Mexican War

Mexican War and Civil War service record of John Southwick: U.S. Navy carpenter, engineer, artillery officer, ship designer, and artist

Mexican War and Civil War service record of John Southwick: U.S. Navy carpenter, engineer, artillery officer, ship designer, and artist

9pp AM inscribed overall in secretarial script recounting the military service record of John Southwick (c. 1811?-1874?). Docketed "Service Record of - Carpenter - John Southwick, U.S. Navy" on back of last page. Cream legal-sized paper sheets, blue-lined and college ruled. In very good to near fine condition, with overall toning and paper folds. Expected wear includes scattered chipped edges and a few tears or minor loss. 8 of 9 pages are secured at top by a metal brad; the first page has ripped off but is included. The pages measure 8.5" x 13.5."

This service record, entitled "Memorandum of a part of Mr. John Southwick's services, during the war with Mexico, on the Californian coast, and also during the Rebellion - the fitting of naval ships &c. +c.," probably dates from around 1873, when a law was passed enforcing a mandatory retirement age for service members. "… the Act of March 3d 1873 'wholly retiring all officers, who had attained the age of sixty-two years' - by which the law his [Southwick's connection with the U.S. Navy, was severed, after almost half a century (forty seven years) had been devoted by him [Southwick to the service of his country."

John Southwick began his naval career in a Charlestown, Massachusetts Navy Yard. He was commissioned as a warrant officer in 1826; this rank, below non-commissioned officers but above sailors, included skilled tradesmen like carpenters, boatswains, gunners, coopers, and sailmakers. Southwick participated in various cruises throughout the 1830s and 1840s. The competence, creativity, and work ethic that Southwick would later demonstrate during the Mexican War was already apparent. Towards the end of this period, Southwick also served as a ship design consultant to the U.S. Navy, suggesting many safety and performance improvements.

The bulk of our service record concerns the next period of Southwick's career during the Mexican War (1846-1848). Southwick, then serving as Carpenter aboard the 44-gun U.S.S. frigate Congress showed considerable initiative during the Conquest of California, where he also served as Acting Chief Engineer, artillery officer, and master strategist.

The service record recounts, "… after the Navy on the coast of California had captured the towns and harbors of San Francisco, Monterey, Santa Barbara, San Pedro, and San Diego … an Expedition was organized at San Pedro, composed of Three hundred and sixty men from the Frigate 'Congress' armed with ninety muskets, a few carbines, pistols, pikes and swords … He [Southwick proposed the taking of some guns from the merchant vessels in the port, wheels from the merchants' carts on shore to make gun-carriages … the result was the capture of the seven pieces of superior artillery and ammunition … It was acknowledged that the getting up of the artillery saved the Expedition from defeat."


"Commodore Stockton commended this Expedition (after censuring others, for not landing) in his 'General Order' dated October 28th 1846. Mr. S. after building forts, block houses, barracks, harnesses +c. +c. as Enumerated above, went with the Expedition to the capture of Los Angelos [sic, and was engaged in the battles at the Rio San Gabriel, on the 8th of January 1847 - the plains of the Mesa on the 9th and the capture of the Capital on the 10th."

"Mr. S. was with the landing party, in charge of a boat and gun, at the bombardment and capture of Guymas [sic, Mexico and also in charge at the blowing up and destruction of the forts. He was with the landing party, at the taking of Mazatlan, and had charge of fortifying the Quartel, building the floating-battery and 'Fort Congress' (the most significant and responsible one in Mazatlan) which he had charge of, for five months, until peace was declared with Mexico."

Commodore Robert F. Stockton (1795-1866) assumed command of the U.S. Navy Pacific Squadron in July 1846. American naval forces attacked Alta California, as the extreme northwest province of New Spain was then known, oustered Mexican forces, and occupied its major cities. Southwick built his ersatz gun-carriages at the Battle of San Pedro (October 26-28, 1846). Commodore Stockton's October 28, 1846 General Orders did indeed commend "the determined courage with which the officers, sailors, and marines landed (in despite of the false alarm as to the enemy's force) and again hoisted the American standard at San Pedro."

Encouraged by their recapture of Los Angeles in September 1846 and the October 1846 engagement at San Pedro, John Southwick and Commodore Stockton's forces participated in the Battles of Rio San Gabriel (January 8, 1847) and La Mesa (January 9, 1847). Stockton's Squadron safeguarded their Californian gains nine months later at the Battles of Guaymas (October 19-20, 1847) and Mazatlan (November 11, 1847). John Southwick was also probably the artist of many Mexican War battle scenes and scenic overlooks, like the ones published in Volume 1, Gleason's Pictorial Drawing-room Companion (1851). An example can be found attached.

John Southwick lobbied for a promotion following his Mexican War service, but in some ways his warrant officer status as a carpenter served as a handicap. Southwick was assigned to Boston Station, where he maintained, inspected, and appraised naval vessels leading up to the Civil War.

The service record recounts: "During the late Rebellion, he was Employed inspecting, building, and fitting out vessels, torpedo boats &c, on the Boston Station, outside the Navy Yard. He reported against selling the prize steamer 'Cherokee' … Mr. Southwick fitted her as a Man-of-War, and she proved to be one of the fasted and best vessels in the service … The money interest on the value of the prizes captured by the 'Cherokee' in one year (after deducting the sum paid for her) amounted to more than the Entire salary received by Mr. Southwick during Forty six years [sic service!"

An incredible account of the Mexican War!

Ex-William Burger


Item: 63999

Price: $3,000.00
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Mexican War
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