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Congress

The bicameral legislature of the National Government of the United States, consisting of Senate and House of Representatives.

I

(Galley: tonnage 123; length between perpendiculars 72'4"; beam 19'7"; depth (in hold) 6'2"; complement 80; armament 2 12-pounders, 2 18-pounders, 4 6-pounders)

The first Congress was a galley built at the direction of Brigadier General Benedict Arnold at Skenesborough, New York, in 1776 for a fleet intended to impede British advance southward on Lake Champlain. Joining Arnold's fleet on 6 October 1776, Congress served as flagship during the battle of Valcour Island on Lake Champlain, fought on 11-13 October of that year. During the first day's lengthy engagement she fought valiantly, but suffered extensive damage to her hull, mast, and yards, at the hands of the vastly superior British force.

On 12 October the Continental Fleet, hopeful of further delaying the enemy as well as escaping to Crown Point, slipped through the British line under cover of darkness, only to be overtaken the following day at Split Rock. In the ensuing engagement, Congress was so shattered that Arnold was obliged to run her ashore and set the ship ablaze.

Although more than 20 of her crew were killed and Congress herself was destroyed, the mission of the ship and the fleet was accomplished. The British, their advance delayed until the season was too late for land operations, withdrew to Canada. The Americans used the time thus gained to equip and train the Army which defeated the next British invasion attempt, at Saratoga, N.Y., on 17 October 1777. This major victory was a most powerful factor, influencing France to throw her might, including the large French Navy, on the side of the struggling young republic.

II

(Frigate: length between perpendiculars 126; beam 34'10"; depth (in hold) 10'6"; armament 28 guns)

The second Congress was a sailing frigate built by Lancaster Burling at Poughkeepsie, N.Y., under authority of an act of the Second Continental Congress, dates 13 December 1775. One of the first 13 ships authorized to be built by the new government, she was placed under the command of Captain Grenell in the summer of 1776. Before her outfitting was completed, the British occupied the approaches to the Hudson River and extended their control of the environs throughout 1777. The infant Continental Navy suffered the destruction of Congress in October 1777 to prevent her seizure by the enemy.

III

(Frigate: displacement 1,265; length between perpendiculars 164'; beam 41'; depth (in hold) 13'4"; complement 340; armament 24 18-pounders, 12 12-pounders)

Congress, one of six frigates authorized by congressional enactment of 27 March 1794, was built by naval constructor, J. Hackett, at Portsmouth, N.H. Her construction, interrupted upon conclusion of peace terms with Algiers, was resumed with the imminence of naval war with France, and she was launched 15 August 1799 under the command of Captain J. Sever.

After outfitting at Portsmouth and Boston, Congress proceeded to Newport, R.I., in December 1799 then to sea to protect commerce from French despoilment. She started her maiden voyage, on 6 January 1800, in company with frigate, Essex, escorting merchant ships to the East Indies; however, she lost her mast when only 6 days out and returned to the States. Following repairs at Hampton Roads she again sailed for the West Indies on 26 July.

On 29 August she recaptured the merchant brig, Experiment, seized 3 days previously by a French privateer. Sailing on the Santo Domingo station until the following year, Congress returned to Boston in April 1801 and was thereafter placed in ordinary at Washington, D.C.

The continuing piracies of the Barbary States occasioned Congress' return to commission in April 1804. Under Captain John Rodgers she departed for Hampton Roads to join the ships of the Mediterranean Squadron, Commodore S. Barron. Arriving at Gibraltar on 11 August, Congress cruised vigilantly in the Mediterranean for 11 months. Now commanded by Stephen Decatur, she returned to the United States in November, carrying the Tunisian ambassador to the United States. She again laid up in ordinary at Washington until 1811.

A period of extensive repair preceded recommissioning of Congress in the fall of 1811, under the command of Captain J. Smith. Early in 1812 before war broke out she made several brief cruises along the eastern coast. Congress was assigned to the squadron of Commodore J. Rodgers, patrolling the North Atlantic, from June to August 1812. She made her second cruise against the enemy in company with frigate President, sailing from Boston on 8 October and capturing nine prizes before returning 31 December. On 30 April 1813, Congress again put to sea, cruising off the Cape Verde Islands and the Brazil coast where she captured four small enemy ships. On 14 December she returned to Portsmouth for repairs, remaining there for the duration.

From October 1822 to April 1823 Congress, Captain J. Biddle, operated against the West Indies pirates. During the second half of 1823 she carried the United States Ministers to Spain and the Argentine Republic.

In 1824 Congress was placed in ordinary at Norfolk until December when she was towed to Washington for repairs. In November 1829 she returned to Norfolk where she served as receiving ship for several years and then was laid up in ordinary.

Survey in 1834 found her unfit for repair and she was broken up at the Norfolk Navy Yard by order of the Navy Commissioner.

