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Welcome to Maple Leaf

Submerged only 20 feet below the surface of the St. Johns River in Florida, the Maple Leaf remained hidden for almost 150 years. Her discovery in 1984 presented an unparalleled opportunity to increase our understanding of the nation’s bloodiest conflict. The cargo of the Maple Leaf contains some of the best-preserved Civil War artifacts yet discovered including, but not limited to, the personal belongings of the men of three infantry regiments. Presentation swords, surgeon’s equipment, and even souvenirs that Soldiers collected from Southern plantations are only a few of the historical treasures preserved in the muddy depths of the St. Johns. This virtual exhibit highlights these lost artifacts, telling the stories of Soldiers that used them and their daily lives as they served on a remote front in the struggle to cut off supply routes to the Confederacy.




“The Wreck of the Maple Leaf is unsurpassed as a source for Civil War material culture.”

– Edwin C. Bearss, former Chief Historian of the National Park Service

An unidentified steamship sails the St. Johns River in Florida. Maple Leaf sank on this river in 1864.


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An Active Life

Hers was a long and storied history: ferrying passengers on the Great Lakes; hired out by the Army; a hijacking by Confederate prisoners of war; transporting troops and goods up and down the Southern coasts; and finally her demise by Confederate “torpedo” in 1864.


Fun Fact:

Though several other Civil War shipwrecks have been discovered, it is possible that Maple Leaf has the largest store of artifacts, less than 1% of which has been recovered.

S ubmerged in the murky depths of the St. Johns River in Florida, the Civil War steamship Maple Leaf rested nearly forgotten for well over a century. Sunk by a Confederate naval mine on 1 April 1864, the baggage of three regiments of Union Soldiers, a brigade headquarters, and sutlers’ stores went down with the ship. The historical artifacts aboard Maple Leaf tell the tale of Soldier’s everyday lives during the Civil War — what they cared about, how they spent their leisure time, and how their stories fit into the larger epic of the struggle between North and South.

Florida and the St. Johns:

SUPPLIERS OF THE CONFEDERACY

Union Soldiers, mostly from small farms in the North, often wrote home to their families about the exotic Floridian landscape.

The tributaries that come together to form the St. Johns leach tannins from the surrounding swamps and marshes, creating a blackwater river. Its character ranges from unnavigable marshland to wide, slow-moving waters almost three miles across.


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Union Officers sailing down the St. Johns knew that artillery could be lurking anywhere in the thick foliage lining the banks of the river.

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“As far up as Jacksonville, the river is crooked and muddy while the banks glisten with pure white banks of sand, appearing in the distance as great banks of snow.”

-- 1st Lt. James H. Clark, a regimental historian with the 115th New York Volunteer Infantry serving in the St. Johns River Region, 7 February 1864



“Last night the alligators kept up a continual bellowing all night similar to a yearling bull calf, they are plenty enough and large ones too.”

-- Cpl. Robert L. Coe, 112th New York Volunteer Infantry in a letter to his family dated 3 April 1864

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This cartoon map illustrates the Anaconda Plan to sever the South’s overseas supply routes. To strangle Confederate commerce, Union Naval and Army forces captured ports along the Florida coast, such as Jacksonville, St. Augustine, Pensacola and Key West.

Union Soldiers prepare food.

L ocated in the northeastern part of the state, the St. Johns River region was an important Confederate gateway to the interior. Fighting took place on the river from the very beginning of the war and reached its culmination in 1864 when over a dozen vessels on both sides were destroyed or captured. Determined to prevent the Union from severing one of their most vital supply routes, the Rebels set up artillery along the bluffs of the river, swarming the area with bands of roving guerrillas. Since most of their troops were occupied fighting the Union further north, the Confederacy had to devise alternative methods of engaging the well supplied Union Army. The “torpedo” that sank Maple Leaf was one of these methods.

Full Steam to Victory:

STEAMBOATS IN THE CIVIL WAR


Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, 1865


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“I am never easy with a railroad which takes a whole army to guard, each foot of rail being essential to the whole; whereas they can’t stop [a river] and each boat can make its own game.”

-- Letter from Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, 25 October 1863

Few images of Maple Leaf remain, but this 1864 image of steamboats docking in Vicksburg, MS, provides some sense of how essential the vessels were to maintaining supply lines during the Civil War.


