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USS Saginaw (1859)

See USS Saginaw for other ships of this name.
USS Saginaw, probably at Mare Island Navy Yard in 1862.
Union Navy Jack United States
Name: USS Saginaw
Laid down: 16 September 1858
Launched: 3 March 1859
Commissioned: 5 January 1860
Decommissioned: 3 January 1862
Recommissioned: 23 March 1863
Fate: Wrecked 29 October 1870
General characteristics
Type: sloop-of-war
Displacement: 453 long tons (460 t)
Length: 155 ft (47 m)
Draft: 4 ft 5 in (1.35 m)
Complement: 50 officers and enlisted
Armament: 1 × 50 pdr (23 kg) gun, 1 × 32 pdr (15 kg) gun, 2 × 24 pdr (11 kg) rifles

The first USS Saginaw was a sidewheel sloop-of-war in the United States Navy during the American Civil War.


The first vessel built by the Mare Island Navy Yard, Saginaw was laid down on 16 September 1858; launched as Toucey on 3 March 1859; sponsored by Miss Cunningham, daughter of the commandant of the Navy Yard; renamed Saginaw; and commissioned on 5 January 1860, Commander James F. Schenck in command.

The new side-wheel ship sailed from San Francisco Bay on 8 March 1860, headed for the western Pacific, and reached Shanghai, China on 12 May. She then served in the East India Squadron, for the most part cruising along the Chinese coast to protect American citizens and to suppress pirates. She visited Japan in November but soon returned to Chinese waters. On 30 June 1861, she silenced a battery at the entrance to Qui Nhon Bay, Cochin China, which had fired upon her while she was searching for the missing boat and crew of American bark Myrtle.

On 3 January 1862, Saginaw was decommissioned at Hong Kong and returned to Mare Island on 3 July for repairs.

Relaunched on 3 December 1862 and recommissioned on 23 March 1863, saginaw was attached to the Pacific Squadron and operated along the United States West Coast to prevent Confederate activity. She visited Puget Sound in the spring of 1863 to investigate reports that Confederate privateers were being outfitted in British Columbia, but returned after learning that the scheme had no chance of success.

Her cruises in 1864 took Saginaw to ports in Mexico and Central America to protect the interests of the United States endangered by Confederate activity and by European interference in Mexico. During the closing months of the year, she escorted steamers of the Pacific Mail Steamship Company carrying rich cargoes of bullion from the California gold fields. In the spring of 1865, the ship was assigned to the United States Revenue Cutter Service but was returned to the Navy on 2 June 1865. She spent the remainder of 1865 protecting American citizens at Guaymas and other Mexican ports during the unrest and disorder which beset Mexico during the struggle between Emperor Maximilian I and Benito Juárez.

In March 1866, Saginaw returned to Mare Island. She sailed in August 1966 for Puget Sound to support settlers in the Pacific Northwest. While there, she aided the Western Union Company in laying a cable which brought the first telegraphic service to the region. After returning to Mare Island in December 1866, the ship remained at the navy yard through 1867.

In April 1868, a year after the United States purchased Alaska from Russia, Saginaw got underway for the Alaska Territory and, with the exception of a run home late in the year for replenishment, spent the next year exploring and charting the Alaskan coast. In February 1869 a conflict erupted between the United States Army and the Tlingit people in Alaska's Kake region. After the Tlingit refused a command not to leave Sitka, one Tlingit was killed. Seeking revenge, the Tlingit killed two innocent miners at Murder Cove on Admiralty Island. Saginaw then deployed from Sitka and shelled and burned three Tlingit villages on Kiku Island near what is today called Saginaw Bay. The Tlingit already had evacuated the villages by the time Saginaw arrived.

After steaming back to San Francisco Bay in April 1869, Saginaw departed her home port on 28 July 1869 and operated along the coast of Mexico until arriving back at Mare Island on 11 November 1869.


The Captain's depiction of Saginaw‍ '​s fate

Saginaw‍ '​s next assignment took her to Midway Atoll to support dredging operations to deepen the entrance to the harbor. She reached Midway on 24 March 1870 and completed her task on 21 October 1870. A week later, she sailed for San Francisco, intending to touch at Kure Atoll en route home to rescue any shipwrecked sailors who might be stranded there. The next day, 29 October 1870, as she neared this rarely visited atoll, Saginaw struck an outlying reef and grounded. Before the surf battered the ship to pieces, her crew managed to transfer much of her gear and provisions to the atoll.

On 18 November, a party of five men, headed by Lieutenant John G. Talbot, the executive officer, set out for Honolulu in a small boat to get relief for their stranded shipmates. As they neared Kauai, 31 days and some 1,500 mi (2,400 km) later, their boat was upset by breakers. Only Coxswain William Halford survived to obtain help. He was brought to Oahu and the United States Consulate there. The King of Hawaii, Kamehameha V, subsequently sent his steamer, Kilauea, to rescue the shipwrecked sailors, which arrived at Kure on 4 January 1871. All of them survived. The ship's gig that they sailed in survives as part of the Curator Collection at the Castle Museum of Saginaw County History in Saqinaw, Michigan.

The wreck of Saginaw was discovered in 2003 and remains under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command.

The book A Civil War Gunboat in Pacific Waters: Life on Board USS Saginaw (by Hans Van Tilburg, University Press of Florida, 2010) covers the ship's construction, her ten years of service in the Pacific, and her loss at Kure Atoll. Van Tilburg led the team which discovered the wreck site in 2003.

See also


This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. The entry can be found here.

External links

  • , 1869–1871 MS 411SaginawGuide to the Letterbook of the USS held by Special Collection & Archives, Nimitz Library at the United States Naval Academy

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