Saturday, March 24, 2012

Galveston Research Summary #14 - "A Yankee Note Book"

A Yankee Note Book

"The following is the commencement of a Yankee note book found on the Clifton, which was captured the other day at Sabine Pass. The book is of considerable length, containing some 150 written pages, and closing at the time of the capture. We withhold the writer's name, and have not yet been able to learn whether he is among the killed or captured. He is evidently an accomplished scholar, and his journal is replete with graphic descriptions of interesting incidents. We have concluded to publish the whole of it, in regular order, giving more or less in each issue of our paper until it is finished..."

- Galveston Weekly News - September 30, 1863

Henry O. Gusley was a United States Marine attached to the USS Westfield and then the USS Clifton during the American Civil War. He saw action in many engagements along the Gulf Coast. He maintained a journal which he commenced in June 1862 and wrote in regularly until September 1863 when he and his shipmates were captured at the Battle of Sabine Pass.

The journal came into the possession of a Galveston newspaper which published the diary in full in regular installments from October through December 1863, such as that shown below:

Gusley, seeing excerpts of the published diary in the Galveston newspaper while held as a prisoner of war in Texas and wrote the paper, identifying himself as the author.

I have access to the Galveston newspapers via my subscription to, from which the images in this blog post were taken.

The great news, though, is that EVERYONE can enjoy this marine's journal due to the efforts of Edward T. Cotham, Jr., who collated the clippings and published them in The Southern Journey of a Civil War Marine: The Illustrated Note-Book of Henry O. Gusley (University of Texas Press; hardcover, 2006; softcover, 2010).

Readers of this blog will recall from my most recent post (here) I had the great pleasure of hearing Mr. Cotham give a lecture on recovery of the artifacts from the wreck of the USS Westfield (Gusley's ship) in Galveston Bay. I was pleased to get a signed copy of the book from Mr. Cotham, read it over the past few days, and enjoyed it very much, indeed. It was an excellent companion to the lecture and helps with my research for my forthcoming book on Galveston and the Civil War. My 5-star review - also posted on amazon and GoodReads - is below

Excellent Source Material...MOST Ably Edited...Wonderfully Illustrated

In the Introduction, Cotham gives background on the origin of Gusley's diary (confiscated when he was captured and published in a rebel newspaper), the illustrations of Dr. Nestell, the stratgy behind the mortar flotilla of which Gusley's USS Westfield and Nestell's USS Clifton were a part, the role of the Marine Corps in the Civil War, and more.

Mr. Cotham's editing of the book is excellent without being intrusive.

I was most interested in Gusley's accounts of the capture of Galveston and the Battle of Galveston but the rest of the material is great and Gusley proved himself a literate, thoughtful, and cheerful diarist. And - thankfully - a spare one, sometimes. The problem with reading some faithful diarists is that they can be too faithful and one has to wade through days of uninteresting material sometimes. Gusley sometimes went days and as much as two weeks without writing.

In addition to his descriptions of activity in around Galveston I also enjoyed his descriptions of the Bayou Teche area of Louisiana which I have also visited.

The books has 126 well-chosen period photographs, engravings, ans sketches and illustrates - in the best possible sense - Gusley''s narrative. Chief among these are dozens of sketches made by Dr. Nestell, surgeon the companion Clifton, who was sketching many of the things Gusley was writing about, without either of them knowing.

A great first-hand look at life of sailors and marines in the Gulf Coast during the Civil War.


In my next blog post, I will discuss the Nestell sketches, many of which which Mr. Cotham used to illustrate the book.

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