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Admiral David D. Porter’s ship, USS CAIRO, was sunk in the Yazoo River and became another historically important Civil War shipwreck. To find out more about the USS CAIRO, click here

F rom the very beginning of the war, steamboats were in high demand by the U.S. Army’s Quartermaster department. Without the ability to transport vital supplies, there could be no Army and no victory. River transport, particularly by steamboat, was a vital supplement to railroads and supply wagons.

History of Maple Leaf

Maple Leaf ran by burning fuel, such as coal or wood to heat water in an iron boiler. Steam pressure drove a piston that moved a “walking beam,” which pumped up and down like a teeter-totter, transferring energy via a connecting rod to a crank that turned the paddle wheel. The rotation of the wheel’s paddles pushed the boat through the water.




Press Review of Maple Leaf

“The Saloon and the ladies’ cabin beneath are richly decorated with white and gold cornices and paneling, the chairs and settees cushioned with crimson plush and curtains of crimson and gold damask … We are particularly pleased with the profusion of stained glass, tastefully and elaborately painted … with pretty little sketches enwreathed with maple leaves.”

-- Description of Maple Leaf written by Great Lakes Regional Press in 1851

The only surviving photograph of Maple Leaf (center) is this ambrotype taken in 1856 at Port Charlotte near Rochester, NY.


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Newspaper advertisement for Maple Leaf.

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Original surveyor’s report for the Maple Leaf.



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A side-wheeled steamer with one mast and a single deck, Maple Leaf could carry up to 398 tons of cargo. Her engine room was 71 feet long (almost twice the length of a school bus), while her length in total was 181 feet (a little over half the size of a football field).

B uilt in Canada in the winter of 1850, Maple Leaf was a typical Great Lakes steamship used to ferry passengers, livestock and freight on Lake Ontario. Maple Leaf was sold to Boston merchants Charles Spear and John Lang in 1862. The need for her services during the Civil War was so profound that the merchants chartered the boat to the Army the day before they had even completed her purchase. Maple Leaf operated under the Quartermaster Department until a Confederate mine sank her in 1864.

Maple Leaf

AND THE CIVIL WAR

“In the first operations along the coast, and in fitting out great expeditions, it became necessary to pay, for short times, prices much higher than would have been justifiable had it been foreseen that the vessels would remain more than from thirty to sixty days under charter.”

-- Col. Robert E. Clary, Quartermaster Department, 1863

Kurz and Allison lithograph of the Battle at Olustee, FL, 1864.

The Battle of Olustee

In February of 1864, Confederate forces expelled Union troops from the region at the Battle of Olustee, the bloodiest battle of the Civil War in Florida. Union troops were roundly defeated at Olustee, with over 1,800 men killed or wounded. The three regiments of Maj. Gen. Robert S. Foster’s brigade, whose baggage was transported on Maple Leaf, were sent to Florida to guard against further attacks.

Postcard lithograph of Fort Monroe as it appeared during the Civil War.

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Confederates Take Over The Ship

In addition to transporting goods and troops, Maple Leaf also transported prisoners of war. In June 1863, the steamer transported 97 Confederate prisoners from Fort Monroe to Fort Delaware. With only 12 Union guards on board, the prisoners quickly seized control of the ship. Of the Confederate soldiers, 30 were too ill to leave, but the remaining 67 healthy prisoners demanded to be set ashore at Cape Henry where they were taken in by Rebel sympathizers and returned to their regiments. If it weren’t for the fact that 30 of their comrades remained on board due to illness or injury, the Rebels might have destroyed Maple Leaf right there. Instead, Maple Leaf returned to Fort Monroe in an attempt to bring back troops to recapture the prisoners, but by then the Confederates had already made their escape.


Unmanned Torpedoes

Maple Leaf was the first Union vessel in Florida to be sunk by a “torpedo” or naval mine. Usually kegs filled with gunpowder and bound with iron bands, these explosive weapons were submerged just below the surface of the water and could be set off when struck by a passing vessel. To make a detonator, Mercury was taken from thermometers, treated with acid, and mixed with gunpowder. Passing vessels bumped against protruding contact fuses, exploding the pressure sensitive fulminated mercury, and igniting the powder charge.

