USS Harriet Lane History

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Harriet Lane

The Name Harriet Lane
 
She was named for bachelor-President James Buchanan's niece, who served as the "First Lady" of his administration. 

Brass Railings from the USS Harriet Lane
USS Harriet Lane.jpg
Courtesy Texas Civil War Museum (photographed by the writer)

Unique among First Ladies, Harriet Lane (1830-1903) acted as hostess for the only President who never married, James Buchanan.  Buchanan was her favorite uncle and he became Lane's guardian when she was orphaned at the age of eleven.  And of all the ladies of the White House, few achieved such great success in deeply troubled times as this polished young woman in her twenties.  She had acquired a sizable art collection, largely of European works, which she bequeathed to the government. 
 
Accepted after her death in 1903, it inspired an official of the Smithsonian Institution to call her "First Lady of the National Collection of Fine Arts."  In addition, she had dedicated a generous sum to endow a home for invalid children at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.  It became an outstanding pediatric facility, and its national reputation is a fitting memorial to the young lady who presided at the White House with such dignity and charm. 
 
The Harriet Lane Outpatient Clinics serve thousands of children today.  The United States Revenue Cutter Harriet Lane was also named in her honor.
 
History of the Harriet Lane
USRC Harriet Lane (1857-1861); USS Harriet Lane (1861-1863)
 
The Harriet Lane was commissioned and assigned to the United States Revenue Cutter Service in 1857, and reassigned to the United States Navy in 1861.
 
Pressure from public and private sources from New York persuaded Congress that New York Harbor needed a modern, fast Revenue steamer.  Of particular concern were the slave vessels illegally outfitting in New York
 
The result of this pressure and subsequent Congressional action was Harriet Lane, an elegant, 180-foot brigantine-rigged, 674-ton side paddlewheel steamer.  She was designed by Samuel Pook and built by William Webb of New York for $140,000. 

Brass railings of the captured USS Harriet Lane
Harriet Lane.jpg
Courtesy Texas Civil War Museum (photographed by the writer)

Harriet Lane had a remarkable career.  She participated in the punitive expedition to Paraguay in 1858, transported dignitaries, including the young Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) in 1860, and sailed with the expedition to resupply Fort Sumter in 1861. 

She is credited with firing the "first naval shot of the Civil War."

The Harriet Lane was permanently transferred to the U.S. Navy in September 1861, was captured by Confederate forces on 1 January 1863, and subsequently converted into a blockade runner and renamed LaviniaAfter the war, Revenue Captain John Faunce, her first commanding officer, found her in Cuba and returned her to New York.  Here her engines were removed and she was converted to a barque-rigged sailing vessel.  She was sold to a lumber merchant, Elliot Ritchie, who named her after himself. 

She was abandoned off Pernambuco, Brazil, "water-logged," in the spring of 1884. There are no known photographs of this famous U.S. Revenue Cutter Harriet Lane.

USS Harriet Lane.jpg
USRC Harriet Lane (1857-1861); USS Harriet Lane (1861-1863) (USCG)

Capture of the Harriet Lane by Confederate forces
Capture of USS Harriet Lane.jpg
Captured on 1 Jan. 1863 (USCG photograph)

(Picture) An illustration of the Harriet Lane's capture by Confederate forces on 1 January 1863. She was at this time a commissioned U.S. Navy warship.

Sources: Department of Transportation.  United States Coast Guard.  Record of Movements: Vessels of the United States Coast Guard, 1790-December 31, 1933.  Washington, DC: U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters, 1989, reprint; Texas Civil War Museum: Fort Worth, Texas; whitehouse.gov.

Recommended Reading: A History of Ironclads: The Power of Iron over Wood. Description: This landmark book documents the dramatic history of Civil War ironclads and reveals how ironclad warships revolutionized naval warfare. Author John V. Quarstein explores in depth the impact of ironclads during the Civil War and their colossal effect on naval history. The Battle of Hampton Roads was one of history's greatest naval engagements. Over the course of two days in March 1862, this Civil War conflict decided the fate of all the world's navies. It was the first battle between ironclad warships, and the 25,000 sailors, soldiers and civilians who witnessed the battle vividly understood what history would soon confirm: wars waged on the seas would never be the same. Continued below…

About the Author: John V. Quarstein is an award-winning author and historian. He is director of the Virginia War Museum in Newport News and chief historical advisor for The Mariners' Museum's new USS Monitor Center (opened March 2007). Quarstein has authored eleven books and dozens of articles on American, military and Civil War history, and has appeared in documentaries for PBS, BBC, The History Channel and Discovery Channel.

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Recommended Reading: Lincoln's Navy: The Ships, Men and Organization, 1861-65 (Hardcover). Review: Naval historian Donald L. Canney provides a good overview of the U.S. Navy during the Civil War, describing life at sea, weapons, combat, tactics, leaders, and of course, the ships themselves. He reveals the war as a critical turning point in naval technology, with ironclads (such as the Monitor) demonstrating their superiority to wooden craft and seaborne guns (such as those developed by John Dahlgren) making important advances. The real reason to own this oversize book, however, is for the images: more than 200 of them, including dozens of contemporary photographs of the vessels that fought to preserve the Union. There are maps and portraits, too; this fine collection of pictures brings vividness to its subject that can't be found elsewhere.

