Would Not Haul Down the Flag

Boston Globe, 19 August 1906

The memorial stone in question can be seen on Google Street View on the corner across the street from the First Congregational Church of Camden, Maine. This article appears to have been cobbled together from papers by RADM Henry Erben about the surrender of the Pensacola Navy Yard and Acting Master John Johnson's regarding Conway.

The most important celebration in Maine this year will be the unveiling of the Conway tablet at Camden, Thursday, Aug 30, when the town, the Loyal Legion of Maine and Rear Admiral Evan's North Atlantic Fleet will unite in honoring the memory of a civil war hero.

William Conway was a sailor in the US Navy, who, while on duty at the Pensacola navy yard, Jan 12, 1861, was ordered by one of the officers of the yard to haul down the American flag, this officer and others proving unfaithful. Conway refused to obey the order.

The facts became known, and Conway received the thanks of the navy department through Sec Welles, and a gold medal was presented to him by about 150 New England men living in California.

In honor of this sailor a memorial has now been erected in Camden and will be unveiled on the date named. The memorial consists of a huge bowlder, to which has been affixed a bronze tablet, bearing the following inscription:

Quartermaster, U S Navy
A Native of Camden,
On Duty at Pensacola Navy Yard
January 12, 1861.
Was Ordered to Haul Down the
American Flag,
In Token of Surrender.
He Indignantly Refused.
Honoring His Sturdy Loyalty
The Town of Camden
Erects this Boulder
To His Memory,
And the Maine Commandery of the
Military Order of the Loyal Legion
of the United States
Adds This Tablet,

The bowlder is a massive stone weighing about 30 tons, and to transport it from its resting place on Ogler's hill to the schoolhouse square in front of the Methodist church required 31 pairs of horses.

The expense of moving and setting the bowlder was borne by the town, while the bronze tablet was furnished by the Loyal Legion.

Rear Admiral Evans, commander-in-chief of the North Atlantic Fleet, will have at Camden, Aug 30, at least eight battleships and six destroyers, and he will land a large body of his officers and men for participation in the celebration.


The more formal exercises connected with the celebration will be held at 2 p.m. at the Camden trotting park, where there are seats for about 2000 persons. These exercises will be brief, and will include music, prayer by the chaplain of the comandery, Rev Dr J. S. Sewall of Bangor; an address by Maj Gen J. L. Chamberlain of Portland, rehearsing the story of Conway's refusal to haul down the American flag at the Pensacola navy yard, Jan 21, 1861; and brief addresses by the secretary of the navy (if it can be present), Gov Cobb and others. A letter from President Roosevelt has been received and will be read.

The unveiling of the memorial in the town by Maj John T. Richards, commander of the Maine Commandery, will follow the exercises in the park, and Rear Admiral Evans, by authority of the Navy department, will cause fired a national salute of 21 guns in connection with the unveiling.

In the procession will be about 100 members of the Loyal Legion, Gov Cobb and staff, George S. Cobb post, G. A. R., and about 2000 men from the warships. The officers from the North Atlantic Fleet will be entertained in Odd Fellow's hall and the sailors in the trotting park.

Thomas A. Hunt, who is known as "mayor" of Camden by virtue of being at the head of the village corporation, will preside and deliver the address of welcome.

The committee on the part of the Loyal Legion of Maine consists of the officers, Maj John T. Richards, USV, commander; Brevet Big Gen Stephen H. Manning, USV, senior vice commander; Acting Master John O. Johnson, USN, junior vice commander; Brevet Maj Henry S. Burrage, USV, recorder; Maj Charles H. Boyd, USV, registrar; Capt Thomas J. Little, USV, treasurer; 1st Lieut C. W. Roberts, USV, chancellor; John S. Sewall, USV, chaplain.

As the general committee on the part of the town, the selectmen, Josiah H. Hobbs, Frank H. Wilbur and Everett N. Duffy have named the following subcommittees: Reception, J. H. Hobbs, F. H. Wilbur, E. N. Duffy, Thomas A. Hunt, L. M. Kenniston, F. G. Currier; entertainment, J. H. Hobbs, W. D. Knowlton, F. W. Connant, S. G. Ritterbush, George F. Wentworht, Reuel Robinson, Frank H. Thomas, Wiliam H. Eells, George C. Crane, Pearl G. Wiley, W. D. Barron, Jos. A. Brewster, William R. Gill, C. K. Miller, J. F. Burgess; decoration, J. H. Ogier, J. F. Clifford, J. K. Hooper, W. F. Bisbee, George T. Hodgman.

F. D. Aldus will be marshal of the day and his aids will be E. E. Boynton, Nelson Young and J. A. Brewseter.


William Conway's loyalty to his country and his flag was made the subject of official reports in connection with the court martial of Capt. James Armstrong, who was in charge of the US Navy yard at Warrington, near Pensacola, Fla, at the time of its disgraceful surrender to the rebel forces.

