Station 5: American Naval History 1776 – 1865


The history of the United States Navy divides into two major periods: the “Old Navy”, a small but respected force of sailing ships that was also notable for innovation in the use of ironclads during the American Civil War, and the “New Navy”, the result of a modernization effort that began in the 1880s and eventually made the U.S. Navy the most powerful in the world.  The Martime Museum Exhibit will emphasize the “old navy” period.

The U.S. Navy recognizes 13 October 1775 as the date of the official establishment of the Navy, when the Continental Congress passed a resolution creating the Continental Navy. Soon after the Revolutionary War the ships of the Navy were sold off and the Navy was disbanded. Eleven years later, conflicts between American merchant shipping and pirates in the Mediterranean sea led to the Naval Act of 1794, which created the United States Navy. The original six frigates of the United States Navy were authorized as part of the Act. During the next 20 years the United States Navy fought the French Navy in the Quasi-War, Barbary states in the First and Second Barbary Wars, and the British in the War of 1812. After the War of 1812, the Navy was at peace until the Mexican-American war in 1846, and served to combat piracy in the Mediterranean and Caribbean seas, and the slave trade. During this period the United States Naval Academy was founded in 1845. In 1861, the American Civil War began and the United States Navy fought the small Confederate Navy with both sailing ships and ironclad ships while forming a blockade on the confederacy. After the Civil war most of the ships were laid up in reserve and by 1878 the Navy shrank to only 6,000 men.

Continental Navy

The Continental Navy was the navy of the United States during the American Revolutionary War, and was formed in 1775. Through the efforts of the Continental Navy’s patron, John Adams and vigorous Congressional support in the face of stiff opposition, the fleet cumulatively became relatively substantial when considering the limitations imposed upon the Patriot supply pool.

The main goal of the navy was to intercept shipments of British matériel and generally disrupt British maritime commercial operations. Because of the lack of funding, manpower and resources, the initial fleet consisted of converted merchantmen, with exclusively-designed warships being built later in the conflict. Of the vessels that successfully made it to sea, their success was rare and the effort contributed little to the overall outcome of the rebellion.

The fleet did serve to highlight a few examples of Continental resolve, notably launching Captain John Paul Jones into the limelight. It provided needed experience for a generation of officers who would later go on to command future conflicts which involved the early American navy.

With the war over and the Federal government in high demand of all available capital, the final vessel of the Continental Navy was auctioned off in 1785 to a private bidder.

Privateers in the American Revolution by John Frayler, Salem Maritime National Historic Site

When the American colonies declared their independence from Great Britain, the infant nation was in no position to defy British rule of the seas. Britain’s navy in 1776 was the world’s most powerful. States individually outfitted vessels of war and Congress established a navy, but it was a slow beginning. At no point in the conflict did the American naval forces have adequate resources to confront the Royal Navy on its own terms. The Royal Navy—once the protector of American shipping—now made every effort to suppress and destroy it. The Americans responded to the situation with the time-honored practice of privateering. American privateering activity during the American Revolution became an industry born of necessity that encouraged patriotic private citizens to harass British shipping while risking their lives and resources for financial gain.

European governments regularly issued documents known as Letters of Marque and Reprisal to legitimize privately outfitted men-of-war. In a tradition dating back to the Middle Ages, under highly regulated conditions, these documents authorized private parties to attack enemy vessels. Without the documentation, these same activities were considered acts of piracy and subject to prosecution. If a privateer captured an enemy ship (known as a prize), an admiralty prize court had to approve the seizure. Then, the proceeds from the sale of the prize and its cargo were shared among the owners and crew of the privateer according to a pre-arranged contract.

Privateering encompassed two levels of participation. A Letter of Marque authorized armed merchant ships to challenge any likely enemy vessel that crossed its path during the course of a commercial voyage. A Privateer Commission was issued to vessels, called privateers or cruisers, whose primary objective was to disrupt enemy shipping. The ideal target was an unarmed, or lightly armed, commercial ship.
With the passage of an act on March 23, 1776, the Continental Congress formalized the commissioning process, and uniform rules of conduct were established. Owners of privateers had to post monetary bonds to ensure their proper conduct under the regulations.

Although the documentation is incomplete, about 1,700 Letters of Marque, issued on a per-voyage basis, were granted during the American Revolution. Nearly 800 vessels were commissioned as privateers and are credited with capturing or destroying about 600 British ships.

Vessels of every size and description were pressed into service as privateers. At the upper end of the scale was the 600-ton, 26-gun ship Caesar of Boston. At the other end was the 8-ton boat Defense of Falmouth, Massachusetts. Crews ranged from a few men in a whaleboat to more than 200 aboard a large, fully equipped privateer. Two-masted schooners and brigantines were most often used in privateering, reflecting the kind of vessels available to American seamen.

Home ports for vessels operating as privateers and Letters of Marque included Portsmouth, New Hampshire; Boston, Salem, Beverly and Newburyport in Massachusetts; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Baltimore, Maryland; New London, New Haven, Norwich and Wethersfield, Connecticut; Providence, Rhode Island; and Richmond, Virginia.

Privateers achieved the best results if they could bluff an opponent into believing opposition was futile. When this failed the result was often vicious combat with unpredictable results. Many privateers were captured or sunk when the odds were against them. In spite of all the risks and hazards, the overall effort to cripple Britain’s commercial fleet was highly effective, and fortunes destined to finance the new republic were made. It is estimated that the total damage to British shipping by American privateers was about $18 million by the end of the war, or just over $302 million in today’s dollars.


