Guide to the Letterbook of the U.S.S. Pensacola, 1861-1863
A collection in the
Special Collections & Archives Department,
United States Naval Academy
589 McNair Road
Annapolis, MD 21402-5029
Prepared by: David D'Onofrio
Special Collections & Archives Department
United States Naval Academy
The U.S.S. Pensacola, a screw sloop-of-war named for the city of Pensacola, Florida, was launched by the Pensacola Navy Yard on August 15, 1859. After the installation of machinery, the ship was finally fully commissioned on September 16, 1861, Captain Henry W. Morris in command.
After joining Flag Officer David Farragut's West Gulf Blockading Squadron in January 1862, Pensacola sailed past the batteries of Fort St. Phillip and Fort Jackson en route to the taking of New Orleans by the Union Navy in April 1862. Following the fall of New Orleans, Pensacola spent two years guarding the lower Mississippi River, until a brief decommissioning in April 1864.
Recommissioned on August 16, 1866, Pensacola joined the Pacific Squadron, cruising along the west coast of North and South America until being decommissioned again in 1884. Between April 1885 and February 1888, the ship operated in European waters, before returning to American waters, serving on the Atlantic coast until May 1890 and in the Pacific again until April 1892.
Pensacola served briefly as a training ship between 1898 and 1899, before serving her final assignment as a receiving ship at the Yerba Buena Training Station in San Francisco from July 1901 until December 1911. After being struck from the Navy Register, Pensacola was burned and sunk by the Navy in May 1912.
Scope and Content Note
The Letterbook of the U.S.S. Pensacola spans from November 1861, with gaps, until February 1863. Consisting of copies of letters sent by Pensacola's commanding officer, Captain Henry W. Morris, the letterbook documents various ship activities and procedures, such as equipment and armament requests, receipt of orders, and the evaluation, transfer and discharge of crew members.
The majority of the letters are addressed to Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, with lesser numbers addressed to Admiral David G. Farragut, Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance and Hydrography Captain A. A. Harwood, Captain John Marston, and Major General Benjamin Franklin Butler. Topics and events represented by more than one letter include the ship's engine status (December 14-23, 1861), a collision with a coal schooner (January 23-25, 1862), running aground on Carysfort Reef (February 8-11, 1862), the injury and death of several crew members due to a hawser snapping (March 29-April 1, 1862), the appraisal of U.S.S. Calhoun (June 23, 1862), and the seizure and eventual charter of the steamer Anglo-American by Major General Benjamin Franklin Butler for the purpose of coal transport to Vicksburg (August-October 1862 and February 1863). A letter of April 3, 1862 includes a list of the ship's armaments and crew requirements.
Additional material pertaining to the U.S.S. Pensacola in the Special Collections & Archives Department, Nimitz Library, United States Naval Academy includes the Log of U.S.S. Pensacola, 1881-1883, MS 140 and first-hand accounts of service aboard U.S.S. Pensacola while stationed with the West Gulf Blockading Squadron, found in the Oliver Ambrose Batcheller Letters, 1859-1898, MS 264.