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For other ships of the same name, see USS Kearsarge
11 September 1861
24 January 1862
Wrecked, 2 February 1894
1,550 long tons (1,570 t)
201 ft 3 in (61.34 m)
33 ft 8 in (10.26 m)
14 ft 3 in (4.34 m)
(13 mph; 20 km/h)
2 × 11 in (280 mm) smoothbore Dahlgren guns
, 4 × 32-pounder guns, 1 × 30-pounder Parrott rifle
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 later named Kearsarge in honor of the ship.
Hunting Confederate raiders
She was built at Portsmouth Navy Yard in Portsmouth, New Hampshire under the 1861 American Civil War emergency shipbuilding program. The new 1,550 long tons (1,570 t) steam sloop of war was launched on 11 September 1861 sponsored by Mrs. McFarland, wife of the editor of the Concord Statement, and commissioned on 24 January 1862, with Captain Charles W. Pickering in command. Soon after, she was hunting for Confederate raiders in European waters.
Kearsarge departed Portsmouth on 5 February 1862, for the coast of Spain. She thence sailed to Gibraltar to join the blockade of Confederate raider CSS 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 to 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 14 June 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.
Battle of Cherbourg
Main article: Battle of Cherbourg (1864)
On 19 June, Alabama stood out of Cherbourg Harbor for her last action. Mindful of French neutrality, Kearsarge's new commanding officer – Capt. John A. Winslow — took the sloop-of-war clear of territorial waters, then turned to meet the Confederate cruiser.
The deck of Kearsarge
after her engagement with CSS Alabama
Alabama was the first to open fire, while Kearsarge held her reply until she had closed to less than 1,000 yd (0.91 km). Steaming on opposite courses, the ships moved in seven spiraling circles on a southwesterly course, as each commander tried to cross his opponent's bow to deliver deadly raking fire. The battle quickly turned against Alabama due to the quality of her long-stored and deteriorated powder, fuses, and shells. Unknown at the time to Captain Semmes aboard the Confederate raider, Kearsarge had been given added protection by chain cable triced in tiers along her port and starboard midsection abreast vital machinery.
This hull armor had been installed in just three days, more than a year before, while Kearsarge was in port at the Azores. It was made using 720 ft (220 m) of 1.7 in (43 mm) single-link iron chain and covered hull spaces 49 ft 6 in (15.09 m) long by 6 ft 2 in (1.88 m) deep. It was stopped up and down to eye-bolts with marlines and secured by iron dogs. It was concealed behind 1 in (25 mm) deal-boards painted black to match the upper hull's color. This chaincladding was placed along Kearsarge's port and starboard midsection down to the waterline, for the purpose of protecting her engines and boilers when the upper portion of the cruiser's coal bunkers were empty. This armor belt was hit twice during the fight: First in the starboard gangway by one of Alabama's 32-pounder shells that cut the chain armor, denting the hull planking underneath, then again by a second 32-pounder shell that exploded and broke a link of the chain armor, tearing away a portion of the deal-board covering. Even if the rounds had been delivered by Alabama's more powerful 100-pounder Blakely pivot rifle, the impacts were more than 5 ft (1.5 m) above the waterline and would therefore have missed her vital machinery.
One hour after she fired her first salvo, Alabama had been reduced to a sinking wreck by Kearsarge's powerful 11 in (280 mm) Dahlgren smoothbore pivot cannons. 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 of the
Kearsarge and the
Alabama" by Édouard Manet
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 Kearsarge's crew received the Medal of Honor for valor during this action:
The medals were awarded on 31 December 1864.
Home for repairs
A photo of naval officers on board Kearsarge
, including Captain John A. Winslow
(foreground, third from the left), shortly after the sinking of the CSS Alabama.
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 26 November, for repairs. She recommissioned on 1 April 1865, and sailed on 14 April 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 19 May. After cruising the Mediterranean Sea and the English Channel south to Monrovia, Liberia, Kearsarge decommissioned on 14 August 1866 in the Boston Navy Yard.
Post War service
Kearsarge recommissioned on 16 January 1868, and sailed on 12 February to serve in the South Pacific operating out of Valparaíso, Chile. On 22 August, she landed provisions for destitute earthquake victims in Peru. She continued to watch over American commercial interests along the coast of South America until 17 April 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 31 October. She resumed duties on the South Pacific Station until 21 July 1870, then cruised to the Hawaiian Islands before decommissioning in the Mare Island Navy Yard on 11 October 1870.
A replica of Kearsarge
was on display at the 1893 GAR
National Convention in Indianapolis, Indiana
Kearsarge recommissioned on 8 December 1873, and departed on 4 March 1874 for Yokohama, Japan, arriving on 11 May. She cruised on Asiatic Station for three years, protecting American citizens and commerce in China, Japan, and the Philippines. From 4 September to 13 December, she carried Professor Asaph Hall's scientific party from Nagasaki, Japan, to Vladivostok, Russia, to observe the transit of Venus. She departed Nagasaki on 3 September 1877, and returned to Boston on 30 December via the Suez Canal and Mediterranean ports. She decommissioned at Portsmouth, New Hampshire on 15 January 1878.
Kearsarge recommissioned on 15 May 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 on 21 August 1883 to cruise for three years in Mediterranean, Northern European waters, and along the coast of Africa. She returned to Portsmouth on 12 November and decommissioned in the Portsmouth Navy Yard on 1 December 1886.
A cannon from Kearsarge
stood in West Park in Stamford, Connecticut
from Memorial Day, 1901 until 1942, when it was hauled away as scrap metal during World War II
. Cast at West Point
in 1827, it had also been used on the USS Lancaster
Kearsarge recommissioned on 2 November 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 20 January 1894 for Bluefields, Nicaragua, but was wrecked on a reef off Roncador Cay on 2 February. 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 Kearsage and Alabama. It premiered at The Lowry in September 2007.
- ^ "Kearsarge (BB-5)". Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Naval History & Heritage Command (NHHC). 23 February 2005. Retrieved 6 February 2012.
- ^ Troyer, 95
- ^ Bull, Bonnie K., Stamford "Images of America" series of books, Arcadia Publishing: 2004. ISBN 0-7385-3457-9 Retrieved from Google Books on 8 March 2008
This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. The entry can be found here.
- Secretary of the Navy, "Sinking of the Alabama—Destruction of the Alabama by the Kearsarge," 1864 annual report in the library at the Naval Historical Center, Washington, D.C., Navy Yard.
- Troyer, Byron L. Yesterday's Indiana, E. A. Seemann Publishing, Inc., Miami, 1975, ISBN 0-912458-55-0.
- Marvel, William, The Alabama & the Kearsarge, University of North Carolina Press, 1996, ISBN 0-8078-2294-9.
- Roberts, Arthur C., M. D., "Reconstructing USS Kearsarge, 1864," Silver Springs, MD, Vol. 44, #4; Vol. 45, #s 1, 2, and 3, Nautical Research Journal, 1999–2000, ISSN 0738-7245.