. Grant stands today in the Rotunda at our U.S. Capitol. His first statue was refused, a plain clothed President Grant now resides at the Portland Museum of Art. His 2nd, spicier version of Civil War General Grant was more to their liking. Franklin left sculptures and busts all over DC, Maine’s very first Governor, William King, Vice President Hannibal Hamlin, another Mainer, and James Gillespie Blaine, the man behind the Blaine House, our Maine Governor’s Mansion.
James deserves a report all his own, he had a pretty vivid political career. Maine Congressman and Speaker, U.S. Congressman and Speaker, Senator, and Secretary of State under three presidents. He ran for the Big Office himself on two occasions, and barely lost the latter to Grover Cleveland amid rumors of scandal and corruption. Shocking, I know. Basic politics, some things haven’t changed much. Personally, I think the worst sting would have been getting edged out by a guy named Grover. I suppose images of the famous muppet ruin it for me.
The sad fact I picked up was that James G. Blaine happened to be walking with President James Abram Garfield on the day that he was shot, the second U.S. President to be assassinated. It happened in a busy train station in DC, gunned down by a radical extremist who would eventually hang. Poor Garfield had only been in office for a few months, and he would suffer for another 11 weeks before the bullet finally finished him off.
Blaine retired from politics just in time to die, at his beloved cottage on Mt. Desert Island. His youngest daughter would eventually present the family home in Augusta to the State of Maine, now the Executive Mansion.
Back to the artist. Simmons had recently finished the Longfellow Monument, just a few blocks down Congress Street. He was the perfect choice for our Civil War memorial. Our Lady herself resembles another famous figure, The Statue of Freedom, atop the U.S. Capitol dome. Nope, I had never seen her either, but they could definitely be sisters.
Speaking of sisters, our monument’s base was designed by Richard Morris Hunt, the architect that had just finished the base of the Statue of Liberty. They entombed a time capsule deep inside Our Lady’s base back in 1889. It boggles my mind trying to imagine the circumstances around that capsule being opened up someday. The stone was cut from the quarries of North Jay, Maine, as was most of the granite that you’ll see around Portland. City Hall is a gorgeous example.
Franklin Simmons would cast the fourteen foot Lady statue at his studio in Rome, and travel back and forth across the Atlantic. It sounds like he was a pretty big deal. The Monument is quite impressive, if you stop to look at her up close. Our Lady of Victories is the name that Simmons christened her with, she was officially the Portland Soldiers and Sailors Monument. She has bonus artwork, a sculpted panel on either side. Hunt, the architect, was also a sculptor, I think he was the talent behind the side panels. Three soldiers face north, toward the woods and mountains of our fine State, while three sailors look southward, over our harbor. I found a few stories there as well.
These little essays always go long, every story leads to another. Nothing stands alone.
I’ll start with the Soldiers. The two outside men are generic, as far as I could find out. The figure in the center embodies General Francis Laurens Vinton, born at Portland’s own Fort Preble, while his father was stationed there in the U.S. Artillery. I watched a video where a boorish historian labeled Francis Vinton as an “absolutely obscure” general. I took offense, for whatever reason. I didn’t like his tone, or his upturned nose. I say any man who has faced an enemy on the battlefield is above most of us, myself included. Definitely above boorish historians.
Francis was just 12 when he lost his father, Major John Rogers Vinton. He’s got a story, too. John Vinton was killed at Veracruz while fighting in the Mexican American war in 1847. An obscure war, one might say, that I had never heard much about. War is war, they were all equally terrible at some primal level.
John is buried in Rhode Island with a unique monument of his own. He has a large, table-like headstone, adorned at the top center with a melon-sized cannonball. Legend has it that this very projectile took the life of Major Vinton. It wasn’t a direct hit, the shot had careened off a parapet wall, and then caught the Major right in his own melon. Dead on the spot, of a fractured skull. The unexploded culprit cannonball was recovered, and someone thought it fitting as a crown on his gravestone. I find that to be a bit creepy, though I can’t say exactly why. Forever is a long time.
Young Frances was taken in by his uncle Francis, another brilliant soldier who went from West Point to Harvard Law School to the Episcopal Church, as a prominent New York Reverend.
Another uncle, Alexander Hamilton Vinton, was a Medical Doctor before also becoming a Man of the Cloth, a prominent Boston Reverend.
Uncle David Vinton would stick with the military life, eventually a Colonel. He left for West Point at just 15, did very well, and started service as an artilleryman. During the Florida wars with the Creek tribe, he would begin his career as a Quartermaster. Logistics, supplying your armed forces with everything they might need. He was good at it, and would travel the Country getting notice and promotions along the way. By 1861, he was a Lieutenant Colonel, and Deputy Quartermaster General. He had seen many skirmishes over his nearly 40 year career. He kicked off the Civil War as a POW, captured by rebel forces while stationed in Texas. He would eventually be exchanged for a captured Southern officer, and find himself back in the fight, as Chief Quartermaster at the big Union depot in New York City. By the end of the war he was a full Colonel, a brevetted Brigadier General, and was steered toward retirement because of his age, 62 years young.
His oldest uncle apparently didn’t take the military route, I couldn’t find much biography info for him. He comes in with the coolest name of the bunch, Amos Maine Vinton. I’m overly curious as to the origin of his middle name, he was born a generation before Maine became a State, and he lived and died in Rhode Island. Unanswerable questions make me itch.
