uss frolick Posted June 11, 2015 Share #1 Posted June 11, 2015 (edited) Not many US Naval sailing ships fired their guns in anger after the War of 1812, let alone small flush-decked sloops of war like the USS Preble. Being the dimensions of the old Wasp/Frolic/Peacock Class sloops of war, the Preble was armed with only sixteen 32-pounder carronades when launched in Portsmouth, NH, in 1839. She had a long career, sailing to China and Japan. She fought in the Mexican war and served as a cadet training ship at the outbreak of the Civil War. She was immediately sent off to the Gulf of Mexico for blockade duty in 1861, rearmed with as many modern guns as she could carry: six medium 32-pounders, one heavy 32-pounder, two 8" shell guns, and one 24-pounder brass howitzer, ten guns in all. Under the command of Captain French, she found herself part of a blockading squadron at The Head of Passes Mississippi, alongside the sailing Sloop Vincennes, the Flag Steam Sloop Richmond, Commodore Pope and the steamer Water Witch. The poor Preble was a helpless floating battery that was towed into place at the head of the line and anchored there. Their job was to stop privateers from sailing out of New Orleans. Her only movement, in case of emergency, would have been to slip her anchor and head downstream, trying not to run aground. But this was the duty required of her, as there were few steamer then available to the US Navy at that time. Just such an emergency came one dark night when the Confederate Ironclad ram, the one gun CSS Manassas, attacked them without warning. French's Preble was the first to engage, and she fired her guns almost non-stop until ordered to retire. The Richmond was rammed, but did not sink. The Water Witch and Vincennes panicked and both ran aground, after firing very few shots, and the Vincennes's captain the ordered his crew to abandon ship, and even lit a powder train to the magazine to keep the ship from falling into rebel hands. But a clear thinking quartermaster snuffed it out. All four ships survived and escaped, but the affair caused much embarrassment in the press in what became known as "Pope's Run" or "The Great Skedaddle". Pope and the Vincennes' captain were sacked, but French was praised for his cool conduct. The following is reproduced from http://ebooks.library.cornell.edu/m/moawar/ofre_fulltext.html "Report of Commanc3er French, U. S. Navy, commanding U. S. ship Preble. U. S. Ship PREBLE, Mississippi River, October 22, 1861. SIR: In obedience to your order, I have to make to you the follow- ing statement of the occurrences at the Head of the Passes on the morning of the 12th instant: This ship was anchored about 150 or 200 yards distant from the Richmond and about two points on her starboard bow, being the most advanced ship of the forces there at anchor. I had been on deck most of the time during the night, had left it but a short time previ- ously, and was lying in my berth asleep with all my clothes on, when a midshipman rushed into the cabin exclaiming, Captain, here is a steamer right alongside of us. .1 sprang instantly on deck; the order had already been given to beat to quarters and the men were then assembling at their guns. This was about 3:40 a. m. The moon had set, or was obscured by clouds, and the night somewhat dark, with the wind from the northward. As I passed out of my cabin on my way to the deck I saw through a port an indescribable object not 20 yards distant from our quarter, moving with great velocity toward the bow of the Richmond. My orders from the senior officer were in the event of discovering any danger at night to hoist a red light at the gaff. This had been done by the officer of the deck, instantly, on the dis- covery of the object, which was first seen about 15 or 20 feet directly ahead of this ship, and drifting with the current directly toward us; not a speck of light, smoke, or any moving thing could be seen on or in it, and it looked somewhat like a huge whale in the water. The instant the persons on board of it discovered our movements it seemed to change its direction to avoid us and made directly for the Richmond. In an instant huge clouds of the densest, blackest smoke rolled up from it, and we all expected to see her blown up, but afterwards concluded it must have been the ram, of which we had been told so much. It next made its appearance about a hundred yards distant, and directly abeam of this ship, where it lay quietly for a few minutes, apparently hesitating whether to come at us or not. 1 instantly opened my port battery and gave her three broadsides in rapid succession, the Richmond also firing. She then slowly steamed up the river, and when on our port bow threw up a rocket. This ship had been lying all the time with a range of only 15 fathoms cable, in readiness to slip in case of emer- gen cy. While firing at him word was passed ~that the Richmond was going ahead of us and to hold our fire. I was directing the firing at the battery, and hearing it, looked out of a port and saw that she was astern barely lapping my quarter, and therefore continued my fir- ing until the ram was out of line of pointing. 