I n September 1862, the Army chartered Maple Leaf at a rate of $550 per day, a high rate for the time. In 1863, after much pressure from the Quartermaster Department, the vessel’s Boston owners conceded to the more reasonable rate of $250 per day. When Maple Leaf sank, the Army was obligated by contract to purchase her. The Army then conducted a thorough investigation of the destruction of their property, recording the statements of most of the crewmembers. Because of this information, historians now have ample records of the loss of Maple Leaf.




Click the image to see the full, original, handwritten Army report on the sinking of Maple Leaf.

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Captain, Crew and Passengers

On Maple Leaf’s last voyage, the captain and crew totaled 22 people (four of whom were killed); six passengers including a mother and child; a baggage guard of 11 men from the 112th New York Volunteer Infantry; four Confederate prisoners; and 14 passengers who were unaccounted for in official ship records.

A Poor Reputation

Henry W. Dale served as captain on Maple Leaf for the duration of her military service. A commercial vessel, some Soldiers complained that they were being price gouged while on board. The chaplain of the 112th New York Volunteer Infantry said:


“On board the Maple Leaf, the only object from the Captain down to the deck hands, seemed to be to make money out of the necessities of the Regiment. Men were charged five cents for the privilege of boiling their coffee, and officers the highest New York prices for board of the meanest sort; and this on board of a boat receiving an enormous sum from the government for transporting troops.”


To review the full Army report on the loss of Maple Leaf, click here.


112th NY Volunteers

Primarily from rural Chautauqua County, New York, most men from this regiment agreed that their brief time in Florida was the happiest period of their service, despite the loss of most of their belongings. Previously, the 112th had been stationed on Folly Island, SC, where they suffered from hot weather, blowing sand, and diseases brought about through poor sanitation. After their three months in Florida, they returned to good health. But all too quickly they were sent to Virginia, where two months later they endured the bloody battle of Cold Harbor. There, the 112th lost 39 men, with 16 mortally wounded, and 121 injured. The regiment served during the Siege of Petersburg and fought at Fort Fisher and the final campaign in the Carolinas. The chaplain called their experiences, “tedious, perilous, and exhausting.”


169th New York Volunteer Infantry

Known as the Troy Regiment (because they were formed in Troy, NY), the 169th helped defend Washington, D.C. in the beginning of the war before they were sent to Florida. After their service on the St. Johns, the 169th fought alongside the 112th at Cold Harbor and again at the second Battle of Fort Fisher in North Carolina. Throughout its three years of service, this regiment saw heavy fighting, with six officers and 67 Soldiers killed in action, 35 of their company taken prisoners of war, many wounded, and over 150 dying of disease.

13th Indiana Volunteer Infantry

The 13th Indiana Volunteer Infantry served the Union from June 1864 to September 1865. At the Second Battle of Fort Fisher, in January 1865, sixty members of the 13th armed with Spencer repeating rifles, served as sharpshooters, providing cover for other brigades of Union Soldiers during the dramatic assault. The regiment was highly regarded;two of its commanders were promoted to Brigadier General during the war. The 13th Indiana signed up for a three-year enlistment in 1861. Most of the men were within three months of their discharge when they lost their belongings aboard the Maple Leaf.

This image shows half of a New York regiment on parade at Fort Pulaski.

A volunteer regiment during the Civil War was often composed of men from the same county or region and, at full strength could number as many as 1,000 Soldiers. Three regiments lost many of their belongings when Maple Leaf sank.

The three regiments with cargo aboard Maple Leaf went on to face heavy losses throughout the war. In the coming months those cherished items would have brought great comfort throughout the cruel marches and battles.

Click the image to learn more about the regiments with baggage on board Maple Leaf.

“Nothing unusual occurred till 4 o’clock in the morning of April 1st. At that hour I was in bed and asleep but was awakened by a tremendous crash, and heavy report. The saloon filled with a sickening stench, the timbers breaking in the great tumult. I sprang out and in two minutes the water was over the floor of the saloon… all I can say of the course of the disaster, is that it must have been a torpedo.”

-- Captain Henry W. Dale, Testimony for the Army Report on the Loss of Maple Leaf

Though no artist’s renditions of the explosion of Maple Leaf exists, this image of the USS Commodore Barney as it was damaged by a torpedo on the St. James River in 1863 gives a close approximation.

Union Soldiers examining a Confederate torpedo.

