Thursday, June 21, 2012

Ships: A Ship-of-the-Line

The first ship-of-the-line commissioned by the U.S. Navy launched at the Boston Navy Yard on June 22, 1814.  She was named for Jefferson's Declaration, and USS Independence was America's answer to the heavy ships of the contemporary Royal Navy.

Though she was built to take her place with the frigates of the U.S. in the War of 1812, she saw very little in the way of action there.  While Jackson and his band of miscreants and Kaintucks were showing the British the door in New Orleans, USS Independence, under Commodore William Bainbridge and captained by William M. Crane, sailed alongside USS Constitution in the important but dull duty of protecting Boston Harbor.  Once the war officially ended in February, 1815, Independence readied herself for her first authentic mission: confirming the end of the Barbary Wars.

As The Dictionary of Naval Fighting Ships online notes, Stephen Decatur had already negotiated a peace treaty with the piratical Barbary states when Independence arrived in the Mediterranean.  She, however, "led an impressive show of force before the Barbary ports, encouraging them to keep the peace."  In this, she began a long standing tradition of the U.S. Navy that continues to this day: a peaceful show of force is often more effective than aggression could ever be.

Her job done in Barbary, Independence returned to Boston.  In 1819, Bainbridge lowered his pennant and it was replaced by that of Commodore John Shaw.  Independence then cruised the Atlantic front until 1822 when she was placed in ordinary for repair.

By 1836, the U.S. Navy found itself in need of smaller, faster frigates rather than the lumbering style of ship-of-the-line that had been popular with European navies during the Napoleonic Wars.  Independence was, therefore, razeed: cut down to one deck rather than three.  Her gun load equaled 54 and, with her sail plan unaltered, she set out to serve as one of the fastest frigates in the American Navy.

As such she would sail to England, Copenhagen and finally to Kronstadt, Russia, where she delivered the new U.S. ambassador, George Dallas, and his family.  She then headed for South America where Commodore John B. Nicholson was charged with attempting to effect a peace in the war between Argentina and France "for the good of neutral commerce."  The mission failed, and Independence returned to the U.S.  She dropped anchor in New York Harbor on March 30, 1845.

In 1846, now under Commodore William Shubrick, Independence set out for the Pacific where she would see action in the Mexican-American War.  She used San Francisco as her home port and from there captured a number of Mexican ships and the town of Mazatlan in November, 1847.

After the war, Independence was again deployed to the Mediterranean, where she remained with Commodore Charles Morgan's squadron until 1852.  Her final deployment saw her returning to the Pacific where she sailed between Chile, Hawai'i and California as a deterant to predation upon clipper ships headed for and from the gold fields.

Independence ended her service at Mare Island north of San Francisco Bay in 1912.  Though plans were made to use her during the Panama-Pacific Exposition in 1915, these never came to fruition.  She was stripped of her usable timber and iron.  On September 20, 1915, the long lived Independence, the first of her kind in the U.S. Navy, was burned at Hunter's Point in California.

The sturdy veteran of the days of wooden ships and iron men survived more than a century, 98 years of which were spent serving the U.S. Navy.

Header: Sailmaker's plan of USS Independence via Wikipedia


Timmy! said...

A Viking funeral... seems fitting somehow.

Huzzah for Independence!

Pauline said...

I didn't think of that; well said, Timmy! And indeed: Huzzah!