I can’t forget his aunt Elizabeth. She married another Soldier’s Soldier, General George Sears Greene. Not a brevetted General, this guy was the real deal. He actually warrants an extra tribute, maybe a short moment of silence.
Thanks. He’s earned it.
George Greene was another Rhode Island boy, he had befriended David Vinton while they attended West Point Military Academy together. He fell for David’s little sister the moment he laid eyes on her. George was pretty sharp, he would graduate 2nd in the class of 1823. Commissioned to the U.S. 3rd Artillery, but his talents had been noted, and West Point had other plans for him. He would linger for another four years as an assistant professor in engineering and mathematics. Rumor has it that one of his students was a fellow named Robert E. Lee. It was an even smaller world back then.
Finally out of school, he married Elizabeth, and they would start a family while they got accustomed to military life. Turns out he was also an excellent soldier. He would be tested.
A few years later he was stationed at Fort Sullivan, in Eastport, Maine. A gorgeous spot, it’s actually an island, and it’s aptly named, it’s the first town in America to see the rising sun every morning.
Evil seems to leave it’s nasty mark on every paradise, sickness would find the Vinton family. 19th century diseases would laugh at our pandemic of late. Tease it, call it names, and send it shuffling home with a wedgie.
Little George Junior was almost two years old, the first to have his breath stolen. Tuberculosis was the likely culprit, called Consumption back then. He died in October of 1832. Heartbreaking, the worst, one might think. It kept coming. His pretty wife Elizabeth was next, she died the day after Christmas, just 27 years old. George was left grieving terribly with 3 year old Mary, named after her grandmother, and baby Francis Vinton, named for his uncle. Francis was just four months old, and died at the end of that February. Fate wasn’t quite finished with George, sweet little Mary was taken in June, three days after her 4th birthday. It’s hard to find proper words to describe this level of loss. Unimaginable.
George was devastated, and alone. The Soldier’s life couldn’t keep him afloat in this new sea of despair, he would end up hitting the books, immersing himself, trying to escape his grief. Medicine, and law, along with his taste for engineering. He would continue to excel. He resigned from the military and became a successful civil engineer. He went all in, designing railroads in several states, and major water and sewage projects in the young Nation’s biggest cities. He was a founder of the American Society of Civil Engineers and Architects in New York City.
He found love again, in Maine, of all places. I’m surprised that he ever returned, after having been so scorned. Here on a railroad surveying mission, he met Martha Barrett Dana, daughter of a Massachusetts congressman. They married in 1837, and started a family of their own.
Finally, things were going George’s way. They lived a good life with a fine social stature, and raised five kids to adulthood. Three of four sons would take the military route, while the oldest, George Sears Junior, would go to Harvard instead of West Point, and stick to engineering. Technically he was George Sears Junior the 2nd, and Dad wanted to ensure his legacy. Junior II would never wear a Soldier’s uniform.
George Sears Greene Senior was in his 60s, the golden years of a rewarding life. I doubt he could have imagined, or ever dreamed of the next chapter that fate would write. Our Civil War erupted.
He would shy away from politics, an endearing quality in itself, but he strongly supported the Union of our Nation. By strongly supported I mean putting his life on the line. Going all in. At 62, a civilian for the last 25 years, George put a uniform back on. Colonel Greene would lead the 60th New York Volunteer Infantry into the fight. Superiors were leery of the slight fellow with the white-gray hair and scraggly beard. His soldiers would razz and jest, as people do, calling him Pappy or Old Man. George’s wisdom, courage and tenacity would leave no room for doubt. None. Respect spread quickly through the ranks.
Colonel Greene was a true leader. A few months later he was appointed Brigadier General, not a brevet promotion, but the real deal. He got the silver stars on his shoulder patches. He would earn them. Known to be fierce and steadfast in battle, he got nothing but good reviews. Even the scholars and war experts to follow, the milk-stool quarterbacks, if you will, would give him props. Facing guys like Stonewall Jackson in some of the War’s nastiest battles. Pappy George never backed down.
Gettysburg. The Big One. General Greene would shine. His brigade would hold a half-mile line defending the vantage point at Culp’s Hill, and it would be no easy task. George was an engineer at heart, and his men had built some pretty impressive defensive structures with the limited time and materials at hand. His overstretched regiments would hold the line, fighting right through the night. Their General wasn’t watching from some officer’s tent in the rear, he was right in the mix, walking that front, encouraging his men. Leading. His line would hold.
Fun fact from Culp’s Hill: George Greene, the oldest Union General, faced off against Rebel General “Extra Billy” Smith, who at 65 was the oldest Confederate Officer, and also happened to be Governor Elect of the state of Virginia. Smith lost the day, but he would still get to serve his term as Governor until the end of the war.
Another fun fact: One of the youngest Union Generals, just 23, would also make a name for himself in the shadow of Culp’s Hill. He boldly led his Cavalry on a brutal charge against a much larger force, tossing off his hat to let his long blonde curls furl behind him. I picture an NFL quarterback for some reason. George Armstrong Custer’s bravery and audacity would become his trademark. It was bloody, Custer’s brigade lost 257 men at Gettysburg, setting the highest casualty score of the day. A costly victory.
This battle was General Greene’s proudest moment, but his war was far from over.
