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USS Arizona

A total of three ships of the United States Navy have borne the name USS Arizona. The first two ships predate both the territory and state of Arizona, but within the region of northern Mexico known as la Pimería Alta ("the Upper Pima Country") was a district called variously "Arizonac," "Arissona," or "Arizona." La Pimería Alta was divided into the Mexican state of Sonora and the American territory-cum-state of Arizona. The battleship Arizona (BB-39), third to bear the name, was named explicitly in honor of the 48th state.

The first Arizona was an iron hulled side-wheel steamer laid down in 1858 at Harlan and Hollingsworth[?] in Wilmington, Delaware, and completed in 1859. She operated out of New Orleans carrying passengers and cargo along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts of the United States. On January 15, 1862, Confederate Major General Mansfield Lovell seized her at New Orleans. She was renamed Caroline and served as a blockade runner[?] for the Confederate States of America until Union forces recaptured her in October 1862.

No continuous record of her operations during the next year has been found, but sporadic reports suggest that the ship carried cotton from New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama to Havana, Cuba and returned to those ports with war materiel. Gaps exist in our knowledge of changes in the vessel's owners, name, and registry.

In any case on October 28, 1862, the side-wheeler was operating under a "...provisional register of the English steamer Caroline..." as she steamed from Havana with a cargo of munitions to be delivered to Mobile. That morning, a lookout on Montgomerys topmast head sighted the blockade runner. The Union screw gunboat immediately set out in pursuit of the stranger, beginning a six-hour chase. When Montgomery pulled within range of Caroline, she opened fire with her 30-pounder Parrott rifle[?] and expended 17 shells before two hits brought the quarry to.

Two boats from the blockader rowed out to the former Arizona and one returned with her master, a man named Forbes, who claimed to have been bound for Matamoros, Mexico, not Mobile. "I do not take you for running the blockade," the flag officer, with tongue in cheek, replied, "but for your damned poor navigation. Any man bound for Matamoros from Havana and coming within twelve miles of Mobile light has no business to have a steamer."

Farragut sent the prize to Philadelphia where she was condemned by admiralty court. The Federal Government purchased her on January 23, 1863. The Navy restored her original name, Arizona, and placed her in commission on March 9, 1863, Lieutenant Daniel P. Upton in command.

Nine days later, the steamer stood down the Delaware River and headed for the Gulf of Mexico. En route south, she chased and overtook the cotton-laden sloop Aurelia off Mosquito Inlet, Florida[?], on March 23 and sent her to Port Royal.

Shortly before Arizona joined the West Gulf Blockading Squadron at New Orleans, Farragut had led a naval force up the Mississippi past Port Hudson to close off the flow of supplies down the Red River and across the Mississippi to Confederate armies fighting in the East. His warships met a fierce cannonade as they attempted to pass Port Hudson, and only the flagship Hartford and her consort Albatross made it safely through to the strategic stretch of the river between Port Hudson and Vicksburg.

Arizona played an important role in strengthening Farragut's drastically reduced force and opening up communications between its commander and the rest of his squadron. From New Orleans she proceeded to Berwick Bay to join a naval force commanded by Commander Augustus P. Cook which, in cooperation with troops commanded by Major General Nathaniel P. Banks, was operating in the swampy backwaters of the Louisiana lowlands west of the Mississippi.

On April 14, while carrying army units, she, Estrella, and Calhoun attacked CSS Queen of the West[?] on Grand Gulf, a wide and still stretch of the Atchafalaya River[?]. A shell from Calhoun set fire to cotton which her Southern captors had loaded on that former Ellet ram and blew up her boiler. The burning cotton-clad drifted downstream for several hours before running aground and exploding. The three Union steamers also captured 90 members of the doomed vessel's crew who had jumped overboard to escape scalding.

Six days later, Clifton and Calhoun joined the same force and, working with four companies of Union infantry, took Fort Burton, a Southern battery consisting of two old siege guns emplaced at Butte La Rose, Louisiana[?]. This victory opened for Union ships a passage -- through Atchafalaya Bay and the River of the same name -- connecting the gulf with the Red and Mississippi Rivers. Thus, Farragut could bypass Port Hudson with supplies, messages, and ships.

After this path was clear, Arizona entered the Red River and descended it to its mouth where she met Hartford, Farragut's flagship. On May 3, she was part of a three-ship reconnaissance force that ascended the Red River until it encountered heavy fire from two large Confederate steamers, Grand Duke and Mary T., supported by Southern shore batteries and snipers. Since the narrow channel prevented their maneuvering to bring their broadsides to bear on their attackers, the Union ships were compelled to retire.

As they descended, the Northern vessels met a large force led by Rear Admiral David Dixon Porter who ordered Arizona and Estella to join him in a much more powerful drive up the Red River. He allowed Albatross, the third ship, to return to the Mississippi to report to Farragut.

