skies and a tumbling barometer, foretold What was ahead for the
American bark, Elliott Ritchie. With Captain Perkins in command she had
loaded lumber in her holds and on her deck at Brunswick, Georgia, and
sailed around the first of May, 1884, for Buenos Aires, only to be
caught almost immediately in a series of gales. As the days went by
more bad weather ensued with little or no prospect of relief, and after
struggling hard all through the night of May 12, morning found the
vessel taking water. By noon Captain Perkins gave up the fight, for by
now everything was torn and flying and the battered old hull trembled
under each onslught until it was obvious she was nearing the finish.
Thus the old vessel found a fitting end to her strangely varied career.
The blue waters of the Caribbean Sea cover the old hulk, a ship
that lived in a few years more than most ships do in a lifetime.
in 1955 agitation began in Washington for the construction of a
steamship for the United States Revenue Service. Most craft in the
nautical arm of the Treasury Department were light graceful topsail
schooners, which were much in favor. Nevertheless the backers of the
measure asking for a steamboat won their day over the opposition of the
Secretary of the Treasure, and in 1857 a bill was passed allowing an
appropriation of $150,000 for the construction of such a craft. A
contract was let to the William Webb yards of New York, builders of many
famous paddle steamers.
vessel was built and launched as the Harriet Lane in November, 1857,
and entered service that year under the flag of the Revenue Service.
Secretary of the Treasury, Howell Cobb suggested that the vessel be
named for President Buchanan’s niece, and William Webb provided the
bottle of wine for the christening. The ship measured about 600 tons,
was brigantine rigged, and powered with a steam engines built by the
Allaire Works. She had large paddle boxes typical of her period.
Lane received orders on November 30, 1857, to sail under the command of
Captain John Faunce for patrol duty off the Carolina coast. The first
cruise resulted in the Lane'e capturing the slaver Wanderer. Three
years later while the Prince of Wales was making a visit to the United
States the government placed the fine cutter Harriet Lane at the
disposal of the royal party.
clouds of the Civil War were gathering and in March of 1861 President
Lincoln dispatched a force to relieve Fort Sumter. The Harriet Lane was
among this fleet. Captain Faunce sailed past the Battery in New York at
ten o'clock on the morning of April 8, outbound for Charleston. At 4:30
on the morning of the twelfth the first gun of the Civil War boomed
from the battery on James Island. Meanwhile during the night the
remainder of the supporting vessels arrived off the bar. A streamer was
observed at 11:20 a.m., without ensign flying, and a shot was fired
from the Lane across the bows of the approaching vessel. The latter
ship proved to be the Nashville, inbound with passengers and freight
from New York, and she was allowed to proceed. This shot from the
thirty-two pound gun of the Harriet Lane was the first fired from a
United States vessel in the great rebellion.
Harriet Lane sailed north to Annapolis where she picked up the
Constitution (Old Ironsides) and conveyed her to New York Harbor,
arriving April 25, 1861. Still flying her Revenue ensign, the Lane next
went to Pig Point on the Nansemond River and engaged the Confederate
batteries on June 5, 1861. During the joint action against Hatteras
Inlet the Lane struck bottom due to conflicting orders from the flag
officer. It was necessary to jettison four of the ship's guns before
she could be taken off the bar. Leaking badly from strain, she was
ordered to New York after calling at Norfolk, Virginia. Here Captain
Faunce was ordered to the Brooklyn Navy Yard with instructions to turn
the vessel over to the Navy Department. So on September 17, 1861, the
career of the Harriet Lane as a revenue cutter to a close.
1862 the Lane, now fitted out as a war vessel, was ordered to Key West.