Post Revolutionary War Period

In August 1785, after the Revolutionary War drew to a close, Congress had sold Alliance, the last ship remaining in the Continental Navy due to a lack of funds to maintain the ship or support a navy.[1][2] From then until 1797, the United States’ only armed maritime service was the Revenue Marine, founded in 1790 at the prompting of Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton.[3][4] In the same year, 1785, two American merchant ships had been captured by Algiers and then Minister to France Thomas Jefferson began to urge the need for an American naval force to protect their passage through the Mediterranean. Jefferson’s recommendations were initially met with indifference. However, Congress in 1786, and the Senate in 1791, discussed various proposals for a naval force, including estimates of costs for building frigates, but none were acted upon.[4] Only in 1793 when Algiers had captured eleven additional merchant ships was a proposal finally taken seriously.[2][5]

A bill was presented to the House of Representatives on 20 January 1794 providing for the construction of four ships to carry forty-four guns each, and two ships to carry thirty-six guns each — by purchase or otherwise. The bill also provided pay and sustenance for naval officers and sailors and outlined how each ship should be manned in order to operate them. Opposition to the bill was strong and a clause was added that should peace be established with Algiers the construction of the ships was to cease.[5]

Piracy had not been a problem when America was part of the British Empire; the Royal Navy protected American vessels, since they belonged to subjects of the British Crown. After the American Revolutionary War, however, that protection was lost, and many foreign powers found that they could harass American merchant ships with impunity. Indeed, once the French Revolution started, Britain also started interdicting American merchant ships and there was little the fledgling American government could do about it. This was a major philosophical shift for the young Republic, many of whose leaders felt that a Navy would be too expensive to raise and maintain, too imperialistic, and would unnecessarily provoke the European powers. In the end, however, it was felt necessary to protect American interests at sea.

In March 1796, as construction of the frigates slowly progressed, a peace accord was announced between the United States and Algiers. In accordance with clause nine of the Naval Act of 1794, a clause that specifically directed that construction of the frigates be discontinued if peace was established, construction on all six ships was halted. After some debate and prompting by President Washington, Congress passed an act on 20 April 1796 allowing the construction and funding to continue only on the three ships nearest to completion: United States,[6] Constellation[7] and Constitution.[8][9][10]

By late 1798 however, France began to seize American merchant vessels and the attempt at a diplomatic resolution had resulted in the XYZ Affair, prompting Congress to approve funds for completion of the remaining three frigates: President,[11]Congress[12] and Chesapeake.[13]

During the next 20 years the United States Navy fought the French Navy in the Quasi-War.  The Quasi-War was an undeclared war fought mostly at sea between the United States and French Republic from 1798 to 1800. In the United States, the conflict was sometimes also referred to as the Franco-American War, the Undeclared War with France, the Undeclared Naval War, the Pirate Wars, or the Half-War.

Barbary Pirates

The First Barbary War (1801–1805), also known as the Barbary Coast War or the Tripolitan War, was the first of two wars fought between the United States and the North African Berber Muslim states known collectively as the Barbary States. These were the independent Sultanate of Morocco, Algiers and Tripoli, which were quasi-independent entities nominally belonging to the Ottoman Empire (except for Morocco which was always fully independent).

Pirate ships and crews from the North Africa’s Berber states of Morocco, Tripoli, Tunis, and Algiers (the Barbary Coast), although nominally governed by the Ottoman Empire, were the scourge of the Mediterranean. Capturing merchant ships and enslaving or ransoming their crews provided the Muslim rulers of these nations with wealth and naval power. In fact, the Roman Catholic Trinitarian Order or Order of “Mathurins” had operated from France for centuries with the special mission of collecting and disbursing funds for the relief and ransom of prisoners of Mediterranean pirates.

The war stemmed from the Barbary pirates’ attacks upon American merchant shipping in an attempt to extort ransom for the lives of captured sailors, and ultimately tribute from the United States to avoid further attacks, much like their standard operating procedure with the various European states.[1] Before the Treaty of Paris, which granted America’s independence from Great Britain, American shipping was protected by France during the Revolutionary years under the Treaty of Alliance (1778–1783). Although the treaty does not mention the Barbary States in name, it refers to common enemies between both the U.S. and France, which would include the Barbary States or pirates in general. As such, piracy against American shipping only began to occur after the end of the American Revolution, when the U.S. government lost its protection under the Treaty of Alliance.

This lapse of protection by a European power led to the first American merchant shipping seized after the Treaty of Paris. On October 11, 1784, Moroccan pirates seized the brigantine Betsey.[2] This first act of piracy against the U.S. ended in a positive light, as the Spanish government negotiated the freedom of the captured ship and crew; however, Spain offered advice to the United States over how to deal with the Barbary States. The advice was to offer tribute to prevent further attacks against merchant ships. The U.S. Minister to France, Thomas Jefferson, decided to send envoys to Morocco and Algeria to try to purchase treaties and the freedoms of the captured sailors held by Algeria.[3] Morocco was the first Barbary Coast state to sign a treaty with the U.S. on June 23, 1786. This treaty formally ended all Moroccan piracy against American shipping interests. Specifically, Article 6 of the treaty states that if any captured Americans, be it done by Moroccans or by other Barbary Coast states dock at a Moroccan city, said Americans would be set free and be under the protection of the Moroccan state.[4]

American diplomatic action with Algeria, the other major Barbary Coast state, was much less successful than with Morocco. Algeria began piracy against the U.S. on July 25, 1785 with the capture of the schooner Maria and the Dauphin a week later.[5] All four Barbary Coast states demanded a sum of $660,000 compared to the limited allocated budget of $40,000 given to the envoys to achieve peace.[6] Diplomatic talks to achieve a reasonable sum for tribute or for the ransom of the captured sailors struggled to reach any headway. The crews of the Maria and Dauphin remained in captivity for over a decade, and soon were joined by other ships captured by the Barbary States.[7] In 1795, Algeria came to an agreement with the U.S. that resulted in the release of 115 sailors they held, at the cost of over $1 million. This amount totaled about 16 of the entire U.S. budget,[8] and this amount was demanded as tribute by the Barbary States to prevent further piracy. The continuing demand for tribute ultimately led to the formation of the United States Department of the Navy, founded in 1798[9] in order to prevent further piracy attacks upon American shipping as well as to end the extremely large demand for tribute from the Barbary States.

Various letters and testimonies by captured sailors described their captivity as a form of slavery, even though Barbary Coast imprisonment was different from slavery practiced by the U.S. and European powers of the time.[10] Barbary Coast prisoners were able to obtain wealth and property, along with achieving status beyond that of a slave. One such example was James Leander Cathcart, who rose to the highest position a Christian slave could achieve in Algeria, ending up as an adviser to the Algerian Dey, or king.[11] Even so, most captives were pressed into hard labor in the service of the Barbary pirates, and struggled under extremely poor conditions that exposed them to vermin and disease. As word of the poor treatment reached back to the U.S., through freed captives’ narratives or letters, American civilians were pushing for direct action by the government to stop the piracy against U.S. ships.