 

Recommended Reading: Civil War Navies, 1855-1883 (The U.S. Navy Warship Series) (Hardcover). Description: Civil War Warships, 1855-1883 is the second in the five-volume US Navy Warships encyclopedia set. This valuable reference lists the ships of the U.S. Navy and Confederate Navy during the Civil War and the years immediately following - a significant period in the evolution of warships, the use of steam propulsion, and the development of ordnance. Civil War Warships provides a wealth and variety of material not found in other books on the subject and will save the reader the effort needed to track down information in multiple sources. Continued below…

Each ship's size and time and place of construction are listed along with particulars of naval service. The author provides historical details that include actions fought, damage sustained, prizes taken, ships sunk, and dates in and out of commission as well as information about when the ship left the Navy, names used in other services, and its ultimate fate. 140 photographs, including one of the Confederate cruiser Alabama recently uncovered by the author further contribute to this indispensable volume. This definitive record of Civil War ships updates the author's previous work and will find a lasting place among naval reference works.

 

Recommended Reading: A History of the Confederate Navy (Hardcover). From Publishers Weekly: One of the most prominent European scholars of the Civil War weighs in with a provocative revisionist study of the Confederacy's naval policies. For 27 years, University of Genoa history professor Luraghi (The Rise and Fall of the Plantation South) explored archival and monographic sources on both sides of the Atlantic to develop a convincing argument that the deadliest maritime threat to the South was not, as commonly thought, the Union's blockade but the North's amphibious and river operations. Confederate Navy Secretary Stephen Mallory, the author shows, thus focused on protecting the Confederacy's inland waterways and controlling the harbors vital for military imports. Continued below…

As a result, from Vicksburg to Savannah to Richmond, major Confederate ports ultimately were captured from the land and not from the sea, despite the North's overwhelming naval strength. Luraghi highlights the South's ingenuity in inventing and employing new technologies: the ironclad, the submarine, the torpedo. He establishes, however, that these innovations were the brainchildren of only a few men, whose work, although brilliant, couldn't match the resources and might of a major industrial power like the Union. Nor did the Confederate Navy, weakened through Mallory's administrative inefficiency, compensate with an effective command system. Enhanced by a translation that retains the verve of the original, Luraghi's study is a notable addition to Civil War maritime history. Includes numerous photos.

 

Recommended Reading: Naval Campaigns of the Civil War. Description: This analysis of naval engagements during the War Between the States presents the action from the efforts at Fort Sumter during the secession of South Carolina in 1860, through the battles in the Gulf of Mexico, on the Mississippi River, and along the eastern seaboard, to the final attack at Fort Fisher on the coast of North Carolina in January 1865. This work provides an understanding of the maritime problems facing both sides at the beginning of the war, their efforts to overcome these problems, and their attempts, both triumphant and tragic, to control the waterways of the South. The Union blockade, Confederate privateers and commerce raiders are discussed, as is the famous battle between the Monitor and the Merrimack. Continued below…

An overview of the events in the early months preceding the outbreak of the war is presented. The chronological arrangement of the campaigns allows for ready reference regarding a single event or an entire series of campaigns. Maps and an index are also included. About the Author: Paul Calore, a graduate of Johnson and Wales University, was the Operations Branch Chief with the Defense Logistics Agency of the Department of Defense before retiring. He is a supporting member of the U.S. Civil War Center and the Civil War Preservation Trust and has also written Land Campaigns of the Civil War (2000). He lives in Seekonk, Massachusetts.

 

Recommended Reading: Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy. From Publishers Weekly: Starred Review. Toll, a former financial analyst and political speechwriter, makes an auspicious debut with this rousing, exhaustively researched history of the founding of the U.S. Navy. The author chronicles the late 18th- and early 19th-century process of building a fleet that could project American power beyond her shores. The ragtag Continental Navy created during the Revolution was promptly dismantled after the war, and it wasn't until 1794—in the face of threats to U.S. shipping from England, France and the Barbary states of North Africa—that Congress authorized the construction of six frigates and laid the foundation for a permanent navy. Continued below…

A cabinet-level Department of the Navy followed in 1798. The fledgling navy quickly proved its worth in the Quasi War against France in the Caribbean, the Tripolitan War with Tripoli and the War of 1812 against the English. In holding its own against the British, the U.S. fleet broke the British navy's "sacred spell of invincibility," sparked a "new enthusiasm for naval power" in the U.S. and marked the maturation of the American navy. Toll provides perspective by seamlessly incorporating the era's political and diplomatic history into his superlative single-volume narrative—a must-read for fans of naval history and the early American Republic.

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