steamer: tonnage 149; length 103'6"; beam 22'0"; draft 7'2";
speed 7 knots; complement 62; armament-12 September 1861 1 32-pdr.; 14 September 1861 add 1 20-pdr. Parrot rifle; 13 May 1863 1 20-pdr. Parrott rifle, 2 24-pdr.
howitzers; 2 June 1863 add 1 12-pdr.)
purchased William G. Putnam, a wooden-hulled tug built in 1857 at Brooklyn, N.Y., on 24 July 1861 at New York City and renamed the
vessel General Putnam soon thereafter. The vessel's name later returned
to William G. Putnam while in the service of the U.S. Navy.
September 1861, with Acting Master William J. Hotchkiss in command, William G. Putnam departed
bound for Washington, D.C., and arrived at the navy yard there three days
later. On the night of the 17th, she headed down river to join the Potomac Flotilla but the next day was
ordered to join the
Atlantic Blockading Squadron
at Old Point Comfort, Va., where she arrived on 23 September. Within a few days, the armed tug began operating off
the North Carolina coast where her initial duty was to reconnoiter Ocracoke Inlet. She
also patrolled off Hatteras Inlet and
assisted in the sinking of three stone-laden schooners in an attempt to help tighten the blockade by
impeding navigation and obstructing the
inlets in the area. On 29 October
1861, the Navy Department divided the Atlantic Blockading Squadron into the North and South commands, and allocated William G. Putnam to
the newly established North Atlantic
Blockading Squadron. The vessel continued to operate primarily in the waters of North Carolina.
In February 1862, the tug took
part in the expedition which captured Roanoke Island, N.C. On the 6th, the day before the battle began, the side-wheel gunboats USS Ceres
and USS William G. Putnam steamed a mile or so ahead of the main force to reconnoiter and discovered fifteen steamers and
ten sailing vessels close inshore between Pork and Weir's Points, above
the marshes of Croatan Sound. The following day, the Union warships pressed their attack while the Army landed some 10,000 troops on Roanoke Island. William G. Putnam
fired on a Confederate shore battery in an engagement that lasted all afternoon. The next morning, she resumed firing in company with USS Underwriter and other Federal warships as they started to pass
a cluster of vessels which had been sunk as obstructions. Although running aground at one point during the fight and suffering a hit on the hurricane deck, William G. Putnam emerged with no casualties from the heavy shelling by enemy guns.
10th Ceres ran aground off Elizabeth City, and William G. Putnam pulled
her free. In addition, the armed tug
attempted to put out a fire that raged
in a Confederate armed schooner
nearby. The blaze proved to be beyond
control, but the Union gunboat did manage to pick up a man from the water as he swam from the burning ship. In the operation, Union warships captured
eight Confederate vessels; opened the obstructed passage to Albemarle Sound; and raised the stars and stripes over Pork Point battery.
the ensuing days William G. Putnam conducted daily reconnaissance in Currituck Sound and missions in the Chesapeake Canal.
For the next six months, the gunboat carried
detachments of Army troops and equipment on
missions to search out and destroy rebel
supply boats. While stationed at Plymouth or New
Berne, the ship operated in the Pasquotank and Chowan Rivers
and the creeks of Dinga-derry,
Rochahock, and Seems.
repairs, William G. Putnam, sailed for Hampton Roads and arrived there
on 22 October with intelligence data for Rear Admiral Samuel P. Lee. On 6 November, the gunboat received
orders to remain in Virginia waters and to maintain a "strict and vigorous" blockade of
the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay between Fortress Monroe and the south side of the Piankatank River.
Proceeding to Yorktown, Va., the tug joined a small flotilla operating with the Army in an attempt to take Mathews Court House up the East River.
Ordered to capture or destroy all Confederate
vessels that could be used to run the Union blockade, William G. Putnam carried out her assignment
until the successful completion of the campaign
against Mathews Court House on 23 November 1862.
serving as guard vessel in the York River and off neighboring coasts, the
tug cooperated with the
Army in landing troops on expeditions up to West Point and enforced the blockade by patrolling the region until 15 January 1863. At that point her boilers broke down, and she was
unable to move. Nevertheless
William G. Putnam remained on active service in those waters, stationed so as to enfilade Gloucester Point, until towed to Baltimore to receive a new boiler and rifle
screening. The latter included iron plates placed around the forecastle,
quarter deck, and wheelhouse. She returned to her station in June 1863, helping to blockade Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.
While operating in the Piankatank River on blockade duties on 17 August, William G. Putnam and the
ex-ferryboats Commodore Jones and Commodore Morris sighted a schooner,
a canoe, and a launch running the blockade.
