George B. Bacon Civil War Correspondence
Held at: Princeton University Library: Manuscripts Division [Contact Us]
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Princeton University Library: Manuscripts Division. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
George Bement Bacon (1835-1890), a descendant of several early and distinguished American families, was one of several children born in Ogdensburg, New York, to William Bacon and Virginia Thornton. In 1850 at the age of 15, he was admitted as a cadet into the Naval Academy at Annapolis; he graduated in 1856. Beginning as a student, Bacon served on several tours to various parts of the world, including voyages to Brazil, the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, and the west coast of Africa.
A lieutenant at the start of the Civil War, Bacon was assigned in November 1861 to the river-gunboat USS Itasca, which established a distinguished record during the war. Part of the West Gulf Blockading Squadron, the Itasca played a key role in events leading up to the Capture of New Orleans (April 25-May 1, 1862) as its men were assigned to cut the chains the Confederacy had positioned across the Mississippi below New Orleans to block passage up the river.
Shortly after this engagement, Bacon contracted malaria and was ordered home to recover. During his recovery, Bacon married Mary Lavinia Chapin (1840-1918), the daughter of David Madison Chapin (1806-1879), and Mary Elsie York (1817-1891), with whom he had three children: Mary Chapin Bacon (b. 1863) who married Silas E. Brown, Sophia Louise Bacon (b. 1866), and Fanny Hastings Bacon (b. 1872).
In August 1862, Bacon was promoted to lieutenant commander, and in October of that year began to serve with the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron. As commander of USS Commodore McDonough, Bacon was put in charge of the Stono River fleet off the coast of South Carolina and participated in several battles and engagements, including the Battle or Morris Island and the burning expedition of the town of Bluffton, S.C.
Beginning in December 1863, Bacon was given charge of several different gunboats before being reassigned around October 1864 to the Mississippi Squadron where he served until the end of the war. For most of this time, Bacon commanded the Squadron's 6th district, which extended from just above the Arkansas River to Vicksburg, from aboard the USS Louisville stationed at Skipwith's Landing.
Almost immediately upon the war's end, Bacon resigned from the Navy in order to tend to property he owned in Kentucky, which had suffered seriously during the war. Bacon moved his family to Kentucky and entered the lumber business. They stayed there until 1869 when Bacon was appointed U.S. Weigher in the New York Custom House and the family moved to Brooklyn. Bacon held this position until he was removed by the Cleveland Administration in 1885. Bacon died suddenly during a visit to his hometown of Ogdensburg.
The collection consists mostly of Lieutenant Commander George B. Bacon's letters to wife, Lavinia, during his service with the U.S. Navy during the American Civil War. In his letters, Bacon writes about battles and engagements in which he was directly involved as well as other battles and events, strategic plans, and personal matters, among other things.
A fair number of letters document his time stationed off the coast of South Carolina as commander of the USS Commodore McDonough when he participated in several engagements. In recounting an attack on Fort Wagner during the Battle of Morris Island, Bacon writes, "The Storming Party from our side made the attack and then commenced one of the most terrible fights I ever expect to witness. Our regiment got on the walls of the Fort, but the Rebels being strongly reinforced, we were at last driven from it with the loss of about one thousand officers and men killed and wounded. All of our Generals were wounded except Gen. [Quincy A.] Gillmore and after service this morning I went on shore to see the wounded. Oh it was a terrible sight.(July 19, 1863)"
Also included in the collection is official wartime correspondence, including letters and orders from Rear Admiral Samuel Phillips Lee to Bacon written during the latter's service with the Mississippi Squadron towards the end of the war. There are also a few letters that predate the war documenting Bacon's early service with the Navy. A couple of these document Bacon's voyage to the west coast of Africa on the USS Relief in relation to the slave trade.
There are also transcriptions of many of Bacon's letters to his wife as well as biographical materials such as clippings, research, and accounts of Bacon's life, most likely written and compiled by his daughter, Mary Bacon Brown.
The collection is organized into the following series:
McPherson, James M. War on the waters : the Union and Confederate navies, 1861-1865. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012. Mahon, John K. "The Civil War Letters of Lieutenant Commander George Bacon," American Neptune 12, (1952): 271-81.
