1862: Samuel Foster Quimby to Cousin William

This letter was written by Asst. Surgeon Samuel Foster Quimby (1840-1903) while served aboard the USS Wamsutta in the summer of 1862 as part of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron (SABS). Samuel was the son of Elisha Quimby (1799-1851) and Mary Flint (1804-1896) of Salem, Essex county, Massachusetts.

A comprehensive autobiographical sketch by Dr. Quimby appears in the footnotes. It was written not long after the completion of her service aboard the USS Wamsutta, which appears to have been his only military service. Dr. Quimby returned to Salem and practiced medicine for forty years and was on the staff of the Salem Hospital.

The USS Wamsutta was a 270-ton steam/sail vessel built in 1853 in Hoboken, New Jersey. She was purchased by the Navy in September 1861 and commissioned with a crew of 75 men and 5 guns in March 1862. She was assigned to the SABS and arrived in Port Royal harbor on 14 April 1862. The next day, she received orders to report to Comdr. Edmund Lanier, in Alabama, for blockade and reconnaissance duty in St. Simon’s Sound, GA. On 27 April, while on an expedition to destroy a brig believed to be near Dorchester, GA, Wamsutta and Potomska engaged a company of dismounted Confederate cavalry on Woodville Island in the Riceboro River. The battle lasted 40 minutes. Wamsutta suffered two casualties and received superficial damage to her port side. On 8 May, again accompanied by Potomska, Wamsutta proceeded to Darien, GA., to capture stored lighthouse machinery. However, a search of the town on the 9th found nothing, and the two gunboats withdrew that evening. Wamsutta remained off Darien, blockading Doboy Sound, GA. On 4 August 1862, Wamsutta departed Doboy Sound to blockade St. Catherine’s Sound, GA. There, she and Braziliera captured the schooner Defiance on 19 September. On 8 November, a broken air pump forced Wamsutta to Port Royal for repairs. Ultimately, she proceeded to the New York Navy Yard where she was decommissioned on 3 December 1862.

Near the end of his letter, Quimby mentions the USS Planter which was the Charleston steamer taken over by the slave named Robert Smalls who steered it past the Confederate defenses and surrendered it to the Union Navy forces in May 1862, must to the embarrassment of the Confederacy.

Harper’s Weekly story about Robert Smalls and the Steamer Planter


U.S. Steamer “Wamsutta” 
Doboy Sound
August 17, 1862

Dear Cousin Wm.,

Today I was made the delighted mortal in the receipt of a fine letter from you quite unexpectedly indeed. I am quite positive that its arrival was “ordered” in the direct intention of stimulating my digits to pen anything. And I had verily thought of doing so before it came but blockading doesn’t make any of us too smart and I had consequently let it slip. But now you will get one out of me.

Out of three letters and a package of paper from Father, yours was one that came this P.M. by the U.S. Steamer Madgie (a Parrot Gunboat 1 20-pounder and 1 30-pounder). The prize steamer Darlington had just left us so that this letter had to wait. However, I sent a lot by the Darlington to Port Royal. We have rarely got a fatter visit that this one. We have been waiting anxiously and watched with great care the opening of Doboy Sound for the appearance of the U.S. Steamer Massachusetts because our mail and provisions and important orders were expected to be delivered by her. A few days since we saw a large Man-o-war firing very fast and on both sides as if in practice about ten miles out. A small fleet passed and yet nothing looked like the Massachusetts. But now we think she slipped by us unobserved either then or while we were navigating one of the creeks. However, she did not stop at “St. Simons” till she returned up the coast. Notwithstanding her irregular passage, she brought us very late mails. Papers of the 8th instant &c. The Madgie is now discharging a large quantity of provisions for our “mess” and some ship stores. She is going to blockade Sapel’s Sound about 12 miles north of us.

Our blockade has extended from Ossabaw [Island] to St. Simons Sound. The number of vessels on this blockade has been very limited and various expedients have to keep the inlets under surveillance but a few steamers escaped and now the whole coast is stopped up with something in the shape of a U. S. Steamer. There is no navigable creek out to sea not under our sight. A nice little steamer ran out this sound a few weeks since while we were off and started for Nassau but unfortunate were they that their course brought them to New York in tow of Uncle Sam’s steamer Huntsville. She had a good cargo of cotton, rice &c.  The Secesh have looked with anxiety for her return as we found out by the “contras” and an Englishman who lives on an island near the main.

August 25th.  I have delayed this to collect items and now I find myself pressed from the approach of our mail conveyance tomorrow and a lot of letters to send with this. We have had occasional excitement in approaching the quarters of the rebels on the “Main” and searching their deserted picket stations.

19th inst. approached a mile near the Main and took a small boat for our use as a “dingie.” 20th, went through Thicket river (a mere creek) but thought unnavigable by us and considered by them as an unlikely pass for us. We shelled a few weeks since the thicket where they were making salt so our appearance frightened them and the little place seemed quite vacant. But we were only surveying the river and the extent it had. We passed very narrow places where a few rifles could effect some harm but be in terrible danger themselves from our 32 [pounders]. Anchoring by a sawmill, we sent a boat to reconnoiter. Then Capt. [Alexander Alderman Semmes] and I landed, found a white man and family formerly a pilot professing neutrality which sentiment we could not recognize. We took a lot of Roman Candles and rockets hidden there some time since by a man who was to signal the British steamer coming in. He was disappointed then but left his fireworks for another excursion. He will not be prepared if he comes again without his night signals.

