USS Minnesota (1855)

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Minnesota at Hampton-Roads in 1862
Union Navy Jack United States
NameUSS Minnesota
NamesakeThe Minnesota River
BuilderWashington Navy Yard, Washington, D.C.
Laid downMay 1854
Launched1 December 1855
Sponsored bySusan L. Mann
Commissioned21 May 1857
Decommissioned2 June 1859
Recommissioned2 May 1861
Decommissioned16 February 1865
Recommissioned3 June 1867
Out of servicePlaced in ordinary 13 January 1868
Recommissioned12 June 1875
Out of serviceLoaned to Massachusetts Naval Militia October 1895-August 1901
FateSold August 1901; later burned
General characteristics
TypeScrew frigate[1]
Displacement3,307 long tons (3,360 t)
Length264 ft 9 in (80.70 m)[1]
Beam51 ft 4 in (15.65 m)[1]
Draft23 ft 10 in (7.26 m)[1]
PropulsionSteam engine
Sail planShip Rig[1]
Speed12.5 knots[1]
Complement646 officers and enlisted[1]
  • 2 × 10 in (250 mm) guns
  • 28 × 9 in (230 mm) guns
  • 14 × 8 in (200 mm) guns

USS Minnesota was a wooden steam frigate in the United States Navy. Launched in 1855 and commissioned eighteen months later, the ship served in east Asia for two years before being decommissioned. She was recommissioned at the outbreak of the American Civil War and returned to service as the flagship of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron.[2]

During the first day of the Battle of Hampton Roads on 8 March 1862, Minnesota ran aground, and the following battle badly damaged her and inflicted many casualties. On the second day of the battle, USS Monitor engaged CSS Virginia, allowing tugs to free Minnesota on the morning of 10 March. Minnesota was repaired and returned to duty, and three years later she participated in the Second Battle of Fort Fisher. Minnesota served until 1898, when she was stricken, beached and burnt to recover her metal fittings and to clear her name for a newly-ordered battleship, USS Minnesota (BB-22).

Construction and early duties[edit]

A cast brass bell from the U.S.S. Minnesota is engraved "MINNESOTA / U.S.W.N.Y. 1856" Image from the collection of the Minnesota Historical Society

Minnesota was laid down in May 1854 by the Washington Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. She was launched on 1 December 1855, sponsored by Susan L. Mann, and commissioned on 21 May 1857 with Captain Samuel Francis Du Pont in command.

Minnesota was named for the Minnesota River. Her sister ships were also named for rivers: the Wabash (first in class), Colorado, Merrimack (salvaged and renamed Virginia by the Confederate Navy), and the Roanoke (later converted to a monitor-type).

Minnesota, carrying William B. Reed, U.S. Minister to China, departed from Norfolk, Virginia, on 1 July 1857 for East Asia. During her service with the East India Squadron, she visited many of the principal ports of China and Japan before departing Hong Kong to bring Reed home with a newly-negotiated commerce treaty, the Treaty of Tianjin, with China. Upon arrival in Boston, Massachusetts, on 2 June 1859, Minnesota was decommissioned at the Boston Navy Yard in Charlestown, Massachusetts, the same day and remained in ordinary until the outbreak of the American Civil War in April 1861.

Civil War[edit]

Minnesota was recommissioned on 2 May 1861, Captain G. J. Van Brunt in command, and became flagship of the Atlantic Blockading Squadron, commanded by Flag Officer Silas Stringham. She arrived at Hampton Roads, Virginia, on 13 May and the next day captured the schooners Mary Willis, Delaware Farmer, and Emily Ann. Minnesota took the bark Winfred on the 25th and the bark Sally McGee on 26 June. Schooner Sally Mears became her prize 1 July and bark Mary Warick struck her colors to the steam frigate on the 10th.

Minnesota (center) and other Union warships bombard Confederate forts at Hatteras Inlet

Minnesota led a joint Army-Navy expedition, known as the Battle of Hatteras Inlet Batteries, against two important Confederate forts which had been erected at Hatteras Inlet, North Carolina. The squadron opened fire on Fort Clark on the morning of 28 August 1861, forcing the Confederate gunners to abandon the fort at noon. The following day, the fire of the squadron was concentrated on Fort Hatteras. The bombardment was so effective the Confederates were compelled to seek cover in bomb shelters and surrendered.

