Joseph Nicholson Barney

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Joseph Nicholson Barney
Joseph Nicholson Barney in Confederate Uniform.jpg
Commander Joseph Nicholson Barney. Picture appeared as part of a composite of CSS Florida with crew members.
Baltimore, Maryland
Died16 June 1899(1899-06-16) (aged 80–81)
Fredericksburg, Virginia
Allegiance United States
 Confederate States
Service/branch United States Navy
 Confederate States Navy
RankUSN lt rank insignia.jpg Lieutenant, U.S. Navy
Csn strap cmdr.png Commander, C.S. Navy[a]
Commands heldCSS Jamestown (1861–1862)
CSS Harriet Lane (1863)
CSS Florida (September 1863)
Battles/warsBattle of Hampton Roads, March 8–9, 1862
Drewry's Bluff (May 15, 1862)

Joseph Nicholson Barney (1818 – June 16, 1899) was a career United States Navy officer (1835–1861) who served in the Confederate States Navy in the American Civil War (1861–1865).

Personal life and family[edit]

Barney was born in Baltimore in 1818, the son of U.S. Congressman John Barney and Elizabeth Nicholson Hindman and the grandson of United States Navy Commodore Joshua Barney.[2] He married Eliza Jacobs Rogers on June 9, 1846 in New Castle County, Delaware, with whom he had one daughter before her death in 1848.[3][4] He married a second time in 1858 to Anne (Nannie) Seddon Dornin, daughter of Thomas Aloysius Dornin, with whom he had eight children. He died at his home in Fredericksburg, Virginia, aged 81, on June 16, 1899,[2] after a month-long illness.[3][5][6] His second wife died on October 11, 1913.[7]

His grandson Thomas Holcomb was Commandant of the United States Marine Corps (1936–1943) and first Marine to achieve the rank of general.[8]

United States Navy[edit]

He entered a naval academy in 1832[2][b] and received a warrant in the United States Navy as a midshipman in 1835,[9][c] was promoted to passed midshipman in 1841, the first of 22 passed by the board of examination.[10][d] By 1843, he was acting master of the USS Vincennes.[11] He was promoted to lieutenant in 1847.[12]

His postings included the USS Potomac,[13] USS Columbia,[14][15] USS Vincennes,[11][16] USS Cyane,[17] the Norfolk Naval Shipyard,[18] and USS Susquehanna. In 1861, at the beginning of the American Civil War, he held the position of first lieutenant on the USS Susquehanna in the Mediterranean Sea.[2] Upon returning to the United States on June 6, he resigned his commission the same day.[19][20]

Confederate States Navy[edit]

Barney was appointed a lieutenant in the Confederate States Navy on July 2, 1861.[1][21] He commanded the CSS Jamestown during the Battle of Hampton Roads, the famous battle with the USS Monitor, during which he captured two brigs and an Accomac schooner off Newport News Point while the CSS Virginia held the Union Navy's attention.[22][23] After the Confederate evacuation of Norfolk, the Jamestown was scuttled to block the James River at Drewry's Bluff. In the subsequent Battle of Drewry's Bluff, in which Confederate shore batteries drove off a Union Navy force heading towards Richmond, the Jamestown's guns were considered the main factor in repulsing the enemy ships.[5] Following the battle, he received praise from the Confederate Congress and was promoted to commander.[24]

In early 1863, Barney was briefly assigned command of naval operations in Galveston, including the revenue cutter Harriet Lane, captured in the Battle of Galveston. However the ship was already under command of Leon Smith,[e] an army volunteer and steamboat captain, who had played a role in capturing the ship, having been placed in command of the ship by Major General John B. Magruder and in control of additional ships improvised as a "cottonclad fleet". The ship was also considered by the navy to be too slow and inefficient to become a blockade runner, though it was later used in this capacity. Following discussions with Magruder, who was not willing to relinquish controls of the cottonclads, Barney conceded the appointment, and in a letter to Confederate Naval Secretary Stephen Mallory, recommended that the navy relinquish control. Barney later explained that he made his recommendation since he considered that the presence of two separate marine forces with independent commanders would lead to discord and confusion.[25][26][27]

Barney was sent to Europe in spring 1863. He assumed command of the Confederate raider CSS Florida in September 1863, relieving the ailing John Newland Maffitt, and oversaw her refit at Brest, France, but had to be detached due to ill health before the Florida put to sea.[28][29] From 1864 to 1865, he was a Confederate naval agent in Europe.[30][31][32]

He returned to the United States following the war, and took the Oath of Allegiance to the U.S. Constitution in September 1865.[33]

Later life[edit]

After the Civil War ended, Barney retired to Powhatan County, Virginia, before moving to Fredericksburg in 1874. Barney was active in the insurance business there until retiring in 1895. He was also an elder in the Presbyterian Church.[2]

Barney and his wife were active in activities promoting the memory of the Confederacy. His wife played a role in fundraising for a Confederate memorial in Fredericksburg as secretary of the city's Ladies' Memorial Association,[34] which funded the monument. Joseph and Bradley T. Johnson led the unveiling ceremony of the monument in 1891.[35]

See also[edit]

  • Letterbook of Joseph Nicholson Barney, Special Collections Branch, United States Naval Academy
  • Joseph Nicholson Barney Log and Diary, 1839–1852, Southern Historical Collection
  • Register of Officers of the Confederate States Navy. Office of Naval Records and Library United States Navy Department. Mattituck, NY: J.M. Carroll & Company. 1983. ISBN 0-8488-0011-7.


