USS San Jacinto (1850)

The first USS San Jacinto was an early screw frigate in 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...

 during the mid-19th century. She was named for the San Jacinto River, site of the Battle of San Jacinto
Battle of San Jacinto
The Battle of San Jacinto, fought on April 21, 1836, in present-day Harris County, Texas, was the decisive battle of the Texas Revolution. Led by General Sam Houston, the Texian Army engaged and defeated General Antonio López de Santa Anna's Mexican forces in a fight that lasted just eighteen...

 during the Texas Revolution
Texas Revolution
The Texas Revolution or Texas War of Independence was an armed conflict between Mexico and settlers in the Texas portion of the Mexican state Coahuila y Tejas. The war lasted from October 2, 1835 to April 21, 1836...

. She is perhaps best known for her role in the Trent Affair
Trent affair
The Trent Affair, also known as the Mason and Slidell Affair, was an international diplomatic incident that occurred during the American Civil War...

 of 1861.

San Jacinto was laid down by the New York Navy Yard in August 1847, and launched on 16 April 1850. She was sponsored by Commander Charles H. Bell
Charles H. Bell (naval officer)
Rear Admiral Charles H. Bell was an officer in the United States Navy who served during the War of 1812, the Second Barbary War, and the American Civil War....

, Executive Officer of the New York Navy Yard.

European service, 1852-1854

No record of San Jacinto's commissioning ceremony has been found, but her first commanding officer, Captain Thomas Crabbe, reported on board on 18 November 1851. The earliest page of the ship's log which has survived is dated 26 February 1852, but San Jacinto's service began earlier. Some evidence suggests that the frigate got under way for test runs late in 1851.

Built as an experimental ship to test new propulsion concepts, the screw frigate was plagued by balky engines and unreliable machinery throughout her career. Yet, San Jacinto crowded her record with interesting and valuable service.

The steamer sailed from New York on New Year's Day, 1852, and headed for Norfolk, Virginia
Norfolk, Virginia
Norfolk is an independent city in the Commonwealth of Virginia in the United States. With a population of 242,803 as of the 2010 Census, it is Virginia's second-largest city behind neighboring Virginia Beach....

 on a trial voyage to test her seaworthiness and machinery before heading across the Atlantic for service in the Mediterranean. She encountered heavy weather during the passage to Hampton Roads
Hampton Roads
Hampton Roads is the name for both a body of water and the Norfolk–Virginia Beach metropolitan area which surrounds it in southeastern Virginia, United States...

, and one of her engines was disabled. After repairs at the Norfolk Navy Yard, the frigate finally passed between the Virginia Capes
Virginia Capes
The Virginia Capes are the two capes, Cape Charles to the north and Cape Henry to the south, that define the entrance to Chesapeake Bay on the eastern coast of North America....

 on 3 March and headed for Cadiz
Cadiz is a city and port in southwestern Spain. It is the capital of the homonymous province, one of eight which make up the autonomous community of Andalusia....

, Spain
Spain , officially the Kingdom of Spain languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Spain's official name is as follows:;;;;;;), is a country and member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula...

. However, chronic engine problems hampered the ship during her operations in European waters; and she returned to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Philadelphia is the largest city in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the county seat of Philadelphia County, with which it is coterminous. The city is located in the Northeastern United States along the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers. It is the fifth-most-populous city in the United States,...

 on 5 July 1853. She was decommissioned there on the 13th for installation of new machinery.

Four days after recommissioning on 5 August 1854, San Jacinto sailed eastward to try her new engines. Following repairs at Southampton
Southampton is the largest city in the county of Hampshire on the south coast of England, and is situated south-west of London and north-west of Portsmouth. Southampton is a major port and the closest city to the New Forest...

, England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

, she resumed her cruise in European waters.

Home Squadron and West Indies Squadron, 1855

In the spring of 1855, San Jacinto was briefly attached to the Home Squadron
Home Squadron
The Home Squadron was part of the United States Navy in the mid-19th century. Organized as early as 1838, ships were assigned to protect coastal commerce, aid ships in distress, suppress piracy and the slave trade, make coastal surveys, and train ships to relieve others on distant stations...

 and served in the West Indies Squadron
West Indies Squadron (United States)
The West Indies Squadron, or the West Indies Station, was a United States Navy squadron that operated in the West Indies in the early nineteenth century. It was formed due to the need to suppress piracy in the Caribbean Sea, the Antilles and the Gulf of Mexico region of the Atlantic Ocean...

