Return to DANFS IndexImage of an anchorReturn to Naval History and Heritage Command homepage
flag banner
Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships banner
WASHINGTON DC 20374-5060

Patrick Henry


(SwStr: t. 1,300; l. 250'; b. 34'; dph. 17'; dr. 13'; cpl. 150; a. 1 10" sb.; 1 64-pdr., 6 8", 2 32-pdr. r.)


CSS Patrick Henry, sometimes referred to as Patrick, was the former side-wheel passenger and freight steamer Yorktown which ran between Richmond, Va., and New York. When Virginia seceded from the Union on 17 April 1861 Yorktown, then in the James River, was seized by that State and subsequently turned over to the Confederate Navy.


Brigantine-rigged Yorktown was built at New York City by the renowned William H. Webb in 1859 for the New York & Old Dominion S.S. Line; the Webb plans of her are still extant.


Commander J. R. Tucker, CSN, who commanded the newly organized James River Squadron, directed that Yorktown be converted into a lightly protected ship-of-war and renamed Patrick Henry. She was assigned to a position near Mulberry Island in the James to protect the right flank of the Confederate Peninsula Army, and during the following months remained vigilant against possible attack by Federal vessels from Newport News.


On 13 September 1861 and again on 2 December, Commander Tucker took Patrick Henry down the river to a point about a mile and a half above Newport News and opened fire on the Federal squadron at long range, hoping to draw out some of the gunboats. The lure was refused, but Tucker inflicted some minor damage.


During the battle of Hampton Roads, Va., on 8 March 1862 when ironclad Virginia inflicted such damage on the Union fleet, Patrick Henry approached Congress, run aground and flying a white flag, but she herself came under fire from other Federal ships and shore batteries, a shot through her steam chest killing four of her crew. Towed out of action long enough to make repairs, she resumed her former position.


In the engagement between CSS Virginia and Monitor the following day, Patrick Henry fired long range at Monitor maneuvering against Virginia. The Confederate Congress later accorded special thanks to all officers and men for their gallant conduct during the 2-day battle.


After the surrender of Norfolk on 10 May 1862, the James River Squadron retired up the river to Drewry's Bluff where pursuing Federal ships were repulsed on 15 May. In October 1863 Patrick Henry housed the floating Confederate States Naval Academy at Drewry's Bluff, where instruction for 52 midshipmen began under the superintendency of Lt. W. H. Parker, CSN. She had been designated as academy ship in May 1862 and had undergone alterations to this end. She was burned by the Confederates when Richmond was evacuated 3 April 1865.