Caroline called him Hardie. Named for his long deceased paternal Grandfather, Hardin Beverly Littlepage was born 8 March, 1841.1His sister Rose noted his birthday in her diary. Grandfather Capt. Hardin Littlepage died in 1819. The seventh of their children, and the fifth son, Lewis and Caroline probably chose his nickname to distinguish him from the other nearby Hardin Littlepages. Captain Hardin Littlepage (1810-1879), Lewis’ nephew, lived next door at Aspen Grove. Hardin Benskin Littlepage (1827-1860), another nephew, was raised nearby but would move to Montgomery, Alabama in the late 1850s. As the third of three boys born in four years, young Hardie would have had ample opportunity for companionship, and maybe a hard time getting a word in edgewise.
Apparently his nickname took some time to gain currency. In Caroline’s short diary from 1849 she mentions him twice, both times as Hardin. Four years later, as he turned twelve, his sister Rose wrote occasionally of him in her diary. But she never referred to her little brother as Hardie, only Hardin.2Rose mentions her Uncle Hardin twice as often as her brother, 30 times. Cousin Hardin Benskin is mentioned three times. What she does write of him is rather unremarkable. He goes to school, attends church, runs errands, helps his father, visits with friends and family. At twelve Hardie’s family had no way of predicting his exceptional future.
The decisive event that was to shape Hardie’s life occurred in 1858 when he was accepted as an acting midshipman in the U.S. Navy. Evidently his three years of scholarship at Rumford Academy, the long string of Littlepages addressed as General, Captain, Major, or Colonel, and probably his family’s political connections, secured Hardie a position at the U.S. Naval Academy, the star-crossed class of 1862.3Rumford had become a military academy at that point. The number of years of attendance at Rumford is mentioned in “A Midshipman Aboard the Virginia, Part 1” from a memoir by Hardin Beverly Littlepage, Civil War Times Illustrated, Vol. 13, No. 1, April 1974, page 6. More research is needed into Hardie’s appointment and Annapolis years. From that article we also learn that Hardie kept a journal. As he quoted from it at length in the 1880’s it is hoped that it is extant.
As the Union struggled for stability Hardie adjusted from farm life to the rigors of the military. And as one of only a handful of midshipmen from southern or border states in his small class, he maintained close quarters with young men from different backgrounds, and with different values. To an experience usually described as fraternal and broadening were slowly added elements of contention and constriction. Nonetheless it was there Hardie met men who would play important roles in his life for many years to come.4There were 32 members of Hardie’s graduating class. Nine were from Confederate (4) or border states (5). Hardie was the only Virginian. None were from the “Deep South.” The total southern or border state enrollment at Annapolis averaged about 30% during Hardie’s years there. These figures are taken from The United States Naval Academy by Park Benjamin (1900).
Hardie made his first training cruise the following year. Aboard the sloop-of-war USS Plymouth he visited England, France, Spain, Portugal, and the Madeira Islands.5Heavily gunned, the Plymouth was commissioned in 1844 and was part of Commodore Mathew C. Perry’s expedition to Japan in 1853. Converted as a trainer, she was undergoing repairs at the Norfolk Navy Yard in 1861 when the war commenced. She was burned and scuttled when the U.S. Navy abandoned the yards. Hardie wrote that Caroline fretted for his safety all during his voyage every time she witnessed a storm.6 “A Midshipman Aboard the Virginia, Part 1,” Civil War Times Illustrated, Vol. 13, No. 1, April 1974, page 6. Little did she know that storms would soon not be the only hazard at sea for her sailor.
Midshipman H. B. Littlepage managed to maintain his focus, progressing through the most difficult years until well into his third, the spring of 1861. However, if his demerits are any indication, his place within the United States Navy was becoming problematic and he was growing restless. By then Hardie was racking up as many demerits in a month has he had in a semester two years earlier.7U.S. Naval Academy Registers of Delinquencies, Volumes 351, 353, and 354. Accessed through Ancestry.com. Hardie also wrote in the memoir cited above, “As for myself, as we say in the Navy, I was standing by for a jibe. and I was becoming more and more careless and indifferent as to routine, duty, and studies.” While none of his offenses at the Academy were unusual among midshipmen, the rebellion of his native section was clearly being felt and discussed among southern students in the north generally, and in military academies in particular.8Hardie goes into fascinating, and sometimes humorous, detail about those unusual times in his memoir cited above, pages 6-11.
