Tag Archives: civil war

Warship Wednesday, April 6, 2022: The Forlorn Hope

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, April 6, 2022: The Forlorn Hope

Photo by F.A. Roe, U.S. Navy First Lieutenant, via the U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command. Catalog #: NH 286

Here we see the recently commissioned Hartford-class screw sloop-of-war USS Pensacola (23 guns) as she appeared in November 1861, off Alexandria, Virginia, dressed and yardarms manned as she is receiving President Lincoln. The image is labeled that the vessel, soon to be on the way to the Gulf of Mexico to join Flag Officer Farragut’s newly created West Gulf Blockading Squadron, is the “Forlorn Hope” of Farragut’s fleet. She would prove a valuable, if somewhat irritating, addition to his force.

Though dubbed sloops by the Navy, if commissioned in any other fleet of the era, the Hartfords would be considered steam frigates. Generally of 225 feet in length with a fully loaded displacement pushing 3,000 tons, they were only gently smaller than the preceding five Merrimac-class steam frigates which went 250-feet and about 4,000 tons.

USS Hartford Spar & Sail Plan, Department of the Navy. Bureau of Construction and Repair. 1862-1940, via National Archives. National Archives Identifier (NAID) 117877200

Built of live oak, the Hartfords were fast on either their sail rig (three masts with two yards on each) or steam plant, capable of hitting 11 knots even with only half the horsepower of the Merrimacs. With 13 gun ports on each side of the below-deck gun deck and room for a topside pivot gun fore and aft, the class was generally able to ship about 20-24 pieces, leaning heavily on IX-inch Dahlgrens. For example and Pensacola was ultimately completed with 16 such smoothbores in broadsides as well as a single XI-inch pivot, although she would sail in late 1861 with a mix of 23 guns mounted.

Under a design by John Lenthall, Chief of the Navy’s Bureau of Construction, the five sloops of the class were built at five different Navy yards close to the cities they were named after– Hartford at Boston, Lancaster at Philadelphia, Richmond at Norfolk, Brooklyn at New York, and Pensacola at Pensacola– meaning they were all slightly different from each other. Specifically, they all had engineering plants that were to be built locally to their respective yards, which, in the 1850s, was almost as ill-fated as having two classes of littoral combat ships built simultaneously.

With that, several of the ships were completed successfully while Pensacola, her hull complete and masts raised, had to be towed in December 1859 to Washington Navy Yard for installation of machinery that was built there to a design by Edward Dickerson and noted inventor Frederick Ellsworth Sickels that was supposed to be top-notch and “produce the highest possible effect from the given amount of fuel and with the least possible weight.

However, as described through the scholarship of Edward A. Mueller in Warship International Vol. 5, No. 2 (Spring, 1968), pp. 96-111 (22 pages), it fell far short:

Following the start of the Civil War and, with all four of the other Hartfords off fighting down South, Pensacola languished in Washington, despite being listed as commissioned in full on 16 September 1861, while the bugs were worked out. This included hosting Lincoln for a short sail to Alexandria in mid-November 1861 while still fitting out.

In the end, she was only able to pass her trials on 3 January 1862, making 8.8 mph on the Potomac. Her final cost was $308,460, well over twice that of any of her sisters, with the much more mechanically reliable Hartford only running $114,400.

Holy stovepipe hat, Batman! USS Pensacola off Alexandria, Virginia, in 1861. Photographed by James F. Gibson. Courtesy of Library of Congress NH 63260

Her skipper, Capt. Henry White Morris, the superintendent of engines and operations at the Washington Navy Yard, seemed a logical choice. The grandson of Robert Morris, signer of the Declaration of Independence, Capt. Morris had joined the Navy at age 13 and by 1861 he had been in the navy for 41 years with 17 of those on sea duty.

Dispatched to join Farragut in the Gulf, at last, she broke down on the way in the Florida Keys for over a week– run aground– but eventually made Ship Island off the Mississippi Sound in early March 1862 and made ready to venture up the Mighty Mississip with the squadron on the push to capture New Orleans.

Flag-officer Farragut’s Gulf Squadron, and Commodore Porter’s Mortar Fleet Line engraving published in Harper’s Weekly, 1862, depicting some of the ships involved in the campaign to capture New Orleans. Identified ships are (from left to right): Richmond, Pensacola, Colorado, Hartford (Farragut’s flagship), and Octorara. NH 59137

Headed to the Crescent City

However, her cranky machinery was in such bad shape that she was instructed to use her sails only– on an upriver trip fraught with muddy bars, confusing currents, and the very real threat of enemy action– while tugs stood by if she got stuck. 

Of course, they would have to run the gauntlet that was the Confederate-held Fort Jackson and Fort St. Philip 40 miles up the river from the mouth, two lines of river obstructions, a score of fire rafts, as well as a fleet of armed river craft, “cotton clads,” and the much-feared steam ram CSS Manassas, the rebel ships mounting some 33 guns between them.

What could possibly go wrong?

To help lighten the load, Pensacola landed most of her coal, provisions, and anything else she could sail without in an effort to raise her draft. The sloop, along with the similarly troubled paddle frigate USS Mississippi, made it over the bar at the mouth of the Mighty Miss on 8 April, then would be in the forefront of the push past Forts Jackson and St. Philip just two weeks later.

Farragut would put the ailing sloop up front, the second ship in line. 

The push, which could have gone horribly wrong, was famously successful, even though the Confederate artillery boss at the forts reported firing no less than 1,591 shells at Farragut’s fleet including “675 VIII-inch solid shot, 171 VIII-inch shells, 13 XIII-inch shells, and 142 X-inch mortar shells.”

“The Splendid Naval Triumph on the Mississippi, April 24th, 1862” color lithograph, published by Currier & Ives, 1862. Depicts Farragut’s fleet passing Forts Jackson and St. Phillip, below New Orleans. USS Cayuga is seen in the top left center leading the Union column past burning Rebel steamers while USS Pensacola is directly after with USS Mississippi in the third spot and the rest of Farragut’s squadron– including three of Pensacola’s better-known sisters: Harford (the old man’s flagship), Richmond, and Brooklyn, following. Courtesy of the U.S. Navy Art Collection NH 76369-KN

Morris’s report to Farragut, filed off New Orleans four days after the fact, making a short reference to the CSS Manassas’s failed attempt to ram the sloop and the brutal artillery duel between the warship and the forts.

Pensacola surely got some sweeping hits in on the cotton-clad CSS Governor Moore, a steamer raked with fire by the Union squadron, practically shooting away all of Moore’s upper hamper. The rebel gunboat drifted helplessly to shore, where her captain, pilot, and a seaman set her afire.

Of her 300~ man crew, Pensacola came off light for the amount of fire that was thrown her way by the Secesh, suffering four killed, and 32 wounded.

Four of her crew would earn the Medal of Honor for the fight, Quartermaster Louis Richards, Seaman Thomas G. Lyons, Captain of the foretop James McLeod, and “Boy” Thomas S. Flood.

— Richards served as quartermaster on board the U.S.S. Pensacola in the attacks upon Forts Jackson and St. Philip, and at the taking of New Orleans, 24 and 25 April 1862. Through all the din and roar of battle, he steered the ship through the narrow opening of the barricade, and his attention to orders contributed to the successful passage of the ship without once fouling the shore or the obstacles of the barricade.

— Served as seaman on board the U.S.S. Pensacola in the attack on Forts Jackson and St. Philip, 24 April 1862. Carrying out his duties throughout the din and roar of the battle, Lyons never once erred in his brave performance. Lashed outside of that vessel, on the port-sheet chain, with the lead in hand to lead the ship past the forts, Lyons never flinched, although under heavy fire from the forts and rebel gunboats.

— Captain of the foretop, and a volunteer from the Colorado, McLeod served on board the U.S.S. Pensacola during the attack on Forts Jackson and St. Philip and the taking of New Orleans, 24 and 25 April 1862. Acting as gun captain of the rifled howitzer aft, which was much exposed, he served this piece with great ability and activity, although no officer superintended it.

— Served on board the U.S.S. Pensacola in the attack on Forts Jackson and St. Philip and the taking of New Orleans, 24 and 25 April 1862. Swept from the bridge by a shell which wounded the signal quartermaster, Flood returned to the bridge after assisting the wounded man below and taking over his duties, “Performed them with coolness, exactitude and the fidelity of a veteran seaman. His intelligence and character cannot be spoken of too warmly.”

