David W. Lenox and the Tugboat Adriatic

David W. Lenox
1822–1911
After spending much of his early life as a seafarer, David W. Lenox (1822–1911) and his brother William M. Lenox engaged in the steam-powered transport of cargo and timber rafts on the Delaware River between Trenton and Philadelphia. This proved a lucrative enterprise but the timber lands to the north were eventually depleted while the railroads took much of the cargo traffic.

The story may have ended there but for two newspaper articles: one in the Daily State Gazette on December 21, 1909, and the other days after his death in the Daily True American on February 23, 1911.

At the start of the Civil War, Lenox chartered his steam-powered tugboat Adriatic to the U.S. Government. The tug was sent to Fort Monroe, Virginia, where it remained for the duration of the war, and it was from this vantage point that he was thrice an eyewitness to history.

On July 8, 1861, the Adriatic, under command of Commodore Augustus L. Case, fleet-captain of the North Atlantic blockading squadron, made its way toward Norfolk in an effort to provide safe passage to a colonel's daughter. Despite the conspicuous display of the white flag of truce, the ship was fired upon by Confederate batteries on nearby Craney Island, the first such occurrence during the Civil War.

On August 3, 1861, aeronaut John La Mountain made his first flight from the deck of the Fanny, and one week later, on August 10, with his balloon tethered to the Adriatic, he made a second flight, the first during the night. On both occasions he reached an altitude of 2,000 feet, a distance from which he observed Confederate positions defending Norfolk.

And, finally, on March 9, 1862, the Adriatic was tasked with serving as the ammunition supply ship to the ironclad USS Monitor during its historic clash with the ironclad CSS Virginia (Merrimac) off Sewell's Point.

"When the Merrimac came down from Norfolk," recounted Lenox many years later, "[we] were terribly frightened to see the monster, and made all haste to get our vessel docked, but she changed her course and went for the two ships anchored in the James River, and soon destroyed them and other vessels at the docks. The Merrimac had it all her own way that day. The big ship Minnesota tried to get up there to help the ships, but ran aground on Hampton bar, and they had a hard time in getting her off that night. The Merrimac then anchored at Sewell's point for the night, and this ended the first day's battle.

Terrific Combat Between the "Monitor" and "Merrimac,"
a lithograph published by Currier and Ives
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division


"That night the Monitor arrived, and the next day the great battle was fought by the Monitor and the Merrimac in Hampton Roads. The battle was fought in plain view of thousands of people, and the greatest excitement was felt as to the result of it. During the battle it was thought the Monitor was getting short of ammunition, and we were ordered to take on ammunition for her. I hesitated about going up to the Monitor at that time, and by the time we got ready to go there was a great shout of the people, and the battle was over and the rebel ship was retreating toward Norfolk, while the Monitor came to anchor."

Lenox is interred in Section L, Lot 68.

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