Southern Belle's History

History from a southern belle.

The USS Hartford: For the Love of Men

From Left to Right: John McFarland, Vann Ness, and James Ford.

Quartermasters on the USS Hartford during the Battle of Mobile Bay
From Left to Right: John McFarland, Vann Ness, and James Ford.

The USS Hartford was launched on November 22, 1858. This Screw sloop-of-war ship saw its fair share of battle, fame and glory. With twenty-three Commanding officers aboard during her ninety eight year life-span, she saw ups and downs, fires and renovations before being named a relic and finally dismantled. But all her glory left a lasting impression on life, and apparently even on death.

The USS Hartford was a significant and remarkable ship. She was a flag ship in Shanghai and Manila before being called home to serve the Union Navy in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in December 1861. She maintained her position as the flag ship, this time for Admiral David Farragut. Farragut was described as colorful and bold, and sometimes out right crazy. Farragut ran the West Gulf Blockading Squadron with the Hartford, running past Fort Jackson, Fort St. Philip, and the Chalmette batteries; she took the city and port of New Orleans by April 1962.   Farragut almost lost the Hartford at Fort St. Philip. The Confederate tug “Mosher” laid a fire raft beside the Hartford and set her on fire.  The signal officer on the Hartford dropped a few shells on the fire raft and blew it up. Hosed down, the USS Hartford continued up river with her port beam still smoldering.  After taking heat for major battle decisions and immense damage to his armada, Farragut had one last hoorah up his sleeve.

Mobile Bay was the Confederate’s last port bastion to the Gulf of Mexico. The bay was heavily armed with tethered mines (called torpedoes at the time). Farragut ordered the fleet to charge the bay. The USS Tecumseh was hit by a mine and began to sink. While other ships began to pull back, Farragut queried the USS Brooklyn, “What’s the trouble?” “Torpedoes”, they answered.  “Damn the torpedoes!” Farragut shouted. “Four bells. Captain Drayton, go ahead! Jouett, Full Speed!” (Referring to James Edward “Fighting Jim” Jouett) The bulk of the ships entered the bay and took Mobile for the Union on August 5, 1864. Farragut became known for the saying, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” and he would take his flag ship with him to infamy, and perhaps into death.

After the war, the USS Hartford was decommissioned for repairs and put back to service several more times. During the Depression, she became the love project of President Franklin Roosevelt who even made sure there were WPA funds available for her total renovation. She was moved to the naval ship yard in Washington D.C. and declared a relic. She sank to her berth in 1956 and was finally dismantled.

There was always something about her that made her men love her, even Norman Rockwell who was stationed on her in 1918 painted many a painting of her. It isn’t known who of her men search for her in death, but it is known that more than one did. Inside the National Civil War Naval Museum at Port Columbus, Georgia  is a mock-up of the inside quarters of the USS Hartford, as well as a small vessel that came from her.  Alabama Paranormal Research Team (APRT) was called in to come investigate claims of the apparition of a Captain inside the Hartford. Upon the initial investigation, several EVP’s (Electronic Voice Phenomenon) were captured inside the Hartford mockup. One male said the word, “Coffin”. A book was later discovered by the museum staff written by Charles Carleton Coffin, who was a journalist on several flag ships during the Civil War, including the USS Hartford.  Director Faith Serafin purchased the book from the museum and took it home. Upon a return investigation, APRT got another EVP inside the Hartford that said, “I want Charlie Coffin’s book back.” Several people have also felt something rub against their feet and legs and APRT has captured recordings of a cat meowing and purring inside the mock-up. Phantom flashes of lights, knocks, and even full-bodied apparitions of men have also been witnessed. You can read more about the paranormal activity at Port Columbus in Faith Serafin’s latest publication, Haunted Columbus, Georgia: Phantoms of the Fountain City.

It seems Admiral Farragut is also in the afterlife. Upon a visit to Fort Morgan at Mobile Bay, APRT was asking a series of questions in reference to the Civil War while using a ghost box, which is a device that scans through AM or FM radio frequencies creating opportunity for spirits to communicate through the white noise and audio frequencies. After communicating with a spirit named, “David”, the team asked what his favorite saying was. The spirit answered, “Damn the torpedoes”.

So what is it about the USS Hartford that has men so enamored? Perhaps it was her platform of hosting dignitaries at grand receptions and the enduring admiration of an American President or perhaps it was her infamous and remarkable history as a flag ship. Either way, they call to her as if a lover and search for her to breathe existence back into them, even after death.



April 15, 2013 Posted by | History | , , , | Leave a comment