 as flagship
A flagship is a vessel used by the commanding officer of a group of naval ships, reflecting the custom of its commander, characteristically a flag officer, flying a distinguishing flag...

 for Commodore Charles S. McCauley to bolster American naval strength in the Caribbean
The Caribbean is a crescent-shaped group of islands more than 2,000 miles long separating the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea, to the west and south, from the Atlantic Ocean, to the east and north...

 after Spanish frigate, Ferrolana, had fired upon United States mail steamer, El Dorado, off the coast of Cuba
The Republic of Cuba is an island nation in the Caribbean. The nation of Cuba consists of the main island of Cuba, the Isla de la Juventud, and several archipelagos. Havana is the largest city in Cuba and the country's capital. Santiago de Cuba is the second largest city...

. When no further cause of friction between the two countries developed, San Jacinto returned home and decommissioned at New York on 21 June 1855 for repairs.

East Indian Squadron, 1855-1859

Recommissioned on 4 October 1855, the screw frigate, now commanded by Captain Henry H. Bell
Henry H. Bell
Henry Haywood Bell was an admiral in the United States Navy during the American Civil War.-Biography:Bell was born in Orange County, North Carolina. Appointed a Midshipman on 4 August 1823, during the next two decades he served afloat in U.S...

, departed New York on the 25th and headed for the Far East
Far East
The Far East is an English term mostly describing East Asia and Southeast Asia, with South Asia sometimes also included for economic and cultural reasons.The term came into use in European geopolitical discourse in the 19th century,...

 as flagship of Commodore James Armstrong
James Armstrong (Commodore)
Commodore James Armstrong was an officer in the United States Navy.Armstrong joined the United States Navy as a midshipman in 1809 and served on the sloop-of-war Frolic when it was seized by the British in 1814 during the War of 1812...

. After proceeding via Madeira
Madeira is a Portuguese archipelago that lies between and , just under 400 km north of Tenerife, Canary Islands, in the north Atlantic Ocean and an outermost region of the European Union...

, the Cape of Good Hope
Cape of Good Hope
The Cape of Good Hope is a rocky headland on the Atlantic coast of the Cape Peninsula, South Africa.There is a misconception that the Cape of Good Hope is the southern tip of Africa, because it was once believed to be the dividing point between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. In fact, the...

, Mauritius
Mauritius , officially the Republic of Mauritius is an island nation off the southeast coast of the African continent in the southwest Indian Ocean, about east of Madagascar...

, and Ceylon, the ship arrived at Penang
Penang is a state in Malaysia and the name of its constituent island, located on the northwest coast of Peninsular Malaysia by the Strait of Malacca. It is bordered by Kedah in the north and east, and Perak in the south. Penang is the second smallest Malaysian state in area after Perlis, and the...

 in the Straits of Malacca on 22 March 1856.

There, Townsend Harris
Townsend Harris
Townsend Harris was a successful New York City merchant and minor politician, and the first United States Consul General to Japan...

, the recently appointed Consul General to Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

, embarked on 2 April; and the ship got underway that morning for Siam. After a four-day stop at Singapore
Singapore , officially the Republic of Singapore, is a Southeast Asian city-state off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, north of the equator. An island country made up of 63 islands, it is separated from Malaysia by the Straits of Johor to its north and from Indonesia's Riau Islands by the...

, where Commodore Armstrong relieved Commodore Joel Abbot
Joel Abbot
Joel Abbot was a U.S. naval officer who served notably in the War of 1812, and commanded a squadron during Commodore Perry's 1852 visit to Japan.-Biography:...

 in command of the East India Squadron
East India Squadron
The East India Squadron, or East Indies Squadron, was a squadron of American ships which existed in the nineteenth century, it focused on protecting American interests in the Far East while the Pacific Squadron concentrated on the western coasts of the Americas and in the South Pacific Ocean...

, the frigate reached the bar off the mouth of the Me Nam (later the Chao Phraya) River on the 13th. A few days later, Harris ascended the Me Nam to Bangkok
Bangkok is the capital and largest urban area city in Thailand. It is known in Thai as Krung Thep Maha Nakhon or simply Krung Thep , meaning "city of angels." The full name of Bangkok is Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom...

 where he negotiated a treaty establishing diplomatic and commercial relations between the United States and Siam. The King of Siam at the time was Mongkut
Phra Bat Somdet Phra Poramenthramaha Mongkut Phra Chom Klao Chao Yu Hua , or Rama IV, known in foreign countries as King Mongkut , was the fourth monarch of Siam under the House of Chakri, ruling from 1851-1868...

