(read by Boy Scout Anthu Nguyen at the GAR Memorial Day Ceremony May 25th, 2015)
The U.S.S. Cincinnati was sinking. Nothing was going to prevent that. But the Cincinnati would not go down without one last act of pride and defiance.
All of the gunboat’s staffs had been shot away during the battle. Quartermaster Francis Bois, who had coolly given signals throughout the battle, took the flag, the Stars and Stripes, and nailed it to the last remnants of her foremast, so that when the Cincinnati did sink beneath the waves, it was with her flag still flying.
Francis Bois was a Canadian by birth. However, he joined the Union forces after the Civil War started. Originally, he joined the army and was a private in the 10th Massachusetts Infantry. He transferred to the navy in September, 1862.
The U.S.S Cincinnati was a distinguished, if not famous, gunboat of the U.S. Navy. It had bombarded two forts and attacked a confederate gunboat fleet in the early part of 1862, before Mr. Bois had joined her. It had even been sunk once during the bombardment of Fort Pillow, but had been raised to sail and fight again.
Francis Bois’ heroics took place during the siege of Vicksburg. If you are not a Civil War buff, you may have never had heard of Vicksburg, a small town in Mississippi. However, during the Civil War it was THE town, as it could be used to control a major portion of the Mississippi River. As part of the siege, The U.S.S. Cincinnati, along with other gunboats, were ordered to attack a battery of Confederate guns high on a hill. A contemporary article in the Harper Weekly described what happened “The U.S.S. Cincinnati went gallantly into action, rounded the point, and blazed away at the rebel batteries, but the latter were not idle, and all the guns that could be brought to bear—rifled and smooth bore — opened on her. Her tiller -ropes were shot away, and she got some heavy shot into her sides. The pilot was killed at the wheel, and her commander took his place. All the men at the wheel were wounded, but Lieut. Bache escaped unharmed. She started up the river, as she made a great deal of water, rounded again the point of the peninsula opposite Vicksburg, and was struck by a plunging 10-inch smooth-bore or 7-inch rifled shot ; she then commenced to sink, and her captain ran her inshore, where she sank to her hammock netting. The officers and crew saved nothing. According to the captain the Cincinnati lost about thirty men in killed and wounded, and 15 to 20 drowned.”
Mr. Bois survived the fight, and the war. Vicksburg surrendered on July 4, 1863. For his bravery on the night of May 27th, Francis Bois was awarded the Medal of Honor. He eventually moved to Puget Sound, where he became a miner. He died in on January 25th, 1920. He is buried in this cemetery, where a lone scout stands reverent at his grave.
Today is Memorial Day. Mr. Bois was lucky, as he survived the shelling of May 27th, and survived the war. However, over 1 million Americans have died while serving their country in wartime. We hope that on this holiday, an American holiday, you have a day filled with family, friends and fun. But as you go about your day, please take a moment to reflect on those who have, indeed, given the last full measure of devotion, so all of us have the freedom to live as we see fit.