Skip to main content Skip to footer site map
Nimitz Library
Nimitz Library

Letterbook of the U.S.S. Wabash, 1857: Finding Aid

Published in May 2020

Summary Information

  • Publisher: United States Naval Academy. Special Collections & Archives.
  • Publisher Address:
    589 McNair Road
    Annapolis, Maryland 21402-5029, USA
    Phone: 410-293-6917
  • Call number: MS 158
  • Location: Special Collections & Archives Department - Manuscripts
  • Title: Letterbook of the U.S.S. Wabash
  • Dates: 1857
  • Size: 0.09 linear feet
  • Container Summary: 1 volume of 28 leaves
  • Creator: Paulding, Hiram, 1797-1878
  • Language(s) of material: English
  • Abstract: U.S.S. Wabash was a United States Navy screw frigate. Hiram Paulding was a Rear Admiral in the United States Navy. The Letterbook of the U.S.S. Wabash spans from March 24 through September 3, 1857. The letterbook consists of copies of letters sent by Commodore Hiram Paulding while in command of the Home Squadron.

History of U.S.S. Wabash (Screw frigate)

The first U.S.S. Wabash was laid down on May 16, 1854 by the Philadelphia Navy Yard, launched on October 24, 1855, and commissioned on August 18, 1856, Captain Frederick K. Engle in command.

Wabash departed Philadelphia on September 7, 1856, stopping at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to embark President Franklin Pierce for passage to Annapolis. She arrived at New York on October 23 and sailed on November 28 to become flagship of Commodore Hiram Paulding's Home Squadron. The squadron was instrumental in foiling American filibuster William Walker's expedition against Nicaragua, capturing him in 1857. Controversy over the legality of seizing American nationals in neutral foreign lands prompted President James Buchanan to relieve Commodore Paulding of his command. Wabash was decommissioned on March 1, 1858 at the New York Navy Yard.

Wabash was recommissioned on May 25, 1858 under the command of Captain Samuel Barron, and became the flagship of Commodore E. A. F. La Vallette's Mediterranean Squadron. Future Spanish-American War hero George Dewey, then a midshipman, served aboard Wabash during this cruise. Wabash returned to the New York Navy Yard on December 16, 1859 and decommissioned on December 20.

With the outbreak of the Civil War, Wabash was recommissioned on May 16, 1861. Under the command of Captain Samuel Mercer, she departed New York on May 30 as flagship of the Atlantic Blockading Squadron under Rear Admiral Silas H. Stringham. She captured the brigantine Sarah Starr off Charleston on August 3, and recaptured the American schooner Mary Alice. By this date, she had also captured the brigantines Hannah, Balch, and Solferino, along with 22 Confederate prisoners from the four vessels.

On 26 August 1861, Wabash departed Hampton Roads to take part in the amphibious assault at Hatteras Inlet. Union forces secured Hatteras Inlet with the capture of Forts Hatteras and Clark on August 29, 1861 and took over 700 prisoners, including Wabash's former commanding officer, Captain Samuel Barron. Wabash was later designated the flagship of Flag Officer Samuel F. Du Pont, the new commander of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, and was sent to the New York Navy Yard for repairs on September 21. After refit, Wabash departed Fort Monroe on October 29, 1861 to spearhead the Federal assault on Port Royal, South Carolina, which was captured on November 7, 1861.

Operating out of Port Royal, Wabash took up station on the Charleston blockade. On March 11, 1862, a landing party led by ship's commanding officer, Commander C. R. P. Rodgers, occupied St. Augustine, Florida. A detachment from Wabash landed and manned a battery which bombarded Fort Pulaski, Georgia on April 10-11, 1862, and a battery of three boat howitzers from Wabash supported Union troops at the Battle of Pocotaligo on October 22.

While in Port Royal Sound, Wabash weathered attacks from C.S.S. Juno on August 5, 1863, and a David-class torpedo boat on April 18, 1864. Wabash departed her station on October 1, bound for the Norfolk Navy Yard and an overhaul, grounding briefly on Frying Pan Shoals en route. Her overhaul was completed by December 16, in time for Wabash to join the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron and participate in the attacks on Fort Fisher, North Carolina, on December 24-25, 1864 and January 13-15, 1865.

Wabash returned to Hampton Roads on January 17, 1865, then proceeded to the Boston Navy Yard, where she was decommissioned on February 14, 1865. She was placed in ordinary in 1866 and recommissioned on October 24, 1871, Captain Robert W. Shufeldt commanding. Designated as the flagship of Rear Admiral James Alden and the Mediterranean Squadron, she arrived at Cadiz on December 14, 1871 and cruised the Mediterranean until November 30, 1873. Departing Gibraltar for Key West, Wabash arrived there on January 3, 1874. She was decommissioned on April 25, 1874 at the Boston Navy Yard. In 1875, she was placed in ordinary and served as a receiving ship from 1876 to 1912. Wabash was struck from the Navy list on November 15, 1912 and sold that same day to the Boston Iron and Metal Co.

Back to Top

Biography of Hiram Paulding

Hiram Paulding was born in Cortlandt, New York on December 11, 1797, and was appointed a Midshipman in the United States Navy on September 1, 1811. During the War of 1812, he served on Lakes Ontario and Champlain, commanding the second division aboard U.S.S. Ticonderoga (Schooner) during the Battle of Lake Champlain. After the war he served aboard U.S.S. Constellation (Frigate), off the Algerian coast, and aboard U.S.S. Independence (Ship-of-the-line), and U.S.S. Prometheus (Brig).

