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Thomas Freeborn (1861-1865)

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USS Thomas Freeborn, a 269-ton (burden) side-wheel steam gunboat, was built at Brooklyn, New York in 1860 as a commercial steamship. She was chartered by the Navy in April 1861 and purchased early in May. During that month she engaged the Confederates in the Hampton Roads area, assisted in the occupation of Alexandria, Virginia, and fought with enemy shore batteries at Aquia Creek, on the Potomac River. She was also active on the Potomac during June 1861 and on the 24th and 27th engaged the Confederates at Mathias Point. During the latter action her Commanding Officer, James H. Ward, was shot and mortally wounded.

Thomas Freeborn was part of the Potomac Flotilla for the rest of the Civil War. She captured or destroyed several would-be blockade runners and took part in a number of combat actions. Among the latter were a 21 February 1863 fight with a shore battery near Fort Lowry, Virginia, in which she was hit by enemy gunfire, and a raid up the Rappahannock River on 29 April 1864. In April 1865 she participated in the search for John Wilkes Booth, who had murdered President Abraham Lincoln on the 14th. USS Thomas Freeborn was decommissioned at Washington, D.C., in mid-June 1865 and sold in July. Subsequently operating as the merchant steamer Philip, she was removed from shipping registers in 1887.

This page features all the views we have related to USS Thomas Freeborn (1861-1865).

For views of Commander James H. Ward, who was killed in action on 27 June 1861, while commanding USS Thomas Freeborn, see:

  • Commander James H. Ward, USN, (1806-1861).

    Photo #: NH 73736

    "The Attack on the Secession Batteries at Aquia Creek, Potomac River, by the U.S. Vessels Pawnee, Live Yankee, Freeborn, Anacostia and Lioness, June 1, 1861."


    Line engraving, based on a sketch by an "Officer of the Expedition" published in "Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper", 1861. Ships depicted are (from left to right-center, in the foreground): U.S. Tug Resolute (called "Lioness" in the original text), USS Anacostia, USS Thomas Freeborn, USS Yankee (called "Live Yankee" in the original text) and USS Pawnee. A two-masted schooner is in the right foreground.



    Photo #: NH 59234

    "Action at Acquia Creek between United States Vessels and Rebel Batteries"


    Engraving, after a sketch by Lieutenant Cash, published in "Harper's Weekly", 1861. It depicts USS Pawnee (at right), what appears to be USS Thomas Freeborn (left center), and another warship engaging the Confederate batteries at Aquia Creek, on the Potomac River, probably on 31 May - 1 June 1861.

    Naval Historical Center Photograph.

    Photo #: NH 59242

    "Engagement between the Gunboat Flotilla, Freeborn and Reliance, under the Command of Captain James H. Ward, and a Secession Force at Mathias Point, Va., on the Potomac River -- Death of Captain Ward.", 27 June 1861


    Line engraving, based on a sketch by an "Officer of the Expedition", published in "Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper", 1861. It depicts USS Thomas Freeborn, Ward's flagship, in the left foreground. The U.S. Tug Resolute is at right.



    Photo #: NH 60990

    USS Thomas Freeborn
    (1861-1865)

    Some of the ship's officers and men demonstrate how her late Commanding Officer, Commander James H. Ward, was sighting her bow gun when he was mortally wounded on 27 June 1861, during an action with Confederate forces at Mathias Point, Virginia.
    The gun is a 32 pounder smoothbore, of 60 hundredweight, on a "Novelty Carriage". This mounting was developed by Commander Ward before the Civil War.
    Location appears to be the Washington Navy Yard, D.C.



    Photo #: LC-USZ62-15652

    "Infernal machines discovered in the Potomac near Aquia Creek by the flotilla for whose destruction they were intended'"


    Sketch by A. Waud from a photograph by James F. Gibson, 1861. It depicts a boat approaching a cask-type floating mine, with USS Thomas Freeborn nearby. A detailed view of the mine is in the foreground and USS Pawnee is in the center distance.

    Collections of the Library of Congress.

    Photo #: NH 1851

    "Attack on Acquia Creek Battery by United States Steamers 'Pawnee', 'Anacostia', and 'Freeborn'", 1 June 1861


    Line engraving published in "Frank Leslie's Illustrated History of the Civil War". It depicts USS Pawnee, in the foreground, shelling the Confederate battery. USS Anacostia is partially visible beyond Pawnee's stern. USS Thomas Freeborn was also present, but only the tips of her masts are visible, ahead of Anacostia.



    Photo #: NH 59390

    "Fac-simile of a Shot fired at the 'Thomas Freeborn' from the Acquia Creek Batteries.", 29 May - 1 June 1861


    Line engraving published in "Harper's Weekly", 1861, depicting a rifled cannon projectile used by the Confederates against USS Thomas Freeborn, during actions on the Potomac River.



    For views of Commander James H. Ward, who was killed in action on 27 June 1861, while commanding USS Thomas Freeborn, see:

  • Commander James H. Ward, USN, (1806-1861).

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