Captain John Ericsson Biography


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Civil War Harper's Weekly, March 29, 1862

We have made our extensive collection of Civil War Harper's Weekly newspapers available to your online. These papers have incredible content on the Civil War, including wood cut illustrations made by eye-witnesses to the historic events of the war.

(Scroll Down to See Entire Page, or Newspaper Thumbnails below will take you to a specific page of interest)


Saluting the Union Flag

The Union Flag

McClellan's Letter to the Army of the Potomac

McClellan to the Army of the Potomac

Fort Craig

Battle of Fort Craig

Columbus, Kentucky

Pea Ridge

Pea Ridge Battle

Captain Ericsson

Captain Ericsson Biography

John Ericsson

Picture of John Ericsson

Horace Greeley

Horace Greeley

Batle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas

Battle of Pea Ridge

Fort Clinch

Civil War Battle Map

Civil War Battle Map

Centreville, Virginia

Centreville, Virginia

General McClellan at Bull Run









MARCH 29, 1862.]



(Previous Page) feet high, and a foot and a half through, in shape as near as can be described to a well-formed pear, with an iron cap fastened by eight screws. Taking off the cap we found grape, canister, and four eight-pound shell, surrounded by about two bushels of coarse powder. On the bottom of the cask there was a wooden box containing several batteries, with hollow wires attached to two larger wires, covered with a substance impervious to water, connecting with the cavern before spoken of. A dozen of these iron pots or casks were thus united with this cavern. Half a dozen of these caverns have been found, and probably 75 or 100 of these infernal machines are thus buried in the earth, some distance from the enemy's works; and the time to be exploded would be when our infantry had driven them inside their works—a sentinel would give the operator inside the cavern a signal, and he would send the electric spark through all the wires, and decamp. The result may be imagined. Whole regiments could thus be blown up and sent to eternity, without even a chance of escape. The discoveries, as far as made, are all on the north and northeast portions of their works, Probably other parts of the works are similarly mined. Fortunately their fiendish designs were discovered in time, and no damage has been done by soldiers, who are constantly on the look-out for discoveries, and might by accident have set off the train.

Another class of infernal machines, called torpedoes, have been discovered anchored in the river. They are round, about three feet long and a foot and a half in diameter, with one end tapering off to a point. The river is very high, and the number can not be made out. It took three steamers five days to sink what are in the bottom of the river. The very high stage of water has prevented any damage to either gun-boat or transport.


WE illustrate on page 193 a thrilling scene which took place in Eastern Tennessee in connection with the recent uprising of Union men in that region of country. We take the following account from the Knoxville Register of February 8.

The facts connected with the burning of the Lick Creek Bridge; as they appeared in the testimony elicited by the Court-martial, have come into our possession from an authentic source, and are as follows:

A man by the name of David Fry, in connection with William B. Carter, both citizens of East Tennessee, but who had lately deserted the land of their birth, fled to Kentucky, and connected themselves with the enemies of their country, returned to East Tennessee after the repulse of General Zollicoffer's command at Rockcastle Hill, for the purpose of inciting a conspiracy with the traitors on this side, which would result in the entire destruction of the railroad facilities here, and then break up and entirely cut off communication between Virginia and the remaining States of the Confederacy, prevent the transportation of troops, provisions, and munitions of war, and thus open the way for the successful invasion of our State. These two men, as is supposed, came first into the county of Anderson, and then, concealed at the house of a Union man, sent, as one of the witnesses heard, for William Pickens, of Sevier, who made the attempt upon Strawberry Plains Bridge, but who, with his gang of fifteen men, was repulsed by Keelan single-handed and alone, Pickens himself falling seriously wounded.

It is known that Fry and Carter passed on into Roane County, and parted at Kingston. At this point we lose sight of Carter, as no evidence has yet appeared of his whereabouts after that time. Fry, however, proceeded on his journey up the country, passing through Loudon (no doubt making every arrangement for the destruction of that bridge), then passing through Blount County, and finally reaching Greene County two days before the burning of Lick Creek Bridge.

