Saginaw, a side-wheel steamer, was the first vessel buit at Mare Island Navy Yard, California. Launched as Toucey in March 1859, she was renamed and commissioned in January 1860. Her initial duty was in the Far East and served with the East India Squadron off the Chinese coast protecting American citizens and suppressing pirates. In one incident, she silenced a battery at the entrance to Quinhon Bay, Chochin, China. Decommissioned for repairs in 1862 at Hong Kong, China, Saginaw was recommissioned in March 1863. Sailing to Puget Sound, she investigated Southern privateers then sailed to Mexico and Central America to protect American interests endangered by Confederates.
In early 1865, Saginaw protected private steamers carrying gold from California gold fields. Briefly serving with the Revenue Service and protecting Americans at Mexico during unrests, she returned to the Pacific Northwest a year later to help the Western Union Company lay cable bringing telegraphic service to Alaska. Following repairs at Mare Island Navy Yard, Saginaw returned to Alaska exploring the coasts of the uncharted territory. In April 1869, she operated off the Mexican coast until November.
In March 1870, Saginaw departed to support dredging operations to the harbor of Midway Island. Completing her task in October, she started the journey to San Francisco. On the way, the ship intended to see if any shipwrecked Sailors were at Ocean Island. Striking an outlying reef, Saginaw became stranded and the surf battered her to pieces. The crew gathered much of the ship's gear and provisions and departed for the island. In November, a party of five men, lead by Lieutenant John G. Talbot, set out for Honolulu, Hawaii, in a small boat made from the timbers of the ship. Only Coxswain William Halford survived to obtain help for the marooned men of Saginaw that December. Halford later received the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions.
Image: NH 2012: USS Saginaw. Fourth Rate Navy Steamer. Built at Mare Island Navy Yard, 1859. NHHC Photograph Collection.