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|Abstract||James Gifford, United States Navy paymaster steward, served on the United States Bark Release during the Civil War. Gifford's parents lived in New Bedford, Mass. The collection includes letters, 7 December 1863-29 January 1865, from James Gifford on the United States Bark Release, anchored near Beaufort, N.C., to his parents in New Bedford, Mass. The letters discuss ship and troop movements, the capture of blockade runners, and yellow fever on and off the coast of eastern North Carolina; Gifford's shipboard duties; and his financial problems relating to fluctuating food prices and the scarcity of clothing items.|
|Creator||Gifford, James E., b. 1832.|
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James Gifford, United States Navy paymaster steward, served on the United States Bark Release during the Civil War. Gifford's parents lived in New Bedford, Mass.Back to Top
The collection includes letters, 7 December 1863-29 January 1865, from James Gifford on the United States Bark Release, anchored near Beaufort, N.C., to his parents in New Bedford, Mass. The letters discuss ship and troop movements during the Civil War, the capture of blockade runners, and yellow fever on and off the coast of eastern North Carolina; Gifford's shipboard duties; and his financial problems relating to fluctuating food prices and the scarcity of clothing items.Back to Top
This collection consists of 38 letters that James Gifford, who apparently joined the United States Navy in September 1863, wrote to his parents in New Bedford, Mass., while he was aboard the United States Bark Release anchored off Beaufort, N.C. All of the letters are addressed to his father Elihu H. Gifford 39 Smith Street and begin "Dear Parents."
Letters from 1863 provide little information about Gifford's naval responsibilities and say little about what he did in civilian life. At the time these letters were written, Gifford was apparently working as an assistant to the ship's doctor, who was, according to Gifford, a very unpopular character among the ship's crew. In early 1864, Gifford became paymaster steward, a position that gave him access to information about the prices and availability of goods both on board ship and on land. Many of the letters describe how far Gifford's salary could be stretched relative to prices that fluctuated considerably. In the same vein, there is much talk about Gifford's sending lengths of fabric to his parents and their returning finished articles of clothing to him. There is also considerable traffic in local newspapers and other reading matter requested by Gifford, who, until late 1864, seems to have had a great deal of time on his hands.
While the letters contain a good deal of personal griping, in almost every letter, Gifford also reported on events of larger significance that were taking shape all around him. In many of his letters, he wrote of troop and ship movements and the pursuit and capture of blockade runners. He also reported rumors of Union victories in Kinston, N.C., and Goldsboro, N.C. (12 March 1864); the burning of the Cape Lookout Light (3 April 1864) and of Washington, N.C. (2 May 1864); the outbreak of yellow fever in Beaufort and New Bern (September-October 1864); and the assembling in Beaufort of a large fleet in preparation for an attack on Wilmington, N.C.
During the period in which these letters were written, Gifford appears to have had few occasions to leave the Release. Aside from infrequent shore leaves, he made one journey home in September 1864 (21 September 1864) and two training missions with the paymaster of the steamship Lillian.
Coverage of Gifford's activities and the news he reports may appear to be spotty. One of the reasons for this is that mail delivery was not reliable, a fact bemoaned frequently by Gifford in these letters, especially when a long awaited item never arrives because the request was never received in New Bedford.
Processed by: Roslyn Holdzkom, October 1987
Encoded by: Linda Sellars, August 2004Back to Top