This letter was written by Charles Carroll Bayard (1828-1850) a junior midshipman in the US Navy who sailed aboard the frigate Congress from Portsmouth, New Hampshire on the 15th July bound for the Mediterranean. The ship was captained by Philip Falkerson Voorhees and one of the Lieutenants was David Dixon Porter. Another junior midshipman on the same voyage was John Henry Upshur.
Bayard provides an interesting description of the wreck of the 3200-ton steam frigate Missouri that exploded and burned to the waters edge in August 1843 — less than two months earlier — which he called a “very melancholy sight.” The vessel came to rest in 41 feet of water in Gibraltar Bay and hampered navigation so severely that the United States was asked to remove it. They agreed to do so but it took more than a decade to get the bay cleared of the wreckage. Bayard describes the Navy’s first attempts to dive on the wreckage and retrieve the iron.
Bayard wrote the letter on the eve of their departure from Gibraltar in December 1843 to join Commodore Daniel Turner’s Brazil Squadron blockading Montevideo in safeguarding American trade during Uruguayan Civil War. He wrote the letter to his parents, U.S. Senator Richard Henry Bayard (1796-1868) and Mary Sophia Carroll (1804-1896). Richard H. Bayard was a lawyer and politician from Wilmington, in New Castle County, Delaware. He was a member of the Whig Party, who served as the first Mayor of Wilmington, Chief Justice of the Delaware Superior Court, and as U.S. Senator from Delaware.
Addressed to Hon. Richard H. Bayard, Wilmington Delaware, (Forwarded to Washington City, D. C.)
December 21st 1843
My dear Mother
I send you a few lines which I shall commit to the care of the American Consul & he will send them to you by the first opportunity, for by this time tomorrow we shall be bounding over the deep blue billow on our way to the Brazil’s. We arrived here at 10 o’clock last Friday. It was blowing very hard & everything seemed to go wrong for we nearly run down several small vessels in the dark. At last we managed to let go our anchor & get every thing snug. But we had not long resigned ourselves to the arms of Morpheus before we were roused out to clear ourselves from a Barque which had run foul of us. In about an hour we got clear and ere not disturbed any more that night.
I have visited the wreck of the Missouri. It is a very melancholy sight. She is burnt down to the water’s edge so the only thing we can do is to raise all the machinery & the other iron work that remains & sell it to the best advantage. For this purpose, they have employed a diver for $25 a day who goes down & makes tackles fast to everything he finds. They are then swayed up into a Schooner hired for the purpose & sold to the best advantage. The diver wears an oil cloth suit & has a large helmet on his head from which there goes a hose connected to an air pump through which they pump air to him continuously.
I was amused the other day when the Captain & some others were at the wreck. There came on a violent shower. The diver was under the water hammering at some tanks. When it was over he came up perfectly dry while we were wringing wet. It seems odd, does it not.
The U.S.S. Cumberland arrived here yesterday on her way to relieve the Delaware & as she will go home shortly, I send you two boxes containing a few little gifts by Mr. Maddox & Miss Rogers. I am afraid, my dear mother, you find that I am deteriorating rather than improving in my composition but the fact is I have so fe opportunities of writing & am so hurried that you must not expect much from me. So pleading this for my excuse, I say good night with my love to all. Bye the bye, I forgot to say that we will probably be home in July, so once more good night & pleasant dreams.