As noted of the overall operation by Capt. Theodorus Bailey, who commanded one of the gunboat divisions during the fight to pass Forts Jackson and St. Philip:

In the face of casemated forts, fire rafts, ironclad steam rams, and a fleet of gunboats, we have swept the Mississippi of its defenses as far as Baton Rouge and perhaps Memphis. The United States flag waves over Forts Jackson, St. Philip, Livingston, and Pike, and also the city of New Orleans. We fought two great battles; that of the passage of the forts and encounter with the ironclads and gunboats has not been surpassed in naval history. We have done all this with wooden ships and gunboats.

Reaching New Orleans shortly after passing the forts, at 2 pm on 25 April, Farragut formally accepted the surrender of the Crescent City from the city’s civilian leaders.

The next morning, Pensacola landed Captain Morris with two squads of marines and a few Sailors, and the small force raised the Union flag over the rebel-occupied former U.S. Mint on Esplanade Avenue in the Vieux Carre. It was the signpost that New Orleans had, unofficially at least, rejoined the Union.

The rest of the War

In July 1862, Morris, Pensacola’s first skipper, was promoted to Commodore and, in poor health, was allowed leave to return home to New York where he died soon after.

Pensacola, handicapped by her machinery, was left to the role of a sort of station ship for the next two years following the capture of New Orleans. She remained as a guard vessel on the Lower Mississippi, watching for blockade runners and policing fishing boats.

Sent to New York Navy Yard, where she decommissioned on 29 April 1864– just missing the Battle of Mobile Bay where three of her sisters ran past Forts Gains and Morgan with Farragut and fought a much stronger rebel ram than the Manassas to a standstill– Pensacola was laid up and her machinery replaced with that which had been purchased by the Navy for canceled sloop-of-war USS Wanaloset. She was still in New York when Lee surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse.

West Coast

Recommissioned 16 August 1866, the much improved Pensacola could finally stretch her sea legs.

With that, she rounded Cape Horn and became part of the Pacific Squadron, often serving as her flagship as she patrolled along the West coasts of North and South America, and as far out to sea as the Kingdom of Hawaii.

USS Pensacola off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, circa 1866-1868. Note she has at least 10 guns runs out. Courtesy of Mr. John Sardo, Mare Island Naval Shipyard. NH 76104

She continued this routine for the next 17 years, going into ordinary twice (1870-71 and 1873-74) during that period to refit, inheriting the only gently-used two funnels and boilers from the stricken Confiance-class screw sloop USS Benecia.

USS Pensacola, firing her guns port broadside. Note her new profile that included two short funnels, which she would carry between 1875 and 1888, and now has three yards on each mast rather than two. LC-DIG-GGBAIN-10057

While these were the salad days of her career, members of Pensacola’s crew would earn two more Medals of Honor in this quiet peacetime era: Seaman Patrick Regan and Henry Thompson, in 1873 and 1878, respectively, each for rescuing a man from drowning.

Chile, Town of Coquimbo, showing probably the USS Pensacola, an observer in the War of the Pacific, in 1879. LOC LC-DIG-npcc-20198

She was extensively photographed around 1880, with views of her decks captured in detail for posterity.

View of the starboard reinforced gun deck, during the 1880s, including rifles stored overhead and fire hoses to the right. Note the IX-inch Dahlgren Shell Guns. With some 1,185 such pieces cast at Alger, Bellona, Fort Pitt, Seyfert, McManus & Co., Tredegar, and West Point foundries, they remained one of the most numerous Civil War-era American guns well into the 1880s. With a 9-inch bore and a tube weight of 9,200-pounds, they could fire 90-pound shells or 150-pound solid shot up to 3,450 yards at maximum (15-degree) elevation. NH 63563

View of the spar deck, after an abandon ship drill, during the 1880s. NH 63564

View of the captain’s or flag officer’s cabin. Very swank. Note the spyglasses on the dressed table. NH 42876

European Station

Her Pacific days came to an end, at least for a while, when in June 1883 Pensacola was ordered to Norfolk, the long way. Sailing across the Pacific and Indian Oceans, she transited the Suez Canal, then steamed through the ancient waters of the Mediterranean and crossed the Atlantic to arrive in Hampton Roads on 4 May 1884. After a year of refit, she sailed to Europe with a new skipper in April 1885

Her skipper, from 1885 through 1888 while on European Station, was a young Captain George Dewey (USNA 1858), later of Battle of Manila Bay fame. Dewey of course was familiar with Pensacola as he had been a newly-minted lieutenant on the USS Mississippi when that steam frigate was behind Pensacola in line on the push past the muzzles of the guns of Fort St. Philip.

USS Pensacola ship’s officers, with an Italian commander, at Naples, Italy, circa spring 1886. RADM Samuel R. Franklin and Captain George Dewey are third and second from left in the second row. NH 42872

There are also superb photographs of her Bluejackets and Marines conducting gunnery training and formations, landing drills, practicing repelling boarders, and having cutlass practice on her deck in February 1888, with Dewey looking on.

Ship’s marines paraded for inspection, probably upon her return to the U.S. in February 1888. Captain George Dewey, her Commanding Officer, is right-center, between hatch and skylight. NH 42885

Marine guard paraded with fixed bayonets, probably upon her return to the U.S. in February 1888. Second Lieutenant Joseph H. Pendleton is in the left-center foreground. Note binnacle, hatches, and full hammock rails. NH 42890

Crew paraded for battalion drill, with rifles, probably upon her return to the U.S. in February 1888. Note officers’ swords. NH 42884

Landing force battalion drill on the spar deck, probably upon her return to the U.S. in February 1888. Note hatches “cleared for action” with railings removed. NH 42883

Two crewmen fencing with cutlasses, as others watch, probably upon her return to the U.S. in February 1888. Note revolver worn by one of the combatants. NH 42894

Crew drilling at repelling boarders, probably at the time she returned to the U.S. in February 1888. The photo is taken looking forward from the quarterdeck. NH 42878

USS Pensacola after pivot gun in action during a drill, probably upon the ship’s return to the U.S. in February 1888. The Gun is an old Parrott rifle, converted to breech-loading. Note skylight and rigging details. NH 42881

The ship’s gunner, and the quarter gunners, pose with a landing force field piece, circa 1885-1888. NH 42889


Arriving back stateside from her European vacation in February 1888, Pensacola saw a further refit during which one funnel was removed and her second-hand boilers were replaced with new ones built for the canceled screw frigate USS Ontario.

Then came a lengthy cruise to the coast of Africa, to which she carried a team of scientists of the United States Eclipse Expedition.

As described by the Smithsonian, the embarked big brains included: astronomer David Peck Todd of Amherst College and the U.S. Naval Observatory, Mr. Carbutt (Photographer); Prof. Abbe (meteorologist); Eben Jenks Loomis (naturalist) from the American Ephemeris and Nautical Almanac office (as well as a special assistant to the USNO); William H. Brown (osteologist and naturalist) as well as his brother A. H. Brown (assistant); and Mr. Preston (“observer of magnetics and determinations of gravity”).

The 242-day scientific cruise called at St. Paul de Loanda in Portuguese West Africa, Faial in the Azores, the Cape Verde Islands, Freetown, and Cape Town before heading back by way of St. Helena, Ascension, Barbados, and Nonsuch Island (Barbados), mixing both groundbreaking science experiments and data collection with such mundane naval tasks as gunnery practice.

One Herman S. Davis, an assistant astronomer on the trip, was a bit of a shutterbug. 

U.S. Navy Expedition to observe the 1889 solar eclipse from Africa. USS Pensacola, screw steamer, at Cape Town Docks, South Africa. Note that she is back to her single-funnel profile. Table Mountain is in the background. Photographed by Herman S. Davis, who was the assistant astronomer of the expedition

U.S. Navy Expedition to observe the 1889 solar eclipse from Africa. USS Pensacola, screw steamer, the enlisted crew on deck. Photographed by Herman S. Davis. LOC Lot 7360-3

U.S. Navy Expedition to observe the 1889 solar eclipse from Africa. USS Pensacola, target practice off St. Helena, February-March 1890. Photographed by Herman S. Davis. Lot 7360-15

Same as the above, Lot 7360-16.

