The need for Union warships to support the massive Southern blockade prompted the re-commission of mothballed vessels. One of the ancients to be recalled to service, the 44-gun frigate Brandywine, had been launched in 1825 and on her maiden voyage had carried Revolutionary War hero Lafayette home to France.
Her sails were furled in 1850.
A decade later she was called out of retirement. In late September 1861 the New York Tribune reported, “The old frigate Brandywine is being rapidly converted in a storeship — about the only thing she is fit for. When completed she will present a rather patched appearance, but she will no doubt answer the purpose for which she is intended.” Other newspapers referred to her as the “Hulk Brandywine.”
Her new crew included a veteran officer who had also come out of retirement. Samuel Shipley, a 47-year-old lieutenant, had resigned his commission in 1852.
The ocean was Delaware-born Shipley’s first love. “Our subject,” noted the writer of a biographical sketch, “when a school boy near the Delaware Bay watching the ships go down to the ocean, early evidenced a desire to go to sea.”
The death of his father when Shipley was about four prompted his widowed mother, Mary, to relocate to eastern Indiana to be closer to her family. The move took Shipley away from his beloved sea but did not dampen his ambition.
His dreams were realized in 1834 when, thanks to friends and his Congressional representative, Shipley was appointed a midshipman in the navy. He was assigned to the brig Enterprise to begin his training, as the navy educated its young officers on warships. Meanwhile calls for a formal school led to the establishment of an academy in Philadelphia. Shipley was a member of the first class to pass examinations there in 1839.
Six years later, in 1845, the U.S. Naval Academy opened its doors in Annapolis, Maryland. By this time, Shipley had established himself as an up-and-coming officer. Between assignments he had purchased a farm in Indiana, married and fathered a daughter. His wife, Martha, succumbed to complications after giving birth to their second child, son Joseph, who also died.
Shipley placed his young daughter in the care of family and returned to the sea. He was stationed along the African coast when war with Mexico erupted in 1846. In early 1848 he was assigned to serve as a lieutenant aboard the storeship Germantown and sailed for Mexican waters. By the time the vessel arrived in May 1848, hostilities had ceased and a peace treaty had been signed.
In 1852, Shipley resigned his commission due to the prolonged effects of fever contracted in Africa. He returned to Indiana, rejoined his daughter and family, and settled into life as a farmer.
Shipley offered his services to the navy after the start of the Civil War. On September 25, 1861, he was reappointed to his old rank and ordered to join the crew of the Brandywine in New York City. About a month later, on October 27, 1861, the old frigate left her moorings at the New York Navy Yard for the first time in more than a decade. She was towed by the side-wheel steamer Bienville to Hampton Roads, Virginia, and deployed as a store ship and hospital.
Neither Shipley nor the Brandywine would remain in the navy until the end of the war. Shipley turned in his resignation in early 1863, and again cited ill health as the reason. The following year, on September 3, 1864, the Brandywine sank at her moorings in Norfolk, Virginia, gutted by a freak fire that started in the ship’s paint locker.
Shipley returned to his Indiana farm and lived in semi-retirement until his death in 1897 at age 73.
Ron Coddington is a collector of Civil War era images, and the editor and publisher of Military Images magazine. He is the author of three books, and a contributing author to the New York Times series Disunion. His next book will profile men who served in the Union and Confederate navies. Visitfacesofwar.comfor more information and a complete index of past columns. Follow Ron onFacebook and Twitter.
This profile originally appeared in the April 2015 issue of the Civil War News.