Men from the steamers manned two cutters, two boats, and a gig and gave chase but soon encountered heavy sniper fire from Confederate soldiers and
guerrillas in the woods. William
G. Putnam's commanding officer, Acting Master Hotchkiss fell
mortally wounded in the first enemy volley, and the boats withdrew while
returning fire. Acting Ensign William Jennings assumed command of William
G. Putnam and the ship shelled the woods for about four miles as she dropped down river.
towed to Yorktown, William G. Putnam was stationed at the mouth of Queen's Creek, where she formed an indispensable part
of the defense of Yorktown while Major General Foster erected a citadel there. By that time, the gunboat, with an "overweight boiler," had become less useful for
blockade duty; but she found
profitable employment dragging for
torpedoes near Yorktown.
Master Hugh H. Savage took command of the armed tug off Newport
News on 16 November 1863 and proceeded up Nansemond River
in early December, where she later captured a large boat and destroyed a canoe used by Confederate forces
in the area for running
mail across the river. William G. Putnam remained on picket duty off the
mouth of the Nansemond River to intercept blockade runners
until 15 December, when
she returned to Newport News.
February and March of 1864, she patrolled the Back and Poquoson
Rivers and joined an expedition on 8
March to head up the Mattaponi
River, convoying Army transports. The armed tug covered the landing of
General Kilpatrick's troops at Sheppard's
Landing, two miles above West Point,
before proceeding to the mouth of the
and ascending to a point five miles
On 13 March, William G. Putnam returned
to Yorktown and later resumed her patrols on the Back and Poquoson Rivers.
mid-April 1864, William G. Putnam operated in joint Army-Navy operations in the
James and Nansemond Rivers, covering the landings of troops. She moved ahead of Army transports, dragging
for torpedoes from Harrison's Bar to one mile above Bermuda Hundred, clearing a channel for
the landing of troops at
City Point and at Bermuda Hundred. She then operated with Brigadier General Charles K. Graham's
gunboats, supporting the
occupation of Fort Powhatan and Wilson's
Wharf. William G.
Army gunboats up the
Appomattox River and anchored at Gilliam's
Bar. She reconnoitered the river below
the bar and, by order of Brigadier General Graham, towing the U.S. Army gunboat Charles Chamberlain down the channel. Informed that
Confederate pickets had advanced in
force as far as Gilliam's Bar, the
Union flotilla retreated on 11 May to Point of Rocks and shelled the nearby woods. During the action, William
G. Putnam discovered the Confederate battery at Fort Clifton, opened fire on enemy guns and soon obtained the range. The enemy battery replied, but
a shell from the gunboat's 24-pdr.
howitzer exploded in the embrasure of their rifled gun, causing the Confederate gunners to break and run. After that action, the Union
steamer returned down
river and engaged in further combat operations
on the Appomattox River almost daily into
June, remaining on guard against surprise
attacks. Union forces repeated the
attack upon Fort Clifton on 9 and 10 June, silencing the
On 28 July 1864, Rear Admiral
Lee assigned William G. Putnam to a division under the command of
Captain Melancton Smith operating on the James River. The
gunboat also served on the Appomattox Rivers
and in Mobjack
Bay until March of 1865, when
she returned to Yorktown. Detached from the North Atlantic Blockading
Squadron on 18 March 1865, she patrolled the Rappahannock and St. Mary's Rivers.
the collapse of the Confederacy in April, the armed tug was ordered to the Washington
Navy Yard with twenty-three
other vessels from her division. William G. Putnam arrived there on 14 May and was
decommissioned on 2 June 1865. The
Treasury Department bought her at auction for use by the Lighthouse Board, and as the tender General Putnam she was
assigned to the 3rd Lighthouse District. Rammed and sunk after being
assigned to the 2nd Lighthouse District, she was raised and repaired at a cost
of $4,738 at Wilmington, Delaware.
Reassigned to the 3rd Lighthouse
District, her name was shortened to simply Putnam in September of
1869. She was rebuilt and lengthened to 135 feet in 1877 prior to being transferred
back to the 2nd Lighthouse District. Overhauled in New York in August 1880, Putnam rebuilt yet again in 1889 for $18,500.
The Lighthouse Board transferred her
to the 7th Lighthouse District in March of 1891, based out of Key West, Florida.
She was taken out of service in 1891 and sold in 1893 for $1,825. She
then entered the merchant service as the SS Putnam, operating until
Rewritten, Mark L. Hayes, 20 February 2007