As described by Albert Bergman in his journal A Man Before the Mast, the crew was very involved in the experiments and collection process:

Besides the force we had working on the boats, twenty to thirty sailors were detailed to work on shore under the direction of Professor Bigelow, to dig ditches, build foundations, fitting instruments, artificial houses, etc. Another party was detailed under Lieutenant Heilner, to transport the stores to the Eclipse Station. Ten voluntary marines were sent on shore to guard the camp from wild beasts and savages. The latter were found to be plenty.

U.S. Navy Expedition to observe the 1889 solar eclipse from Africa. USS Pensacola Marines on watch, not looking like they are 24 years past the Civil War. A poem by “a sailor” reads, “At last, we had almost finished, and expected a little rest, for those astronomers are hard enough / to work with at the best.” Photographed by Herman S. Davis. Lot 7360-6

The Smithsonian notes:

Along with the magnetic, gravity, and astronomical observations performed, specimen collecting included, but was not limited to entomology, zoology, and ichthyology. A large number of fish were collected at the island locations by William H. Brown. Myriapoda, spiders, and other insect specimens were also brought back by the expedition team.

Layup and semi-retirement in sunny California

In August 1890, Pensacola was dispatched back to her old stomping grounds on the West Coast, arriving at San Francisco on 10 August 1891.

US Navy screw steamer, USS Pensacola, junior officers on deck. Note the sails and rigging. Photographed by Edward H. Hart for Detroit Publishing Company, between 1890 and 1901. LC-DIG-DET-4a13971

U.S. Navy screw steamer USS Pensacola, hoisting the launch. Detroit Publishing Company Postcard, 1890-1912. Lot 3000-G-21

Following a short cruise to Hawaii, the aging steam sloop decommissioned at Mare Island on 18 April 1892.

After a six-year layup, she was reactivated as part of the naval surge that came with the Spanish-American War.

While Dewey was busy in the Philippines, however, Pensacola was destined to be used only as a training ship for Naval apprentices, then, transitioned to a receiving ship at Yerba Buena Training Station.

Pensacola off Mare Island, California, ready to proceed to Goat Island as a naval receiving ship, 1898. NH 63566

Pensacola as a receiving ship at Yerba Buena, California, 1902. NH 63565

Decommissioning on 6 December 1911, Pensacola was struck from the Navy Register on 23 December.

The old girl was unceremoniously stripped and burned near Hunter’s Point the following May.


Little exists of Farragut’s Forlorned Frigate these days.

Her helm wheel was saved and, after being on display on the decks of the old Truxtun-Decatur Naval Museum for decades, is now mounted on a wall of the National Museum of the United States Navy at the Washington Navy Yard.

One wooden helm steering wheel with eight spokes from the USS Pensacola (1859). A metal inlay along the top and bottom of the rim of the wheel reads: “(arrow) LEFT – RUDDER – RIGHT (arrow)”. A metal plaque attached to the middle of the wheel is engraved: “THIS STEERING WHEEL WAS / ORIGINALLY INSTALLED ON THE / STEAM SLOOP OF WAR PENSACOLA / LAUNCHED AT PENSACOLA NAVY YARD / 15 AUG 1859 AND STRICKEN FROM THE / NAVY LIST 23 DEC. 1911. THIS WHEEL WAS IN / USE ON THE PENSACOLA WHEN THAT / VESSEL WAS WITH FARRAGUT’S / SQUADRON IN THE PASSAGE OF FORTS / JACKSON AND ST. PHILIP, APRIL 1862, / AND IN THE BATTLES OF / NEW ORLEANS / AND / MOBILE BAY.” NHHC 1952-3-A

She is also remembered in period maritime art.

USS Pensacola and the CSS Governor Moore, oil by Worden Wood, American, 1880–1943, in the Yale University Art Gallery.

Side view of the warship USS Pensacola at anchor in the Mississippi River at New Orleans with riverbank and structures in the background. The painting shows small service vessels at the stern of the warship and the landing party going ashore. Captain W. Morris with two squads of marines, probably the landing party going ashore, replaced the Confederate flag with the United States flag at the U.S. Mint in the Vieux Carre on April 26, 1862. The Pensacola, one of the Union ships that arrived at New Orleans on April 25, 1862, was in the fleet of Admiral David G. Farragut during the occupation of New Orleans during the Civil War. In the Louisiana Digital Library.

Meanwhile, assorted logs and research from the 1889 United States Eclipse Expedition are in libraries and collections around the country.

Her sisters likewise lived very long– and lucky– lives.

  • Hartford, Farragut’s flagship, was kept as a relic by the Navy until she literally sank at her moorings in 1956.
  • Brooklyn— the scourge of the Mississippi Sound and the Biloxi fishing fleet– retired in 1889 and was sold after having well served her country for over three decades.
  • Lancaster, who served in the Pacific during the Civil War, like Pensacola was recommissioned in 1898 and saw one last war (albeit as a receiving ship) then continued to serve as a quarantine ship on the East Coast as late as 1933.
  • Richmond, who past the Forts in 1862 with Pensacola and company, served as an auxiliary to the receiving ship USS Franklin until after the end of World War I and was sold for breaking in 1919.

As for the old U.S. Mint in New Orleans, the flag Pensacola rose was hauled down almost immediately by troublemaking New Orleanian William Mumford, along with three other men. As noted by the Louisiana State Museum, “Mumford, a well-educated but reckless man with a love of drink, defiantly wore shreds of the flag in his buttonhole. He eventually was arrested and sentenced by U.S. Army General Benjamin Butler to be hanged in front of the mint on June 7, 1862.”

Butler is not well-liked in New Orleans to the current day.

The Mint building, after the facility closed in 1909, was used by the Veterans Bureau as well as both the Navy and Coast Guard for decades, along with other federal agencies, until the state took it over– peacefully this time– in the mid-1960s. Under the stewardship of the Louisiana State Museum Board is now the New Orleans Jazz Museum. 

Finally, while our USS Pensacola was the first U.S. Navy ship to carry the name, the has not been the last, followed by a Great War transport ship (AK-7/AG-13), a “Treaty” cruiser (CL/CA-24) that saw so much service in WWII that she was nicknamed the “Grey Ghost” by Tokyo Rose on her way to earning 13 battle stars, and a Cold War-era Anchorage-class dock landing ship (LSD-38) that served 28 years with the Navy and is still in service with Taiwan after at least 22 years under that country’s flag.

In my opinion, it is past time to reinstall a USS Pensacola to the Navy List.

Specs: (1861)

Displacement 3,000 t.
Length 130′ 5″
Beam 44′ 5″
Draft 18′ 7″
Speed 9.5 kts.
Complement: 259 officers and enlisted (1861)
1 x 11-inch Dahlgren smoothbore
16 x 9-inch Dahlgren smoothbores

If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find. http://www.warship.org/membership.htm

The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.

With more than 50 years of scholarship, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

PRINT still has its place. If you LOVE warships, you should belong.

I’m a member, so should you be!

160 years ago: Just some guys from Mass

Members of Mess 3, Co. C, 13th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry taken at Williamsport, Maryland, on a cool fall morning of November 21st, 1861. Note their mix of kepis and Hardee hats, as well as a personal toboggan cap and what looks like a fez with a tassel. Two are wearing their cartridge pouches but only one is armed, with what looks like a Springfield 1855 rifle, or similar.

Organized at Fort Independence June 16, 1861, at the time of the above image the 13th Mass was part of Abercrombie’s Brigade, Banks’ Division, Army of the Potomac. Before they were mustered out on August 1, 1864, they would fight at Hancock, Cedar Mountain, Bull Run, South Mountain, Antietam, Fredricksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, The Wilderness, Spottsylvania, Cold Harbor, and the Siege of Petersburg.

The Center for Civil War Photography’s Craig Heberton IV has the following breakdown of the men shown in the above photo, captured in time and place. 

This high-quality reproduction print of a very well-focused and executed early war photograph of nine members of Company “C” of the Thirteenth Massachusetts Regiment, taken at Williamsport, Maryland, does just that. It also reveals that these guys all “messed” together. And what a variety of headwear! It is unlikely that these men, as of November 21, 1861, had any inkling of what lay in store for themselves and their mates at unusually bloody large-scale battles in which they later would be actively engaged, such as Second Manassas and Gettysburg, where their unit suffered around 200 casualties at each.

