Guide to the Alvah Folsom Hunter Diary, 1862-1863
A collection in the
Special Collections & Archives Department,
United States Naval Academy
589 McNair Road
Annapolis, MD 21402-5029
Prepared by: David D'Onofrio
(Original Guide by Mary R. Catalfamo, 1990)
Special Collections & Archives Department
United States Naval Academy
Alvah Folsom Hunter, of Gilford, New Hampshire, was born in 1846. In July 1862, at the age of fifteen, Hunter attempted to enlist as a fife player in the Union Army, but was ultimately discharged due to his age. Shortly after his sixteenth birthday, he began petitioning the Navy to enlist as a ship's boy. After several failed attempts, Hunter finally received orders to ship aboard the ironclad monitor U.S.S. Nahant as a wardroom boy on December 9, 1862.
Along with three other boys, Hunter served aboard U.S.S. Nahant from December 1862 to December 1863, performing duties such as waiting on the mess table and cleaning and preparing the officers' staterooms. U.S.S. Nahant, as part of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, primarily saw action in the rivers and harbors of Georgia and South Carolina, including attacks on Fort Wagner, Fort Sumter, Fort Moultrie and Battery Gregg in Charleston Harbor.
After one year of service, Hunter opted not to reenlist in the Navy, motivated largely by the coupling of his experience of the U.S.S. Nahant taking on water on November 11, 1862 and his witnessing of the monitor U.S.S. Weehawken foundering in relatively calm waters on December 6, 1862. Instead, Hunter joined the Army Signal Corps, serving in the lower Mississippi valley for the remainder of the war.
In 1872, Hunter married Alice Thurston, with whom he eventually had four sons. Nine years later he started a poultry business and farm, ultimately serving as editor of two journals on poultry and farming. After World War I, Hunter retired to Roxbury, Massachusetts, where he wrote two memoirs, "A New Hampshire Boyhood," and "A Year on a Monitor," the latter of which was published in 1987 as A Year on a Monitor and the Destruction of Fort Sumter. Alvah Folsom Hunter died in 1933 in Washington, DC.
Scope and Content Note
The Alvah Folsom Hunter Diary, a collection consisting of a single hand-written diary, spans the period from November 6, 1862 to December 29, 1863. The diary offers a daily log of Hunter's experiences and observations aboard U.S.S. Nahant as a ship's boy.
Each diary entry typically includes notations regarding weather conditions and location, with locations often abbreviated (e.g. PR for Port Royal, JR for James River, and NER for North Edisto River). Many entries include additional details, including ship numbers and duration of engagements, including an attack on Fort McAllister (March 4), the capture of C.S.S. Atlanta (June 17) and attacks on Admiral Du Pont's flagship U.S.S. New Ironsides (October 7-10). Perhaps the most detailed descriptions pertain to the various Charleston Harbor battles, including attacks on Fort Wagner (July 10-11 and August 17-22), Fort Moultrie (August 31), and Fort Sumter (April 5-12). Other battle related incidents include an encounter with a Rebel deserter disclosing plans of a torpedo attack (May 11), the discovery of a torpedo (September 13), and the use of a flag of truce as a diversion (July 24).
When not engaged in battle, Hunter makes mention of typical shipboard duties of both himself and crew, including greasing the decks, repairing the guns and gun saddles (March 23), and cleaning the painting the ship (October 22-25). Other entries include mention of activities of a more recreational nature, such as fishing, swimming (April 16-23), or going ashore to pick blackberries (May 18-31).
Also included in the diary are several annotations in pencil, as well as a Biblical quotation from Isaiah 58:13, located at the end of the entry for January 31. The annotations and Biblical quotation appear to be of a different hand, and are either by a different author, or by Hunter at a later stage in life.
Research topics served by the Alvah Folsom Hunter Diary include the service history of U.S.S. Nahant, utilization of monitors by the Union Navy, the activities of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, and the naval efforts related to the retaking of Charleston, South Carolina. The diary as a whole, being that of a ship's boy, represents a unique perspective of the Civil War and naval service.