In March 1785, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams went to London to negotiate with Tripoli’s envoy, Ambassador Sidi Haji Abdrahaman (or Sidi Haji Abdul Rahman Adja). Upon inquiring “concerning the ground of the pretensions to make war upon nations who had done them no injury”, the ambassador replied:

It was written in their Qu’ran, that all nations which had not acknowledged the Prophet were sinners, whom it was the right and duty of the faithful to plunder and enslave; and that every Muslim who was slain in this warfare was sure to go to paradise. He said, also, that the man who was the first to board a vessel had one slave over and above his share, and that when they sprang to the deck of an enemy’s ship, every sailor held a dagger in each hand and a third in his mouth; which usually struck such terror into the foe that they cried out for quarter at once. [12]

Jefferson reported the conversation to Secretary of Foreign Affairs John Jay, who submitted the Ambassador’s comments and offer to Congress. Jefferson argued that paying tribute would encourage more attacks. Although John Adams agreed with Jefferson, he believed that circumstances forced the U.S. to pay tribute until an adequate navy could be built. The U.S. had just fought an exhausting war, which put the nation deep in debt. Federalist and Anti-Federalist forces argued over the needs of the country and the burden of taxation. Jefferson’s own Democratic-Republicans and anti-navalists believed that the future of the country lay in westward expansion, with Atlantic trade threatening to siphon money and energy away from the new nation on useless wars in the Old World.[13] The U.S. paid Algiers the ransom, and continued to pay up to $1 million per year over the next 15 years for the safe passage of American ships or the return of American hostages. Payments in ransom and tribute to the privateering states amounted to 20% of the U.S. government’s annual revenues in 1800.[citation needed]

Jefferson continued to argue for cessation of the tribute, with rising support from George Washington and others. With the recommissioning of the American navy in 1794 and the resulting increased firepower on the seas, it became increasingly possible for America to refuse paying tribute, although by now the long-standing habit was hard to overturn.

“Immediately prior to Jefferson’s inauguration in 1801, Congress passed naval legislation that, among other things, provided for six frigates that ‘shall be officered and manned as the President of the United States may direct.’ . . . In the event of a declaration of war on the United States by the Barbary powers, these ships were to ‘protect our commerce& chastise their insolence — by sinking, burning or destroying their ships& Vessels wherever you shall find them.'”[14] On Jefferson’s inauguration as president in 1801, Yusuf Karamanli, the Pasha (or Bashaw) of Tripoli, demanded $225,000 from the new administration. (In 1800, Federal revenues totaled a little over $10 million.) Putting his long-held beliefs into practice, Jefferson refused the demand. Consequently, in May 1801, the Pasha declared war on the U.S., not through any formal written documents but in the customary Barbary manner of cutting down the flagstaff in front of the U.S. Consulate. Algiers and Tunis did not follow their ally in Tripoli.

In response, “Jefferson sent a small force to the area to protect American ships and citizens against potential aggression, but insisted that he was ‘unauthorized by the Constitution, without the sanction of Congress, to go beyond the line of defense.'”[14] He told Congress: “I communicate [to you] all material information on this subject, that in the exercise of this important function confided by the Constitution to the Legislature exclusively their judgment may form itself on a knowledge and consideration of every circumstance of weight.'”[14] Although Congress never voted on a formal declaration of war, they did authorize the President to instruct the commanders of armed American vessels to seize all vessels and goods of the Pasha of Tripoli “and also to cause to be done all such other acts of precaution or hostility as the state of war will justify.”

The schooner USS Enterprise defeated the 14-gun Tripolitan corsair Tripoli after a fierce but one-sided battle on August 1, 1801.

In 1802, in response to Jefferson’s request for authority to deal with the pirates, Congress passed “An act for the Protection of Commerce and seamen of the United States against the Tripolitan cruisers”, authorizing the President to “… employ such of the armed vessels of the United States as may be judged requisite … for protecting effectually the commerce and seamen thereof on the Atlantic ocean, the Mediterranean and adjoining seas.”[15] “The statute authorized American ships to seize vessels belonging to the Bey of Tripoli, with the captured property distributed to those who brought the vessels into port.”[14]

The U.S Navy went unchallenged on the sea, but still the question remained undecided. Jefferson pressed the issue the following year, with an increase in military force and deployment of many of the Navy’s best ships to the region throughout 1802. The USS Argus, Chesapeake, Constellation, Constitution, Enterprise, Intrepid, Philadelphia and Syren all saw service during the war under the overall command of Commodore Edward Preble. Throughout 1803, Preble set up and maintained a blockade of the Barbary ports and executed a campaign of raids and attacks against the cities’ fleets.

In October 1803, Tripoli’s fleet was able to capture USS Philadelphia intact after the frigate ran aground while patrolling Tripoli harbor. Efforts by the Americans to float the ship while under fire from shore batteries and Tripolitan naval units failed. The ship, its captain, William Bainbridge, and all officers and crew were taken ashore and held as hostages. Philadelphia was turned against the Americans and anchored in the harbor as a gun battery.

