The East India Squadron on China Station, 1860-1861

The Commander-in-Chief feels called upon at this time to address those under his command upon the condition of our country. By the last mail we have authentic accounts of the commencement of “civil war” in the United States, by the attack and capture of Fort Sumter by the forces of the Confederate States. It is not my purpose to discuss the merits of the cause or causes which have resulted in plunging our country into all the horrors of a “civil war,” but to remind those under my command of their obligations now to a faithful and zealous performance of every duty….
     – Flag Officer C. K. Stribling USN, Commander, East India Squadron, China 1861 (Flagship USS Hartford)

My friend George sent along an interesting book, American Voyages to the Orient, 1690-1865, by Charles Oscar Paullin, reprinted in 1971 by the U. S. Naval Institute at Annapolis. This is a notable reference for Yang Shen (and a remarkable gift from a paleontologist, mind you), first for its details of the East India Squadron, and also for its chronicle of all American naval activity around China and Japan through 1865. The author included many excerpts from official letters, logs, and Senate documents, which constitute primary sources otherwise difficult to access.

East India Squadron in Tokyo Bay ca. 1862 (Wikimedia Commons)

In particular, Yang Shen has been familiar only with a short period in the history of the East India Squadron – the three years 1860-1862, when USS Hartford and USS Saginaw were in Chinese waters on diplomatic assignment. This book tells of the squadron from its arrival in Asia in 1854 to its withdrawal in 1861 at the start of the American civil war, and post-war activities through 1865.

Crosschecking with the encyclopedia, we found that Wikipedia says “The East India Squadron was established in 1835 and existed until it became part of the Asiatic Squadron in 1868.” This is possibly more recent information than Paullin’s book, which was published in 1910 but, as you might expect of a “crowdsourced” wiki article, there is no mention of USS Hartford being on the China station in the early 1860s, or during the Second China War (the wiki article was started in 2005 and last updated in August 2012, having at least a dozen contributors). I may have to correct that in Wikipedia. The wiki article, however, does have a long list of squadron commanders going back to 1835.

Edmund P. Kennedy, 3 March 1835 – 10 October 1837
George C. Read, 14 December 1837 – 13 June 1840
Lawrence Kearny, 4 February 1841 – 27 February 1843
Foxhall A. Parker, Sr., 27 February 1843 – 21 April 1845
James Biddle, 21 April 1845 – 6 March 1848
William Shubrick, 6 March 1848 – 13 May 1848
David Geisinger, 13 May 1848 – 1 February 1850
Philip Voorhees, 1 February 1850 – 30 January 1851
John H. Aulick, 31 May 1851 – 20 November 1852
Matthew C. Perry, 20 November 1852 – 6 September 1854
———————————————————–
Joel Abbot, 6 September 1854 – 15 October 1855
James Armstrong, 15 October 1855 – 29 January 1858
Josiah Tattnall, 29 January 1858 – 20 November 1859
Cornelius Stribling, 20 November 1859 – 23 July 1861
Frederick K. Engle, 23 July 1861 – 23 September 1862
Cicero Price, 23 September 1862 – 11 August 1865
Henry H. Bell, 11 August 1865 – 11 January 1868

Captain Josiah Tattnall

Paullin’s chapter on the East India Squadron begins with Abbot  in 1854. So, how to resolve this apparent conflict in the sources? Looking up individual commanders, one comes upon a reference to The Naval Institute Historical Atlas of the U.S. Navy, by Craig L. Symonds and William J. Clipson (1995) which (in a Google Books digitized version) firmly states on p. 64 that the East India Squadron was established in 1835 when President Jackson sent Commodore Edmund P. Kennedy to Cochin-China (South Vietnam) on a diplomatic mission. Paullin’s reference to Kennedy, in his chapter on diplomatic missions, does say “Kennedy thus gained the distinction of being the first commander of the ‘East India Squadron.’ Apparently when the author arrived later at his chapter on the squadron, he had already forgotten what he had said 100 pages earlier. For such reasons, therefore, does a beneficent universe create tenacious editors.

Commodore Cornelius Stribling

USS Hartford, flagship of the East India Squadron, Flag Officer C. K. Stribling commanding, was reported by the North China Herald (NCH) to be at Shanghai in May-June 1860, en route with the American Minister on a diplomatic mission north to Tientsin, to mediate if possible between the Chinese, and the English and French, and help avoid hostilities. “U. S. Steam-sloop Hartford arrived from Hong Kong yesterday with Commodore Stribling and Mr Ward, U. S. Minister on board. Captain Charles Lowndes, Lieutenants Barnet, Myers, Law, de Brea and Lea.” USS Hartford arrived at the Peiho on July 14, 1860. Minister Ward returned to Shanghai soon after when it became clear there was no hope of separating the belligerents.

