The Ship from the American Civil War era was a Mohican class sloop-of-war. Named USS Kearsarge better known for her defeat of the raider CSS Alabama during the Civil War. This ship was named after the mountain Mount Kearsarge in New Hampshire. There were four other ships that were named the USS Kearsarge but were named in honor of the original ship.
In 1861 the American Civil War emergency shipbuilding program ordered construction of her at Portsmouth Navy Yard in Kittery, Main. Upon completion she was launched in September of 1861. Her sponsor was the wife of the editor of the Concord Statement Mrs. McFarland. She received her commission in January of 1862 Captain Charles W. Pickering commanding. Not long after the USS Kersarge was on duty she began hunting down Confederate raiders in European waters.
Setting sail for Spain from Portsmouth in February of 1862 and on to Gibraltar to join in on the blockade of the CSS Sumter a Confederate raider. The blockade being successful forced the abandonment of the CSS Sumter in December. The Captain of the Sumter Raphael Semmes went on to commission the Confederate raider CSS Alabama off the Azores.
The USS Kearsarge trained for battle against the Alabama from November of 1862 through March of 1863 for her battle at Cádiz. Searching for the Alabama along the coast of Northern Europe all the way to the Canaries, Madeira without success, arriving in France at Cherbourg in June of 1864, the Kearsarge found the Alabama in port. The Alabama was undergoing repairs. The result of a devastating cruise at the cost of 65 United States merchant marine ships so the Kearsarge waited at the harbor’s entrance for Captain Raphael’s next move.
Known as the Great Battle of Cherbourg on the 19th of June 1864 was the CSS Alabama’s last battle. The French and their clamed neutrality even seems to still be an issue to this very day. Captain John Winslow of the USS Kearsarge moved the sloop-of-war away from the France’s territorial waters and then turned to meet the Confederate raider in battle. Steaming in opposite courses in a southwesterly direction the ships moved in spiraling circles. The reason for this was to cross the bow of each other’s ship to deliver the crushing fire kill shot. The CSS Alabama opened fire first during which time the USS Kearsage held back saving her reply when in range for a better shot.
The plan worked and the battle turned against the Alabama rather quickly due to deteriorated shells, powder and fuses. The Kearsarge had another advantage in her favor the Captain Semmes was unaware of at the time. She had chain cable triced in her tiers installed on the starboard and port midsections for added protection.
The added armor evened the odds and gave the Kearsarge a fighting chance in the battle. The armor took only three days to install and was done just a year before the battle took place. During the battle the armor took two hits from the Alabama’s 32 pound guns and only had minor damage.
The CSS Alabama burning sinking wreck one hour after the first salvo of the USS Kearsarge’s 11” Dahlgren cannons. Captain Semmes quickly struck his colors and sent a boat over to surrender and ask for help. The Kearsarge quickly went to the rescue of the Alabama’s crew. Most of the Alabama’s crew were rescued but 41 along with Captain Semmes escaped and were picked up by the British yacht Deerhound and taken to the United Kingdom.
The Civil War streamer in honored with a battle star issued by the United States Navy and seventeen members of the crew received the Medal of Honor for valor.
The USS Kearsarge served many more years and in November of 1988 she was protecting American interests along the Central Americas, West Indies and off of Venezuela. On one of her trips departing Haiti in 1894 heading for Bluefields, Nicaragua she struck a reef off Roncador Cay. All on-board made it ashore safely officers and crew. During this time Congress provide $45,000 to salvage the Kearsarge. But the Boston Towboat Company was not able to do so but did salvage some items from the ship.
The salvage company saved the ship’s Bible and an unexploded shell from the Alabama still embedded in the hull. These artifacts are on display at the Washing Navy Yard. As of 1894 the USS Kearsarge was struck from the Naval Vessel Register.
The Five Ships of the United States Navy That Carried the Name USS Kearsarge:
- The first USS Kearsarge was named for Mount Kearsarge and the later ones were named in honor of the first.
- USS Kearsarge 1861, was a sloop of war launched 11 September 1861, fought in the American Civil War and was wrecked off Central America 2 February 1894
- USS Kearsarge BB-5, was a battleship launched 24 March 1898, sailed with the Great White Fleet, participated in World War I and World War II then sold for scrapping 9 August 1955
- USS Kearsarge CV-12, was an Essex-class aircraft carrier renamed Hornet prior to launch
- USS Kearsarge CV-33, was a long-hulled Essex-class aircraft carrier, launched 5 May 1945, served in the Korean War and Vietnam War then scrapped in 1974
- USS Kearsarge LHD-3, is a Wasp-class amphibious assault ship commissioned in 1993 and remains in active service, as of 2010
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