The Civil War – USS Mississippi and its mark in history

Submitted by C.J. Johnson

The first naval vessel to be named “Mississippi” was the USS
Mississippi, whose hull was laid in 1839 at the Philadelphia Navy
Yard, and built under the personal supervision of Commodore Matthew
Perry. She was commissioned in December 1841 and placed into
service in early 1842. This first “Mississippi” was named for the
Mississippi River. The several ships to follow with the same name
were named for the 20th State – Mississippi, admitted into the Union
in December 1817.

The first Mississippi was a steam–frigate – with a steam-powered side-
wheel. According to, “she was instrumental in
experiments crucial to the development of the steam Navy before
becoming Commodore Perry’s flagship in 1845. After two tours in the
Gulf of Mexico during the Mexican War, she cruised the Mediterranean
for three years before serving as Commodore Perry’s flagship during
his voyage to open up Japan to Western trade in 1853.”

Her next assignment is documented by the Naval Historical Center.
“Mississippi returned to New York 23 April 1855, and again sailed for
the Far East 19 August 1857, to base at Shanghai and patrol in
support of America’s burgeoning trade with the Orient. As flagship
for Commodore Josiah Tatnall, she was present during the British and
French attack on the Chinese forts at Taku in June 1859, and two
months later she landed a force at Shanghai when the American consul
requested her aid in restoring order to city, torn by civil strife.

She returned to ordinary at Boston in 1860, but was reactivated when
the Civil War became inevitable. She arrived off Key West to
institute the blockade there 8 June 1861, and 5 days later made her
first capture, schooner Forest King bound with coffee from Rio de
Janeiro to New Orleans. On 27 November, off Northeast Pass,
Mississippi River, she joined Vincennes in capturing British bark
Empress, again carrying coffee from Rio to New Orleans.

The following spring she joined Farragut’s squadron for the planned
assault on New Orleans. After several attempts, on 7 April 1862 she
and Pensacola successfully passed over the bar at Southwest Pass, the
heaviest ships ever to enter the river to that time.

As Farragut brought his fleet up the river, a key engagement was that
with Forts Jackson and St. Philip 24 April, during which Mississippi
ran Confederate ram Manassas ashore, wrecking her with two mighty
broadsides. The city was now doomed, and Mississippi, her heavy draft
making her less suitable to river operations than lighter ships,
remained off New Orleans for much of the next year.

Ordered upriver for the operations against Port Hudson, Mississippi
sailed with six other ships, lashed in pairs while she sailed alone.
On 14 March 1863, she grounded while attempting to pass the forts
guarding Port Hudson.

Under enemy fire, every effort was made to refloat her by her
commanding officer Capt. Melancthon Smith, and his executive officer,
later to be famed as Admiral George Dewey. At last her machinery was
destroyed, her battery spiked, and she was fired to prevent
Confederate capture. When the flames reached her magazines, she blew
up and sank. She had lost 64 killed, the ships in company saving 223
of her crew.”

This ended the naval career of the first U. S. Navy vessel to bear
the name USS Mississippi.