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USS Essex (1856)

USS Essex (1856)

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USS Essex was a 1000-ton ironclad river gunboat
Gunboat
A gunboat is a naval watercraft designed for the express purpose of carrying one or more guns to bombard coastal targets, as opposed to those military craft designed for naval warfare, or for ferrying troops or supplies.-History:...

 of the United States Army
United States Army
The United States Army is the main branch of the United States Armed Forces responsible for land-based military operations. It is the largest and oldest established branch of the U.S. military, and is one of seven U.S. uniformed services...

 and later United States Navy
United States Navy
The United States Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. The U.S. Navy is the largest in the world; its battle fleet tonnage is greater than that of the next 13 largest navies combined. The U.S...

 during the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

. It was named for Essex County, Massachusetts
Essex County, Massachusetts
-National protected areas:* Parker River National Wildlife Refuge* Salem Maritime National Historic Site* Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site* Thacher Island National Wildlife Refuge-Demographics:...

. USS Essex was originally constructed in 1856 at New Albany, Indiana
New Albany, Indiana
New Albany is a city in Floyd County, Indiana, United States, situated along the Ohio River opposite Louisville, Kentucky. In 1900, 20,628 people lived in New Albany; in 1910, 20,629; in 1920, 22,992; and in 1940, 25,414. The population was 36,372 at the 2010 census. The city is the county seat of...

 as a steam-powered ferry named New Era.

Service in Tennessee


In September of 1861 New Era was purchased by the United States Army
United States Army
The United States Army is the main branch of the United States Armed Forces responsible for land-based military operations. It is the largest and oldest established branch of the U.S. military, and is one of seven U.S. uniformed services...

 for use in its Western Gunboat Flotilla and was modified into a 355-ton timberclad gunboat
Gunboat
A gunboat is a naval watercraft designed for the express purpose of carrying one or more guns to bombard coastal targets, as opposed to those military craft designed for naval warfare, or for ferrying troops or supplies.-History:...

. In November of 1861 USS New Era took part in an expedition up the Cumberland River
Cumberland River
The Cumberland River is a waterway in the Southern United States. It is long. It starts in Harlan County in far southeastern Kentucky between Pine and Cumberland mountains, flows through southern Kentucky, crosses into northern Tennessee, and then curves back up into western Kentucky before...

. Shortly thereafter she was renamed USS Essex and received an upgrade to iron armor and various other alterations. On 11 January 1862, USS Essex engaged Confederate States Navy
Confederate States Navy
The Confederate States Navy was the naval branch of the Confederate States armed forces established by an act of the Confederate Congress on February 21, 1861. It was responsible for Confederate naval operations during the American Civil War...

 gunboats near Lucas Bend, Missouri
Battle of Lucas Bend
The Battle of Lucas Bend took place on January 11, 1862 near Lucas Bend, four miles north of Columbus on Mississippi River in Kentucky as it lay at the time of the American Civil War. In the network of the Mississippi, Tennessee and Ohio rivers, the Union river gunboats under Flag Officer Andrew...

. On 6 February 1862, she took part in the attack on Fort Henry, Tennessee
Battle of Fort Henry
The Battle of Fort Henry was fought on February 6, 1862, in western Tennessee, during the American Civil War. It was the first important victory for the Union and Brig. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant in the Western Theater....

 and was badly damaged by Confederate
Confederate States of America
The Confederate States of America was a government set up from 1861 to 1865 by 11 Southern slave states of the United States of America that had declared their secession from the U.S...

 gunfire.

Battling the CSS Arkansas



Commanding officer William D. Porter
William D. Porter
William David Porter was a flag officer of the United States Navy. He was the son of Commodore David Porter and brother of Admiral David Dixon Porter as well as foster brother of Admiral David Farragut .-Early career:Porter was born on 10 March 1808 in New Orleans, Louisiana He spent much of his...

 upgraded his ship without official authorization into an ironclad gunboat
Gunboat
A gunboat is a naval watercraft designed for the express purpose of carrying one or more guns to bombard coastal targets, as opposed to those military craft designed for naval warfare, or for ferrying troops or supplies.-History:...

. Under his orders she was lengthened, widened, and completely reengineered, and her appearance was changed drastically. New, more powerful, engines were put in place and she was rearmored. After her upgrade Essex took part in operations near Vicksburg, Mississippi
Vicksburg, Mississippi
Vicksburg is a city in Warren County, Mississippi, United States. It is the only city in Warren County. It is located northwest of New Orleans on the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers, and due west of Jackson, the state capital. In 1900, 14,834 people lived in Vicksburg; in 1910, 20,814; in 1920,...