When Flag Officer Louis M. Goldsborough relieved Stringham in command of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron on 23 September, he selected Minnesota as his flagship. William B. Cushing, later to distinguish himself for sinking the Confederate ironclad CSS Albemarle, was assigned as a junior officer to the Minnesota.

Battle of Hampton Roads[edit]

While blockading off Hampton Roads, 8 March 1862, Minnesota sighted three Confederate ships, Jamestown, Patrick Henry, and Virginia—the former Merrimack, rebuilt and protected by iron plates—rounding Sewell's Point and heading toward Newport News, Virginia.[3] Minnesota slipped her cables and got underway to engage the southern warships in a fight that would come to be known as the Battle of Hampton Roads. When about 1.5 miles from Newport News, Minnesota grounded.[3]

Meanwhile, Virginia passed frigate Congress and rammed and sank sloop-of-war Cumberland. Virginia then engaged Congress compelling her to surrender and setting her alight. Then Virginia, Jamestown, and Patrick Henry bombarded Minnesota killing and wounding several of her crew before the Union warship's heavy guns drove them off. Minnesota also fired upon Virginia with her pivot gun. Toward twilight the Southern ironclad withdrew toward Norfolk.[3]

The recoil from her broadside guns forced Minnesota further upon the mud bank. All night tugs worked to haul her off, but to no avail. However, during the night USS Monitor arrived. "All on board felt we had a friend that would stand by us in our hour of trial," wrote Captain Gershom Jacques Van Brunt, the vessel's commander, in his official report the day after the engagement.[4] Early the next morning Virginia reappeared. As the range closed, Monitor, steaming between Minnesota and the iron-clad, fired gun after gun, and Virginia returned fire with whole broadsides, neither with much apparent effect. Virginia, finding she could not hurt Monitor, turned her attention to Minnesota, who answered with all guns.[3] Virginia fired from her rifled bow gun a shell which passed through the chief engineer's stateroom, through the engineers' mess room, amidships, and burst in the boatswain's room, exploding two charges of powder, starting a fire which was promptly extinguished.

At midday Virginia withdrew toward Norfolk, and the Union Navy resumed its efforts to refloat Minnesota. Early the next morning steamer S. R. Spaulding and several tugs managed to refloat the frigate, and she anchored opposite Fort Monroe for temporary repairs.

Seven African-American sailors manned the forward gun of the vessel. This black crew mustered in at Boston, Massachusetts, and included William Brown, Charles Johnson, George Moore, George H. Roberts, George Sales, William H. White and Henry Williams.[4]

During the two-day engagement, Minnesota shot off 78 rounds of 10-inch solid shot; 67 rounds of 10-inch solid shot with 15-second fuse; 169 rounds of 9-inch solid shot; 180 9-inch shells with 15-second fuse; 35 8-inch shells with 15-second fuse and 5,567.5 pounds of service powder.[4]

Battles of Fort Fisher[edit]

For the next few years she served as flagship of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron. During the Battle of Suffolk on 14 April 1863, four of Minnesota's sailors, Coxswains Robert Jordan and Robert B. Wood and Seamen Henry Thielberg and Samuel Woods, earned the Medal of Honor while temporarily assigned to the USS Mount Washington.[5] While anchored off Newport News on 9 April 1864, Minnesota was attacked by Confederate torpedo boat Squib, which exploded a torpedo charge alongside without causing damage and escaped.

On 24 and 25 December, Minnesota took part in amphibious operations at Fort Fisher which guarded Wilmington, North Carolina (the First Battle of Fort Fisher). During the landings she took a position about a mile from the fort and laid down a devastating barrage on the Confederate stronghold. However, General Benjamin F. Butler withdrew his troops, nullifying the gains won by the joint Army-Navy effort. Three weeks later the Union Navy returned Federal Troops, now commanded by the more vigorous General Alfred Terry, to Fort Fisher (the Second Battle of Fort Fisher). A landing force of 240 men from Minnesota, covered by a barrage from their own ship, participated in the successful assault. This operation closed Wilmington, denying the Confederacy the use of this invaluable port.

