Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday, May 26, 2021: Baked New Hampshire
Courtesy of the Naval Historical Foundation; Collection of W. Beverley Mason, Jr., 1962. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 51182
Here we see the lead ship of the Ossipee-class sloop of war, USS Ossipee, off Honolulu in the then-Kingdom of Hawaiʻi during the Kamehameha dynasty, with her crew manning the yards, in early 1867. Our sloop would range far and wide in her naval service, including damming the torpedoes and coping with fainting Russian princesses.
Built for the budding war between the states, the four vessels of the Ossipee-class were wooden-hulled steam-powered warships of some 1,200 tons, running some 207 feet long overall. With a ~140-man crew, they were designed to carry a 100-pounder Parrott pivot gun, an 11-inch Dahlgren shell gun, a trio of 30-pounder rifles, six 32-pounders, and a couple of 12-pounders, giving them the nominal rank of a 13-gun sloop.
Class leader Ossipee was laid down at Portsmouth Naval Yard in Kittery, Maine in June 1861, just as the Army of the Potomac and the Army of the Shenandoah were being formed, while her sisters USS Adirondack, USS Housatonic, and USS Juniata, were subsequently laid down the Navy Yards in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia, respectively and near-simultaneously.
A good sketch profile of the class in their Civil War layout. USS Housatonic, Wash drawing by R.G. Skerrett, 1902. NH 53573
The class was named for geographical features i.e., mountains and rivers, with Ossipee being the first (and thus far only) Navy warship to carry the name of the Ossipee River that runs through New Hampshire and part of Maine.
Ossipee Falls, Ossipee, N.H. LC-DIG-stereo-1s13770
Commissioned on 6 November 1862, Ossipee spent a few months with the North Atlantic Squadron before shipping south on 18 May 1863 to join Farragut’s West Gulf Blockading Squadron off Mobile, Alabama. While operating in the Northern Gulf, she pulled off a hattrick of captures, hauling over the schooner Helena on 30 June and the blockade runners James Battle and William Bagley two weeks later, with the latter two packed with cotton and headed abroad.
Damn the Torpedos!
On the early morning of 5 August 1864, Ossipee was part of the 14-vessel task force assigned to sweep Mobile Bay, pushing past Battery Powell and Forts Gaines and Morgan at the mouth of the Bay, despite the threat of underwater torpedoes (mines).
Plan of the battle of August 5, 1864. [Mobile Bay] From Harper’s Weekly, v. 8, Sept. 24, 1864. p. 613, via the LOC CN 99447253. Ossipee is marked No. 11 on the plan, taking the Bay mouth aside from the gunboat USS Itasca.
About those Torpedos
The Confederates sowed dozens of fixed mines of several types in defense of Mobile Bay, with at least 67 of the “infernal devices” across the mouth of the Bay alone. (See: Gabriel Rains and the Confederate Torpedo Bureau: Waters, W. Davis, Brown, Joseph, for more details than below).
An example of the Confederate Type 7 Frame-fixed torpedo (mine). Some 28.5-inches long and 12.2-inches across, they weighed 440-pounds of which just 27 of that was black powder explosive charge. Using a Type G1A adjustable triple Rains-pattern primer style torpedo fuze, these cast iron mines were set into a wedge-shaped frame and typically laid in sets of three with the thought that, if the first was missed, a passing ship would possibly hit the second or third or, if spotting the last in the chain, attempt to back off and run over the first. The rebels used what Brig. Gen Gabriel J. Rains, head of the Confederate Torpedo Bureau, described as a “Torpedo Mortar Battery” at Mobile, some 60 feet long and 35 feet wide, constructed of these frame-type mine arrays. Towed into place once constructed, it was angled from the bottom of the sea bed with the fuzed shells facing just under the surface of the water at low tide.
An example of a Confederate Fretwell-Singer-type torpedo, common to Mobile Bay, at the Fort Morgan Museum.
