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American Civil War: USS Kearsarge


American Civil War: USS Kearsarge

USS Kearsarge as it appeared during the Civil War

Photograph Courtesy of the US Naval Historical Center

USS Kearsarge - General:

  • Nation: United States
  • Builder: Portsmouth Navy Yard
  • Laid Down: 1861
  • Launched: September 11, 1861
  • Commissioned: January 24, 1862
  • Fate: Ran aground on Roncador Cay, February 2, 1894

USS Kearsarge - Specifications:

  • Type: Mohican-class screw-sloop
  • Displacement: 1,550 tons
  • Length: 201 ft., 3 in.
  • Beam: 33 ft., 8 in.
  • Draft: 14 ft., 3 in.
  • Complement: 163
  • Power Plant: 1 screw, 2 horizontal back-acting engines (54” x 2’6”), 2 boilers
  • Speed: 11 knots

USS Kearsarge - Armament:

  • 2 x XI-inch Dahlgren smoothbores
  • 4 x 32-pdr guns
  • 1 x 30-pdr Parrott Rifle

USS Kearsarge - Operational History:

Named for New Hampshire's Mount Kearsarge, USS Kearsarge was launched at the Portsmouth Navy Yard on September 11, 1861. A screw-sloop of the Mohican-class, Kearsarge possessed a steam engine as well as sails. Through the fall, work continued on completing the vessel as it was desperately needed for use in the Civil War. Commissioned on January 24, 1862, with Captain Charles W. Pickering in command, Kearsarge departed port twelve days later with orders to proceed across the Atlantic to Gibraltar to aid in the blockade of the Confederate raider CSS Sumter.

Upon arriving, Kearsarge found Sumter largely inactive and took turns watching the raider with other Union ships. In November 1862, Kearsarge sailed for Cadiz, Spain where it underwent major engine repairs until March 1863. Returning to sea, Kearsarge sailed for the Azores with orders to search for the new Confederate raider CSS Alabama. Steaming into Fayal, the ship found its new commanding officer, Captain John A. Winslow, waiting on shore. Replacing Pickering, Winslow and Kearsarge patrolled the Azores for Alabama, until shifting to European waters that fall.

While at Ferrol, Spain, Winslow learned that the raider CSS Florida was in port at Brest, France. Sailing north, Kearsarge found Florida undergoing an overhaul. Keeping tabs on the Confederate through diplomatic channels, Winslow sailed along the European coast investigating rumors of other Confederate ships in the area. In January 1864, Kearsarge returned to Cadiz for repairs and supplies. While the ship was in port, it was learned that Florida had escaped back to sea. Departing Cadiz, Kearsarge sailed north to Calais to look for the new raider CSS Rappahannock.

On June 12, 1864, while at anchor in the Scheldt, off Vlissingen, Winslow received a telegram informing him that Alabama had recently arrived at Cherbourg. The most notorious of the Confederate raiders, Alabama, commanded by Captain Raphael Semmes, had burned approximately $6,000,000 worth of Union shipping in the previous two years. Rapidly steaming southwest, Kearsarge arrived off of Cherbourg two days later. Careful to respect French territorial waters, Winslow began patrolling outside of the harbor and prepared Kearsarge for battle by tricing chain cable over the vital areas of the ship's sides.

On June 19, after having his requests to overhaul his ship denied by French officials, Semmes departed Cherbourg and prepared to battle Kearsarge. Worn from its long cruise and with its store of powder deteriorated, Alabama entered the fight at a disadvantage. As the two ships neared, Semmes opened fire first, while Winslow held Kearsarge's guns until the vessels were only 1,000 yards apart. As the battle continued, both ships sailed on circular courses seeking to gain an advantage over the other.

Though Alabama scored several hits, the poor condition of its powder showed as several shells, including one that hit Kearsarge's sternpost, failed to explode. The Union ship faired better as its rounds hit with telling effect. An hour after the engagement began, Kearsarge's guns had reduced the Confederacy's greatest raider to a burning wreck. With his ship sinking, Semmes struck his colors and requested help. Sending boats, Kearsarge managed to rescue much of Alabama's crew, though Semmes was able to escape aboard the British yacht Deerhound.

Following its famous battle, Kearsarge remained in European waters searching for CSS Florida until returning to Boston for repairs. Decommissioned on November 26, 1864, Kearsarge remained in yard until the following April when it was re-commissioned and sent to Spain to intercept the raider CSS Stonewall. The Confederate vessel managed to elude Union patrols and ultimately surrendered to Spanish authorities at Havana, Cuba.

After the war, Kearsarge was transferred to the Pacific where it saw extensive duty off the west coast of South America and Polynesia before being decommissioned at Mare Island Navy Yard on October 11, 1870. Returned to service three years later, Kearsarge sailed for Japan and a tour on the Asiatic Station. Sailing back into the Atlantic in 1878, Kearsarge spent the next seven years protecting American interests in Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Caribbean. Commissioned for the last time in 1888, Kearsarge was assigned to the Caribbean. On January 30, 1894, the ship departed Haiti and sailed for Bluefields, Nicaragua. Three days later, on February 2, Kearsarge ran aground on Roncador Cay off the Nicaraguan coast. Recognizing the ship's significance, Congress authorized $45,000 to raise the ship and tow it home, however the salvagers found that this could not be done and the vessel was declared a loss.

Selected Sources

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  6. American Civil War
  7. USS Kearsarge - Civil War USS Kearsarge and CSS Alabama

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