Tuesday, January 12, 2010

USS Nantucket

Figure 1: “Civil War Ironclads at Sea.” Chromolithograph by Armstrong & Company, after an 1893 watercolor by Fred S. Cozzens, published in Our Navy -- Its Growth and Achievements, 1897. Ships depicted are (from left to right): Monadnock class twin-turret monitor; Passaic class single-turret monitor (in foreground); USS Naugatuck; USS Keokuk; USS New Ironsides and USS Nantucket. From the collection of Captain Glenn Howell, USN, 1974. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 2: USS Nantucket (1863-1900) lithograph by Endicott & Company, New York, published circa the mid-1860s. Courtesy of Charles Moran,1935. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 3: USS Nantucket (1863-1900) photographed circa the 1880s or 1890s. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 4: "Panoramic View of Charleston Harbor. Advance of Ironclads to the Attack, April 7th, 1863." Line engraving published in The Soldier in our Civil War, Volume II, page 172, with a key to individual ships and land features shown. US Navy ships present are (from left to center): Keokuk, Nahant, Nantucket, Catskill, New Ironsides, Patapsco, Montauk, Passaic and Weehawken. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Named after an island off the coast of Massachusetts, USS Nantucket was a 1,875-ton Passaic class coastal monitor that was built by the Atlantic Iron Works at Boston, Massachusetts, and was commissioned on 26 February 1863. The ship was approximately 200 feet long and 46 feet wide, had a top speed of 7 knots, and had a crew of 75 officers and men. Nantucket had a single turret that was armed with one 15-inch and one 11-inch Dahlgren smoothbore guns.

Shortly after being commissioned, Nantucket was assigned to the Union’s South Atlantic Blockading Squadron and patrolled off the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina. On 7 April 1863, Nantucket participated in the large Union naval assault on Fort Sumter, South Carolina. The monitor was hit an amazing 51 times by Confederate gunfire during the attack and remained afloat. Unfortunately, the entire operation ended in failure, with the Union fleet withdrawing and the Confederate guns remaining in operation deep within the rubble of Fort Sumter. Nantucket steamed to Port Royal, South Carolina, for repairs but quickly returned to Charleston and supported Union Army attacks on Morris Island, firing on Fort Wagner (also known as Battery Wagner) from July to September 1863. Nantucket’s gunfire, and that of the other federal ironclads, played a key role in forcing the evacuation of Fort Wagner on 7 September. Nantucket continued firing on Confederate forts around Charleston Harbor for the rest of the Civil War. She also remained attached to the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron for the duration of the war. She assisted in preventing Confederate monitors from steaming into the Charleston area and was useful in enforcing the Union blockade of the southern coastline. Once the Civil War ended, Nantucket was decommissioned at the Philadelphia Navy Yard on 24 June 1865.

Nantucket remained “in ordinary,” or reserve, for the next ten years. She briefly was renamed Medusa on 15 June 1869, but went back to her old name, Nantucket, on 10 August 1869. The ship was transferred to the Portsmouth Navy Yard, New Hampshire, in 1875 and briefly was re-commissioned from 29 July to 12 December 1882 and from 16 June to 6 October 1884. She patrolled off the northeastern coast of the United States, but then was sent to New York where she was again placed in reserve. Nantucket was transferred to the North Carolina Naval Militia in 1895 and was based at Port Royal, South Carolina, during the Spanish-American War in 1898. Nantucket provided useful service during the war as a coastal defense ship. But monitors were rapidly becoming obsolete and, after the Spanish-American War ended, the ship was decommissioned for the last time. USS Nantucket was sold for scrapping on 14 November 1900.