In this General Order the reader is told that Charles Robinson is one of the 41 who has been awarded the medal. It does not go on to say that Robinson, the subject of several blogs on this site, came to Halifax Nova Scotia after the Civil War where he spent about 30 years, got married and raised a family, served on the Halifax Police force, and operated several businesses, and finally died and now rests in the downtown area at Holy Cross cemetery just a few feet away from former Prime Minister Thompson.
A few more General Orders came along 150 years ago and in many of these there would be other Canadians listed as being recipients, some even from Halifax. Then on the last day of the next year another general order listed 146 navy men who were, by the order, awarded Medals of Honor. Ten of these heroes were Canadians. One of these was Charles Michael Asten, also from Halifax Nova Scotia. He was born there in either 1833 or 1834 with parents having immigrated from Ireland before his birth.
Much research is still needed to be done on this fellow but it is known that he moved off to the US and ended up enlisting in the US Navy at Chicago for Civil War service, and before his term would be up he had served on at least three different vessels. He chose to serve under his 2nd rather than first given name.
The Union had about 60 of these "tinclads" in service later in the war. This one was number 8, and driven by the steam operated stern paddlewheel. They were called tinclads as they were not as well armoured as the big gunboats, and theirs usually consisted of about only 1 inch of iron above the waterline. They also had a flat bottom so that unlike many of the other war vessels, they could travel up and down the many shallow rivers and streams and still do major damage with their powerful cannons along these routes. They also operated as escorts to troop and supply ships and in the search of underwater mines (torpedoes)
Soon they came under cavalry fire from the shorelines and this seemed hit and miss for a few miles but about 4 miles along the river they met up with two other Union ships and as they rounded a bend near a place called Dunn's Bayou, just a few miles from their destination at Alexandria, all three vessels came under very heavy cannon fire. The USS Signal alone was said to have been hit 38 times in just 4 minutes of the most pounding fire from Confederate shore batteries.
Two of the ships were sunk, The USS Signal was so badly damaged that the commanders decided it had to be abandoned but they did not want the enemy to take the ship, So they tried to set it afire... but it wouldn't burn. They then managed to get it into mid-stream and then sunk it, but as they left it the Confederates no sooner boarded her and pulled off some of the bigger guns. Guns that had already lobbed over 300 shells at them in very short order. Many of the crew escaped but it is said that upwards of 30...including Quarter-Gunner Charles Asten were taken prisoner and sent off to Camp Ford, about 140 miles to the west near Tyler Texas.( Green A on above map)
In its earliest days the prisoners were few in number and were therefore allowed to roam about more freely, usually with a guard but not always. As the war progressed many more were captured and imprisoned here. The very wooden wall had to be eventually cut to half its height just to get enough wood to expand the walls to enlarge the area another 18 acres to accommodate the growing population within.
The men would later be paroled and allowed to go back to their Union lines. Without more research I cannot share where Asten went from Camp Parole but it is known that by about 1870 he was living in Rhode Island where he had married and had one son. An 1880 census has him living at Providence and working as a trunk maker.
While buried in Rhode Island at death in 1885, at the very young age of 51, some say he died back at his place of birth, Halifax NS, but no evidence has verified this as of yet.
Like so many others who earned Medals of Honor, there seems to be so little available to say exactly what they did, but it is known that he left his sick bed to man the guns in the battle on the Red River on 5 May 1864, and it is believed that he was one of the captured soldiers, made a POW, who was wounded in the battle. A battle that took place, 149 years ago last Sunday.