Warship Wednesday March 25, 2015 the Granite Ship of the Line
Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all of their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday March 25, 2015 the Granite Ship of the Line
Here we see the once-majestic old ship of the line USS Granite State as she appeared in a much more humble state towards the end of her career. When this image was taken, she was the last such ship afloat on the Naval List.
During the War of 1812, the U.S. Navy gave a good account of itself, especially for its size, and its frigates such as Constitution and Constellation, proved their weight in gold repeatedly.
With the end of the war, the U.S. Navy had to be revitalized and as such, “An Act for the Gradual Increase of the Navy of the United States,” was approved 29 April 1816. This provided for nine larger 74-gun ships of the line and funding of $1 million per year for a period of 8 years to see these craft completed. These were to be monster ships capable of taking on just about anything the modern European powers could send across the Atlantic in single ship combat.
Do not let the name fool you, most of the American ‘74s generally carried more like 80-90 guns. Alabama‘s sistership, USS North Carolina was actually pierced (had gunports) for 102 guns. Another, ’74 sister, USS Pennsylvania carried 16 8-inch shell guns and 104 32-pounders.
Some 196-feet long, these triple-deckers were exceptionally wide at 53-feet, giving them a very tubby 1:4 length-to-beam ratio and were very deep in hold ships, drawing over 30 feet full draft when fully loaded with over 800 officers, men and Marines and shipping a pretty respectable 2600-tons displacement.
These nine ships it was decided would be named Columbus, Alabama, Delaware, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Virginia and all were nominally completed by 1825.
I say nominally because by the time they were complete, the Navy had run out of money to pay for things like cannons, sails, rigging and crews so some of these ships were left “in the stocks” on land until cash could be freed.
Alabama was one of the most neglected, although President Madison himself visited her while under construction at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.
While most of her sisters joined the fleet eventually in the 1830s, although some with much less firepower than designed, Alabama was still on land when the Civil War started.
She was a ship built, at least initially, in the period just after the War of 1812 and as such was constructed with fine live oak timbers from the South and fitted with copper spikes, sheeting, and deck nails made by the Paul Revere and Sons Copper Company of Massachusetts. Revere himself in fact, was still alive when his firm won the contract in 1816.
Alabama was designed by no less a naval architect than William Doughty, the same nautical genius who was responsible for the USS President, USS Independence, and USS United States 74s, Peacock class, Erie class, Java and Guerrier, North Carolina 74s class, Brandywine 44s Class, brigs, revenue cutters, and the Baltimore Clipper model so she had a good pedigree.
It was as an ode to this impressive lineage that the old girl was finally completed during the war. Her original name, now belonging to a succeeded southern state, was somewhat too ironic so she was renamed New Hampshire on 28 October 1863. She then took to the water for the first time at launching on 23 April 1864 and proceeded to fitting out.
The thing is, the U.S. Navy of 1864 did not need a classic 1816-designed ’74 in its battle line. In fact, the old girl, with provision for sail only, was an anachronism in a fleet increasingly populated with steam and iron monitors equipped with rifled guns. Therefore, she was armed much more simply with a quartet of 100-pounder Parrott rifles and a half dozen 9-inch Dahlgren smoothbore guns, so ten pieces rather than 74, but hey, at least she was afloat!
Commissioned 13 May 1864 at Portsmouth, just 48 years after she was authorized, she proceeded to Port Royal South Carolina where she spent the last nine months of the Civil War as a depot and store ship, her huge below deck berthing areas designed for up to and empty cannon ports proving just the thing to make her a floating warehouse.
It was while at Port Royal, a photographer who took a number of iconic images of her crew visited her.
After the war ended, she was put out to pasture and sailed to Norfolk, once more the headquarters of the U.S. Navy, where she served as a receiving ship (again, lots of unused hammock space on a ’74 with less than a dozen guns) for more than a decade.
It was then that the Navy figured out a better use for the grand old girl.
According to the Naval War College Museum Blog,
In 1881 the USS New Hampshire became the flagship for Commodore Stephen B. Luce’s Apprentice Training Program in Newport. Luce and others established an apprentice system to formally educate young boys and improve the overall quality of naval recruits. The boys needed parental permission and criminals were not allowed to apply. New Hampshire, docked at ‘South Point’ on Coasters Harbor Island, was the home of these boys for a six-month period before each was assigned to a training ship. In nearby buildings the teenagers were instructed in seamanship and gunnery as well as reading, writing, arithmetic, and history.