On the night of February 16, 1804, Lieutenant Stephen Decatur led a small contingent of the U.S.’s first Marines in the captured Tripolitan ketch rechristened USS Intrepid, to deceive the guards on board Philadelphia and float close enough to board the captured ship. Decatur’s men stormed the vessel and overpowered the Tripolitan sailors standing guard. With support from American ships, the Marines set fire to Philadelphia, denying her use to the enemy. The bravery in action of Lieutenant Stephen Decatur made him one of the first American military heroes since the Revolutionary War. The British Admiral Horatio Nelson, himself known as a man of action and bravery, is said to have called this “the most bold and daring act of the age.[16]

Preble attacked Tripoli outright on July 14, 1804, in a series of inconclusive battles, including a courageous but unsuccessful attack by the fire ship USS Intrepid under Captain Richard Somers. Intrepid, packed with explosives, was to enter Tripoli harbor and destroy itself and the enemy fleet; it was destroyed, perhaps by enemy guns, before achieving that goal, killing Somers and his crew.[citation needed]

The turning point in the war came with the Battle of Derna (April–May 1805). Ex-consul William Eaton, who went by the rank of general, and US Marine First Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon led a mixed force of eight United States Marines[17] and 500 Greek, Arab, and Berber mercenaries on a march across the desert from Alexandria, Egypt to assault and to capture the Tripolitan city of Derna. This was the first time in history that the United States flag was raised in victory on foreign soil. This action was memorialized in a line from the Marines’ Hymn—”the shores of Tripoli.” [18]

Wearied of the blockade and raids, and now under threat of a continued advance on Tripoli proper and a scheme to restore his deposed older brother Hamet Karamanli as ruler, Yussif Karamanli signed a treaty ending hostilities on June 4, 1805. Article 2 of the Treaty reads:

The Bashaw of Tripoli shall deliver up to the American Squadron now off Tripoli, all the Americans in his possession; and all the Subjects of the Bashaw of Tripoli now in the power of the United States of America shall be delivered up to him; and as the number of Americans in possession of the Bashaw of Tripoli amounts to Three Hundred Persons, more or less; and the number of Tripolino Subjects in the power of the Americans to about, One Hundred more or less; The Bashaw of Tripoli shall receive from the United States of America, the sum of Sixty Thousand Dollars, as a payment for the difference between the Prisoners herein mentioned.

In agreeing to pay a ransom of $60,000 for the American prisoners, the Jefferson administration drew a distinction between paying tribute and paying ransom. At the time, some argued that buying sailors out of slavery was a fair exchange to end the war. William Eaton, however, remained bitter for the rest of his life about the treaty, feeling that his efforts had been squandered by the State Department diplomat Tobias Lear. Eaton and others felt that the capture of Derne should have been used as a bargaining chip to obtain the release of all American prisoners without having to pay ransom. Furthermore, Eaton believed the honor of the United States had been compromised when it abandoned Hamet Karamanli after promising to restore him as leader of Tripoli. Eaton’s complaints generally fell on deaf ears, especially as attention turned to the strained international relations which would ultimately lead to the War of 1812.[citation needed]

The First Barbary War was beneficial to the military reputation of the U.S. America’s military command and war mechanism had been up to that time relatively untested. The First Barbary War showed that America could execute a war far from home, and that American forces had the cohesion to fight together as Americans rather than separately as Georgians or New Yorkers. The United States Navy and Marines became a permanent part of the American government and American history, and Decatur returned to the U.S. as its first post-Revolutionary war hero.[citation needed]

However, the more immediate problem of Barbary piracy was not fully settled. By 1807, Algiers had gone back to taking American ships and seamen hostage. Distracted by the preludes to the War of 1812, the U.S. was unable to respond to the provocation until 1815, with the Second Barbary War, in which naval victories by Commodores William Bainbridge and Stephen Decatur led to treaties ending all tribute payments by the U.S.[19]


War of 1812.

After the War of 1812, the Navy was at peace until the Mexican-American war in 1846, and served to combat piracy in the Mediterranean and Caribbean seas, and the slave trade. During this period the United States Naval Academy was founded in 1845. In 1861, the American Civil War began and the United States Navy fought the small Confederate Navy with both sailing ships and ironclad ships while forming a blockade on the confederacy. After the Civil war most of the ships were laid up in reserve and by 1878 the Navy shrank to only 6,000 men.

The War of 1812 was a military conflict fought between the forces of the United States of America and those of the British Empire.[nb 2] The Americans declared war in 1812 for a number of reasons, including a desire for expansion into the Northwest Territory, trade restrictions because of Britain’s ongoing war with France, impressment of American merchant sailors into the Royal Navy, British support of American Indian tribes against American expansion, and the humiliation of American honour. Until 1814, the British Empire adopted a defensive strategy, repelling multiple American invasions of the provinces of Upper and Lower Canada. However, the Americans gained control over Lake Erie in 1813, seized parts of western Ontario, and destroyed Tecumseh’s dream of an Indian confederacy. In the Southwest General Andrew Jackson humbled the Creek nation at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend but with the defeat of Napoleon in 1814, the British adopted a more aggressive strategy, sending in three large armies along with more patrols. British victory at the Battle of Bladensburg in August 1814 allowed the British to capture and burn Washington, D.C. American victories in September 1814 and January 1815 repulsed British invasions of New York, Baltimore and New Orleans.

The war was fought in three theaters: At sea, warships and privateers of both sides attacked each other’s merchant ships. The British blockaded the Atlantic coast of the U.S. and mounted large-scale raids in the later stages of the war. Both land and naval battles were fought on the frontier, which ran along the Great Lakes and Saint Lawrence River. The South and the Gulf coast saw major land battles in which the American forces destroyed Britain’s Indian allies and defeated the main British invasion force at New Orleans. Both sides invaded each other’s territory, but these invasions were unsuccessful or temporary. At the end of the war, both sides occupied parts of the other’s territory, but these areas were restored by the Treaty of Ghent.

In the U.S., battles such as the Battle of New Orleans and the earlier successful defense of Baltimore (which inspired the lyrics of the U.S. national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner“) produced a sense of euphoria over a “second war of independence” against Britain. It ushered in an “Era of Good Feelings” in which the partisan animosity that had once verged on treason practically vanished. Canada also emerged from the war with a heightened sense of national feeling and solidarity. Britain regarded the war as a sideshow to the Napoleonic Wars raging in Europe; it welcomed an era of peaceful relations and trade with the United States.

Mexican-American War

The Mexican–American War was an armed conflict between the United States and Mexico from 1846 to 1848 in the wake of the 1845 U.S. annexation of Texas, which Mexico considered part of its territory despite the 1836 Texas Revolution.

In addition to a naval blockade off the Mexican coast, American forces invaded and conquered New Mexico, California, and parts of what is currently northern Mexico. Another American army captured Mexico City, forcing Mexico to agree to the sale of its northern territories to the U.S.

