Oliver Ambrose Batcheller
Oliver Ambrose Batcheller, 1842-1893.

Guide to the Oliver Ambrose Batcheller Letters, 1859-1898

MS 264

A collection in the
Special Collections & Archives Department,
Nimitz Library

Naval Academy Seal

United States Naval Academy
589 McNair Road
Annapolis, MD 21402-5029

Prepared by: David D'Onofrio
(Original Guide by Mary R. Catalfamo, 1991 and 1999)

August 2008

Descriptive Summary

Provenance:
The Oliver Ambrose Batcheller Letters were donated to the Special Collections and Archives Department by RADM Edgar H. Batcheller, USN (Ret.). Accession Nos. 89-15 and 97-28.
Size:
4 linear inches.
Access:
Access to the Oliver Ambrose Batcheller Letters is unrestricted.
Copyright:
The Oliver Ambrose Batcheller Letters are the physical property of Nimitz Library. Copyright belongs to the authors or creators of the works, or their legal representatives. For further information, consult the Head, Special Collections & Archives.
Permission:
It is the responsibility of the researcher to secure written permission to publish, reprint, or reproduce material from Special Collections & Archives. The researcher assumes responsibility for infringement of copyright or literary or publication rights. Please contact the Head, Special Collections & Archives for permission to publish and for further information
Preferred Citation:
Oliver Ambrose Batcheller Letters, MS 264
Special Collections & Archives Department
Nimitz Library
United States Naval Academy

Biographical Sketch

Oliver Ambrose Batcheller was born in 1842 to Ambrose Rensselaer and Betsey Graves Batcheller. A career naval officer, Batcheller was appointed to the US Naval Academy from the state of New York on November 25, 1859, where he studied as a midshipman until May 1861, when the Naval Academy was evacuated to Newport, Rhode Island. Shortly thereafter, Batcheller, along with the rest of the upper three classes of midshipmen, was placed into active duty with the Navy.

In June 1861, Batcheller was attached to the sloop-of-war U.S.S. Vincennes of the West Gulf Blockading Squadron, stationed primarily off the mouth of the Mississippi River. In April 1862, Batcheller was temporarily transferred to the gunboat U.S.S. Kanawha, stationed off Mobile Bay, before returning to U.S.S. Vincennes, stationed off Pensacola, Florida in July 1862. In December of that year, Batcheller, now holding the rank of Ensign, transferred to the side-wheel steamer U.S.S. Mississippi. In March 1863, Mississippi attempted to approach Port Hudson, Louisiana, but ran aground under heavy fire and was subsequently set afire by its crew. Following the loss of U.S.S. Mississippi, Batcheller transferred to the screw sloop U.S.S. Monongahela, engaging rebel batteries below Donaldsonville, Louisiana. In November 1863, he was attached to the side-wheel steamer U.S.S. Sassacus while under repair in Washington, D.C. By January 1864, Batcheller was back in the Gulf of Mexico off New Orleans aboard the screw steamer U.S.S. Pensacola, before being transferred once again to U.S.S. Monongahela in April. Later that same month, he was promoted to Lieutenant. Four months later, in August, U.S.S. Monongahela took part in the Battle of Mobile Bay.

For two years following the war, Batcheller was attached to the European Squadron, aboard the side-wheel steamer U.S.S. Frolic and the steam screw frigate U.S.S. Colorado. During this time, in 1866, Batcheller was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Commander. In 1867, he transferred to the screw steamer U.S.S. Piscataqua, flagship of the Asiatic Squadron, protecting American citizens and interests during a Japanese civil war known as the Boshin War (1868-1869). In 1870, Batcheller returned to the Naval Academy as an instructor in seamanship. Batcheller married Margaret Thompson Lyon in 1871. In 1875, he was again assigned to the European Squadron, sailing aboard the screw frigate U.S.S. Franklin, which was then serving as the Squadron's flagship.

Following several years of Navy Yard and ordnance work in Boston, Batcheller, holding the rank of Commander since 1877, received command of the wood steamer U.S.S. Galena in 1882. The Galena offered refuge to U.S. citizens and diplomats residing in Alexandria, Egypt, during British bombardment of the city in June 1882 following anti-European riots. Under his command, Galena also served as the flagship of Rear Admiral Peirce Crosby from October 1882 until January 1883.