1 at once manned my deck tackle (for my capstan has been crippled since the hurricane at Key West, and I and therefore compelled to use deck tackles) and beo~an to heave in my chain. Immediately on the rocket being thrown up from the ram, three bright lights were seen coming down the river directly toward this ship, which we at first supposed to be steamers coming to attack us. They soon, however, increased so rapidly in size, that we were fully convinced they were fire ships, and such they proved to be. I was then working smartly with my deck tackle, and should have succeeded in weighing my anchor, when it was reported to me that the Richmond was steaming down the river. 1 could not and would not believe it possible until I ran aft and saw her astern and heading down. The fire ships were then not more than 150 yards dis- tant, directly ahead, and coming down upon this ship. At the urgent suggestion of the first lieutenant and other officers, I then gave the order to make sail and slip the cable, having first taken off the slip buoy, so that the enemy should not easily obtain it. The ships head was immediately headed toward the South West Pass, orders to that effect, in the event of our being obliged to slip at any time, having been for some time previously given by the senior officer present. The moment this ship was discovered by the fire ships (which were in tow of two steam tugs, one on each side) to be underway, their direc- tion was changed toward the Richmond and Vincennes, which were on the opposite side of the river and below this ship. Continuing down the river I came up with the Richmond, which was burning the Cos- ton signals, and passing within a few yards of his stern, I hailed and said I can hear your orders; what are they? The answer was Proceed down the Pass. We were so near my reply was made without the use of a deck trumpet. I continued down the Pass and soon passed by the Vincennes, which soon after signalized to Richmond, Shall I anchor, which was answered by general signal Cross the bar. Not long after the Vincennes was discovered to be aground, with her stern up the river. This ship shortly after took the bottom, and I feared would also stick, but after two or three smart rolls worked herself over and crossed the bar, when I anchored near the coal ships liTi thn and Nightingale, to protect them in case of necessity. I should have stated that the fire ships were towed on shore by the enemy at the Head of the Passes, and two or three steamers were seen coming rapidly down the river to attack the ships. The Richmond was at that time slowly moving down, Water Witch assisting Vincennes. The engagement had now commenced between the Richmond, Vincennes, and Water Witch on our side, and three of the enemys steamers, one o them being a large bark-rigged vessel, said to be the iJfiramon, but now called the McRae; two other steamers were also in company, but I could perceive no firing from them. At this time signal was made from Richmond to ships outside the bar to get underway. I, of course, obeyed the signal, as did also the Kuhn; the Nightingale being ashore, of course could not. It was not long before we discovered the Richmond to be aground; the firing continued about two hours or more, when the enemys. steamers retired up the river. About noon received from the Water Witch 6 officers and TO men from the Vin- cennes~, which, we then learned, had been abandoned. The only signals I saw made by the Richmond during the engage- ment were those made to this ship, and one other to Water Witch, Engage the enemy. Respectfully, yom obedient servan ~, H. FRENCH, Commanding U S. Ship Preble. Flag-Officer Wi~r. MCKEAN, Commanding (Gulf Blockading /Squadron, U. S. S. Niagara.)" The USS Preble was relegated to guard ship duties in 1863 at Pensacola, FL, when she was destroyed by an accidental storeroom fire. The Preble and her four sister ships Decatur, Hull, Marion and Yorktown, deserve to be modeled. A full set of plans survives of her drawn by Chapelle for the Smithsonian. Edited June 11, 2015 by uss frolick mtaylor and Canute 2 Quote Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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