Second Opium War.

[Manuscript title:] "Log of a Cruise in the U. S. Sloop of War Cyane.1851, 1852, 1853, 1854". [continued to 1860].

Stock Code: 127365
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Second Opium War, US Marines and baseball

An enthralling and richly detailed journal of a decade at sea with the US Navy during the 1850s, recording back-to-back cruises on three sloops-of-war, seeing action in three different arenas: on the Cyane, which shelled Greytown, Nicaragua (1854), the Preble during the Paraguay Expedition (1858) - a flexing of muscle by the US Navy that concluded peaceably - and the Battle of Antón Lizardo during the Mexican War of Reform (1860). However, the centre-piece is the two-and-half year cruise on the Levant with the East India Squadron, seeing sharp action during the Second Opium War. The Levant played a key role in the reduction of the Chinese Barrier Forts along the Pearl River in southern China (modern day Zhujiang River, separating Macau and Hong Kong) in a series of daring assaults involving the US Marine Corps, in what has been described as "an impressive proto-amphibious operation" (Allan R. Millett, Semper Fidelis: The History of the United States Marine Corps, 1991, p. 85).

The log-keeper was Nantucket-born sailmaker Daniel Coffin Brayton (1829-1904), whose father, William H. Brayton was also a sailmaker and served on the frigate Macedonian which, in 1837, sailed with the African Squadron under Commodore Perry (see Register of the Commissioned and Warrant Officers of the Navy of the United States, 1842). Father and son both trained at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Daniel entered the navy on 30 August 1851 and during the Civil War was severely wounded during the battle of Mobile Bay. While serving on the sloop-of-war Brooklyn, a shell from the Confederate ram Tennessee "burst on the berth deck, killing five and wounding thirteen" (Documents of the Assembly of the State of New York: ninetieth session, 1867, p. 605). Brayton's brother, too, was a sailmaker, on the steamer Powhatan, and "lost his right hand, and was taken prisoner at Fort Sumter" in 1864 (ibid.). Another Brayton, a Samuel N., was on the Cyane during the 1860s, and served as assistant surgeon on the Union ironclad Montauk during the Civil War. As an interesting aside, Daniel Brayton is cited as having played several baseball games for the Brooklyn Atlantics in 1855 and 1856 (see Base Ball Founders: The Clubs, Players and Cities of the Northeast that Established the Game, 2013, p. 129); and in the entry for 19 October 1855 he notes "Played Base Ball with Club". The Atlantic Club of Brooklyn was established in August 1855 and was a founding member of the National Association of Base Ball Players in 1857. It was "probably the best baseball club in the United States during the 1850s and the 1860s" (ibid.).

Brayton is an observant sailor and his narrative is pithy and often witty. The journal of each cruise is preceded by a list of the officers assigned to the ship, commissioned and warranted, and a tabular summary of ports visited, dates of arrival and departure, days under sail and distance travelled. His journal is in diary form, with none of the usual hourly entries of wind and sea, or records of daily latitudes and longitudes. Rather, each entry covers many dates with occasional lengthy observations. This indicates that Brayton may have drawn up this logbook with an eye on posterity, from notes made on the various cruises.

USS Levant, second-class sloop-of-war launched 28 December 1837 at New York Navy Yard; part of the US Navy's East India Squadron, 1855-58.

Brayton joined the Levant on 15 October 1855 under Commander (later Commodore) William Smith; her first lieutenant being George Colvocoresses, veteran of the Wilkes Expedition (1838-42) and author of Four Years in a Government Exploring Expedition (New York, 1852). Brevet Captain John D. Simms, who would make a name for himself during this voyage, led Levant's contingent of Marines. For the next 29 months Levant would serve with the East India Squadron under Commodore James Armstrong on board his flag ship the frigate San Jacinto, and alongside her sister ship the USS Portsmouth The squadron was on duty in Chinese waters when the Second Opium War broke out between Great Britain and the Chinese empire in October 1856.


Oct 15, 1855 (New York): On the 1st instant received orders to report to Capt. Bigelow for duty on board the U.S. Ship Levant. Reported for duty.

19 Oct: Rec'd orders to report every morning to our 1st Lieut. Mother B. visited the ship. Played Base Ball with Club. The Levant sails via Brazil and South Africa to Chinese waters. They put in at Hong Kong, Amoy (modern day Xiamen), Foo-Chow-Foo (Fuzhou), Whampoa (Huangpu), and Canton (Guangzhou), before encountering fire from the Barrier Forts centred around what was Napier Island (now Ersha Island) on the approach to Canton.

Nov 15: Capt Foote of the Portsmouth and Dr. Gihon of our ship went up river, when opposite the Barrier Forts, they were fired upon by the Chinese. They had to return to their ships.

This shooting, and another the next day resulting in the death of a navy coxswain while sounding the river, set in motion the subsequent destruction of the four Barrier Forts protecting Canton that Brayton describes in the following entries.

