1865: Francis Herbert Janvier to Emma (Newbold) Janvier

The USS Black Hawk on fire, 22 April 1865

The writer of this letter, Francis Herbert Janvier (1841-1908), was the son of Francis de Haes Janvier and Emma Newbold—both published authors. His sister, Margaret (“Maggie”) Thompson Janvier (1844-1913) was a poet and author of children’s literature as was a younger brother, Thomas Allibone Janvier (1849-1913). One story published by Francis de Haes Janvier in 1863 entitled, “The Sleeping Sentinel” received considerable publicity. ¹

The letter was written from onboard the U. S. S. Black Hawk—a large steamboat built in New Albany, Indiana in 1848 as the Uncle Sam. The steamship was purchased by the U. S. Navy in Cairo, Ill. in Nov., 1862, and renamed the “Black Hawk.” It served as the Flag Ship for Rear Admiral David Dixon Porter, Capt. Pennock and Admiral Samuel Phillips Lee, all Commanders of the Mississippi Squadron. It accidentally burned and sank near Mound City, Illinois, on Apr. 22, 1865, the day after this letter was written. ²

Francis Janvier served in the U. S. Navy from 2 November 1862 to August 1865 (2 years and 10 months). He achieved the rank of lieutenant and had the honor of serving as the admiral’s secretary. He also served aboard the U. S. S. Minnesota.

After the war, Francis became a lawyer and in his later years he served as counsel for the Lehigh Valley Railroad.

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[U. S. S.] Black Hawk
Mound City
April 21, 1865

Dear Mother,

I got your letter of last Sunday tonight & as it is about time I was writing home again, I proceed without delay to answer it.

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A Lincoln Mourning Ribbon

I wrote to [sister] Maggie on the same day that you wrote to me & my letter, like yours, was full of our last national affliction. I knew you would feel it very much, as you honored the President so highly—both as a man and a ruler. That this feeling toward him was very general is shown by the demonstrations that have followed his death, & attended his burial, all over the country. You doubtless had special services in our church on the day of the funeral. At the Episcopal church in Cairo, the Burial Service was read, the Psalm & sentence “I heard a voice” being chanted, & this was followed by a short but really eloquent & touching address from the minister, Mr. Lyle. The town was still hung with black, minute guns were firing, & bells tolling, all the stores closed, & the churches crowded. The day seems to have [been] thus observed everywhere. I enclose the Admiral’s General Order, showing the Naval observances, which were all carried out—also the Department’s.

I do not think the close of the war is much put back; they have nothing left, almost, & if they receive no foreign assistance, as it is not likely now they will, cannot keep up much longer. If Johnston has surrendered as reported—though not yet confirmed—they have no army left that amounts to anything. They are said to have 80,000 men on the west side the Mississippi, & our Squadron is employed principally—or supposed to be—in keeping them there; as they don’t show the slightest indication of a wish to cross in force, or even that there is any force there to cross, it is not likely that they will give much trouble. I doubt very much if there is any organized force there now of any size.

We are expecting to take a trip up the Cumberland to Nashville in a few days; it will probably occupy a couple of weeks, although it may be got through in less time. Nashville is rather a spoiled place since the war, so we shall not have the good times there that we had at Cincinnati & St. Louis; hardly anybody worth knowing lives there now; it is a mere military post. It will be pleasant to take a trip in Spring weather up the river, however, without the necessity that existed during our winter cruise there, of keeping a “weather eye” behind trees for guerrillas, & on top of hills for batteries. I guess the Mississippi Squadron’s fighting days are over.

I am glad you got something for your stories—even that little is better than nothing. I hope you have got rid of your tendency to headache; the excitement of the past few days had a good deal to do with it probably. With best love to you all, I am ever your affectionate son, — J. H. J.

¹ Here’s a newspaper clipping that tells the story of “The Sleeping Sentinel.”

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² The tugboat Mignonette captained by Henry D. Green was returning from Cairo to Mound City, Illinois, when the USS Black Hawk (at Mound City) took fire. Green was ordered to bring his tug alongside the Black Hawk, fasten a line to her, and drag her to the other side of the river. Once alongside, however, the Black Hawk exploded and she could not be moved.

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