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DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORICAL CENTER
805 KIDDER BREESE SE -- WASHINGTON NAVY YARD
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Keystone State

 

A symbol of Pennsylvania.

 

(SwStr: t. 1,364; l. 220'; b. 35'; dr. 14'6"; s. 9.5 k.; cpl. 163; a. 2 12-pdrs. (It), 2 12-pdrs (h.))

 

The first Keystone State, a wooden side wheel steamer built at Philadelphia in 1853 by J. W. Lynn was chartered by the Navy 19 April from the Ocean Steam Navigation Co. at Philadelphia, and purchased 10 June 1861. She commissioned at Philadelphia Navy Yard 19 July 1861, Comdr. G. H. Scott in command.

 

Chartered to search for Confederate raider Sumpter, she shared in the capture of Hiawatha at Hampton Roads 20 May 1861. When her charter expired 23 May, she returned to Philadelphia, where she was purchased; fitted out; and commissioned. She left the Delaware Capes 21 July and cruised in the West Indies seeking Confederate blockade runners in Caribbean ports; and on the high seas she captured Saloon 10 October and towed her to Philadelphia via Key West, Fla.

 

At Philadelphia Comdr. W. E. Le Roy took command of the ship 12 November. The side wheeler stood down the Delaware and out to sea 8 December, visited Bermuda and arrived Hampton Roads the day after Christmas. She got underway 9 January 1862 and joined the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron at Charleston 13 January 1862.

 

Ordered to the Florida coast she engaged Confederate batteries at Amelia Island on the 18th and captured schooner Mars 5 February.

 

Keystone State arrived Port Royal, S.C., for replacement 18 March and got underway again on the 29th. She chased a blockade runner and fired at another 3 April; but both escaped. On the 10th she chased schooner Liverpool of Nassau ashore where she was burned to the water's edge. Schooner Dixie fell prey to the vigilant blockader 15 April, steamer Elizabeth then struck her colors 29 May, and schooner Cora surrendered 2 days later. Keystone State took blockade runner Sarah off Charleston 20 June and pursued an unidentified steamer all day and night of the 24th before giving up the chase. She took schooner Fanny attempting to slip into Charleston with a cargo of salt 22 August.

 

However, this was dangerous work; and Keystone State well earned her long list of prizes. On the last day of January 1863 she discovered a ship off Charleston, stood fast, and fired at her. The ship responded in kind, from time to time hitting the blockader. At 0600 a shot ripped into 'Keystone State's steam drum, scalding 1 officer and 19 men to death and wounding another score. Later that morning Memphis towed Keystone State to Port Royal for repairs. Ready for action again, she got underway on George Washington's Birthday for blockading station off St. Simons Sound, Ga., where she served until departing for Philadelphia 2 June for repairs at the Navy Yard, where she decommissioned on the 10th.

 

Keystone State recommissioned 3 October, Comdr. Edward Donaldson in command, and stood out from Delaware Capes on the 27th. Three days later she joined the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron at Wilmington, N.C. While cruising off Wilmington, the veteran side wheeler captured steamer Margaret and Jessie 5 November. On 29 May 1864 she picked up 235 bales of cotton which had been thrown overboard by a chase; and the next day she captured steamer Caledonia. She took steamer Suez off Beaufort, N.C., 5 June and steamer Rouen at sea 2 July. On the 26th she chased a steamer which escaped after throwing her cargo of cotton overboard. Keystone State then picked up over 60 bales. On a similar occasion 8 August she salvaged 225 bales. On the 24th she chased and captured steamer Lilian and, with Gettysburg, picked up 58 bales. On 5 September with Quaker City she chased and fired at steamer Elsie. A shell exploded in the blockade runner's forward hold, starting a fire which Keystone State extinguished. Keystone State then escorted her prize to Beaufort, N.C.

 

During the fall of 1864, the side wheeler continued blockade duty off the North Carolina coast; and, as winter set in, she prepared to attack Fort Fisher, which protected the important Confederate port of Wilmington. Shortly after dawn on Christmas Eve, Keystone State, steaming with the reserve squadron of the fleet in line of battle, got underway toward Fort Fisher. Her guns, firing over and between the ships in the first echelon, supported troops as they landed and fought to take the fort. However, late in the afternoon, the Army Commander. General Benjamin F. Butler, decided that the Confederate works could not be taken and ordered his troops to reembark. Keystone State withdrew to Beaufort, N.C.

 

Rear Admiral Porter, the Navy Commander, was not to be thwarted. He renewed the attack on Fort Fisher 13 January with a force of 59 warships. He sent some 2,000 sailors and marines ashore to aid the 8,000 Army troops led by Major General Alfred H. Terry. After 3 days of bitter fighting, the bravely defended Confederate fortress fell, closing the South's last supply line with Europe. Keystone State reached the scene before dawn the 16th and received the wounded.

 

After the capture of Wilmington, the side wheeler continued to operate along the Carolina coast supporting clean-up operations which snuffed out Southern resistance. She got underway 13 March towing monitor Montauk to Hampton Roads and arrived Baltimore the 20th. Keystone State decommissioned 25 March and was sold at auction at Washington 15 September to M. O. Roberts. She was redocumented 22 December 1865, and operated in merchant service until 1879.

 

Sloop-of-War St. Louis (q.v.) was renamed Keystone State 30 November 1904.