Tuesday, August 7, 2007

USS Pawnee

Named after a North American Indian tribe, the USS Pawnee was launched on 8 October 1859 at the Philadelphia Navy Yard and was commissioned on 11 June 1860. The Pawnee was a 1,533-ton light-draft steam sloop of war that was over 221 feet long, had a beam of 47 feet, and had a speed of approximately 10 knots. She was armed with eight 9-inch Dahlgren guns and two 12-pounders, although this armament changed slightly during the course of the Civil War. With a crew of 181 officers and men, she was a very modern warship for her time.

After the ship was commissioned, the Pawnee joined the US Home Squadron off the coast of Mexico under the command of Flag Officer G.J. Pendergrast. She arrived off Vera Cruz on 15 October but returned to Philadelphia on 12 December 1860. After spending three months in Washington, DC, the Pawnee was sent as part of a task force to relieve the Federal garrison under Major Robert Anderson at Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina, on 6 April 1861. Unfortunately, the fort surrendered to Confederate forces shortly before the Union warships arrived in Charleston. After sailing back to Washington, the Pawnee was quickly sent to the Gosport Navy Yard in Norfolk, Virginia, on 20 April. The Pawnee was ordered to secure the ships and naval stores that were in the Navy Yard, but after arriving in Norfolk the Pawnee soon discovered that retreating Union troops had scuttled almost all of the ships in the Navy Yard. The only ship that had not been scuttled was the frigate USS Cumberland. The Pawnee towed the Cumberland back to Washington, thereby saving the frigate from being captured by the oncoming Confederate forces.

Between May and August 1861, the Pawnee, which was based in Washington, was used to bombard Confederate shore batteries, convoy Union ships and blockade Southern ports. On 24 May a landing party from the Pawnee demanded and received the surrender of Alexandria, VA. In August the Pawnee was assigned to the Atlantic Blockade Squadron at Hampton Roads and she took part in the attacks on Forts Hatteras and Clark (28-29 August). The ship remained at Hatteras Inlet until 3 October and captured four enemy ships and recaptured two ships that were previously taken by the Confederates.

On 29 October the Pawnee took part in the attack on Port Royal, South Carolina, and assisted in the Union victory there. During the battle, though, seven shells hit the ship, killing two crewmembers. The victory at Port Royal gave the Union a major naval base in the South and it was of enormous value to the Union blockade and for future amphibious operations.

In 1862 the Pawnee patrolled the coasts of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida and she assisted in the capture of Fernandina, Florida, on 3 March 1862. After going back to Philadelphia in November for some repairs, the Pawnee returned to Port Royal on 10 February 1863. For the rest of the war, the Pawnee was assigned to the South Atlantic Squadron and took part in coastal reconnaissance missions off the southern states, bombarded shore installations, and searched for Confederate blockade runners. She captured the Confederate steamers General Sumter and Hattie Brock and participated in attacks on enemy targets that were located on several southern coastal rivers. On 9 February 1865, the Pawnee, along with the gunboats Sonoma and Daffodil, went up Togoda Creek in North Edisto, South Carolina, and bombarded three Confederate artillery batteries, destroying them all. On 23 February 1865, the Pawnee, assisted by several other ships, accepted the surrender of Georgetown, South Carolina.

After the war, the Pawnee was decommissioned on 26 July 1865. She was recommissioned on 2 January 1867 and on 24 April was assigned to the US squadron sailing off the coast of Rio de Janeiro. She stayed there for two years protecting American lives and property during the war between Brazil and Paraguay. On 17 May 1869 she sailed home and arrived at Portsmouth on 9 July. The Pawnee was decommissioned again on 22 July and, after a thorough examination, had her engines removed. But the Navy must have thought the Pawnee still had some life left in her because it converted her into a sailing ship. On 6 December 1869 she was sent to Norfolk and served as a floating hospital and storeship. In January 1871 the Pawnee was sent to Key West, Florida, to again serve as a hospital ship and remained there until April 1875, when she was towed to Port Royal for use as a storeship. The Pawnee was decommissioned for the last time 18 November 1882 and was sold on 3 May 1884.

The USS Pawnee had a long and distinguished life, starting her career as a steamship and ending it as a sailing ship. But, whether operating under steam or sail, she provided valuable service to the US Navy, especially during the Civil War.


Figure 1 (Top): Artwork or heavily-retouched photograph of the USS Pawnee by the Photo Engraving Company, New York, showing the ship off Charleston, South Carolina, circa 1864-1865. Her bow is fitted with what appears to be a spar torpedo. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 2 (Middle, Top): View on deck of the USS Pawnee, looking forward from near the mizzen mast, while the ship was stationed in Charleston harbor, South Carolina, circa 1864-1865. Guns visible include an Army Model 1841 eight-inch siege howitzer (left foreground) and the ship's starboard battery of nine-inch Dahlgren shell guns. Note sailors on deck and on watch (with telescope) on the bridge, gratings atop hatches, coiled lines, and mechanism for hoisting and lowering the smokestack. Courtesy of the Library of Congress. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 3 (Middle, Bottom): USS Pawnee (1860-1884) off Charleston, South Carolina, circa 1864-1865. Her bow is fitted with what appears to be a spar torpedo. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 4 (Bottom): Rear Admiral John A. Dahlgren, USN, standing beside a 50-pounder Dahlgren rifle on board USS Pawnee in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, circa 1863-1865. He was then commanding the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron. Identification of the gun is from Warren Ripley: "Artillery and Ammunition of the Civil War", page 104.The original negative for this photograph is held by the Library of Congress (their photo # is LC-B8171-3417). U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.