During the Second Battle of Fort Fisher, nine sailors and Marines from the Minnesota earned the Medal of Honor as part of the landing party which assaulted the fort. The nine men were:[6][7]


Date[1] Prize Name[1] Gross Proceeds Costs and Expenses Amount for Distribution Where Adjudicated Sent to 4th Auditor for Distribution Vessels Entitled to Share
14 May 1861 Mary Willis Released[8][9]
14 May 1861 North Carolina
15 May 1861 J.H. Etheridge Released[10][9]
15 May 1861 William Henry Released[10][9]
15 May 1861 William & John Released[9]
15 May 1861 Mary Released[9]
15 May 1861 Industry
15 May 1861 Belle Conway Released[10][9]
17 May 1861 Star
17 May 1861 Crenshaw
17 May 1861 Almira Ann
20 May 1861 Hiawatha
20 May 1861 Tropic Wind
22 May 1861 Arcola
25 May 1861 Pioneer
27 May 1861 Iris
27 May 1861 Catherine
26 Jun 1861 Sally Magee
1 Jul 1861 Sally Mears
10 Jul 1861 Amy Warwick
11 Jan 1864 Vesta destroyed[1]
11 Jan 1864 Ranger destroyed[1]

Later service[edit]

Ordered to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Minnesota was decommissioned on 16 February 1865. She was recommissioned on 3 June 1867 and made a cruise with midshipmen to Europe. She was placed in ordinary at the New York Navy Yard on 13 January 1868. Recommissioned on 12 June 1875, she remained at the New York Navy Yard as a gunnery and training ship for naval apprentices.

In 1881 she was transferred to Newport, Rhode Island where she served as the flagship of the US Navy Training Squadron. From 1881 to 1884 she was commanded by Captain Stephen Luce who founded the Naval War College in 1884. The warship took part in dedication ceremonies for the Brooklyn Bridge on 24 May 1883.

Three sailors assigned to Minnesota were awarded the Medal of Honor during this period: Captain of the Top William Lowell Hill and Ship's Cook Adam Weissel for rescuing fellow sailors from drowning in separate 1881 incidents, and Second Class Boy John Lucy for his actions during a fire at the Castle Garden immigration facility in 1876.[11]

In October 1895, Minnesota was loaned to the Massachusetts Naval Militia, continuing that duty until August 1901 when she was sold to Thomas Butler & Company of Boston. She eventually was burned to salvage her iron fittings at Eastport, Maine.

See also[edit]


• Silverstone, Paul H. Warships of the Civil War Navies Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD, 1989, ISBN 0-87021-783-6.