Artist’s rendition of a steamboat captured off the St. Johns during the Civil War.

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Who Done It

This image, printed in Harper’s Weekly in June, 1863, depicts a vessel of the Confederate Torpedo Bureau as its crew sinks naval mines in Charleston Harbor.


Captain Pliny Bryan of the Confederate Torpedo Bureau set 12 mines in the St. Johns River only 48 hours before Maple Leaf exploded. He returned to the scene two days later and burned what was left of the wreck to the waterline. Three weeks later, the ship General Hunter, was sunk by one of the same group of mines.

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Click the image to see the full original Letter to Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs describing the loss of Maple Leaf.


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One Soldier of the 112th New York Volunteers, whose loss was mercifully small, wrote home:


“…all the baggage [was] lost. All the co. books of the regt & all of the officers clothing was lost. The 13 Ind sutler lost all his goods & 2000 dollars in money. All the tents for the brigade were lost. The most of my loss was a dress coat. Fortunately for Jim & I the express box which you sent come on the boat & was taken off here so that we are all right.”

-- Cpl. Robert L. Coe, Letter Home, 3 April 1864.

Public Opinion

When Maple Leaf sank, public opinion, led by the New York Times, tilted against continued Union efforts near Palatka. After two more sinkings in the area, the Times concluded:


“The Harriet A. Weed now makes the third vessel that has been destroyed on the St. Johns River within a few weeks by means of torpedoes… It would be a wise movement to abandon Jacksonville and place the troops where they would be of more service.”


But the Union Army was determined not to concede Palatka. Soon the Army began fitting the bows of their ships with “torpedo catchers,” which cut the torpedoes from their moorings, allowing them to float to the surface where they could be harmlessly detonated by rifle fire. After this, no other ships were lost to torpedoes along the St. Johns.

1 April 1864, 4 AM. 12 miles south of Jacksonville. The moonlit night was still and radiant as the Pilot Romeo Murray steered Maple Leaf through the narrow pass at Mandarin Point on the St. Johns River. Without warning, a submerged Confederate mine ripped a hole 30 feet long near the keel. A thunderous explosion cracked through the ship, two firemen and two deckhands sleeping on deck were killed instantly. Thrown into a ceaseless scream, the ship’s steam whistle threatened to rouse any Confederate soldier lurking within miles. Water gushed in as the stench of burned mercury and gunpowder choked the air. Passengers scrambled for their personal belongings. Within two minutes, the ship sank 24 feet down to the muddy banks of the river, leaving only the uppermost deck above water. Passengers and crew raced to the life rafts, leaving four Confederate prisoners on board as they rowed up river towards Jacksonville.

PRECIOUS CARGO:

SOLDIER'S BELONGINGS

A Soldier’s pair of sunglasses.

Porcelain canister for commercial shaving soap.

Trade tokens such as these were used as small change during the Civil War.

Hard rubber Soldier’s comb made by the Goodyear Rubber Company.

This wood-handled toothbrush has lost its bristles, which would have been made of hog bristles. Other toothbrush handles recovered were made of bone and hard rubber.

A pair of scissors.

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Everyday Use

This picture shows how Officers might have used Maple Leaf artifacts in their leisure time at a winter camp. Note the candle and candlestick holder, the checkerboard on the wall, the field desk to organize papers, the pipe, containers for various liquors, and the extensive collection of musical instruments. Examples of all of these items can be found on the following pages.

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The Ambrotype

Numerous cased photographs were found among the Soldier’s personal possessions on Maple Leaf. The identity of the woman in this ambrotype is lost. What did it mean to the Soldier? Did the woman in the image ever see her beloved brother, husband, father or son again?

S ome Soldier’s belongings on board Maple Leaf were found in wooden boxes with the owner’s name and regiment painted on the lid. Inside, Soldiers kept small treasures and comforts such as tobacco and letters from home, along with necessities like socks, sewing kits and personal hygiene items. How items were placed within these boxes reveals what Soldiers valued. In one instance, two shoes were stored in a crate with many other items. Hidden in the toe of one shoe was a small hand carved box with an intricate sliding top. Inside, carefully protected, was a gilded cuff button from an Ohio regiment, but the owner of that box was from the 112th New York. Some historians speculate that the button in the box might have belonged to a fallen comrade or kept as a treasured souvenir.