IV

(Frigate: disposition 1,867; length between perpendiculars 179'; beam 47'10"; draft 22'6"; complement 480; armament 4 8", 48 32-pounders)

The fourth Congress was launched at the Navy Yard, Portsmouth, N.H. 16 August 1841, and placed in commission under Captain P. Voorhees on 7 May 1842. Her first cruise, starting 15 July, took her to the Mediterranean for service with the Squadron of Commodores C. Morgan and C. Morris. In December 1843 she proceeded to the east coast of South America seizing the Buenos Aires naval squadron blockading Montevideo on 29 September 1844, where she was active until January 1845 in safeguarding U.S. trade. She was placed in ordinary at Norfolk in March.

The frigate was recommissioned on 15 September 1845 as flagship of Commodore R. Stockton and sailed for the Pacific in late October. After landing the United States Commissioner to the Sandwich Islands at Honolulu on 10 June, she proceeded to Monterey Bay where she joined the Pacific Squadron. Captain E. Lavalette assumed command on 20 July employing her along the west coast during war with Mexico. Large detachments of her crew participated in battles on Rio San Gabriel and the plains of La Mesa, and in the occupation of Los Angeles. She assisted in the bombardment and capture of Guaymas, Mexico, in October 1847, and in November furnished a detachment which aided in the occupation of Mazatlan. On 23 August 1848 she departed La Paz for Norfolk arriving the following January to be placed in ordinary.

In May 1850 she was assigned a threefold mission, protection of United States interests between the mouth of the Amazon and Cape Horn, prevention of the use of our national flag to cover the African slave trade, and maintenance of our neutral rights during hostilities among the South American countries. Departing Hampton Roads on 12 June, she arrived at Rio de Janeiro 1 September and assumed duty as flagship of the Brazil Squadron under Commodore I. McKeever until June 1853. She returned to New York on 20 July for decommissioning.

On 19 June 1855 Congress sailed for the Mediterranean and there followed 2 years as flagship of Commodore S. Breese. Sailing from Spezia, Italy, on 26 November 1857 she arrived at Philadelphia on 13 January 1858 and was placed out of commission.

In 1859 Congress was reassigned as flagship of Commodore J. Sands and the Brazil Squadron, remaining in that area until the Civil War precipitated her return to Boston on 22 August 1861.

On 9 September 1861, she was ordered to duty under command of Captain Goldsborough in the Atlantic Blockading Squadron, later to serve under Commander w. Smith, and Lieutenant J. Smith. Congress was anchored off Newport News, Va., on 8 March 1862, when she fell under attack by the Confederate ironclad, Virginia (ex-USS Merrimack) and five other small ships. After exchanging broadsides with Virginia, Congress slipped her moorings and ran aground in shallow water. The ironclad and her consorts attacked from a distance and inflicted great damage on the ship, killing 120, including the commanding officer. Ablaze in several places and unable to bring guns to bear on the enemy, Congress was forced to strike her colors. Heavy shore batteries prevented Virginia from taking possession, instead she fired several more rounds of hot shot and incendiary causing Congress to burn to the water's edge, and her magazine to explode.

In September 1865, Congress was raised and taken to the Norfolk Navy Yard where she was later sold.

V

(Screw Sloop-of-War: displacement 3,003; length 290'; beam 41'; complement 480; armament 14 9", 1 60-pounder, 3 12-pounders)

The fifth Congress was launched by the Philadelphia Navy Yard on 17 July 1868, sponsored by Miss P. Drake, daughter of Senator Drake of Missouri; and commissioned 4 March 1870, Captain N. Harrison in command. The ship was variously known as Pushmataha, and Cambridge prior to 10 August 1869 when she was renamed Congress, the name under which she performed all her service.

Her initial cruise, undertaken in 1870, was as flagship for Commodore J. Green of the South Atlantic Squadron. Returning to Boston on 29 May 1871 she was placed under Commander H. Davenport. In the summer of that year she transported supplies from New York to the Polaris which was anchored at Godhavin, Disco Island, preparatory to departing on an Arctic expedition. Late in 1871Congress served also as flagship for Vice Admiral Rowan who had been designated to accord suitable reception to a visiting Russian squadron.

After a cruise to Haiti in early 1872, Congress sailed from Norfolk on 14 February to join the Mediterranean Squadron. This lengthy tour included visits to many ports of Europe and ended at Key West, Florida, where she arrived on 5 January 1874. She was back in the Mediterranean by 9 April and visited ports on the coasts of Africa and Europe before returning to Philadelphia to visit the Centennial Exposition of 1876.

Congress was decommissioned on 26 July 1876, at Portsmouth, N.H. and laid up in ordinary until 20 September 1883, when she was sold.

VI

The sixth Congress (No. 3698), a motor launch was acquired by the Navy and placed in service on 18 October 1918. She carried out miscellaneous patrol duties in the 5th Naval District until 23 September 1919 when she was stricken from the Navy List. She was sold on 3 December 1919.


5 December 2001