(SwGbt.: t. 819; 1. 209'; b. 34'11"; dph. 12'3"; dr. 10'2"; s. 11.5 k.; cpl. 105; a. 1 10" D.sb., 1 100-pdr., 6 24-pdr. how.; cl. Genessee)
A village of Iroquoian Indians that lived near the present site of Athens, Pa., until it was burned by Colonel Hartley in 1778. The name of the village, an Indian term variously translated as "at the forks," "swift current," and "gate," has been given to a river that rises in Bradford County, Pa., and flows westward and then loops northward and flows to Corning, N.Y., where it joins the Cohocton. Counties in New York and Pennsylvania are also called Tioga.
The first Tioga, one of 12 double-ended steam gunboats laid down in the summer and fall of 1861, was launched by the Boston Navy Yard on 18 April 1862; sponsored by Mrs. H. P. Grace; and commissioned on 30 June 1862, Lt. George W. Rodgers in command.
The double-ender sailed for Hampton Roads late that day, joined the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron upon her arrival there on 5 July, and promptly ascended the James to support Union troops beleaguered in a small pocket on the north bank of the river. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia had recently defeated McClellan's Army of the Potomac in the Seven Days Campaign and penned the Northern forces in a bridgehead at Harrison's Landing where they were protected by the guns of Union warships and fed by Federal supply ships. The Union gunboats, charged with maintaining control of the James for the North to assure the continuation of McClellan's waterborne support, constituted an independent division of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron called the James River Flotilla.
While in the James River Flotilla, Tioga escorted supply ships and frequently exchanged fire with Southern batteries and sharpshooters ashore. One of her more unusual duties during this assignment was the chore of protecting the barge which carried and launched an observation balloon to reconoiter Confederate positions and troop deployments. Thus, it has been claimed jocularly that she was one of the first warships to screen an aircraft carrier.
During much of August, Tioga helped to cover the movement of Union troops as McClellan evacuated the peninsula between the James and the York Rivers and transferred his troops north by water to protect Washington. After the withdrawal had been largely completed, the James River Flotilla was broken up on 29 August, with a dozen of its ships being transferred to the Potomac Flotilla and the remainder reverting to the direct control of Rear Admiral Louis M. Goldsborough, who commanded the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron Tioga was one of the Union warships sent north to strengthen Federal control of the Potomac and, by doing so, to beef up the Union forces afloat ready to defend Washington. At this time, Lee was defeating Pope's Army of Virginia in the Second Battle of Bull Run, greatly endangering the Federal capital.
However, before Tioga could become an effective part of the Potomac Flotilla, a change of orders reassigned her to the newly established West India Squadron, formed-under the command of Commodore Charles Wilkes-to counter the threat posed by the recent commissioning of the Confederate commerce raider Florida and the expected activation of the steam warship then being built for the South in England under the designation 290 which would prey on Northern shipping as Alabama. While Tioga never encountered either of these adversaries which would win renown under Confederate colors, she did compile an impressive score against blockade runners.
She took her first prize on St. Valentine's Day 1863, when she overhauled Avon and sent that English schooner to Key West, Fla., for adjudication. On 13 March, she captured another British schooner, Florence Nightingale, laden with cotton and without papers. Nine days later, she made a prize of the English side-wheel steamer Granite City. The British sloop Justina struck her colors to the gunboat on 23 April. On 20 June, while cruising in company with Santiago de Cuba and Octorara, Tioga sighted a strange steamer; and the three Union ships gave chase. When they noticed a large quantity of cotton floating in the water, Tioga and Octorara hove to and picked up the jettisoned cargo, while Santiago de Cuba kept up the pursuit and overtook the English steamer Victory which she sent to Boston under a prize crew. A week later, Tioga captured Julia as that English schooner attempted to slip through the Union blockade laden with cotton and rosin. On 25 September, she took Confederate steamer Herald which had escaped from the South with a cargo of cotton and naval stores.
Three days before the gunboat made this capture, orders had left Washington to transfer Tioga to the East Gulf Blockading Squadron. After beginning her new assignment, the double-ender participated in the capture of sloop Last Trial near Key West; but thereafter she spent much of the autumn undergoing repairs at Key West. Early the following year, she resumed her success as a bane to blockade runners. She took an unidentified schooner (laden with salt, liquors, coffee, arms, and other items badly needed by the South) off Grand Bahama Island on 4 January 1864. On 20 March, she overhauled the sloop Swallows (laden with cotton, rosin, and tobacco) and sent her to Boston. About the same time, she chased and overtook the sloop Oriental.
Late in the spring of 1864, yellow fever broke out on board Tioga; and, on 19 June, she was ordered north. She arrived at Portsmouth, N.H., on the 27th and was decommissioned two days later but remained in quarantine in the lower harbor until October.
After an overhaul had been completed and the Civil War had ended, Tioga was recommissioned at Portsmouth on 6 June 1865 and cruised off the New England coast through the summer. In October, the ship was transferred to the Gulf Squadron; and she arrived at Pensacola on 30 November. The double-ender cruised in the gulf, principally off the coast of Texas, through the winter and into the spring of 1866. Ordered north, Tioga arrived at New York on 8 May and was laid up in the navy yard there until she was sold on 15 October 1867.