Four months after Gettysburg General Greene was fighting in Tennessee. The Union had taken a good whooping at Chattanooga, and Greene’s regiment was part of the reinforcement slash rescue effort. The Rebels staged a rare night attack, near midnight no less, and the surprise factor worked well. In the awful darkness, old George took a shot to the face. It would cost him a chunk of his jawbone, and a bunch of teeth. It makes my fillings hurt just thinking about it. His face would never be the same but after six weeks of healing, he was back on light duty. He had to be feeling his age. He wasn’t done. His horse was shot out from under him in a Carolina battle. He was back in the saddle when Raleigh fell, and until the last shots of the War. He stayed on with the Army for a year, and then went back to the engineering life, completing huge projects well into his 80s. He was a member of many boards and clubs involved with Veterans and Engineering interests. He was president of the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society, right up my alley. I hope he’d be pleased with this little essay.
I hope I’ve done his memory a proper service, I’ve intended nothing but honor and respect.
The Army gave him one of those brevet promotions, bumping him up to a Major General. That’s big.
General George Sears Greene lived to be 98, tough to the end. Tough as nails. He didn’t need to be reminded of any of these stories, he had lived them. Every mirror would remind him of the price he paid, his personal selfless sacrifice. Every smile, every meal, every bite. Forever. Things we don’t think about. Things we can’t realistically imagine.
We don’t need to, because of guys like George.
Getting back to our monumental theme, General Greene left behind some doozies. Right on the Gettysburg battlefield, on Culp’s Hill, there’s a life size statue of our boy George. Holding that line. Apparently it really was a big deal. I will stand in it’s shadow one day, explaining his deeds to my sons.
There’s a big fancy brass plaque that tells his tale hanging in the Rhode Island State House.
General Greene is buried with his family, back in Rhode Island. There’s one more monument, atop his grave sits a big chunk of boulder that was cut from that same bloody Gettysburg hill. A ton of stone, chiseled loose and trucked to George’s final resting place. They don’t go to such efforts for just anybody.
This story keeps going, floundering as it might. It happens. I have to tell you about his boys.
I had mentioned the eldest, George Sears Junior the 2nd, prohibited from service by his father. He would live long and prosper, a brilliant civil engineer successfully carrying on the family genetics.
The youngest was Francis Vinton the 2nd, another recycled name. In grade school when the Civil War broke out, he would be spared. This time. His life would oddly mirror his father’s. Successful at West Point, he would serve in Artillery for a few years, then the Corps of Engineers. He would serve with the Russians in their war with Turkey. He returned to the states as an Artillery Professor at West Point, and City Engineer in Washington DC. He had retired to an engineering career when the Spanish American War broke out, and like his father, signed right back up. Colonel, Brigadier General, Major General, earning every stripe and star. A born soldier. He would shine throughout the War and the reconstruction. He would retire again to many successful business ventures, and a stint as Police Commissioner of New York City. He’s buried at Arlington.
Next was Charles Thurston. Charlie had served as a Lieutenant under his Old Man in the Civil War. Yes, he was in that same stretched out line that famously held Culps’s Hill at Gettysburg. Four months later Charles was hit while fighting in Ringgold Gap, Georgia. A Confederate cannon shell took his horse from beneath him, along with most of his right leg. He would see action through the rest of the War, and stayed in the Service for another five years, with brevet promotions up to Captain and Major. He would get by alright on one leg, he married Addie Supple and they raised eight kids together.
The fourth son was Samuel Dana. West Point wasn’t for him, he went to the US Naval Academy. Service took him back and forth to China for a few years, until the Civil War called him home. He would end up as an Executive Officer aboard the shiny new USS Monitor, an Ironclad ship with steel plates protecting a vulnerable wooden hull. Amazing new technology, but awkward and top heavy, there would certainly be a learning curve. The Confederacy had come up with an Ironclad of their own, the CSS Virginia, and the two clunky arks would face off in one of the most important Naval battles of all time.
Yes, All Time. That’s big. A cute story that I had forgotten, or never really heard. First I have to tell you about another Union vessel, the USS Merrimack. I don’t know about you, but when I hear that name, my memory digs up an old transistor radio weather forecast. Marty Engstrom or one of his cronies, wrapping up his spiel with the nautical report, “From Eastport to the Merrimack River.” In his thick, warm Maine accent, of course. Stories, so many stories.
The Merrimack was fairly new, a steam frigate, just shy of a football field long. She would have carried about 40 guns, and guns were guns back then. Cannons, firing 8, 9 or 10 inch balls. Like a big bowling ball, but cast iron, and full of gunpowder. Wooden ships couldn’t take too many hits from such a projectile before you were looking for a lifeboat, if you were lucky. The idea was to pack as many cannons as she would carry, aim well and shoot first. The Merrimack was a beauty, and a beast, but she would find herself in the wrong place at the wrong time. She was idle, docked at the big Navy shipyard in Norfolk, Virginia, when the first shots of the Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter, in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina. 400 miles from the action, but still in grave danger. The building tensions had burst to life, there would be no turning back. We were at war. Just 5 days later Virginia officially seceded from the Union, and the Merrimack found herself behind enemy lines. The Union scrambled to get her out, and all of their other vessels, before the Confederates could stop them. It was too late for that.
The Rebels had sunk a few ships already, blocking the exits of the harbor. The Union commanders had fired up the sleeping Merrimack, and got her underway, but they were trapped. It was too much to risk, they managed to get some of the cannons offloaded and then scuttled her, she would burn right to the waterline just off her mooring. Nine Union ships would burn that day. Such a waste, but part of the Hell of war. Tons and tons of goods from either side would end up being destroyed before falling into enemy hands. Battle front lines would change quickly, catching armies with their pants down, so to speak. Piles of guns, blankets, food, anything the enemy might make use of, would be destroyed before a hasty retreat. The Merrimack had been sacrificed, up in smoke, a burned out hull resting on the sandy bottom of the harbor.
