Tuesday, September 13, 2016

16 Days To Die – Three Sailors trapped in the USS West Virginia

USS Arizona is the best known of the battleships sunk during the Pearl Harbor attack.  And rightly so because of the massive loss of life on that famous ship.  The USS Utah also still lay on the bottom of Pearl Harbor, its rusted hull is still visible on the south shore of Ford Island.  Less is written about the USS Oklahoma and the USS West Virginia.  Both were raised and repaired and saw service later in the war.  This story is about the West Virginia and the men who survived the attack but were trapped below decks.

Re-blogged from War History Online.  https://www.warhistoryonline.com/featured/pearl-harbor-16-days-to-die.html

The USS West Virginia as she appeared in 1934.
She still had this basic configuration during the attack on Pearl Harbor

In the aftermath of the attacks on Pearl Harbour during World War Two stories emerged of sailors who were trapped in the sunken battleships, some even survived for weeks.

Those who were trapped underwater banged continuously on the side of the ship so that anyone would hear them and come to their rescue. When the noises were first heard many thought it was just loose wreckage or part of the clean-up operation for the destroyed harbour.

The USS West Virginia the day after the attack

However the day after the attack, crewmen realised that there was an eerie banging noise coming from the foward hull of the USS West Virginia, which had sunk in the harbour.

It didn’t take long for the crew and Marines based at the harbour to realise that there was nothing they could do. They could not get to these trapped sailors in time. Months later rescue and salvage men who raised the USS West Virginia found the bodies of three men who had found an airlock in a storeroom but had eventually run out of air.

They were Ronald Endicott, 18, Clifford Olds, 20, and Louis Costin, 21. Within the storeroom was a calendar and they had crossed off every day that they had been alive – 16 days had been crossed off using a red pencil. The men would have been below deck when the attack happened, so it is unlikely that they knew what was happening.

Those who survived the attack and were crew on the USS West Virginia have remembered the story and retold it quietly as a story of bravery and determination of the young soldiers.

In truth, the US Navy had never told their families how long the three men had survived for, instead telling them that they had been killed in the attack on the harbour. Their brothers and sisters eventually discovered the truth but were so saddened that they did not speak of it.

One of Clifford’s friends and comrades Jack Miller often returned to the harbour and would pray for his friend at the site of the sunken wreck. He says that just the night before the attack they had been drinking beer together, and he had wanted to rescue him desperately in the days after the attack.

However there was no way of any rescue crews getting to them since if they cut a hole in the ship, it would flood it, and if they tried to use a blowtorch it could explode since there was too much oil and gasoline in the water.

Survivors say that no one wanted to go on guard duty anywhere near the USS West Virginia since they would hear the banging of trapped survivors all night long, but with nothing that could be done.

The USS West Virginia as she appeared in 1944 after repair and extensive up grading.

You can read more about the West Virginia's career at this link:


Friday, August 19, 2016

A Cigar Case and Tomb Stone

Many years ago a co-worker gave me an old leather cigar case that was carried by a soldier during the Civil War.  The front of the case sported  a CDV photo of a woman and on the inside, inscribed in ink, was: 

“Presented to Captain Sands 
Colonel Miles
47th Ill” Vol”

The case was steel framed and clasped shut similar to an old time coin purse.  The outside was Moroccan leather (now turned brown).  The inside still retained its bright red color.  It had room for six stogies, three on each side.

The Inside of Captain Sand's Cigar Case

There is a photo of a woman in the front cover of the case,
but there is no way to know if it is original to the case.  The
photo has an Ohio back mark.
I set it aside and it was several years before I got around to researching Captain Sands and Colonel Miles.

Daniel L. Miles was the easiest to find.  He was actually a Lieutenant Colonel and was second in command of the 47th Illinois Infantry.  The 47th was raised early in the War at Peoria Illinois and saw its first combat skirmishing with the enemy in southern Missouri.  It was part of a brigade consisting of the 47th Ill. 5th Iowa, 39th Ohio and the 11th Ohio Battery, commanded by Captain Frank C. Sands.  

Miles evidently formed a friendship with Sands and presented him with this cigar case sometime during that time frame.  In early March the Federal forces in that area were reorganized into the Army of the Mississippi under General John Pope. After the surrender of Confederate forces at Island #10, the Army of the Mississippi was sent to join General Halleck’s advance towards Corinth, Mississippi in late April of 1862.  During this reorganization, the 47th Illinois and the 11th Ohio were separated and never again served in the same division.  

The 47th Illinois was made part of the 2nd Division, 2nd Brigade of the Army of the Mississippi along with 5th Iowa, 39th Ohio, 5th Minnesota, 11th Missouri and 8th Wisconsin.  The Wisconsin regiment is best known for “Old Abe” a young bald eagle which was kept as a regimental mascot.  Indeed the entire brigade became known as the “Eagle Brigade.”