On 17 April, 1861, the day the Virginia secession convention voted to leave the Union, Midshipman Littlepage tendered his resignation from the U.S. Navy. After his Commandant failed to convince him to reconsider, the resignation was accepted a week later.9Chapter 15 of Benjamin’s The United States Naval Academy cited above chronicles the spring of 1861 at the Academy. He notes, “There was more moderation in the discussions between the boys than in many of those in which their fathers were daily taking part.” They well knew that soon they would likely be facing each other across a line of battle. Leave taking was generally more in sadness than anger. Hardie himself describes an atmosphere at the Naval Academy in his memoir as a “spirit of liberal toleration all around and careful respect for the views of others, except by the narrow-gaged, hidebounds who flocked by themselves and rarely spoke above a whisper.” Emphasis added. Returning to Virginia he reported to the Governor and was quickly appointed acting midshipman in the new Virginia Navy, soon the Confederate Navy. That autumn he was ordered to report for duty on board the former USS Merrimack which was being refitted in Norfolk as the ironclad CSS Virginia.
Hardie was to spend his 21st birthday aboard the Virginia as it engaged the USS Monitor in the Battle of Hampton Roads. For his “valuable service” he and several other midshipmen were commended by name by his Flag Officer, Franklin Buchanan, in his report of the engagement.10John V. Quarstein in his The CSS Virginia – Sink Before Surrender, (2012) states in a short biography that Hardie was “captain” of Gun # 4. There is much to still be research about Hardie’s U.S. and Confederate navy days.
Hardie remained with the Virginia until 11 May when she was destroyed rather than let her fall into Union hands. Just four days later, with the other members of the crew that had rushed from Norfolk, he help fend off the advance of Union ships up the James River at Drewry’s Bluff, seven miles from Richmond. The following day Hardie entertained questions from two visitors who had ridden up, and then he directed Secretary of the Navy S.R. Mallory and General R.E. Lee to his Captain, Catesby ap. R. Jones.11“With the Crew of the Virginia, Civil War Times Illustrated, Vol. 13, No. 2, May 1974, pages 36-43.
Hardie remained at Drewy’s Bluff until August when he was assigned to Florida where the gunboat CSS Chattahoochee was under construction. Once it became clear that the Chattahoochee was to remain in Florida waters he requested a transfer. That November he was assigned to the CSS Atlanta, then lying near Fort Jackson near Savannah. By then the small Confederate Navy was well bottled up by the Union blockade.12“A Midshipman Abroad, Civil War Times Illustrated, Vol. 13, No. 3, June 1974, page 19.
That spring of ’63 Hardie’s father Lewis died. After spending a short visit to Woodbury he stopped in Richmond to pay his respects to Navy Secretary Mallory. Hardie was asked if he would be interested in going abroad to help secure more ships for the Navy. He jumped at the chance. On 23 May he received orders to report to Charleston for duty abroad, France. Five days later he was aboard the blockade-runner Margaret and Jesse headed for Nassau.13Officially neutral, British Nassau was a Confederate oasis. The trip did not go as planned.
Chased down its second day at sea by the USS Rhode Island, the Margaret and Jesse sought sanctuary within the territorial waters of British Eleuthera Island. International law not withstanding, the ship was shelled, disabled, and grounded close to shore. Its passengers, including Hardie’s party of ten who feared capture and imprisonment, took to life boats and made it to shore. The Rhode Island, satisfied and unwilling to further annoy the British, sailed away. After camping on the beach the Confederates took the small wrecking schooner Corinne to Nassau where they stayed at the Royal Victoria Hotel while awaiting passage to Europe. On 25 June they took the Corsica to Havana where they would board the RMS Trent for St. Thomas. There the took the RMS Tasmanian to Southampton, England, arriving 29 July.14The Corsica was likely a French vessel (more research needed) while the Trent was the ship after which the famous Trent Affair was named. They had been gone two months, two very eventful months back home. Finally, on 9 August, the Confederates arrived in Paris. Comfortably situated in Nos. 10 & 12 Cité d’Antin with two of his Annapolis classmates, Hardie and his Navy were to be disappointed. Neither the French nor the English governments were willing to forgo the benefits of neutrality; ironclads for the Confederacy were not forthcoming. And the news from the war was turning from bad to worse.15“A Midshipman Abroad, Civil War Times Illustrated, Vol. 13, No. 3, June 1974, page 25.
As Caroline began a new volume of her journal on 1 June 1864, Hardie had been abroad for over a year, as best we can tell, mostly in Paris. We do not know how much she knew of Hardie’s adventures since she had seen him last. But we can be confident that on that day she had no idea when she would see him again.