It’s hard to picture what was left of her, ships can be deceiving. My Dad always said that there was as much below the surface as there was above. Answers like that will stimulate a kid’s brain. Thanks, Dad. It was enough that the Confederates would raise her 300 foot burnt carcass and rebuild her. Supplies would be harder to come by as this new conflict took shape, the Rebels were happy to recycle this early trophy. They would push it even further, this would become the CSS Virginia, a newfangled Ironclad warship. The Virginia would be the first armored ship built in America.
That’s correct, the Rebels got the jump on us.
The Union had more ships available, and had already blocked key ports around Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy. The Rebels hoped to crank out this new secret weapon and destroy every Union ship in the water. This war was unique, splitting our country in two. Drawing the lines out was difficult, people are people, and some would feel out of place within the new borders. Sympathizers, traitors, spies, and I’m sure a bunch of colorful local terms would have come into play. Just like today’s politics, there would be disagreement within families, groups of friends and coworkers. Heated discussions after a Sunday dinner. Compromised feelings.
The bottom line being the fact that there weren’t very many secrets.
The Union Brass got word that the Secessionists were building an Ironclad. On the skeleton of the USS Merrimack, no less. The Union didn’t dally or hem and haw about the possibilities, two habits that would prove very costly over the next four years. They realized the absolute severity of the situation and immediately went to work on an Ironclad of their own. The sharpest available minds were assembled, and the USS Monitor started to take shape. They had no time to waste.
The CSS Virginia was well underway by the time the Monitor project was hitting the drawing boards. The Rebels meant business. People doubted the design, how could she even stay afloat, with all of the added weight? The question was valid, it would be a very delicate balance. Serious weight. Every surface above the water line would be protected by iron plate. An inch thick on the decks, while the entire upper structure would get four inches. Two feet of pine and oak underneath, with staggered double layers of two inch iron plate on the outside. The walls were pitched back at an angle, so cannon shots would theoretically be deflected. The bow and stern were tapered to a point, and reinforced with heavy iron, the front designed to ram enemy ships to splinters. She had a bunch of big heavy guns with ports designed to have thick shutters for protection. The center guns on each side were placed near special furnaces built onto the ship’s boilers. Cannon shot could be preheated in these ovens to a red hot mess, better known as a “hot shot”. Fired into a wooden ship, this molten ammo would make a big hole, and then set the whole inside on fire. The only thing worse than a big hole in your hull is an onboard fire. There’s nowhere to run, and swimming for it is a terrible option in the heat of battle.
The CSS Virginia was a monster, and I’m sure she looked the part. She would barely float, the entire hull was below the waterline, the decks riding at surface level. It looked like the little top cabin portion was floating on a raft. She would be a little clumsy and awkward, you would need a lot more than 40 acres to turn that rig around. Her turning radius was 1 mile. If you had to come about or change direction, you would have time to make some biscuits and maybe catch a little cat nap.
She wasn’t built to be quick, or evasive. She was built to sink wooden ships. She would get her day.
Not even a year later the CSS Virginia was on the hunt. Workers toiled away on finishing touches as she made her way to Hampton Roads, the harbor off Norfolk and Virginia Beach. Union Ships had a blockade here, at the mouth of the mighty James, or “River Jimmy”, as my Virginia buddy Greg Seay would have called it. Blocking the river meant cutting off support and supplies to Richmond, especially any foreign interlopers that felt a need to get involved in our most personal of wars. We would work it out, by and for ourselves.
They hadn’t even put the shutters on the gunports, they would forge ahead.
The Rebels had to be giggling amongst themselves as they chugged along, they would face the toughest warships of the day, but they had no fear. They felt invincible. Unsinkable. Unstoppable.
They cruised right up to the barricade with a few gunships for support. The Virginia wasted no time, she was here on business, and went right for the hornet’s nest, The USS Cumberland. A seasoned Union frigate with 50 guns, her crew probably didn’t take the Virginia’s threat very seriously. I can almost picture the smirks and half grins being traded as they prepared to fire on this slowly approaching curiosity. Their smiles wouldn’t last. The Virginia didn’t pussyfoot around, she came right into gun range and they both let loose with cannon fire. Jaws dropped when the first cannonballs glanced off the angled sides of the Virginia. The Cumberland wasn’t repelling any, she was getting holes punched in her hull, and the strange new vessel kept them coming. The bold USS Cumberland was in trouble, the smirks had been quickly replaced with more serious expressions.
Like a grown man-child with a new toy, the CSS Virginia Captain Franklin Buchanan was just getting warmed up. Her defensive plates were performing very well, although I’m sure some of those hits would have shivered her timbers. The excitement must have been thick as they cycled her powerful guns, scoring close range direct hits like Gunners dream about.
They still had some weapons to try out, namely the iron battering ram on her bow, hidden just below the waterline. A deadly surprise, and the Cumberland would be the guinea pig.
The Virginia’s monstrous might would prove to be a great asset, at least in the ramming department. She tore a death hole in the starboard bow of the Cumberland, but almost went down with her. The fancy new ram got snagged up in the splinters, and didn’t want to let go. Full steam astern, the Virginia finally broke loose, but half of her ram had broken off and she had lost an anchor. She was taking on a little water from the injury to her bow. Merely a flesh wound. The Cumberland kept firing until her guns were submerged, which happened quickly. Even at point blank range the cannons couldn’t stop the Ironclad Virginia. She had passed all of her tests, and scored a huge victory. Sails were floofing to life all around the harbor now as every ship in sight scrambled to get out of the Virginia’s path. The warship Cumberland sank straight to the bottom, taking at least 120 Union Sailors with her.
