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Westfield (Gunboat)


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Caption: The Civil War steamer Westfield. The walking beam of her steam engine stands out prominently abaft her stack. (NH 48488)

The Navy retained the name carried by this vessel at the time of her acquisition.

(Gunboat: tonnage 822; length 215'0"; beam 35'0"; depth of hold 13'6"; armament 1 100-pounder Parrott rifle, 1 9-inch Dahlgren smoothbore, 4 8-inch Dahlgren smoothbores)

Westfield, a sidewheel steam ferryboat, was purchased by the Navy from Cornelius Vanderbilt on 22 November 1861; outfitted at New York by J. A. Westervelt; and commissioned in January 1862, Cmdr. William B. Renshaw in command.

Westfield departed New York on 22 February 1862, bound for Key West, Fla., to join Cmdr. David D. Porter's Mortar Flotilla. That unit, however, departed Key West on 3 March before Westfield's arrival. She, therefore, did not join the flotilla until her arrival at the Passes of the Mississippi on 18 March. For the next three weeks, she assisted Mississippi and Pensacola in their efforts to cross the bar at Pass a Outre and enter the Mississippi River.

That mission succeeded finally on 8 April 1862, and Westfield began duty covering a coastal survey party developing more precise maps of the lower Mississippi for the assault on Forts Jackson and St. Philip. On 13 April, she received orders to proceed upriver and engage two Confederate gunboats. After two shots from her Parrott rifle, the two Southern ships retired to the protection of the guns of Fort Jackson where they joined six other Confederate gunboats. Undaunted, Westfield closed range and opened fire once more. That brief cannonade broke the shaft of CSS Defiance and damaged her so severely that her crew later had to abandon and scuttle her.

Between 14 and 24 April 1862, she supported Porter's Mortar Flotilla during the bombardment of the two Confederate forts in preparation for Flag Officer David Glasgow Farragut's run between them to New Orleans. That event occurred on the 24th, but Westfield did not participate directly. Rather, she remained with the mortar boats and continued to support them and supply ammunition. Early in the summer of 1862, Westfield moved upriver with the Mortar Flotilla to a point just below Vicksburg, Miss. There she resumed her duties in support of the mortars during the first campaign against that Confederate stronghold.

Late in July 1862 and early in August, the ship made her way back down the Mississippi via Baton Rouge and New Orleans to the Gulf of Mexico. She then took up duty blockading the coast of Texas as a unit of the West Gulf Blockading Squadron. On 4 October, Westfield led a unit composed of Harriet Lane, Owasco, Clifton, and Harry James in a successful assault on the city of Galveston, Texas, which capitulated formally on the 9th. She remained at Galveston until 1 January 1863 when, during the successful Confederate recapture of the city, she was attacked by two Southern warships. She was blown up to forestall her almost certain capture.

James L. Mooney

Updated, Robert J. Cressman

21 February 2024

Published: Wed Feb 21 09:48:52 EST 2024