On his return from service on the Pacific Station aboard U.S.S. Macedonian (Frigate) from 1818 to 1821, he spent a year's leave at Captain Partridge's Military Academy in Norwich, Vermont. In the ensuing years of the decade he served aboard U.S.S. Sea Gull (Steamer) on the West Indies station, aboard U.S.S. United States (Frigate) on the Pacific station, and U.S.S. Dolphin (Schooner) as that vessel pursued mutineers of the whaler Globe, before returning to duty aboard United States.

In 1830, Paulding was reattached to U.S.S. Constellation, First Lieutenant, as she cruised the Mediterranean for two years. In 1834, he assumed command of U.S.S. Shark (Schooner) for another Mediterranean cruise. In 1838, he assumed command of U.S.S. Levant (Sloop-of-war) upon her commissioning on March 17, and proceeded with her to duty on the West Indies Squadron. In 1841, Paulding became Executive Officer of the New York Navy Yard.

Paulding was promoted to Captain on February 29, 1844. The following year, he assumed command of U.S.S. Vincennes (Sloop-of-war) during a cruise in the East Indies, taking command of that station upon the departure of Commodore Biddle. In 1848, he assumed command of U.S.S. St. Lawrence (Frigate) upon her August 17 commissioning for duty in European water. During this cruise, Paulding visited several German states to advise on the establishment of a navy. After detaching from St. Lawrence in 1852, Paulding assumed command of the Washington Navy Yard. Command of the Home Squadron followed and in 1861 he was appointed by President Lincoln to assist in building up a wartime fleet. He then took over the New York Navy Yard. After the war he served as Governor of the Naval Asylum at Philadelphia and as Post-Admiral at Boston. Rear Admiral Paulding died in Huntington, Long Island on October 20, 1878.

Back to Top

Description of Contents

The Letterbook of the U.S.S. Wabash, comprising 0.09 linear feet of documentation in a single volume of 28 leaves, spans from March 24 through September 3, 1857. The letterbook consists of copies of letters sent by Commodore Hiram Paulding while in command of the Home Squadron.

Many of the letters pertain to the everyday operations of the Wabash and the Home Squadron, including references to orders received, courts martial, requisitions, and personnel matters. A number of letters from June and July pertain to the Navy's actions regarding the remnants of William Walker's Nicaraguan Expedition and exploration in the Isthmus of Panama for purposes of constructing a ship canal. Other entries include the testing of Coston's Night Signal Lights (May 16) and the use of steam engines for water distillation (May 30).

Back to Top


The Letterbook of the U.S.S. Wabash comprises a single volume.

Back to Top

Access and Use


Patron use restricted to microfilm.

Copyright and Permission

The Letterbook of the U.S.S. Wabash is the physical property of Nimitz Library. Copyright belongs to the authors or creators of the works, or their legal representatives. For further information, consult the Head, Special Collections & Archives.

It is the responsibility of the researcher to secure written permission to publish, reprint, or reproduce material from Special Collections & Archives. The researcher assumes responsibility for infringement of copyright or literary or publication rights. Please contact the Head, Special Collections & Archives for permission to publish and for further information.

Back to Top

Acquisition and Appraisal

Provenance and Acquisition


Back to Top

Related Materials

Location of Copies or Alternate Formats

This collection also available on microfilm.

Related Archival Material

Additional material in this repository pertaining to U.S.S. Wabash can be found in the Journal of the U.S.S. Wabash, U.S.S. Colorado, and the U.S.S. Roanoke, 1856-1858 MS 17.

Additional collections of Paulding's papers are available at the New-York Historical Society, New York State Archives, and the Library of Congress.

Official logbooks of U.S.S. Wabash may be available in Logbooks of U.S. Navy Ships, ca. 1801 - 1940, Record Group 24: Records of the Bureau of Naval Personnel, 1798-2007 at the National Archives and Records Administration.

Materials Cataloged Separately

No materials have been removed from this collection and cataloged separately.

Back to Top

Processing and Other Information

Preferred Citation

Letterbook of the U.S.S. Wabash, MS 158

Special Collections & Archives Department

Nimitz Library

United States Naval Academy

Selected Bibliography

The following sources were consulted during preparation of the biographical note:

"Paulding (Destroyer No. 22)." Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Washington: Naval History and Heritage Command, 2016,

"Wabash I (Screw Frigate)." Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Washington: Naval History and Heritage Command, 2015,

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Mary R. Catalfamo. Finding aid written by David D'Onofrio in May 2020.

Back to Top

Subject Headings

Name and Subject Terms

  • Darien Canal
  • Nicaragua -- History -- Filibuster War, 1855-1860
  • Panama Canal (Panama)
  • Paulding, Hiram, 1797-1878
  • United States. Navy -- History -- 19th century -- Sources
  • United States. Navy. Home Squadron
  • Wabash (Frigate)
  • Walker, William, 1824-1860

Genre Terms

  • Correspondence
  • Letter books
  • Manuscripts
Back to Top

Contents List

Box 1 Folder 1

Letterbook of the U.S.S. Wabash, 1857

Back to Top