The Virginia could have headed for home to lick her minor wounds and celebrate like Sailors, but her Captain wasn’t finished yet. He must have impressed all of the right people to get the gig in the first place, commanding the new secret weapon in her first engagement. Her next victim would be another seasoned warship, the USS Congress.
Fun Fact about the USS Congress: One of the Union Officers serving aboard the Congress was McKean Buchanan, brother of Franklin, the Captain of the aberration that was about to destroy her. That small world factor again. So very personal, I wonder if either of them was aware of the other’s presence. How would that make your guts feel, as you gave the command to fire on your older brother’s vessel? I can’t say. War is hell.
The Buchanan family came from Baltimore, Maryland. Franklin had one grandfather that had fought in the Revolution, while his other grampa had signed the Declaration of Independence. When the Civil War started, Franklin was a 45 year veteran of the US Navy, and a Captain. He had personally laid the groundwork for the US Naval Academy, and served as the first Superintendent. Pretty Red, White and Blue so far, wouldn’t you say?
The politics of the day led Franklin to side with the Secessionists, and he was quite sure that his home state of Maryland would be joining the Confederacy. Certain enough to resign from the Navy, and wait for her fateful decision. When she opted to fly the Union flag, Franklin was devastated. He tried to negate his resignation, but he had already made his proverbial bed. In one fell swoop he had seceded from his Country, his home State, his own family, and his lifetime career. Those blurry dividing lines. At 61, his world had turned upside-down.
He would make the best of his situation, going on to become the only Admiral in the Confederate Navy.
The firing commenced before the USS Congress left her mooring. Her Captain made a dash for the shallows, hoping to run her aground rather than lose her in deep water. Desperation, for a mighty warship that could never have foreseen the circumstances now unfolding. Nobody was smirking anymore. The sluggish Virginia was coming for them, and there would be no escape. They would resist for about an hour, watching shells bounce off the Virginia, while taking increasingly deadly blows to her own hull. The Virginia inched closer and the Congress had no choice. They hoisted a white flag of surrender.
Rules of engagement were unclear with this new home grown War, but surrender is pretty universal. We give up. The Virginia ceased firing and stood watch while officers and crew were being ferried off. She held over 400 men, it would have been quite an undertaking. The Union Army in one of the nearby forts couldn’t stand it any longer, watching so many prisoners of war being collected by Rebel invaders.
They broke the unspoken gentleman’s agreement, and opened fire on the Virginia.
Captain Buchanan was apparently on deck monitoring the surrender when some Yankee got off a lucky musket shot that he could brag about forever.
I bet his descendants are still telling the story.
Oh my God! They killed Captain Kenny! You Bastards!*
(Forgive my blasphemous and profane language, this dry history stuff needs all the help it can get.)
(They didn’t kill him, and his name wasn’t Kenny.)
(Sorry, Mom. It’s a reference to a popular TV show that you don’t watch.)
Someone put a minié ball right through the Captain’s thigh. Ouchie. That would probably leave a wound that you could see daylight through. The Captain may have smelled the rat, the Virginia’s shot furnaces were still piping hot, and they commenced to firing on the Congress once again. Hot shots. Primitive Napalm. The white flag would burn, as would the rest of the ship. The surrendered prisoners, including Captain Buchanan’s brother Mckean, would turn out to be the lucky ones. The battle was back on.
The USS Congress was soon burning brightly, and her hefty store of powder and ammo went off with one big bang. Her nose was aground, but her stern would sink, ferrying another 120 Union Sailor souls down to Davey Jones’ Locker. The Commander of the Congress was lost in the explosion.
With a full, satisfying day behind him, and a big smoking hole through his leg, Captain Buchanan finally headed her for the barn. The Virginia also had minor wounds, a few guns had been hit, and her smokestack was shot up. They both needed a little attention. Imagine the spirit of the crew, even though they lost a couple of their own.
Someone broke out some liquor, I’ll bet my pants on that.
They would return to Hampton Roads Harbor the next morning, freshened up, to finish what they had started.
The race to build an Ironclad ship had turned out to be neck and neck, even all these months later.
The Virginia hadn’t lumbered far out of sight when another strange craft rounded the northern horn. Smaller, with a round gun turret, and not much else showing above the waterline. Iron and homely. Built with one single purpose, to stop the CSS Virginia.
They may have even called her the Merrimack, honoring the ghosts of her past. They were close now, the bow of the Congress was still burning bright when the USS Monitor took up a defensive position. I doubt anyone got much sleep.
Captain Buchanan was probably frothing at the bit, sorting the remaining ships out in his medical Whiskey River of half-awake dreams all night. I’ll sink that one, then the big one in front of it… No, wait, I’ll RAM the big one, while we fire on the others from both sides. If they don’t sink, we’ll burn them. Up the river, one ship at a time, all the way to Richmond.
Alas, that leg was really throbbing by the time the sun came up. Turning pretty colors. He would be forced to sit out phase two.
At daybreak, with a fresh Commander and a packed powder magazine, the CSS Virginia headed back to Hampton Roads. The hungover crew now had their turn to smirk and jest, looking forward to doling out more brutal punishment.
