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DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORY AND HERITAGE COMMAND
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Althea

 

A shrub of the mallow family; the rose of sharon; a hollyhock.

 

(Sch)

 

Little is now known of a schooner named Althea which served the Union Navy during the Civil War. The first information on her operations comes from a report by Lt. George H. Preble, the commanding officer of the screw gunboat Katahdin, to David Glasgow Farragut dated 26 May 1862. Preble tells Farragut that, two days before, the coal vessels Althea and Golden Lead had anchored eight or nine miles above Natchez, Miss. At the time, several warships of Farragut's West Gulf Blockading Squadron were ascending the Mississippi after capturing New Orleans. On the 28th, while Farragut was descending from Vicksburg in the flagship Hartford, Althea was lashed to the port side of that screw sloop of war. Upon reaching Baton Rouge, the Union sailors noticed ". . . that the United States flag which we had left flying over the arsenal had been removed." Farragut sent Hartford's chief engineer James B. Kimball into the city with a letter protesting this fact. As the party carrying the message approached the shore a large group of horsemen opened fire on their boat, severely wounding Kimball and two oarsmen. Since Althea was tied between Hartford and the city, she was cut loose and". . . dropped down stream 200 or 300 yards . . ."so that Hartford's, ". . . guns could be opened upon the rebels."

 

The next mention of the schooner Althea in naval records is found in two reports—both dated 27 February 1863—by Commodore Henry H. Bell who had taken steam sloop Brooklyn to waters off Galveston, Tex., to reestablish the blockade there following the Confederate recapture of that port on New Year's Day 1863. Bell tells Farragut that Althea was carrying messages to blockading vessels stationed along the coast of Texas and supplying them with coal.

 

Finally, in May and November 1863, a schooner named Althea was carrying provisions to the warships of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron off Charleston, S.C. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, it is reasonable to assume that this was the ship which earlier had served in the gulf.

 

Nothing further is known of the legal status or of the ultimate fate of the schooner or schooners named Althea which served the Navy in the gulf and off the South Carolina coast.

 

I

 

(ScTug: t. 72; 1. 70'; b. 16'4"; dph. 7'; s. 9 k.; cpl. 15; a. 1 heavy 12-pdr. sb.)

 

Alfred A. Wotkyns—a screw tug built in 1863 at New Brunswick, N.J., by Lewis Hoagland—was purchased at New York City by the Navy on 9 December 1863; renamed Althea soon thereafter; and fitted out for naval service by Secor and Co., of Jersey City, N.J. Since the logs for her first period of service are missing—presumably lost when she was sunk by a torpedo—we have no record of Althea's, commissioning date; but, on 24 April 1864, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles ordered the commandant of the New York Navy Yard to hurry the tug to Rear Admiral David Glasgow Farragut who then was trying to build up his West Gulf Blockading Squadron for an attack on Mobile, Ala.

 

About this time, however, Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant was preparing to launch a two-pronged campaign against Richmond: driving south from the Rapidan River with the Army of the Potomac toward the Confederate capital and simultaneously ascending the James River, with a force under Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler, for an amphibious landing at Bermuda Hundred to begin a push through Petersburg. The destructive foray of the Confederate ironclad ram Albeinarle from the Roanoke River into Albemarle Sound, N.C., on 17 April and her reappearance on 5 May—the day Grant's offensives began—increased Union anxiety over the possibility that the Confederate squadron at Richmond might descend the James, wrest control of that vital stream from the Union flotilla, and wreck Butler's transports and supply ships, stranding his troops in hostile territory where they would be at the mercy of Southern soldiers. To prevent such an eventuality, Welles sent several warships, formerly ordered to the Gulf of Mexico, to Hampton Roads to reinforce the James River Flotilla.

 

Althea was one of these ships. While the date of her departure from New York is not known, the tug was said to be serving on the James in the dispatch dated 17 June 1864 which reported the locations of the ships of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron. She had been fitted out with a torpedo spar to be used in attacking any Confederate ironclad which might appear and she was prepared to act as a ram should an opportunity for such employment arise. The tug also served as a tender to Union ironclads in the James.

 

Late in July, the situation in that river seemed stable enough to permit the Union warships borrowed from Farragut to move on to the gulf. Repaired and prepared for sea by the Norfolk Navy Yard, Althea departed Hampton Roads in company with three other tugs on the 26th and reached Mobile Bay on 5 August, the day of Farragut's great victory there.

 

Too late to participate in the historic Battle of Mobile Bay, Althea busied herself in ensuing months supporting Farragut's combatant ships as they joined Army forces in operations against the city of Mobile. On 12 April, the day Mobile finally surrendered, Althea struck a torpedo in the Blake River and sank while returning from a run up that stream in which she had dragged primitive sweep gear in an effort to clear the channels of explosive devices. Two members of her crew were killed in the accident, and three others—including the tug's commanding officer, Acting Ensign Frederick A. G. Bacon—were wounded.

 

Raised and repaired after the Confederate collapse, Althea was recommissioned at Mobile on 7 November 1865, Acting Ensign William F. Kilgore in command. She carried out towing chores and performed other varied services there, at Pensacola, and at Key West until—towing the monitor Sangamon—she departed the latter port on 10 April 1866. After reaching the Philadelphia Navy Yard on the 18th, she was decommissioned on 25 April 1866 and sold at auction on 8 December 1866. Redocumented Martin Kalbfleisch on 10 January 1868, she served as a merchant tug until 1896.