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DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORICAL CENTER
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Lancaster

 

A city in southeastern Pennsylvania.

 

I

 

(ScSlp: t. 2,362; l. 235'8"; b. 46’; dr. 18'6"; s. 10 k.; cpl. 367; a. 24 9" D.sb, 2" D.sb., 2 30-pdr. P.r.)

 

The first Lancaster was laid down by the Philadelphia Navy Yard in December 1857; launched 20 October 1858; sponsored by Miss Harriet Lane, niece and official hostess of President James Buchanan; and commissioned 12 May 1859, Capt. John Rudd in command.

 

The new screw sloop-of-war departed Delaware Bay 27 July 1859 for the Pacific. After rounding Cape Horn she reached Panama Bay 6 December. Two days later, Flag Officer J. B. Montgomery hoisted his flag above Lancaster, and she served as flagship of the Pacific Squadron until 1866, cruising along the coast of South and Central America, Mexico, and California to protect American commerce and the Pacific mail steamers. On 23 February Rear Adm. C. H. Bell reported an incident which typified her unspectacular but vital service during the Civil War: “Such is the present state of affairs at Alcapulco, that it is believed by both native and foreign populations that the presence of man-of-war alone prevented an attempt to sack and destroy the town by the Indians in the interior, encouraged by governor, General Alvarez...” Far from the main theaters of the Civil War, a U.S. naval vessel was carrying out the traditional mission of protecting American interests and keeping the peace.

 

However, she did have one dramatic moment during the Civil War. On 11 November 1864, a secret expedition of boats from the ship captured a party of Confederate officers in passenger steamer Salvador, outside the Bay of Panama. They had planned to seize Salvador for the Confederate Government and convert her into a raider to capture Union gold shipments from California.

 

In the spring of 1866, Lancaster received extensive repairs at the Mare Island Navy Yard and on 27 June sailed from San Francisco for the east coast, via Panama Bay, Callao, Valparaiso, Barbados, and Nassau. She arrived Norfolk Navy Yard 8 March 1867 and decommissioned on the 19th.

 

Recommissioned 26 August 1869, Lancaster sailed for the South Atlantic via Funchal, Madeira. She arrived at Rio de Janeiro 6 January 1870 and served as flagship of the squadron until 1875. From January to May 1874, she took part in fleet drills in the North Atlantic and was in the force concentrated at Key West lest war with Spain break out over the “Virginius affair.” Spanish officials at Santiago de Cuba had seized American filibustering steamer Virginius and executed a part of her crew. After diplomatic efforts resolved the controversy peacefully, Lancaster returned to the South Atlantic until she departed Rio de Janiero 21 May 1875 for home, arriving at Portsmouth, N.H., 12 July. The ship decommissioned 31 July 1875, and laid up for repairs at the Portsmouth yard.

 

Lancaster recommissioned 26 August 1881 and on 12 September sailed from Portsmouth, via New York, for Europe. Arrived at Gibraltar 9 November, she became flagship of the European squadron and during the following years cruised extensively in the Mediterranean, northern European waters, and on the coast of Africa, protecting American citizens and commerce and promoting friendly relations with other countries. From 27 June to 20 July 1882 the flagship was at Alexandria, Egypt, during a series of riots and was present when the British fleet bombarded the forts 11 July. Rear Adm. J. W. Nicholson, commanding the U.S. squadron, welcomed on board both American and foreign refugees for protection, and landed a force of 100 men to guard the American consulate and assist in extinguishing fires, in burying the dead, and in preserving order. Rear Adm. Charles H. Baldwin relieved Rear Adm. Nicholson of command of the squadron 10 March 1883. Acting under instructions from the Navy Department, Admiral Baldwin proceeded in Lancaster to Kronstadt, Russia, and on 27 May he and his staff attended the coronation of Tzar Alexander III at Moscow.

 

Early in 1885 Lancaster cruised down the west coast of Africa and arrived in the Congo River 28 April en route to Brazil. She arrived Rio de Janeiro 1 July and served as flagship of the squadron until 1888, cruising along the coasts of South America and Africa protecting American interests and conducting squadron drills and exercises.