In Chapter 23 of Yang Shen (Hiring Foreign Rifles), Fletcher is dressed down in the grog shop called The Gunner’s Daughter by Lt. Barnet, “lord o’ the larbolines” aboard USS Hartford (officer of the port watch) for attempting to recruit some of the ship’s crew. “What’s the reality, though,” Barnet asks his men, “the part he hasn’t told you? That you’ll be marched off to some fever hole with defective equipment and spoiled provisions, if any, and run through a few days of inadequate drill passed off training? Then together with a few hundred other chowderheads, you’ll be shuffled in front of ten thousand screaming rebels and ordered to charge full on? Did he say that when you’re wounded, you’ll be left on the field for the enemy to cut to pieces, that your flesh will rot and your bones bleach in the sun, and your father, your mother, your family will never know what ever happened to you? Bones of rebel victims lie beside the waterways of this hardscrabble in some places a foot thick. Did he mention that if you survive it all, you’ll live out your days on the run as a deserter and that, if apprehended, you might be hanged? This is a time of war.”

USS Hartford, from U. S. Navy Naval History and Heritage Command, http://www.history.navy.mil/ danfs/h3/hartford.htm

NCH described USS Hartford as 246 foot steam vessel of 2947 tons, with a 44 foot beam that drew 16 feet 6 inches. She had sixteen 9-inch shell guns and was crewed by 260 sailors, 43 marines, and 33 officers. “A handsome, clipper-like ship, her lines not being after man-o-war fashion according to our antiquated English taste. She appears to be in fine order, has a band, and is very smart about sending down topgallant yards at sunset.” USS Saginaw, which also had come to Shanghai, was described as a 456 ton steamer having a length of 160 feet, a beam of 26 feet, with two oscillating engines capable of from 105hp to 400hp; her crew numbered 45, and she was armed with three guns – two 24-pdr howitzers and one 32-pdr pivot gun.

In April of 1861, NCH reported “We have some reliable information that Commodore Stribling, who is United States Minister ad interim, is about to proceed up the Yang-tze-kiang with an expedition consisting of Hartford, Dacotah, and Saginaw, for the purpose of forming some regulations for the uninterrupted prosecution of American Trade on the River.” This likely was a response to a similar British initiative – the HMS Coromandel, bearing the flag of Admiral Sir James Hope KCB, with HMS Cooper and HMS Attalante, had just returned from a two-month expedition up the Yangtze to attempt some kind of agreement with the Taiping rebels after the river was opened to navigation by the new Treaty of Tientsin.

That’s as much as Yang Shen has turned up so far, about the American Yangtze expedition of 1861, with a preliminary survey of online sources, and having yet to read further in the North China Herald. The log of USS Hartford would tell all; however it or excerpts from it do not yet appear to have been published. It’s possible that with the outbreak of the American Civil War, USS Hartford was recalled before the expedition could start. However, the officer sent out to take the ship back to the States for the war, Frederick K. Engle, is listed above with a date of command of July 23, 1861, which may have allowed time for the expedition. Primary sources are needed now.

Commodore Stribling issued the following order to the squadron, evidently on June 30, 1861, which found its way into the American press about three months later.

From the New York Times:
THE EAST INDIA SQUADRON
Published: September 13, 1861

The following general order which has been issued by the East India Squadron by Flag-Officer C.K. Stribling, has just reached us: June 30, 1861.

The Commander-in-Chief feels called upon at this time to address those under his command upon the condition of our country.

By the last mail we have authentic accounts of the commencement of “civil war” in the United States, by the attack and capture of Fort Sumter by the forces of the Confederate States.

It is not my purpose to discuss the merits of the cause or causes which have resulted in plunging our country into all the horrors of a “civil war,” but to remind those under my command of their obligations now to a faithful and zealous performance of every duty.

Coming as we do from the various sections of the country, unanimity of opinion on this subject cannot be expected, and I would urge upon all the necessity of abstaining from all angry and inflammatory language upon the causes of the present slate of things in the United States, and to recollect that here we have nothing to do but to perform the duty of our respective stations, and to obey the orders of our superiors in authority; to this we are bound by the solemn obligations of our oath.

I charge all Commanders and other officers to show in themselves a good example of virtue, honor, patriotism and subordination, and to be vigilant in inspecting the conduct of all such as are placed under their command.

The honor of the nation, of the flag, under which many of us have served from boyhood, our own honor and good name require us now, if over, that we suffer. No blot upon the character of our country while the flag of the Union is in our keeping.

(Signed) C.K. Stribling, Flag-Officer. [Flagship USS Hartford]

USS Hartford was not scrapped until 1956, after almost 100 years of service, an extraordinary length of time for this class of vessel, especially considering the pummeling she took during the Civil War.

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