Brooklyn Gunner Recalls War Days

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 5 May 1912

A modest hero of two wars of the United States is Cornelius Cronin of 658 Park Place, Brooklyn. He served through the Civil War, went though the Spanish American War and only retired to private life four years, after completing fifty years of continuous service. He had the honor of shaking hands with President Abraham Lincoln and was awarded a medal of conspicuous bravery and during one of his cruises saw the privateer Alabama.

Asked for his recollections by an Eagle reporter, Mr. Cronin gave the following interview:

"In December 1860, I was serving on board the United States frigate Sabine, commanding by Captain H. A. Adams, at Vera Cruz, Mexico, which ship had previously been relived from duty as flag ship of the Paraguay expedition under Commodore Shubrick, a veteran of the War of 1812. On the arrival of the mail steamer from New Orleans, we were informed of the election of Abraham Lincoln and of the secession of South Carolina and other States of the South. This was very unwelcome news to us, as we were three years in commission and while we had no objection to a brush with the Paraguayans, we did not relish the idea of fighting our own countrymen.

The Sabine, my ship and the St. Louis were sent to Pensacola, Fla. On our arrive we found that the Confederates had everything their own way, they having seized the navy yard at Warrington, the arsenals and Forts Barrancas and McCrea. Lieutenant Slemmer, who had the command of the post, transferred the garrisons of the forts to Forts Pickens on Santa Rosa Island."

Mr. Cronlin explained that the situation at this time was very peculiar. Hostilities had not been begun. "Our orders," he said, "were not to leave the station, and at the same time we were not to enter the bay. We were therefor obliged to stand on and off under easy sail, awaiting the course of events. For a period of six weeks we were accomplishing this disagreeable duty while being short of provisions and water, occasionally receiving supplies from Union men. General Bragg, the Confederate commander, very soon shut down on the latter method of getting our supplies."

Chief Gunner Cronin related how the USS Brooklyn arrived from Fortress Monroe with an artillery company for the reenforcement of Fort Pickens. This order was countermanded, but was renewed in April following. Mr. Cronin declared that his first impression was that the war would not last more than ninety days, but he changed his mind after the battle of Bull Run, so he again enlisted for three years. He was assigned to blockade duty.

Asked about some stirring episode of this period of war experience, Gunner Cronin said:

"Blockade duty proved very monotonous until February 24, when that monotony was most cheerfully relived by the lookout at the masthead reporting a sail in sight. We immediately slipped our cable and started in pursuit, though a dense fog prevailed at the time, preventing us from seeing anything but her topmasts, her hull being entirely concealed from view. All sail was set alow and aloft but in a few moments and together with our steam power, we gained upon our prize. The fog lifting showed the craft to be a side-wheel steamer of considerable speed. After of a race of eight hours, she was brought to and captured off Fort Morgan, and proved to be the steamer Magnolia, heavily laden with cotton. A prize crew was put on board and she was sent to Key West for adjudication.

Mr. Cronin was present at the passage of the Confederate forts Jackson and St. Phillip at the mouth of the Mississippi on April 24, 1862. "I must confess for my part that I cordially disliked the business" said Mr. Cronin in relating his experience to the Eagle man. "Big 100 pound shells were moving with a fiendish velocity within a few feet of a man. They made the most ghoulish and disagreeable noise imaginable. I thought that every shot was within a few inches of my head or aimed directly at me. Of course, I believed it necessary to dodge each one of them. We were soon actively engaged not only with the forts, but with the Confederate ships. One of the latter appeared upon our port beam, about fifty yards distance. He was effectually silenced by the discharge of our entire port battery. She was crowded with men and it was evidently their intention to board us. It was fortunate for them that they were not able to accomplish this."

Chief Gunner Cronin gave a stirring account of the encounter with the Confederate ram Manassas in the great naval battle at the mouth of the Mississippi. The naval vessel had been a great deal talked about in the newspapers, both North and South, and it was quite evident that the Confederates relied upon her very largely in preventing the advancement of the Union fleet up the river. Mr. Cronin said:

"The ram Manassas was discovered on our starboard bow. Nearly everybody who saw her cried out "the ram! the ram!" Our captain having seen her from his point of vantage, the poop, ordered the helm hard a-port and directed the engineer to go ahead full speed. The ram struck us a diagonal blow causing the ship to careen and discharging her bow gun at the same time. As we could not depress our guns sufficiently to strike her, she drifted astern and by the combined action of the swift current and the momentum of both ships, she was out of sight in a moment. She was subsequently attended to, however, by the Union frigate Mississippi, who rammed her ashore and compelled her crew to skedaddle as best they could, having first laid a train to her magazine, which caused her destruction by a terrific explosion shortly afterwards."

Mr. Cronin participated in the Union attack on the fortifications at Vicksburg in June 1862 and after some very lively work, in which the Brooklyn made an excellent record as usual, the naval vessels withdrew to await the cooperation of the army.

When the old frigate Brooklyn went out of commission Gunner Cronin was transfered to the USS Richmond and with her took part in the famous battle of Mobile Bay under Admiral Farragut.

It was for gallantry during the fight in Mobile Bay that Chief Gunner Cronin was awarded the medal of honor.