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Sachem

The head of a confederation of Indian tribes in North America; a chief.

I

(Sloop: armament 10 guns)

Continental brigantine, Lexington, commanded by Capt. John Barry, captured sloop, Edward, a tender to British frigate, Liverpool, off the Delaware capes on 7 April 1776, after a fierce, one-hour fight. Lexington escorted her prize to Philadelphia where Edward was libeled on the 13th, condemned on the 29th, and purchased by the Marine Committee of the Continental Congress on 2 May. Renamed Sachem, the sloop was fitted out under the direction of 17-year-old Joshua Barney who received his commission as a lieutenant while the ship was being prepared for sea. Shortly before Sachem was ready for action, Capt. Isaiah Robinson assumed command of the sloop.

On 6 July, Sachem, carrying dispatches for Barry who was patrolling the mouth of the bay, dropped down the Delaware. The orders directed Barry to put to sea in Lexington. Since Barry declined the suggestion that the two ships cruise together, they parted after clearing the capes. On 12 August, Sachem fought brigantine, Three Friends, for over two hours before the British letter of marque surrendered.

Robinson sent the prize to Philadelphia for adjudication and, since Sachem had suffered substantial damage in the battle, she followed Three Friends into port for repairs.

After Sachem was back in fighting trim, she was placed under the direction of the Secret Committee which handled procurement matters for the Continental Congress. Few details of her subsequent operations have survived. It is known that she sailed for the West Indies on 29 March 1777 carrying dispatches for William Bingham, the Continental agent in Martinique. These letters were duplicates of earlier messages which had gone astray when frigate, Randolph, was diverted to Charleston, S. C., for repairs after losing two masts.

It is said that Sachem was burned in the Delaware River the following autumn to avoid capture by the British, but evidence to substantiate this claim is scanty.

II

(Screw gunboat: tonnage 197; length 121'; beam 23'6"; depth of hold 7'6"; complement 52; armament 1 20-pounder Parrott rifle, 4 32-pounders)

The second Sachem, a screw steamer built in 1844 at New York City, was purchased by the Navy there on 20 September 1861.

After towing service in New York Harbor where the Navy was buying vessels to blockade the Confederate coast, Sachem, commanded by Acting Master Lemuel G. Crane, got underway on 6 March 1862 and, with Currituck, escorted Monitor to Hampton Roads. The ships reached Fort Monroe on the night of the 8th. Sachem was present the next day during Monitor's historic engagement with Confederate ironclad ram, Virginia, the former USS Merrimack.

On the 17th, Sachem was assigned to the Coast Survey and, with the assistant in charge, soon sailed for the Gulf of Mexico where Flag Officer Farragut was preparing to attack New Orleans. Sachem entered the Mississippi on 12 April; and "…while exposed to fire from shot and shell, and from sharpshooters in the bushes," her boats surveyed the river from the passes to positions just below forts St. Philip and Jackson. They marked off the channel for Farragut's deep draft men-of-war and located firing positions for Comdr. David D. Porter's mortar schooners. Whenever riflemen in the underbrush along the river's marshy shores fired upon the surveying parties, a few rounds of canister from the Union warships would silence the musketry. However, at night, Confederates managed to undo much of the work of these brave engineers by moving their carefully located stakes and flags. But the triangulation continued; and, when Farragut moved his fleet up the river on the 15th, charts prepared by the Coast Survey guided each of Porter's vessels to a position from which it could fire accurately at one of the forts while suffering minimum exposure to enemy guns. On the morning of the 18th, when the schooners began bombarding the forts, each gunner knew to the yard the distance from his mortar to the target. In the days that followed, whenever a vessel changed its position, an officer of the Coast Survey would immediately calculate the new distance for her gunners, enabling them to resume their extremely accurate fire.

Sachem, meanwhile, was busy transporting the wounded to the hospital at Pilot Town, mapping the labyrinthian waterways in the vicinity, supplying pilots for military traffic on the river, and helping to refloat Miami after that gunboat had run aground.

Farragut, covered by an intense bombardment from Porter's schooners, had dashed through the obstructions across the river and past the forts on the night of 23/24 April. The outflanked riverine forts surrendered on the 28th.

Sachem, after supporting Farragut near New Orleans, arrived at Ship Island, Miss., on 5 May, but got underway later that day to reconnoiter Lake Ponchartrain and the Pearl River. Then, on the 7th, she accompanied the steamers of the mortar flotilla to the bar off Mobile Bay to get information and lay buoys for a contemplated attack on that port. On the 8th, when steamer, Clifton, ran aground on Southeast Shoal under the guns of Fort Morgan, Sachem, ignoring the Confederate fire, steamed in to help refloat the ship.

