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American Civil War: USS Hartford


American Civil War: USS Hartford

USS Hartford

Photograph Courtesy of the US Navy

USS Hartford - Overview:

  • Nation: United States
  • Type: screw sloop of war
  • Shipyard: Boston Navy Yard
  • Launched: November 22, 1858
  • Commissioned: May 27, 1859
  • Fate: Decommissioned August 20, 1926, Scrapped, 1956

USS Hartford - Specifications

  • Displacement: 2,947 tons
  • Length: 225 ft.
  • Beam: 44 ft.
  • Draft: 17 ft., 2 in.
  • Speed: 13.5 knots
  • Complement: 302 men

USS Hartford - Armament

  • 20 × 9 in. smoothbore Dahlgren guns
  • 2 × 20-pdr Parrott rifles
  • 2 × 12-pdr guns

  • USS Hartford - Construction:

    Laid down at the Boston Navy Yard in January 1858, construction of the screw sloop of war USS Hartford was overseen by Edward H. Delano. As work progressed in the yard, the building of Hartford's powerplant commenced at the shop of Harrison Loring with guidance provided by Jesse Gray. With the completion of the hull later that year, Hartford was launched on November 22, 1858. Sponsored by Lizzie Stringham, Carrie Downes, and Lieutenant G. J. H. Preble, the ship was designed to carry a broadside of twenty 9-in Dahlgren smoothbore guns. These were supplemented by two 20-pdr Parrott Rifles and a pair of 12-pdr howitzers. Work continued on Hartford over the next year and it was commissioned on May 27, 1859, with Captain Charles Lowndes in command.

    USS Hartford - Prewar:

    Departing port, the new sloop conducted sea trials off Boston before preparing for a voyage to the Orient. Embarking the new commander of the US East India Squadron, Flag Officer Cornelius K. Stribling, Hartford sailed for the Far East. Arriving, it relieved USS Mississippi (10 guns) as flagship of the squadron. In November 1859, Stribling welcomed aboard John Elliott Ward, US Minister to China, who was beginning a tour of ports in China and the Philippines. Calling at Canton, Swatow, Shanghai, and Manila, Ward endeavored to promote American interests and foster goodwill. Hartford remained in the East Indies until receiving orders to return home in August 1861 due to the outbreak of the Civil War. Sailing with USS Dacotah (8), Hartford passed through the Sunda Strait on August 30 and arrived at Philadelphia on December 2.

    USS Hartford - Capture of New Orleans:

    Fitting out at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, Hartford was designated as the flagship of Flag Officer David G. Farragut's West Gulf Blockading Squadron. Clearing the Delaware Capes on January 28, 1862, Hartford sailed south and west to its blockading post. In addition to blockading duties, Farragut had been tasked with the capture of New Orleans. The Confederacy's largest port, New Orleans also controlled the entrance to the Mississippi River. Farragut's thrust north to New Orleans would coincide with Union Army efforts to drive down the river from the north. The capture of the Mississippi would allow Union forces to effectively split the Confederacy in two. Anchoring at Ship Island, MS on February 20, Farragut began assembling his forces for pushing up the river. Joined by a flotilla of mortar boats, led by Commander David D. Porter in March, Farragut scouting the enemy defenses.

    These largely consisted of Forts Jackson and St. Philip which occupied a position on the river below the city. Crossing the bar, the Union ships entered the river and Farragut began attempts to reduce the forts using his mortar boats on April 18. Though this proved ineffective, Union forces were able to sever a large chain that was strung across the river. Electing to run past the forts, Farragut advanced on the night of April 24. Led by Hartford, the Union ships steamed upstream and began exchanging fire with the forts. Pushing north, the flagship dodged a ramming attempt by the ironclad CSS Manassas but grounded near Fort St. Philip after evading a burning barge. Maintaining a cool presence, Farragut freed the ship and successfully led the fleet past the forts. Steaming upstream, Hartford reached New Orleans the next day and Farragut soon received the city's surrender.

    USS Hartford - On the Mississippi:

    On May 1, Union troops under Major General Benjamin Butler arrived to occupy the city. Freed from overseeing the situation at New Orleans, Farragut began moving his ships up the river. Departing the city six days later, Hartford and Farragut quickly saw Baton Rouge, LA and Natchez, MS fall to Union forces. Farragut's advance continued unimpeded until reaching the batteries at Vicksburg, MS. Unable to attack them from the water due their location high on the bluffs, he lacked the soldiers to capture them. Unable, Farragut left gunboats to blockade the river and returned to New Orleans in Hartford. Arriving, he received orders from President Abraham Lincoln directing him to work with Flag Officer Charles Davis' Western Flotilla to open the river.

