Alexander Caine (USS St. Louis)

Alexander Caine was born on April 1, 1841, in Charlottesville, Virginia. His father was Louis Caine, but his mother’s name is unknown. It is not clear whether he was born free or enslaved, and he left no explanation for when and how he came to be in Philadelphia at the start of the war. Nonetheless, records indicate that he was working as a barber and living on Locust Street, just above 5th Street, in Philadelphia no later than the beginning of 1862. He was able to read and write, signing his own name after the war in his pension file. When he enlisted for three years in Philadelphia on January 28 of that year, he was almost 21 years old, 5 feet 4 inches tall, and was described as a “mulatto” by his enlisting officer. He enlisted onboard an older ship, the USS Princeton, which had been converted into a receiving ship by the navy in Philadelphia Harbor. He entered the navy with the rating of landsman, earning a monthly salary of $12, at a time when most Black sailors, especially those who had recently escaped slavery, were given the lower ranking of boys. Thus his higher ranking may have reflected his status as a free man without previous naval experience.

During the war, Caine saw service on two ocean-going vessels. The first, the USS St. Louis, was commissioned on December 20, 1828. Alexander Caine served on this vessel while she completed trips across the Atlantic Ocean. From late February 1862 until late November 1864, the St. Louis was on patrol off the African coast, the Canary Islands, and the Azores in search of Confederate commerce raiders. Between November 1864 and the end of the war, the ship engaged in blockade duty as part of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron. From November 29 to December 29, sailors and marines from the ship assisted in a joint army-navy campaign up the Broad River near Savannah, Georgia. They did so in support of General William T. Sherman’s famous March to the Sea that captured the city on December 21. On November 30, the “sailor’s brigade” joined with 5,000 army soldiers, including six USCT regiments and as many as eleven Black soldiers from Albemarle, to fight the Battle of Honey Hill. Although it ended in defeat, the sailors from the St. Louis and men of the Black regiments fought bravely against a well-entrenched Confederate position. According to the St. Louis’s ship logs, Caine was not among the ship’s sailors who served at the battle.

Apart from the excitement of searching for commerce raiders and crisscrossing the Atlantic so far from home, Caine’s service was not all routine or without personal consequences for his life after the war. In his pension, he demonstrated that he suffered from piles (hemorrhoids) during and after the war, a disease which he contracted in the service sometime in 1862. Medical records on board the St. Louis also indicate he saw a doctor three times in 1863. In late January, while the ship was taking on supplies in Portugal, he remained in the ship’s hospital for two days while he recovered from diarrhea. In March, while sailing off the West African coast, he received treatment for over a week for gonorrhea, a disease not contracted in the “line of duty” according to the navy. Finally, in August of that year, while the ship was sailing past Tenerife Island, the largest of the Canary Islands, one of his fellow crewmembers, John F. Lynch, probably a White man serving as a boy on the ship, got into a fight on the 19th with James H. Draper, a mulatto landsman. During the fight, Lynch hit Caine on the head with an unknown weapon, cutting him above his left eye down to the bone. Because Caine was the only one not arrested after the fight, it seems he was innocently caught in the middle of Lynch’s and Draper’s quarrel. The ship’s doctor quickly patched up the cut, and Caine returned to duty the following day.

Caine later told his pension agent that, while doing blockade duty, he also briefly served on the USS Ticonderoga, a screw-sloop first launched in 1862. A much more modern vessel than the St. Louis, the Ticonderoga did not serve in the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron until January 1865. It is possible Caine briefly transferred to the ship or assisted it in the course of his naval duties, but no records have been found to confirm his service. With the war practically over, both ships returned to Philadelphia, where they were decommissioned from the service. Caine himself left the St. Louis in late January and was discharged from the service on February 14, 1865, having completed his three-year enlistment before the end of the war.

Caine seems to have returned to his life as a barber in Philadelphia after the war, but his service in the US navy was not over yet. On October 31, 1865, he joined the crew of the USS Franklin, which was then stationed in Philadelphia. Although launched in 1864, the Franklin was not officially commissioned in Boston until late June 1867. The ship’s records were not kept from before this time, so very little is known about Caine’s second naval tour prior his ship’s voyage on a goodwill tour of European ports that left from New York on June 28. Before its departure for its first stop Cherbourg, France, President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William H. Seward came aboard the Franklin to wish the ship’s officers and crew well.