Traveling, as he did, at nights, and lying by in day-light, stealthily and treacherously creeping from one traitor's house to another, his movements could not be traced until he arrived, on the night of Wednesday, the 6th of November, at the house of Anderson Walker, in Greene County. Here he remained until the night of Thursday, the 7th, when he proceeded to Martin Walker's, arriving about eight o'clock at night. At Martin Walker's he met his wife, and remained until two o'clock in the moaning of the 8th, stating to Walker that he was on his way to Kentucky, but wanted to see a friend near Midway (Lick Creek Bridge), and asking if Jacob Harmon was as good a Union man as ever. As appeared from the testimony, Fry made no revelations to Walker of his plans; but starting, as he did, at two o'clock, and not being familiar with the roads, Walker piloted him about three miles in the direction of Midway.

After leaving Walker, Fry stopped at the house of Daniel Smith, a noted Union man, living five or six miles from the bridge, arriving there about one hour before daylight. Immediately Fry laid his plans before Smith, who agreed to act as a messenger from Fry to Jacob Harmon to communicate to Harmon that he (Fry) was at Smith's house; that he had come to destroy the railroad, and that he wanted to see Harmon at Smith's house that morning. This message was communicated by Smith to Jacob Harmon about eight o'clock on the morning of the 8th of November; and accordingly Harmon, who was a leading Union spirit in the neighborhood, repaired to Smith's house, where the plans were unfolded, and the plot and programme agreed upon. Harmon was to go home, circulate the fact throughout the neighborhood, and gather the Unionists, assembling them at his house on that night, while Fry would remain at Smith's until nightfall, and then repair to Harmon's house to consummate the conspiracy.

Harmon did his share of the work well, for as early as nine o'clock at night between thirty and forty conspirators had met at his house, ready to be led by their chief on his arrival, and eager for the destruction of the property. At that hour Fry alighted from his horse and bounded into the yard, exclaiming: "Friends, I am Colonel Fry, and am come to share with you." The party immediately assembled in the house, when Fry commenced haranguing the crowd by revealing his plans, and urging them on to deeds of violence, until the crowd were almost unanimous in their expressions of approbation, and with one accord determined that the bridge should be destroyed—that Fry should be their leader, and that they would follow him, if necessary, to death.

Fry drew forth a United States flag, and spreading it upon a table in the centre of the room, called upon his followers to surround that emblem of the Union, and take with him the oath of allegiance. This was late in the night; and after the whole plot had been fully understood, the conspirators surrounded the table in groups, and, by direction of the leader, placed their left hands upon the folds of the flag, raising aloft their right hands, and swearing to support the Constitution of the United States, to sustain the flag there spread before them, and to do that night whatever may be impressed upon them by their chief. This oath was taken by all, except two or three, in solemn earnest, and in silence; the darkness relieved alone by the dim and flickering light of a solitary candle. The scene was impressive—the occasion was full of moment—the hour was fit, and every thing conspired to fill the hearts of the traitors with a fixed determination.

Aroused thus to the highest pitch of malice and revenge, the chief of the conspirators immediately led the way to the bridge, and was followed in eager haste by the willing crowd. The Confederate guard, consisting of five soldiers, watching the bridge, were immediately surrounded by the infuriated mob, and were held in close confinement, while Fry, still leading the way and still followed by the boldest of his clan, hastened to the wooden structure, applied the torch, and the whole was consumed and burned to the ground in an hour.


OUR special artist, Mr. Theodore R. Davis, has sent us sketches from the recent expedition under Commodore Dupont, one of which, representing FORT CLINCH, Florida; the first of the forts repossessed

by the United States forces, we reproduce on page 198.

Commodore Dupont reported to the Navy Department regarding Fernandina and its defenses:

The towns of St. Marys and Fernandina are uninjured. I visited the town, Fort Clinch, and the earth-works on the sea face of the island. It is impossible to look at these preparations for a vigorous defense without being surprised that they should have been voluntarily deserted. The batteries on the north and northeast shores are as complete as art can make them. Six are well concealed and protected by ranges of sand hills in front, contain a perfect shelter for the men, and are so small and thoroughly covered by the natural growth and by the varied contours of the land, that to strike them from the water would be the mere result of chance. A battery of six guns, though larger, and affording therefore a better mark, is equally well sheltered and masked. These batteries, and the heavy guns mounted on Fort Clinch, command all the turnings of the main ship channel, and rake an approaching enemy. Besides them there was another battery of four guns mounted on the south end of Cumberland Island, the fire of which would cross the channel inside the bar. The difficulties arising from the indirectness of the channel and from the shoalness of the bar would have added to the defenses by keeping the approaching vessels a long time exposed to fire under great disadvantages; and when the ships of an enemy had passed all these defenses, they would have to encounter a well-constructed and naturally masked battery at the town, which commands the access to the inner anchorage. We are told that General Lee pronounced the place perfectly defensible. We are not surprised at this, if true. We captured Port Royal, but Fernandina and Fort Clinch have been given to us.