Capt. Armstrong, who was a veteran in the naval service, became commandant at the Warrington navy yard against his own protest that he was too old and too feeble for duty in that climate. The executive officer was Farrand and he hailed from New Jersey. Next in rank was Lieut. Renshaw of Pennsylvania.

They married sisters, southern women, whose every sympathy was with the cause of the southland in the great struggle then being precipitated. Farrand and Renshaw, while nominally the support of the aged commandant, where in reality conspiring to have the navy yard surrendered to the Florida rebels. The confederate states had not yet been formed.

A few days before the surrender, the gunboat Wyandotte, Lieut Commander Berryman, arrived at the yard from Key West, and the store ship Supply, Commander Wolke, arrived with stores from New York. Neither of these vessels amounted to much for offensive purposes, but they could have defended the yard had they been ordered to do so.

The vessels had not been in port 24 hours before Commanders Wolke and Berryman began to distrust the loyalty of the officers of the yard, especially Farrand and his brother-in-law, Renshaw.

There were three forts in the vicinity of the navy yard, McRea, Barrancas and Pickens, which the rebel sympathizer, Sec of War Floyd, had prevented being reinforced.


Jan 3, 1861, the headquarters of the army at Washington sent an order to Lieut Slemmer of the army, who was commander of the three forts, to take measures to secure the forts in Pensacola harbor from seizure by surprise or assault, consulting first the commandant of the navy yard, who would probably have instructions to cooperate with him.

This order reached Lieut Slemmer Jan 9, but he knew very well that he would be unable to hold the three forts with but 46 men. He decided to abandon Forts McRea and Barrancas, which were on the main land, and occupy Fort Pickens, which was on Santa Rosa Island, at the mouth of Pensacola harbor.

Calling on the commandant of the navy yard, Lieut Slemmer found that the officer was in receipt of orders from the navy department to cooperate with him in his measures of defense, and received from Capt Armstrong the assurance of assistance in every way, including the services of the Supply and Wyandotte.

The commodore said that he did not think that he could hold the navy yard if attacked, but promised to have Slemmer and his command, taken over to Fort Pickens, at 1:30 on that day, Jan 9.

No sooner had Lieut Slemmer left the office than Farrand slipped in and worked upon the mind of the weak and excited old man that he failed to keep faith with Slemmer. Farrand made Armstrong to believe that it would be an outrage to cooperate with this young army lieutenant and so provoke a bloody conflict with Florida state troops.

In this strait of failure, Lieut Slemmer again visited the commodore and remonstrated with him for his failure to keep his promise. Finally, in the presence of Farrand, Berryman and Renshaw, the commandant gave orders for the Wyandotte to be at the wharf at 4 p.m. that day in readiness to transport the garrison to Fort Pickens.


Nevertheless the Wyandotte did not move that day. Farrand was in constant communication with the rebels at Pensacola, but nine miles away. He knew that within 48 hours the rebels would demand the surrender of the navy yard, and he hoped the way to occupy Fort Pickens would be opened also.

At 8 o'clock next morning, Lieut John Irwin of the Wyandotte went to Fort Barrancas with a big scow, which the army folks at once loaded with provisions and ammunition, together with all the other boats they could collect, without orders from the commandant, and towed them all across the harbor to Fort Pickens.

Capt Berryman also transfered from his ship to the fort 30 seamen and 30 stands of arms. The old commandant, distracted by the complications surrounding him, began to give such erratic and contradictory orders that Capt Wolke of the Supply and Capt Berryman of the Wyandotte made up their minds that their principal business was to cooperate with Lieut Slemmer of the army in making Fort Pickens secure from the attack of the rebels.

On the day of the occupation of Fort Pikens, Lieut Erben of the Supply (now Rear Admiral Erben) went down to Fort McRea with a boat's crew from the Supply and threw into the sea all the powder stored there to prevent its falling into the hands of the rebels. Twenty two thousand pounds were thus destroyed.

When he returned from that duty he went on shore in the evening, called at the commodore's house and reported what he had done, and as the navy yard was being threatened by the rebel troops at Pensacola, volunteered to destroy the ammunition in the naval magazine located a short distance outside the navy yard.

The commodore sent for Farrand to advise with him. That officer immediately advised the arrest of Erben and the sending of him on board ship, asserting that he was drunk. But this the commodore refused to do.

At this Farrand rose up in great rage, and, throwing a chair at Erben's head, left the room in great abruptness. Erben remained for a short time talking with the commodore and then departed.


The moment he got outside the front door Farrand, who had been lying in wait for him on the piazza, stepped up to him and, shaking his fist in his face, exclaimed: "Damn you. I will teach you how to treat your superior officers."