Nov 16: Steamer Com For Kum-Fa (in the employ of our Squadron) took us in tow, we proceeded on our way up Junk River Pearl River. The Portsmouth ahead in tow of a steamer. 4 p.m. we struck on a rock, where we remained hard and fast one hour. The Forts opened fire on the Portsmouth, we could not assist her, she returned the fire, at dark all firing stopped. We hauled our ship ahead of, or inside of the Portsmouth nearer to the Forts. 90 men from the San Jack came on board of us. Capt. Bell of the San J took charge of our ship in the absence of Capt. Smith. Lieut. Carter, Master Bowen & Captain Simms of the Marines came on board. Lewis 1st Lieut. Of the San Jack took charge of the Powder Division, temporarily. "Brevet Captain John D. Simms commanded the combined force of some sixty Marines and sixty sailors, one of the first instances of a Marine officer commanding a landing party" (Millett, p. 85).

Nov 17: Rain. Got springs on the cables hawsers or ropes fastened to the cables, slackened or tightened at will by men in the ship, in order to change the direction of fire. At 5 a.m. ship in fighting position ready for action. At quarters all day waiting for the Chinese to fire.

No 19: Everything ready for a fight.

Nov. 20: At 7 a.m. opened fire on Fort No.1 continued to fire one hour & a half. The forts (4 of them) fired briskly. Called away all boats, in a few minutes 11 boat crews landed near Fort No. 1, in 30 minutes from the time of leaving ships, the fort was taken. Changed our fire to Fort No. 2, to the left. Evening. All boats returned with any quantity of Flags and articles of war from the enemy. Two shots came through our ship's side, one on the Spar & the other on the Berth deck, shots cut away rigging, spars and done much damage to the decks. One man wounded.

Nov. 21: Beat to Quarters at 3 a.m. the Chinese having opened up on us. Returned the fire. Soon after the Com For came alongside and took us in tow nearer Fort No. 2. Came to anchor and opened fire, a number of shot struck our hull, one shot struck the muzzle of No. 2 Gun and rendered it unfit to use, another shot away our main stay. Yet none injured the ship to any extent. After firing for an hour, all boats were taken by steamer up to Fort No. 2, in 15 minutes after landing the Fort was taken, lost three men belonging to the Portsmouth. 3 p.m. a boat load of Marines and Blue Jackets took Fort No. 3. Provisions were sent to the forts for the crew and officers.

Nov 22: Daylight our crew made an attack on Fort No. 4, which was taken in a few minutes, not a man hurt. Men at work all day destroying the forts. Commenced with the Sun to take the forts, now return against the Sun to destroy them. 3 p.m. All boats returned to their ships. Soon the word was passed to return and demolish all the forts. All hands remained in Fort No. 4 over night.

Nov 23: Sunday, 10 a.m. sent two boats to Fort No. 1 to destroy all the guns, accompanied them, remained until 3 p.m., returned well tired.

Nov 26: Stood watch and rowed guard. Went up to Fort No. 4 with dinner for men. The Chinese made an attack upon Fort No. 4 at midnight but were drove off three times. Came to anchor opposite Fort No. 3, plenty of water. 10 p.m. Edward Rielly Riley (Seaman) died. He received shot wound in the calf of the leg on the 20 inst. His leg was taken off. Mortification setting in caused his death. Edward Riley is one of 12 sailors killed during the Barrier Fort battles who is identified on a monument to this action erected at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 1858.

Nov 27: Fort No. 4 was destroyed by powder.

Nov 28: Our men left Fort No. 4 for No. 3 where they encamped, commenced to ruin the walls.

Nov. 29: Fort No. 3 was blown up at 4 p.m. Our people encamped in no. 2, destroyed a very large gun, 24 feet long.

Nov 30: Sunday. Steamer Com For running regular between Whampoa and the forts, twice a day. Our men given a day of rest for the first in 15 days. Fighting is too much like hard work.

Dec 19: Got up anchor, and in tow of steamer stood for Hong Kong.

The Levant returned to the Unites States sixteen months later via Manila, Shanghai, and Cape Town. A year would pass before Brayton would once again go to sea, this time on a 20 month voyage to South America and the Caribbean.

The two narratives of cruises on the Cyane and Preble are full of similar detail and incident.

USS Cyane, sloop-of-war, launched 2 December 1837 at Boston Navy Yard.

The highlights of the first two cruises are visits to Greytown, Nicaragua, which was part of the British protectorate known as the Mosquito Coast. The local government had been harassing American shipping and during Brayton's second cruise the Cyane bombarded Greytown on 13 July 1854 and those buildings left standing were set on fire by a landing party of Marines, reducing the town to ashes. Brayton records the event in some detail:

Brayton's first cruise was 25 months long; the second would last but 82 days. The purpose of the second voyage was to return to Greytown where the Cyane's earlier efforts to persuade the locals to treat American merchants with respect had failed. This time they had orders to return with a vengeance. Brayton's description of that action follows:

11 July 1854 (San Juan de Nicaragua; Greytown): Came to anchor in the harbour. Saluted Mr. Fabens (American Commercial Agent) with 7 guns.

