Henry Haywood Bell--born in North Carolina in 1808--was appointed a midshipman on 4 August 1823. Highlights of his service before the Civil War were his time in Grampus as that schooner fought Caribbean pirates in the late 1820s and his command of San Jacinto during the mid 1850s. Under him, that screw frigate took the American diplomat, Townsend Harris, to Siam to establish diplomatic and economic relations between that kingdom and the United States. The ship then carried Harris to Japan where--following up Commodore Matthew C. Perry's diplomatic breakthrough--he became the first United States minister. The screw frigate subsequently participated in operations against the Chinese "Barrier Forts" between Whampoa and Canton before returning home in the summer of 1858. Following a period awaiting orders, Bell became the Navy's Assistant Inspector of Ordnance; and he held that post at the outbreak of the Civil War.
Although a Southerner, Comdr. Bell remained loyal to the Union and initially labored to arm and to outfit the merchantmen that the Navy had purchased to blockade the Confederate coast. When the West Gulf Blockading Squadron was established early in 1862, Bell became Farragut's fleet captain and, as such, assisted the flag officer in administering the squadron and in capturing New Orleans. To prepare for operations against the "Crescent City," he reconnoitered the forts and river obstructions that protected it from attack by sea; and, shortly thereafter, he led the expedition that cut the chain across the Mississippi connecting floating barriers in the river. During Farragut's famous dash past Forts Jackson and St. Philip, Bell commanded the Union force's third division. On 1 July, Bell relieved Capt. Thomas T. Craven in command of Brooklyn. About a fortnight later, the Navy recognized Bell's outstanding service by promoting him to commodore, allowing him to skip the rank of captain.
Commodore Bell was the squadron's highest ranking officer under Farragut; and he exercised immediate command of groups of Union warships in operations on the Mississippi, off Mobile Bay, and along the coast of Texas. Early in August 1863, Bell took temporary command of the squadron while Farragut returned north for a much needed rest; and, under his leadership, the squadron continued to operate effectively.
After a somewhat rejuvenated Farragut returned to New Orleans on 23 January 1864, Bell--by then ill and exhausted--hauled down his broad pennant from the steam sloop Pensacola and returned home to recover his health. Following several months of rest up the Hudson at Newburgh, N.Y., where the high bluffs of the Catskill Mountains overlook the river, the commodore became the Commandant of the New York Navy Yard and held that post through the end of the Civil War.
On 11 August 1865, Bell departed New York harbor in Hartford to reestablish the East India Squadron. Proceeding via the Cape of Good Hope, he reached Macao Roads on 4 February 1866 and spent the next two years laboring to restore respect for the United States in the Orient. He attained the permanent rank of rear admiral on 25 July 1866. His service in the Far East is most remembered for his struggles to suppress piracy along the China coast and to protect the lives and property of American citizens. On the morning of 11 January 1868, he drowned when his barge capsized in the surf off Osaka, Japan, while carrying him ashore for a farewell call on the United States minister there.
(Destroyer No. 95: dp. 1,247 (f.); l. 314'4½"; b. 30'11"; dr. 9'0" (mean); s. 34.76 k. (tl.); cpl. 133; a. 4 4", 2 1 pdrs., 12 21" tt., 2 dct.; cl. Wickes)
The first Bell (Destroyer No. 95) was laid down on 16 November 1917 at Quincy, Mass., by the Fore River Shipbuilding Co.; launched on 20 April 1918; sponsored by Mrs. Adelaide Daniels; and commissioned at the Boston Navy Yard on 31 July 1918, Lt. Comdr. Douglas L. Howard in command.
Following shakedown training during the summer of 1918, the destroyer operated out of New York escorting portions of convoys to sea and returning to port after they joined their consorts for the crossing. That employment lasted until 1 October 1918 when she got underway for Europe herself. Bell and her convoy stopped at Ponta Delgada in the Azores from 9 to 11 October and arrived in Brest, France, on 15 October. A week later, she began escorting troop convoys into Brest on the last leg of their transatlantic voyages. During this assignment the armistice ending World War I was signed. On 29 November, the ship stood out of Brest, bound again for the Azores, and she arrived at Ponta Delgada on 3 December. Seven days later, she stood out of that port to rendezvous with the convoy that included George Washington, then bringing President Woodrow Wilson to Europe for the peace conference. They reached Brest on 13 December.
Two weeks later, Bell departed Brest to return to the United States. After stops at Ponta Delgada and Bermuda, she arrived at Boston on 6 January 1919. The destroyer operated with the Atlantic Fleet along the east coast and in the West Indies until placed out of commission at the Portsmouth (N.H.) Navy Yard on 21 June 1922. She remained in reserve until 25 January 1937 when her name was struck from the Navy list. On 18 April 1939, Bell was sold to the Union Shipbuilding Co., of Baltimore, for scrapping.
Raymond A. Mann
23 February 2006