On May 8th, 1862 the Eagle Brigade was sent on a reconnaissance in force towards Farmington, Mississippi a few miles east of Corinth.  A large force of Confederates intercepted them and the small Battle of Farmington ensued.  The 47th’s regimental historian recorded:

“The regiment suffered an irreparable loss in the death of  its Lieutenant Colonel, Daniel L. Miles, who was struck  below the knee by a six pounder solid shot from one of the  enemy's guns.  His leg was amputated, but he died the next day. He was great of soul, formed in heroic mould, and every inch the ideal soldier.  Into this action the Wisconsin 8th had taken "Old Abe," the historic war eagle.  He was carried upon a perch beside the colors and when the regiment was ordered to lie down behind the crest of a hill, he hopped from his perch and flattened himself as close to the ground as did any of the men.”  Bugle Echoes, The Story of the 47th Illinois Infantry by Cloyd Bryner (1905)

Ltc Daniel L. Miles.  KIA at Farmington, MS
May 8, 1862

The 47th went on to fight in the Battle of Iuka, supporting, by chance, their old friends in the 11th Ohio Battery (more on Iuka later).   The 47th later fought at Corinth, Raymond, Champions Hill, Vicksburg, Red River Campaign, the repulse of Price’s Missouri Raid, and the Siege of Spanish Fort, AL.  It was mustered out at Selma, AL in January 1866.

Captain Frank Sands, 11th Ohio Battery
The Guidon for the 11th Ohio Battery

The 11th Ohio gained fame at the Battle of Iuka in September 1862.  In a meeting engagement between Union forces under Generals Rosecrans and Ord and Confederate forces under General Sterling Price, the 11th became the center of the Union line and the focus of the Confederate attack.  Cloyd Bryner of the 47th Illinois recalled:

“On the crest of the hill stood the 11th Ohio battery.  Hamilton (the brigade that the 11th Ohio Battery supported) fought three times his own force led by Price in person — the battle became furious.  In front, up the road, came the enemy’'s heavy columns.  From the battery upon the hill a deadly fire was poured into the advancing foe. The Confederate musketry concentrating upon the devoted battery soon killed or disabled most of the horses.  The wounded animals ran shrieking, mad with pain and fear. On came the line of gray, only to be hurled back in disorder.  "The Eagle Brigade" came into action on the double quick, the 47th on the left of the nth Missouri, the 5th Minnesota on the right and the Wisconsin 8th in support.  A whole brigade of Texans born down upon the 48th Indiana, which was forced to give about one hundred yards, when it was met and supported by the 4th Minnesota and held its position until relieved by the 47th Illinois.  Three times the guns on the crest of the hill were charged by the Confederates, the cannoneers were bayoneted at the guns ; seventy-two dying at their posts.”

Lt Henry Neil of the 11th Ohio remembered in his account of the fight:  “As the masses of the enemy advanced the battery opened with canister at short range, mowing down rebels by the scores, until, with every officer and horse killed or disabled, it fell as easy prey.  But this success was short lived.”

A marker next to Mississippi Highway 25 in Iuka marks the spot where the 11th Ohio Battery
was engaged during the Battle there in September, 1862

He reported of the losses:  “The Battery entered the fight with ninety-seven men and five officers, commissioned and acting.  Of these, eighteen were killed and thirty-nine wounded, many mortally.  A number of the wounded had been bayoneted at their guns.  Of the cannoneers alone, forty-six were killed or wounded.  Forty-six out of a total of fifty-four.  More than five men out of every six.”

The 11th had suffered the highest losses of any battery in a single engagement of the Civil War.

The 11th Ohio went on to participate in the Battle of Corinth and the Vicksburg Campaign.  During the Little Rock Campaign of Aug - Sept 1863 the Battery still had not recovered from its terrible losses at Iuka.  Infantrymen from various regiments in it's brigade were detailed to help serve it's guns.  One of them was my Great-Great Grandfather, Pvt. James Hagerman of the 126th Illinois Infantry.

Somehow, fate had unexplainably placed into my hands the cigar case that belonged my ancestors Battery commander!  I have nothing that belonged to Grandfather Jim.  No family keepsakes or heirlooms, not even a photograph.  This cigar case, linked to two other men, has become the only tangible link to my Great-Great Grandfather.   

Pvt Jim Hagerman served loyally through the War and married an Arkansas girl in 1865, having never returned to his home state of Illinois.  Melinda preceded him in death in 1874.  He died penniless in Little Rock about 1898 and was buried in a pauper’s grave, I know not where.   I ordered a memorial grave maker from the Veteran’s Administration many years ago and erected it in Weeden Cemetery near England Arkansas where his children are interred.  That simple VA stone, and now his commander's cigar case are all that we have of Grandfather Jim Hagerman.