  1. ^ Some post-war sources (as well as his gravestone) refer to him as captain. However his actual Confederate rank was commander, as listed in the January 1864 Confederate naval register,[1] with sources covering wartime service stating he held that rank from 1863.
  2. ^ This is incorrectly stated by many sources as the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis. However, the Naval Academy was founded in 1845.
  3. ^ At the time, the United States Navy was using ranks similar to early 19th century Royal Navy ranks.
  4. ^ Some later sources state this as his naval academy graduation date and entry to service, a mistake which probably arises from the evolution of the term midshipman in the later 19th century to a naval academy cadet. Passed midshipman, at the time, was an actual United States Navy rank.
  5. ^ Leon Smith is variously referred to as lieutenant, captain, major, colonel, and commodore by different sources. While referred to by Magruder as a commissioned officer and recommended for a formal commission, Smith never actually entered navy or army service. De facto, as "Commander, Marine Department of Texas", he was in charge of all or most marine operations in the area of Texas under General Magruder's control, commanding several vessels.


  1. ^ a b Register of the Commissioned and Warrant Officers of the Navy of the Confederate States, January 1, 1864, page 106
  2. ^ a b c d e "Capt. Joseph N. Barney". The New York Times. June 18, 1899. p. 7. Retrieved August 15, 2017 – via open access publication – free to read.
  3. ^ a b Genealogy of the Barney family in America, Eugene Dimon Preston, 1990, page 902
  4. ^ Naval Officers Their Heredity and Development, Carnegie Institution of Washington, Charles Benedict Davenport and Mary Theresa Scudder, 1919, page 39
  5. ^ a b "Captain Barney's Death". Washington Times. June 18, 1899. p. 2. Retrieved August 15, 2017 – via open access publication – free to read.
  6. ^ "Death of Capt. J. N. Barney". The Baltimore Sun. June 17, 1899. p. 9. Retrieved August 15, 2017 – via open access publication – free to read
  7. ^ "Widow of Late Capt. J. N. Barney is Dead". Daily Press. October 12, 1913. p. 2. Retrieved August 15, 2017 – via open access publication – free to read
  8. ^ Monocle, Volume 17, Number 9, 2 March 1944
  9. ^ The Naval Magazine, Volume 2, Issue 3, 1837, page 74
  10. ^ Niles' National Register, Volume 60. William Ogden Niles. 1841. p. 291.
  11. ^ a b Army and Navy Chronicle, and Scientific Repository: Being a Continuation of Homans' "Army and Navy Chronicle.". Wm. Q. Force. 1843. p. 93.
  12. ^ Register of the Commissioned and Warrant Officers of the United States Navy and Marine Corps and Reserve Officers on Active Duty. U.S. Government Printing Office. 1854. p. 36.
  13. ^ The Naval Magazine, Volume 1, 1836, page 23
  14. ^ Army and Navy Chronicle, Volume 6, 320
  15. ^ Niles' Weekly Register, Volume 58, 244, June 20, 1840
  16. ^ San Francisco Ship Passenger Lists Vol. II [1850–1851], Volume 2, Louis J. Rasmussen, 185
  17. ^ Register of the Commissioned and Warrant Officers of the United States Navy, 1856
  18. ^ Register of Commissioned and Warrant Officers of the United States Navy, page 107, 1855
  19. ^ "This Morning's War News". The Burlington Free Press. June 7, 1861. p. 3. Retrieved August 15, 2017 – via open access publication – free to read.
  20. ^ "Resignation of Navy Officers". The New York Times. June 7, 1861.
  21. ^ Joined the Confederates, July 19, 1861. Richmond Dispatch
  22. ^ The Battle of the Ironclads, John V. Quarstein, page 104
  23. ^ The CSS Virginia: Sink Before Surrender, John V. Quarstein
  24. ^ Capital Navy: The Men, Ships and Operations of the James River Squadron, John M. Coski, page 41
  25. ^ Cotham, Edward Terrel (1998). Battle on the Bay: The Civil War Struggle for Galveston. University of Texas Press. pp. 151–152. ISBN 9780292712058.
  26. ^ Day, James M. (1965) "Leon Smith: Confederate Mariner," East Texas Historical Journal: Vol. 3: Iss. 1, Article 7., page 40
  27. ^ Civil War High Commands, John Eicher & David Eicher, page 893
  28. ^ High Seas Confederate: The Life and Times of John Newland Maffitt, Royce Shingleton, pages 57, 85, 102
  29. ^ The Confederate Soldier in the Civil War, 1861–1865, Benjamin La Bree, 1897, page 434
  30. ^ The Confederate Navy in Europe, Warren F. Spencer, 1997, ISBN 0-8173-0861-X, pages 167–168
  31. ^ British Ships in the Confederate Navy, Joseph McKenna, pages 27 44
  32. ^ The Naval History of the Civil War, David Dixon Porter, 1886, page 814
  33. ^ The Civil War Naval Encyclopedia, Volume 1, Spencer C. Tucker, ISBN 978-1598843385, pages 51, 191
  34. ^ "Special Appeal". The Tuskegee News. June 12, 1890. p. 3. Retrieved August 15, 2017 – via open access publication – free to read
  35. ^ "Confederate Dead". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. June 10, 1891. p. 6. Retrieved August 15, 2017 – via open access publication – free to read