Monday, December 31, 2007
Figure 1: USS Michigan, date and place unknown. U.S. Navy photo from the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 2: USS Michigan, circa 1844. National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 3: USS Wolverine (ex-Michigan, 1844) photographed in a Great Lakes harbor in 1913, while she was escorting the replica of Perry's flagship Niagara on her centennial tour. Wolverine was then assigned to the Pennsylvania Naval Militia. Courtesy of Tom Parsons, 2007. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 4: USS Wolverine (ex-Michigan, 1844) photographed in a Great Lakes port in 1913, while she was escorting the replica of Perry's flagship Niagara on her centennial tour. Wolverine was then assigned to the Pennsylvania Naval Militia. Courtesy of Tom Parsons, 2007. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
The USS Michigan was the US Navy’s first iron-hulled warship and was designed by shipbuilder Samuel Hart. The ship was built in pieces at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1842 and was shipped overland to Erie, Pennsylvania, where she was put together. While being launched on 5 December 1843, the Michigan slipped down the ways but stopped short of the water. Hart and the builders tried to force the ship into the water throughout the rest of the day, but the ship would not budge. As darkness came, everyone gave up and left. But when they returned the following day, they discovered that during the night the Michigan had slid down the remaining section of the ways and was floating peacefully some distance offshore in Lake Erie! The ship was retrieved and final construction began on the steamer. The USS Michigan was commissioned on 29 September 1844 and was almost 164 feet long, 27 feet wide, and had a crew of 88 officers and men.
The Michigan (which was armed with only one 18-pounder cannon) was built by the US Navy for the defense of Lake Erie against two armed British steamers that were based in Canada. The Michigan was based in Erie throughout her career and her patrols took her all over the Great Lakes. In May 1851, she assisted in the arrest of James Jesse Strange, who had created his own dissident Mormon colony on Beaver Island at the head of Lake Michigan. Strange was soon freed, but 5 years later on 19 June 1856 he was assassinated by two members of his “colony.” The murderers escaped to the USS Michigan for sanctuary but, for some reason, they were not arrested and were eventually freed.
Throughout the Civil War, the Michigan provided security and stability on the Great Lakes and made sure any British forces in Canada stayed in Canada. The Michigan also guarded against any potential attacks by Confederate spies or raiders who were plotting to attack Union ships on the Great Lakes. In the fall of 1864, a covert Confederate attack actually did take place. A Southerner named John Yates Beall, along with 20 of his men, boarded the steamer Philo Parsons on Lake Erie as passengers and quickly seized the ship. They then used this ship to capture and burn another steamer, the Island Queen. But in a separate incident, the Michigan’s Captain, Commander John C. Carter, managed to capture the Confederate agent for the Lake Erie region, Captain Charles H. Cole of the Confederate States Navy. After capturing Cole, Commander Carter discovered that Cole and Beall were going to use the captured Philo Parsons to free Confederate prisoners who were being held on Johnson’s Island (located on the coast of Lake Erie, 3 miles from the city of Sandusky, Ohio). When Beall discovered that Cole was captured and that the plot had been revealed, he took the Philo Parsons to Sandwich, Canada, and had her stripped and burned. After the failure of this mission, no further raids were attempted by Southerners on the Great Lakes.
After the Civil War, the Michigan continued patrolling the Great Lakes. On 17 June 1905, she was renamed USS Wolverine to free up her name for a new battleship that was being built. The Wolverine was decommissioned on 6 May 1912 and was turned over to the Pennsylvania Naval Militia as a training ship. She functioned in this capacity for the next 11 years. On 12 August 1923, a major engine breakdown ended the ship’s naval career. In 1927, the Wolverine was pushed up onto a sandbank in Erie Harbor and loaned to the City of Erie as a relic. She was sold to the Foundation for the Preservation of the Original USS Michigan on 19 July 1948. But when not enough money could be obtained to preserve and restore the ship, the Wolverine was cut up and sold for scrap in 1949. It was a sad end for the US Navy’s first iron-hulled warship, which had survived for more than 100 years.
Posted by Remo at 10:46 PM