American territorial expansion to the Pacific coast was the goal of President James K. Polk, the leader of the Democratic Party.[1] However, the war was highly controversial in the U.S., with the Whig Party and anti-slavery elements strongly opposed. Heavy American casualties and high monetary cost were also criticized. The major consequence of the war was the forced Mexican Cession of the territories of Alta California and New Mexico to the U.S. in exchange for $18 million. Mexico accepted the Rio Grande as its national border, and the loss of Texas. Meanwhile gold was discovered in California, which immediately became an international magnet for the California Gold Rush. The political aftermath of the war raised the slavery issue in the U.S., leading to intense debates that pointed to civil war; the Compromise of 1850 provided a brief respite.


During this period the United States Naval Academy was founded in 1845. In 1861, the American Civil War began and the United States Navy fought the small Confederate Navy with both sailing ships and ironclad ships while forming a blockade on the confederacy. After the Civil war most of the ships were laid up in reserve and by 1878 the Navy shrank to only 6,000 men.

American Civil War (1861–1865)

Between the beginning of the war and the end of 1861, 373 commissioned officers, warrant officers, and midshipmen resigned or were dismissed from the United States Navy and went on to serve the Confederacy.[48] On 20 April 1861, the Union burned its ships that were at the Norfolk Navy Yard to prevent their capture by the Confederates, but not all of the ships were completely destroyed.[49] The screw frigate USS Merrimack was so hastily scuttled that her hull and steam engine were basically intact, which gave the South’s Stephen Mallory the idea of raising her and then armoring the upper sides with iron plate. The resulting ship was named CSS Virginia. Meanwhile, John Ericsson had similar ideas, and received funding to build USS Monitor.[50]

Winfield Scott, the commanding general of the U.S. Army at the beginning of the war, devised the Anaconda Plan to win the war with as little bloodshed as possible. His idea was that a Union blockade of the main ports would weaken the Confederate economy; then the capture of the Mississippi River would split the South. Lincoln adopted the plan in terms of a blockade to squeeze to death the Confederate economy, but overruled Scott’s warnings that his new army was not ready for an offensive operation because public opinion demanded an immediate attack.[51]

On 8 March 1862, the Confederate Navy initiated the first combat between ironclads when the Virginia successfully attacked the blockade. The next day, the Monitor engaged the Virginia in the Battle of Hampton Roads. Their battle ended in a draw, and the Confederacy later lost the Virginia when the ship was scuttled to prevent capture. The Monitor was the prototype for the Monitor warship and many more were built by the Union Navy. While the Confederacy built more ironclad ships during the war, they lacked the ability to build or purchase ships that could effectively counter the monitors.[52]

Along with ironclad ships, the new technologies of naval mines, which were known as torpedos after the torpedo eel and submarine warfare were introduced during the war by the Confederacy. During the Battle of Mobile Bay, mines were used to protect the harbor and sank the Union monitor USS Tecumseh. After Tecumseh sank, Admiral David G. Farragut famously said, “Damn the torpedos, full speed ahead!”.[53] The forerunner of the modern submarine, CSS David, attacked the USS New Ironsides using a spar torpedo. The Union ship was barely damaged and the resulting geyser of water put out the fires in the submarine’s boiler. Another submarine, the CSS H. L. Hunley, was designed to dive and surface but ultimately did not work well and sank on five occasions during trials. In action against the USS Housatonic the submarine successfully sank its target but was lost by the same explosion.[54]

The Confederate States of America operated a number of commerce raiders and blockade runners, CSS Alabama being the most famous, and British investors built small, fast blockade runners that traded arms and luxuries brought in from Bermuda, Cuba, and The Bahamas in return for high-priced cotton and tobacco.[55] When the Union Navy seized a blockade runner the ship and cargo were sold and the proceeds given to the Navy sailors; the captured crewmen were mostly British and they were simply released.[56]

The blockade of the South caused the Southern economy to collapse during the war. Shortages of food and supplies were caused by the blockade, the failure of Southern railroads, the loss of control of the main rivers, and foraging by Union and Confederate armies. The standard of living fell even as large-scale printing of paper money caused inflation and distrust of the currency. By 1864 the internal food distribution had broken down, leaving cities without enough food and causing food riots across the Confederacy. The Union victory at the Second Battle of Fort Fisher in January 1865 closed the last useful Southern port, virtually ending blockade running and hastening the end of the war.[57]


                                                                         <!–[if !vml]–><!–[endif]–>  HMS ALFREDHMS Alfred was named  after King Alfred the Great, one of Britain’s most popular kings.  He led the English forces who drove the  Danes from Britain and is credited with being the father of the British Navy.  He supposedly invented the warship that  later became the carrack.  He also is  credited with founding the University of Oxford.


Alfred first saw service in  1778.  She was considered by Captain  Kempenfelt (who drowned when Royal George capsized) to be a slow and  cranky sailor.  However, she served a  long and useful career of 36 years with the Royal Navy—most of those years  under Admiral Rodney.  She sailed with  Admiral Hood’s squadron in 1781 to take part in the action against Admiral De  Grasse, which later became known as the “Battle of the Capes.”  She had been appointed to lead the British  van, but during maneuvers before the action started, found herself in the  rear rather than the van and there is no indication that she ever fired a  shot in this action.


In April  1782, she was back in the Caribbean with Admiral Rodney and was active in the   “Battle of the Saintes” until she had expended all of her powder and  shot.  This is considered to be the  final major naval engagement of the American Revolution and it broke the back  of French naval power in the Caribbean.


Alfred returned to England and  paid off in 1783, but this was not the end of her career.  It appears that she was in Admiral Hood’s  division under Admiral Howe during “The Glorious First of June” victory over  the French.


She was  back in the Caribbean in the 1790s seeing active service, and it is suggested  that she was in a fleet under Gambier during the Battle of Copenhagen in  1807.  Alfred was broken up in  1814 after a long and active career.

     <!–[if !vml]–><!–[endif]–> USS HANCOCKOne of the thirteen origianl  frigates ordered by the Continental Congress in 1775, it was built in  Massachusetts and named for John Hancock, president of the Continental  Congress, 1775-1777.

It was captured by the British who  praised it as the “fastest and finest frigate in the world.”  It served in the Royal Navy as the HMS  Iris, until it was captured by the French in 1781 and blown up at Toulon by  the British two years later.