The next morning, Porter's force arrived at Fort DeRussy -- an uncompleted stronghold the South had been building on the banks of the river -- and found it abandoned. After partially destroying the fortifications, Porter continued on up stream to Alexandria which surrendered without resistance. Before Porter left the river, Arizona took part in a reconnaissance of the Black River, a tributary of the Red. On May 10, she joined in an attack on Fort Beauregard at Harrisonburg, Louisiana, on the Ouachita River[?].

Following her return to the Mississippi Arizona supported operations against Port Hudson which finally fell on July 9 -- five days after the surrender of Vicksburg -- removing the last Southern hold on the river and finally cutting the Confederacy in two.

Arizona then returned to New Orleans for repairs. During this work, Acting Master Howard Tibbito relieved Upton in command of the side-wheeler.

On September 4, Arizona departed New Orleans and proceeded to Southwest Pass[?] to embark 180 sharpshooters to be distributed among Clifton, Sachem, and herself in a forthcoming attack on Sabine Pass, Texas[?]. She next proceeded to Atchafalaya Bay[?] where she met her consorts and a group of Army transports, distributed her sharpshooters, and continued on to Sabine Pass.

On the morning of September 8, the combined force crossed the bar and then split, with Sachem and Arizona advancing up the Louisiana (right) channel and Clifton and Granite City moving forward through the Texas (left) channel. When they arrived within range of the Confederate batteries they opened fire preparatory to landing the troops. The Southern gunners did not reply until the gunboats were within close range, but then countered with a devastating cannonade. A shot through her boiler totally disabled Sachem, another carried away Clifton's wheel rope, causing her to run aground under the Confederate guns. Crocker -- who commanded Clifton as well as the whole naval force -- fought his ship until, with ten men killed and nine others wounded, he deemed it his duty "to stop the slaughter by showing the white flag...." After flooding her magazine to prevent its exploding Sachem also surrendered and was taken under tow by CSS Uncle Ben[?]. With the loss of Clifton's and Sachems firepower, the two remaining gunboats and troop transports recrossed the bar and departed for New Orleans.

The Sabine Pass expedition had, in the words of Commodore H. H. Bell, "totally failed." Nevertheless, Major General Banks reported: "In all respects the cooperation of the naval authorities has been hearty and efficient...."

Arizona subsequently served on blockade duty along the Texas coast, especially at Galveston.

Later in the year, yellow fever broke out on board Arizona forcing her back to New Orleans until the ship's company had returned to good health. During the month of November, she had made trips to Calcasieu Pass[?], Vermilion Bay[?], and Mermentau Lake[?] on convoy and transport trips, and on December 10 she transported Captain John B. Marchand to Forts St. Philip and Jackson to investigate a mutiny. In December 1863, she went to Berwick Bay and, when the rise of water permitted, entered Grand Lake and the Atchafalaya and remained there on constant blockade. In February 1864, she went to New Orleans and, when repaired, returned to Sabine Pass for blockade duty -- one of 14 vessels under Captain Marchand in USS Lackawanna[?]. That duty lasted until September 1864 when she proceeded to New Orleans for repairs. There, she was fitted out for service as the flagship of the West Gulf Blockading Squadron[?]. In January 1865, Lieutenant Commander George Brown took command of the ship.

On the evening of February 27, 1865 while underway from South West Pass to New Orleans, 38 miles below New Orleans a fire broke out in the engineer's after storeroom and spread with great rapidity. Brown ordered the magazine flooded and, when no possibility of saving the ship remained, ordered the crew to the boats. Some leaped overboard and swam to shore. The vessel drifted to the west bank of the river grounded, and burned until she exploded 35 minutes past midnight. Out of a crew of 98 on board four were missing.

Much of this information is taken from Dictionary of American Fighting Ships, Volume A, 1991, by the Navy Department[?], Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Naval History Division, Washington, DC. As a publication of the US government, it is in the public domain.

General Characteristics

  • Displacement: 959 tons
  • Length: 200 feet
  • Beam: 34 feet
  • Depth of Hold: 17.5 feet
  • Draft: 8 feet
  • Speed: 15 knots
  • Complement: 82 men
  • Armament: four 32-pounders, one 30-pounder Parrott rifle[?]; 1 12-pounder rifle

The second USS Arizona was a 3850-ton steam frigate launched in October 1865 as USS Neshamny[?]. She was renamed twice, carrying the name Arizona for less than three months during 1869 before becoming Nevada. Under that last name she was laid up incomplete until she was scrapped in 1874.

On March 4, 1913, Congress authorized the construction of the USS Arizona (BB-39), a Pennsylvania-class battleship. For details, see that article.

One of the US Air Force's fleet of B-2 Spirit bombers is named Spirit of Arizona.

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