Diary, written by Edward L. Williams, recounting his time on the USS
Alaska under the command of Captain Samuel “Powhatan” Carter, and under the direct supervision of Captain W.R. Brown. The Diary contains daily entries spanning the time from 5 December 1874 to 17 May 1875. During the majority of the timeframe, the USS
Alaska was at port in La Spezia, Italy, having repairs done on its boilers and did not depart port until 11 May 1875 (according to the diary entries), just before the end of his 220 page diary. The entries of the diary consist mainly of daily updates consisting of the weather, his daily duties, and most interestingly, highlights of the misbehavior and offenses of his fellow shipmates while aboard or in port.
Included in his descriptions are daily weather updates such as cold and rainy winters off the coast of La Spezia, Italy, including February snow, or bright and pleasant days as he often mentions during the summer months. Each entry starts with a report of the weather, although most days seem to be dreary according to Williams.
Also included in the majority of his entries are descriptions of shipmates being put in the ship’s brig as punishment for disobedience, and even the occasional court martial. Some offenses mentioned are smuggling liquor on board, drunken behavior, and fights. In addition to punishment, he discusses, at great length, the desertion of sailors during their “liberty” on port, and the punishment of those sailors after being found. He is particularly fond of mentioning a few individuals, “Springer” and “Mulligans,” among others, whom he calls specifically by name for this and many other offenses such as stealing. Along the same lines, he also discusses the prisoners’ punishment when brought on board.
Another major aspect he pays special attention to is onboard ship life and daily duties for himself and some of his onboard companions. Duties include tasks such as scrubbing hammocks, shining decks, and keeping the galley clear from sailors “loafing around,” waiting for supplies such as tobacco or the mail service to arrive. Additionally, he mentions his experiences with civilian workers such as the cleaning and laundry woman, a shoemaker at port, and a blacksmith, or the church sermons from the onboard pastor. While not working, Williams mentions onboard entertainment including a performance that was put on by several shipmates while in port, and being allowed liberty at port or leave for travel. At times, he also mentions the progress on the repairs of the boilers, and the damage to the rudders, though these updates are few and far between.
On a few instances, he casually mentions sailors that were sick, injured, or have even died during service such as one man, “Ryan,” that fell ill onboard and later died in a hospital at port while docked in La Spezia, Italy, or even his own illnesses, such as a seemingly reoccurring winter cold he had.
Additionally, Williams occasionally writes about sending or receiving a letter from his girlfriend, “M.E.B.,” or his family back home.
For more information on the daily life aboard the USS
Alaska, see related collection:
Allen W. Bronson Collection (COLL/3068), Archives and Special Collections, Gray Research Center, Library of the Marine Corps, Quantico, VA.
Collection digitized at: Flickr. “Allen W. Bronson Collection.” Accessed October 25, 2013.