    Steaming north, Hartford and Farragut's squadron successful ran past the batteries at Vicksburg on June 28. Uniting with Davis, the Union ships operated against Vicksburg but lacked the troops to take the city. Ordered downstream in July, Farragut took Hartford first to New Orleans and then to Pensacola, FL for an overhaul. Returning to the river in November, Farragut sought to support Major General Ulysses S. Grant's Vicksburg Campaign from the south. To do this, he intended to blockade the Red River to prevent supplies from reaching the city's garrison. Moving north, the Union squadron was thwarted by the new Confederate batteries at Port Hudson, LA. Attempting to run them on the night of March 14, 1863, only Hartford and USS Albatross (3) succeeded in passing the enemy guns. For the next several weeks, Hartford and Albatross patrolled the river between Vicksburg and Port Hudson.

    USS Hartford - Mobile Bay:

    On July 4, Vicksburg surrendered to Grant. This was followed by the capture of Port Hudson five days later. With the Mississippi River open to Union traffic, Farragut began planning for operations against the port of Mobile, AL. Assembling fourteen warships and four ironclad monitors off Mobile Bay, Farragut planned his assault for August 5, 1864. Inside the bay, Confederate Admiral Franklin Buchanan possessed a small force comprised of the ironclad CSS Tennessee and three gunboats. Advancing toward the forts guarding the entrance to the bay, Farragut's squadron incurred the first loss when the monitor USS Tecumseh struck a mine and sank. Seeing the ironclad go down, USS Brooklyn slowed, throwing the Union line into confusion.

    Lashing himself to Hartford's rigging to see over the smoke, Farragut exclaimed "Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!" and led his ship into Mobile Bay with the rest of fleet following. Pressing through the torpedo field without any losses, the Union squadron poured into the bay and engaged Buchanan's ships. Driving away the gunboats, the Union ships closed on CSS Tennessee and battered the rebel ironclad into submission. With Union vessels in the bay, the forts surrendered and military operations against the city of Mobile began. In the course of the fighting, twelve sailors from Hartford earned the Medal of Honor.

    USS Hartford - Later Operations

    As operations in the area slowed later that fall, Farragut, with his health failing, was ordered home for a rest. Sailing to New York, Hartford arrived on December 13. Entering the yard later that month, the ship began an extensive overhaul. Emerging in July 1865, after the war's end, Hartford received orders to sail as the flagship of the newly formed Asiatic Squadron. In this role, it served in the Far East until 1868 when it returned to New York and was decommissioned. Brought back to service in October 1872, Hartford again served with the Asiatic Squadron for three years. After a further refit which saw new engines and guns installed, Hartford became flagship of the North Atlantic Station in 1882. It later cruised the Pacific where it carried explorers to the Caroline Islands before touching at Hawaii and Valparaiso, Chile while en route to San Francisco.

    Arriving on the West Coast, Hartford was decommissioned on January 14, 1887 and converted for use as a training ship. After spending most of the 1890s laid up at Mare Island, the ship was overhauled and transferred to the East Coast to serve a training vessel. Between 1899 and 1912, Hartford conducted training cruises along the coast for midshipmen. In 1912, it was sent to Charleston, SC to serve a station ship. Decommissioned on August 20, 1926, Hartford remained in South Carolina until 1938 when it was moved to the Washington Navy Yard. Following World War II, the ship was towed to Norfolk.

    Though in an increasingly decaying condition, several efforts moved forward in an attempt preserve the ship. These largely failed due to a lack of funding. In June 1956, Congress introduced a bill to appropriate funds for the ship's restoration. Unfortunately, before the bill passed, Hartford sank at its berth on November 20. Though raised, the US Navy deemed the vessel to be beyond repair and directed that it be dismantled. Despite its loss, a large number of artifacts from Hartford were taken into the collections of the US Naval History & Heritage Command.

    Selected Sources

  • DANFS: USS Hartford
  • University of Hartford: USS Hartford
  • NavSource: USS Hartford

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