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Edwin R. Denby Diary, 1861-1863: Finding Aid

Published in September 2019

Summary Information

  • Publisher: United States Naval Academy. Special Collections & Archives.
  • Publisher Address:
    589 McNair Road
    Annapolis, Maryland 21402-5029, USA
    Phone: 410-293-6917
  • Call number: MS 525
  • Location: Special Collections & Archives Department - Manuscripts
  • Title: Edwin R. Denby Diary
  • Dates: 1861-1863
  • Size: 0.04 linear feet
  • Container Summary: 1 folder containing 1 volume
  • Creator: Denby, Edwin R.
  • Language(s) of material: English
  • Abstract: Edwin R. Denby was a Surgeon in the United States Navy. The Edwin R. Denby Diary spans from November 1861 until November 1863. The diary, kept by Denby while serving aboard U.S.S. Dacotah (Steam sloop), U.S.S. Narragansett (Screw sloop-of-war), and U.S.S. Wyoming (Screw sloop-of-war), discusses some of the Union Navy's efforts to capture Confederate raiders, but focuses primarily on U.S.S. Wyoming's operations in Japan, culminating in the Battle of Shimonoseki Straits in July 1863.

Biography of Edwin R. Denby

Edwin R. Denby of Virginia was commissioned an Assistant Surgeon in the United States Navy July 11, 1855, and served his first cruise aboard U.S.S. Merrimack (Screw frigate). After detaching from the Merrimack in September 1857, he served aboard U.S.S. Fulton (Steamer) and the steamer Atalanta until May 1859, when he was ordered to the Naval Rendezvous, Philadelphia.

Immediately prior to the outbreak of the Civil War, Denby was attached to U.S.S. Dacotah (Steam sloop) of the East India Squadron. August 1, 1861, shortly before Dacotah was ordered to the Virgin Islands, Denby was promoted to Surgeon with the rank of Lieutenant Commander. Following the decommissioning of the Dacotah, Denby was transferred briefly to U.S.S. Narragansett (Screw sloop-of-war) before again being transferred to U.S.S. Wyoming (Screw sloop-of-war) in June 1862, aboard which ship he returned to duty in the Far East. Following the expiration of this cruise in July 1864, Denby was attached to the Naval Rendezvous in New York, after which he was ordered to the Philadelphia Naval Asylum, with later duty as Recorder of the Medical Board in Philadelphia.

In November 1867, Denby was ordered back to sea aboard U.S.S. Saranac (Steam sloop-of-war), and the following year was aboard to U.S.S. Jamestown (Sloop-of-war). Following the expiration of this cruise in August 1869, he was granted leave to Europe. As of January 1872, his leave having concluded, Denby was stationed at the Navy Yard in Philadelphia.

In December 1872, Denby was promoted to Medical Inspector with the rank of Commander and subsequently appointed Fleet Surgeon of the South Pacific Station. Detached from the South Pacific Station in September 1873, he was ordered to Philadelphia, after which he was assigned to the South Atlantic Station as Fleet Surgeon. Edwin R. Denby died at sea on May 3, 1875 while aboard U.S.S. Lancaster (Screw sloop-of-war).

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Description of Contents

The Edwin R. Denby Diary, comprising 0.04 linear feet of documentation, spans from November 1861 until November 1863. The diary, kept by Denby while serving aboard U.S.S. Dacotah (Steam sloop), U.S.S. Narragansett (Screw sloop-of-war), and U.S.S. Wyoming (Screw sloop-of-war), discusses some of the Union Navy's efforts to capture Confederate raiders, but focuses primarily on U.S.S. Wyoming's operations in Japan, culminating in the Battle of Shimonoseki Straits in July 1863.

The Edwin Denby Diary was written in two main sections. The first, kept aboard U.S.S. Dacotah on pages 1-19, spans from November 24-December 18, 1861. The diary opens with Denby aboard U.S.S. Dacotah, recently arrived at St. Thomas for patrol duty. Specific events and topics covered include the hunt for C.S.S. Sumter (Steamer) by U.S.S. Iroquois (Screw sloop-of-war) and the differing opinions in Martinique of the Sumter and the Confederate cause (November 26, 1861); the prevalence of Southern sympathies in the Virgin Islands; and U.S.S. Dacotah's difficult journey back to New York; and the shortage and unsatisfactory nature of the ship's provisions (December 13, 1861).

The second section, kept aboard U.S.S. Wyoming, spans pages 20-142. The latter section was written between June 24, 1862 and November 16, 1863, while U.S.S. Wyoming was stationed in the Far East, with port calls at Manila, Macau, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Ningpo, Nagasaki, Shimoda, Yokohama, Edo, Whampoa, Green Island, and Swatow. Entries typically note the ship's location, Denby's daily activities, shipboard guests, receptions with dignitaries, trips ashore, and the occasional status of Denby's patients.