After serving as inspector for the First Light House District from 1885 to 1888, and another tour of ordnance duty, Batcheller was given command of U.S.S. Concord (PG-3), commissioned in February 1891. Following her fitting out, U.S.S. Concord cruised to the Caribbean, where Batcheller twice met with President Florvil Hyppolite of Haiti in December 1891 and January 1892. Batcheller's command of Concord was short lived, however, as he was forced to retire several months later due to declining health. Oliver Ambrose Batcheller died in Tryon, North Carolina on October 30, 1893.

Scope and Content Note

The Oliver Ambrose Batcheller Letters, comprising four linear inches of documentation, spans two time periods of Batcheller's naval career, from 1859 to 1866 and from 1891 to 1892. The letters focus on his time as a student at the U.S. Naval Academy, his service in the U.S. Navy during the American Civil War, and his service as Commander of the U.S.S. Concord.

The collection consists almost exclusively of hand-written letters, with several additional hand-written excerpts of letters and a hand-written excerpt from a Batcheller family history.

The Oliver Ambrose Batcheller Letters, comprising two separate accessions, are arranged into a single series with no subdivisions. The first accession (Acc. No. 89-15) consists of letters written by Batcheller to his parents, with a few to his brother and sister, spanning from 1859 to 1866, addressing his experiences at the Naval Academy, as well as his naval service during the Civil War.The letters pertaining to the Academy include descriptions of everyday life at the Academy, including classes, exams, religious life, and recreation, as well as life aboard the school ship U.S.S. Plymouth. Batcheller's letters from the Academy also touch upon the political climate of the time, with reflections on the candidacy of Abraham Lincoln and southern secession, as well as the evacuation of the Naval Academy from Annapolis to Newport, Rhode Island. The letters pertaining to the Civil War originate from Batcheller's service, primarily in the Gulf of Mexico, upon the U.S. ships Vincennes, Mississippi, Kanawha, Monongahela, Pensacola, Sassacus, Itasca, and the transport Time and Tide. In the letters, Batcheller offers first hand accounts of engagements on the Mississippi River at the Head of Passes (October 1861), Port Hudson, Louisiana (March 1863) and the Battle of Mobile Bay (August 1864). Scattered among the letters are pieces of official correspondence, such as the 1866 notice of Batcheller's promotion to Lieutenant Commander. Also included in this first accession, and filed at the end of the collection, are several extracts from letters transcribed by one of Batcheller's descendants, as well as a photocopy of biographical and genealogical material entitled Preface and Postscript, taken from Frederick Clifton Pierce's Batchelder, Batcheller Genealogy, 1898.

The second accession (Acc. No. 97-28) consists of letters written by Batcheller to his wife, with several addressed to his father, spanning from January 1891 to April 1892. Originating from Batcheller's time as commander of U.S.S. Concord, the letters describe the fitting out of the vessel, the weather encountered throughout the ship's voyages, and the Caribbean and South American ports of call visited by Concord, including St. Thomas, Martinique, Santa Cruz, Haiti, and Montevideo. The letters also describe two meetings with Haitian President Florvil Hyppolite in December 1891 and January 1892.

In addition to the personal history of Oliver Ambrose Batcheller, research interests served by the Batcheller letters include the study of life at the Naval Academy in the nineteenth century, the early operational history of U.S.S. Concord, reactions to the election of Abraham Lincoln and the subsequent secession of the South, and the study of David Farragut's West Gulf Blockading Squadron, including the siege of Port Hudson and the Battle of Mobile Bay, as well as Union blockading practices in general.

Related Collections

A portrait of Oliver Ambrose Batcheller is located in the Special Collections Picture File, Special Collections & Archives Department, Nimitz Library, United States Naval Academy.

Additional first-hand accounts of service aboard U.S.S. Vincennes can be found in the John E. Hart Letters, MS 392, Special Collections & Archives Department, Nimitz Library, United States Naval Academy.