Randomly picking one of the men, Garry Adelman notes that soldier #5, Albert Sheafe, “was a 21-year-old carver from Boston [who was] wounded at Antietam on the north end of the field, [constituting] one of [the] 130+ casualties [of the 13th Mass.] at that battle. He served till August 1864 and later lived in Roxbury, Mass.”

Expanding thereupon, Tom Boyce writes that: “Albert A. Sheafe was born in Lynn, Mass. in 1840… [In the 1860 Federal Census,] Albert Sheafe is listed as a [carver’s apprentice, living with many other unrelated people in the residence of 50-year-old] Anne M. Cushing [and her two children] in [Boston’s 4th Ward]. He enlisted as a private in Company “C” of the 13th Massachusetts Infantry, 16 Jul 1861. Quickly, he attained the rank of Corporal, although curiously his rank was back-dated to 01 June 1861. He was severely wounded during the Battle of Antietam (Sharpsburg), 17 Sep. 1862… He attained the rank of Sergeant during the first day’s Battle of Gettysburg. His rank was, again, upgraded during the 2nd day’s battle of Gettysburg, where the 13th Massachusetts suffered many casualties. He was mustered out of service, 01 Aug 1864 and died in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, 25 Mar. 1916.”

I decided to dig a little deeper to learn that on Jan. 5, 1865, Albert A. Scheafe married Clara A. Rand in Portsmouth, N.H. By May 1, 1865, Albert and Clara lived in Newburyport, Mass. in the the home of George F. Smith (aged 25, an engineer) & Frank M. Smith (aged 24). I’d bet a dollar that “George F. Smith” is the same fellow as soldier #6, “Geo. H. Smith,” seen in the Nov. 21, 1861 photograph. Scheafe’s occupation, then, was described as “cabinet maker.”

By 1870, the Sheafes were the parents of a 4-year-old daughter and living in South Boston, Mass. Albert still “work[ed] as a carver.” The family lived in the home of his wife’s uncle (a 49-year-old Canadian-born policeman named Emery Dresser) and aunt Mary Francis R. Dresser.

It appears that the Sheafes lost their daughter before 1880, at which time they and Albert’s mother, Rhoda (a nurse), apparently rented space in the residence of Abram Wolfsen (a dealer in watchmaker’s tools) on Sharon St. in Boston. Albert’s occupation remained a “carver” as of 1880.

Skipping ahead to 1910, the Scheafes are found living in Portsmouth, N.H., where they would have celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary. At the age of 69, Albert (or his wife) told the census taker that he still engaged in furniture cabinetry work. From 1907 until his death on March 25, 1916, Albert received a military pension. He was buried in Portsmouth’s South Street Cemetery. After her husband died, Clara received an army widow’s pension up until 1924. She lived to the age of 98 or 99, dying in 1941. Clara A. Rand Scheafe is buried in the same plot with her husband.

Warship Wednesday, May 26, 2021: Baked New Hampshire

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.

Heeling Tennessee

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.
Length 207′
Beam 38′
Draft 16′
Depth of Hold 16′ 10″
Speed 10kts
Complement 141
one 100-pdr Parrott rifle
one 11″ Dahlgren smoothbore
three 30-pdr Dahlgren rifles
six 32-pdr
one heavy 12-pdr smoothbore
one 12-pdr rifle
Propulsion Sails/Steam

If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find. http://www.warship.org/membership.htm

The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.

With more than 50 years of scholarship, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

PRINT still has its place. If you LOVE warships you should belong.

I’m a member, so should you be!

Guns of the U.S. Army, 1775-2020

While you may know of today’s standard U.S. Army infantry rifles, and those of the 20th Century, how about those present at Lexington and Concord or the line of Springfield muskets from 1795 through 1865? What came after?

For all this and more, check out the easy 2,000-word primer I did for this last weekend at Guns.com.

Weapons free (a little late)

Always nice to see an MK75 76mm OTO Melara guns in action. The U.S. military only has like 15 of these left– all on Coast Guard Cutters. Back in the 1980s, there were nearly 100 of these Italian rapids floating around in the fleet between shoreside spares, 25 cutters, 51 FFG-7s, and six PHMs.

Coast Guard Cutter Harriet Lane fired a commemorative shot Thursday to honor the 158th anniversary of its namesake’s action near Fort Sumter

Coast Guard Cutter Harriet Lane fired a commemorative shot Thursday to honor the 158th anniversary of its namesake’s action near Fort Sumter, 30 May 2019. Although the anniversary was actually in April, Lane was in the midst of an 80-day patrol and thus out of pocket. She caught Charleston on the way back home to Virginia (USCG Photo)

From the Coast Guard (bold mine):

CHARLESTON, S.C. — The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Harriet Lane fired a commemorative shot Thursday to honor the 158th anniversary of its namesake’s action near Fort Sumter.

On April 11, 1861, United States Revenue Cutter Harriet Lane made history by firing the first naval shot of the Civil War. Cutter Lane fired across the bow of the merchant steamship Nashville. Nashville was attempting to enter Charleston Harbor without displaying a flag indicating its nationality. Congress merged the Revenue Cutter Service with the United States Lifesaving Service in 1915 to form today’s United States Coast Guard.

The cutter Harriet Lane, a 270-foot medium endurance cutter, is returning to its homeport of Portsmouth, Virginia after conducting a successful 80-day counter-narcotics patrol of the Caribbean Sea. The cutter saved the lives of two mariners in distress, conducted several boardings on the high seas, and seized 2,069 pounds of cocaine valued at $27 million.

Of note, we covered the original Harriett Lane, a very active steam powered Revenue Cutter that saw lots of Civil War service, in a past Warship Wednesday. 

The great, vanishing, Civil War re-enactor

(Photo: Chris Eger)

As someone with lots of friends that are into living history, a former period Texas cavalryman (have you ever priced a workable McClellan Saddle or sweated through a pair of wool pants in Vicksburg in July?!) and a frequent visitor to the Fall Muster at Beauvoir, I found this interesting.

The Week has a great piece on the modern reenactor or lack thereof.

“We try to be as authentic as we can without getting dysentery,” Brennan said of his unit, several of whom were frying bacon and brewing coffee over a fire. They were camped in a sea of canvas tents that housed many of the 6,000 re-enactors at the event. Beyond the spectator stands and hot dog stalls, the Confederates were camped just out of sight.

The 155th Gettysburg anniversary re-enactment, which was held over the second weekend in July, was a chance for dedicated hobbyists to blast away at one another with antique rifles and rekindle old friendships over campfire-cooked meals. Spectators paid $40 to watch nearly a dozen mock skirmishes over the course of four days, and there was an old-timey ball Saturday night. An Abraham Lincoln impersonator was on hand to pose for photos.

It was also a snapshot of a hobby in decline. Gettysburg is among the biggest re-enactments of the year, and it still draws thousands to the sweltering Pennsylvania countryside in the middle of summer.

But that’s nothing compared with the re-enactments of the 1980s and ’90s, when tens of thousands would turn out. In 1998, at the 135th anniversary of Gettysburg, there were an estimated 30,000 re-enactors and 50,000 spectators.

More here.

Warship Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2018: Ole Droopy

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 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, Aug. 22, 2018: Ole Droopy

Here we see a mighty veteran of the Civil War, the ship–rigged screw sloop-of-war USS Monongahela with her full sail rig sucking air, believed to be around 1902 when she was in her last years as a sail training ship for apprentices at Newport.

Designed as a barkentine-rigged screw sloop with no bowsprit, she was the first U.S. Navy warship named for the river in Pennsylvania and, appropriately, was crafted in the Keystone State at Philadelphia Navy Yard during the early years of the Civil War. Armed with a 200-pounder Parrott rifle, and two 11-inch XI-inch Dahlgren shell guns, the 227-foot long three-master commissioned on 15 January 1863 and promptly sailed for points south to join the Union fleet.

