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DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORICAL CENTER
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Levant

 

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Lands bordering the eastern Mediterranean.

 

British sloop-of-war Levant and frigate Cyanc were captured by Constitution offMadiera 20 February 1815, as news of the Treaty of Ghent ending the War of 1812 had reached neither the American frigate or the British men-of-war. Levant was retaken by a British squadron 11 March.

 

I

 

(SlpW: t. 792; l. 132'3"; b. 34'3"; dph. 15'9"; dr. 16'6" (max.); cpl. 200; a. 4 24-pdrs., 13 32-pdr. car.)

 

The first Levant, a second-class sloop-of-war, was launched 28 December 1837 by New York Navy Yard; and commissioned 17 March 1838, Comdr. Hiram Paulding in command.

 

Levant sailed from New York 1 April 1838 for 4 years’ service in the West Indies Squadron protecting American interests in the Caribbean and South Atlantic. Returning to Norfolk, the sloop-of-war decommissioned 26 June 1842.

 

She recommissioned 27 March 1843, Comdr. H. W. Page in command, and departed Norfolk to join the Pacific Squadron under Commodore John D. Sloat. From 1843 to 1845 Levant cruised between Panama and Latin American ports carrying diplomats and dispatches and generally furthering American national policy.

 

With the war with Mexico impending in 1845, Levant was, ordered to the California coast to protect American citizens and property, and was en route when Mexico declared war 12 May. The sloop arrived off Monterey 1 July, and 6 days later a landing force from Levant, Savannah, and Cyanc took possession of the recently proclaimed Republic of California.

 

On 23 July, Commodore Sloat relinquished command of the Pacific Squadron because of illness, and sailed 29 July in Levant for the east coast. Upon arriving at Norfolk 28 April 1847, the sloop was placed in ordinary. She recommissioned 12 July 1852, Comdr. George R. Upshur in command, and sailed for the Mediterranean. When Commander Upshur died on board Levant off Spezia, Italy, 3 November, Comdr. L. M. Goldsborough, later to win fame in the Civil War, took command. On 7 April 1853 at Leghorn, Italy, Levant loaded statues by American sculptor Horatio Greenough, including one of George Washington, destined for the Capitol at Washington, D.C. After embarking the U.S. Minister to Turkey and his family at Piraeus, Greece, 24 June, Levant sailed to Constantinople, arriving 5 July. Returning to Hampton Roads, Va., 29 April 1855, Levant decommissioned at New York Navy Yard 4 May.

 

Recommissioned 31 October, Comdr. William N. Smith in command, Levant sailed 13 November for Rio de Janeiro, the Cape of Good Hope, and Hong Kong, where she arrived to join the East India Squadron 12 May 1856. On 1 July she embarked the U.S. Commissioner to China for transportation to Shanghai, arriving 1 August. At the outbreak of hostilities between the British and the Chinese, Levant arrived Whampoa 28 October. Comdr. A. H. Foote then sent a landing party from Levant and his own ship, Portsmouth, to Canton to protect American lives and property there. On 15 November, while in the process of withdrawing this force, Commander Foote was fired on while passing in a small boat by the “Barrier Forts” on the Pearl River below Canton. On the 16th Levant was towed upriver to join Portsmouth and San Jacinto in keeping the Pearl open to American shipping. As the forts were being strengthened in disregard of American neutrality, Foote was ordered by Commodore James Armstrong, commanding the squadron, “to take such measures as his judgment would dictate...even the capture of the forts.”

 

Commander Foote complied with all the dash and courage for which he became famous during the Civil War. On 20 November he took the first fort by leading an amphibious assault with 300 men, then silenced the second with cannon captured from the first. Next day he took the third, and by the 24th all four were in American hands and the Pearl once again safe for American shipping.

 

Levant, close in through most of the action, received the major part of the Chinese bombardment, with 22 shot holes in her hull and rigging, one man dead, and six injured. Destruction of the earthworks was completed by 5 December, and Levant cruised between Hong Kong and Shanghai until she departed Hong Kong 7 December 1857 for home, arriving at the Boston Navy Yard 6 April 1858.

 

After repairs into 1859, Levant, Comdr. William E. Hunt in command, sailed 15 June for the Pacific, arriving at Valparaiso, Chile, 11 October, to serve as Pacific Squadron flagship, wearing Commodore John B. Montgomery’s broad pennant, through December. In January 1860 Levant sailed for the coast of Nicaragua, where she relieved Saranca and began 5 months of showing the flag off the coasts of Central and South America.

 

In May 1860 Levant was ordered to the Hawaiian Islands at the request of the Secretary of State to investigate the disbursement of relief funds to American merchant seamen. After receiving a state visit by King Kamehameha IV at Honolulu 7 May, and investigating at Lahaina, Maui, and Hilo, Hawaii, Levant sailed for Panama 18 September, but never made port.

 

All ships that vanish at sea gather rumors in death as they collect barnacles afloat. But since Levant disappeared just prior to the outbreak of the Civil War, an unusual number of intriguing yarns surround her last voyage. Bits of evidence, too scanty to solve her mystery, have multiplied the myths.

 

Commodore Montgomery reported that a violent hurricane had occurred in September in a part of the Pacific Ocean which Levant was to cross. In June 1861 a mast and a part of a lower yardarm believed to be from Levant were found near Hilo. Spikes had been driven into the mast as if a form a raft. Some rumors had her running aground on an uncharted reef off California; others had her defecting to the Confederacy. Whatever her real fate, this ghostly heroine of colorful episodes in American naval history still sails the seas of imagination and legend.