African Americans and the U.S. Navy - 1860s

African Americans were present in the crews of U.S. Navy ships throughout the 19th Century. This presence was greatly enhanced during the Civil War as newly freed slaves and a greatly expanded Navy worked together in a common purpose. In addition, African American civilians provided support services that were essential to keeping the wartime navy functioning effectively.

While we have no relevant pictures that predate the Civil War,this page presents and provides links to a broad selection of images related to African-Americans' service in the U.S. Navy during the 1860s.

African Americans and the U.S. Navy

The following pages feature African-American individuals who served in the 1860s Navy, or who performed notable services in areas related to the Navy of that time:

  • William Tilghman (or Tillman), who recaptured the schooner S.J. Waring from a Confederate prize crew on 16 July 1861.
  • Robert Smalls (1839-1915), who piloted the Confederate steamer Planter to freedom on 13 May 1862.
  • Robert Blake, who received the Medal of Honor while serving on USS Marblehead during an action off Legareville, South Carolina, on 25 December 1863.
  • Joachim Pease (1842-????), who received the Medal of Honor while serving on USS Kearsarge during the battle with CSS Alabama, 19 June 1864.
  • John Lawson (1837-1919), who received the Medal of Honor while serving on USS Hartford during the Battle of Mobile Bay, 5 August 1864.
  • James Mifflin (1839-????), who received the Medal of Honor while serving on USS Brooklyn during the Battle of Mobile Bay, 5 August 1864.
  • Aaron Anderson, who received the Medal of Honor while serving on USS Wyandank during an action in Mattox Creek, Virginia, 17 March 1865.
  • Frank Allen, who served on USS Franklin in European waters in 1868.

The following pictures show African-Americans on board U.S. Navy ships during the 1860s:

Click the photograph for a larger image.

Photo #: NH 73688

USS Monitor (1862-62)

Crewmembers cooking on deck, in the James River, Virginia, 9 July 1862. Photographed by James F. Gibson.
This view looks forward from the port quarter, with the port side blower hatch in the foreground, the two smokestacks in the middle distance and the turret beyond. The sailor standing atop the turret is holding a telescope.
Note cookstove supported on bricks at left and awning above the turret.

Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

NHHC Photograph.

Online Image: 90KB; 740 x 625

Photo #: NH 59426

USS Passaic

Ship's officers and crew at divine services, while she was off Charleston, South Carolina, during the Civil War.
Photographed by the Matthew Brady organization.

NHHC Photograph.

Online Image: 111KB; 740 x 605

Photo #: NH 59437

USS Lehigh

Crew members and a few officers pose on the monitor's deck, probably while she was serving on the James River, Virginia, in 1864-65.
Probably photographed by the Matthew Brady organization.

The original negative is # 111-B-25 in the National Archives.

NHHC Photograph.

Online Image: 124KB; 740 x 635

Photo #: NH 58703

USS Montauk (1862-1904)

Line engraving published in "The Soldier in Our Civil War", Volume II, page 187. It depicts scenes on board the monitor, probably at about the time she was completed in December 1862.
The views include a view in the officers' ward room, with negro messmen at work, and several vignettes of ordnance equipment.

NHHC Photograph.

Online Image: 153KB; 635 x 675

Photo #: NH 60873

USS Miami (1862-1865)

Members of the ship's crew on the forecastle, circa 1864-65.
Frank W. Hackett, a former officer of the ship, wrote in 1910: "The officer standing in the background, at the extreme prow of the ship, is W.N. Wells, Executive Officer. The man in the fore ground with his arm on the nine-inch gun is White, the gunner. Sergeant of Marines, Stanley, is sitting in the fore-ground, near the capstan".
Men are playing checkers by the capstan. Anti-boarding nettings are rigged on each side of the ship but rolled up in way of the bow guns. There are a number of black sailors visible among the crew.

The text of Mr. Hackett's comments was provided by John W. Hinds in 1994.

NHHC Photograph.

Online Image: 107KB; 740 x 595

Photo #: NH 55510

USS Miami (1862-1865)

Black crew members sewing and relaxing on the forecastle, starboard side, circa 1864-65.
This image is a detail from the right side of Photo # NH 60873.

NHHC Photograph.

Online Image: 87KB; 600 x 765

Photo #: NH 59430

USS Hunchback (1862-65)

Ship's officers and crew on deck, in the James River, Virginia, 1864-65. Photographed by Matthew Brady.
One man is playing the banjo in the foreground, another is holding a small white dog, while others are reading newspapers. Men seated in center appear to be peeling potatoes. Many crewmen are wearing their "flathats" in the style of berets.
About a fifth of this ship's crew appear to be African-Americans.
The original photograph has Brady negative number B-2011.

NHHC Photograph.

Online Image: 96KB; 740 x 615

Photo #: NH 45376

USS Sacramento (1863-67)

"Kroomen" from Monrovia, Liberia, on board, in January-February 1867, while the ship was cruising along the west African coast en route from the U.S. to the East Indies station.
These men appear to be wearing Navy uniforms and may be members of Sacramento's crew.

Collection of Surgeon H.P. Babcock, USN; donated by his son, George R. Babcock, 1939.

NHHC Photograph.

Online Image: 73KB; 740 x 510


For higher resolution images see: Obtaining Photographic Reproductions

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