Container List

Box Folder  
1 1 Correspondence, November 22, 1859 - April 29, 1860

Letters sent from US Naval Academy and training ship Plymouth, including descriptions of life at the Academy (exams, religious life, recreation), officers as friends of the midshipmen (January 10), and African American hands on board the Plymouth (March 26).

2 Correspondence, May 1 - October 28, 1860

Letters sent from US Naval Academy and training ship Plymouth, including descriptions of cruises to Norfolk and the Azores, Abraham Lincoln's election prospects (October 21) and the threat of Southern secession (October 28).

3 Correspondence, November 2, 1860 - January 17, 1861

Letters sent from the US Naval Academy, including discussions of drills and studies, funding crises, political activities of the "Wide Awakes" (November 2), erection of the Herndon Monument (November 2), and war preparations of the school ship Constitution (January 13).

4 Correspondence, January 26 - May 10, 1861

Letters sent from the US Naval Academy and U.S.S. Constitution, describing school studies and February exams, speculation on the secession of Maryland, and evacuation of the Naval Academy to Newport, RI aboard U.S.S. Constitution (April 28 - May 10).

5 Correspondence, May 22, - October 19, 1861

Letters sent from the Brooklyn Navy Yard and U.S.S. Vincennes including descriptions of engagements on the Mississippi River with C.S.S. Ivy, the ramming of the U.S.S. Richmond, and the near scuttling of U.S.S. Vincennes (October 19).

6 Correspondence, November 11, 1861 - May 29, 1862

Letters sent from U.S.S. Vincennes and U.S.S. Kanawha, with descriptions of shipboard duties and holidays, the Mason and Slidell Affair, the capture of the British barque Empress (December 1), and change of station from the Mississippi to Mobile Bay (April).

7 Correspondence, June 5, 1862 - February 20, 1863

Letters sent from U.S.S. Kanawha, U.S.S. Vincennes, U.S.S. Mississippi and transport Time and Tide detailing an engagement with the British steamer Ann (June 19-21), the burnt village of Warrington and the Navy Yard at Pensacola (July 27-29), a September 1862 expedition to the Rio Grande, and an expedition to Plaquemine, LA in February 1863.

8 Correspondence, March 3 - August 2, 1863

Letters sent from U.S.S. Mississippi and U.S.S. Monongahela, describing the scuttling of U.S.S. Mississippi (March 15-17), appointment as Acting Master (May 6-7), and the siege of Port Hudson (May 19 - July 11).

9 Correspondence, November 19, 1863 - April 3, 1864

Letters sent from U.S.S. Sassacus and U.S.S. Pensacola, describing the repair efforts aboard U.S.S. Sassacus in Washington D.C., and Batcheller's return to New Orleans aboard U.S.S. Pensacola.

10 Correspondence, April 21, 1864 - August 9, 1866

Letters sent from U.S.S. Monongahela, including detailed accounts of the Battle of Mobile Bay (August 7-14, 1864), and subsequent prize hunting off Texas (October-December 1864). Included is Batcheller's appointment as a Lieutenant, signed by Admiral David Farragut (April 27, 1866).

11 Correspondence, January 4 - June 10, 1891

Letters sent form the New York Navy Yard and Norfolk, Virginia, discussing the fitting out of U.S.S. Concord, possible assignment to the "Squadron of Evolution," a fatal explosion on board while en route to Fort Monroe (June 6), and subsequent board of investigation.

12 Correspondence, July 15 - December 27, 1891

Letters sent from New York, Santa Cruz, St Thomas, Martinique and Haiti, discussing weather, target practice, a cruise to Santa Cruz, disappointment at the views from St. Pierre on Martinique (December 12), and a meeting with the President Florvil Hyppolite of Haiti (December 24).

13 Correspondence, January 2 - February 7, 1892

Letters sent from Barbados and Montevideo, including a full list of ports visited (January 3), descriptions of Barbados, and a second meeting with President Florvil Hyppolite of Haiti (January 6).

14 Correspondence, March 6 - April 9, 1892

Letters sent from Barbados, St. Thomas, Havana and Key West, describing Batcheller's deteriorating health.

15 Extracts from Letters Home, 1859-1864
16 Preface and Postscript [Biography and Genealogy], ca. 1898