The first Sovereign-a side wheel steamer built in 1855 at Shpusetown, Pa.-operated on the Mississippi and its tributaries during the years preceding the Civil War. She was acquired by the Confederacy in 1861 and served as a transport on the same river system.
On 5 June 1862, on the Mississippi near Island No. 37, she was fired upon by Benton and, as Union tug Spitfire closed for action, was abandoned by her crew. However, a 16-year old lad who was loyal to the Union remained on board, removed weights from the steamer's safety valves, wetted down her fires, and signaled Spitfire with a white sheet. A prize crew from the Union tug then took possession of the ship.
Sovereign was condemned by the Illinois prize court and formally purchased by the Navy on 9 January 1863.
Meanwhile, in the summer of 1862, she had been placed in service as a commissary boat for the Western Flotilla under the command of First Master Thomas Baldwin. She served for the most part off the mouth of the Yazoo River tending combatant ships during operations against Vicksburg.
After the Confederate river fortress fell, she ascended the river to Cairo, Ill., where she was laid up and used as quarters for workmen in the navy yard. Following the collapse of the Confederacy, Sovereign was sold at public auction there on 29 November 1865 to S. Homer.