Digest>Archives> July 2002

Civil War History Learned From the Report to the 37th Congress


You can see an enlarged version of this picture by clicking here.
>> Click to enlarge <<

One of the neat artifacts in possession of The American Lighthouse Foundation is a hardcover book from 1861 titled “Report of the Secretary of the Treasury On The State Of The Finances For The Year Ending June 30, 1861.”

While one might think that this is boring reading, in fact it is not. Proving again that one can learn more about American history by studying lighthouses; this report goes into great detail about the outbreak of the War Between the States, otherwise known as the Civil War.

The report shows the increase in the number of lighthouses and lighted beacons from the previous year from 425 to 472 light stations. It also stated that in compliance with a Congressional order light-vessels (lightships) were reduced from 53 to 47 with six new screwpile lighthouses having been built to replace them.

However, the outbreak of hostilities is what makes for the interesting reading. It tells how the Lighthouse Inspector at Charleston, South Carolina (Commander T.T. Hunter USN) in a letter to the Lighthouse Board said he would tender his resignation as soon as South Carolina passed an ordinance of secession and he would turn over all government property to the state. Naturally the government wrote him back saying the he was personally accountable for all public property and moneys under his charge. He continued with his duties, but he later sent a telegram that the light at Castle Pinckney had been taken over by a “State officer,’ and that the Governor of South Carolina had demanded he leave the state. In doing so he was ordered to take all lighthouse tenders under his control with him, but none of the lighthouse property in storage.

Inspector Hunter refused to order the tenders north and by the 8th of January, 1861, South Carolina’s governor ordered the seizure of all tenders and any other United States lighthouse property. The lighthouses were then extinguished with notice to mariners and the Fresnel lenses were either removed or destroyed. The report went on to say that by April of that same year all Lighthouse Board property from the northern boundary of Virginia to the Rio Grande had been seized and the receipts had been given for them. In some cases those entrusted by the United States Government had actually committed the seizures.

The report covers many other lighthouse activities but ends with the fact that although progress was being made improving lights under government control, some old towers still needed replacing. And it states the withdrawal of officers of the army and navy as engineers and inspectors of the lighthouse districts from their lighthouse duty to their regular line of professions because of the demands of the time had not and would not affect lighthouses. In fact, the report stated, those lighthouses still under control of the U.S. Government were not surpassed by any other country.

This story appeared in the July 2002 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

All contents copyright © 1995-2024 by Lighthouse Digest®, Inc. No story, photograph, or any other item on this website may be reprinted or reproduced without the express permission of Lighthouse Digest. For contact information, click here.

to Lighthouse Digest

USLHS Marker Fund

Lighthouse History
Research Institute

Shop Online

Subscribe   Contact Us   About Us   Copyright Foghorn Publishing, 1994- 2024   Lighthouse Facts     Lighthouse History