The Confederate Rains “keg type” mines were made from everything from Demi jugs, beer barrels, and even 1,500-gallon boilers in at least one case, with conical ends fitted. Waterproofed with pitch and tar, they were anchored in place and used with chemical/pressure style fuzes or could be command-detonated via an electrical circuit ashore.
Besides the mines, Farragut had to face off and do combat with the fearsome albeit semi-complete Confederate ironclad ram CSS Tennessee. During the engagement, Ossipee suffered 1 killed (SN Owen Manes) and 7 wounded, mostly with splinter wounds, against the fleet’s total losses of 135 dead (including 94 who went down with the Canonicus-class monitor USS Tecumseh, one of 43 American vessels sunk by rebel mines in the conflict) and 88 sent to the surgeon.
At the end of the morning, Farragut’s fleet had lost Tecumseh to causes still not fully known but captured the gunboat CSS Selma with 90 officers and men as well as the battered CSS Tennessee, with 190 officers and men aboard to include Confederate ADM. Franklin Buchanan. Tennessee’s skipper, CDR James D. Johnson, was a prisoner on Ossipee by dusk on the 5th. Just out of Farragut’s reach, the sinking gunboat CSS Gaines lay grounded and abandoned.
Ossipee went down in history as being the last Union ship to get a bite at Tennessee, moving in to ram the rebel ironclad in the final moments before Johnson poked up a white flag from her wheelhouse. Unfortunately, the momentum of the sloop continued under Newton’s first law of motion and collided with the surrendered beast.
Battle of Mobile Bay, 5 August 1864. Line engraving after an artwork by J.O. Davidson, published in “Battles and Leaders of the Civil War”, Volume 4, page 378. Entitled “Surrender of the Tennessee, Battle of Mobile Bay”, it depicts CSS Tennessee in the center foreground, surrounded by the Union warships (from left to right): USS Lackawanna, USS Winnebago, USS Ossipee, USS Brooklyn, USS Itasca, USS Richmond, USS Hartford, and USS Chickasaw. Fort Morgan is shown at the right distance. NH 1276
“Capture of the Confederate ram Tennessee” Artwork by J.O. Davidson, depicting the surrender of CSS Tennessee after the Battle of Mobile Bay, 5 August 1864. U.S. Navy ships depicted include monitor USS Winnebago and sloop USS Monongahela, in the left background; sloop USS Ossipee “in collision with Tennessee”, in the center; monitor USS Chickasaw “lying across the stern of Tennessee”, in right foreground; gunboat USS Itasca, in the right distance; and flagship USS Hartford further to the right. NH 42394
Once Mobile had been neutralized as a rebel port, Ossipee continued her service in the Gulf enforcing the blockade off Texas and was in Union-held New Orleans in April 1865 when the side-wheel steam ram CSS Webb, darted out of the Red River and made a break for the sea via the Mississippi and gave pursuit along with other vessels with the nimble Webb ending her run burned out and abandoned by her crew.
The Webb Running the Blockade, by William Lindsey Challoner, Louisiana State Museum
To the Frozen North
Laid up briefly after the war, Ossipee was one of the luckier of her class. Sister Adirondack had been lost on a reef in the Bahamas in August 1862 while looking for blockade runners. Sister Housatonic made naval history (in a bad way) by becoming the first warship sunk by an enemy submarine when CSS H.L. Hunley took her to the bottom with her off Charleston, South Carolina, 17 February 1864. Only Juniata, who had spent most of the Civil War ranging the seas in search of Confederate raiders, remained.
The 11-gun Ossipee-class steam sloop USS Juniata in 1889, Detroit Photo. Via LOC. Her class included the ill-fated USS Housatonic.
Like Juniata, Ossipee would soon see more of the earth than the Gulf of Mexico and Eastern Seaboard.
Recommissioned 27 October 1866, she was sent to the Pacific to show the flag from Central America to Alaska, then a Tsarist territory.