USS Monongahela artwork shows her as originally built, with just three pivot guns and no bowsprit. This was her configuration until 1865. Later, she added a pair of 24-pounders as well as a matching set of 12-pounders to the list. NH 45205

Monongahela sailed to reinforce Rear Adm. David G. Farragut’s West Gulf Blockading Squadron off Mobile, then found herself just eight weeks after commissioning (some shakedown cruise!) attempting to run past the fire-breathing Confederate batteries on the Mississippi at Port Hudson, La., on the night of 14/15 March 1863. It was a near-disaster and Monongahela grounded under the guns of a heavy Rebel battery, taking heavy fire and losing six men killed and 21 wounded, including the captain.

Rear Admiral David G. Farragut’s fleet engaged the rebel batteries at Port Hudson, Louisiana, on March 14th, 1863. During this engagement, Farragut, passed the heavy batteries at Port Hudson, Louisiana, with USS Hartford and USS Albatross, to establish an effective blockade of the vital Red River supply lines. During this action, USS Richmond was disabled but drifted downstream, USS Monongahela was grounded but escaped, and USS Mississippi was grounded at high speed, set afire, and blew up. Hand color lithograph by Currier & Ives, possibly 1863. Courtesy of the Library of Congress. LC-DIG-PGS-05757

The fleet came back to Port Hudson in May, with Farragut using Monongahela as his flag, and pounded the batteries once again.

Then, in July, just days after Vicksburg had fallen, the ship dueled with Confederate batteries at Donaldsonville, La, where Monongahela‘s skipper, CDR. Abner Read, was killed by shrapnel, and her executive officer maimed. This led a survivor from USS Mississippi, lost at Port Hudson four months prior, to be given command of the vessel, a lieutenant by the name of George Dewey who would later see a bit of service in the Philippines.

The ship, already a much-scarred veteran after just a half-year of service, now went to assist Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks’ Texas campaign, helping to capture Brownsville before Thanksgiving then ending the year back off Mobile, looking for blockade runners and exchanging potshots with Fort Morgan.

Speaking of which, she was in the thick of the action when Farragut charged the mouth of Mobile Bay in August 1864. There, something amazing happened. Outfitted with an iron prow ram, Monongahela was to be the Admiral’s designated tackle for the Confederate casemate ironclad Tennessee, the quarterback of the Rebel fleet in the Bay and flagship of grey coat Admiral Franklin Buchanan.

As described by Shelby Foote bis book “The Civil War, A Narrative Red River To Appomattox”:

Accordingly, when Tennessee came within range about 9.20, making hard for the {Farragut’s} flagship (Hartford), Monongahela moved ahead at full speed and struck her amidships, a heavy blow that had no effect at all on the rebel vessel but cost the sloop her iron beak, torn off along her cutwater.

From Farragut’s own report, in terse understatement:

All the vessels had passed the forts by 8: 30 o’clock, but the rebel ram Tennessee was still apparently uninjured in our rear.

Signal was at once made to all the fleet to turn again and attack the ram, not only with the guns but with orders to run her down at full speed. The Monongahela was the first that struck her, and, though she may have injured her badly, yet failed in disabling her. The Lackawanna also struck her, but ineffectually, and the flagship gave her a severe shock with her bow, and as she passed poured her whole port broadside into her, solid IX-inch shot and 13 pounds of powder, at a distance of not more than 12 feet. The ironclads were closing upon her and the Hartford and the rest of the fleet were bearing down upon her when, at 10 a. m., she surrendered. The rest of the rebel fleet, viz, Morgan and Gaines, succeeded in getting back under the protection of the guns of Fort Morgan.

This terminated the action of the day.

Admiral Buchanan sent me his sword, being himself badly wounded with a compound fracture of the leg, which it is supposed will have to be amputated.

This act– ramming a well-armored Rebel ironclad with a steam sloop at full speed at the start of a surface engagement while simultaneously brushing off the threat of mines and shore bombardment– was the stuff of legend and was well-remembered in naval lore, regardless of the tactical impact it had on the engagement. At the time, Leslie’s reported the blow caused “the huge rebel monster to reel like a drunken man.”

Battle of Mobile Bay, 5 August 1864. Woodcut by Roberts, circa 1866, entitled Capture of the Ram Tennessee by Farragut (Mobile Bay). It depicts CSS Tennessee being rammed by a U.S. Navy steam sloop, either USS Monongahela or USS Lackawanna. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 65707

Painting by Lieutenant Colonel Edmund S. Sayer, USMC (Retired), December 1938, depicting USS Monongahela ramming CSS Tennessee during the battle. The artist composed this painting from Rear Admiral David Glasgow Farragut’s battle plans. Courtesy of the U.S. Navy Art Collection, Washington, DC. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. NH 42397

From Monongahela later came a boarding party to swarm over the seized Tennessee. That party included one Ensign (later RADM) Purnell Frederick Harrington of Dover, Delaware, who picked up a Leech & Rigdon .36 Colt Navy clone from the enemy ship.

Few Georgia-made Leech & Rigdon’s were made (less than 1,500 guns on a Confederate government contract) and fewer survive today. This one has a silver oval plaque inlaid in the right grip and engraved in block letters and flowing script: “Ensign P. Fred Harrington U.S. Navy, USS Monongahela, Mobile Bay Alabama Friday, Aug 5th, 1864 Captured with the Rebel Ironclad Tennessee.” It sold at auction via Cowan for $47K in 2016.

Monongahela on the Mississippi River during the Civil War. Across the top is written “Port Hudson. Donaldsonville. Texas Coast. Mobile” while the 691-ton Unadilla-class gunboat USS Winona (5 guns) is shown to the left and the 1000-ton ironclad river gunboat USS Essex (6 guns) to the right of the frame. From Philbrick collection, Kittery Maine. Catalog #: NH 995

After receiving bow repairs, Monongahela remained on duty with the West Gulf Squadron until the end of the Civil War and then received an assignment to the West Indies Squadron.

There, according to DANFS, she soon ran into another sort of battle– one with Poseidon.

The warship had the unique experience of being landed high and dry almost a mile inland from the shoreline when a wave generated by an underwater earthquake struck Frederiksted, St. Croix, on 18 November 1867. The tsunami generated a roughly 20-foot high wall of water that wrecked the harbor, destroying buildings and shattering many small boats. The water also carried the screw sloop over the beach, warehouses, and streets where she came to rest on an even keel some distance from the water. She lost not a soul, though the town suffered five people drowned. A working party of mechanics from New York Navy Yard under Naval Constructor Thomas Davidson succeeded in refloating the ship on 11 May 1868, following a four-month endeavor. Monongahela was towed to New York and thence Portsmouth where she was slowly repaired, finally departing in 1873 to join the South Atlantic Station.

USS Monongahela was stranded at Frederiksted, St. Croix, the Virgin Islands on 4 March 1868 after an unsuccessful launching attempt. She had been washed ashore by a tidal wave on 18 November 1867 and was finally refloated on 11 May 1868. Monongahela had received a bowsprit in her 1865 refit but retains her original straight bow. NH 45208

After a decade of service as a training ship on both the East and West Coast, our hardy warship was stripped of her guns (although pictures show what appear to be at least one muzzle-loading Dahlgren on her deck as late as 1891), and, with her machinery removed and rig scaled back, was converted to a floating supply ship and tender at California’s Mare Island Navy Yard.

USS Monongahela off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, in July 1884, following conversion to a sailing storeship. USS Mohican (1885-1922) is fitting out in the left background, with Mare Island’s distinctive large crane beyond. NH 45209

In 1890, the seagoing storeship was re-cast as a ship-rigged training ship and dispatched to Newport Station, then a key training base. Leaving Mare Island after her period in doldrums, she rounded Cape Horn and made New York in just 106 days on sail alone– a feat for any windjammer. Once on the East Coast, she began her third career, that of a school ship.

USS Monongahela (photographed in port, following her 1890-91 conversion to a ship-rigged training ship. NH 60266

After a decade without guns, the old warrior was given a training battery that consisted of a mix of 6-pounder (57mm) breechloaders, multi-barrel 37mm Hotchkiss revolving cannon, and various small arms.

A book by Frank Child of Newport, Rhode Island, entitled “U.S.T.S. Monongahela and the U.S. Naval Training System, illustrated,” was published in 1892, and froze both the ship and her students in time. As such, they show the Victorian-era naval training establishment well, including modern weapons such as rapid-fire guns, blended with traditional marlinspike seamanship and the use of cutlasses.

