Captain Amza L. Fitch
Captain Amza L. Fitch, a patriot and soldier of the war of the Rebellion, retired from active life on shipboard in 1888, and is now in business in Chicago as vessel and insurance agent. He was born on April 12, 1839 in Edinburgh, Ohio, and is a son of Hooker M. and Abbie (Lewis) Fitch. The father kept a country store up to the time of his death, which occurred in 1846, when Amza was seven years of age. In 1849 the mother moved to Chicago with her children where she passed to the better world some years later.
In the spring of 1852 Amza L. Fitch began his career on the lakes, shipping on the brig Banner, as boy with Captain Hayes. The next spring Capt. C. J. McGill succeeded to the command of the Banner, and our subject sailed with him all season, a period which Captain Fitch still remembers with pleasure. In 1854 he joined the brig Sarah C. Walbridge, Capt. Scott Hutchinson being in command. The brig was taken to Collinscove island, when the crew recovered the cargo of iron from the wreck of the schooner Star, which had been sunk there about two years previous. During the two months during which this work was being accomplished, Amza kept ship at Collins Harbor island. The next spring he went to Oswego, and joined the new schooner Thomas Y. Avery, then the largest vessel trading through the Welland canal, remaining before the mast in her for two seasons. In the spring of 1857 he was appointed mate of the schooner Augusta, whose history has been somewhat like that assigned to the Wandering Jew, since her collision with the steamer Lady Elgin, September 7, 1860. In 1858 Captain Fitch, when but nineteen years old, got his first boat, the schooner Arabella, to sail. She was owned by Judge Fuller, of Chicago. The next two seasons he sailed as mate of vessels, changing his berth several times.
In April 1861, the Captain, in connection with Mr. Landfair, organized a company of volunteers under President Lincoln's call for 75,000 men to put down the rebellion. This comany was called the Cicero Volunteers, and was tendered to the Governor, but the quota being full it was not accepted, and was disbanded in consequence. Captain Fitch then joined the United States navy as a seaman, and reported on board the receiving ship North Carolina at the Brooklyn navy yard. He was assigned to the sloop-of-war Connecticut, commanded by Lieut.-Commander Maxwell Woodhall. The Connecticut was commissioned to supply the blockading squadron with provisions and ammunition. She was also sent to Bermuda Hundred in pursuit of Southern emissaries, Mason and Slidell, but it did not fall to her lot to capture them. Some days after the notable conflict between the Monitor and the Merrimac the sloop reached Fortress Monroe, and Captain Fitch, who was acting quartermaster, was discharged by reason of expiration of term of service, July 1862. He then went to Buffalo and passed the rest of the season as seaman in schooner Supply. During the winter he assisted Captain Howard (afterward colonel) of the revenue service in recruiting the Thirteenth New York Heavy Artillery, which was intended for marine work in cooperation with the army. As soon as one battery had been mustered and equipped it was ordered to report to Gen. C. K. Graham, commanding the naval brigade on the James river. To Captain Fitch was assigned the duty of fitting out four army gunboats at Green Point, with the rank of captain of Company L, Thirteenth Heavy Artillery, and in February was appointed to the army gunboat General Parke, at Norfolk, Virginia, and led the van up the James river when General Butler made his advance on City Point early in May.
We cannot better express the zeal and courage of Captain Fitch in this ardorous campaign than by quoting from a letter written by Brev. Maj.-Gen. Charles K. Graham to Hon. E. M. Stanton, Secretary of War, with a request that he be made a lieutenant-colonel by brevet: "On the 9th of May, 1864, immediately after the occupation of Bermuda Hundred by the troops under the command of Major-General Butler, I was ordered to steam up the Appomattox river with the two vessels from the navy furnished by Admiral Lee, as far as Petersburg if possible, if not until attacked by a superior force. Believing the enemy had placed torpedoes above the Point of Rocks, I directed Captain Fitch, at that time not mustered into the service and then in command of the army gunboat Parke, to lead the way on account of the light draft of his vessel. Attaching dredges to hawsers placed over the stern of his boat, Captain Fitch steamed up the river under a heavy fire from Fort Clifton, until one of the vessels of the squadron was sunk. Captain Fitch's vessel was struck by a fifty-pound rifle shot just above the water line. After this the vessels were ordered back in consequence of information communicated to me by Brig.- General Hinks that he was unable to advance farther because the guns of the enemy, which commanded the river, like-wise commanded the road by which he was advancing.