Following the “folly” of U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward’s treaty with Russia for the purchase of what would eventually become the 49th state for $7.2 million in gold, Ossipee was dispatched from San Francisco in September 1867 to affect the transfer. Accompanied by the third-rate gunboat USS Resaca (9 guns), who had been in Alaskan waters since August, the two vessels were on hand of the transfer on Castle Hill at Sitka (then population: 1,500) on October 18, 1867. There, Prince Dmitry Petrovich Maksutov, commissioner of the Tsar and Russian Governor of the territory, formally transferred all of Alaska to Brig. Gen. Lovell H. Rousseau, commissioner for the United States.
Ossipee’s skipper, Capt. George F. Emmons, would chronicle the transfer in his journal which is now in the Alaska State Archives as is Maksutov’s calling card given to the good captain.
Some 200 American troops, in Yankee blue, stood at attention across from a smaller number of Russian soldiers on opposite sides of the flagpole with the Russian flag dropped, and the American raised to a slow 21-gun cannon salute from Ossipee and the Russian coastal battery. Princess Maria Maksutova was famously supposed to have fainted during the transfer, as the Russian flag became stuck during the ceremony and had to be removed rather unceremoniously, although Emmons’s account dispels the fainting trope.
Old Glory Rises Over Alaska by Austin Briggs, showing Prince Maksutova and his parasol-equipped wife under the flagpole near the Tsar’s riflemen. Maksutova, who was a trained naval officer, fought during the Battle of Sinop and the siege of Petropavlovsk in the Crimean War, remained in Sitka for a year to help close things out. He died an admiral in his St. Petersburg home in 1889.
USS Ossipee in her 1873-78 configuration, with her 11-inch pivot gun mounted between the main & mizzen masts. NH 45369
Following the Sitka transfer, Ossipee would spend several years in the North Atlantic squadron. It was during this period that one of her crew, SN James Benson, would earn a rare peacetime Medal of Honor with his citation reading “Onboard the USS Ossipee, 20 June 1872. Risking his life, Benson leaped into the sea while the ship was going at a speed of 4 knots and endeavored to save John K. Smith, landsman, of the same vessel, from drowning.”
Ossipee would pick up the two-year-long Selfridge Expedition to the Isthmus of Darien (Panama) which we have covered before.
Darien Selfridge Survey. The First Reconnoitering Expedition, upon its return from the Isthmus of Darien Survey, No. 1 Commander Selfridge. No. 2. Captain Houston, USMC. No. 3. Lieutenant Goodrell, No. 4. Lieutenant Commander Schulze, No. 5 P.A. Surgeon Simonds, No. 6 P.A. Paymaster Loomis, No. 7 Lieutenant Jasper, No. 8 Mr. Sullivan Asst C.S., No. 9 Lieutenant Allen, USMC: NH 123343
Ossipee was involved in the 1873 Virginius affair with Spain after the fact, towing the notorious vessel back after the Spanish released it while her filibustering/insurgent crew would remain in custody in Havanna.
USS Ossipee in her configuration of 1884-89, with her 8-inch rifled pivot gun, mounted forward of the stack. NH 45054
USS Ossipee photographed in her 1884-89 configuration. NH 45370
Following more time in ordinary, Ossipee would once again ship off for the Pacific, remaining on Asiatic station from April 1884 to February 1887 when she arrived back in New York.
On her return, she was visited by E.H. Hart, a New York-based photographer who catered to postcard companies, and he captured her crew and decks in time. Her log held at the time that she was a 3rd rate sloop of 8 guns.