USS Monongahela (1863-1908), departing Newport, Rhode Island Caption: For Europe, 23 June 1891. Photographed by Frank H. Child, Newport. NH 45881

Apprentices drill at furling topsail and mainsail, off Newport, Rhode Island, circa June 1891. Halftone of a photo by Frank H. Child, Newport, NH 45894

“Morse code of signaling.” Apprentices practice semaphore signaling, circa June 1891. Halftone of a photo by Frank H. Child, Newport, Note: 37mm Hotchkiss rotary cannon behind these boys NH 45888

Apprentices in blues drill with a 37mm Hotchkiss rotary cannon, circa 1891. Halftone of a photo by Frank H. Child, Newport, NH 45891

“Ready.” Apprentices of the Fourth Division at small arms drill, onboard USS MONONGAHELA (1863-1908), at Newport, Rhode Island, circa June 1891. Note the .45-70 caliber M1879/80/81 Winchester-Hotchkiss rifles. These were the first detachable-mag bolt-action rifles the Navy would adopt, buying some 2,500 of them. They were later replaced by the M1885 Remington-Lee and the M1895 Lee rifle. Further, note what seems to be a Civil War-era Dahlgren shell gun to the far right of the image. While you could say it was quaint, it should be noted that legacy ships such as the training sloop USS Enterprise still had working IX-inch Dahlgren pivot guns at the same time and would keep them until 1910! Halftone of a photo by Frank H. Child, Newport. NH 45886

Apprentices in winter blues at gun drill on board, circa 1891. Gun is a six-pounder rapid-fire Hotchkiss model. Halftone of a photo by Frank H. Child, Newport NH 45890

“Left face cut.” Cutlass exercises for apprentices onboard USS Monongahela at Newport, Rhode Island, circa June 1891. Halftone of a photo by Frank H. Child, Newport, Rhode Island. From the book: “U.S.T.S. Monongahela and the U.S. Naval Training System, illustrated,” 1892. Keep in mind the Navy retained cutlasses in ship’s stores through WWII. Description: Catalog #: NH 45885

On 15 May 1894, she was attached to the Naval Academy at Annapolis as the school’s practice ship, carrying Mids on lengthy summer cruises to the Caribbean and Europe for the next half-decade (taking a break to serve as an auxiliary patrol ship on the East Coast during the Spanish-American War) before being sent back to Newport to resume her old job teaching apprentices until 1904.

Sometime after 1895 (likely during the aforementioned SpanAm service) she evidently picked up at least one modern 3″/50 caliber gun. More on that later.

USS MONONGAHELA, a practice ship for the Naval Academy from 1894-97, is seen tied up to the Academy wharf. USS Newport (PG-12) practice ship in 1897, can also be seen in the background. Description: Courtesy of Rear Admiral Edgar H. Batcheller, USN, Charleston South Carolina, 1969 NH 68422

Under sail, with starboard studding sails spread in very light wind, while serving as U.S. Naval Academy Practice Ship in 1894-99. Courtesy of Edward Page, 1979. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 89732

In 1902 she was still beautiful, as the below postcard series shows.

19-N-12118 USS Monongahela, starboard stern, at sea,

19-N-6801 USS Monongahela, port bow, at sea,

19-N-12112 USS Monongahela, port bow, at sea,

19-N-12114 USS Monongahela, port bow, at sea,

19-N-12119 USS Monongahela, port view,

The old warship was dispatched in her 41st year to the naval station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where she was to serve as station ship at the primitive coaling base. There, she was engulfed in a fire on a cool spring night in March 1908 while anchored between South Toro Cay and Grenadillo Point. While the ship was afire, it was towed to the harbor area on the south side of Deer Point, near Officer’s Landing.

“The ship was towed to the harbor because it was easier to try and fight the fire,” explained CDR Jeff Johnston, public works officer for GITMO’s Naval Station in a 2009 article. “The effort was unsuccessful, and the ship sank in only about 20 feet of water.”

Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Remains of the USS MONONGAHELA, which had been destroyed by fire on March 17, 1908. Probably photographed during the early “teens”. Courtesy of Carter Rila, 1986. NH 100938

One of the few items salvaged from the charred wreck was a 3″/50 caliber deck gun, which had become warped and developed a downward drop of the barrel. Dubbed “Ole Droopy,” it was installed on Deer Point, directly over the remains of the old Civil War vet.

Ole Droopy was warped in the fire that destroyed the USS Monongahela in 1908, then later salvaged and put on display. This is how the venerable gun appeared in 1915. I believe– but am open to debate on this– that it is an early Mark 2 gun.

Ole Droopy stood sentinel over the sunken remains of the USS Monongahela at Deer Point before it was moved in 1942. The stone slab beneath the gun remains in the backyard of a private residence today. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy) UNCLASSIFIED – Cleared for public release. For additional information contact JTF Guantanamo PAO 011-5399-3589; DSN 660-3589

In 1942, the gun was moved to a downtown location, where it remained until 1988 when it “disappeared” rumored to be interred unceremoniously in a base landfill condemned by the base commander and public works officer who “were not pleased with the undignified look of the warped, downward-pointing deck gun. To some young Sailors and Marines, it became the appendage of off-color jokes and references.”

Ole Droopy is shown on a postcard in front of the base library in the 1950s.

Other than the vintage naval rifle, which has now marched off into naval lore of her own, Monongahela was commemorated in the fleet itself by two vessels that went on to carry her proud name– a WWII-era Kennebec-class oiler (AO-42) that picked up a dozen battle stars before she was struck in 1959 and a Cimarron-class fleet replenishment oiler (AO-178) commissioned from 1981 to 1999.

Nonetheless, the original hard charger of Port Gibson and Brownsville, home to Dewey and Farragut, survivor of a beef with the king of the sea and schoolmaster to the fleet, Monongahela is well-remembered in maritime art, and Mids continue to see her every day.

Painting by Gordon Grant, showing the ship during her days as Naval Academy Training Ship. “U.S.S. MONONGAHELA, Civil War Veteran and famous Midshipmen’s Practice Cruise Ship.” This screened print appeared in the U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, December 1944. Catalog #: NH 45992-KN

USS Monongahela (1863-1908) mural by Howard B. French, in Memorial Hall, U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, depicting Monongahela during her days at the Naval Academy Practice Ship, 1894-99. The mural was donated to the Naval Academy by Mrs. Louis M. Nulton. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 43576-KN

Further, her plans are in the National Archives.


Displacement:2,078 long tons (2,111 t)
Length: 227 ft
Beam: 38 ft
Draft: 17 ft 6 in
Propulsion: Steam engine (until 1883)
Sail plan: Sloop sails, ship after 1890
Speed: 8.5 knots as designed
1 × 200-pounder Parrott rifle
2 × XI-inch Dahlgren smoothbores
2 × 24-pounder guns
2 × 12-pounder guns
(Disarmed 1883-1890, although may have kept a few old cannon)
(After 1890)
A mix of 3-inch and 6-pdr breechloaders, 37mm Hotchkiss revolving cannon, small arms

If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find. http://www.warship.org/membership.htm

The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.

With more than 50 years of scholarship, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

PRINT still has its place. If you LOVE warships you should belong.

I’m a member, so should you be!

Warship Wednesday, April 11, 2018: Ms. Lane, of Paraguay, Nashville and Galveston fame

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 their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, April 11, 2018: Ms. Lane, of Paraguay, Nashville and Galveston fame

LC-USZ62-48021: United States Revenue Cutter Harriet Lane. Wood engraving, 1858. Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Here we see the classic steam warship, USRC Harriet Lane of the Revenue Marine Service, and 157 years ago this very day she fired the first shot (at sea) in the Civil War, securing her place in history.

A copper plated side-paddle steamer with an auxiliary schooner rig, Lane was built for the US Treasury Department, by William H. Webb at Bell’s shipyard in New York City in 1857 at a cost of $140,000. She was named in honor of Ms. Harriet Rebecca Lane Johnston, the popular niece of lifelong bachelor President James Buchanan, who served as his first lady since he was unmarried at the time.

Her armament, a pair of old 32-pounders and a quartet of 24-pdr brass howitzers, was deemed sufficient for her work in stopping smugglers and destroying derelicts at sea, but she was constructed with three magazines and open deck space for additional guns should they be needed.

USCG Historian’s Office

And soon, she was loaned to the Navy.