The appearances of the Union warships off Mobile Bay prompted Confederate forces to destroy and evacuate the navy yard at nearby Pensacola, Fla. Porter assisted Brigadier General Lewis G. Arnold in occupying and restoring the abandoned works which soon became a valuable Union naval base in the gulf.

Few records have been found to help trace Sachem's movements during the coming weeks. On 16 May, while writing to the Superintendent of the Coast Survey, Porter mentioned Sachem leading three steamers up the Pearl River seeking Confederate gunboats reported there. On the expedition, Mr. J. G. Oltmanns of the Coast Survey was severely wounded by a Confederate rifle ball. Sachem's guns quickly scattered the Southern sharpshooters. It is not clear whether this action occurred during Sachem's expedition up the Pearl which began on 5 May or took place during a later operation there. A late report states that men from Sachem were ashore above Natchez on the 25th, but nothing is known about their mission or about the operation of their own ship at the time.

On the last day of June, Farragut ordered Capt. H. W. Morris, Senior Naval Officer at New Orleans, to man Sachem, with officers and crew, so the Coast Survey probably returned her to the Navy there about this time. In the same dispatch, he also ordered Sachem to blockade Aransas Pass, Tex. Commanded by Acting Volunteer Lt. Amos Johnson, the gunboat served there as tender to bark, Arthur, late in July. On 12 August, she took an unidentified prize in Aransas Bay. Four days later, she and yacht, Corypheus, engaged a battery behind a levee. One shot struck the gunboat's side and wounded a petty officer before the Union ships silenced the Southern guns. The Confederate artillerymen later returned to their guns and resumed the duel which continued intermittently throughout the day. Two days later, Sachem, Reindeer, and Arthur supported a party from sloop, Belle Italia, which landed near Corpus Christi, Tex., to attack a battery. Fire from the ships enabled the beach party to beat off a counter attack by large bodies of infantry and cavalry. They held their beachhead on the shore until freely withdrawing late in the day after exhausting their ammunition. Sachem's commanding officer, Acting Master Amos Johnson, won high praise for his "courage and zeal" during the action.

On the night of 6 December, Sachem, captured a small, unidentified schooner manned by three men and laden with salt. The prisoners told of an armed Confederate schooner which had left Corpus Christi to sound the channel at Corpus Christi Pass. Two boats from Sachem got under way the next morning to intercept the Southern ship. They caught sight of their quarry some 28 miles further and gave chase. After pursuing the schooner, Queen of the Bay, about 8 miles, the boats forced her ashore. The Confederates abandoned their ship and opened fire on the Union boats from the shore, killing three men and wounding three others including the commander of the boat party, Acting Ensign Alfred H. Reynolds. The Federal sailors then left their boats and retreated overland 30 miles to rejoin Sachem at Aransas Bay.

Sachem, badly needing repairs, proceeded to Galveston where she arrived on 29 December. Two days later, before dawn on the first day of 1863, Confederate forces surprised the Union Navy ships in that port. During the struggle, Sachem and Corypheus vigorously supported the Union Army garrison which was under attack. Harriet Lane surrendered; and, after running aground, Westfield was destroyed to prevent capture. Sachem, under orders of Lt. Comdr. Law, senior surviving naval officer, ran through heavy artillery fire from the shore and escaped to sea. She reached New Orleans about midnight of 3-4 January.

In need of overhaul before the action, Sachem was badly cut up during the fighting in Galveston Harbor and had one propeller shot away. But, some two months of repair work at New Orleans restored the gunboat to fighting trim. At that time, early March 1863, Admiral Farragut was preparing to push up the Mississippi once more to help tighten the strangle hold which Admiral Porter and General Grant were closing around Vicksburg. Once past the Confederate batteries at Port Hudson, he intended to blockade the mouth of the Red River to stop the flow of men and supplies from the west to Southern armies fighting east of the Mississippi.