12 July: The Marines & 20 men went on shore in charge of Liuets Pickering & Fauntleroy, myself acting as guide. Pasted Proclamations given the inhabitants 24 hours to clear out or come to terms. Proceeded to the armory, found 3 field pieces, 14 muskets, and any quantity of Powder, put all in a scow belonging to the Mail Co, and with a steamer was towed over to Punta Arenas, after which all hands returned to the ship.

13 July: 9 a.m. No answer having been received up to this time, commenced to fire on the town. Stopped 3 times to give them a chance to come to terms, fired until 3 p.m., fired 78 rounds. The party of yesterday was ordered ashore to set the town on fire. At 7, returned on board having destroyed the town and leaving nothing but ashes.

(One English Gun Schooner protested against our firing upon the town.)

6 Sept (Boston, Charlestown Navy Yard): Hauled down the Ensign, ship went out of commission.

USS Preble, sloop-of-war launched 13 June 1839 at Portsmouth Navy Yard, Maine.

On 16 October 1858, Brayton received orders to report to Norfolk for duty on board the Preble, commander (later Rear Admiral) Thornton A. Jenkins. Preble was one of nineteen ships assigned to the little known Paraguay Expedition, an undertaking that sought an indemnity and apology from that country for firing on the USS Water Witch, while she was surveying the Rio de la Plata River in 1855, killing her helmsman. The fleet gathered at Montevideo in late December 1858 and moved up the La Plata, Panara and Paraguay rivers. At Rosario the American commissioner and flotilla commander Commodore William B. Shubrick left the force and proceeded to Asunción in the sidewheel gunboat Water Witch and steamer Fulton. There they negotiated with dictator Carlos Antonio López who extended an apology, indemnified the family of the slain helmsman, and granted a new and advantageous commercial treaty to the United States. Brayton's journal covers the entire event including sailing up river to Rosario.

During the Mexican War of Reform of 1860 the Preble was involved in the running action known as the Battle of Antón Lizardo. "In 1860, the US got involved in Mexico, or at least, Mexican waters, yet again following the Mexican-American War of 1846-48. America was supporting the Mexican Liberals against the Mexican Conservatives in a civil war there, and in the Battle of Antón Lizardo, US warships attacked and defeated Conservative ships" (Kelly & Laycock, All the Countries the Americans Have Ever Invaded: Making Friends and Influencing People?, 2015).

The backdrop to these cruises centres on the foreign policy of two presidents to whom history has been less than kind: "In the 1850s, with very mixed results, two Presidents promoted expansive, but different foreign policy agendas both of which required a very proactive role for the navy. Whig President Millard Fillmore (1850-53) was primarily interested in promoting American commercial ties to South America and the East Indies Democratic President Franklin Pierce (1853-57) hoped to acquire Cuba and expand American influence in Central America. Although his efforts ended in disarray, he nevertheless expanded both the size and operational use of the peacetime navy" (James C. Bradford (ed.), A Companion to American Military History, 2010, Volume I, p. 527).

This fascinating logbook contemporaneous with Melville's writing of Moby Dick - is eloquently illustrative of American "gunboat diplomacy" on the world stage, brought to life by the observations of a keen-eyed and entirely engaged sailor. His position on board ship is in itself interesting: the sailmaker naturally held an important position and was one of the four warrant officers in the ship's complement, alongside the boatswain, gunner and carpenter, although usually ranked below them on the official registers of the period. They would all have worn the same uniform "and were identified by the buttons on their lower sleeve and the gold lace on their collars" (Preston B. Perrnot, United States Navy Grade Insignia since 1852, 2010, p. 166). In White Jacket (1850), Herman Melville notes that "Next in order below the ward-room officers come the warrant or forward officers, consisting of the boatswain, gunner, carpenter, and sailmaker. Though these worthies sport long coats and wear the anchor-button, yet, in the estimation of the ward-room officers, they are not, technically speaking, rated as gentlemen. The first lieutenant, chaplain, or surgeon, for example, would never dream of inviting them to dinner. In sea parlance, 'they come in at the hawseholes' i.e. promoted from the lower deck to officer rank; they have hard hands; and the carpenter and sail maker practically understand the duties which they are called upon to superintend. They mess by themselves". He also remarks that prior to a burial at sea "in men-of-war the sailmaker is the undertaker", stitching the body of a fellow sailor into the canvas. This is a significant first-hand account of a key era in US foreign policy, unusual in being seen from the perspective of an individual who, to use naval slang, had "come in at the hawsehole".

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Small folio (342 x 207 mm), commercial logbook, 70 pp. of manuscript entries on pale blue ruled paper, divided into four sections separately paginated. Contemporary quarter sheep, marbled sides. Housed in a custom made brick-red cloth solander box.


Much of spine missing, front board holding on cords, internally in very good condition.


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