WE devote pages 200, 201, and 204 to illustrations of the ADVANCE OF THE GRAND ARMY OF THE POTOMAC, UNDER GENERAL McCLELLAN, INTO THE REBEL STATE OF VIRGINIA. Our pictures are from sketches by Mr. A. R. Waud, who accompanies the army. One of the sketches on page 200 represents the BRIDGE OVER BULL RUN, near Blackburn's Ford, where some hard fighting took place on 18th July, 1861. It will be well remembered by the three months' troops. The large picture above shows us GENERALS McCLELLAN AND McDOWELL CROSSING BLACKBURN'S FORD with an escort of two thousand cavalry. The correspondent of the Philadelphia Inquirer thus describes the crossing of Blackburn's Ford:

About noon Generals McClellan and McDowell, with their staffs, and two thousand cavalry for an escort, came up and took the road to Manassas. We fell in with them and followed on down to Manassas. All along to the left of the road was one continuous string of huts, tents, and forts, all empty now—not a human being or animal showed themselves—not a sound save the clatter of the horses' hoofs, the shrill tones of the bugles, or the loud orders of the officers.

At Blackburn's Ford we saw the old battle-field of July 18. The Butler House, which was between the two forces, and had been riddled with shot and shell, has been repaired. It was here Beauregard was dining, and made such a narrow escape at the time. The tree tops bear the evidence of the way the shot and shells flew around. Large limbs were cut off, and tree tops twisted in a hundred directions, as though struck by lightning. The woods in which the New York Twelfth, the First and Second Michigan, and the Massachusetts First went down has all been cut away, and we can now see where the rebels had their artillery, upon the bank of Bull Run, behind a breast-work of logs and dirt.

The Washington Artillery of New Orleans and three South Carolina regiments have been encamped near the Butler House for the winter, but started away some time ago. The artillery left a quantity of harness, etc. None of their tents were destroyed. Further down are the tents of a whole division, all pitched, as though the occupants had gone home to recruit and re-enlist, but had not yet returned.

The Plains of Manassas are really what their name implies. The time was when there were objects which obstructed the range of vision, but they are all gone now; for miles around we have an unbroken view. On the hills around are the camps still left, and a column of smoke away off to the right indicated that Manassas was on fire. Our cavalry had gone there during Monday night, and found the rear of the enemy still there; but they were firing the remaining property. A captain, by whose side we rode, told us of piles of new secesh clothes, swords, flags, etc.; galloping ahead of the rest, we reached the Junction. The sight here can not be portrayed; the large machine shops, the station-houses, the Commissary and Quarter-master store-houses, all in ashes. On the track stood the wreck of a locomotive, and not far down the remains of four freight cars which had been burned; to the right, five hundred barrels of flour had been stove in, and two hundred barrels of vinegar and molasses had been allowed to try experiments in chemical combinations. Some fifty barrels of pork and beef had been scattered around in the mud, and a few hundred yards down the track a dense cloud of smoke was arising from the remains of a factory, which had been used for rendering up tallow and boiling bones. About a thousand good hides were stretched in a field close by upon stakes, and remain uninjured.

On the same page a small picture illustrates the EVACUATION OF MANASSAS

 JUNCTION BY THE REBELS, and the burning of their huts—a dreary, dismal scene. All the correspondents concur in saying that it was desolation intensified. Every thing the rebels could not readily carry away they destroyed, burning houses, clothes, and stores of all kinds, and rendering the place a perfect wilderness.

On page 204 we illustrate the INTERSECTION OF THE ORANGE AND ALEXANDRIA RAILROAD WITH THE MANASSAS GAP LINE. This is the "Junction" which has given its name to the spot, and which imparted to the place so much military importance. The possession of the Junction gives us command of both roads.

The same page contains a general view of CENTREVILLE, showing the rebel Winter Quarters there, mostly in flames and ashes. On one side will be seen a fort which formed the key of their works. In the distance is the Bull Run battle-field; and further yet may be seen the Blue Ridge, with the fires which mark burning bridges and homesteads in flames. Desolation on every side.