Three days ago a party set forth for our men to “cut out” or “dig out” an iron-bell-buoy which was cast adrift by the rebels and hauled into a marsh on Sapelo [Island]. They were unsuccessful in getting it at first. The next day an extra party was  detailed and have been off till this evening. They arrived here with the famous Charleston Planter towing the buoy. The part suffered some from exposure and lack of food. They towed the buoy to Sapelo Landing and finding the Braseliera U.S. Barque (Capt. Gilespie). They now consider it a jolly expedition—a great achievement—for in this iron buoy they realize a great improvement in our knowledge of the channel in which it is decided to anchor it for the entrance is very difficult to pass.

Yes, the Planter arrived this P. M.  We got under weigh, went to quarters, and trained our guns on her as she approached as we did not recognize her and as she did not respond satisfactorily to our signals. She left us a mail on which was a letter from [my brother] Hervey (14 July) and 5 papers. The U.S. Steamer E. B. Hale is along side on her way to Port Royal. She starts early.

My love to all and Mary. Thanks for their kind wishes. Make another attempt to write to your friend & cousin, — Foster

Ass. Surgeon S, F. Quimby
U. S. Steamer Wamsutta, South Atlantic Blockading Squadron

Please to tell [my brother] Hervey that I shall answer by the Planter when she returns and that is expected tomorrow. Yrs. &c. — Foster


“On the 16th day of May 1840, I was born in the city of Salem County of Essex in the state of Massachusetts.  My mother Mary Flint Quimby and father Elisha Quimby M.D. were, both, born in Salem, Mass. and have passed their lives in that place.  They have had six children three of whom are still living.  I am 22 years and 10 months of age.

I was educated in the public schools of my native city, passing through the limits of the course in the Latin + High Schools.  In September, 1857, I entered Brown University, Providence, R.I. and passed successfully the classical branches of the first two years.  In the month of July 1859, I took my honorary discharge and prepared under my father’s auspicies [sic, correction marks in pencil] to finish my medical education prescribed in my earlier days. 

I matriculated, the ensuing Fall, at Harvard Medical College, and attended the lectures of the entire course residing in Boston under instructions of Dr. Winslow Lewis, Consulting Surgeon of the Mass. Gen. Hospital and Ispector [sic] of Rainsford Island Hospital in Boston Harbor.  My father’s and Dr. Lewis’ name [sic] were registered at Harvard as “Instructor.” In May 1860 I received appointment as Assistant Surgeon in the Rainsford Island Hospital under Dr. Lemuel M. Barker, Superintendent, and in latter part of August 1861 I was discharged with honorable specifications of efficiency and talent by Dr. Fred Winsor who assumed the duties of that station, on the 1st of June 1861.  Dr. Barker, also gave me his certificate of satisfaction, etc.  Pursuing my studies through the thirteen months at Rainsford, I had onerous duties imposed, in the care of nearly one thousand and five hundred patients, of diseases to which the flesh of the poor and alien is heir, in connection with two fellow assistants, for the first ten months, and with one only, Dr. Robt. T. Edes Asst. Surgeon U.S.N.  – at present – for the three following months.  The care of the ‘Dispensary’ was entrusted to me for four months, with two wards in which I exercised my former ideas inculcated by my father in whose pharmacy I had, often, instructions.  The venereal of both sexes was alas attached to for the remainder of my sojourn there, with care of the “Lying in” Wards, and other miscellaneous diseases with which the Hospital was constantly filled, including the numerous cases of variola which raged in the Winter and Spring of 1860.

With the opening of the next winter course, I procured the tickets and attended until the 22d of February when I received an appointment as acting Asst. Surgeon in the United States Navy and thence, with permission of the Faculty of Harvard Med. College, reported for duty at New York.

On the 19th of March 1862 I sailed in the U.S. Steamer “Wamsutta” as the Medical Officer.  After our arrival blockaded the coast of Georgia and on the 18th of November 1862 arrived in New York.


In connection with the Hospital practices Surgery was, considerably, witnessed in its minor forms and occasionally a capital operation which we attended in treatment etc.

My knowledge of Natural History has not been obtained by special perusal, but in connection with my academic and medical studies, was alone derived.

German + French were each pursued scarcely be on the preliminary rudaments [sic, correction marks in pencil] of the grammars, my subsequent change in studies somewhat obtunding my knowledge of them.

On the 17th of January 1863 I was detached from the “Wamsutta” and considered “to be Waiting Orders.”

My official address in Salem, Mass.  Box 88.

Very Respectfully your obedient servant,
Sam’l F. Quimby
A.A. Surgeon, U.S.N.

To the Naval Board of Examiners for the Medical Department. Naval Asylum, Philadelphia, Pa. March 11th 1863.”


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