In combat, winning is definitely everything.
They were in for a big surprise.
OK, we’ve come all this way. This is it, one of the most significant battles in Naval history, but I have to warn you, It wouldn’t have been very exciting to watch from the riverbank.
The Virginia was shocked to find her evil twin Frankenstein’s Monster of a nemesis waiting at the site of yesterday’s glorious victory. Still, she was prepared for battle, and cannons soon blazed back and forth as the distance closed between them. The Union’s Monitor was slightly smaller, slightly quicker, and the round turret rotated, her big gun could fire in any direction. The fight was quite evenly matched.
For three hours or so they blasted away, bouncing shots off each other without doing much damage. This brings my story back around to Samuel Dana Greene, the subject of this sidetrack. Second in command on the brand new Monitor, directing the guns, Sam got his chance to sit in the big seat. Commander Worden was looking out through an observation slot in the armor when a shell exploded right in his face, blinding him and taking him out of the fight.
Age old advice: Always wear your safety glasses.
Samuel was at the helm for the rest of the battle, which resulted in basically a draw. A tie. They had to divide up the big pot of marbles, while mumbling an insincere truce. The Virginia would cruise back to her home port, while the Monitor would drop anchor at the blockade, in case the Virginia should return.
The two new Ironclads would never face each other again. Not very exciting, I agree. How could this battle with no clear winner hold such importance?
News would quickly travel around the globe. This noisy exchange marked the end of an era. It was the day everyone stopped building wooden warships.
The crews on both sides had to be disheartened as they motored away from a tiresome fight that had seen no casualties, nor destroyed any vessels. Burping heartburn and sour feelings. They would all live to fight another day. They had no idea that this encounter would actually change the World.
The Virginia would strut around for another month or so, teasing the blockade while trying to lure the Monitor into another fight. The day never came. The Union didn’t waste any time beefing up other ships, and building new Ironclads. When the Yankees later captured Norfolk, it was the CSS Virginia’s turn to get caught in a hard place, and she would be scuttled for the second time, this time for good. They packed her with powder and touched it off, sinking her to the bottom of the same harbor that had witnessed her former glory.
The Monitor wouldn’t fare much better. She ruled the River Jimmy through the summer and fall, and come winter she would be towed to North Carolina to support another blockade. They hit a New Year’s Eve storm off Cape Hatteras, and she floundered and sank. She wasn’t quite seaworthy enough for an angry Atlantic, though her successors would be. She was never found until 1973, and they’ve salvaged some artifacts from her since. 16 Sailors went down with her, and their remains were interred at Arlington in March of 2013.
Samuel Dana Greene was aboard for the ill-fated voyage, he would make it off and live to sail another day. He’d serve on the Florida and the Iroquois, eventually making the rank of Commander. He spent some time as an instructor at the Naval Academy, and was lead officer at the Portsmouth Navy Yard. Something was apparently missing from his life, even with a brilliant career record and a young family. He took his own life in 1884, just 44 years old. He lost his wife 10 years previous, and had remarried a few years later. Maybe he never got over his first love. Suicide is tragic and terrible, no matter how much time has passed.
I admit it, this is quite a trek that I’ve taken you on, over something that irked me. Way back, when we first climbed aboard this train, talking about our statue. Our Lady of Victories. I was telling you about General Francis Laurens Vinton, the center bronze Soldier on the North side of the monument. The fellow that was referred to as ‘absolutely obscure’, and I took offense, as if I was defending a younger sibling.
Frances Laurens Vinton was brilliant. After graduating from West Point, he found himself more scholar than Soldier. Mining was his main interest, he would resign from the Army and travel to Paris, completing a study at a college of mining. He returned to the States with his new degree just as the War was breaking out, and found himself back in the saddle as a Captain in the 16th US Infantry. A few short months would find him promoted to Colonel of the 43rd New York Volunteer Infantry. He led from the front, battle after battle, and the odds would catch up to him at Fredericksburg. He was wounded in the guts, and it was pretty serious. He caught a brevet promotion to Brigadier General, but his injury would keep him on the disabled list, six months later he resigned from the Army.
Back to his preferred field, he went on to help start a mining school at Columbia University. He eventually moved west to where the serious mining was going on. He was at the very top of his game when he too would meet an early death at 44. His killer was Erysipelas, a strep type infection that would have been called Saint Anthony’s fire at the time. Painful, blistered red sores on the skin that eventually turn to flesh eating infections. Fatal in 1879. Today, knocked out by penicillin. Another killer malady that we needn’t worry about, thanks to people that we don’t remember. All of them obscure, for the most part.
By definition, obscurity means only that you’ve probably never heard of them, it has nothing to do with accomplishments or abilities. Notoriety. Maybe I shouldn’t have taken such offense. It’s a respect thing. Technically, just by reading my rambling tale you have come to know General Francis Laurens Vinton, and thereby quashed his obscurity. Problem solved. I’m pretty much over it.
Francis Vinton’s image was chosen to represent all of Portland’s Soldiers that went to fight for our Union. Born at Fort Preble, his earliest sights and scenes were made up of the city skyline. I find it quite fitting that he now looks over that same city, and he’s a part of her skyline. Forever, I hope, but forever is a really long time. He’s buried in Providence in his father’s plot, surrounded by upright cannons. I’ll visit him one day as well, if only to see the dreadful cannonball that claimed his dad.