The bulk of boxes so far recovered from Maple Leaf were probably owned by enlisted men. Many were repurposed hardtack and ammunition crates, generally labeled with the Soldier’s name and regiment.

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PRECIOUS CARGO:

OFFICER'S BELONGINGS &WEAPONRY

Weaponry Found On Maple Leaf
 

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This gilt brass sword hilt with a floral pattern guard is part of an 1850 Foot Officer’s sword. Infantry Officers from the rank of 2d Lieutenant to Captain carried this sword.

The Minié ball was a new type of rifle bullet issued shortly before the Civil War made of soft lead. Spinning as it flew, it provided greater accuracy and a longer range than previous round ball muskets, and consequently did a great deal more damage.


Colt’s pistol powder flask. This commercial brass powder flask, with a self-measuring spout, was used to load a Colt revolver when cartridges were not available. It was probably the personal property of an officer.

The main-spring vice [center] was used to ease tension on the rifle lock’s main spring to allow the mechanism to be disassembled for repair.

First issued in 1840, this brass-tipped bayonet scabbard was worn on the Soldier’s waist belt and carried a triangular socket bayonet.


This German-made self purchased presentation sword, based on the 1850 regulation foot officer’s sword, belonged to Lieut. William Potter of the 112th New York Volunteer Infantry. All the Soldiers in his company probably would have pitched in to buy LT Potter this sword.

Enfield rifle musket barrel and stock. The .58 caliber rifle musket was the standard long arm carried by the men of Foster’s Brigade. Only a few were recovered from Maple Leaf.

PRECIOUS CARGO:

CAMP EQUIPAGE

To date, over one ton of materials have been retrieved from the cargo hold of Maple Leaf.

Click the images above to learn more.

Camp Lighting

Firelight and Army-issue candles lit the evenings of the Civil War Soldier. Candleholders were heavy luxuries that Soldiers didn’t want to carry in their knapsacks. Officers had limited access to oil and kerosene lamps, but also relied heavily on candles.

Unidentified camp, Morris Island, SC. Every tent would have contained personal belongings that needed transport. Also pictured here in the background is side-wheeler Mary Benton, which also operated on the St. Johns River and was of a similar configuration to Maple Leaf.

Divers found examples of Civil War camp equipment aboard Maple Leaf rarely seen today.


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R egimental baggage on Maple Leaf was packed between stacks of boxes containing Soldier’s personal possessions in the ship’s two cargo holds. Divers found a wide assortment of camp equipment rarely seen today such as tent poles and pins; camp stoves with expandable chimneys; and field desks used by senior Officers and Adjutants to keep unit records and correspondence.

PRECIOUS CARGO: ENTERTAINMENT, MEDICAL SUPPLIES, STORES AND LOOT

Transferware dinner plate

Transferware pottery plate

Pearlware tea saucer

Yellow ware plate

Blue shell-edged pearlware plate

Glass mug and tumblers

Rockingham ware mug

Rockingham ware pitcher

White glass water goblet

Sutlers Stores


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A sutler was a civilian merchant licensed to sell provisions to a regiment in the field, in camp, or in quarters. Usually, the sutler sold wares from the back of a wagon or a tent, allowing him to travel along with the Army or go to remote military posts. There were at least three sutlers attached to the troops transported by Maple Leaf. Canned food, delicacies, tobacco, ginger, bitters, and patent medicines were just a few of the amenities they would have supplied to the Soldiers.


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Entertainment

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Items found aboard the Maple Leaf included examples of the Soldiers' skills in woodcarving and small comforts, such as game pieces and tobacco accessories.

Medical Supplies

Few examples of such ceramic bowls exist, making it difficult to know exactly what this was used for. Possibly a resting place for something wet that required drainage.

DISCOVERING AND CONSERVING Maple Leaf

“The muddy river bottom in the St. Johns River is made up of so much decomposed organic material that oxygen is excluded from the sediment.”

-- Keith Holland, discoverer of Maple Leaf

“The excitement of having found the Maple Leaf, sealed and untouched for more than a century, also brought a sense of depression. There was a fear that it was buried far beyond our reach. Obviously, an awesome amount of time, effort, and money would have to go into this project before even one item could be recovered. Yet the possible discovery of an entire ship full of material was a challenge we could not ignore.”

