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Topping, Gardiner

GARDINER TOPPING
United States Navy
USS Sciota
Middle Island


Gardiner Topping
United States Navy
Middle Island

Gardiner Topping was born November 14, 1836. He was one of five children born to Joseph and Maria Topping of Middle Island.

Topping enlisted in the Navy on September 1, 1864, under the name of John Risley. Topping used a false name because he was running away from his father to enlist. (This caused a problem thirty years later when he applied for a government pension.) He was 5 feet 10 inches tall, had blue eyes and dark brown hair. He later wrote on his pension application that his occupation "had been laboring around working on farms before I enlisted."

After enlisting, Topping was sent to Pensacola, Florida, on the naval transport, Union. When he arrived at Pensacola Bay, he was put aboard the ship, Potomac. He stayed on this ship for a week and was then transferred to a ship that took him to Galveston Bay. Topping was then assigned to the U.S.S Sciota as a 2nd class fireman.

The Scotia was an active ship. Before Topping joined its crew, the Sciota and the U.S.S. Granite City provided cover for Union troops engaged in a reconnaissance of the Texas coast in January of 1864. The Sciota provided close naval support for the army.

Topping, Gardiner

The ship on the right is Confederate blockade-runner, Julia. The three-masted vessel in
the center of the photo is a Union ship, which cannot effect a capture because the
blockade runner is in a neutral port.

The Sciota was also assigned the duty of catching blockade-runners. On April 4, 1864 a ship, the Mary Sorley, attempted to run the blockade near Galveston. The Mary Sorley had 257 bales of cotton and was bound for Havana. Despite the darkness, a crewmember of the Sciota spotted the ship and the chase began. This went on for 25 miles and ended when the Sciota fired several shots across the bow of the Confederate ship.


The Union blockade of southern ports was very effective as bales of cotton fill warehouses. The south would lose much needed revenue by not being able to get cotton to European markets.

When Topping was assigned to the Sciota it was continuing to perform blockade duties off the coast of Galeston Texas. The ship would be deployed to help in the taking of the city of Mobile.

Topping later described the Sciota's move to Mobile Bay: "We left the blockade below Galveston, and came up to Mobile Bay about the last of 1864 or the first of 1865. We were there about two months before the fight commenced."

On April 9, of 1865, Union Forces launched a land attack to take the city of Mobile, Alabama. After a heavy bombardment, Union forces took an important Confederate fort called Spanish Fort. The U.S.S Sciota was given the dangerous task of sweeping for and destroying mines placed in Mobile Bay. Captain Magune described what happened when the Scotia hit a submerged mine: "The explosion was terrible, breaking beams of the spar deck, tearing open the waterways, ripping off starboard fore channels, and breaking fore-topmast." Topping also described his experience:

I served on the Sciota until she was blown up April 14, 1865. Captain Gillet had charge of the Sciota when she was in the blockade and Captain Magune had charge during the fight. At the time the Sciota was blown up I was hurt on the left side. I was sitting in the front hole in the topgallant forecastle and the lurch of the ship when she was blown up threw me across the ship. The surgeon from USS Octorora came aboard the Sciota and attended me. At the time she was blowed up, there has been a ringing in my ear ever since the explosion.

The badly damaged Sciota was raised and sent to Pensacola for repairs and rearming. Topping returned with the Sciota to the Brooklyn Naval yard where he was honorably discharged August 12, 1865.

After the war, Topping returned to Middle Island to take over his father's farm in Middle Island. He also worked as a mason.

Gardiner Topping and Martha Davis were married by the Reverend Aaron Snow in Miller Place in April of 1866. The couple had three children: Everett, born in 1867; Frank, born in 1874; and Mary, born in 1878.

In 1896, Topping applied for a government pension based on injuries received from the explosion. Because he enlisted under a false name, Topping had to prove his identity and that he had, in fact, served in the Navy. He sent his picture to shipmates asking them to identify him. One shipmate reported that, "The picture you show me is I think a shipmate of the Sciota he was a coal laborer. I think it is a man named Risley who ran away from his father and enlisted." Topping ended up travelling to Boston where Charles Cannon, a former ensign aboard the Sciota, recognized him and signed an affidavit. Topping eventually proved his identity and was awarded a pension.


The Topping House which was located on the Middle Island, Yaphank Road.

Gardner Topping died on January 8, 1917 at his home in Middle Island. His wife, Martha, died a year later in 1918. The farm and sixteen acres were left to his children.

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