New Hampshire was not alone in this ultimate fate. By the late 19th century, many of the famous old sailing ships of the Navy to include the USS Constitution, Farragut’s USS Hartford, and the fellow Doughty-designed ’74 USS Independence were still in daily use as roofed-over receiving ships. Their gun ports were replaced by windows, their sails and riggings largely trashed, and their armament replaced by training sets with powder enough for harbor salutes.
The Newport experiment continued for over a decade until, decommissioned 5 June 1892 but still on the Naval List, she was loaned to the New York Naval Militia as a stationary training ship based in New York City.
For the next 28 years, the mighty ship of the line endured at her post in the Hudson River where she participated in the 1892 Columbia Ship parade as well as the 1909 Hudson Fulton parade and trained thousands of naval reservists that went on to serve in both the Spanish American War and WWI. During the flare up with Spain, she was armed and made ready to repel an assault by wayward Spanish cruisers on the Big Apple that never came.
In that time, she lost her New Hampshire name (let’s be honest, it was never really hers anyway, she was a Dixie girl) to the new battleship BB-25 and was renamed Granite State, 30 November 1904.
She was the floating armory for the 1st Battalion, New York Naval Militia, who had a pretty good football team.
According to NYNM records, she “moored at first at East 27th Street & the East River (In 1898 during Spanish-American War it was used as the Naval Militia Receiving Ship); then at Whitestone, finally from 1912 at West 97th Street (to W. 94th) on the Hudson River. The barracks were on the dock side”
In April 1913 she suffered a topside fire that caused more than $3800 in damages, which is about $95K in today’s cash.
In 1918, she again chopped from NYNM service to active duty, performing duties as a U.S. Navy Hospital Ship in New York for the duration of the War. Enlisting on her deck at the time was a local boy, S1C Humphrey Bogart, who went on to star in a few movies later in life.
On July 21, 1918, she suffered her only known death during warfare when John James Malone, Seaman, 2nd class, USNRF, drowned during a training evolution.
Moving back to the militia after the war, with 105 years on her hull she suffered yet another fire, this time with a near catastrophic loss.
Oil, pooling around the ship from a leaking 6-inch Standard Oil Company pipe, was ignited from the backfire of a passing Captains gig. The resulting fire destroyed the gig, a three story naval office, storehouse, and the Granite State. Low water pressure on shore contributed to the loss. However, before the crew abandoned ship the vessels powder magazine was flooded, preventing an explosion that would have devastated the surrounding area. Fireboats pumped tons of water into the flaming hulk until it settled into the mud. Listing sharply to port only the mooring chains kept the vessel from capsizing.
A total loss, she was stricken from the Naval List, and her hulk was sold for $5000 for salvage 19 August 1921 to the Mulhollund Machinery Corp. Fastened and sheathed with over 100 tons of copper, it was estimated in a New York Times article then that $70,000 of salvageable material could be removed from the hulk. Two, five ton anchors along with 100 tons of chain were still aboard and it was rumored there were three gold spikes in the ship’s keel from her original 1816 construction.
She refloated in July 1922 and was taken in tow to the Bay of Fundy. The towline parted during a storm, she again caught fire for a third time while under tow (!) and sank off Half Way Rock in Massachusetts Bay.
The wreck’s remains on Graves Island, Manchester, Mass, just off east side of island are well documented and are in very shallow water (20-30 feet) making it an easy dive. In fact, the USS New Hampshire Exempt Site is on the list of Marine Protected Areas maintained by NOAA.
The copper bits, harkening back to Paul Revere, have been collected by local Gloucester divers for years, are held in the collection of the Gloucester Marine Heritage Center, and at least one 7-inch spike is now aboard the current Virginia-class attack submarine USS New Hampshire (SSN-778) commissioned in Portsmouth in 2008.
Speaking of copper bolts and pins, at least 22-pounds worth of these were collected in the early 1970s by Boston area scuba divers and melted down to form the Boston Cup, which is used by area schools as a liberty trophy in drum corps competitions. Other spikes and flotsam from the NH has been floating around on the collectors market for years.
Today in Newport, where the old girl remained pier side for decades, there is New Hampshire road and New Hampshire field on board the Naval Station named in her honor rather than the state’s and the base museum houses a number of items from the ship.
Displacement 2,633 t.
Length 203′ 8″
Beam 51′ 4″
Draft 21′ 6″
Propulsion: Sail, Square Rigged, 3 masts
Speed As fast as the wind could carry her
Complement unknown as completed, 820 as designed
Armament (as designed) 74 guns, mix of 42 and 32 pounders
Armament (as completed)
Six 9″ Parrot guns
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