USS Ossipee Berth Deck, Cooks, in 1887. Photographed by E.H. Hart, 112 E. 24th St., New York. Note cooking gear, sausages in the roasting rack at left, tins of beef (one from New Zealand), bread, man peeling potatoes, a black sailor with bowl, coffee cups, and bearded Marine. NH 2860
USS Ossipee, Ship’s officers pose by her poop deck ladder, at the time of her arrival at New York from Asiatic service, February 1887. Note Gatling machine gun at left. CDR John F. McGlensey is in the center, in a forked beard. NH 42938
USS Ossipee, Inspection of the crew, at the time of her return from Asiatic service, February 1887. CDR John F. McGlensey, is in the right-center, beside the small boy. Note marines at left, and pumps in the lower center. NH 42939
USS Ossipee, Ship’s firemen posed by the boiler room hatch, with mascot puppy, 1887. Note breeches of 9-inch Dahlgren guns at left. NH 42940
USS Ossipee, Ship’s apprentices posed beside the engine room hatch, 1887. Note fancy bulwark paint and molding work; belaying pins holding running rigging; Gatling gun shot rack for 9-inch guns and carriage for a 3-inch landing force gun. Also ramrods and other heavy ordnance gear on bulwarks. NH 42941
USS Ossipee, Crew at quarters for inspection, February 1887, upon her arrival at New York from the Asiatic station. Marines are at the left. NH 42942
USS Ossipee, Men of the starboard watch, posed by the engine room hatch, looking forward, 1887. Note mascot puppy; engine order plaque on hatch coaming; a man with a telescope on the bridge; wire rope ladder to the shrouds; 9-inch round shot in the rack. NH 42943
USS Ossipee, Men of the port watch, posed by the engine room hatch, looking forward, in 1887. Note bugler at left, coal scuttle on deck, and cowl ventilator. Also, note landing force 3-inch gun carriage on deck. NH 42944
USS Ossipee “Equipping for distant service,” hoisting out a boat and landing force gun. This view was taken at New York Navy Yard upon her return from the Asiatic station in February 1887 and may show her being un-equipped for home service. NH 42945
USS Ossipee, “Abandoned ship,” showing her cluttered decks after her return to the New York Navy Yard from the Asiatic station in February 1887. Photo looking forward from her poop deck. Note: 9-inch Dahlgren guns, pumps, hatches, and tarpaulins over hammock rails. NH 42946
USS Ossipee ship’s officers, circa 1887-1888. Her Commanding Officer, CDR William Bainbridge Hoff, is in front left-center, with coat open. Note 9-inch Dahlgren gun at right. NH 42947
USS Ossipee crew At Quarters, circa 1887-88. Note black sailor in the right-center; gun crews by their weapons at right, Marines with Trap-door Springfield rifles, drummers, dog on deck, and hammocks stowed in hammock rails over the bulwarks. NH 42949
USS Ossipee general Muster on board, circa 1887-88. The ship’s Commanding Officer, CDR William Bainbridge Hoff, is in the center, leaning on the grating rack. Note Marine sentry at the gangway, hammock stowage, and large percentage of black sailors among the crew at left. NH 42950
USS Ossipee practice with a spar torpedo, rigged abeam, February 1887. NH 42952
USS Ossipee ship’s Marine guard in formation circa the 1880s. NH 58911
With the old wooden-hulled ship increasingly anachronistic in the new steel Navy, Ossipee was decommissioned at Norfolk on 12 November 1889 and sold there on 25 March 1891 to Herbert H. Ives.
Ossipee’s only sister to make it out of the Civil War, USS Juniata, would famously circumnavigate the globe in 1882-85 under the command of young CDR George Dewey, but her fate was coupled to Ossipee in the end, being sold off to Mr. Ives on the same day in 1891, who no doubt got a deal.
Ossipee is preserved in maritime art
W.M.C. Philbrick (American, 19th Century) Profile View of the U.S.S. Ossipee
Likewise, her muster rolls and logs are extensively preserved and digitized online in the National Archives as are numerous items in Alaska archives.
Finally, every October 18th is regularly celebrated in “The Last Frontier,” as Alaska Day, complete with a reenactment ceremony and parade in Sitka.
Displacement 1,240 t.
Depth of Hold 16′ 10″
one 100-pdr Parrott rifle
one 11″ Dahlgren smoothbore
three 30-pdr Dahlgren rifles
one heavy 12-pdr smoothbore
one 12-pdr rifle
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