, who was later the subject of the musical comedy, The King and I
The King and I
The King and I is a stage musical, the fifth by the team of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. The work is based on the 1944 novel Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon and derives from the memoirs of Anna Leonowens, who became governess to the children of King Mongkut of Siam in...


After succeeding in this delicate diplomatic mission, Harris returned on the morning of 1 June to San Jacinto, which awaited him at the mouth of the Me Nam; and the frigate departed Siam to carry Harris to his new post in Japan.

However, after only half an hour of steaming, engine trouble reappeared and plagued the ship throughout her painfully slow passage to Hong Kong
Hong Kong
Hong Kong is one of two Special Administrative Regions of the People's Republic of China , the other being Macau. A city-state situated on China's south coast and enclosed by the Pearl River Delta and South China Sea, it is renowned for its expansive skyline and deep natural harbour...

, which she finally reached on the 13th. There, major repairs interrupted the voyage for almost two months.

San Jacinto finally got underway again on 12 August. While proceeding by the Pescadores
The Penghu Islands, also known as Pescadores are an archipelago off the western coast of Taiwan in the Taiwan Strait consisting of 90 small islands and islets covering an area of 141 square kilometers....

 toward Formosa
Taiwan , also known, especially in the past, as Formosa , is the largest island of the same-named island group of East Asia in the western Pacific Ocean and located off the southeastern coast of mainland China. The island forms over 99% of the current territory of the Republic of China following...

, she assisted several junks recently disabled by a violent typhoon which had devastated much of the coast of China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

. The ship at long last reached Shimoda
Shimoda, Shizuoka
is a city and port in Shizuoka, Japan.As of 2010, the city had an estimated population of 25,054 and a population density of 242 persons per square kilometer...

, Japan, on 21 August and remained there while Harris was negotiating with Japanese officials concerning the establishment of his consulate—the first official foreign diplomatic office to be permitted on Japanese soil. During his subsequent service as Consul General, Harris persuaded the Japanese government to sign a broad treaty which opened the country to commerce and brought the nation into the modern world.

On 4 September 1856, after a party from the ship had erected a flagpole in front of the new consulate and had helped Harris to raise the Stars and Stripes there for the first time, San Jacinto weighed anchor and headed for Shanghai
Shanghai is the largest city by population in China and the largest city proper in the world. It is one of the four province-level municipalities in the People's Republic of China, with a total population of over 23 million as of 2010...


Early in October 1856, mounting hostility toward foreigners in China erupted into the Second Opium War
Second Opium War
The Second Opium War, the Second Anglo-Chinese War, the Second China War, the Arrow War, or the Anglo-French expedition to China, was a war pitting the British Empire and the Second French Empire against the Qing Dynasty of China, lasting from 1856 to 1860...

. Later that month, word of the fighting between British
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 and Chinese forces at Canton
Guangzhou , known historically as Canton or Kwangchow, is the capital and largest city of the Guangdong province in the People's Republic of China. Located in southern China on the Pearl River, about north-northwest of Hong Kong, Guangzhou is a key national transportation hub and trading port...

 reached Commodore Armstrong at Shanghai, and he proceeded in San Jacinto to the scene of the conflict. When he reached the Pearl River
Pearl River (China)
The Pearl River or less commonly, the "Guangdong River" or "Canton River" etc., , is an extensive river system in southern China. The name Pearl River is usually used as a catchment term to refer to the watersheds of the Xi Jiang , the Bei Jiang , and the Dong Jiang...

, he learned that Comdr. Andrew H. Foote, in response to a request for help from the United States consul at Canton, had landed a force of 150 men at Whampoa
Huangpu District, Guangzhou
Huangpu District is one of the ten districts in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, People's Republic of China.-History:...

 to protect American lives and property.

Armstrong approved of Foote's action and reinforced the shore party with a detachment from San Jacinto. A few days later, after receiving assurances from Chinese officials, the Commodore decided to withdraw the American force.