Passing Cockpit Point the Confederates gave her a blast with their
shore batteries that blew her pilot house to bits. Eventually she was
assigned to Farragut's units, moving on to Galveston, Texas, in time to
participate in that port's capture from the Confederates on October 19,
1862. Her duties for the remainder of the year were assisting in the
blockade of that port.
first of the new year found the Federal ships in Galveston Harbor
relaxed from their vigil. Commander Wainwright had under his
jurisdication a fleet of vessels consisting of the Harriet Lane the
flagship, Westfield, Clifton, Owasco, Sachem and a sailing ship named
Coryphaeus. On shore three companies of Massachusetts units under
command of Colonel Burril established headquarters, having just arrived
from New Orleans on the steamer Saxon. The Confederates under the
command of General Magruder, were massing for an attack. In spite of
the seriousness of attacking against such odds, General Magruder felt
the capturing of the port well worth the sacrifice it might entail.
Moving his men up from the rear during the night, he made perparations
to attack from land an sea. At a given signal the Confederate land
forces opened up with a withering fire on the bridge and stratregic
point held by the Federals. By sea four vessels manned by the
Conferederates approached the anchored Federal fleet. These four ships,
under orders from General Magruder, were the Bayou City, mounting a
sixty-eight pound rifle cannon and carrying 200 Texans from Sibley's
Brigade; the Neptune, a stern wheeler carrying two howitzers and 150
sharpshooters from Colonel Bayley's Seventh Texas Corps; and to
paddlers, the Lady Gavina and John F. Carr, acting as tenders. These
ships were protected by hundreds of bales of cotton piled around the
paddle boxes and decks. The formidable fleet descended upon the Harriet
Lane, and the Owasco and the game little Sachem promptly went to her
aid. By morning Galveston celebrated New Year's Day with a Confederate
victory. The Harriet Lane had been captured after a terrific fight. The
Westfield had been blown up to prevent her capture, and the other ships
hauled anchor. Outside the Federal fleet tighteneded its blockade of
a time the Harriet Lane remained in disuse. Meanwhile the (Confederate)
War Department transferred her to the Secretary of the Navy. A
Lieutenant Barry, C.S.N., was placed in command. He made an exhaustive
survey of the ship, reporting his adverse findings as to her
adaptability as a cruiser, with the result that she was returned to the
jurisdiction of the War Department.
next role was that of a blockade runner. It was not until April 30,
1864, that the Harriet Lane, loaded with cotton and in company with
three other blockade runners, took advantage of adverse weather
conditions and slipped out of Galveston via the southwest channel.
Safely reaching the guilf, the four ships headed for Havana. The well
known Maine steamer Katahdin, now fitted out as a war vessel, was doing
patrol duty along the coast. She sighted the blockade runners and gave
chase, but was soon left far behind. The Harriet Lane reached Havana
safely, but new troubles beset her. The Spanish authorities would not
release her, so there she remained to the end of the war, neglected and
all but forgotten.
as soon as peace came the U.S. Navy Department secured the vessel
through diplomatic channels, and it was a fitting compliment to Captain
Faunce, her old skipper, that he should be ordered with a full
complement of officers and men to Havana to receive the battered rusty
hulk that was once his proud vessel. A steamer was dispatched from New
York with workmen ranging from ship's carpenters to boilermakers to
repair the Harriet Lane. The revenue cutter McCulloch was dispatched
from New Orleans with orders to proceed to Havana and convoy her on her
trip to New York.
later she was sold out of service to Elliott Ritchie of Boston,
Massachusetts. She was again rebuilt, her boilers and engines removed
and she emerged as a three mast bark under the new name of Elliott
Ritchie. Mr. Ritchie placed the grand old ship in the lumber trade
where she remained until the close of her career.
when you yachtsmen sail your deep water ketches over the waters of the
Caribbean or into Havana, dip your ensign to a grand old ship that is
as immortal as the Constitution, Dewey's Olympia or the Oregon.
Elliott Ritchie's brief specifications were: 180 feet overall, 30.2
feet beam, and a depth of 18.4 feet. She grossed 615 tons. She was
framed of live oak, white oak planked, iron and copper fastened, and
was strapped with iron over her frames for stiffening. She was rebuilt
in 1869 at East Boston, Massachusetts.
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