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Essex (1861-1865)

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USS Essex, a 1000-ton ironclad river gunboat, was converted in stages from the steam ferry New Era. Originally constructed at New Albany, Indiana, in 1856, the ship was purchased in September 1861 by the U.S. Army for its Western Gunboat Flotilla. Modified into a 355-ton "timberclad" gunboat, and retaining the name New Era, she took part in an expedition up the Cumberland River in November 1861. Renamed Essex soon thereafter, she received iron armor and other changes and was then actively employed in operations during early 1862, engaging Confederate gunboats near Lucas Bend, Missouri, on 11 January. On 6 February, she was badly damaged by enemy gunfire during an attack on Fort Henry, Tennessee.

During subsequent repairs, Essex' Commanding Officer, William D. Porter, spared little expense (albeit without official authorization) in upgrading his ship into one of the most powerful ironclads on the Western Rivers. Lengthened, widened, reengined, rearmored and completely altered in appearance, Essex was back in service in time for operations against Vicksburg, Mississippi, in July. On the 22th of that month she ran past the enemy fortress city, engaging and damaging the Confederate ironclad Arkansas along the way. After joining Rear Admiral Farragut's squadron as the only Federal ironclad on the lower Mississippi, she helped repel an attack on Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on 5 August and was instrumental in the destruction of the Arkansas the next day.

Essex was formally transferred to the Navy in October 1862 and remained active on the rivers through the rest of the Civil War. She bombarded Port Hudson, Louisiana, and helped with the occupation of Baton Rouge in December 1862. In May-July 1863 she participated in the capture of Port Hudson. She took part in the Red River expedition in March-May 1864. Essex was decommissioned in July 1865. After her sale to private interests in November of that year, she reverted to the name New Era. She was scrapped in 1870.

This page features, or provides links to, all our views of USS Essex.

For additional images of USS Essex, see:

  • USS Essex (1861-1865) -- Part II.

    Photo #: NH 59592

    "The Gun-boat New Era, Just Built at St. Louis, Missouri"

    Line engraving published in "Harper's Weekly", 1861, depicting the conversion of the ferry boat New Era into a "timberclad" gunboat, circa September-October 1861. The ship was renamed Essex later in the year.

    Photo #: NH 54289

    USS Essex (1861-1865)

    Coaling at Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in late July 1862, just after she reached the lower Mississippi. Ships of Farragut's fleet are in the background.

    The original photograph accompanied a claim filed by James A. Payne.

    Photo #: NH 61567

    USS Essex (1861-1865)

    At a Mississippi River area port, circa 1862-65.
    Note: The original caption identified location and date as Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in July 1862. However, the presence of a mortar boat (at right) indicates that either the date is later or the location is above Vicksburg if the photo was taken in 1862.

    The original photograph accompanied a claim filed by James A. Payne.

    Photo #: NH 54286

    USS Essex (1861-1865)

    Moored at Memphis, Tennessee, with her awnings up, during the Civil War.
    Note mortar boats alongside Essex, also with awnings deployed, and small building atop the bluff, toward the left, marked "Pittsburgh COAL", with the Pittsburgh Coal Company's castle symbol between "CO" and "AL".

    Photo #: NH 75621

    USS Essex (1861-1865)

    Wash drawing by R.G. Skerrett, 1904, depicting the ship with Farragut's fleet on the lower Mississippi River, in 1862-63.
    Ship in the left background is USS Mississippi (1841-1863). A "90-day" gunboat is in the right distance.

    Courtesy of the Navy Art Collection, Washington, D.C.

    Photo #: NH 54285

    USS Essex (1861-1865)

    Engraving, after a photograph taken in 1864.

    Photo #: NH 54284

    USS Essex (1861-1865)

    Sketches by William M.C. Philbrick, Carpenter's Mate on USS Portsmouth, showing Essex as she appeared on the morning of 1 November 1862, on the Mississippi River.

    From the Private Papers of William M.C. Philbrick.

    For additional images of USS Essex, see:

  • USS Essex (1861-1865) -- Part II.

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