However, on 15 November, while Foote was passing the barrier forts in a small boat during preparations for reembarkation, Chinese guns fired upon him four or five times. The next day, closed the nearest fort and opened fire, beginning a vigorous engagement which continued until the Chinese batteries were silenced some two hours later. Meanwhile, efforts were begun to settle the matter by diplomatic means. Nevertheless, four days later, after receiving a report that the Chinese were strengthening their works, Armstrong again ordered his ships to open fire. They bombarded the two nearest forts until the enemy fire slackened. Then Foote led about 300 men ashore, took the first fort, and used the 53 guns captured there to silence hostile batteries in the next fort. The bluejackets and marines
United States Marine Corps
The United States Marine Corps is a branch of the United States Armed Forces responsible for providing power projection from the sea, using the mobility of the United States Navy to deliver combined-arms task forces rapidly. It is one of seven uniformed services of the United States...

 ashore subsequently beat off an attack by 3,000 Chinese soldiers from Canton. In the following two days, they first silenced and then took the three remaining forts. In all, they seized and spiked 176 cannon. Before the American ships departed Canton, their men had destroyed these riverside strongholds. During the fighting, negotiations with Chinese officials continued and resulted in the recognition of the rights of the United States as a neutral power.

Thereafter, San Jacinto served in Chinese ports for more than a year, principally at Hong Kong and Shanghai. After protecting American interests in the troubled waters of the Far East into 1858, the veteran steam frigate returned home on 4 August and decommissioned two days later.

African Squadron, 1859-1861

Over ten months in ordinary followed before San Jacinto was recommissioned on 6 July 1859, for service in the Africa Squadron
Africa Squadron
The Africa Squadron was a unit of the United States Navy that operated from 1819 to 1861 to suppress the slave trade along the coast of West Africa...

 to help suppress the slave trade. The following spring, 1860, she proceeded to Cadiz, Spain, for repairs. After returning to the west coast of Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

, she captured brig
A brig is a sailing vessel with two square-rigged masts. During the Age of Sail, brigs were seen as fast and manoeuvrable and were used as both naval warships and merchant vessels. They were especially popular in the 18th and early 19th centuries...

, Storm King, on 8 August 1860, off the mouth of the Congo River
Congo River
The Congo River is a river in Africa, and is the deepest river in the world, with measured depths in excess of . It is the second largest river in the world by volume of water discharged, though it has only one-fifth the volume of the world's largest river, the Amazon...

. A prize crew from the steam frigate sailed the captured slaver to Monrovia
Monrovia is the capital city of the West African nation of Liberia. Located on the Atlantic Coast at Cape Mesurado, it lies geographically within Montserrado County, but is administered separately...

 and turned 616 freed people over to the United States agent there before proceeding to Norfolk with the prize.


On 27 August 1861, shortly before San Jacinto sailed for home, Capt. Charles Wilkes
Charles Wilkes
Charles Wilkes was an American naval officer and explorer. He led the United States Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842 and commanded the ship in the Trent Affair during the American Civil War...

 assumed command of the ship. En route back to the United States for service in the Union Navy 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...

, the warship searched for 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...

A cruiser is a type of warship. The term has been in use for several hundreds of years, and has had different meanings throughout this period...

, Sumter
CSS Sumter
CSS Sumter, a 473-ton bark-rigged screw steam cruiser, was built as the merchant steamship Habana at Philadelphia in 1859 for McConnell's New Orleans & Havana Line. Purchased by the Confederate Government at New Orleans in April 1861, she was converted to a cruiser and placed under the command of...

, which, under Capt. Raphael Semmes
Raphael Semmes
For other uses, see Semmes .Raphael Semmes was an officer in the United States Navy from 1826 - 1860 and the Confederate States Navy from 1860 - 1865. During the American Civil War he was captain of the famous commerce raider CSS Alabama, taking a record sixty-nine prizes...

, CSN, was then preying upon Union shipping in the Atlantic. She visited the Windward Passage
Windward Passage
The Windward Passage is a strait in the Caribbean Sea, between the islands of Cuba and Hispaniola. The strait specifically lies between the easternmost region of Cuba and the northwest of Haiti.80km wide, the Windward Passage has a threshold depth of 1,700m...

, Jamaica
Jamaica is an island nation of the Greater Antilles, in length, up to in width and 10,990 square kilometres in area. It is situated in the Caribbean Sea, about south of Cuba, and west of Hispaniola, the island harbouring the nation-states Haiti and the Dominican Republic...

, Grand Cayman
Grand Cayman
Grand Cayman is the largest of the three Cayman Islands and the location of the nation's capital, George Town. In relation to the other two Cayman Islands, it is approximately 75 miles southwest of Little Cayman and 90 miles southwest of Cayman Brac.-Geography:Grand Cayman encompasses 76% of...

