Sam Washburn – The Brother at Sea

Samuel Benjamin Washburn found his love of open water at age eighteen. He was the only seafaring Washburn son.

In 1844 he became master of a vessel engaged in merchant marine services. Sam worked as a captain on merchant ships departing Boston and shipping to Liverpool and New Orleans. In 1857 he began work at Waubeck Lumber Camp in Waubeck, Wisconsin.

Captain Samuel Benjamin Washburn

Captain Samuel Benjamin Washburn

Item Contributed by
Washburn Norlands Living History Center

While at sea, his ever-present source of inspiration and admiration seemed impossibly far away, a new romantic love interest stole his heart when he met Lorette May Thompson. The two spoke their vows of marriage on March 31, 1862 in New York.

The onset of the Civil War gave Sam the perfect excuse to go back to the sea. On November 11, 1861 Sam was appointed Acting Master of the USS Norwich out of Waubeck.

However, he failed to report for duty and was dismissed from the service for disobedience of orders on December 30. On January 11, 1862 Washburn was reappointed Acting Master. No information was found on why he did not report for the first date.

On February 8, 1862 Sam was assigned to the ironclad gunboat Galena.

By May 8, 1862, Washburn and the Galena were on their way up the James River in Virginia when they destroyed a shore battery of 11 guns before running aground. The James was an essential body of water to the Confederate States of America, for on James River lay the capital of Richmond.

The Galena at the time was assisting in the Peninsula Campaign, an amphibious assault led by General McClellan. Washburn was angry that land forces received substantial credit and the naval forces were essentially ignored.

Sam wrote to his brother Elihu Washburne July 12, 1862, that, "But for her (the Galena) McClellan's army would not be here today." The animosity Washburn felt between the other military branches was evident throughout his entire military experience. Washburn believed that promotions were too cavalier in the army and that very few accomplishments were necessary to work up the ranks.

May 10, 1862 saw the Galena making her way further up the James River with the two Navy gunboats, the Aroostook and Port Royal, in tow. The group trolled the James for five more days before coming to the battery at Drewry’s Bluff.

The Battle of Drewry’s Bluff proved to be fateful for Sam Washburn. The battle started at 7:45 a.m. with the battery opening fire on the Galena, piercing two holes in her ironclad hull. The Galena exchanged fire with the battery until the battle ended at 11 a.m. The Monitor also was fired upon and the captain of the Port Royal was wounded by a sharpshooter.

The Gunboat Galena

The Gunboat Galena

Item Contributed by
Washburn Norlands Living History Center

During the firefight Sam was wounded in his left hip by shrapnel from one of the shots that hit the Galena. The following day Washburn received commendations from the commanding officer for his valiant actions at the Battle of Drewry’s Bluff.

While on the Galena Sam became increasingly unhappy with his position in the Navy. On February 11, 1862 he wrote Elihu, "I have thought & still think that I might as well have the command of a ship as now They are giving the command to acting masters every day or two & some of them hardly know one end of the ship from the other I am satisfied that I am as well fitted to take the command of a vessel."

Washburn believed that he too deserved a promotion. He was not fond of taking orders from officers, especially officers he felt were no better than himself.

Samuel remained with the Galena until December 1, 1862 when he was given 30 days of leave. He was then ordered to report to Boston on January 19, 1863 where he was assigned to the USS Release. After just 10 days, Washburn was detached from the Release and assigned to the USS Pensacola with the West Gulf Blockade Division.

On January 8, 1864 Washburn left the Pensacola and was assigned to the USS Nyanza. On January 21, Washburn finally felt his accomplishments were recognized with the promotion to Acting Volunteer Lieutenant.

On March 17, 1862 Washburn had written to Elihu, "There is no use of my holding such a subordinate position I would like to be where I could have a chance to show some fight." Washburn and the Nyanza captured the schooner Mandoline on April 13 and sent her into New Orleans as a prize. Washburn stayed with the Nyanza until October 4, 1864 when relief command took over.

On November 15th, Washburn took command of the New Byrne, a position he maintained until March 1, 1865. On March 11th Sam was given command of the USS Gettysburg, which he commanded through June 23, the end of the war.

Samuel Benjamin Washburn was honorably discharged from the Navy on October 24, 1865. In 1871, he returned to Norlands to take care of his aging father and to manage the estate for his brothers.

When his father died in 1887, Sam went to Avon Springs, New York, to get medical treatment for the wounds he received during the war. On March 4, 1890 he died in Avon Springs at age 66 from the injuries he had sustained on the Galena.

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