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The U.S.S. Hartford–Pride of the Union Navy

USS Hartford
Ethel Bacon, former University Archivist  


The warship U.S.S. Hartford served our country from 1859 until 1926. Over and over again she was repaired, rebuilt, and made ready to sail. She came to a shameful end in 1957. A hundred years before that, in 1857, Congress had authorized construction of five sailing warships with auxiliary seam power. The Hartford was one of them, to be built in the Boston Navy Yard.

Her keel of white oak was laid in January, 1858. Under the direction of naval constructor Edward H. Delano, 350 shipyard workers had her ready for launching by November of that year. She was 265 feet long and 44 feet wide, with a depth below waterline of only 13 feet. With sails set on her three masts she would be a beauty.

Her two steam engines were built in the South Boston shop of Harrison Loring, under the supervision of Jesse Gray, chief engineer in the U.S. Navy. Her tall smokestack was of a unique type which could be partially telescoped when the ship was not using her engines. The Hartford was ready to be commissioned. She had cost the government just over half a million dollars, a lot of money for that time.

After her sea trials in 1859, the Hartford left for her first tour of duty as flagship in the fleet known as the East Indies Squadron. In April 1861, the Confederates attacked Fort Sumter. President Lincoln declared war and proclaimed a blockade of the southern ports from South Carolina to Texas. Later that year the Hartford sailed to the Philadelphia Navy Yard to be dry-docked for minor adjustments and for the addition of more guns.

In Washington a plan was brewing with the goal of capturing New Orleans, ninety miles up the Mississippi River from the Gulf of Mexico. If the North controlled the Mississippi, the Confederacy would be split in two. The plan required a man who was loyal to the Union, acquainted with the Mississippi River, and who had years of experience at sea. That man was Captain Farragut.

James Glasgow Farragut was born on July 5, 1801, at Campbell's Station, Tennessee. When a friend of the family, David Porter, Sr., became ill, he was cared for by Farragut's mother, Elizabeth. She died in 1808 in the Asiatic cholera epidemic in New Orleans, while caring for Porter. Farragut's father, a sea captain, and his older brother, a midshipman, were leaving to go off to sea. The three remaining children, two girls and Glasgow, would be looked after by a nanny. In appreciation of what the Farragut had done for his father, Captain David Porter, Jr. offered to take one of the three children.

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