, and Boca Grande, Florida
Boca Grande, Florida
Boca Grande is a small residential community on Gasparilla Island, in southwest Florida. Gasparilla Island is a part of both Charlotte and Lee Counties, while the actual village of Boca Grande, which is home to many seasonal and some year-round residents, is entirely in the Lee County portion of...

 while seeking the Southern commerce raider. When the ship touched at Cienfuegos
Cienfuegos is a city on the southern coast of Cuba, capital of Cienfuegos Province. It is located about from Havana, and has a population of 150,000. The city is dubbed La Perla del Sur...

, Cuba, for coal, Wilkes learned that James M. Mason
James M. Mason
James Murray Mason was a United States Representative and United States Senator from Virginia. He was a grandson of George Mason and represented the Confederate States of America as appointed commissioner of the Confederacy to the United Kingdom and France between 1861 and 1865 during the American...

 and John Slidell
John Slidell
John Slidell was an American politician, lawyer and businessman. A native of New York, Slidell moved to Louisiana as a young man and became a staunch defender of southern rights as a U.S. Representative and Senator...

, former United States senators and new Confederate envoys to Britain and France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

, had escaped from Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston is the second largest city in the U.S. state of South Carolina. It was made the county seat of Charleston County in 1901 when Charleston County was founded. The city's original name was Charles Towne in 1670, and it moved to its present location from a location on the west bank of the...

, on 12 October in the speedy coastal packet, Theodora, and were at Havana
Havana is the capital city, province, major port, and leading commercial centre of Cuba. The city proper has a population of 2.1 million inhabitants, and it spans a total of — making it the largest city in the Caribbean region, and the most populous...

 awaiting transportation to Europe.

Wilkes raced around the island to Havana, bent on intercepting Theodora on the blockade runner's return trip but arrived on the last day of the month, one day after his quarry had departed.

However, he learned that the Southern diplomats were still at Havana and intended to sail for St. Thomas a week later in British mail packet, Trent. They planned to board a British liner there to complete their journey to London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...


Wilkes proceeded in San Jacinto to a narrow part of the Old Bahama Channel
Old Bahama Channel
The Old Bahama Channel is a strait off the northern coast of Cuba and the Sabana-Camagüey Archipelago and south of the Great Bahama Bank. It is approximately long and wide....

, some 230 miles east of Havana, and waited there to waylay Trent. On 8 November, two shots across the mail packet's bow persuaded her master to heave to. A boarding party from San Jacinto seized the Confederate diplomats and their secretaries and then permitted the packet to resume her voyage. A week later, when San Jacinto reached Norfolk with the prisoners, the exultant North hailed the news as a great Union triumph. The incident strained United States relations with Britain almost to the breaking point and came to be known as the Trent Affair
Trent affair
The Trent Affair, also known as the Mason and Slidell Affair, was an international diplomatic incident that occurred during the American Civil War...


Secretary of the Navy
United States Secretary of the Navy
The Secretary of the Navy of the United States of America is the head of the Department of the Navy, a component organization of the Department of Defense...

 Gideon Welles
Gideon Welles
Gideon Welles was the United States Secretary of the Navy from 1861 to 1869. His buildup of the Navy to successfully execute blockades of Southern ports was a key component of Northern victory of the Civil War...

 ordered Wilkes to take the prisoners to Boston, Massachusetts in San Jacinto. They were held at Fort Warren
Fort Warren (Massachusetts)
Fort Warren is a historic fort on the Georges Island at the entrance to Boston Harbor. The fort is pentagonal, made with stone and granite, and was constructed from 1833–1861, completed shortly after the beginning of the American Civil War...

 until quietly released on New Year's Day, 1862, and taken to Provincetown, Massachusetts
Provincetown, Massachusetts
Provincetown is a New England town located at the extreme tip of Cape Cod in Barnstable County, Massachusetts, United States. The population was 3,431 at the 2000 census, with an estimated 2007 population of 3,174...

, to board for passage to London. The diplomatic crisis then subsided.


San Jacinto was decommissioned on 30 November 1861 for overhaul at the Boston Navy Yard
Boston Navy Yard
The Boston Navy Yard, originally called the Charlestown Navy Yard and later Boston Naval Shipyard, was one of the oldest shipbuilding facilities in the United States Navy. Established in 1801, it was officially closed as an active naval installation on July 1, 1974, and the property was...

 and was prepared for service as flagship of the Gulf Blockading Squadron. Recommissioned on 1 March 1862, the steamer departed Boston for Hampton Roads on the 9th, the day of the epic battle between and CSS Virginia
CSS Virginia
CSS Virginia was the first steam-powered ironclad warship of the Confederate States Navy, built during the first year of the American Civil War; she was constructed as a casemate ironclad using the raised and cut down original lower hull and steam engines of the scuttled . Virginia was one of the...