He was so violent that Erben caught him by the throat, saying: "Damn you, I will have you hanged as a traitor, as you are."

They rolled off the piazza in their struggle, and Erben landing uppermost. Farrand began to shout for assistance. Renshaw, who had been hiding in the shrubbery, came to Farrand's assistance. But Asst Surgeon W. A. King of the Supply, who had come on shore with Erben, came up, and the two, seeing a row very imminent, in which they were likely to come out second, ran off to quarters, telling the officer's wives that Erben intended to blow them all up.

Farrand knew the very hour that Victor M. Randolph would present his rebel forces at the gate of the navy yard, and was there to receive and welcome him, dressed in the full uniform of a US naval officer, while Commodore Armstrong was kept in ignorance of the whole affair, and did not know the rebels were approaching till they were reported at the gate, and the two commissioners selected by the governor of Florida were conducted to him by Farrand.

All the details of the surrender were conducted by Farrand, even to the punishment of the faithful old quartermaster for refusing to haul down the the flag in surrender when ordered to do so by Renshaw.

This faithful old seaman was William Conway of Camden, Me. He had obeyed the order to stand by the halyards, but when order to haul the flag in capitulation he said:

"I will not do it, sir! That is the flag of my country, under which I have served many years. I love it; and will not dishonor it by hauling it down now."

Renshaw had to do the work with his own hands, and then he and Farrand set about punishing the old quartermaster by putting him in irons for his fidelity to the old flag.

Conway's heroism in the affair was first recognized by the judge advocate of the court-martial, A. B. Magruder, who submitted to the secretary of the navy of the propriety, justice and good policy of bestowing some mark of approbation.


Gideon Welles, secretary of the navy, promptly issued the following order:

"Navy Department, Washington DC - It appears from the testimony taken in Captain Armstrong's case, that William Conway, an aged seaman doing duty as quartermaster, in the Warrington navy yard, at the time of its surrender, when ordered by Lieut. F. B. Renshaw to haul down the National Flag, promptly and indignantly refused to obey the order. The love and reverence thus impulsively exhibited for his country's flag, in the hour of its peril, is not the less worthy of being called noble and chivalric because displayed by one in a humble station. It is the more deserving of commemoration; for subordinates in the service are not usually expected to set examples of patriotism and fidelity in their trusts, but to follow them. The Department deems it no more than strict justice to William Conway that this testimonial from the Court, in his behalf, should be made known throughout the service. It therefore directs that this General Order be publicly read as early as practicable after its receipt by the commanders of all naval stations, and all vessels of the navy in commission, in the presence of the offices and men under their command."

As a further mark of appreciation there was forwarded to Quartermaster Conway a gold medal, presented by 150 of his countrymen in California. This medal is now in the possession of a niece of Conway, Mrs Louise Robbins of Thomaston, having been given to her by her son, William Conway Robbins on the occasion of Quartermaster Conway's last visit to his people, which was in 1863.


The life story of QM William Conway is quickly told. He ran away from home at the age of 12 and enlisted in the US Navy, never afterward returning to make his home with his people for any length of time. His whole life was spent in the service of his country. The positions which he occupied were boatswain's mate, captain of the top, master-at-arms and quartermaster.

When the Main Loyal Legion began an investigation of hero Conway's career a year ago, Maj H. S. Burrage, the recorder, wrote to Rear Admiral J. B. Coghlan, commandant of the navy yard and station at New York.

He replied that William Conway, quartermaster, 59 years of age, native of Maine, was admitted to the hospital at that station from the USS North Carolina and died Nov. 30, 1865.

The hospital records show that his remains were buried in the naval cemetery in New York, but the grave could not be located. There are several unknown graves in this cemetery, and the hero of the Pensacola incident probably sleeps in one of them.

The only surviving relatives of Conway are two nieces, Mrs. Louise Robbins of Thomaston, formerly Louise Keene of Rockport and Miss Julia Conway of Camden, both of whom will have seats of honor at the memorial exercises. The gold medal above referred to is the property of Mrs. Robbin's son, William Conway Robbins of New York.

Conway's heroism was recalled to the present generations through the efforts of Capt. John O. Johnson, USN, who wrote a number of articles on the subject for local newspapers a year ago and interested the Loyal Legion in preparing the memorial.

The conditions found by Capt. Johnson during his investigation in Knox county warranted him in stying his article, "A forgotten Camden hero," for in Conway's native town there were few who had ever heard the quartermaster's name and none who knew of his brave act at the Pensacola navy yard.

Capt Johnson finally located the Conway medal in Thomaston, and from the two nieces above named learned the few particulars that could be gleaned concerning Conway's home life. With this as a foundation there began the plan-making for a notable celebration.

Capt Johnson was in command of the gunboat Shokolon at the close of the Civil War, having been twice promoted. He is junior vice commander of the military order of Loyal Legion.