Today in History:

Niagara (1857-1885)

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USS Niagara, a 5540-ton (displacement) steam screw frigate built at the New York Navy Yard, was commissioned in April 1857. Designed for speed, especially when under sail, she was the Navy's largest ship when built, considerably heavier, much longer, and somewhat wider than the other steam frigates constructed at about the same time. Soon after entering service Niagara was sent to England to help lay the World's first trans-Atlantic telegraph cable. Though this effort failed when the cable broke in August 1857, a repeat attempt succeeded a year later, again with Niagara's participation. During its few weeks of operation, this cable provided virtually instant communication between Europe and North America, an achievement much celebrated at that time, and for decades to come.

During September-December 1858 Niagara made a round-trip voyage to Monrovia, Liberia, transporting two hundred Africans who had been liberated that August when a slave ship was captured off Cuba by another U.S. warship. Beginning at the end of June 1860 she carried Japanese diplomats home from their historic visit to Washington, D.C. This long cruise ended in April 1861, just after the outbreak of the American Civil War, with Niagara's arrival at Boston. It was almost immediately followed by her first wartime assignment, blockade enforcement duty that produced the capture of the General Parkhill off Charleston, South Carolina on 12 May. On 5 June, off Mobile, Alabama, she took part in a cutting out expedition that captured the schooner Aid. Remaining in the Gulf of Mexico for almost another year, she served for some of that time as flagship of the East Gulf Blockading Squadron and, in November 1861, participated in a bombardment of Confederate fortifications at Pensacola, Florida.

In June 1862 Niagara went to Boston for repairs. Despite her great size she was relatively lightly armed, and much of the shipyard work that followed was intended to enhance her battery of heavy guns. Recommissioned in October 1863 with a considerably changed appearance, it was soon discovered that she was badly overloaded, necessitating removal of most of the new armament. Finally ready for active duty in June 1864, Niagara was assigned to European waters where, in mid-August she captured the former Confederate raider Georgia. She blockaded CSS Stonewall at Ferrol, Spain, in March 1865 but, in a controversial decision, her Captain declined to engage the enemy ironclad. Niagara's European tour ended in late August 1865, well after the Civil War's end, and she returned home to decommission. For nearly two decades she was laid up at the Boston Navy Yard, while proposals to rebuild her as an armored warship were considered but not implemented. USS Niagara was sold for scrapping in May 1885.

This page features all the views we have of USS Niagara (1857-1885), and provides links to images of her actions and activities.

For other views related to this ship, see:

  • USS Niagara (1857-1885) -- Actions & Activities.

    The following images depict USS Niagara in her original configuration:

    Photo #: NH 44507

    USS Niagara
    (1857-1885)

    Artwork by Clary Ray, depicting the ship in her original configuration.



    Photo #: NH 44506-A

    USS Niagara
    (1857-1885)

    Contemporary line engraving, depicting the ship in her original configuration, as she appeared prior to her 1862-1863 refit.



    Photo #: NH 65713

    USS Niagara
    (1857-1885)

    Line engraving after a drawing by G.H. Andrews, published in the "London Illustrated Times", June 1857, after the ship's arrival in England to participate in the first attempt to lay a trans-Atlantic telegraph cable.



    The following images depict USS Niagara as she appeared after her 1862-1863 reconstruction:

    Photo #: NH 57980

    USS Niagara
    (1857-1885)

    At the Boston Navy Yard, Charlestown, Massachusetts, circa 1863, showing modifications made in 1862-1863.
    She was then under the command of Captain Thomas T. Craven, USN.
    The Bunker Hill Monument is in the left center distance.
    Photographed by Black, Washington, D.C.



    Photo #: NH 75895

    USS Niagara
    (1857-1885)

    Off Boston, Massachusetts, in 1863, showing modifications made in 1862-63.



    The following images show USS Niagara laid up at the Boston Navy Yard following her final period of active service:

    Photo #: NH 57982

    Boston Navy Yard, Massachusetts


    View of the waterfront, about 1870. Ships laid up and housed over, on the right, are USS Iowa, ex-Ammonoosuc (1868-1883), inboard, and USS Niagara (1857-1885).
    On the stocks in left center, with sterns visible between and beyond the two shiphouses, are USS Connecticut, ex-Pompanoosuc, and USS Pennsylvania, ex-Kewaydin.
    The receiving ship USS Ohio (1838-1883) is in the middle distance.

    Donation of Captain Yancy S. Williams, USN, 1928.



    Photo #: NH 42470

    Boston Navy Yard, Charlestown, Massachusetts


    View of the waterfront, seen from East Boston circa 1876.
    Ships at left are USS Wabash, outboard, with USS Niagara housed over inboard of her. USS Iowa (ex-Ammonoosuc) is inboard of Niagara with only her four smokestacks and stern visible.
    The large ships on the building ways in the center and extreme right are USS Connecticut (ex-Pompanoosuc), and USS Pennsylvania (ex-Kewaydin).
    This view forms a panorama with Photo # NH 42474.

    Courtesy of the Naval Historical Foundation, Washington, D.C.



    Photo #: NH 42474

    Boston Navy Yard, Charlestown, Massachusetts


    View of the waterfront, seen from East Boston circa 1876.
    Ships at left are USS Wabash, outboard, with USS Niagara housed over inboard of her. USS Iowa (ex-Ammonoosuc) is inboard of Niagara with only her forward smokestack visible.
    The Bunker Hill Monument is in the center distance.
    This view forms a panorama with Photo # NH 42470.

    Courtesy of the Naval Historical Foundation, Washington, D.C.



    For other views related to this ship, see:

  • USS Niagara (1857-1885) -- Actions & Activities.

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