-- Keith Holland, SJAEI

Surface-supplied diving equipment allowed divers to communicate with the support crew, and navigate through these inhospitable waters.

“Huge iron portions of the wreck jutted out of the muddy bottom [of the river]. Our metal detector was caught on an old shrimp net that had become entangled on the Maple Leaf remains years earlier.”

-- Keith Holland, SJAEI

T he St. Johns River at Mandarin Point remained virtually unchanged in the century and a half since the Civil War, making it an ideal site for the preservation of the wreck. In June 1984, St. Johns Archeological Expeditions Inc. (SJAEI), led by Keith Holland, examined an 1800s river chart and a contemporary high altitude infrared photo of Mandarin Point from the U.S. Department of agriculture. By superimposing the two charts, they were able to find the location of Maple Leaf. They then used trigonometry to determine mathematical range values for the location of the wreck relative to contemporary landmarks. Using a sextant to navigate, they dragged a large metal detector behind their boat, back and forth across the appropriate points of the river. On the fourth day of their search, they located the ship.

It took another four years before Holland’s team could secure the legal rights and financial backing to undertake their first efforts to recover the cargo of Maple Leaf. After years of legal deliberations, it was determined that the site of the wreckage was owned by the Department of the Army and the General Services Administration, but that St. Johns Archeological Expeditions Inc., the United States government, and the State of Florida would share the recovered materials.

Table of Contents

Union Soldiers prepare food.

By controlling access to the St. Johns River, the Union could launch raids into the Confederate territory; protect and recruit blacks and Union sympathizers; and control the northeastern part of the state, making it more difficult for the Rebels to transport essential supplies to the rest of the Confederacy.

Confederate soldiers preparing for a meal at their camp in Pensacola, FL 1861.


Cpt. James A. Colvin was 24 years old at the time of his enlistment. He served three years with the 169th New York Volunteer Infantry. By the end of the Civil War he had been promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, he then continued his service in the Spanish-American war.

Capt. Daniel Ferguson was 33 years old at the time of his enlistment. He served three years with the 169th and was wounded at Cold Harbor, VA in 1864, then killed at Fort Fisher, NC in 1865.


Pvt. Hiram Morse, 38 years old at the time of his enlistment. He served three years in the 112th New York Volunteer Infantry.

Pvt. Charles R. Low was 18 years old when he enlisted with the 112th New York Volunteer Infantry, in which he served for three years.

Pvt. John Oaks was 21 years old at the time of his enlistment. He served three years in the 112th New York Volunteer Infantry and was wounded at Cold Harbor in 1864.

2d Lt. Clarence A. Crane was 22 years old at the time of his enlistment. He served three years in the 112th New York Volunteer Infantry.

Maj. Gen. Robert S. Foster had enlisted as a Private but eventually went on to command the 1st Brigade, X Corps in South Carolina and Florida. He transferred to the 13th Indiana in 1862, served with distinction until 1865.

Lt. Col. Cyrus Dobbs volunteered for the 13th Indiana in 1861. He was promoted to Colonel after aiding in the defeat of General Longstreet at Deserted House in 1863.

1st Sgt. Elisha Weakley was 23 years old when he enlisted in the 16th Indiana in August 1861. In 1863 he re-enlisted in the 13th Indiana Cavalry.

What's At Stake?

The artifacts recovered from the wreck of Maple Leaf illuminate the day-to-day life of perhaps 3,000 men who left their homes in the farms, towns and villages of New York, Illinois and Indiana to preserve the union of the United States of America. During their service, these men faced the loss of friends, their health, and even their lives. They endured disease and discomfort almost impossible to imagine by today’s standards. The stories of these Soldiers, told through personal possessions and objects they carried throughout the Civil War, were entombed for 120 years in Maple Leaf. Through exploring the historic discovery of Maple Leaf and its cargo, we can come closer to understanding the lives of these Soldiers whose stories otherwise would be lost.

Soldiers stand in formation, rifles clearly visible while others can be seen standing or seated throughout the encampment of this unknown New York infantry regiment.

These Soldiers digging a trench at Morris Island off the coast of South Carolina are protected by a drum-shaped wicker “sap roller.” The 112th and 169th were both stationed on the coastal islands before being shipped to Florida.

