The first Mississippi was named for the Mississippi River; succeeding ones for the 20th State, admitted to the Union 10 December 1817.
(SwStr: dp. 3,220; l. 229'; b. 40'; dr. 19'; a. (1841) 2 10", 8 8")
The first Mississippi, a side‑wheel steamer, was laid down by Philadelphia Navy Yard in 1839; built under the personal supervision of Commodore Matthew C. Perry; commissioned 22 December 1841, Capt. W. D. Salter in command; and launched several weeks later.
After several years of service in the Home Squadron, during which she performed experiments crucial to development of the steam Navy, Mississippi joined the West Indian Squadron in 1845 as flagship for Commodore Perry. During the Mexican War, she took part in expeditions against Alvarado, Tampico, Panuco, and Laguna do los Terminos, all successful in tightening American control of the Mexican coastline and interrupting coastwise commerce and military supply operations.
She returned to Norfolk for repairs 1 January 1847, then arrived Vera Cruz 21 March carrying Perry to take command of the American Fleet. At once she and her men plunged into amphibious operations against Vera Cruz, supplying guns and their crews to be taken ashore for the battery which fought the city to surrender in 4 days. Through the remainder of the war, Mississippi contributed guns, men, and boats to a series of coastal raids on Mexico’s east coast, taking part in the capture of Tobasco in June.
Mississippi cruised the Mediterranean during 1849‑51, then returned to the United States to prepare for service as flagship in Commodore Perry’s momentous voyage to Japan. The squadron cleared Hampton Roads 24 November 1852, for Madeira, the Cape of Good Hope, Hong Kong, and Shanghai, which was reached 4 May 1853.
The squadron now approached Japan by calls in the Ryukyus and Bonins, and entered Tokyo Bay 8 July 1853. Commodore Perry proceeded, in one of the most difficult, skillful, and significant naval/diplomatic missions ever recorded, to negotiate a trade treaty with the Japanese, hitherto absolutely opposed to opening their country to Western trade and influence. After further cruising in the Far East, Mississippi and the squadron returned to Japan 12 February 1854 and 31 March the Treaty of Kanagawa was signed.
Mississippi returned to New York 23 April 1855, and again sailed for the Far East 19 August 1857, to base at Shanghai and patrol in support of America’s burgeoning trade with the Orient. As flagship for Commodore Josiah Tatnall, she was present during the British and French attack on the Chinese forts at Taku in June 1859, and 2 months later she landed a force at Shanghai when the American consul requested her aid in restoring order to city, torn by civil strife. She returned to ordinary at Boston in 1860, but was reactivated when the Civil War became inevitable. She arrived off Key West to institute the blockade there 8 June 1861, and 5 days later made her first capture, schooner Forest King bound with coffee from Rio de Janeiro to New Orleans. On 27 November, off Northeast Pass, Mississippi River, she joined Vincennes in capturing British bark Empress, again carrying coffee from Rio to New Orleans. The following spring she joined Farragut’s squadron for the planned assault on New Orleans. After several attempts, on 7 April 1862 she and Pensacola successfully passed over the bar at Southwest Pass, the heaviest ships ever to enter the river to that time.
As Farragut brought his fleet up the river, a key engagement was that with Forts Jackson and St. Philip 24 April, during which Mississippi ran Confederate ram Manassas ashore, wrecking her with two mighty broadsides. The city was now doomed, and Mississippi, her heavy draft making her less suitable to river operations than lighter ships, remained off New Orleans for much of the next year.
Ordered upriver for the operations against Port Hudson, Mississippi sailed with six other ships, lashed in pairs while she sailed alone. On 14 March 1863, she grounded while attempting to pass the forts guarding Port Hudson. Under enemy fire, every effort was made to refloat her by her commanding officer Capt. Melancthon Smith, and his executive officer, later to be famed as Admiral George Dewey. At last her machinery was destroyed, her battery spiked, and she was fired to prevent Confederate capture. When the flames reached her magazines, she blew up and sank. She had lost 64 killed, the ships in company saving 223 of her crew.