     <!–[if !vml]–><!–[endif]–> USS CONFEDERACYAn American Revolutionary War frigate with 36 guns built in  Norwich, Connecticut in 1778.  Exceptionally  long at 160 feet, she was designed and rigged for speed.

When captured by the British Navy in January 1781, she was  renamed HMS Confederate.  Due to damage  suffered in a gale off the Bahamas, she was broken up a year later.


     <!–[if !vml]–><!–[endif]–> HMS CROMWELLAn American  Revolutionary War era corvette with 20 guns built in Connecticut in 1776.

She had only  two successful cruises before she was captured by the British Royal Navy off  Sandy Hook in 1779 and renames HMS Restoration.

Built by JM  Brown, the model is planked with open frames, similarly to the construction  of a dock-yard model.


     <!–[if !vml]–><!–[endif]–>      <!–[if !vml]–><!–[endif]–> USS CONSTITUTIONThe  first legislation for the creation of a national navy following the American  Revolution was not passed by Congress until 1794.  This act provided for building of six  frigates to control the Arab pirates who were causing much damage to American  trade.  President Washington referred  the matter to the War Secretary, General Knox, who commissioned Joshua  Humphreys, a renowned shipbuilder, to prepare the plans.

There probably has been  as much about the heavy frigates built in 1797 as about any other class of  American naval vessels.  They were  controversial from the time that the Congress ordered them.  Constitution was particularly  successful in turning the world upside down for the British Royal Navy, which  was convinced that it was invincible.    The Royal Navy was highly indignant when their frigates encountered Constitution  with her heavy construction and excellent sailing qualities.  They accused the Americans of lying when  they called her a frigate—that actually she was a disguised ship of the line  and should not be fighting British frigates.    Her battles with HMS Java and HMS Guerriere are classic  examples of fighting sail warfare. USS Constitution was built  between 1794 and 1797 at Hart’s naval shipyard in Boston and launched on  October 21, 1797.  After brilliant  performances against French corsairs in the Caribbean under the command of  Samuel Nicholson and in the Mediterranean, under Commodore Preble, Constitution  captured the British frigate HMS Guerriere in less than half an  hour during the War of 1812.


On December 29, 1812,  under the command of Captain Bainbridge, she sank the British frigate, HMS   Java, then captured many small British units.  In 1814, she took many prizes, narrowly  avoiding capture herself by two British frigates.


Constitution had a spotty career and  at one point was destined to be broken up.    She was rescued by public subscriptions in the 1920s and has become a  national treasure.  In 1925, the  American Congress decided to restore completely the USS Constitution,  which had been nicknamed “Old Ironsides” after her exploits in the  Revolutionary War.  She still is in  commission and is now exhibited in the Boston Naval Shipyard.



     <!–[if !vml]–><!–[endif]–> FRENCH L’INDISCRITThe Ship

The  xebec is not a single design of ship, but rather a family of small  vessels.  Essentially, it is a  development of the galley with a narrow hull, and prominent beak or head,  perhaps derived from the ram, and outer platform extending over the rudder  aft of the ship.  Low in the water, it  had no tumble home.  It usually carried  three masts, all lateen rigged, although occasionally the fore and main masts  might be ship rigged (square sails).

Xebecs carried small  cannons on the main deck and were fitted for oars.  Highly maneuverable, the design was suited  for boarding other ships with ease.  A  favorite tactic was to find a square-rigged ship becalmed, row out in front  where the ship’s guns did not bear, then anchor and blast away at leisure.  This style of ship was frequently used by  the Barbary pirates and other sailing interests in and around the  Mediterranean and also by European continental powers on a limited basis.  The last of the pirates were cleared from  the ocean by the British and French in the early 19th  Century.  Descendants of the xebecs  still can be found hauling cargo along the North African coast.


The Model

Plank on frame  construction by an unknown builder

Scale: ¼”   H 31 ½”    L 46 ¾”  W 19 ¾”


     <!–[if !vml]–><!–[endif]–> LA FLORE AMERICAINEA 28-gun frigate, La  Flore was designed and built in America in 1776, but because the American  Revolution ended, she was sold to the French where she became a successor to  a long line of frigates of the same name.    The first was built in 1716.

In 1728, a new frigate  with the same name appeared.  In 1742,  with Boree and Lauilon, she met and successfully defended  herself against English ships in the Straits of Gibraltar.  In 1744, La Flore formed part of the  combined French and Spanish fleet of 27 sail which engaged 29 English ships  off Toulon, off the south coast of France, in which only one French ship was  lost to Sir Edward Hawke because of confusion and bickering in the English  command.

A new Flore appeared in 1768 and went  on an important scientific expedition in 1771.  Many members of the French Royal Academy of  Science and the Marine Academy were on board.    Their object was to test marine watches and compare different methods of  determining longitudes.  She also took  part in 1781 in the expedition of Minorca [Menorca] (an island in the  Mediterranean about 150 miles southwest of Barcelona, Spain) during which the  English governor of the island surrendered to the Spanish.

The model here is of the  American-built ship taken from plans in the Paris Museum, and shows the  graceful lines which were later to make the USS Constitution and USS  Constellation, with four other American-designed frigates, the fastest  and ablest ships of their type.

The Model

Solid hull  by J. Stephen Murray circa 1987.

H 66”  L 73”    W 17”


  SMALL USS CONSTITUTIONSee USS Constitution above
     <!–[if !vml]–><!–[endif]–> HMS SERAPIS

The Ship

Named for an Egyptian  God, HMS Serapis sailed into history on 23 September 1779, under the  command of Captain Richard Pearson off Flamborough Head, in the North Sea,  east of Yorkshire, England, where he was engaged by John Paul Jones of the  Continental Navy in USS Bon Homme Richard.


SERAPIS, with 44 guns,  was providing protection for a 41-ship convoy that ignored Pearson’s signals  and aided Jones in his 40-gun former French India Man Bon Homme Richard  ex Duc De Duras in joining battle.


The melee, fought in  darkness, became a blood bath when Jones grappled Serapis and lashed  her alongside.  Both ships caught  fire.  Over 150 men of Bon Homme  Richard’s crew of 322 were killed or wounded, while Serapis lost  130 of her 284 men.  The bloody engagement  finally ended with the surrender of Serapis.