. On 15 July 1862, USS Essex was engaged with CSS Arkansas
CSS Arkansas
The CSS Arkansas was a Confederate Ironclad warship during the American Civil War. Serving in the Western Theater, the vessel ran through a U.S. Navy fleet at Vicksburg, Mississippi, on 15 July 1862, in a celebrated action in which she inflicted more damage than she received...

 as that ship successfully ran past the Union fleets in front of the city. On 23 July, Essex unsuccessfully attacked the Arkansas at her moorings but was repelled by the Arkansas and the shore guns under whose protection the Arkansas lay. Federal forces withdrew from Vicksburg shortly thereafter. After withdrawing, Essex joined Admiral David Farragut
David Farragut
David Glasgow Farragut was a flag officer of the United States Navy during the American Civil War. He was the first rear admiral, vice admiral, and admiral in the United States Navy. He is remembered in popular culture for his order at the Battle of Mobile Bay, usually paraphrased: "Damn the...

's squadron and was the only Federal ironclad on the lower Mississippi River
Mississippi River
The Mississippi River is the largest river system in North America. Flowing entirely in the United States, this river rises in western Minnesota and meanders slowly southwards for to the Mississippi River Delta at the Gulf of Mexico. With its many tributaries, the Mississippi's watershed drains...

. On 5 August 1862, Essex helped repel a Confederate Army
Confederate States Army
The Confederate States Army was the army of the Confederate States of America while the Confederacy existed during the American Civil War. On February 8, 1861, delegates from the seven Deep South states which had already declared their secession from the United States of America adopted the...

 attack on Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Baton Rouge is the capital of the U.S. state of Louisiana. It is located in East Baton Rouge Parish and is the second-largest city in the state.Baton Rouge is a major industrial, petrochemical, medical, and research center of the American South...

.

On 6 August, the Essex once again engaged CSS Arkansas as that vessel attempted to relieve the beleaguered Confederates
Confederate States of America
The Confederate States of America was a government set up from 1861 to 1865 by 11 Southern slave states of the United States of America that had declared their secession from the U.S...

 attacking Baton Rouge. As Essex approached, the steering mechanism of the Arkansas jammed and her crew was forced to scuttle her due to the presence of the Essex.

Transfer to the Navy


In October of 1862 the Essex was transferred from the Army
United States Army
The United States Army is the main branch of the United States Armed Forces responsible for land-based military operations. It is the largest and oldest established branch of the U.S. military, and is one of seven U.S. uniformed services...

 to the United States Navy
United States Navy
The United States Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. The U.S. Navy is the largest in the world; its battle fleet tonnage is greater than that of the next 13 largest navies combined. The U.S...

. She was involved in the bombardment of Port Hudson, Louisiana
Port Hudson, Louisiana
Port Hudson is a small unincorporated community in East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana, United States. Located about northwest of Baton Rouge, it is most famous for an American Civil War battle known as the Siege of Port Hudson.-Geography:...

 and assisted during the occupation of Baton Rouge. In May–July of 1863 under the command of Robert Townsend
Robert Townsend (Captain)
Captain Robert Townsend was a Civil War era ship Captain in the United States Navy. He served twice, once before the war then again during the war. He saw active combat while serving aboard three ships, most notably as commander of the USS Essex from 1863–1864, an ironclad gunship on the...

 she participated in the siege and capture of Port Hudson. USS Essex took part in the Red River Campaign
Red River Campaign
The Red River Campaign or Red River Expedition consisted of a series of battles fought along the Red River in Louisiana during the American Civil War from March 10 to May 22, 1864. The campaign was a Union initiative, fought between approximately 30,000 Union troops under the command of Maj. Gen....

 of March–May 1864.

In December 1864, the USS Essex was in Memphis, Tennessee. According to David Redrick, the Rear Admiral's cook, some of the boat's crew "slipped ashore at night" and "got on a spree". Boatswain William Bernard Dolen, age 33, was part of a detail sent ashore to "arrest the boys". During the arrest, he was stabbed in the right chest by a fellow seaman, and was honorably discharged for disability due to the chronicity of the wound, from which he later died in 1878.

After the war


Essex was decommissioned in July 1865. She was sold in November 1865 and reverted to the civilian name New Era. She was scrapped in 1870. USS Essex had the reputation as one of the most active gunboats on the Mississippi River
Mississippi River
The Mississippi River is the largest river system in North America. Flowing entirely in the United States, this river rises in western Minnesota and meanders slowly southwards for to the Mississippi River Delta at the Gulf of Mexico. With its many tributaries, the Mississippi's watershed drains...

, despite her relatively weak armor. It often was damaged in actions.

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