Friday, February 24, 2012

Archives: Pray Journal

Pray Journal
Personal papers
No finding aid, unrestricted, scanned, transcribed.

Surgeon Ezra Pray's Journal aboard US Bark Fernandina, 1861-1862. Donor
provided historical background about Dr. Pray, and a transcription of
the journal, as well as a CD with these documents and the scans of the
journal's pages.

The Naval Historical Foundation's background notes, ""With his
appointment effective 21 October 1861, Pray was designated an "acting
assistant surgeon" and ordered to report to the U.S. Bark Fernandina in
New York City, where he arrived a week before that ship was commissioned
on 16 November 1861. This wooden sailing vessel had started commercial
life as the Florida, built in New Jersey in 1858, with an overall length
115 feet, beam 29 feet, draft 10 feet, and displacement of 297 tons.
Purchased by the Navy on 29 July 1861 for $14,000 and renamed Fernandina
(a town in Florida), she was refitted for naval service, sailed with a
complement of 86 men, and was armed with six 32-pounder muzzle loading
cannon. She was commanded by Acting Volunteer Lieutenant George W.
Browne, who was coming to this assignment with limited previous naval
experience in the young Civil War.

Pray's 154-page journal begins with his application for appointment in
September and his service in Fernandina from November through 18 April
1862; however, he actually began to write his account in late January
through early February 1862, using the ship's official logbook to remind
himself of the key events of his first few months on board. Thus the
journal begins retrospectively until going "live" in February.

Sailing from New York City on 27 November 1861 for duty with the North
Atlantic Blockading Squadron, Pray and his ship arrived on station off
Wilmington, NC on 14 December (after stopping off in Hampton Roads,
Virginia briefly to receive orders from the squadron commodore). Pray
described the experience of going to sea for the first time from his
landlubber's perspective, including observations about the sea, the
ship, and his sea-sickness.

The first few months revealed the monotony of blockade duty, punctuated
with occasional threats not so much from rebel forces but more from the
rough winter weather at sea and the ever-present danger of running
aground on the lee-shore and shoals of the "Graveyard of the Atlantic"
coast. While Pray was a conscientious doctor who looked after his
shipmates with compassion and professionalism, he was clearly hoping for
the excitement of combat and the opportunity to share in prize money for
capturing blockade runners. Christmas day, 1861, brought Fernandina's
first success in this area, as she took blockade runner William H.
Northrop as a prize with a cargo of drugs and coffee.

Within the first few weeks of his five month service in the bark, Pray
began to clash with his commanding officer, Lieutenant Browne. As he
became more familiar with Navy life, Pray came to the conclusion that
Browne was a martinet, incompetent to command, and incapable of keeping
his crew safe and motivated to accomplish their wartime mission."

When Browne shot a sailor in April 1862, the ship was recalled for a
court of inquiry which disrated Browne in May.

"Having filled up all available pages, Pray concluded his journal by
announcing his intention of sending it home for the benefit of friends
and family. Reassigned in June 1862 to the US steamer Cambridge, Dr.
Pray continued his medical service in that and several other Union
warships until his honorable discharge on 1 March 1866.

Pray married Martha J. Hanson of Somersworth, NH on 16 Aug 1865 and
they had two sons. Pray, having returned at some point to farming,
received a pension for his military service, as did his widow some years
later. Fracturing his femur in a fall on ice, Pray died 4 Apr 1918, age
86, at Rochester, NH."

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