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Key West I (Gunboat)


The first Key West retained the name she carried at the time she was purchased.


(Gunboat: tonnage 207; length 156'0"; beam 32'0"; depth of hold 4'6"; armament 6 24-pounder howitzers)

The first Key West—a wooden-hulled, stern-wheel steamer built in 1862 at California, Pa., as Key West No. 3—was purchased by the Navy from W. S. Evans et al. at Cairo, Illinois, on 16 April 1863; and commissioned on 26 May 1863, Acting Master Edward M. King in command.

Key West departed Cairo that day for patrol duty in the Tennessee River, supporting Army efforts and protecting Federal positions in the Tennessee Valley from Confederate cavalry raids. Frequently, as she patrolled the river and escorted transports and supply ships, her guns engaged hit-and-run batteries and bands of riflemen.

On 10 October 1864, as troops debarked at Eastport, Miss., from three transports that Key West and Undine had escorted from Clifton, Tenn., a hidden Confederate 6-gun battery at Eastport and a 3-gun battery near Chickasaw opened fire on the Union ships. After the Southern guns had set two of the transports on fire and damaged Key West with two rifle shots, the Union ships reluctantly retired downstream out-of-range.

On 2 November 1864 at Johnsonville, Tenn., Key West assisted Tawah in recapturing transport Venus, taken along with Undine and Cheeseman by the Confederates there on 30 October. On 4 November, a Confederate force under General Nathan Bedford Forrest trapped Key West, Tawah, and Elfin in a narrow, shallow section of the river near Johnsonville. After a vigorous action in which Key West was hit 19 times by rifled artillery, the three Union gunboats, riddled and almost out of ammunition, were set afire and scuttled.

Updated, Robert J. Cressman

28 July 2022

Published: Mon Aug 01 07:20:59 EDT 2022