Although the ship’s commander was Captain Alexander M. Pennock, a Civil War veteran from Virginia, the Franklin also served as the fleet’s flagship. Admiral David M. Farragut, the famous hero of the Battle of Mobile Bay, resided on the ship during its entire tour. Arriving in France on July 14, Caine and his fellow crewmates visited all of the major ports of Europe and the Mediterranean, including St. Petersburg, Stockholm, Gravesend (England), Lisbon, Naples, Istanbul, Trieste, and Gibraltar. Between this voyage and his service off of Africa during the Civil War, Caine would have been one of the most well-traveled Black men from Albemarle of the entire nineteenth century. Finally, on October 18, 1868, the ship left Gibraltar for the last time, arriving in New York on November 10. Caine was discharged from the navy for the last time four days later on November 14.

Having completed his second tour of duty with the navy, Caine settled back down into his life as a barber in Philadelphia’s growing African American community. According to census records from 1870 through 1900, Caine and a few others boarded with a widowed Black woman from Tennessee named Sarah Davis. He never married or had children. As early as 1902, he applied for a pension, giving the pension office the basic facts of his pre-war life, his service on the St. Louis and Franklin, and describing his post-war health issues. In addition to piles, which he said he contracted in the service in 1862, he had also been suffering for years from rheumatism. In 1903, the pension office awarded him a $6 monthly pension for those diseases as well as “senile debility.” Caine diligently applied for increases to this small sum, and a combination of more liberal laws passed in 1907 and 1912 that accounted for sailors’ old age, his demonstrated “partial inability to earn a support by manual labor,” and the efforts of his lawyer, Charles H. Brooks, all helped him to earn four increases. By 1912, the pension office awarded him a $25 monthly pension. This pension provided some comfort in his last years of life, serving also as a testament to his nation’s gratitude for his wartime service.

Caine spent at least the last three decades of his life as boarder at 1039 Lombard Street, across from present-day Seger Park. He died just after midnight on December 8, 1915, at Philadelphia hospital of myocarditis and senile debility. A notice in the Philadelphia Inquirer invited not only “relatives and friends” but also “members of the Citizens’ Republican Club” to attend the funeral on Saturday, December 10 at William P. Almond & Sons funeral parlor. Caine was buried later that day at Soldiers' National Cemetery, now Philadelphia National Cemetery, in section G, site 836.


Alexander Caine Pension, Naval Medical Log

Pension Questionnaire for Alexander Caine

Funeral Notice for Alexander Caine

Name:Caine, Alexander
Alternative names:
  • Sailor
U.S.S. St. Louis
U.S.S. Franklin
Branch of service:Navy
Enlistment1862-01-28Philadelphia, PAaccepted21Free
Muster Out1865-02-14Philadelphia, PAMustered Out
Residence at enlistment:Philadelphia, PA
Rank In:Landsman
Rank Out:Landsman
Highest rank achieved:Landsman
Person 1Person 2NumberRelation Type
Caine, Alexander48468.0application-invalid
Caine, Alexandernoneapplication-minor
Caine, Alexandernoneapplication-parent
Caine, Alexandernoneapplication-widow
Caine, Alexander32725.0certificate-invalid
Birth date:1841-04-01
Birth date certainty:Exact
Birth place:Charlottesville, VA
Death date:1915-12-08
Death place:Philadelphia, PA
Causes of death:disease: myrocarditis

Naval Service Record for Alexander Caine, National Park Service Civil War Soldiers and Sailors Database,; “Alexander Caine,” Pension Record, RG 15, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), accessed through Fold3 (; “U.S.S. St. Louis, December 1860 to April 1865” and “U.S.S. Franklin, June 3, 1867 to December 7, 1868,” Medical Journals of Ships, 1813-1910, RG 52: Records of the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, NARA; “U.S.S. St. Louis” and “U.S.S. Franklin,” Naval Deck Logs, RG 24: Records of the Bureau of Naval Personnel, NARA; “Alexander Caine,” Certificate of Death, Pennsylvania, Death Certificates, 1906-1966, accessed on; Philadelphia Inquirer, December 9, 1915; “Alexander Caine,” U.S. Census for 1870, 1880, and 1900, accessed on; Report of Brigadier General John P. Hatch on Engagement at Honey Hill, S.C., December 1864, Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, series I, vol. 44 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1893), 421-425; Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships entries for “Princeton II (ScStr),” “St. Louis I (Sloop-of-War),” “Ticonderoga II (ScSlp),” and “Franklin IV (Screw Frigate)” were accessed online at the Naval History and Heritage Command website,; Joseph P. Reidy, “Black Men in Navy Blue During the Civil War,” Prologue: of the National Archives and Record Administration 33, no. 3 (Fall 2001),; Steven J. Ramold, Slaves, Sailors, Citizens: African Americans in the Union Navy (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2002); Barbara Brooks Tomblin, Blue Jackets and Contrabands: African Americans and the Union Navy (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2009).