Like Its 20th Century Namesake, the Civil War USS Conestoga Also Sank

The U.S. Navy and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced on March 23rd, 2016 that the USS Conestoga, a Navy ocean going tugboat that disappeared at sea in 1921, had been located and positively identified. The Conestoga, which was built in 1904 and purchased by the Navy in 1917 for service in World War I, left San Francisco on March 25th, 1921 bound for duty in American Samoa, with an intermediate stop at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. A radio transmission from the ship indicated it was battling wind and high waves, and it never reached Hawaii. The vessel sank in 189 feet of water three miles from Southeast Farallon Island, roughly 20 miles west of San Francisco, with the loss of all 56 officers and crew.

Sixty years before that Conestoga sank, the U.S. Navy purchased another vessel of the same name for service in the Civil War. The Civil War USS Conestoga was one of three river steamboats purchased by the Navy at Cincinnati in June of 1861 and converted to gunboats for service on the major rivers in the western theatre of operations. This USS Conestoga was a side wheeler with covered with heavy wooden planking for armor, a type of gunboat known as a timberclad. The vessel was armed with four 32 pounder smoothbore cannons.

USS Conestoga

USS Conestoga

Conestoga saw action in the captures of Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, in the Vicksburg Campaign, and on patrols and convoy duties on the rivers in Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas. On March 8th, 1864, while en route to join the Red River Campaign, Conestoga collided with the USS General Price on the Mississippi River about 10 miles south of Grand Gulf, Mississippi, near the mouth of Bayou Pierre. Two of the Conestoga’s crew members died in the accident.

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