 

Lancaster sailed 18 January 1888 from Montevideo for Europe arriving Gibraltar 6 April. As flagship of the European Squadron she cruised in the Mediterranean until she departed Gibraltar 2 July 1889 and returned to the United States via Funchal, Madeira, arriving at New York 8 August. She decommissioned at the New York Navy Yard 7 September 1889 and was towed to the Portsmouth, N.H., yard for repairs.

 

Recommissioned 19 March 1891, Lancaster proceeded to New York where Rear Adm. D. B. Harmony broke his flag in her 23 June. She departed New York 13 July en route to the Far East via Madeira, Cape Town, and Singapore. She arrived at Hong Kong 4 January 1892 and served as flagship of the Asiastic Squadron until 1891, cruising extensively on the coast of China and in Japanese waters. She sailed from Hong Kong 15 February 1894 for the United States, via the Suez Canal, and arrived at New York 8 June. The ship decommissioned at the New York Navy Yard on 30 June 1894.

 

Lancaster recommissioned 12 September 1895 and was ordered to the South Atlantic Squadron. On 22 October she proceeded to Newport, and on 4 November stood out for the South Atlantic, via Madeira and the Cape Verde Islands. The ship arrived at Montevideo, Uruguay, 13 February 1896. She operated on the coast of South America until the following year, based at Montevideo, and serving part time as flagship of the squadron. On 5 September 1897 she sailed from base for the United States, arrived Boston 18 November, and decommissioned there 31 December 1897.

 

After the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, Lancaster recommissioned 5 May 1898, sailed on the 19th, and arrived on the 31st at Key West, Fla., where she served as station ship during the conflict. Departing Key West 18 August the ship arrived at Portsmouth 3 September. Assigned to duty as a gunnery training ship, Lancaster departed Portsmouth 8 January 1899 and cruised along the Atlantic coast and in the West Indies. From 3 June 1900 to 4 March 1901 she made a cruise to European waters, returning to the United States via the West Indies and La Guaira, Venezuela. She continued cruising the Atlantic training landsmen until she decommissioned at the Philadelphia Navy Yard 1 May 1902. Lancaster served as receiving ship at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, 16 November 1903 to 31 March 1912, and was transferred to the Bureau of Public Health Service, Treasury Department, on 1 February 1913. Her name was stricken from the Navy list on 31 December 1915.

 

Lancaster served the Public Health Service as a quarantine detention ship at Reedy Island, Del., Quarantine Station until 1920, then was transferred to the New York Quarantine Station for similar use. Her hulk was broken in 1933.

 

__________

 

(SwRam: t. 257)

 

Lancaster was a sidewheel steamer built in 1855 at Cincinnati, Ohio. Lt. Col. Charles Ellet purchased her for the War Department early in April 1862. After fitting out as a ram at Cincinnati, she steamed down the Ohio river to join a fleet of rams which Ellet was organizing to counter Confederate rams in the Mississippi.

 

On 10 May the Confederate ram flotilla, known as the River Defense Fleet, made a spirited attack on Union gunboats and mortar schooners at Plum Point Bend, Tenn., sinking Cincinnati and forcing Mound City aground. A fortnight later all  but one of the rams had joined the Union flotilla above Fort Pillow ready for action. As the ram fleet and western flotilla prepared to attack, General Halleck’s capture of Corinth, Miss., 30 May, cut the railway lines which supported the Confederate positions at Forts Pillow and Randolph forcing the South to abandon these river strongholds.

 

The Confederacy charged its River Defense Fleet, the only remaining operational group of southern warships worthy of the name fleet, with the task of stemming the Union advance down the Mississippi. The South’s strategy called for a naval stand at Memphis, Tenn.

 

On the evening of 6 June, Flag Officer Davis arrived above the city with his ironclads. Before dawn the next morning the Union ships raised their anchors and dropped downstream by their sterns. Half an hour later the Confederate rams got underway from the Memphis levee and opened fire.