While Farragut approached Port Hudson on 14 March, Essex, Sachem, and several mortar schooners were already in position below the forts. That afternoon, as the mortars began a slow bombardment of the lower riverside breastworks, Sachem steamed up close to Southern batteries tempting them to reveal the positions of their cannon; but the Confederate guns spurned the bait and remained hidden. As darkness fell, Farragut moved his assault forces, three steam sloops-of-war - each lashed to a gunboat - and side-wheeler, Mississippi, up to predetermined positions just out of range of Port Hudson's artillery. Shortly after ten, the warships, led by flagship, Hartford, and her consort, Albatross, got under way and stealthily steamed upstream. About an hour later, guns of the lower battery opened fire. Sachem, Essex, and the mortar schooners immediately replied. Their fire so hampered the gunners in the lower batteries that they did little damage to Farragut's flotilla as it raced up the river, guns ablazing, toward more deadly batteries beyond range of Sachem, Essex, and the mortar schooners. About an hour past midnight on the 15th, Comdr. Caldwell, in Essex, ordered Sachem to investigate a ship which had been sighted coming down stream. It proved to be Richmond being towed by Genessee after the steam sloop-of-war had been disabled and forced to retire from the action. Later a boat came down and reported that Mississippi was aground and in trouble. While Sachem steamed to assist the distressed side wheeler, another boat appeared, rowing down, bringing Capt. Smith, Mississippi's commanding officer; Lt. George Dewey, the future hero of Manila Bay; and word that Mississippi had been abandoned. Sachem transferred the officers to Richmond and then headed back up river. She soon struck a raft, breaking it in two, fouling her propeller, and almost causing her to collide with Richmond. A few moments later, blazing Mississippi, drifted into view and forced Sachem to maneuver desperately to avoid entanglement with that doomed and dangerous derelict. Then, Sachem, devoted the rest of the night to picking up stray survivors of the side wheeler. During the fight, Sachem's only serious injury was a fracture in the barrel of her 20-pounder Parrot rifle. After supporting Farragut's attack on Port Hudson, Sachem was based at Baton Rouge, to help maintain Union control of the lower river.

In April, while proceeding to Berwick Bay, La., to replace Diana which had been captured there on 28 March, Sachem developed serious leaks which forced her to return to New Orleans. After repairs had been completed, the ship returned to Berwick Bay; ascended the Atchafalaya River, bypassing Port Hudson; and joined Farragut in sealing off the mouth of the Red River and in patrolling the Mississippi above Fort Hudson. This blockade stopped the flow of food and supplies to the Southern riverbank forts at Vicksburg and Port Hudson.

When Porter daringly raced his gunboats down the Mississippi past the batteries at Vicksburg, Admiral Farragut decided to leave the river and turn his attention back to the blockade of the gulf coast. On the morning of 8 May, he left his flagship, Hartford, and embarked on Sachem for passage back down the Atchafalaya to Brashear City, La., where he boarded a train for New Orleans. Sachem then returned by the back route to the Mississippi between Vicksburg and Port Hudson where she served as a dispatch vessel carrying messages and supplies between Army and Navy units besieging those two Southern river strongholds.

Early in July, the fall of those fortresses opened the entire Mississippi to Union shipping and freed Sachem for duty in the Berwick Bay/Atchafalaya area which occupied the gunboat during the summer.

Early in September, Sachem was assigned to a joint Army-Navy expeditionary force mounted at New Orleans to attack Sabine Pass, Tex. Possession of this port would close another important Confederate blockade running center and provide the Union with a base for a thrust into the interior of Texas. Sachem arrived off Sabine Pass on the evening of the 7th, followed Clifton across the bar and entered the harbor there the next day. That afternoon, Sachem, followed by Arizona, advanced up the Louisiana Channel while Clifton and Granite City moved forward along the Texas shore. Sachem and Clifton opened fire on the Confederate batteries at Fort Mannahasset, but the Confederate guns remained silent until the Union gunboats were at close range. Then they countered with a devastating cannonade. A shot through her boiler totally disabled Sachem and another cut Clifton's wheel rope causing her to run aground under the Southern guns. Nevertheless, the damaged gunboats continued their struggle until heavy casualties forced Clifton to surrender. Arizona and Granite City then began to withdraw; so Lt. Johnson, with no possibility of saving his ship, ordered her Parrott gun spiked; her magazine flooded; and her signal book and spy glass destroyed. He then had her flag hauled down and a white flag hoisted.

Confederate cotton clad steamer, Uncle Ben, then pulled up to Sachem and towed the gunboat to Sabine City. On 17 October, Sachem sailed for Orange, Tex., and operated under the Texas Marine Department supporting the Confederate, Army. In March 1864, Sachem was back at Sabine Pass; and, in April, was said to be commanded by a noted blockade runner of Galveston, John Davisson; was reportedly laden with cotton and awaiting a chance to slip through the blockade. However, no further record of her career has been found.

III

(Motor Patrol Boat SP-192: tonnage 317; length 186'3"; draft 8'; speed 12 knots; complement 49; armament 1 6-pounder, 2 3-pounders, 2 machine guns)

The third Sachem (SP-192), formerly the steel-hulled, steam yacht Celt, was built by Pusey and Jones, Wilmington, Del.; launched on 12 April 1902; sponsored by Miss Elizabeth Hunter Pusey; acquired by the Navy from M. B. Metcalf of New York on 3 July 1917; and placed in service on 19 August 1917. She operated as a harbor patrol craft in the 3d Naval District until she was returned to her owner on 10 February 1919.



30 January 2002

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