Gift of Josephine C. Brown (granddaughter), 1970 (AM 20267).
During 2014 processing, multiple items in the collection were treated for mold.
Folder inventory added by Nicholas Williams '2015 in 2012. Expanded by Hilde Creager '2015 in 2013.
This collection was reprocessed by Faith Charlton in 2014. Finding aid updated by Faith Charlton in 2014.
No material was separated during 2014 processing.
- United States. Navy
- United States. Navy. Mississippi Squadron
- United States. Navy. South Atlantic Squadron
- United States. Navy. West Gulf Squadron
- Relief (Store ship)
- Manuscripts Division
- Finding Aid Author
- Faith Charlton
- Finding Aid Date
- Access Restrictions
The collection is open for research.
- Use Restrictions
Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. No further photoduplication of copies of material in the collection can be made when Princeton University Library does not own the original. Inquiries regarding publishing material from the collection should be directed to RBSC Public Services staff through the Ask Us! form. The library has no information on the status of literary rights in the collection and researchers are responsible for determining any questions of copyright.
Consists mostly of George B. Bacon's letters to his wife, Lavinia, during his service in the American Civil War. A few letters predate the war and document Bacon's early service with the U.S. Navy, specifically voyages to the west coast of Africa in relation to the slave trade.
Some of Bacon's letters to his wife are partial. Many include notes or content summaries that were most likely added later by Bacon's daughter, Mary Bacon Brown.
Arranged chronologically by sender and by document type.Physical Description
Along with personal matters, Bacon discusses the onset of and the early events of the Civil War. There is also some discussion of his voyage and assignment to resupply the African Squadron. Letters jump from February to May.Physical Description
Writing from the mouth of the Mississippi, Bacon documents his involvement in the cutting of the chains the Confederacy had secured across the Mississippi River to block Union access to New Orleans.Physical Description
Consists of letters about Bacon's involvement in the burning expedition of the town of Bluffton, S.C.; attacks on Fort Wagner and Fort Sumter during the Battle of Morris Island; and the capture of the USS Isaac Smith.Physical Description
George Bacon's brother, Gus, served with the 82nd New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment. The letter was written from a camp near Stevensburgh, Virgina.Physical Description
Consists mostly of letters from Rear Admiral Samuel Phillips Lee to Bacon during the latter's service toward the end of the war with the Mississippi Squadron. There is also some correspondence from Bacon and various superior officers, including orders, assignments, commendations, and reports of activity.
Organized by sender or type of document in chronological order.Physical Description
Includes letters relating to Bacon's resignation from the Navy.Physical Description
Consists of letters from Bacon and U.S. Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Welles, regarding Bacon's various assignments throughout the war, including command of the USS Commodore McDonough (October 1862), gunboats Wissahickon and Unadilla (December 1863 and March 1864), service on the USS Shenandoah (May 1864), and command of the USS Tunxis (June 1864). Also included is a letter informing Bacon of his promotion to lieutenant commander (August 5, 1862).Physical Description
Includes a couple of letters from Bacon to Rear Admirals John A. Dahlgren and George B. Balch as well as a letter from General Quincy A. Gillmore reporting enemy activities and engagements along Folly River and around Morris Island, South Carolina.Physical Description
Includes three letters from Stephen J.W. Tabor, Fourth Auditor of the Treasury Department, noting Bacon of prize monies he will receive for his role in both the USS Itasca's capture of the schooner Lizzie Weston as well as the gunboat's role in the capture of New Orleans.Physical Description
Signed and given to Bacon by General Quincy Adams Gillmore. Bacon mentions this in a letter to Lavinia dated September 20, 1863.Physical Description
Consists of typed transcriptions of many of Bacon's letters to his wife, which include a couple whose originals are missing from the collection; and biographical materials such as clippings, research, and accounts of Bacon's life, most likely written and compiled by his daughter, Mary Bacon Brown.
Arranged by document type.Physical Description
One of the transcribed letters for which the original is missing recounts the cutting of the chains along the Mississippi River (April 25, 1862).Physical Description
Includes a timeline of Bacon's service with the Navy, including his time as a student.Physical Description