Capture of USS Harriet Lane

 Capture of USS Harriet Lane
The drawing was painstakingly removed from the acidic backing board and placed in a solution of chemicals to remove the dark spots. It was then fumigated to remove any traces of fungus. The drawing was pressed and re-mounted to a conservation-quality archival board.

During the month of January, Rosenberg Library exhibited an original Civil War-era drawing by Galveston resident George W. Grover. Grover was an eyewitness to the capture of USS Harriet Lane during the Battle of Galveston on January 1, 1863. He observed the military event from a lookout tower on 21st Street and The Strand and created a rendering of it the following day.

In 1927, this pen-and-ink sketch was placed on loan to the Rosenberg Library by the artist’s son, Walter Grover; it was later donated for the permanent collection. Now 152 years old, the historic drawing underwent an extensive and painstaking conservation in 2013 as part of Rosenberg Library’s ongoing art preservation program.

About the Artist

George Washington Grover was born in Sackets Harbor, New York in 1819. His family later moved to Cincinnati, and in 1840 came to Texas. They established a farm a few miles from the present-day city of Austin. The following year, 22-year-old George Grover joined the ill-fated Texan Santa Fe expedition. The purpose of this group was to establish a line of trade between Texas and Santa Fe, New Mexico. However, these men were taken prisoner by Mexican officials and placed in a Mexico City jail. They remained there until 1842 when their release was successfully negotiated by the U.S. government.

After travelling to California during an unsuccessful quest for gold in the late 1840s, Grover finally settled in Galveston. He opened a business and later became an alderman for the Galveston city council. Grover narrowly escaped death while onboard the steamship Louisiana which caught fire off the coast of Galveston in 1857. More than forty lives were lost during this tragic event. Grover managed to escape the burning vessel and washed ashore on the west end of the island. He later credited a guardian angel for keeping him out of harm’s way.

His disabled left hand prevented Grover from military service during the Civil War. When the mayor and remaining aldermen left Galveston during the war, Grover chose to remain and assume mayoral duties.

Harriet Lane and the Battle of Galveston

Built in 1857, United States Revenue Cutter Harriet Lane was named for the niece of President James Buchanan who acted as First Lady for the unmarried head of state. Originally a revenue cutter for the U.S Treasury Department, the formidable steamer later became part of the federal naval squadron during the Civil War.

On October 4, 1862, Harriet Lane and several other Union steamships commanded by William B. Renshaw blockaded the port of Galveston and placed the island under federal control. Three months later — on New Year’s Day, 1863 — Confederate Major General John B. Magruder led a surprise attack against federal troops from both land and sea. During the battle, Harriet Lanewas struck and damaged by the Confederate vessel Bayou City. Members of the Bayou City’s crew boarded Harriet Lane and engaged in hand-to-hand combat on deck the vessel. This skirmish resulted in the deaths of five members of Harriet Lane’s crew, including her captain and executive officer. The remaining officers and crew surrendered and were taken prisoner.

At the conclusion of the battle, 26 Confederate soldiers had been killed. Casualties for the Union totaled 150. The island remained under Confederate control until the end of the Civil War.

George Grover and the Lea Family

One of an untold number of family tragedies to occur during the Civil War took place during the capture of Harriet Lane. Lt. Edward Lea, second-in-command on the captured Union ship, was shot and mortally wounded on deck. His father, Major Albert Lea, was stationed in Galveston with Confederate troops. The war had created a deep rift between this father and son, with one maintaining a strong loyalty to his native South and the other regarding Confederate sympathizers to be traitors against the United States government. When Major Lea learned of the events that had unfolded onboard Harriet Lane, he was encouraged by Confederate General John B. Magruder to go to his son’s aide, despite his alliance with the enemy. Lt. Lea found great comfort in his father’s presence as he lay dying, and his final words — which are inscribed on his gravestone at Galveston’s Episcopal Cemetery — were “My father is here.”

It was George Grover who arranged for the burial of Lt. Edward Lea as well as Union Captain J. M. Wainwright in Galveston after the battle. Though this decision was met with criticism from his fellow Confederates, Grover felt that the two men were deserving of a proper military burial and even donated space in his family’s own plot. Lea remained buried in Galveston, but Wainwright’s family later had his body reinterred at the Naval Cemetery in Annapolis, Maryland.

The Fate of Harriet Lane

After damages incurred during the Battle of Galveston were repaired, Harriet Lane was placed in the command of Confederate Captain Thomas C. Saunders. She was converted into a blockade runner named Lavinia. After the Civil War, the vessel was reconfigured yet again as an unarmed bark rig and renamed Elliot Ritchie. Though she operated out of Philadelphia, the former Harriet Lane visited Galveston in 1872. Despite being nearly unrecognizable from the time of her capture 9 years earlier, hundreds of curious Galvestonians came to tour her decks while she deposited a cargo of lumber at Kuhn’s Wharf. The vessel met her final end when she was abandoned at sea in May 1884.

 Capture of USS Harriet Lane
The 150-year-old drawing had extensive discoloration from foxing. “Foxing” is a term used to describe the reddish-brown spots that often appear on historic paper. These spots can be caused by fungal growth on the paper or by the oxidation of metallic substances in the pulp from which the paper was made. More than 80% of the upper portion of the sketch was covered with foxing and original details were no longer visible. The adhesive which was used to mount the drawing to an acidic board had also left yellow stains on the paper.
 Capture of USS Harriet Lane
The drawing was painstakingly removed from the acidic backing board and placed in a solution of chemicals to remove the dark spots. It was then fumigated to remove any traces of fungus. The drawing was pressed and re-mounted to a conservation-quality archival board.

Past Treasures