I feel that his merits make him monument-worthy, leading regiments of young soldiers into hellish, violent battle and such. That will stand up pretty well against anyone’s record in my book. Along with his service, his family and background add so much to his story. The last dozen or so characters I’ve told you about were Francis’ kin, the uncles and aunts that would come to dinner on Sundays. The big clambakes in the summertime, the cousins that he would sneak a smoke with, out behind Papa’s barn. Waiting for the adults to get tipsy around the holiday table, and start swapping these huge stories.
Everyone has a story, and a back story. They all matter. However obscure they might be.
Our Lady of Victory was designed with the same thought in mind, cast in bronze on her backside.
“Honor and grateful remembrance to the dead. Equal honor to those who, daring to die, survived.”
That sums it up pretty well. Some men saw battle after battle, watching others get blown apart, wondering when their own number might come up. The horrors of combat. They’ll be a bunch of that in my upcoming Civil War project, if I ever find the time to get it finished.
One more soul to tell you about, and then we can wrap this up. You may have even heard of him, especially my Navy friends. Admiral David Glasgow Farragut. You haven’t? Well, maybe it will come to you once you hear his story. Honestly, I haven’t found his connection to Portland, so I’m not sure exactly how he ended up on our monument, but he’s definitely worthy of the honor.
David Farragut was born in Kentucky in 1801. His father George was a lifelong sailor and had come over from Spain just in time to sign on with our newly forming Navy, fighting for America’s independence. When David was a young boy one of his father’s Sailor buddies from the Revolution days fell ill with Tuberculosis, and the Farragut family cared for him until he passed away. Shortly thereafter David’s mother would succumb to Yellow Fever.
The son of the lost Sailor was David Porter, a prominent Navy Captain. He once wheeled Old Ironsides, also known as the USS Constitution. I think I toured her in Boston when I was a young lad.
Captain Porter was grateful for the care and kindness that the Farraguts had shown his dying father. He offered to take one of the widower Farragut’s five children, easing his burden a bit. David stepped up and began his incredible life at sea.
At just 9 years old David found himself in the Navy, a Midshipman on the USS Essex serving under his new foster Dad. Nine years old. Here’s a little perspective.
My oldest son is almost 9.
He talks about being a Soldier someday, but that day is a long ways off. It’s probably time to take the training wheels off his little bicycle, but he won’t allow it. He’s not ready. If you try to pick him up, he screams until you set him back down. He’s pretty particular about what he eats, most family meals meet complaint and a turned up nose. He likes hot dogs, but not the red ones. Not the inexpensive brown ones either, they have to be high quality, like they have at school. (His words.) Not burned. Not split. Not wrinkly. Sliced up. No! Not sliced up. On a bun. With ketchup. Then half the time he still won’t eat it.
Bottom line, he wouldn’t make it in the Navy just yet.
David was apparently ready. He picked it up quickly. He would spend the next 60 years on the high seas. The War of 1812 broke out and he was soon right in the thick of it, by then a seasoned 11 year old. The next year they captured an enemy vessel, and young David was chosen to man the helm, Captaining the surrendered ship back to a safe port.
No GPS or radios. No engine. Wind. Sail her home, Son. Atta boy.
Ten years later he made Lieutenant, serving in the West Indies rousting out pirates. By the start of the Mexican-American War David was a Commander.
His foster father had died while serving in Constantinople, Turkey. I hadn’t heard of that city since elementary school. Turns out it’s now Istanbul. World History was overwhelming for young Me, American History was much more appealing.
David now had 10 younger Porter siblings, and most of the boys would be Sailors. The next generation would follow suit, there are a bunch of them buried at Arlington. A Navy Commodore, a Medal of Honor Marine Colonel, an Infantry Major. Solid men from a pretty sturdy family. Adoptee David fit right in.
Around age 40 David was promoted to Commander. During the Mexican-American War a few years later he wheeled the warship Saratoga. Soon he was bumped up to Captain, which sounds odd to me, but it’s definitely a pay grade higher than Commander. It didn’t matter, he was only going up from there.
When the Civil War broke out, our salty Captain was living and stationed in Norfolk, Virginia. Another man that found himself on the wrong side of the Mason-Dixon Line. Farragut had no sympathy for the Secessionists, He packed up his family and moved to New York. He was 60 now, but ready to fight his third war to preserve the Union of his great Country.
He was very good at his job.
He would command the USS Hartford, a sloop of war with a crew of 300. 24 cannons, a 225 foot keel, and a big steam engine to compliment her tall rigging. Pretty stout for a wooden warship. The brass kept rolling in, he made Flag Officer. Another pay raise.
He took command of occupied New Orleans after that. The Navy had to pull out a new rank, Rear Admiral, and David was amongst an elite group to receive it, mostly retired guys.
Farragut fought boldly for the next few years, in the thick of the action wherever he went. This might make a little light bulb come on. The battle of Mobile Bay, August 5, 1864. Still nothing? OK. Maybe it was something he said.
Here’s how it went down.
Rear Admiral Farragut led his fleet into Mobile Bay, Alabama, in the Gulf of Mexico, one of the last hold-out supply ports for the Rebels. The bay was heavily mined with rigs they called torpedoes. Not an underwater propelled missile, but a floating bomb, tethered to the ocean floor, bobbing right up in hull range, just below the surface.
I’m picturing the one that Gilligan caught while fishing in the lagoon.
A big spikey ball, similar to cartoon images of the latest pandemic virus.
Just as deadly, too.
As Farragut’s fleet approached Rebel fortifications, the USS Tecumseh struck a mine. Kablooey.