, the former Merrimack. San Jacinto reached the Virginia Capes on the 15th and remained in the area temporarily assigned to the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron to bolster Union naval forces in Hampton Roads lest Virginia return to that strategic waterway and threaten General George McClellan
George B. McClellan
George Brinton McClellan was a major general during the American Civil War. He organized the famous Army of the Potomac and served briefly as the general-in-chief of the Union Army. Early in the war, McClellan played an important role in raising a well-trained and organized army for the Union...

's army which was then pushing up the peninsula between the James
James River (Virginia)
The James River is a river in the U.S. state of Virginia. It is long, extending to if one includes the Jackson River, the longer of its two source tributaries. The James River drains a catchment comprising . The watershed includes about 4% open water and an area with a population of 2.5 million...

 and York
York River (Virginia)
The York River is a navigable estuary, approximately long, in eastern Virginia in the United States. It ranges in width from at its head to near its mouth on the west side of Chesapeake Bay. Its watershed drains an area including portions of 17 counties of the coastal plain of Virginia north...

 rivers toward Richmond, Virginia
Richmond, Virginia
Richmond is the capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia, in the United States. It is an independent city and not part of any county. Richmond is the center of the Richmond Metropolitan Statistical Area and the Greater Richmond area...


On 11 April 1862, Virginia rounded Sewell's Point
Sewell's Point
Sewells Point is a peninsula of land in the independent city of Norfolk, Virginia in the United States, located at the mouth of the salt-water port of Hampton Roads. Sewells Point is bordered by water on three sides, with Willoughby Bay to the north, Hampton Roads to the west, and the Lafayette...

 and entered Hampton Roads. Under the ironclad's protection, CSS Jamestown
CSS Jamestown
CSS Jamestown, originally a side-wheel, passenger steamer, was built at New York City in 1853, and seized at Richmond, Virginia in 1861 for the Commonwealth of Virginia Navy...

 and CSS Raleigh
CSS Raleigh
CSS Raleigh may refer to:*CSS Raleigh was a gunboat that served as a tender to CSS Virginia during the Battle of Hampton Roads*CSS Raleigh was an ironclad ram which patrolled the Cape Fear River near Wilmington, North CarolinaSee also...

 approached the Hampton shore and captured three small Union Army transports. However, no major engagement developed; and the Confederate ships retired upstream late in the afternoon.

On 5 May, President
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

 Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. He successfully led his country through a great constitutional, military and moral crisis – the American Civil War – preserving the Union, while ending slavery, and...

 arrived in Hampton Roads on board steamer, Miami, to take personal charge of the stalled Peninsula Campaign
Peninsula Campaign
The Peninsula Campaign of the American Civil War was a major Union operation launched in southeastern Virginia from March through July 1862, the first large-scale offensive in the Eastern Theater. The operation, commanded by Maj. Gen. George B...

; and, for the next five days, acted as Commander in Chief in the field. At his orders three days later, San Jacinto joined other Union warships in bombarding Sewell's Point.

Events moved fast thereafter. Confederate troops withdrew from Norfolk and Suffolk, Virginia
Suffolk, Virginia
Suffolk is the largest city by area in Virginia, United States, and is located in the Hampton Roads metropolitan area. As of the 2010 census, the city had a total population of 84,585. Its median household income was $57,546.-History:...

 and set fire to the Navy Yard at Portsmouth, Virginia
Portsmouth, Virginia
Portsmouth is located in the Hampton Roads metropolitan area of the U.S. Commonwealth of Virginia. As of 2010, the city had a total population of 95,535.The Norfolk Naval Shipyard, often called the Norfolk Navy Yard, is a historic and active U.S...

. San Jacinto helped to provide naval support as U.S. troops occupied the evacuated area. In the early hours of 11 May, Virginia's crew set the dreaded Southern ironclad ablaze and she blew up before dawn.

With the end of the principal Confederate naval threat to Union forces on the peninsula and its surrounding water, San Jacinto was free to resume her voyage south. She departed Hampton Roads on the 23d, carrying Flag Officer James L. Lardner
James L. Lardner
James Lawrence Lardner was an officer in the United States Navy during the American Civil War.-Biography:...

, and reached Key West, Florida
Key West, Florida
Key West is a city in Monroe County, Florida, United States. The city encompasses the island of Key West, the part of Stock Island north of U.S. 1 , Sigsbee Park , Fleming Key , and Sunset Key...

