Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

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USS Essex (1861-1865)

Please see below for item level images and donated collections containing photographs of USS Essex (1861-1865)

USS Essex (1861-1865), an ironclad steamer, was built at St. Louis, Mo., in 1856 for use by Wiggins Ferry Company and was originally named New Era. Purchased by the War Department on 20 September 1861, the ferry was converted into a timberclad gunboat by James B. Eads of St. Louis, and assigned to duty with the Western Flotilla, an organization maintained, operated, and controlled by the Army but commanded by a naval officer. New Era, Commander W. D. Porter, steamed to Cairo, Ill., and operated on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers in October. She then took part in an expedition up the Cumberland River on 30 October before returning to St. Louis in mid-November for conversion to a partial ironclad. During the conversion, the ship was renamed USS Essex (1861-1865).

Worried about rumours relating to CSS Arkansas, USS Essex (1861-1865) was extensively modified and repaired, including new, protected boilers, heavier armor and a 45-foot hull section inserted in the middle of the ship. Following the yard work, USS Essex (1861-1865) steams south and participates in the assault on Vicksburg on 13 July 1862. On 5 August she joined with the Army in repelling a Confederate attack there and the next day USS Essex (1861-1865) attacked USS Arkansas again; during the engagement, USS Arkansas broke down and drifted ashore where she was destroyed by her crew.

USS Essex (1861-1865) acted in the capture of Port Hudson, La., from 8 May to 8 July 1863. The daily bombardment of the area by USS Essex (1861-1865) and USS Mortilla helped bring about the eventual surrender of that city. On 4 May she proceeded to Memphis, Tenn., where she remained as a guardship for the duration of the war. On 27 April 1865, following the massive boiler explosion in steamship Sultana, USS Essex (1861-1865)'s boats help rescue 60 people from the water. USS Essex (1861-1865) was decommissioned at Mound City, Ill., on 20 July 1865, and sold on 29 November 1865.

For a complete history of USS Essex (1861-1865) please see its DANFS page.