Before Lane was even laid down, the gunboat USS Water Witch, who was busy surveying the Río de la Plata basin in South America in 1855, was fired upon as by a Paraguayan battery at Fort Itapirú. Intended as a warning shot (Water Witch had approval from the Argentines but not Paraguay to survey the river), the ball accidentally hit the gunboat and killed the very unfortunate helmsman Samuel Chaney. A resulting fire-fight saw Water Witch hulled 10 times. Fast forward to October 1858 and a punitive expedition was ordered sent to Paraguay to sort things out, even though Water Witch had returned home in 1856.

This expeditionary force, the largest ever assembled by the U.S. Navy until the Civil War, consisted of 19 ships, which seems like a lot but really isn’t when you look at the list of vessels that went. While the Navy had a half-dozen large ships-of-the-line on the Naval List, all were in ordinary at the time. Of the impressive dozen super-sized frigates, just one, the 50-gun USS St. Lawrence, already in Brazil, could be spared. This left the rest of the fleet to be comprised of smaller sloops and brigs, ships taken up from trade and armed with cannon or two, and the brand new and very modern Harriet Lane. The commander of the task force? Flag Officer (there were no admirals at the time) William B. Shubrick, a War of 1812 veteran who was taken from his warm quiet desk at the Lighthouse Bureau in Washington and given his last seagoing command.

Ships of The Paraguay Squadron underway. Ships are from left to right: USS Water Witch next the flag-ship; USS Sabine; next to USS Fulton; behind Fulton is USS Western Port (later USS Wyandotte); next is USS Harriet Lane; behind Harriet Lane is USS Supply; and next to the bow of USS Memphis. Artist unknown. Image from Harper’s Weekly, New York, 16 October 1858. Description from Navsource.

The force was filled with supplies and Marines (Lane herself shipped a 22-man force of Leathernecks) and set off for Latin America with special commissioner James B. Bowlin in tow. Lane at the time was skippered by Captain John Faunce, a skilled USRM officer since 1841, who would later command her at Fort Sumter– but we are ahead of ourselves.

Arriving in January 1859, Paraguay signed a commercial treaty with Brown, apologized for the hit on Water Witch with no more shots fired by either side and agreed to pay an indemnity to the family of the long-dead helmsman and the fleet returned home in February after some literal gunboat diplomacy.

By late 1860, she was back in New York and tapped for another high-profile job. On October 11, the cutter brought 18-year-old Edward, then-Prince of Wales and future King Edward VII of Great Britain and his suite from South Amboy to the waterfront of New York’s Battery Park where he was met by adoring crowds including Gen. Winfield Scott and Mayor Wood and an escort of “two troops of cavalry attached to the Seventh and Eight regiments” of the New York Militia whisked him away from Castle Garden to City Hall and all points Broadway. In her task, she flew the Royal Ensign and received 17-gun salutes up and down the New Jersey coast and Hudson River, surely a first for a Revenue Cutter.

Though Lane resumed her Revenue duties, she was soon again in Naval service.

With states dropping out of the Union left and right from December 1860 onward, she transferred to the Navy 30 March 1861 and was assigned to the Northern Blockading Squadron. Detailed to help supply the Fort Sumter garrison, a small U.S. Army post in rebel-held Charleston Harbor under the guns of coastal defense expert and former U.S. Army Maj (bvt) P. G. T. Beauregard, Lane left New York on 8 April headed to the Palmetto State, arriving three days later. The reason an armed ship was sent was that President Buchannan had detailed the unarmed merchant ship Star of the West to do so earlier in the year, an effort that failed when it was fired upon by Beauregard’s shore batteries made up partially of students from the Citadel.

On the morning of 11 April 1861, Harriet Lane arrived ahead of her task force that was following with supplies and 500 soldiers. Taking up a picket location around the island fort, on the morning of April 13, while the installation was under attack, Faunce order a shot from one of her 32-pounders, commanded by Lt. W. D. Thompson, across the bow of the oncoming steamship SS Nashville (1,241t, 215ft) as that vessel tried to enter Charleston Harbor. The reason for the round was because Nashville was flying no identifying flag, meaning she could possibly be a rebel ship.

The Revenue Cutter Harriet Lane forces the merchant steamer Nashville to show its colors during the attack on Fort Sumter, April 13, 1861. “The Cutter Harriet Lane Fires Across the Bow of Nashville” by Coast Guard artist Howard Koslow.

Unarmed and not looking to be sent to the bottom, Nashville raised the U.S. standard, and Harriet Lane broke off. Anticlimactic for sure, but the ole Nash went on to become a Confederate commerce raider armed with a pair of 12-pounders before serving in 1862 as the blockade runner Thomas L. Wragg and finally as the privateer Rattlesnake before she was destroyed by the monitor USS Montauk on the Ogeechee River in Georgia.

But back to our hero.

Fort Sumter fell on April 13, surrendered after a bloodless two-day bombardment that saw 2,000 Confederate shells hit the masonry fort and Lane withdrew. She soon was up-armed and before the end of the year engaged in the efforts against Fort Clark and Fort Hatteras on the outer banks of North Carolina.

80-G-1049444: USS Harriet Lane engaging a battery at Pig’s Point, on the Nansemond River, opposite Newport News. Copied from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, 1861.

Then in early 1862 joined David Dixon Porter’s Mortar Flotilla at Key West as flagship, from where she captured the Confederate schooner, Joanna Ward.

With Porter aboard, Lane was there as his flagship when he plastered the rebel Forts Jackson and St. Philip, abreast the Mississippi below New Orleans, then continued to serve through the preliminary stages of the Vicksburg Campaigns.

LC-DIG-PPMSCA-35362: Rear Admiral David G. Farragut and Captain David D. Porter’s mortar fleet entering the Mississippi River, May 17, 1862. Wood engraving shows large squadron of battleships and ironclads entering the Mississippi River near the “Light-house of Southwest Pass”; some are identified as the “Colorado, 40 Guns”, “Pensacola on the Bar”, “Westfield”, “Mississippi on the Bar”, “Porter’s Mortar Fleet”, “Harriet Lane”, “Connecticut, 8 Guns”, “Clifton”, and “Banona“. Harper’s Weekly, V.6, no.281, pg 312-13. Courtesy of the Library of Congress. 2048×1443 big up

On 4 October 1862, in conjunction with the sidewheel steam ferryboat USS Westfield, Unadilla-class gunboat USS Owasco, the paddlewheel gunboat USS Clifton, and the schooner USS Henry Janes, Lane captured Galveston harbor from the Confederates in a show of force that left zero casualties on both sides.

Still in that newly-Union held port in Confederate Texas, Harriet Lane was the subject of an attack on 1 January 1863 that saw the Confederate cotton-clad CSS Bayou City and the armed tugboat Neptune engage the bigger cutter. While Lane sank the Neptune and damaged Bayou City, she was captured when the crew of the cottonclad succeeded in storming and overpowering the crew of the Lane with both the cutter’s captain and the executive officer killed along with three of her crew in fierce hand-to-hand combat.

An illustration of the Harriet Lane’s capture by Confederate forces on 1 January 1863

Her crew was taken into custody.

Lane, repaired and disarmed, was sold by the state of Texas to an enterprising shipper who christened her as the blockade runner Lavinia and, after just two trips carrying cotton abroad and commodities back, she finished the war in Cuban waters.

In 1867, the Revenue Marine sent her old Sumter commander, Faunce, and a crew to recover the battered, worn-out ship from Havana in condemned condition and she was subsequently sold to a Boston merchant.

As noted by DANFS, she was abandoned after a fire during hurricane-force winds off Pernambuco, Brazil, 13 May 1884, while en route to Buenos Aires.

Relics of her time in Texas are in the collection of The Museum of Southern History, located in Houston.

The Revenue Marine, of course, became the U.S. Coast Guard in 1916 and the service honored the historic vessel by naming a second cutter, USCGC Harriet Lane (WSC-141), a 125-foot patrol craft, in 1926 which gave 20 years of hard service to include WWII and Prohibition.

The third cutter to share the name is the 270-foot Bear (Famous)-class medium endurance cutter USCGC Harriet Lane (WMEC-903). Commissioned in May 1984, she is still in active service and last week commemorated the first Lane’s historic shot in front of Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor.