It appears that every thing which the rebels could destroy in their retreat was consumed. The store-houses at Manassas, with a large quantity of flour, were burned, and the Warrenton Station, together with the hotel and five or six dwellings. The bridge over Cedar Creek, two miles north of Warrenton, was burned down, and a freight train of fifty-two cars, loaded with commissary stores worth $20,000, was set on fire at Thoroughfare Station, twelve miles from Manassas, on the road to Winchester, but were rescued from destruction by our troops before they were consumed.

Mr. Waud will continue to accompany the army under General McClellan, and will illustrate every event of note for Harper's Weekly.


IN order to enable our readers to understand the oft-repeated expression of the "Anaconda" tightening its folds round the rebels, we publish a general MAP of the seat of the rebellion on page 199, showing the relative position of the rebel and the Union forces. Sixty days ago those positions were very different. Then the rebels held half of Missouri, nearly half of Kentucky, and Eastern Virginia to the Potomac. Their present retiring line is seen on the Map, whose author writes as follows concerning it:

The Map on page 199 represents the region of SECESSIA, with all its railroad communications and principal rivers; also the present position of the Union and rebel forces. By reference to the Map it will be seen that some railroads are of great importance in concentrating rebel military forces to oppose the progress of the Union armies, and in facilitating the movements of the traitorous soldiers in their retreats from merited chastisement. The railroad through Western Virginia and Eastern Tennessee is a very important one, communicating at Lynchburg with the railroads of Eastern Virginia and North Carolina, and connecting at Chattanooga with the extended railroads of North Alabama, Mississippi, and West Tennessee; while at Dalton it connects with the railroads of Georgia, South Carolina, the railroads and navigable waters of Alabama. With this railroad in the possession of our forces soon to be at Knoxville, the rebel army recently at Manassas can not retreat to the mountainous region of Chattanooga, Stevenson, Cleveland, and Dalton; which region, for defense in a desperate struggle, is the strongest in the Southern States. Memphis, Corinth, Mississippi; Knoxville and Chattanooga, Tennessee; Dalton, Atlanta, Augusta, Georgia; Goldsborough, North Carolina; Lynchburg and Richmond, Virginia, may be noted as very important points in the railroad communications of the Southern States. By the Map, on which the line of Union forces is represented, it will be observed how these important places are menaced by the different divisions of our armies in motion.

The victorious army under General Curtis having scattered the united rebel forces west of the Mississippi, has command by this time of the navigable rivers of Arkansas. Using the Arkansas River, nature will carry his army to the rear of Memphis, or to unprotected Vicksburg, Natchez, and the Lower Mississippi at the proper time. The victorious General Pope, by the same law of gravitation, can move toward Memphis from the north, at the time General Grant and his heroic troops move up the Tennessee River, and, reducing Savannah, march overland westward to Memphis. General Buell and his powerful army have their front toward Northern Alabama and Northwestern Georgia. General Fremont is preparing to put the army of the Mountain Department in motion as soon as the weather in those elevated regions will allow. General M'Clellan, with his splendid and disciplined army, is in motion after the retiring army of rebels which expected to have passed the winter in Baltimore and Philadelphia, and to have been paid in New York. As that intention has not been allowed to the accidental victors of Bull Run, they may not speculate on where they will pass the spring and summer, and what pay they will get. General Burnside is at work in the rear of Norfolk, Weldon, and Goldsborough.

General Sherman is occupying a strong force of the rebels to protect Savannah and Charleston. Brunswick, Georgia, Fernandina, and Cedar Keys, Florida, Fort Pickens, and Ship Island are ours as bases for other operations; and probably before the next issue of our Weekly something will occur near Ship Island which will make a report to be heard throughout the country, and a shock which will be felt as far north as Richmond.


ON page 205 we give a portrait of CAPTAIN ERICSSON, the inventor and builder of the Monitor,

of which we give below some diagrams. The following is a sketch of his life :

John Ericsson was born in 1803, in the province of Vermeland, among the iron mountains of Sweden. His father was a mining proprietor, so that in his youth he had ample opportunities to watch the operations of the various engines and machinery connected with the mines.

