Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

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  • Ship History
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  • Civil War 1861-1865
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Saffron (Tug)

1864-1865

A species of crocus used as a source of orange dye.

(Tug: tonnage 73; draft 8'; speed 14 knots; complement 16; armament 1 gun)

John T. Jenkins, a wooden-hulled screw tug built in 1863 at New Brunswick, N.J., was purchased by the Navy on 8 December 1864 at Perth Amboy, N.J.; renamed Saffron; and commissioned within the following week, Act. Vol. Lt. Henry M. Pishon in command.

The tug was assigned to the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron and was serving at Hampton Roads by 15 December 1864. Saffron operated there and up the James River supporting Army forces during the final months of General Ulysses S. Grant's Richmond campaign.

On 3 April 1865, soon after Union forces learned that General Robert E. Lee had evacuated Richmond, Saffron joined a group of other Union ships in clearing obstructions and torpedoes [mines] from the channel leading to the fallen city. Their rapid and efficient work enabled President Abraham Lincoln to proceed safely upstream the next day to the newly-captured Secessonist capital, where throngs of rejoicing former slaves greeted the President as he walked to the former Confederate executive mansion.

After clearing the river to Richmond, Saffron helped to tow the captured Confederate ram Texas, downstream. The tug then continued to operate on the James, clearing torpedoes and obstructions from that important waterway until late in May, after which time her squadron's report of 1 June 1865 tells that Saffron either had recently sailed or was about to sail north.

No record of her decommissioning has been found, but it is certain that the ship was sold at New York City to a D. Townsend on 25 October 1865. Redocumented as Clifton on 17 February 1866, the vessel remained in merchant service until lost under unknown circumstances in 1885.

Updated, Robert J. Cressman

25 February 2021

Published: Thu Feb 25 11:21:04 EST 2021