USS Kearsarge (1861)

USS Kearsarge (1861)

USS "Kearsarge", a "Mohican"-class sloop-of-war, is best known for her defeat of the Confederate commerce raider CSS "Alabama" during the American Civil War. The "Kearsarge" was the only ship of the United States Navy named for Mount Kearsarge in New Hampshire. Subsequent ships were named "Kearsarge" in honor of this ship, not of the mountain.

Hunting Confederate raiders

She was built at Portsmouth Navy Yard in Kittery, Maine under the 1861 American Civil War emergency shipbuilding program. The new 1550-ton steam sloop of war was launched 11 September 1861 sponsored by Mrs. McFarland, wife of the editor of the "Concord Statement", and commissioned on January 24 1862 with Captain Charles W. Pickering in command. Soon after, she was hunting for Confederate States of America raiders in European waters.

"Kearsarge" departed Portsmouth on February 5 1862 for the coast of Spain. She thence sailed to Gibraltar to join the blockade of Confederate raider "Sumter", forcing her abandonment in December. However, "Sumter"'s commanding captain, Raphael Semmes, soon commissioned Confederate raider CSS "Alabama" on the high seas off the Azores.

From November 1862 through March 1863 "Kearsarge" prepared for her fight with "Alabama" at Cádiz, then searched for the raider from along the coast of Northern Europe to the Canaries, Madeira, and the Outer Hebrides. Arriving at Cherbourg, France, on June 14 1864, she found "Alabama" in port where she had gone for repairs after a devastating cruise at the expense of 65 ships of the United States' merchant marine. "Kearsarge" took up patrol at the harbor's entrance to await Semmes' next move.

inking the "Alabama"

On June 19, "Alabama" stood out of Cherbourg Harbor for her last action. Mindful of French neutrality, "Kearsarge"'s new commanding officer, Captain John Winslow, took the sloop-of-war well clear of territorial waters, then turned to meet the Confederate cruiser.

"Alabama" opened fire first while "Kearsarge" held her reply until she had closed to less than convert|1000|yd|km|0. Steaming on opposite courses, the ships moved around a circle as each commander tried to cross his opponent's bow to deliver deadly raking fire. The battle quickly turned against "Alabama", for the quality of her long-stored powder and shell had deteriorated. "Kearsarge", on the other hand, had been given added protection by chain cable triced in tiers along her sides abreast vital places. One hour after she fired her first salvo, "Alabama" had been reduced to a sinking wreck. Semmes struck his colors and sent a boat to "Kearsarge" with a message of surrender and an appeal for help. "Kearsarge" rescued the majority of "Alabama"'s survivors; but Semmes and 41 others were picked up by British yacht "Deerhound" and escaped in her to the United Kingdom.The battle between "Kearsarge" and "Alabama" is honored by the United States Navy by a battle star on the Civil War campaign streamer. In addition, 17 of the "Kearsarge"'s crew received the Medal of Honor for valor during this action:

*Michael Aheam
*John F. Bickford
*William Bond
*James Haley
*Mark G. Ham
*George H. Harrison
*John Hayes
*James H. Lee
*Charles Moore
*Joachim Pease
*Thomas Perry
*William B. Poole
*Charles A. Read
*George E. Read
*James Saunders
*William Smith
*Robert Strahan

The medals were awarded on December 31, 1864.

Home for repairs

"Kearsarge" sailed along the French coast in an unsuccessful search for CSS "Florida", thence proceeded to the Caribbean before turning northward for Boston, Massachusetts, where she decommissioned on November 26 1864 for repairs. She recommissioned April 1 1865 and sailed on April 14 for the coast of Spain in an attempt to intercept CSS "Stonewall", but the Confederate ram eluded Federal ships and surrendered to Spanish authorities at Havana, Cuba, on May 19. After cruising the Mediterranean Sea and the English Channel south to Monrovia, Liberia, "Kearsarge" decommissioned August 14 1866 in the Boston Navy Yard.

Post War service

"Kearsarge" recommissioned January 16 1868 and sailed February 12 to serve in the South Pacific operating out of Valparaíso, Chile. On August 22 she landed provisions for destitute earthquake victims in Peru. She continued to watch over American commercial interests along the coast of South America until April 17 1869. Then she sailed to watch over American interests among the Marquesas, Society Islands, Navigators Islands, and Fiji Islands. She also called at ports in New South Wales and New Zealand before returning to Callao, Peru, on October 31 1869. She resumed duties on the South Pacific Station until July 21 1870, then cruised to the Hawaiian Islands before decommissioning in the Mare Island Navy Yard on 11 October 1870.

"Kearsarge" recommissioned on December 8 1873 and departed on March 4 1874 for Yokohama, Japan, arriving May 11. She cruised on Asiatic Station for three years, protecting American citizens and commerce in China, Japan, and the Philippines. From September 4 to December 13 1874 she carried Professor Asaph Hall's scientific party from Nagasaki, Japan, to Vladivostok, Russia, to observe the transit of Venus. She departed Nagasaki on September 3 1877 and returned to Boston December 30 via the Suez Canal and Mediterranean ports. She decommissioned at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on January 15 1878.

"Kearsarge" recommissioned May 15 1879 for four years of duty in the North Atlantic ranging from Newfoundland to the Caribbean Sea and the coast of Panama. She departed New York August 21 1883 to cruise for three years in Mediterranean, Northern European waters, and along the coast of Africa. She returned to Portsmouth on November 12 and decommissioned in the Portsmouth Navy Yard 1 December 1886.


"Kearsarge" recommissioned November 2 1888 and largely spent her remaining years protecting American interests in the West Indies, off Venezuela, and along the Central Americas. She departed Haiti on January 30 1894 for Bluefields, Nicaragua, but was wrecked on a reef off Roncador Cay on February 2 1894. Her officers and crew safely made it ashore.

Congress appropriated $45,000 to raise "Kearsarge" and tow her home; but a salvage team of the Boston Towboat Company found that she could not be raised. Some artifacts were saved from the ship, including the ship's Bible. The salvaged items, along with a damaged section of the stern post with an unexploded shell from "Alabama" still embedded in it, are now stored or displayed at the Washington Navy Yard.

"Kearsarge" was struck from the Naval Vessel Register in 1894.

Liverpool writer Jimmy McGovern has written a play "King Cotton" which culminates with the battle between the Kearsage and the Alabama. It premiered at the Lowry in September 2007.


*Troyer, Byron L. "Yesterday's Indiana" ©1975. E.A. Seemann Publishing, Inc., Miami. ISBN 0-9124-5855-0

External links

* [ USS "Kearsarge" (1862-1894)]

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