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DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORICAL CENTER
805 KIDDER BREESE SE -- WASHINGTON NAVY YARD
WASHINGTON DC 20374-5060

Jacob Bell

 

(SwStr: t. 229; l. 141'3"; b. 21'; dph. 8'1"; a. 1 8-inch D. sb., cpl. 49; 1 32-pdr.)

 

Jacob Bell, a sidewheel steamer built at New York City in 1842, was purchased at New York from O. T. Glover and F. R. Anthony 22 August 1861; and commissioned the same day, Lt. Edward P. McCrea in command.

 

Jacob Bell immediately sailed for the Potomac, where the following day she joined steamer Ice Boat in shelling a Confederate battery at the mouth of Potomac Creek. She remained in the Potomac enforcing the blockade of the Virginia coast, reconnoitering along the shore of the Potomac and in its tributaries for Confederate fortifications and shelling any batteries found.

 

In April 1862 Jacob Bell accompanied five other Union ships to the Rappahannock River to gather information for Major General George B. McClellan, who was then launching his Peninsular Campaign and pondering over potential advantages of a second beachhead. The Union ships ascended the Rappahannock to Tappahannock (Urbana), Va., 50 miles by land from Richmond.

 

Jacob Bell became even more closely involved in the affairs of General McClellan's Army of the Potomac when she was transferred to the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron for duty on the James River. She arrived Hampton Roads 28 May and the following day proceeded with Mahaska to Fort Powhatan. A party which went ashore 30 May found no evidence that the forts had been occupied. The next day Aroostook joined the two ships in ascending the James to a point 3 miles below Drewry's Bluff, finding no obstructions or batteries on the passage but suffering some annoyance from riflemen on the left bank. The three ships promptly returned to their anchorage off Turkey Island.

 

A message from General McClellan, who was then fighting the Battle of Seven Pines, arrived a few minutes past midnight 2 June, requesting support from the Navy. Jacob Bell, accompanied by five other ships stood up stream at dawn but was prevented from reaching Richmond by carefully-prepared obstructions at Drewry's Bluff. Nevertheless, the Navy wisely remained in the upper James, where its support a month later saved the Army of the Potomac from destruction at the end of Lee's masterful Seven Days Campaign.

 

Meanwhile, Jacob Bell labored tirelessly in support of the Union cause, engaging batteries and pickets ashore, reconnoitering tributaries in hostile territory, and maintaining communications along the river. She continued this valuable service until transferred back to the Potomac Flotilla, departing Fort Monroe for Washington 2 September.

 

For the remainder of the war, Jacob Bell was primarily concerned with the defense of Washington—alternately serving in the Potomac and the Rappahannock according to the ebb and flow of the titanic struggle between General Lee and the Army of the Potomac. All the while, her duties as a blockader were discharged with skill and devotion. She captured C. F. Ward, a metal lifeboat with a contraband cargo 17 October and destroyed two schooners 4 November while on a reconnaissance mission up Nomini Creek, Va. On 23 August 1863, she caught schooner Golden Leaf trying to slip into Hosier's Creek, Va., with a cargo of sugar. Two more ships were taken in 1864.

 

In between prizes, blockade duty was varied by shelling batteries along the shore and landing boat parties to destroy Confederate property. Always busy until the South's defeat, Jacob Bell decommissioned at Washington Navy Yard 13 May 1865, and was lost at sea 6 November while being towed by Banshee toward New York.