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Aboard the USS John P. Jackson

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Imagine being on a warship during the American Civil War.  Most of the time it's terribly boring.  Your main job is maintaining the blockade which keeps any supplies from entering the South.  Then every now and then you're drawn into battle, and dozens of your friends die all at once by falling overboard, getting scalded to death by steam, or shot while under cannon fire.  And then you're sent back to blockade duty until the next big thing.  You very rarely get to leave the ship throughout your term of service.  That's what life was like as a sailor on the USS John P. Jackson.  Is it any wonder that the men started dreaming of starting a family?

Two young men of unexceptionable character, passably good looking, aged respectively twenty-two and twenty-five, who are fighting the battles of their country, having no lady friends whatever, wish to open a correspondence with two young ladies between the ages of eighteen and twenty-three, with a view to matrimony; good looks not absolutely necessary; must have a kind and pleasing dispositions.  All correspondence strictly confidential.  Carte-de visites exchanged, which will be returned if desirable.  Address, in sincerity, John C.M., or M.J. Duggan, United States steamer J.P. Jackson, Western Gulf Blockading Squadron, Ship Island, or elsewhere.

Aw.  Oddly the thing that touches me most about this is the address: "Ship Island, or elsewhere."  It's sort of sad about the fact that these boys in blue didn't even know exactly where they'd be.  Luckily the U.S. postal service was absurdly efficient during the war, so wherever they ended up the letters would follow them.  But there's something a little poignant to me about the "elsewhere."

They seem like sweet guys, don't they?  They must have been terribly lonely.  I mean, why don't they have any lady friends whatever?  Does that mean in the vicinity, or that before they went off to war they weren't friendly with a single girl their own age?  Because that seems absolutely impossible.  I assume that M.J. Duggan was Irish, and so my guess is that John C.M. was as well, and in the 1860s that means that they were almost certainly from a big city in the East Coast (New York being the most likely), which means they'd have been from areas with a huge population and ergo, lots of girls!  It's like I've said before, I don't understand why all these soldiers don't have women from back home writing them.

That aside, the other thing that I love, love about all the Civil War ads I've written about is how much pride they have in their own service. They're"fighting the battles of their country."  Aww!  Again!! It does speak a lot to the depth of loyalty people had toward the nation, that in a matrimonial advertisement, the soldiers and sailors almost always took the trouble to mention that they were fighting in the army.  After all, (a) people would already know that, and (b) it did cost money!  These ads weren't free.  Clearly these guys had a bit of disposable income to print an ad this long (one bonus of being single and aboard a steamship: nowhere for your wages to go).  But it's still a deliberate choice, of all the things they might have mentioned about themselves or what they were looking for, they chose to highlight that they were fighting the battles for their country.

I hope they survived (probably) and prospered and found nice little ladies to marry.

©2010 Pam Epstein


Jennifer November 15, 2010 at 8:06 AM  

I can't help thinking, as someone who is into genealogy, that somewhere that are descendents of these two men who would be thrilled to pieces to see this very ad, and might even be able to answer your questions. I find myself wondering if some of the people I have researched ever did something like that. I wish I had a way to find out.

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