Suppose you had done an act of great bravery but nobody believed you. This is what happened to Derry’s Dan George (1840-1916) when he tried to explain to his neighbors how he had earned the Medal of Honor.
Daniel Griffin George had been born in Plaistow and when he was only 17 he went to sea for four years of adventure in a whaling ship; then came the Civil War and he enlisted in the cavalry. At enlistment, he stood 5 feet, 8 3/4 inches with hazel eyes, a ruddy complexion and dark hair. Proving his mettle in 40 battles, he was promoted to sergeant. In the four-hour battle of Aldie, Va., his outfit was decimated. George was captured and forced to march 50 miles in his bare feet after his boots were stolen. He was held in a series of prisons including the infamous Libby Prison until he finally escaped and rejoined his outfit.
Soon afterwards, Dan decided he had enough of Army life and joined the Navy. Soon he became friends with another sailor named Ed Houghton. Ed was selected to serve on the USS Chicopee but Dan wasn’t. Rather then be separated, Dan became William Smith, a sailor who was selected but didn’t want to go. For the rest of the war Dan George was officially Bill Smith.
In the summer of 1864, the steam-powered ram CSS Albemarle was dominating the Virginia coast, sinking Union ships left and right — or is that port and starboard? Washington was desperate. Shells just bounced off the ram’s sides which were covered with 5-inch-thick iron plate above the waterline. We wanted to corner the ram while she was in harbor but its port-of-call was too shallow for Union gunships to get near the monster boat. The ram was further protected by a boom of logs that floated like a necklace around her.