Skip to main content
Related Content
  • Boats-Ships--Support Ships
Document Type
  • Ship History
Wars & Conflicts
File Formats
Location of Archival Materials

Sonoma I (SwGbt)

(SwGbt.: t. 955; l. 233'9"; b. 34'10"; dph. 12'3"; dr. 8'7"; 1 100-pdr. P.r., 1 11" D. sb., 6 24-pdr. how., 2 12-pdr. r.)

A creek, a county, and a town in California, named for one of the chiefs of Indians of the region who were converted to Christianity by Franciscan friars of the Mission, San Francisco Solano.


The first Sonoma was launched by the Portsmouth (N.H.) Navy Yard on 15 April 1862; sponsored by Miss Mary N. Bleecker; and commissioned on 8 July 1862, Comdr. Thomas H. Stevens in command.

On 17 July, the double-ender sailed for the West Indies for operations against Confederate blockade runners and raiders on the high seas. The success of Confederate cruisers, especially Florida and Alabama, in operations against Union shipping prompted the Navy Department, on 8 September, to put Commodore Charles Wilkes in command of a "flying" West India Squadron created specifically to seek out and destroy the Southern raiders. Sonoma, was assigned to this squadron. While Sonoma never quite caught up with Florida or Alabama, she did operate successfully against blockade runners.

On 5 October, she chased Harriet Pinckney back into port after she had attempted to slip out of Bermuda reportedly carrying "infernal machines or torpedoes . . . for destroying ships in harbor." On 18 January 1862, Sonoma and Wachusett seized Virginia off Mugeres Island, Mexico, and sent the steamer to Key West for adjudication. On 3 February, Sonoma captured British bark Springbok. On the 15th, she took brig Atlantic bound from Havana for Matamoras, Mexico. Finally, on 14 April, she took Clyde in the Gulf of Mexico after the schooner had escaped from the South laden with cotton and rosin.

The wear and tear of hard service at sea was catching up with the double-ender, and she sailed north for repairs. The ship reached New York on 13 June and was decommissioned on the 20th.

Back in top trim, Sonoma was recommissioned on 28 September and assigned to the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron in which she served for the rest of the Civil War. Highlights of this service included her capture of Ida on 8 July 1864. That side-wheeler had slipped out of Sapelp Sound, Ga., and was bound for the Bahamas laden with cotton.

Early the next year, 1865, she participated in operations of the squadron clearing the way for General Sherman in his march north from Savannah. On 9 February, she, Pawnee, and Daffodil engaged Confederate batteries at Togodo Creek, near the North Edisto, S.C. She was hit twice in the action, but she silenced the Southern guns. On the same day, Sherman was marching on nearby Orangeburg which he took on the 12th. Assurance of Union naval control of the waters in its path enabled Sherman's army to travel fast and light and helped to shorten the war.

On the 16th and 17th, Sonoma joined in the naval support of the Army's attack on Bull's Bay, S.C., a diversionary movement in the major drive on Charleston. A boat party from the ship helped in the fighting ashore.

The tempo of Sonoma's activity eased somewhat as Sherman moved north close to territory whose waters were within the jurisdiction of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, but she and her sister ships remained as visible evidence of Union power. After the Confederacy collapsed, the ship sailed north and was decommissioned at New York on 13 June 1865. She was sold there on 1 October 1867.

Published: Thu Sep 10 13:36:09 EDT 2015