 

At this point Colonel Ellet ordered his rams to steam through the line of Flag Officer Davis’ slower ironclads and run down the Confederate steamers. His flagship Queen of the West headed straight for Colonel Lovell, the leading southern ram. A moment before the two ships crashed, one of Colonel Lovell’s engines failed causing her to veer. The Union ram’s reinforced prow smashed into Colonel Lovell’s side ripping a fatal hole in her side. When Queen of the West pulled free from Lovell she ran aground on the Arkansas shore. Meanwhile, Union ram Monarch crashed into foundering Colonel Lovell with a second blow which sent her to the river bottom with all but five of her crew. By then Davis’ ironclads had steamed within easy range of the southern ships and began to score with the effective fire. In the ensuing close action, the Confederate River Defense Fleet was destroyed; all of its ships, except Van Dorn, were either captured, sunk, or grounded to avoid capture. Memphis surrendered to Flag Officer Davis, and the pressure of relentless naval power placed another important segment of the Mississippi firmly under Union control, an open wound in the Confederate heartland.

 

On 19 June Lancaster and four sister rams got underway downstream from Memphis. Two days later she captured and sank a ferryboat used to transport Confederate troops from the West across the Mississippi. A week later, after the rams had moved down the river to a point just above Vicksburg, Ellet sent a party across the peninsula, formed by a bend in the river opposite the hillside town, to tell Farragut, just below the fortress, that the Union had won control of the upper Mississippi. Farragut ran the gauntlet past Vicksburg’s guns 28 June, and Flag Officer Davis joined him above the city with the western flotilla 1 July.

 

The meeting of the fresh water and salt water squadrons helped buoy morale throughout the North, but control of the river which it implied could not be realized until the South lost its Gibraltar-like fortress at Vicksburg. A year of seemingly endless labor and bitter fighting awaited the champions of the Union cause before President Lincoln could write: “The Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea...”

 

During the coming months, Lancaster and her sisters of the ram fleet worked tirelessly to take Vicksburg. On 15 July Confederate ironclad ram Arkansas, built at Memphis and completed at Yazoo, Miss., raced down the Yazoo River and fought through the combined Union squadrons to shelter under the guns at Vicksburg. At the first sight of Arkansas, Lancaster cut her line; dropped down with the current; and strained to buildup sufficient steam pressure to ram the southern ship. As her speed increased, Lancaster headed straight for Arkansas; but when she was a mere 100 yards from her quarry, a broadside from the ironclad opened up her steamlines and made her unmanageable. As Lancaster drifted downstream, Queen of the West caught her and towed her to safety. The following day ram Mingo came alongside and took Lancaster to Memphis for repairs.

 

After she was back in fighting shape, the ram resumed operations on the Mississippi towing other ships against the swift current, performing reconnaissance work, and escorting Union supply ships and transports up and down the river. This vital task of protecting General Grant’s logistic lines was necessitated by stepped-up southern guerrilla activity and cavalry raids along the river banks.

 

In mid-March 1863, Farragut returned to the river and managed to run two of his ships upstream past southern batteries at Port Hudson to blockade the mouth of the Red River which the Confederacy had used to funnel supplies and men from the West to Jefferson Davis’ armies east of the Mississippi. He then requested Rear Admiral Porter to send him reinforcements from the Western Flotilla to help with the task.

 

In the wee hours of 25 March, two of Ellet’s rams, Switzerland and Lancaster, prepared to answer the call. They came within range of the hostile hillside guns just as the still hidden sun began to lighten the sky’s midnight blue. Bright flashes burst along the hilltops as Confederate cannon lashed out at the rams. A shell exploded in Lancaster’s steam drum and then a solid shot plunged into her stern and tore a great hole in her bottom. As the muddy Mississippi poured into her hull, Lancaster’s commander, Lt. Col. John A. Ellet, ordered her crew to abandon the ship, and the ram sank hard by the bow.