The following day, Bon  Homme Richard, a burning wreck, was left to sink as Jones, now in command  of HMS Serapis, returned to France.


The Model

Scale:  1/8”     Case:  H 19 ¾”  L 35 ¼”    W 10 ½”

Plank on frame by an  unknown builder

Source:  Quester Maritime Collection, Stonington,  Connecticut


     <!–[if !vml]–><!–[endif]–> HMS HALIFAX Originally  an American-built packet.  Purchased in  1768 in Canada and revamped for use as a troop transport armed with eight  guns.  Best known for her participation  in the burning of Falmouth, Maine in 1776.    Sold in 1782.

The Model

3/8”   scale  H 31”  L 38 ½”

Swiss  pear plank on solid hull

Built by  Fred Schaffner circa 1985

Source:  North Star Gallery, London



Robert Dodd  (1784-1815) English



     <!–[if !vml]–><!–[endif]–> USS NIAGRA

The Ship

Oliver  Hazard Perry (1785-1819) supervised the building of ships to strengthen the  American naval force on Lake Erie, and with nine vessels, on September 10,  1813, was attacked by the British.  His  flagship, USS Lawrence, was almost destroyer, and he transferred to  another of his ships, USS Niagara, to continue the battle.


According  to Theodore Roosevelt’s “Naval History of the War of 1812,” Niagara  was launched six months after the first axeman struck a tree to start  building.  This meant that she was built  entirely of green lumber.  Her sails  and iron work had been scavenged from other American ships.


A replica  of USS Niagara sails Lake Erie today.

The Model

Scale:  1/8”  Case:    H 28 ¾”  L 35”  W 14”Plank on frame construction by an  unknown builder.

     <!–[if !vml]–><!–[endif]–> VIRGINIA PRIVATEER (SWALLOW)circa 1800 (May be the Baltimore Clipper, Swallow)

The Ship

In  both the American Revolution and the War of 1812, America had no navy to  speak of.  After 1797, the heavy  frigates were in service, but they were no match for Britain’s “Wooden Walls  of England”  One of the most effective  ways of damaging the enemy was to capture or destroy its commercial  shipping.  This lead to the issuance of  Letters of Marque to privately owned, armed vessels which were commissioned  to attack the merchant shipping of enemy countries.  Britain and France, as well as the  Colonies, employed this tactic.  There  are some reports that when business was slow for the privateers they did not  look too closely at the nationality of the commerce they were attacking.

Though  schooners were launched in Europe, it was the Yankees of Colonial America who  perfected the design, construction and deployment of the class.

Noted for their small  crews, and in early times for their utility, schooners became the favorites of  Yankee entrepreneurs who frequently traded in the West Indies illegally, so  they naturally became favorites as privateers.


As hull and canvas design  improved, the addition of square sails on the foremast (a fore topsail  schooner) bettered speed and handling and lead to square sails on the main  mast (a topsail schooner) which in the early 19th Century evolved  as the Baltimore Clipper, a vessel that appeared to be making 10 knots at the  dock



The Model Builder: Honore Leclerc

Source: Les Bateaux Leclerc,  Port Joli Quebec

Scale: 1/8”  Case:    H 19”  L 22”  W 7/3/4”

Class B


     <!–[if !vml]–><!–[endif]–> USS ESSEX 1799The Essex  was built in 1799 with $75,000 in subscription funds raised by prominent  citizens of Salem, Massachusetts.  The  32 gun frigate was used by the US Navy to protect American merchant ships  from attacks by French privateers and Barbary Coast pirates.

In the War  of 1812, she captured the HM Sloop of War Alert in addition to 18 British  whale ships in the Pacific.

However, in  1814 she was captured by British forces, eventually dismantled and moored at  Kingston, on the south side of Dublin Bay where she housed convicts until  1836.  Finally, she was sold for 2000  pounds and presumed to have been broken up, perhaps burned for her metal.


     <!–[if !vml]–><!–[endif]–> USS HARRIET LANEThe ship  that fired the first shot of the Civil War as she encountered an inward bound  ship to Charleston on the night before the bombardment of Fort Sumpter on  April 12, 1861.

Designed  in 1857 by William H. Webb of New York as a revenue cutter, Harriet Lane was  named for President Buchanan’s niece.    The 750 ton side wheel paddle steam powered gunship served in the West  Gulf Blockading Squadron, which took Galveston in October, 1862.  On the following New Year’s Day it was  rammed by two Confederate “cottonclad” steamers resulting in a loss of life  to several of its crew.

In 1864,  it was converted to a blockade-runner and renamed Lavinia.  It was rerigged as the ship Elliott Kiehie  a year later and served until 1884 when it was wrecked off the Pernambuee  River.



     <!–[if !vml]–><!–[endif]–> Turrett,  USS Monitor 54 mm scale model built by Charles Ball
     <!–[if !vml]–><!–[endif]–> DAHLGRIN GUN DECK MODEL55 mm  scale Model built by Charles Ball


John  Dahlgren (1809-1870) as a midshipman, designed 9”and 11” guns known as  Dahltrens as part of the expansion of the Washington navy yard in the Civil  War.


     <!–[if !vml]–><!–[endif]–> CSS ALABAMA 

Screw sloop-of-war built for the Confederacy in  1862.  Was a successful commerce raider  until 1864 when she was sunk by  USS Kearsarge.


The Model

L  28”  H 16”    W  8 ½”


Built by Carlo Silvio, 2005


     <!–[if !vml]–><!–[endif]–> CSS MONITORThe large ship in the  background is the USS Kearsarge.  She  was responsible for the sinking of the Confederate commerce raider CSS  Alabama off the coast of Cherbourg, France.


The other two models are  of the first ironclads to engage in battle, the Navy’s USS Monitor (on the  right) and the Confederate CSS Virginia (formerly the USS Merrimac, which had  sunk).  Both were a revolutionary  resign and the first warships to be built without rigging or sails.  These ships represented the transition from  wood to steel.


