Antique marine book has curious inscription

To the editor: Alan Littell’s recent correspondence concerning Captain Sumner’s Lines (Correspondence, Issue 119, Jan.⁄Feb. 2002) brought to mind a very interesting book in my nautical collection: a third edition (1851) copy of the good captain’s famous book, A New and Accurate Method of Finding a Ship’s Position at Sea.

I found the book in a used bookstore in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, and had to put on my best poker face when I confronted the owner of the shop for a price, lest she see just how badly I wanted that musty, dusty little volume. I counted myself lucky when I paid the few dollars the owner requested for a copy of a book that had so changed the practice of navigation at sea. Granted, it did have some water damage, but that only served to legitimize it as a once-valued nautical tool of some 19th-century mariner.

But sometimes old books have more than one tale to tell. At the top of the first page, I found written in a bold, flowing hand, the name W. A. Gladding, no doubt the owner’s name, I thought. Below the name were the letters USRS, which I later learned stood for United States Revenue Service (“S” was written in the old-fashioned “F” form). There were also many scribbled position calculations on every available square inch of the page.

On the inside cover across from the first page was a tantalizing notation in a different hand, which read: “Confederate Steamer Reliance captured off Abeco [sic] Light July 22, 1862 by USS Huntsville.” Intrigued, I decided to find out what I could about Gladding and Reliance, and after some hours researching on the Web, I found the following:

Report of Acting Volunteer Lieutenant Rogers, U.S. Navy, commanding U.S.S. Huntsville, regarding the capture of the Confederate steamer Reliance.

U.S.S. HUNTSVILLE, Bahama Channel, July 21, 1862

SIR: I have the honor to report to you the capture this day of the rebel steamer Reliance, three days out from Doboy Bar, Ga., bound to Nassau with a cargo of 243 bales sea-island cotton.

I fell in with her soon after daylight, a little to eastward of Abaco, and after a chase of about 30 miles, succeeded in bringing her to, after firing 14 shot and shell.

She is commanded by Lieutenant Gladding, formerly of the Navy and revenue service, and since the rebellion in command of the schooner Parliament, in which he has several times run the blockade.

The Reliance was chased on leaving Doboy by oneof the blockading fleet, but escaped by superior speed. I regred extremely not being able to either send or tow this prize to Boston, agreeably to your circular, but she had fuel for only six hours, and my own coal was very nearly exhausted, and would but take us to Key West, to which port I am now towing her.

The 1851 edition of Sumner’s book, A New and Accurate Method of Finding a Ship’s Position at Sea found by the author.

Please find enclosed list of officers and muster roll of crew of the Huntsville.

Respectfully, your obedient servant,


Acting Volunteer Lieutenant, Commanding.


Secretary of the Navy, Washington, D.C.

It is curious that there is a day difference between the book notation and Rogers’ report to Secretary Welles. But here’s how I think events may have unfolded: Gladding bought his Sumner while still with the U.S. Revenue Service (1851+). He wrote his name inside to protect his property, years passed, and he joined the U.S. Navy, taking his collection of navigational books with him. The South seceded, the loyal southerner quit the U.S. Navy (like so many other Navy men at the time), and he offered his services to the Confederacy.

Gladding gradually made a name for himself running the Federal blockade in the famous Confederate schooner Parliament. Still later, Gladding was given command of the Rebel steamer Reliance, which was engaged in running cotton to international markets to earn badly needed cash for an increasingly desperate Confederate government.

On July 21 (or 22), 1862, Reliance was pursued by Huntsville, but she was unable to outrun the faster U.S. vessel, forcing Gladding to surrender her or be blown out of the water. Rogers then took Gladding prisoner, confiscated his papers, books and probably his bourbon and chronometer. Rogers wrote a note on the inside left cover of Gladding’s Sumner as a remembrance of the day he captured a Confederate ship &mdash and added this important navigational book to his growing nautical library.

Much of the above is just informed speculation, of course, but in all probability it’s not far off the mark of what actually happened.

When not snuffling around used bookstores, J. Gregory Dill writes the column Looking Astern for each issue of Ocean Navigator. He lives in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.

By Ocean Navigator