The opening entry of this section, dated June 24, 1862, recounts the period of Denby's service between the Dacotah's decommissioning on December 31, 1861 and the commencement of his cruise aboard the Wyoming in June 1862. In said entry, spanning pages 20 to 34, Denby notes his orders to U.S.S. Narragansett at Aspinwall; the acquaintance of an enigmatic young English woman traveling to California; eventual attachment to U.S.S. Narragansett at San Francisco; and transfer to U.S.S. Wyoming on June 9, 1862.

Denby begins recording his cruise aboard U.S.S. Wyoming with the entry of June 29, 1862. Early events and topics include an altercation arising from the ship's First Lieutenant questioning the loyalty of any and all Virginians (July 6, 1862); and the general state of Macau upon its cession to the Portuguese (September 10, 1862). Multiple additional entries pertain to Wyoming's general operations and Civil War patrol duties, including rumors of C.S.S. Alabama (Screw sloop-of-war) sailing for the Far East (March 3, 1863); damage to the ship incurred approaching Swatow (March 22-April 7, 1863); rumors of C.S.S. Florida (Screw sloop-of-war) sailing for the Far East (April 19, 1863); preparations to engage and search for C.S.S. Alabama in the Dutch East Indies (October 6-28, 1863); and investigation of rumors of Confederate raiders receiving British provisions at Christmas Island (November 9-15, 1863).

Much of Denby's entries from his cruise aboard U.S.S. Wyoming, however, are focused on the ship's operations in and around Japan. Events and topics discussed by Denby in this respect include the description of the Government House and reception with the Acting Governor in Nagasaki (October 23, 1862); description of the Inland Sea (November 3, 1862); experience traveling to and staying at the American Legation in Edo, including meetings with U.S. Minister to Japan Robert Pruyn (November 12, 1862); impressions of Edo, the homes of the Daimyo, Edo Castle, and the nature of Japanese temples (November 13, 1862); discussion of and audience with the Shogun's cabinet of ministers, referred to as the Tycoon and Gorogio, respectively (November 15, 1862); visit to Shiba Cemetery (November 16, 1862); observing Japanese military exercises (November 17, 1862); rising tensions surrounding England's response to the murder of Charles Richardson by samurai (May 11-17, 27, 1863); burning of the American Legation in Edo (May 24-25, 1863); tensions over attempts by the Japanese to remove consuls and foreigners from Edo (June 1, 1863); delays in and eventual payment of the Richardson murder indemnity by Japan (June 18-24, 1863); demands by the Japanese that all foreigners leave Japan within 30 days (June 24, 1863); news of the American steamer Pembroke being fired upon by Japanese forces (July 6, 1863); detailed description of U.S.S. Wyoming's actions during the Battle of Shimonoseki Straits (July 20, 1863); retaliation by French forces against the Japanese in the early days of the Shimonoseki Campaign (July 20-24, 1863); and news of British operations in the Satsuma/Kagoshima Domain and discussion of disaffection with the Shogun therein (August 6-25, 1863).

Included in the entries on Japan are a sheet noting the American Legation password (tipped in at November 12, 1862) and a clipping from the Japan Commercial News covering the Battle of Shimonoseki Straits (tipped in after the entry for July 13, 1863).

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The Edwin R. Denby Diary comprises a single volume of chronologically ordered entries.

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Access and Use


Access is unrestricted.

Copyright and Permission

The Edwin R. Denby Diary is 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.

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.

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Acquisition and Appraisal

Provenance and Acquisition

Gift of Mrs. Edwin H. Denby in November 1957. Accession No. 266064.

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Related Materials

Related Archival Material

There are no other known collections of Edwin R. Denby.

Materials Cataloged Separately

No materials have been removed from this collection and cataloged separately.

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Processing and Other Information

Prior to its processing as a manuscript collection, the Edwin R. Denby Diary was cataloged as a book under the title Private Journal, 1861, 1862 & 1863 [on] U.S. Steam Sloop "Dacotah", U.S. Steam Sloop "Narragansett" [and] U.S. Steam Sloop "Wyoming" by E. R. Denby, with the call number of G549.D46.

Preferred Citation

Edwin R. Denby Diary, MS 525

Special Collections & Archives Department

Nimitz Library

United States Naval Academy

Selected Bibliography

The following sources were consulted during preparation of the biographical note:

United States. Bureau of Naval Personnel. Register of Commissioned and Warrant Officers of the United States Navy and Marine Corps. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1855-1876.

Processing Information

This collection was processed by David D'Onofrio in September 2019. Finding aid written by David D'Onofrio in September 2019.

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Subject Headings

Name and Subject Terms

  • Dacotah (Steam sloop)
  • Denby, Edwin R.
  • Japan -- Description and travel
  • Japan -- Foreign relations -- United States
  • United States -- Foreign relations -- Japan
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Naval operations
  • Wyoming (Screw sloop)

Genre Terms

  • Diaries
  • Manuscripts
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Contents List

Box 1 Folder 1

Edwin R. Denby Diary, 1861-1863

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