Charles Baldwin, born on 30 June 1839 in Smyrna, Delaware, enlisted in the Navy on 13 January 1864 at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. While serving as a coal heaver in the side wheel gunboat Wyalusing stationed at the western end of North Carolina's Albemarle Sound near the mouth of the Roanoke River, Baldwin joined four other enlisted men in devising a plan to sink the Confederate ironclad ram Albemarle. Their superiors approved the project and, in the afternoon of 26 May 1864, the five sailors rowed up the Middle River with two 100 pound torpedoes (mines) and carried them by stretcher across the swampland separating the Middle and Roanoke Rivers to a point just above and opposite Albemarle's mooring place on the Roanoke at Plymouth. Baldwin and another sailor, John Lloyd, then swam across the river with a towline attached to the explosive devices and hauled them across. They then connected the torpedoes by a bridle; and Baldwin reentered the water to guide them downstream toward the ram, hoping to place the bridle across her prow torpedo making contact with each side of her hull. He was then to swim clear before another man, stationed across the river, detonated the torpedoes electrically.
The Confederates, however, caught sight of both swimmer and torpedoes when they were just a few yards short of their goal. A hail of musketry from the shore followed soon after a sentry's alarm. Lloyd quickly cut the guideline while Baldwin swam back across the river and hid in the swamp. Three of the five Union sailors returned to Wyalusing on the evening of 28 May. Baldwin and the remaining man spent two hungry days and nights evading Southern forces before being rescued on the 28th by Commodore Hull. For his part in the mission, Baldwin was promoted to acting master's mate and later received the Medal of Honor.
Despite the failure of Baldwin's daring expedition, efforts to destroy Albemarle continued. In June, a string of torpedoes was placed across the Roanoke to be exploded under the ram should she descend the river for another foray into Albemarle Sound. Each was attached to a lock string held by a sailor hiding on shore ready to pull a detonating wire were Albemarle to pass over his charge. Baldwin commanded those pickets until captured along with four of his men on Independence Day, 4 July 1864. Later exchanged, Baldwin was mustered out of the Navy on 12 January 1865 at the expiration of his term of enlistment.
Following the war, he lived and worked at various places in several states before finally settling in Accokeek, a small hamlet in Maryland south of Washington, D.C. Baldwin died in Accokeek on 22 January 1911.
(DD-624: displacement 1,630 tons; length 348'4"; beam 36'0"; draft 17'6"; speed 35.0 knots; complement 276; armament 4 5-inch, 4 40 millimeter, 7 20 millimeter, 5 21-inch torpedo tubes, 6 depth charge projectors, 2 depth charge tracks; class Gleaves)
Baldwin (DD-624) was laid down on 19 July 1941 at Seattle, Wash., by the Seattle Tacoma Shipbuilding Corp.; launched on 14 June 1942; sponsored by Mrs. Ida E. Crawford, the daughter of Acting Master's Mate Baldwin; and commissioned on 30 April 1943, Lt. Cmdr. George Knuepfer in command.
After shakedown training along the west coast, the destroyer put to sea from San Francisco, Calif., on 1 JuIy bound for the east coast. The flagship of Destroyer Division (DesDiv) 36, Baldwin led her division into Norfolk, Va., on 19 JuIy and operated along the east coast until getting underway from New York on 13 August in the screen of a convoy bound for Casablanca, Morocco. Similar arrangements occupied her time until late January 1944 when she resumed duty along the Atlantic seaboard of the United States. Some three months later, on 17 April, Baldwin headed for Europe in the screen for battleships Arkansas (BB-33) and Nevada (BB-36), and heavy cruiser Tuscaloosa (CA-37). The destroyer arrived at Plymouth, England, on 28 April and began a routine that combined patrols in British waters with preparations for the Normandy invasion.
On 5 June 1944, she departed Portland in company with other units of the Western Naval Task Force. As a unit of the gunfire support group during the assault, Baldwin assisted the troops ashore with naval gunfire. In return, she suffered two hits from a light caliber shore battery on D day but sustained only slight damage. On the 9th, Baldwin joined Frankford (DD-497) in repulsing an attack by German E-boats, similar to motor torpedo boats, and received credit for destroying one of them. She operated off the coast of France until 15 July when she returned to England.
Three days later, the destroyer departed Plymouth in the screen of a 50-ship convoy bound for North Africa and arrived in Bizerte, Tunisia, on 28 July 1944. She operated in the western Mediterranean mostly between Oran, Algeria, and Naples, Italy before arriving off Saint-Tropez on 15 August, D day for the invasion of southern France. Baldwin served there as an element of the Antisubmarine and Convoy Control Group, Task Group (TG) 80.6 which screened follow up convoys between Oran and southern France. On 23 September, she concluded her part in that operation and departed Oran in company with her division mates bound for the United States.
Upon her arrival at New York on 3 October 1944, the destroyer resumed operations in American coastal waters. On 21 January 1945, Baldwin put to sea from Norfolk to rendezvous with the heavy cruiser Quincy (CA-71) which carried President FrankIin D. Roosevelt on the first leg of the trip to the "Big Three" conference at Yalta. She returned to New York on 27 February and began four months of operations in American waters. During that time, Baldwin escorted Bon Homme Richard (CV-31) to the Canal Zone and operated off the east coast in the antisubmarine screens of Boxer (CV-21) and Card (CVE-11).
On 24 June 1945, the destroyer sailed from New York on her way to the Pacific. Steaming in company with Nelson (DD-623), she visited Guantanamo Bay in Cuba; Balboa in the Canal Zone and San Diego before arriving at Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, on 12 August. A month later, the warship joined Task Force (TF) 55 at Okinawa to prepare for the occupation of Sasebo, Japan, and participated in that operation between 20 September and 2 October. By 7 October, Baldwin was at Pusan, Korea, supporting forces sweeping mines along the Chinese and Korean coasts, a task at which she labored for the remainder of 1945.
The ship returned to the United States in January 1946 and operated along the east coast through the spring of that year. She was placed out of commission at Charleston, S.C., on 20 June 1946 and remained in reserve there until January 1961 when she was transferred to Boston. Later ordered moved to Philadelphia, Baldwin ran aground about two miles southwest of Montauk Point, Long Island, in the early afternoon of 16 April 1961 when the towline parted during the passage to Philadelphia. Her name was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 1 June 1961, and she was scuttled on 6 June 1961 not far from the point where she had run aground.
Baldwin earned three battle stars for her World War II service.
Raymond A. Mann
16 December 2005