, on 1 June. Three days later, Lardner relieved Flag Officer William McKean
William McKean
William Wister McKean was an admiral in the United States Navy during the American Civil War. He was noted for his service in the Union blockade that effectively closed Confederate seaports in the Gulf of Mexico....

 in command of the East Gulf Blockading Squadron; and San Jacinto became the squadron flagship.

However, the ship's tour of duty as flagship was cut short. On 1 August, Lardner reported that yellow fever
Yellow fever
Yellow fever is an acute viral hemorrhagic disease. The virus is a 40 to 50 nm enveloped RNA virus with positive sense of the Flaviviridae family....

 had broken out on the ship; and, the next day, she sailed north. She arrived at the quarantine area off Deer Island
Deer Island (Massachusetts)
Deer Island is a peninsula in Boston Harbor, Massachusetts. Since 1996 it is part of the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area. Although still an island by name, Deer Island has been connected to the mainland since the former Shirley Gut channel, which once separated the island from the...

, near Boston, on the 9th.

The health of her crew restored, San Jacinto, assigned to the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, departed Boston on 15 October and, four days later, joined the blockade off Wilmington, North Carolina
Wilmington, North Carolina
Wilmington is a port city in and is the county seat of New Hanover County, North Carolina, United States. The population is 106,476 according to the 2010 Census, making it the eighth most populous city in the state of North Carolina...

. However, as she was taking station in the blockade, orders left Washington for the ship to proceed immediately to Hampton Roads, fill her bunkers with coal, and steam at top speed to the coast of Nova Scotia
Nova Scotia
Nova Scotia is one of Canada's three Maritime provinces and is the most populous province in Atlantic Canada. The name of the province is Latin for "New Scotland," but "Nova Scotia" is the recognized, English-language name of the province. The provincial capital is Halifax. Nova Scotia is the...

 in search of Confederate cruiser, Alabama, with which the elusive Semmes had struck a series of rapid blows against American shipping and fishing and caused Northern merchants to clamor for protection.

San Jacinto got under way on the 22nd and reached Hampton Roads on the morning of the 24th. While she was preparing for sea, reports reached Washington indicating that Alabama might have altered her course. Accordingly, when San Jacinto sailed on the morning of the 26th, she headed via Bermuda
Bermuda is a British overseas territory in the North Atlantic Ocean. Located off the east coast of the United States, its nearest landmass is Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, about to the west-northwest. It is about south of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, and northeast of Miami, Florida...

 to the West Indies. In the weeks that followed, the frigate and Alabama played hide-and-seek in the Caribbean. On the morning of 19 November, the Federal warship finally caught up with Semmes when she reached Fort Royal, Martinique
Fort-de-France is the capital of France's Caribbean overseas department of Martinique. It is also one of the major cities in the Caribbean. Exports include sugar, rum, tinned fruit, and cacao.-Geography:...

. Alabama had anchored there the previous morning and was enjoying sanctuary in the neutral port. San Jacinto waited at the entrance to the harbor just outside the three-mile limit required by international law, but Alabama slipped by her to comparative safety at sea during the ensuing dark and rainy night. As neither ship saw the other during the escape, San Jacinto remained at Fort Royal until certain that Alabama was not hiding in some secluded spot within the bay, but had indeed escaped. On the 21st, San Jacinto got under way and searched for her slippery adversary until arriving at Key West on 15 January 1863.


There she was attached to the East Gulf Blockading Squadron as flagship. However, soon after she began this duty, word reached Key West that CSS Florida had escaped through the blockade from Mobile and was at Havana. On 22 January, Rear Admiral Theodorus Bailey
Theodorus Bailey (naval officer)
Theodorus Bailey was a United States Navy officer during the American Civil War.-Early career:Bailey was born at Chateaugay, New York in the far north-eastern corner of Franklin County, near the border with Quebec. He received his early education at Plattsburgh, before being appointed a midshipman...

 ordered San Jacinto to sail for Cuba and blockade the Confederate cruiser if she were in port or to chase and capture or destroy her if the commerce raider had departed. The Union frigate quickly put to sea but found little trace of Florida. She broke her shaft on 30 January; sailed north on 4 February; and reached the New York Navy Yard on the 16th for repairs.

Again ready for action, San Jacinto departed New York on 24 June and returned to Key West on 1 July. She celebrated Independence Day by becoming Rear Admiral Bailey's flagship, and she performed that duty until relieved by on 5 September.

