John W. Bennett and the Battle of Mobile Bay

by Jack White on January 12, 2013

Springfield Cemetery in Sykesville is loaded with cool graves and good stories and interesting links to most, but not all, of the town’s history – not to mention American history. This story, published by the Sykesville Gatehouse Museum in a recent edition of its ArtiFACTS newsletter, has something to do with this great picture from the Civil War Battle of Mobile Bay.

battle-mobile-bay

It’s written by museum volunteer Fran Midkiff and tells the tale of one of the many Maryland men who fought on the side of the Confederacy during the Civil War. His name is John W. Bennett and he settled nearby after the war and is buried in Springfield Cemetery not far from the grave of George Patterson, an owner of many slaves, and probably also a Southern sympathizer.

Here’s the grave. The tall structures in the background belong to the Pattersons.

bennett-grave

Bennett commanded a ship during the battle. Here’s the story.

By Fran Midkiff
During the Civil War, Maryland (along with Virginia, West Virginia, and Delaware) was one of four “border states” with residents sympathetic to both the Union and Confederate positions. Southern and eastern Marylanders tended to side with the South, while northern and western Marylanders tended to side with the North. One Marylander who served in the Confederate Navy is of particular note because, after the end of the Civil War, he settled in the Sykesville area and was buried in the Springfield Presbyterian Church cemetery.

John W. Bennett (January 11, 1822, to June 29, 1902) was the son of an affluent Talbot County family. He married Sarah (Sally) Lloyd Lowndes, daughter of Charles Lowndes, a Commodore in the U.S. Navy, and his wife Sarah Scott Lloyd. Both the Lloyds and the Lowndes were wealthy and politically active.

Commodore Lowndes’ wife was his first cousin and the daughter of Edward Lloyd, governor of Maryland from 1809-1811, of Wye, Maryland. Lowndes’ nephew, Lloyd Lowndes, Jr., was governor of Maryland from 1896-1900.

Bennett was a member of the first graduating class in the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. He was designated a Midshipman on February 10, 1840, passed Midshipman on July 11, 1846, and received his Masters on March 1, 1855. He became a Lieutenant on September 14, 1855.

When the Civil War broke out, Bennett was offered a commission in the U.S. Navy; however, he sided with the South and joined the Confederate Navy in 1861. Although he resigned, he was officially dismissed on April 19, 1861, a common practice the Union followed with those who chose to serve in the Confederate Navy or Army.

The Battle of Mobile Bay

Lieutenant Bennett was originally assigned to the Nashville, a man-of-war, commissioned by the Confederacy in the fall of 1861. Later, he was put in command of the Gaines, a wooden side-wheel gunboat [pictured below]. Hastily constructed in order to create a navy for the South, the Gaines was built with inferior materials in Mobile, Alabama, in 1861-62.

ganes-phote

Bennett commanded the Gaines during the Battle of Mobile Bay on August 5, 1864, and the ship was badly damaged in the battle. There is some belief that because the vessel was sinking due to shelling below the waterline and become grounded, the officers scuttled her to keep her out of Union hands. Most of the crew escaped to Mobile.

The Battle of Mobile Bay was a serious loss for the Confederacy because it led to the closing of Mobile Bay, an important Southern port for refueling and repairs. As a result, only the harbor at Wilmington, North Carolina, was left open for the Southern Navy. The city of Mobile, however, remained in the hands of the Confederacy.

After the War

After the war, Captain Bennett and his family settled in Carroll County. The 1870 Census indicated that they were living in District 5 with their two daughters, Ellen (1858-1942) and Harriett (1860-1938), and two sons, Charles (unknown) and Pennington (1869-1916). At the time of the 1880 Census, the Bennetts had added two more sons, Beverley (1871-1937) and Francis (1873-1946), and Bennett’s occupation was listed as “farmer.” Curiously, at the 1900 Census, Bennett’s occupation was listed as “sailor.”

Captain Bennett died on June 29, 1902, at the age of 80. His wife, Sarah died on March 14, 1905. They are buried with five of their six children in Springfield Cemetery, located at the Springfield Presbyterian Church on Spout Hill Road, Sykesville. Captain Bennett’s grave is marked with a large tombstone, inscribed “John William Bennett, Captain of the Confederate Navy.”

An anchor is carved on top of the tombstone.

 

bennett-anchor

While you’re here, have you read our story on Wade Warfield yet? It just might be our best ever. Click here to read it. Or else.

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