Wounded Soldiers are tended in the field near Fredericksburg, VA in 1864.

By November 1861, all Soldiers were issued a waterproof blanket by regulation in addition to a regular woolen one. Soldiers referred to them as “gum blankets.” These items were so valued that Confederate soldiers would recover them from the battlefield or appropriate them from Union prisoners when they could. Soldiers sometimes personalized the cloth lining of their gum blankets or ponchos with checker or other game boards.

Tools for letter writing and military correspondence were found throughout Maple Leaf’s cargo. Some of these included the blue glass commercial ink bottle, wooden traveler’s ink well, pencils and candle holders shown above.

Field tents were an important part of a regiment’s baggage. While none of the canvas has survived, tent poles, pins and slips made of wood were recovered from Maple Leaf and can provide clues about the types of tents used. The pins were issued in 1 notch or 2 notch designs with differing lengths, depending upon the type of tent. Most of the examples recovered were made for the enlisted men’s common shelter tent, though one double notch example for an Officer’s wall tent or a hospital tent was also recovered. Design of Army tent pins changed little, with identical designs issued all the way through World War II.

Bulk mess equipment found aboard the Maple Leaf was packed in crates and boxes. This included mess pans, ladles, frying pans and coffee pots, all of which were necessary for preparing meals in camp.

This tableware probably belonged to an officer. Officers generally provided their own table service including serving dishes, eating utensils, plates and cups.

Many soldiers purchased patent water filters, such as this one shown with an 1858 pattern canteen. Most of those recovered from Maple Leaf used charcoal as the filtering agent.

Mess Equipage

Some of the Soldier's most valuable baggage had to do with the preparation of their meals. Unlike today’s Army, Civil War Soldiers had to cook their own rations, and most of them had very little practice, since at that time women usually did the cooking. Soldiers received regular rations, usually green coffee beans, flour, salted or fresh meat, dried beans, rice, and vegetables when they were available, but then they had to fend for themselves. Soldiers often pooled their rations and cooked and dined as “messes,” frequently adding foraged foodstuffs to their menu. If they had the money, Soldiers could supplement their rations by purchasing goods from camp merchants called sutlers. Or sometimes, lucky Soldiers would receive packages from loved ones filled with jam, fruit, and other luxuries.

Soldiers used aromatic bitters, in the words of one manufacturer, as a “positive protective against the fatal maladies of the Southern swamps, and the poisonous tendency of the impure rivers and bayous.” The high alcohol content in bitters, up to 94 proof, made them a highly popular remedy for many common ailments.

Made from the primary ingredient in the absinth, Boston based Dunbary & Company’s wormwood cordial was sold as a cure for stomach ailments and prevention of melancholy.

Extracts of smartweed, a peppery plant of the buckwheat family, can be used to season food but also has many medicinal properties. It was often used as a diuretic, to reduce hemorrhoids, or to treat intestinal disorders. Depending on the maker, it may also have contained opium.

This bottle contained dehydrated eggnog made by the American Desiccating Co. of New York. The bottle was recovered from a box containing personal effects of four soldiers of the 13th Indiana Volunteers. The American Desiccating Co. provided its eggnog free of charge to the U.S. Sanitary Commission and sold “Coffee Extract,” an early form of instant coffee, to the Army.

Beginning in 1846, Utica, New York pharmacist Theron T. Pond produced a healing ointment known as “Pond’s Extract” made from witch hazel and other ingredients. Ponds toiletries are still sold around the world today.

Carved wooden pipe bowls and hard rubber cigar holder.

Molded composition checkers and home-made wooden dominos.

This hand carved bible shows close attention to detail. It may have been a faith inspired novelty carved by a gifted Soldier-woodcarver.


Bottle. Most likely for holding prepared drugs and chemicals.


Several containers of friction matches were found aboard Maple Leaf. These wooden block matches, now damaged, still bear traces of their phosphorus burning compound on the tips.


Ceramic mortar and pestle combinations were used to crush ingredients when compounding medicines.


A glass vessel with a lip (probably a drinking vessel). Most medicines at the time came in powder form and had to be mixed with water and drunk.


This white earthenware lidded jar probably contained medicinal ointment.


This glass bottle with a cork probably contained an anesthetic or disinfectant of some kind, which could have been anything from morphine to pepper.