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DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORICAL CENTER
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Petrel

 

A small long-winged sea bird which flies far from land.

 

I

 

(Sch: t. 74; l. 68’6”; b. 19’; dph. 6’6”; s. 8 k., a. 1 32-pdr.)

 

When war broke out between the two North American Republics in 1846, Petrel was being constructed in New York for the Mexican Navy. Being a shallow-draft vessel well suited for coastal operations, she was purchased on 9 June 1846 by the United States to supplement Commodore Conner’s deepwater fleet.

 

Leaving New York 20 June under the command of Lt. T. D. Shaw, Petrel arrived off Vera Cruz 21 July. On 7 August she participated in the first attack on Alvarado, where the Mexican Fleet lay. Princeton, Mississippi, Cumberland, and Raritan bombarded the port from deep water while schooners Bonita, Flirt, Petrel, and Reefer tried unsuccessfully to run up against the strong current. When the weather began to deteriorate Commodore Conner postponed the assault and withdrew to Anton Lizardo. On 15 October Petrel participated in the second Alvarado attack. Steamer Mississippi bombarded while the “mosquito” fleet, divided into two divisions, entered the river. Steamer Vixen towed Bonita and Reefer while steamer McLane towed Foward, Nonala, and Petrel. Once again the attack failed because of bad weather.

 

Seeking a base for the invasion of the Central Valley of Mexico, Commodore Conner attacked Tampico. Most of the Home Squadron including Petrel carried out the assault 15 November. No opposition was met and three excellent schooners were captured. The Mexicans had retreated to Panuco, 8 miles up the Tampico River. On 18 October Commodore Conner dispatched Petrel and steamer Spitfire to overtake the enemy and destroy any military stores. Panuco was surrendered without a fight, and a landing party destroyed war material and spiked several cannon. In late 1846 Petrel along with Mississippi, Vixen, and Bonita attacked Carmen, which surrendered without firing a shot. Petrel and Vixen were sent to blockade Tabasco.

 

Petrel was inactive during the winter months of 1846–47 because of violent coastal storms. On 8 March 1847 along with other members of the “mosquito” fleet, Petrel provided inshore support for the Vera Cruz Landings. On 22 March the “mosquito” fleet maneuvered to within 1,000 yards of the city’s walls and fought a one-hour gun duel with the enemy. The following day the bombardment was repeated at 800 yards off Fort San Juan de Ulua. Commodore Perry, fearing for the vessels, tried to recall Commander Tattnall. The commander of the “mosquito” fleet, perhaps with a blind eye in Horatio Nelson fashion, did not see the recall, and the Commodore was forced to sent a long boat. The effect of the fire was devastating, and surprisingly the “mosquito” fleet suffered only light damage. Vera Cruz surrendered 27 March.

 

On 18 April Petrel participated in the attack on Tuxpan. This town lies 9 miles up the Tuxpan River. In 1847 the entire distance from the mouth of the river to the town was covered with thick jungle growth. The enemy had constructed 3 well positioned forts on bluffs overlooking bends in the river. Commodore Perry arrived off the mouth of the river with 15 vessels. At 10 p.m. 3 light-draft steamers towed schooners Bonita, Petrel, and Reefer up the river. Bombships Etna, Hecla, and Vesuvius followed closely behind, while 30 surf boats brought up the rear. A breeze sprang up and the schooners were cast off. Upon approaching the town, the squadron came under heavy fire from Fort La Pena; however, steamer Spitfire was the only vessel damaged. A landing party of 1,500 men captured the town as the Mexicans retreated in haste.

 

Petrel spent the remainder of the war as dispatch boat. After the Mexican War she was turned over to the Coast Survey.