     <!–[if !vml]–><!–[endif]–> USS KEARSAGE

The Ship

Commissioned in 1862, USS  Kearsarge is most famous for destroying the Confederate raider CSS  Alabama in 1863.  She had  participated in a blockade of CSS Sumter at Gilbraltar.  Sumter’s famous Captain Raphael  Semmes abandoned her in 1862 and soon commissioned CSS Alabama on the  high seas off the Azores.  In 1863, Kearsarge  patrolled the coasts of Europe and the Western Islands.  She located Alabama in port at  Cherbourg, France, and took up station at the harbor’s entrance to await  Semmes’ next move.  Semmes stood out of  port on 19 June, and Kearsarge, careful of French neutrality, stood  out to sea and then turned to engage.  Alabama  fired first, but one hour after her first salvo, she was a total wreck.


Kearsarge continued to patrol the  European and African coasts, looking for Confederate raiders, until  1864.  After a re-fit, she joined the  Pacific Fleet, operating out of Valparaiso, Chile, and on the Asiatic  station.  She was wrecked on Roncador  Reef, about a hundred miles north of the Solomon Islands, in 1894.


The Model

Solid construction by an  unknown builder

H  18”    L 30”  W 8”

On indefinite loan from  J. Bellah


     <!–[if !vml]–><!–[endif]–> 









The hull was designed by Ed Witt Hill.  The ship was built by Hill, Roberts &  Company, New Albany, Indiana, in 1866 for Captain John W. Cannon at a cost of  $200,000.  It was built to run between  Vicksburg, Mississippi, and New Orleans, Louisiana, carrying 6,000 bales of  cotton without spoiling the view of the boiler-deck passengers.

On June 30,  1870,  New Natchez, with Captain  Thomas P. Leathers, and  Robert E.  Lee, both bound for St. Louis, left within four minutes of each other,  with  Robert E. Lee ahead.  Robert E. Lee arrived in St. Louis six hours  and 33 minutes ahead on July 4th.    The time was three days, 18 hours and 14 minutes, a record time up to  that date.

In 1876, she  was dismantled at Howard Shipyard in Jeffersonville, Indiana, and much  of her outfit and equipment used in building  a new and bigger Robert E. Lee.


This was a different kind of a model for Marple.  As he noted, “It had to be built from the  bottom up and from the inside out.”

The hull is made of white holly; the stern is tapered to  a flat, square and narrow edge to allow a small flat rudder to fit snugly  against the stern, just clearing the lowest part of the ship to give  clearance in case of a sand bar.

The main deck  is planked in teak.  More than any  other ship model, a river-boat must be done from the inside out and bottom to  the top, making sure that all center work is done first, before trying to  finish the sides.

Marple made the  engines just to see if he could, knowing they would be almost impossible for  anyone to see.  The engines are made of  ebony and brass, and the pitman drive shafts go from the engines to the  paddle wheel.  Each engine drove each  paddle individually and had to be made this way.  They have connecting rods into the engine  to hook on the pitmans and  into the  crank shaft on the paddle wheel.  All  that is needed is the steam to make the paddle wheels move; with no steam,  they can be hand-moved.  The boilers  are made of eight round ebony rods, fastened to the face of the boiler.  Below each boiler is a door that can be  opened to fire up steam.   Around all  this was built a shield to protect the boat from the heat.  Steam pipes of brass tubing, blackened, ran  the steam into the two engines.  A  U-shaped flue then runs up to where the smoke stacks would later go.  There is even a wood storage for kindling  and wood for the engines.

The paddle  wheels are complete with five paddles, each with a copper band, joined to  make ten paddles of five paddles on each wheel which will turn either by  moving the engine on the inside or by touching the wheel itself to give it  movement.

The grand  staircase in the front has a mail room at one side and storage room at the  other side.  It is lit by two flood  lights.  It leads up into the grand  ballroom.

Each cabin door  is made individually, including the windows in the doors and the transom  above.

The upper deck  is planked in amaranth (purple heart) for the color.  Here you can see the calliope.  Marple used ebony for the black keys.

The bell on the  skylight roof is in a brass holder.    The bell was turned of brass, will actually swing and has a clapper in  it.

There are three  life boats, two set on the main deck on each side.

The model has  40 rice grain lights, each one made able to be changed.

Plank on frame  construction by Ed Marple circa 1960



The painting  depicts paddlewheel steamers on the Mississippi, among them the Robert E Lee  and the historic waterfront.


About  the Artist:

Roy Cross (English) (1924-)

Roy Cross, an artist who  specializes in 19th century-type pictures, has traveled as far south as  Barcelona and as far north as Gothenburg to observe and record the enormous  and fascinating variety of rigs. To undertake one or two painting  commissions, he may also have to travel extensively in the USA to get details  of a particular ship from the maritime museums and to visit historic ports to  observe the lighting, the sea and the sky conditions which were much the same  as when the ship was in those harbors. In addition, this artist has built up  his own considerable library of books, photographs, plans and cuttings.

Born in the dockland of London,  England, Roy first became known as an aviation artist and author during World  War II. Finding this field financially lucrative yet creatively stagnant, he  returned to the shipping scenes of the London docks, where in his youth he  first sketched the beauty and the power of numerous trading vessels. To this  he added an accurate technical and emotional understanding of the sailing  ship.


     <!–[if !vml]–><!–[endif]–> Adelaide 


     <!–[if !vml]–><!–[endif]–> DevonshireThe  sailing packet Devonshire, built in 1846, sailed across the Atlantic  for the Black Cross Line on a regular schedule.  She is shown here off the Battery at the  tip of Manhattan Island.


     <!–[if !vml]–><!–[endif]–> Dreadnought This  packet ship was built to compete for business in the North Atlantic.  Her routes included the New York-Liverpool  run. Her fast passages earned her the nickname of “Wild Boat of the  Atlantic”.  She ran aground in  1869  at Tierra Del Fuego while making  passage from New York to  San  Francisco..


The  artist began his career as a technical illustrator for manuals, particularly  aeronautical manuals.  He also did  historical research and illustrations for locomotives and automobiles.  He did not draw or paint a ship  until1872.  Cross works in oils, black  and whites, water color and gouache which is a combination of water colors  and gum or some sort of filler.



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