Sam was born in London, or Strathroy or Metcalf Ontario, yet to be determined, on 6 April 1840, or 1841, again yet to be verified. By his early teens he was in Illinois and at age 18 he was appointed to head off to the prestigious US Naval Academy as a midshipman (naval cadet to receive training to become a commissioned officer) and three years later when the navy was desperate for more officers, the class was graduated ahead of time. Preston graduated top of his class, and was soon promoted to Acting Master, (Sub Lieutenant.) Over the next three years he would sail on several vessels and would be under direct command of Admirals DuPont and Dalgren both of whom would later report most high regards to his service.
Having taken part in several battles and skirmishes, by September Sam would be serving on board one of the nine ironclad war ships of Admiral DuPont's fleet sent to recapture Fort Sumter, pictured below, and the very fort that saw the start of the war and in which you have hopefully already read in an earlier blog.
Sumter had been severly bombed by Fort batteries and the navy and when it came time to send in landing parties, the very heavy tides, the harbour full of mines and enemy fire still caused considerable havoc for the 400 troops ultimately landed, Preston being among its officers. They expected little resistence because it was felt that the Fort was much under manned, but not so. Over 300 Infantry were there and lying in wait of the landing party.
Preston would serve just over a year at the Condeferate prison known as Libby, and by December 1864 would be paroled and released back to the Union navy who put him right back in the thick of battle.
Within days of hearing of the plan to attack Fort Fisher, Preston volunteered to be part of that force. He would play a critical role in the arming and sailing of the Louisiana into the port and hopefully blow up to the walls of the fort, or at least blow holes in the walls and destroy cannons. When that was done the enemy's morale would be so low that taking the fort should be relatively easy. So they thought!
You first read of the USS Louisiana and it being turned into a floating bomb or torpedoe back in the 23 December blog where I mention the Medal of Honor awarded to William Garvin, another Canadian. John Neil yet another Canadian was also on this very mission and would later also be awarded a MOH. Preston and another officer and eleven sailors were very highly selected for the mission. None were expected to come back alive.
The crew made last minute adjustments and were then put on a 2nd vessel to make their escape back to their home ship.,.the USS Agawam. Lt Preston and one officer were then alone on the deck and had to reset the anchor as the ship was too far from the shore. They then set the timer for the fuses to blow a little while later. Taking no chances, they also set a small fire in one of the cabins. They then made their own hasty escape and all waited for the big bang. It never came! Most of the fuses did not work and powerful winds blew a lot of the gun powder off the boat. When the explosion did happen it was very late and of a lot less intensity. Further problems with the currents pushing the boat in the wrong direction resulted in little damage to the fort.
Hovever it must be said that for several days all of the crew were sitting on that floating bomb which could have been set of with the slightest spark.
All of the men on board would be awarded the Medal of Honor for their incredible heroism, but because rules of the day did not allow for naval officers to be awarded the medal, Preston did not get one.
Tomorrow I will explain how that rule did not apply in another very similar case.