Charles P. Tibbetts
Charles P. Tibbetts is the genial steward of the City of Chicago, Benton Harbor. For upward of twenty years the smiling face and cheery disposition of Charlie Tibbetts, the ever obliging steward of the City of Chicago, has greeted and made welcome the thousands of patrons of the Graham & Morton Transportation Co.'s steamers. He is a native of Italy, having been born January 1, 1842, six miles from the walled city of Lucca. His parents, Nicholas and Agnes Tibbetts, were also natives of Italy.
At the age of thirteen young Tibbetts, to escape a seven-years' service in the army, came to America as a passenger in the Italian brig Machivello. Landing at Boston, Mass., he was for a time occupied in molding plaster of paris statuary, and then for two years served as cook of the schooner Pocahontas, which traded up and down the New England coast. Then for four years he was engaged principally in cod and mackerel fishing, being on several different vessels. In 1859 he was the captain of a small fishing boat, known as the Pinkey, in the fishing trade, and for a time was captain of the Lizzie Ann, when he next shipped on an American brig bound for Kingston, Jamaica, via Baltimore; but on arriving in Baltimore he left her, and the vessel was never heard from after leaving that port. He next went to Gloucester, Mass., and shipped as sailor on a bark bound for Mt. Desert, Maine, and on nearing that point (it being in the winter) they encountered a great gale and snowstorm, when the vessel was blown off its course, and they were four days in getting back. From this experience up until 1859 Mr. Tibbetts served on various vessels, and in different capacities up and down the New England and northern coasts, being much of the time engaged as a fisherman in the cod-fishing and mackerel trade. During the year 1859-60 he went to South America, shipping as an able seaman on a sailing vessel.
On the breaking out of the war, and on the second day after the President's call for troops, April 17, 1861, our young patriotic foreigner enlisted in Company G, Eighth Massachusetts Infantry, the colonel and major of which were the subsequently distinguished men, Gen. Benjamin Butler, and Ben Perly Poor, and Lieutenant-Colonel Hincks. The company was made of nearly all sailors and marines, and the Colonel having a knowledge of this, and as he was desirous of selecting a number of men for hazardous duties, he, while the command was en route to Washington, asked for volunteers for the work of sappers and miners, and young Tibbetts was one of sixty-five, nearly all sailors and marines, that volunteered for the mission. At Annapolis, Md., this squad of sixty-five was detailed, after having taken from the enemy the frigate Constitution, which was partially buried in the mud and shallow water, to unstrip her of her guns, which they did, and put her afloat in deep water. They remounted her and took her to New York City, where the sixty-five sailors and marines, being almost in rags, and dirty from their work, were marched through the streets, and each given a new suit of clothes, by A. T. Stewart, of that city. They were quartered in the basement of the "Astor House," while in the parlors above were being banqueted a company of Zouaves from Salem, Mass., who were assuming credit for the capture of the Constitution. However, the facts soon became known, and the New York World, a well-known daily published in the city, came out giving credit to whom it belonged, and the sixty-five men were taken to Washington, where they received the thanks of Congress, and were met by and each given the hand of President Lincoln.
At the expiration of his term of enlistment, sixty days, our subject returned to Massachusetts, and from Gloucester shipped on the schooner Life Boat, and made a trip on the Gulf of St. Lawrence; but in the course of a few weeks again entered the service, enlisting in S. Tyler Reed's Mounted Rangers. As one of General Butler's Body Guard, Tibbetts was soon made the private orderly of the General, and as such served him until that officer was relieved at New Orleans, in December, 1862. On General Butler's recommendation Mr. Tibbetts became the private orderly of General Banks, Butler's successor, and remained with the latter until the Red River disaster, and for meritorious service was then promoted to the captaincy of Company A, the first company of colored cavalry put in the field. He remained with the company until January, 1864. Captain Tibbetts was then offered a lieutenant's command under Colonel Cole, which was accepted, and he went to Fortress Monroe and was again with General Butler's command. That fall he resigned, having heard indirectly sad news from home. He had got as far as Boston, when he received a letter to the contrary, so he went to Gloucester, and there joined the Twenty-fifth , and attached company, under Captain Bakson, and went to Boston Harbor, where the command was put at guarding prisoners. After serving in and about Richmond, he was mustered out of the service July 25, 1865.
While acting as private orderly of General Butler, Young Tibbetts was the means of saving the General from falling into the hands of the enemy. While at New Orleans the General wished to review some troops at Pensacola, Fla., and set out to do so in a sail yacht. The person in command of the yacht, it seems, was later proved to be a traitor, for while the General was sleeping the yacht was rapidly being steered to the enemy side, and but for the foresight of orderly Tibbetts, who had been a sailor for some years, and who, by a comparison at times of the compass, detected that something was wrong, aroused the General and made the situation known to him. It became evident to General Butler that the orderly was right, and that the commander of the yacht had intended to give them over to the enemy; it is but necessary to add that the traitor was put in chains. For this service, of which General Butler was most grateful, orderly Tibbetts was to have to received a lieutenancy in the navy, but the appointment was in some way hung up for a time, and probably through the modesty of Tibbetts in not following it up, was not consummated.
After the war Captain Tibbetts resumed a seafaring life, and for the greater part of the time was sailing on the ocean, on vessels plying along the American coast, and traveled at various points from St. John's, New Brunswick, to Key West, and New Orleans. Among some of the different vessels of which he served on board, special mention is made of the bark Waltham which went ashore on the Florida beach in a great hurricane that swept the Atlantic coast, when within twenty miles of it, and upwards up a hundred vessels were wrecked; the steamer Florida, the New Brunswick and the G. W. Goddard, a sister schooner of the New York Wonder, being among number. During the decade mentioned the Captain served three years on the police force of New Orleans, and, while the same, invented a self-turning street car turn table, which he had patented. In 1874 he came north, and at Milwaukee shipped on the propeller Messenger, he next joined the steamer Saginaw, on which he was made steward. He again went to the Messenger, and in January, 1875, she went into the hands of the Graham & Morton Transportation Co., and Mr. Tibbetts went with her, and has been in that company's employ ever since, excepting a part of two seasons; he has also served in the same capacity on the Skylark, Lora, City of St. Joseph, Puritan in the City of Chicago.
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This version of Volume II is based, with permission, on the work of the great volunteers at the Marine Captains Biographies site. To them goes the credit for reorganizing the content into some coherent order. The biographies in the original volume are in essentially random order.
Some of the transcription work was also done by Brendon Baillod, who maintains an excellent guide to Great Lakes Shipwreck Research.