In 1814 he attracted the attention of the celebrated Count Platen, who had heard of his boyish efforts, and de-sired an interview with him. After carefully examining the various plans and drawings which this youth exhibited on this occasion, the Count handed them back to him, simply observing, in an impressive manner, "Continue as you have commenced, and you will one day produce something extraordinary." These few words of kind encouragement from so distinguished a personage sunk deeply into the mind of the young mechanician, and confirmed him in the career on which he had entered. Immediately after this interview young Ericsson was appointed a cadet in the corps of engineers; and after six months' tuition, at the age of twelve years, was appointed nivelleur at the Grand Ship Canal of Sweden, which connects the North Sea with the Baltic, under Count Platen. In this capacity, in the year 1816, he was required to set out the work for more than six hundred men, and at that time he was not tall enough to look through the leveling instrument, and in using it he was obliged to mount upon a stool, carried by his attendants for that purpose. As the discipline in the Swedish army required that the soldier should always uncover his head in speaking to his superior, gray-headed men came, cap in hand, to receive their instructions from this mere child. There are now many important works on the canal constructed after drawings made by Ericsson at this early age. At the age of fifteen he was in possession of accurate plans of the whole work, drawn by his own hand. His associations with military men on the canal had given him a tendency for military life, and at the age of seventeen he entered the Swedish army as an ensign. About this time the Government had ordered the northern part of Sweden to be surveyed, and that officers in the army should be employed in this service. Ericsson, whose regiment was stationed in the Northern Highland, was appointed on the survey. There are yet in the archives of Sweden detailed maps of upward of fifty square miles made by his hand.

While thus variously occupied, being on a visit to the house of his Colonel, Ericsson on one occasion showed his host how readily and by what simple means mechanical power may be produced, independently of steam, by condensing flame. On the 18th of May, 1826, he obtained permission from the King to visit England. In the fall of 1829 the Liverpool and Manchester Railway Company offered a prize for the best locomotive engine, to be tested on the small portion of the railway then completed. Ericsson, not willing to allow this occasion to escape him, immediately set to work, planned the engine, executed the working drawings, and caused the patterns to be made, and the whole machine was completed within seven weeks. The day of trial arrived. The competing engines were on the ground, and the novelty of the race had attracted an immense concourse of people. Both sides of the railway, for more than a mile in length, were lined with thousands of spectators, and to the surprise and admiration of the crowd, the Novelty steam-carriage started, guided by its inventor, Ericsson, assisted by John Braithwaite, and darted along the track at the rate of fifty miles an hour. Mr. Ericsson was the first to apply to marine engines centrifugal blowers, now so common in this country in all boilers using anthracite coal. In the year 1831 he applied such a blower, worked by a separate small steam-engine, to the steam-packet Corsair, of 120-horse power, plying between Liverpool and Belfast.

Mr. Ericsson emigrated to this country in 1839, then being thirty-six years old. His first great achievement after his arrival was the building of the United States steam-frigate Princeton, the first vessel that steam was ever introduced into with the works below the water-line. She proved a complete success. About the same time he planned the French frigate Pomone, fifty guns, which is at present in our waters; she also proving a great success. Captain Ericsson, after the completion of these vessels, gave his whole time to his favorite work, the completion of the caloric engine, which he has since brought to great perfection, though on a small scale. His next undertaking was the planning and invention of the steamer Ericsson, which is familiar to all our readers. He did the whole work, from the time her keel was laid to the moment that her paddles were first turned, in the brief space of seven mouths. Although not answering all that was commercially expected of her, she was an entire mechanical success, speaking more than words of the great genius of the inventor, and as a marine structure she has never been equaled, much less surpassed. The name of Captain Ericsson has been comparatively unheard of for some time past, until the commencement of another new idea of his, as illustrated so satisfactorily in the new noble steam-battery Monitor. He signed the contract for her construction on the 5th day of last October, and on the 31st of December—being a period of two months and eight days—her steam, machinery, and propeller were put into operation, and on the one hundred and first working day she was launched. This is a celerity which has never been equaled in this country or in England.


To the views which we have before given of the Monitor we now add three plans. They give a more perfect idea of her construction than any thing which has been published. Figure 1 represents her as launched and ready for action; Figure 2 is a plan of her deck; and Figure 3 is a cross section cut down through the turret. The black line in Figure 1 above the water-line shows precisely how much of her body appears above the water.

A. Revolving Turret.—B. B. Smoke-pipe.—C, Pilot-house.—D, Anchor Well.—E, Rudder.—F, Propeller.—G, Iron Armor.—H, Braces for Deck Beams.—
K, Water-line.—L, Dahlgren Gun,—M, Gun-carriage.





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