A nasty surprise. The Tecumseh was no ordinary sloop, she was a brandy-new Monitor class Ironclad. The not-so-secret weapon, the Big Brother of the fleet. It was a buzz-kill for certain. Rear Admiral Farragut had a front row seat, his battle station was lashed to the rigging partway up the main mast of his favorite old friend, the USS Hartford.
A high vantage point was necessary in close range combat, the Commander needed to see everything.
Fun fact from the Battle of Mobile Bay: The USS Tecumseh, as a top heavy Ironclad Warship, sunk like a stone. She landed turret down, keel up on the bottom of the harbor 157 years ago. She still rests there today. In 1967 the Smithsonian made a valiant effort to raise her, but it fell through. Others have tried. Really heavy, and stuck, I would imagine.
I bet it’s a hot spot for recreational diving. Maybe it’s properly protected, with such historic value. I have so many questions.
Too many, perhaps.
Farragut immediately noticed when his other companion ships eased off the throttle a bit, literally letting the wind out of their sails. This wasn’t his first battle by any means, the Admiral must have come unglued. He shouted through a crappy brass mini bullhorn to the first ship in earshot, and they didn’t have any trouble hearing him, I’m quite certain. It went something like this.
Admiral : “WHAT’S THE TROUBLE?!?”
USS Brooklyn: “TORPEDOES!”
Admiral: “DAMN THE TORPEDOES!! FULL SPEED AHEAD!!”
NOW you’ve heard of him. You just didn’t know it was him. That’s David Farragut, the little adopted sailor boy that grew up to be a battle hardened Admiral. Right there on the side of our statue.
Success at Mobile Bay was another stepping stone. A few months later he was promoted by President Abraham Lincoln himself to Vice Admiral, making Farragut the senior ranking Navy Officer. The Big Guy. Tragically, it was only a few months before Farragut would find himself a pallbearer at Lincoln’s funeral. Genuinely Kind of a Big Deal. The Navy blessed him once more, making him a full Admiral, the first ever in the Navy. He died at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in 1870, after 60 full years at sea. Upon his death, the second Navy Officer to make Admiral would be Farragut’s adoptive younger brother, David Dixon Porter. Today both Sailors rest at Arlington.
Fun fact number 2 from the Battle of Mobile Bay: That’s not what he really said. Scholars have sorted out the facts and decided on his probable reply. Nautical. By the book. It went more like this.
“DAMN THE TORPEDOES!! FOUR BELLS, CAPTAIN DRAYTON, GO AHEAD!! JOUETT, FULL SPEED!!”
It just doesn’t have the same ring to it. But you can’t just rewrite history, can you? Fudge it? Apparently, yes they can, and it’s for our own good. It’s true, and that’s why you remember it.
Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. Condensed, streamlined, decluttered. Simplified.
Like the yellow Cliff’s Notes back in high school. The old days. Honors English had a pretty dry book list, some heavy reading for a young man with a spotty attention span. I remember a teacher specifically warning us as a class. If we tried to skip Moby Dick and opt for a study aid like Cliff’s, or the Reader’s Digest Condensed Version from your grandmother’s bookshelf, the tests would make us regret such a cheat.
I gambled with Cliff’s Notes after an attempt with the long version. A great story, but there’s a lot of blubber in the mix. I’m not sure how they got a bad rap, Cliff’s version was a lot more palatable, and covered all of the bases. I always tested fairly well, I finished the class with a solid B.
Like the “Good News” Bibles that I was introduced to in Sunday school. Updated to modern verbiage, the stories were much easier to appreciate without the stuffy ancient wording.
A whole different book.
Like my stories. I write these dry book reports that ramble and weave around, but I try to make them interesting, worth the read, if you will. There are so many stories all around us, so much history in the ground beneath our feet, I hope to keep a few of them alive.
Stories die if they don’t get told. Maybe, just maybe, one of you might drive through Portland someday and pass Our Lady, in Monument Square, in all of her glory. Perhaps they’ll be a child with you, or a friend from out of town, and you’ll mention the statue, or stop to take a quick look at her. You might remember one of these fine men that I’ve told you about, it’s funny what we retain, sometimes. Admiral Farragut is probably the easiest to remember, even if he’s only “the Damn the Torpedoes guy”. Whatever you remember, run with it. It’s your story now. Fudge it, if you have to, that’s half the fun of storytelling. They probably won’t fact check you.
If you bend their ear, and strike a spark, they might remember. Mr. Google is amazing, he knows stories about almost everyone. Curiosity is quickly satisfied. Someday this person will pass on their own version of the story. Maybe share it with another person, another generation. Keep it alive.
That’s the other half of the fun of storytelling.
Can you imagine the eye rolls that my own boys will be blasting at my rear view mirror as I once again pause the movie, give the ‘I-pads down’ command, and start off on a spiel?
Pure torture for a captive audience.
If they remember one little fact here or there, it’s all worth it.
Thanks for playing along. The next time you’re in downtown Portland, find a parking meter and take a quick walk. There’s usually some colorful characters hanging around, but they won’t bother you. They’re part of the big city ambiance. Check her out up close. Think about what she represents. Who she stands for.
This handful of Patriots that I’ve mentioned, along with 5000 or so Portland Soldiers. If those men had marched out of town single file, they’d have made a Blue Line about 4 miles long.
From Monument Square out past Stroudwater, almost to the Mall.
I’ll leave you with that image.
Until next time.