Figure 1: Steamship Eagle, launched in 1860. This lithograph was published circa 1861. Eagle was acquired by the US Navy in June of that year and became USS Rhode Island. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 2: USS Rhode Island anchored off Newport, Rhode Island, August 1866. This is the way she looked when she served in the US Navy during the Civil War. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 3: Watercolor by Oscar Parkes of USS Monitor. USS Rhode Island came to the assistance of Monitor when they got caught in a terrible storm on the night of 30-31 December 1862 off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. Courtesy of Dr. Oscar Parkes, 1936. US Naval History & Heritage Command Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 4: "The Wreck of the Iron-clad Monitor." Line engraving published in Harper's Weekly, 1863, depicting USS Monitor sinking in a storm off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, on the night of 30-31 December 1862. A boat from USS Rhode Island is taking off crewmen from Monitor while Rhode Island is waiting nearby in the background. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 5: “Loss of USS Monitor, 30-31 December 1862.” Halftone reproduction of a Civil War-era print, copied from the U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, December 1926. USS Rhode Island is standing by in the background, as a boat removes crewmen from the sinking Monitor. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 6: “Steamship Charleston.” Watercolor by Erik Heyl, 1947, painted for use in his book Early American Steamers, Volume I. Originally built as the steamship John P. King, she was badly damaged by fire in December 1860 after trials. Rebuilt and renamed Eagle, she was acquired by the US Navy in June 1861 and served as USS Rhode Island until sold in October 1867. She was subsequently the civilian steamer Charleston. Courtesy of Erik Heyl. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Originally named John P. King and built in 1860 by Lupton & McDermut in New York City, the 1,517-ton wooden side-wheel steamer was damaged by a fire but was rebuilt in early 1861 and re-named Eagle. On 27 June 1861, the ship was acquired by the US Navy, re-named USS Rhode Island, and commissioned at the New York Navy Yard, Brooklyn, New York, on 29 July. Rhode Island was approximately 236 feet long and 36 feet wide, had a top speed of 16 knots, and had a crew of 257 officers and men. She was also armed with four 32-pounder guns.
Rhode Island was initially used as a supply ship, carrying men and cargo from northern bases to federal Army and Navy units operating along the Confederate coastline. She left New York City on her first mission on 31 July 1861 and returned on 2 September. During this cruise, Rhode Island captured the Confederate schooner Venus as it attempted to run the Federal blockade off Galveston, Texas. For the remainder of 1861 and for almost all of 1862, Rhode Island continued her essential supply duties. She left Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on 5 February 1862 and supplied 98 ships with various types of cargo before arriving at Hampton Roads, Virginia, on 18 March. On another voyage, which lasted from 5 April to 20 May 1862, Rhode Island provided supplies to 118 US naval vessels.
Rhode Island was assigned to the US Navy’s Gulf of Mexico Blockading Squadron on 17 April 1862. On 4 July 1862, while serving with this squadron, Rhode Island chased and forced ashore the British schooner and blockade runner Richard O’Bryan near San Luis Pass off Galveston. Shortly after that, Rhode Island returned north and was assigned to tow low-freeboard Union ironclad monitors from Hampton Roads to Beaufort, North Carolina, and Port Royal, South Carolina. On 29 December 1862, Rhode Island left Hampton Roads with the famous warship USS Monitor in tow. As the ships rounded Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, on the evening of 30 December, they encountered a terrible storm. Monitor’s pumps could not control the serious flooding caused by the storm, so the order to “abandon ship” was given. Before Monitor’s crew could be completely transferred to Rhode Island, the ironclad sank, taking four officers and 12 enlisted men with her. But under horrible conditions and raging seas, boats from Rhode Island rescued most of Monitor’s crew. Two of Rhode Island’s crewmen, Ordinary Seaman Luke Griswold and Ordinary Seaman John Jones, were awarded the Medal of Honor for their daring and courageous conduct during the rescue of Monitor’s crew.
On 29 January 1863, Rhode Island was ordered to the West Indies to assist in the search for the Confederate raiders Oreto (eventually re-named Florida) and Alabama. Unable to locate either of these ships, Rhode Island did manage to locate and drive ashore at Stirrup Cay, Bahamas, the Confederate blockade runner Margaret and Jessie on 30 May. Then on 16 August, Rhode Island captured the British blockade runner Cronstadt north of Man of War Bay, Abaco, Bahamas.
Rhode Island arrived at the Boston Navy Yard, Boston, Massachusetts, on 28 March 1864 for a major overhaul. The ship was decommissioned on 21 April and extensive modifications were made to transform the ship into an auxiliary cruiser. She was given one 11-inch gun, eight 8-inch guns, one 30-pounder Parrott gun, and one 12-pounder cannon. Extensive repairs were also made to the ship’s boilers. Once the overhaul was completed, Rhode Island was ordered to tow the ironclad monitor Monadnock from Boston to New York City on 26 September 1864. Rhode Island was re-commissioned on 3 October and then was assigned to the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron.
While steaming along the Confederate part of Atlantic coastline, Rhode Island captured the British blockade runner Vixen on 1 December 1864. Rhode Island left Hampton Roads on 11 December with the monitor Canonicus in tow and joined the amphibious Union task force that was created to attack the major rebel stronghold of Fort Fisher, North Carolina. Rhode Island took part in the first unsuccessful assault on Fort Fisher on 24 December and then participated in the second, successful attack which lasted from 13 to 15 January 1865.
Rhode Island towed the monitor Saugus from Federal Point, North Carolina, to Norfolk, Virginia, on 16 January 1865. She then escorted the seagoing monitor Dictator in March. Shortly after the end of the Civil War in April 1865, Rhode Island traveled to Mobile, Alabama, and returned to Hampton Roads on 22 May.
Unlike many Union warships which were decommissioned after the war, Rhode Island remained in commission. She was given the task of bringing the former Confederate armored ram Stonewall from Havana, Cuba, back to America. Rhode Island left the United States for Cuba on 21 October 1865 and returned on 23 November with the French-built ex-Confederate warship.