"During the winter of 1864 Captain Fitch obtained information from the negroes on the banks of the James, occupied by the enemy, that a powerful party under the command of Lieutenant Davidson of the Rebel navy had left Richmond for the purpose of placing torpedoes on Harrison bar, was directed by me to intercept the party and capture the torpedoes. This he did after a spirited skirmish, capturing all the boats with twelve large-sized torpedoes and anchors, and implements required in placing them. For this exploit Major-General Butler, commanding the Army of the James, highly complimented Captain Fitch in general orders. Had these torpedoes been placed on the bar all communication would have been cut with Fortress Monroe and Washington, and many serious results would have followed."
Captain Fitch accompanied the first expedition to Fort Fisher, and with the boats of the naval brigade assisted in debarking the troops, and landing the only two pieces of artillery that reached the shore. In re-embarking the troops, after the surf became so high that it was impossible to use his own boats or those of the navy, Captain Fitch steamed in with the Chamberlin, and turning her head to the sea kept her paddles in motion, while her hawser extended from the stern of the vessel to the shore, serving as a bridge to rescue upward of three hundred of our troops, who otherwise would have been captured by the enemy. For this important service Captain Fitch, and the other officers of the naval brigade assisting him, were handsomely mentioned in the official reports by Brig.-General Ames and Brig.-General Curtis.
In addition to these exploits, Captain Fitch performed many others both in North Carolina and Virginia, and to his untiring industry, bravery and vigilance the army before Richmond was indebted in a great measure for the preservation of the uninter- rupted communication with the bases from which supplies were derived, to the seizure of many important mails, to the capture of various signal parties, and to the capture of various signal parties, and to the procuring of much highly valuable information. He also acted as convoy for all vessels running between Newbern and Kingston on the river Neuse. He opened the mail route between Newbern and Norfolk, Va., through Chesapeake and Albemarle Sound, with the army gunboat Shrapnel, and furnished information which effectually put down smuggling and blockade-running. It was early in October, 1864, that Captain Fitch was ordered to Newbern, N. C., to take charge of the gunboat Rena, to relieve Captain Gordon, who was killed by the enemy a few days later on the river Neuse, while on an expedition up the river with Captain Fitch. After performing the duties assigned him, he turned the Reno over to the proper officer, assumed command of the gunboat Shrapnel, and fulfilled the duties above related. After performing these difficult tasks to the satisfaction of the commanding general, he again took command of the gunboat Parke, on the river Neuse, and in April, 1865, recaptured the schooner Telescope, which was partially burned by the Rebels, and the barge James R. Gould, slightly burned, and laden with oats.
On returning to the seat of war after a short furlough, Captain Fitch reported to Major-General Scofield, who had just effected a junction with General Sherman's army of invasion, and was ordered to take command of the army gunboat squadron at Newbern, N. C., and co-operate with the Western army, which position he retained until the close of the war in August, doing effectual work at all times. After receiving honorable discharge from the government, the Captain, full of honors, returned to the lakes, and with innate modesty accepted an appointment as mate on the schooner Emeu, as if no higher aspiration had ever possessed him. In the spring of 1866 he was appointed master of the schooner Japan, owned by Capt. C.J. McGill, a veteran lake master. During the season of 1867-68 he sailed the schooner Star of the North, and the two following seasons he was master of the bark Lotus. In the winter of 1870 he went to Clinton, Iowa, and opened a wholesale and retail grocery store, which was destroyed by fire in the spring of 1873, when he went to Buffalo, purchased a one-third interest in the schooner John Kelderhouse and sailed her three seasons. In 1876 he sailed the schooner Reed Case; 1877-78, the Annie Vought; 1879, the Thomas H. Howland; and in the winter built the schooner Thomas L. Parker in company with Capt. C.W. Elphicke, and sailed her seven seasons, and in 1887 he sailed the steamer Josephine. In the spring of 1888 Captain Fitch formed a partnership with P. H. Fleming in the vessel insurance business, the association remaining in force until 1890, when he associated with C. W. Elphicke in the same line of business, which they continued six years, dissolving by mutual consent. In 1896 he opened a like business on his own account, in which he is now engaged.
Fraternally, Captain Fitch is a life member of Kilwinning Masonic Lodge, and of Corinthian Chapter, Chicago; a charter member of the Siloam Commandery, Knights Templar, of Oak Park; a comrade of the Phil Sheridan Post, G. A. R., and a member of the Oak Park Club.
In September, 1868, Capt. Amza Fitch was wedded to Miss Ella J., daughter of George and Maria (Taylor) Veazie, and one daughter, Ella Maude, has been born to this union. The family homestead is charmingly located at Oak Park, Ill. The Captain's business office is at No. 12 Sherman street, 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.