Though a half century has intervened since began the stirring events of
the Civil war and the greater number of the boys both of the blue and the
gray have joined the silent majority, a halo of interest still centers
around the actors and their deeds in that great conflict. The State of
Illinois has a proud record in her defense of our national life, for she not
only gave us Lincoln and Grant, but many other names adorn the roll of her
illustrious and useful military men. One of these was the late Commodore
Friganza, of Mound City, who was conspicuously identified with the municipal
affairs of that city for a long period and with the Federal naval interests
all through the era of the Civil war.
An unusual amount of romance and adventure entered into the life of Commodore Friganza. He was born on the Island of Minorca, on the east coast of Spain, in August, 1818, and the few years he passed with his parents were of little advantage to him in a preparation for life. His father owned practically the whole island, the most of which was in vineyards, and the ships which plied to and fro in commerce with the community interested the lad more than the quiet life in a winemaker's home. He has scarcely reached school age when his desire to become a sailor persuaded him from home without the consent of his parents. He found a place as cabin boy on an Atlantic sailing vessel and spent six years on the ocean, crossing between Europe and America some seven times before he abandoned the sea and sought employment on American soil.
His education was obtained principally in the stern but broad school of experience. What information was gained from books came to him while mess or cabin boy, and it was limited to the elementary principles only. His long service aboardship served to instruct the Spanish youth in the construction of vessels, and it was but natural that he seek employment where his education fitted him. He was fifteen years old when he secured a position as water boy in a Brooklyn navy yard and he remained there until he was made a master-joiner, a position next to that of superintendent of the yard.
During the late '50s it was seen by the government authorities that civil war between the states was unavoidable and imminent and that a successful prosecution of it demanded a naval base somewhere in the interior. The control of the Mississippi was a point both sides were already considering, and the value of the junction of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers as an important strategic point had been foreseen and selected by the government for both an army and navy base. A navy yard was also essential, and to aid in the selection of a suitable site for it, Mr. Friganza, then in the navy, was sent out, his previous nautical experience and training being of especial value in this direction. In conjunction with Admiral Foote he chose Mound City as offering the best location, and in 1858 he began the construction of the yard there. He was commissioned as chief officer of the yard, which repaired and built war vessels and maintained the government's river war fleet in fighting trim until the conflict ended in 1865. He entered upon the arduous duties of the post with marked industry and energy and with a zeal born of loyalty to his convictions on the issue at hand and to his adopted country. Those were busy and exciting days until after the fall of Vicksburg and even until the close of the war, but from thence forward the importance of the yard began to wane and its affairs were brought gradually to a point where its "muster out" could take place. This act was accomplished in 1867, and the man who had been its chief spirit for nearly ten years was retired with the rank of commodore on account of his valuable service rendered the Union.
He then for the first time assumed his station as a private citizen of the United States, having while working in the navy yard at Brooklyn taken the steps leading to his naturalization. In choosing his political party he espoused Democracy and when he separated himself from the government service he entered somewhat actively into local politics. His party enthusiasm ran high and he permitted the St. Louis Republic to become his closest political organ and teacher. He was appointed postmaster of Mound City by President Cleveland and served continuously through that term, through that of General Harrison and the second term of President Cleveland. He was repeatedly elected mayor of Mound City and displayed his prowess as the executive head of that city during the trying times of the big flood and the smallpox scourge, and at all times proved himself the master of difficult situations. Following his retirement from the government service, Commodore Friganza engaged in the stationery and news business and his store became the popular rendezvous of the city, its proprietor being the central figure in these gatherings. His geniality, his likeable and interesting personality, his broad and extensive information and his evident love of humanity all combined to give him the first place among his neighbors and to endear him to an unusually large circle of friends. He possessed a decided weakness for helping those in distress and his signature as security for a loan was as easily acquired as the asking, notwithstanding it dissipated his fortune steadily.
Commodore Friganza married his first wife in Brooklyn, New York. She died in the East, but was buried in Mound City, Illinois. To this union were born two sons, Henry and Joseph, both of whom lived to middle life, were employed in the navy yard at Mound City and passed away about the same time as their father. The second marriage of Commodore Friganza was to Mrs. Mary A. Huckleberry, a daughter of Thomas Herrington, of Metropolis, Illinois. Mrs. Friganza was born near New Columbia, Massac county, Illinois, and from her first marriage she became the mother of Mrs. M. N. McCartney, of Metropolis, Ira Huckleberry, of Mound City, and Charles Huckleberry, who was superintendent of the Marine Railway and Cock Company of Mound City for thirteen years prior to his death. To this second union was born Willis T. Friganza. Commodore Friganza passed away in July, 1897, after a long, useful and eventful career, and his wife died June 6, 1908.
Extracted 05 Nov 2018 by Norma Hass from History of Southern Illinois, by George Washington Smith, volume 3, pages 1392-1393.