Joshua Barney was born 6 July 1759 in Baltimore, Md. He served with distinction in Hornet and Wasp during the Revolutionary War and at the outbreak of the War of 1812 reentered the Navy as a captain, and commanded a fleet of gunboats defending Chesapeake Bay. At the Battle of Bladensburg, Barney and his sailors, acting as artillerymen, made a heroic defense of the National Capitol. Commodore Barney died 1 December 1818 at Pittsburgh, Pa.
Commodore Barney, an armed side wheel ferry, was built in 1859 at New York as the ferry boat Ethan Allen; purchased by the Navy 2 October 1861; and commissioned later in the month.
Ordered to take part in the expedition against Port Royal, S.C., in October 1861 Commodore Barney was badly damaged during a storm en route and had to put into Baltimore, Md., for repairs. She joined the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron in January 1862 and cruised along the Virginia and North Carolina coasts until June. She took part in the seizure of Roanoke Island (7-9 February 1862), the Chowan River reconnaissance (18-20 February) and the capture of New Bern, N.C. (13-14 March).
From July 1862 to March 1864 she operated out of Hampton Roads in the rivers of Virginia. Commodore Barney cooperated with the Army in defending Suffolk, Va., from 11 April to 4 May 1862 and on the Pamunkey River expedition of 24 to 29 June 1863. From 4 to 7 August 1863 she took part in the expedition up the James River during which a torpedo exploded under her bow causing damage to her engine. She continued the expedition in tow. On 13 and 14 April 1864, she joined in the James-Nansemond Rivers expedition.
After spending the period from 22 April to 27 June 1864 in the North Carolina sounds she returned to cruise the James and Appomattox Rivers until ordered to Washington Navy Yard 5 May 1865. She was sold there 20 July 1865.