Single sheet, folded in half with integral address, postmarked. 32 cm. 3pp. of text, over 800 words in a legible hand. Sepia ink, old fold lines, one small hole affecting a word or two at a fold, old cello tape marks (tape since removed) along a few of the folds. Letter encapsulated.
Benjamin Franklin Isherwood (1822-1915), was an engineering officer in the United States Navy during the early days of steam-powered warships. He was one of the first group of appointees to the newly established Engineer Corps of the U.S. Navy in 1844, becoming a first assistant engineer. He served as a ship's engineer during the Mexican American War, first aboard the "Princeton," then aboard the "Spitfire."
In this letter to his mother Mrs. Eliza Green (then married to her second husband), the 24-year old Isherwood notes that Commodore Connor has been superceded in the command of the Squadron by Commodore Perry and sends his letter on the ship taking Connor home. While serving as senior engineer of the gunboat Spitfire, he describes what is it like aboard his ship, war news, and "future operations against the castle" at Vera Cruz. His language is colorful and very descriptive and detailed. "Our Captain is a regular fire eater and when the vessel was struck he inquired eagerly if anyone was hurt, and when he found out all were safe, he seemed much disappointed saying God damn it! won't somebody get killed. He wants to lose half his men so as to get more glory by showing he had been in danger. I expect every minute to go into battle again...We have nothing but rumors of attacks & stormings to be made on various places: but I believe there will be but little damage done. The Mississippi has got back here. We are in the greatest straight (sic) for clean clothes & fresh provisions." He explains his use of the reddish colored ink in his letter: "You see we have grown so warlike as to write our letters in red ink."
The Battle of Veracruz was a 20-day siege of the key Mexican beachhead seaport of Veracruz, during the Mexican American War. Lasting from March 9 to 29, 1847, it began with the first large-scale amphibious assault conducted by United States military forces, and ended with the surrender and occupation of the city. U.S. forces then marched inland to Mexico City. Item #63793
Isherwood was born in New York City to Benjamin and Eliza (Hicks) Isherwood. He apprenticed in the mechanical department of the Utica & Schenectady Railroad at an early age, under the direction of David Matthews, a master mechanic. Thereafter he worked for his step-father John Green, a civil engineer on the construction of the Croton Aqueduct, and then on the Erie Railroad for Charles B. Stuart, who later became engineer-in-chief of the navy. Just before entering the navy himself, Isherwood worked on lighthouses for the U.S. Treasury, developing a new design for lighthouse lenses.
Isherwood's experiences during the Mexican American War served to further his career in the field of mechanical and steam engineering. From 1852-53 he was stationed at the Navy Yard in Washington DC. There he designed and developed paddle-wheels for the "Water Witch," then spent four years as chief engineer on the "San Jacinto" off the coast of Africa and in the East Indies. Upon his return to the U.S. Isherwood published a two volume work on the distribution of power in steam vessels, "Engineering Precedents," in 1859. Then in 1863 and 1865 he published his major work, "Experimental Researches in Steam Engineering." The work became the standard engineering text for university courses. During the Civil War, as engineer-in-chief of the navy, he led the expansion of steam navy vessels from a small force to upwards of 600 ships. He retired from the navy in 1884, and died in New York City in 1915. The steam engineering building on the grounds of the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland is named for him. [see his biography in the DAB].