Cornelius Gold, U.S. Navy, May 26th, 1865


Cornelius Gold, U.S. Navy, May 26th, 1865


United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865
Reconstruction (U.S. history, 1865-1877)


Cornelius Gold writes to his mother to tell of the Mobile magazine explosion and how he found a living situation with a paroled Confederate general and his family.




Mobile Ala. May 26th 1865
My dear Mother
The telegraph will tell you
quickly of the sad catastrophe that yesterday befel Mobile-
It will not inform you of the safety of your boy- For this
you must await the slower motions of the mail though
I use the first one, which closes at 10 o’clock this morning-
About 3 o’clock yesterday afternoon there occurred I think
one of the most terrific explosions on record – every house in the
city was shaken as if there had been an earthquake + for
a mile from the great disaster the crash of broken windows
+ plaster from the walls made each person for a moment
suppose his own house tumbling into the cellar.
I was in the office when my boys ran into the room crying,
“Paymaster the house is falling on us”! I rushed up to the
cupola which commands a fine view of the city + river.
being (it was the signal station for the rebel army. ) A great
mass of smoke + dust filled the air, over the military ordnance
depot, which had blown up. Up + down the levee + its parallel
street were horses running, buggies upset, army waggons
upside down + men at their wits ends with fright + wonder.
It was a scene of the wildest confusion I ever witnessed
or expect to again. Descending to the street I went
part way toward the burning ruin near enough to see
the steamers wrapped flames close by it + hear the
bursting shells that every instant warned the crowd away.

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The side walks were covered with broken glass so that at
every step I trod on it, even the sashes were thrown down
+ heavy doors barred + bolted flew into the street by force
of the concussion + the roofs of large warehouses had
fallen in. This was a half mile distant. Toward evening
with two others I ventured nearer, + the scene became
fairly appalling. Squares upon squares of warehouses
were thrown flat to the ground, portions of walls only left
standing + these so nearly demolished, that we standing
in the street, we could look across whole blocks of what had
been buildings. A heavy force was already at work
overhauling the debris, + every now + then a dead or
dying human body was dragged from under it. The shells
were still bursting = the fragments flying in such fashion
we did not deem it prudent to remain there long.
I saw one poor negro girl just alive rescued from under
a slate roof her babe had been killed in her arms.
The loss of life must be great. how great will perhaps never
be known for some were blown to atoms some burned
to cinder, some drowned in the river + the mass of those
in the vicinity of the explosion were laborers paroled
prisoners returning to their houses, = colored persons from
the country who were flocking as they thought from
slavery into freedom instead of into destruction. hundreds
perhaps whose names are “written in heaven” but of whom
there exists no earthly register. The fire is not yet
subdued or has broken out anew for as I write the bells
are ringing the alarm + an engine rattles by.

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Now I will leave this painful subject for something more agreable
though it is difficult to detach my own thoughts from a calamity so
near + of which the “end is not yet”.
I wrote you of my shift to shore + comfortable quarters in Mr.
Sage’s “Ice House”. There I ate slept + worked night + day having
my bed in the same building + meals sent to me. But the seclusion
was too complete for health or profit. I found it impossible to
keep regular office hours because as it was known my work shop
+ dwelling were the same. officers did not hesitate to visit me on
business before I was dressed, after I retired + at every
hour of the day between. Not a meal could be taken without interruption
and what was worse than all I had no one to share it with me +
it feels stingy to be always eating alone. So I cast about for
a boarding place but in vain found nothing to suit in fact nothing
at all. every available spot in the city seeming to be covered
by some earlier bird there. I gave up the search in despair. Thus
fortune came to me. Last Sunday a gentleman called at the
office introducing himself as “Mr. Meslier” and his friend as
Brig. Gen. Cockerell of the confederate army late in command
of the defenses at Blakely + Spanish Fort. the only man who
stood between our army + the city of mobile + a most gallant
rebel. And what do you think! he actually wished me to supply
him with a suit of navy flannel. This I had no right to do +
told him so, but was “so happy to clothe him in union blue that I
would charge myself with the flannel” + in that way supply him
He staid + talked with me an hour or more + pleased me much.
He seems to have fought from principle (although I think in error)
but having submitted the questions of southern rights to the decision of

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arms + been thoroughly conquered he now yields himself
cheerfully to the dominion of his conquerors + holds himself
in duty bound to support the Union Government as faithfully
as he has done the confederate. He believes too that the southern
soldiers taken with “arms in their hands” will be found better
citizens of the republic than the “skulkers” + that having once
surrendered they may be trusted for ever after. He talked
of the leading rebel generals with whom he had served in a
manner most interesting to me and I was really sorry when
he bade me “good morning” to go away. In course of the conversation,
Mr. Meslier asked me if I knew an officer who would like board in a
“nice private family”. I told him I wished that very thing myself.
Next day he called again + instead of sending me to that other
“nice private family” invited me to his own and here I am today
once more enjoying the luxury of a home. The family consists
of Mr + Mrs Meslier daughter about twenty + another twelve or fourteen,
+ son of my own age. Mrs Meslier is an excellent woman,
of northern descent + cultivated. Mr Meslier is french + the
whole family have spent much time in Europe were wealthy
+ a short time ago had I am told one of the prettiest houses
in Alabama. But it was burned over their heads and the
estate now left them for the present avails them nothing. Like
a majority of southern people the success of our armies + change
in currency has made them almost penniless. Yet we manage
to live well enough in a pleasant house. Both father + son have
been officers in the rebellion lately paroled. So you see I am in a
nest of "Confeds" and in great danger of becoming a rebel myself
to judge by the "company I keep". But I know them no longer as

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rebels, they are friends, and I wish never to hear the name so much
as mentioned among us here. They are punished severely enough
already. Upon our northern traitors who have had their good things
let the curse of the future descend. Your aff. Cornelius.

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“Cornelius Gold, U.S. Navy, May 26th, 1865,” Linda Lear Center Digital Collections and Exhibitions, accessed August 5, 2021,

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