The ship then took up blockade duty off Mobile, Alabama
Mobile, Alabama
Mobile is the third most populous city in the Southern US state of Alabama and is the county seat of Mobile County. It is located on the Mobile River and the central Gulf Coast of the United States. The population within the city limits was 195,111 during the 2010 census. It is the largest...

. On the afternoon of the 11th, her masthead lookout reported "black smoke bearing about south", and San Jacinto set out in pursuit of the steamer. During the chase, the lookout spotted blockade runner Fox, aground and burning. About dusk, San Jacinto changed course for Mobile, hoping to intercept the fleeing vessel if she attempted to dash into that port. This strategy proved sound for, early the next morning, the Union steam frigate found that her quarry was again within sight; and the chase began again. Near the Chandeleur Islands
Chandeleur Islands
The Chandeleur Islands are a chain of uninhabited barrier islands approximately long, located in the Gulf of Mexico. They form the easternmost point of the state of Louisiana, USA and are a part of the Breton National Wildlife Refuge...

, San Jacinto anchored in shoal water and sent her first cutter after the steamer. That evening shortly before twilight, the blockade runner—which happened to bear the name of the frigate's old adversary, Alabama—ran ashore and was abandoned. Before San Jacintos cutter could reach the prize, the Union blockader Eugenie arrived upon the scene and took possession of the blockade runner.

On the 16th, San Jacinto captured the steamer Lizzie Davis after a two-hour chase. This blockade runner had departed from Havana laden with lead and was endeavoring to dash into Mobile. On 6 October, San Jacinto was within signal distance when the schooner
A schooner is a type of sailing vessel characterized by the use of fore-and-aft sails on two or more masts with the forward mast being no taller than the rear masts....

  took possession of Last Trial, after heavy weather had forced that Southern sloop
A sloop is a sail boat with a fore-and-aft rig and a single mast farther forward than the mast of a cutter....

 to seek shelter near Key West. On 16 December, , a tender to San Jacinto, captured the Confederate sloop Magnolia; and, on the 24th, the schooner , another of San Jacintos tenders, took the British schooner Edward, which was trying to carry salt and lead from Havana to the Suwannee River
Suwannee River
The Suwannee River is a major river of southern Georgia and northern Florida in the United States. It is a wild blackwater river, about long. The Suwannee River is the site of the prehistoric Suwannee Straits which separated peninsular Florida from the panhandle.-Geography:The river rises in the...

, notwithstanding Britain's de jure neutrality
Neutral country
A neutral power in a particular war is a sovereign state which declares itself to be neutral towards the belligerents. A non-belligerent state does not need to be neutral. The rights and duties of a neutral power are defined in Sections 5 and 13 of the Hague Convention of 1907...



On the morning of 7 January 1864, San Jacinto overtook the schooner Roebuck after a two-hour chase, and deprived the Confederacy of a general cargo including much clothing and lead. In another two-hour chase on 11 March, San Jacinto ran an unnamed schooner (formerly called Lealtad) aground. She then took possession of this prize which was laden with cotton and turpentine for export.

Yellow fever again struck the veteran warship the following summer; and San Jacinto—carrying Rear Admiral Bailey, now dangerously ill with the disease—departed Key West on 7 August and sailed north hoping for a quick restoration of the crew to good health. She reached the quarantine area at New York Harbor on the 13th; but, the next day was ordered to fill up with coal and set out in pursuit of the Confederate cruiser Tallahassee
CSS Tallahassee
The CSS Tallahassee was a twin-screw steamer and cruiser in the Confederate States Navy, purchased in 1864, and used for commerce raiding off the Atlantic coast.-History:...

. The ship sailed on the 19th and raced as far north as Halifax, Nova Scotia, without finding the Southern commerce raider.

After the ship put in at Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Portsmouth is a city in Rockingham County, New Hampshire in the United States. It is the largest city but only the fourth-largest community in the county, with a population of 21,233 at the 2010 census...

, she received long-overdue repairs. She returned to Key West on 3 December and resumed her role as squadron flagship a week later. Toward the end of the month, she was relieved of this duty and sailed for the Bahamas.


On New Year's Day, 1865, the ship struck a reef
In nautical terminology, a reef is a rock, sandbar, or other feature lying beneath the surface of the water ....

 near Great Abaco Island and filled with water. Her guns, along with some equipment and provisions, were saved; but efforts to salvage the ship were unsuccessful. The ship's hulk was sold at Nassau, New Providence, on 17 May 1871.
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