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Boggs was a part of Civil War ironclads

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By Linda Hanabarger

James A. Boggs stood before the judge of the Fayette County courts on Nov. 2, 1880, and, raising his right hand, renounced all fealty to Queen Victoria of Great Britain and solemnly swore that he would support the Constitution of the United States.
Boggs, a native of Nova Scotia, stated that he had lived in the United States for 38 years and, in the fall of 1861, enlisted in the Army, serving his term aboard the gunboat Louisville on the Mississippi River.
The first Naturalization Act, passed in 1790, provided that an alien who desired to become a citizen of the United States should apply to “any common law court of record, in any of the states wherein he shall have resided for the term of one year at least.”
Under this and later laws, and under varying requirements, aliens were naturalized in federal, state and local courts. Following the filing of the Intention Declaration, the applicant would wait two years before returning to the court house for the Dinal Oath of Allegiance, bringing with him two sponsors who would attest to his conduct and moral character.
Two groups of people were exempted from filing an intention to become a citizen – those who entered the United States as a child; and those, like James, who had served in the U.S. military.
The Louisville was one of the first seven ironclads built in the Carondelet and Mound City shipyards of James Buchanan Eades.
Eades, a St. Louis river man and salvage expert, as well as a millionaire, was approached by one of Lincoln’s advisers, also from St. Louis, for ideas of armoring gunboats to use on the Mississippi River.
President Lincoln agreed with the ironclad concept, and marine architects and engine specialists were called in to help with their construction.
The agreement was that Eades would be paid for the boats upon delivery, and it is an interesting historical fact that the boats were technically in Eades’ ownership during the first engagement at Ft. Henry.
In this conflict on the Tennessee River, the flotilla of ironclads helped break the Confederate line of defense in the surrounding area. The boats, with their decks and paddle wheels clad in 2 l/2 inch thick steel sheathing, looked like large turtles and were called “Pook’s turtles” after Samuel Pook, their naval constructor. Top speed was 9 miles per hour.
The vessels measured 175 feet long and 51 feet at the beam, each carrying 13 cannons. Professional naval officers ran all the boats with the crew of 175 a mix of “salt water men from the East, fresh water sailors from the Great Lakes, rivermen and just enough men o’ war men to leaven the lump with naval discipline.”
Conceding that their appearance was odd, a young seaman aboard one of the ironclads said, however, “They struck terror into every guilty soul as they floated down the river.”
Joining the Louisville in the Navy’s arsenal of ironclads were the St. Louis, launched on Oct. 12, 1862; Carondelet; Pittsburg; Mound City; Cincinnati; and Cairo, all constructed by Eades. The Carondelet was built in 100 days.
The Cairo was the first victim of yet another Civil War innovation, the torpedo. Flag officer Andrew Hull Foote, known for his temperance stand, commanded the squadron of ironclads, and cautioned his men that each charge they fired cost the government about $8.
“If your shots fall short, you encourage the enemy; if they reach home, you demoralize him and get the worth of your money,” he said.
A news reporter was on board the Louisville during the attack on Ft. Donelson. He reported, “A shell raked us from bow to stern, passed through the wheel house, emerged, dropped and exploded in the river just at our stern. Then, a 10-inch solid shot entered our starboard bow-port, demolished a gun-carriage, killed three men and wounded four others, traversed the entire length of the boat and sank into the river in our wake.
“Then, a shell came shrieking through the air, striking fair into our forward starboard port, killing one man, wounding two and then passed aft, sundering our rudder chains and rendering the boat unmanageable.”  
As the Louisville floated downstream, she was followed by the St. Louis and Pittsburgh – all would return to fight another day.
The ironclads were the backbone of the Federal river fleet and played a very significant role in the course of the Civil War. James Boggs was a part of it all.
His discharge, signed at Cairo by C.H. Davis, commander of the U.S. Naval Forces on Western Waters, was dated Aug. 19, 1862, and was used as proof of his service when he applied for citizenship.
Following his service, James returned to his wife, Sarah, in Fayette County and lived out his life here, dying in June 1911.