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300px-USS Galena watercolor NH59541

Galena in ironclad configuration, ca.1862.

USS GALENA (1862)

Built: Mystic, Connecticut

Commissioned: September 16th, 1862

Service: Atlantic Blockading Squadron (1862), James River Flotilla (1862), Picket Duty, Norfolk and Hampton Roads (1862-1863), West Gulf Blockading Squadron (1864), East Gulf Blockading Squadron (1864), North Atlantic Squadron (1865)

Home Port: Alternately Key West Florida and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Dimensions: 210' Length, 36' Beam, 11' Draft

Armor: 3.5" iron hull, unarmored deck

Armament: 4x9" Smoothebores, 2x100lb Rifles

Engines: Single Screw

Speed: 8 Knots

Crew: 150

Fate: Decomissioned 1863, 1864, and 1865. Re-entered service for the final time in 1869. Condemned, 1870; broken up, 1872.


Summary

Galena was one of three ironclads initially constructed for the US Navy beginning in 1861 at the request of Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles. Each of the three ships represented a different concept in ironclad design, but only one of them, the Monitor, would go on to inspire further ideas. The other two, Galena and New Ironsides, were essentially developmental dead ends for the US Navy, despite the value of their service.

Galena was the smallest and most lightly armored of the three, though her armament was quite heavy. She was designed by Samuel Pook, the famed naval architect, whose concept was to produce a relatively small, fast frigate, provided with light armor protection that, mirroring the first frigates in the service of the colonies during the American War of Independence, could fight anything it couldn't outrun, and outrun anything it couldn't fight. In the event, Galena was used for precisely the type of warfare that Pook had not intended with his designs - most of her operations were in support of attacks on fortresses and shore batteries, which were armed with heavy artillery easily capable of defeating Galena's armor, which might have been adequate in stand off battles with other warships, certainly for protection from small arms. As a result, the design was viewed as a failure by many, but this is to discredit the sterling service she did perform, often in roles not originally intended for her.

Most of Galena's early service was performed in Virginia and on the James River, where she primarily engaged the latter type of target and only occasionally glimpsed CSN warships. One of these was the famous Virginia, which declined battle. On May 15th, Galena saw her most notable action: heavy engagement with a fortified battery at Drewry's Bluff about eight miles up river from Richmond. Galena heroically covered the battery and had nearly silenced it before the battery suddenly returned fire with its remaining weapons at close range, doing tremendous damage to Galena. During the action, Corporal John F. Mackie of the USMC directed Galena's gunnery operations, at great risk to his own life, earning the first Medal of Honor to be awarded to a US Marine.

Despite damage at Drewery's Bluff, Galena continued on in service for several more months, usually operating in close escort duty for McClellan's operations in the Peninsula. In May, 1863, Galena was sent to Philadelphia where she was brieflfy decommissioned and underwent a heavy refit, which included the removal of her armor cladding - heavily damaged at Drewery's Bluff - and effectively ended her service as an ironclad.

In 1864, when the refit was finished, Galena was sent to the Gulf of Mexico for blockade duties, which included interception of blockade runners and bombardment of Confederate fortifications, at the height of which Galena served in the Battle of Mobile Bay. On December 22nd, she was once again decommissioned for repair, returning to service in March of 1865 to serve on picket and patrol duty with the North Atlantic Squadron. These duties brought her close to the James and Nansemond rivers, though she did not directly engage Confederate ironclads at the time. In June, at the formal end of most hostilities, she sailed to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and was decommissioned once again, before being brought into service briefly in 1869 and then ordered condemned and scuttled.

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