That 75mm OTO! The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Harriet Lane sails past Fort Sumter near Charleston, South Carolina, April 5, 2018. USCG Photo

She is no lightweight either, recently returned to homeport from a 94-day patrol in drug trafficking zones of the Eastern Pacific, after seizing approximately 17,203 pounds of cocaine from suspected smugglers.

The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Harriet Lane approaches a suspected smuggling vessel while a helicopter crew from the Coast Guard Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron monitors from the air, February 25, 2018.


USCG Historian’s Office

Displacement 539 lt. 619 std, 730 t. fl
Length 175′ 5″
Beam 30′ 5″
Draft 10′ as designed, 13 at full load 1862
Propulsion: steam – double-right angled marine engine with two side paddles, auxiliary sail two-masted schooner rig
Speed 11 anticipated, 13kts on trials
Complement: 8 officers, 74 men (1857) 12 officers, 95 men (1862)
(As built)
4x 24-pounder brass howitzers
(After joining West Gulf Squadron, 1862)
1×4″ Parrott gun as a pivot on forecastle
1×9″ Dahlgren gun on pivot before the first mast
2×8″ Dahlgren Columbiad guns
2×24-pounder brass howitzers
Plus “cutlasses and small arms for 95 men”

If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find. http://www.warship.org/membership.htm

The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.

With more than 50 years of scholarship, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

PRINT still has its place. If you LOVE warships you should belong.

I’m a member, so should you be!

Warship Wednesday, April 4, 2018: The often imitated but never duplicated Indy

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 their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, April 4, 2018: The often imitated but never duplicated Indy

Image Courtesy Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield; WICR 30184-B

Here we see the “Western gunboat ram” USS Indianola in 1863 during her brief service to the Navy. A one of a kind vessel, the Indy was laid down as a riverboat in Antebellum times but was rushed into service in the Civil War, rode hard, and never made it out alive.

A 174-foot long side-wheel screw steamer, Indianola was constructed in the Cincinnati yard of Mr. Joseph Brown in early 1862, specifically for service with the U.S. Navy on the Western river systems for operations against the newly-formed Confederacy.

Indianola under construction via LOC https://www.loc.gov/item/2013647478/

Compared to the 15-vessel City class-ironclads designed by Mr. Samuel M. Pook, the infamous “Pook’s Turtles,” Indianola was about the same size and had iron-plating 2.5 inches thick, enough to ward off musketry and shrapnel but not serious artillery rounds.

Pushed out into the Ohio River on 4 September, the partially complete 511-ton armored gunboat was placed in commission just 19 days later under the command of Acting Master Edward Shaw. The reason for the rush job was that Cincinnati at the time was considered under threat of capture by Confederate Gen. Kirby “Seminole” Smith whose “Heartland Offensive” reached its high-water mark in Lexington, Kentucky, just some 80 miles to the South a few days prior.

Armed with a pair of 11-inch Dahlgren smoothbores and another pair of smaller 9-inch guns, Indianola remained in the Ohio for several months even after Smith retreated to the Deep South and by January 1863, under the command of LCDR George Brown, she was detailed to the infant Mississippi Squadron, a force that the Navy never knew it would have. By 13 February, the plucky new ironclad met the enemy for the first time by running past the fearsome Confederate batteries at Vicksburg, Mississippi at night.

As noted by DANFS:

She left her anchorage in the Yazoo at 10:15 p.m. 13 February and moved slowly downstream until the first gun was fired at her from the Vicksburg cliffs slightly more than an hour later. She then raced ahead at full speed until out of range of the Confederate cannon which thundered at her from above.

The United States gunboat INDIANOLA (Ironclad) running the blockade at Vicksburg [Feb. 13, 1863] via Harper’s Weekly, v. 7, (1863 March 7), p. 149. LOC https://www.loc.gov/item/99614196/

She anchored for the night 4 miles below Warrenton, Miss., and early the next morning got underway downriver, with orders from Adm. David Dixon Porter to blockade the mouth of the Red River.

Two days later, Indianola chased and engaged in a long-range artillery duel with the Confederate Army-manned “cotton-clad” 655-ton side-wheel converted tug, Webb, that proved ultimately unsuccessful, her high speed (for a river boat) negated by the fact that she had to tow pair of coal barges alongside for refueling in hostile enemy-controlled waters.

On the evening of 24 February, the Union gunboat came across the Confederate steamer Queen of the West, formerly a U.S. Army-manned ram, who, along with her partner and recent Indianola-nemesis Webb, cornered the Yankee in the shallow water near New Carthage, Mississippi and commenced a river warship battle. While Indianola was better armed with her big Dahlgrens compared to the Parrots and 12-pdr howitzers of the Rebel ships, she was no match for the demolition derby unleashed on her by the Confederate vessels on either side who smashed her a reported seven times leaving the ship “in an almost powerless condition.”

LCDR Brown had more than two feet of cold Mississippi river water over the floor of his fighting deck and she was surrounded by now four Rebel vessels, packed with armed infantry ready to board. With that, Indianola ran her bow on the west bank of the river, spiked her guns, and surrendered to Confederate Major Joseph Lancaster Brent, her service to the U.S. Navy lasting just six months.

The loss meant that Porter would keep his fleet north of Vicksburg and that Farragut, entering the Mississippi from the Gulf, would be forced to run his own past Port Gibson the next month to join him.

While Brent went to work salvaging his newest addition to the Confederate fleet, Brown, who was wounded, handed over his personal Manhattan .36 caliber percussion revolver and was toted off to Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia

However, Brent would not “own” the ex-Indianola for long.

While the rebs were busy trying to save as much as they could from the Union gunboat, members of Porter’s fleet “resurrected” the ghost of the stricken ship and crafted a fake version of her to run past the batteries at Vicksburg in a scare job the night following Indianola‘s capture. The cobbled-together craft was complete with a Jolly Roger flag and the words “Deluded People Cave In” painted on the faux paddle wheel housings.

Admiral [David Dixon] Porter’s Second Dummy Frightening the Rebels at Vicksburg. This shows a wooden dummy “ironclad” made from an old coal barge. Wood engraving after a sketch by Theodore R. Davis – Harper’s Weekly


A dummy monitor was made by building paddle boxes on an old coal barge to simulate a turret which in turn was adorned with logs painted black to resemble guns. Pork-barrel funnels containing burning smudge pots were the final touch added just before the strange craft was cast adrift to float past Vicksburg on the night of Indianola’s surrender, Word of this “river Monitor” panicked the salvage crew working on Indianola causing them to set off the ship’s magazines to prevent her recapture.

And, it worked, with Brent triggering the Union vessel’s powder stores and sending her wheelhouse to the sky.

USS Indianola (1862-1863) Is blown up by her Confederate captors, below Vicksburg, Mississippi, circa 25 February 1863, upon the appearance of Rear Admiral David Dixon Porter’s fake monitor “Wooden Dummy “Taken from a sketch by RAdm. Porter, this print is entitled “Dummy Taking a Shoot”. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph NH 53235

On the bright side, Brown only languished at Libby prison until May and was exchanged, going on to command the Unadilla-class gunboat Itasca at the Battle of Mobile Bay in 1864 and retire at the rank of Rear Admiral in 1897. Brent, his first captor, went on to become a one-star general leading the Louisiana Cavalry Brigade in the tail end of the war. He passed in 1905 and his papers are preserved at LSU.

As for Indianola, once the Mississippi river calmed down, her wreck was refloated, towed to Mound City, Illinois, and sold on 17 January 1865. Her name has never again appeared on the Navy List.

Brown’s Manhattan .36 caliber revolver? It is on display at Wilson’s Creek battlefield near Republic, Missouri.


Displacement: 511 tons
Length: 174 ft (53 m)
Beam: 50 ft (15 m)
Draft: 5 ft (1.5 m)
Propulsion: Sidewheel, Steam-driven screw
Engine Size: Cylinders 24 inches diameters by 6 foot in length of the piston stroke, 5 boilers – Side Paddlewheels
Speed: 9 knots
2 – 11-inch Dahlgren smoothbore
2 – 9-inch Dahlgren smoothbore

If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find. http://www.warship.org/membership.htm

The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.

With more than 50 years of scholarship, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

PRINT still has its place. If you LOVE warships you should belong.

I’m a member, so should you be!

« Older Entries