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Silverstone, Warships, p. 28.
  2. ^ Evans, Mark L. (10 August 2015). "USS Minnesota I (Frigate)". The Navy Department Library (online). Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Washington D.C.: Naval History and Heritage Command. Retrieved 20 August 2022. Displacement 3,307; length 264' 8½"; beam 51'4"; draft 23'4"; speed 9¼ knots; complement 540; armament one 10-inch smoothbore, 26 9-inch, 14 8-inch; class Minnesota
  3. ^ a b c d Van Brunt, G.J. (10 March 1862). "Report of Captain Van Brunt, U.S. Navy, commanding the steam frigate USS Minnesota". The Navy Department Library (online). Washington D.C.: Naval History and Heritage Command. Retrieved 20 August 2022. On Saturday, the 8th instant, at 12:45 p.m., three small steamers, in appearance, were discovered rounding Sewell's Point… I was convinced that one was the iron-plated steam battery Merrimack, from the large size of her smoke pipe… I immediately called all hands, slipped my cables, and got underway for that point to engage her… We ran without further difficulty within about 1½ miles of Newport News, and there, unfortunately, grounded… Merrimack had passed the frigate Congress and run into the sloop-of-war Cumberland, and in fifteen minutes after, I saw the latter going down by the head. The Merrimack then hauled off, taking a position, and about 2:30 p.m. engaged the Congress, throwing shot and shell into her with terrific effect, while the shot from the Congress glanced from her iron-plated sloping sides without doing any apparent damage. At 3:30 p.m. the Congress was compelled to haul down her colors… At 4 p.m. the Merrimack, Jamestown, and Patrick Henry bore down upon my vessel… but with the heavy gun that I could bring to bear upon them I drove them off, one of them apparently in a crippled condition. I fired upon the Merrimack with my pivot 10-inch gun without apparent effect, and at 7 p.m. she too hauled off and all three vessels steamed toward Norfolk… At 2 a.m. the iron battery Monitor, Commander [Lt.] John L. Worden, which had arrived the previous evening at Hampton Roads, came alongside and reported for duty, and then all on board felt that we had a friend that would stand by us in our hour of trial. At 6 a.m. the enemy again appeared… All hands were called to quarters, and when she approached within a mile of us I opened upon her with my stern guns and made signal to the Monitor to attack the enemy. She immediately… laid herself right alongside of the Merrimack, and the contrast was that of a pigmy to a giant. Gun after gun was fired by the Monitor, which was returned with whole broadsides from the rebels with no more effect, apparently, than so many pebblestones thrown by a child… In the meantime the rebel was pouring broadside after broadside, but almost all her shot flew over the little submerged propeller, and when they struck the bomb-proof tower, the shot glanced off without producing any effect, clearly establishing the fact that wooden vessels can not contend successfully with ironclad ones… The Merrimack, finding that she could make nothing of the Monitor, turned her attention once more to me. In the morning she had put a 11-inch shot under my counter near the water line, and now, on her second approach, I opened upon her with all my broadside guns and 10-inch pivot a broadside which would have blown out of the water any timber-built ship in the world. She returned my fire with her rifled bow gun with a shell… This time I had concentrated upon her an incessant fire from my gun deck, spar deck, and forecastle pivot guns, and was informed by my marine officer, who was stationed on the poop, that at least fifty solid shot struck her on her slanting side without producing any apparent effect. By the time she had fired her third shell the little Monitor had come down upon her, placing herself between us, and compelled her to change her position, in doing which she grounded, and again I poured into her all the guns which could be brought to bear upon her. As soon as she got off she stood down the bay, the little battery chasing her with all speed, when suddenly the Merrimack turned around and ran full speed into her antagonist. For a moment I was anxious, but instantly I saw a shot plunge into the iron roof of the Merrimack; which surely must have damaged her… Soon after the Merrimack and the two other steamers headed for my ship… I had expended most of my solid shot and my ship was badly crippled and my officers and men were worn out with fatigue, but even then… I ordered every preparation to be made to destroy the ship after all hope was gone to save her. On ascending the poop deck I observed that the enemy's vessels had changed their course and were heading for Craney Island… At 2 a.m. this morning I succeeded in getting the ship once more afloat, and am now at anchor opposite Fortress Monroe.
  4. ^ a b c The Monitor, The Merrimack...the U.S.S. Minnesota?
  5. ^ Record of Medals of Honor issued to the officers and enlisted men of the United States Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. Washington: United States Government Printing Office. 1917. pp. 63–4, 112–3, 124.
  6. ^ "Civil War Medal of Honor Recipients (A–L)". Medal of Honor Citations. United States Army Center of Military History. 6 August 2009. Archived from the original on 2 September 2012. Retrieved 10 August 2009.
  7. ^ "Civil War Medal of Honor Recipients (M–Z)". Medal of Honor Citations. United States Army Center of Military History. 3 August 2009. Archived from the original on 23 February 2009. Retrieved 10 August 2009.
  8. ^ Release of Prizes, The Philadelphia Inquirer, 27 May 1861, page 2, retrieved 16 August 2017 at
  9. ^ a b c d e f Philadelphia and the Navy Department, The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) 16 December 1861, page 8, retrieved 16 August 2017 at
  10. ^ a b c Arrival of Released Schooners, The Philadelphia Inquirer, 28 May 1861, page 1, retrieved 16 August 2017 at
  11. ^ "Medal of Honor recipients – Interim Awards, 1871–1898". Medal of Honor citations. United States Army Center of Military History. 5 August 2010. Retrieved 11 August 2010.