Kearsarge was launched 11 September 1861 by the Portsmouth Navy Yard, Portsmouth, New Hampshire; sponsored by Mrs. McFarland, wife of the editor of the Concord Statement, and commissioned 24 January 1862, Captain Charles W. Pickering in command.
Kearsarge departed Portsmouth 5 February 1862 for the coast of Spain; thence sailed to Gibraltar to join the blockade of Confederate raider CSS Sumter, forcing her abandonment in December. But her commanding captain, Raphael Semmes, soon commissioned the Confederate raider Alabama on the high seas off the Azores.
Kearsarge prepared for her fight with Alabama at Cadiz (November 1862-March 1863), then searched for the raider from along the coast of Northern Europe to the Canaries, Madeira, and the Western Islands. Arriving at Cherbourg, France on 14 June 1864, she found Alabama in port and took up patrol at the harbor's entrance to await Semmes' next move.
On 19 June, Alabama stood out of Cherbourg Harbor for her last action. Careful of French neutrality, Kearsarge's new commanding officer, Captain John A. Winslow, took the sloop-of-war well clear of territorial waters, then turned to meet the Confederate cruiser.
Alabama opened fire first while Kearsarge held her reply until she had closed to less than 1,000 yards. Steaming on opposite courses, the ships moved around a circle as each commander tried to cross his opponent's bow to deliver deadly raking fire. The battle quickly turned against Alabama, for the quality of her long-stored powder and shells had deteriorated. Kearsarge, on the other hand, had been given added protection by chain cable triced in tiers along her sides abreast vital spaces. One hour after she fired her first salvo, Alabama had been reduced to a sinking wreck. Semmes struck his colors and sent a boat to Kearsarge with a message of surrender and an appeal for help. Kearsarge rescued the majority of Alabama's survivors, but Semmes and 41 others were picked up by British yacht Deerhound and escaped in her to England.
Other wartime actions
Kearsarge steamed along the French coast in an unsuccessful search for the raider CSS Florida, thence proceeded to the Caribbean before turning northward for Boston where she decommissioned 26 November 1864 for repairs. She recommissioned 1 April 1865 and sailed on the 14th for the coast of Spain in an attempt to intercept the new ironclad Stonewall; but the Confederate ram eluded Federal ships and surrendered to Spanish authorities at Havana, Cuba, 19 May. After cruising the Mediterranean and the English Channel south to Monrovia, Liberia, Kearsarge decommissioned 14 August 1866 in the Boston Navy Yard.
Kearsarge recommissioned 16 January 1868 and sailed 12 February to serve in the South Pacific operating out of Valparaiso, Chile. On 22 August she landed provisions for destitute earthquake victims at Africa, Peru. She continued to watch over American commercial interests along the coast of South America until 17 April 1869. Then she sailed to watch over American interests among the Marquesas, Society, Navigators (Samoa), and Fiji Islands. She also called at the ports of New South Wales and New Zealand before returning to Calao, Peru, 31 October 1869. She resumed duties on the South Pacific Station until 21 July 1870, then cruised to the Hawaiian Islands before decommissioning in the Mare Island Navy Yard, California 11 October 1870.
Kearsarge recommissioned 8 December 1873 and departed 4 March 1874 for Yokohama, Japan, arriving 11 May. She cruised on Asiatic Station for 3 years, protecting American citizens and commerce in China, Japan, and the Philippines. From 4 September to 16 December 1874, she carried Professor Hall's scientific party from Nagasaki, Japan, to Vladivostok, Russia, to observe the transit of Venus. She departed Nagasaki 3 September 1877 and returned to Boston 30 December via the Suez Canal and Mediterranean ports. She decommissioned at Portsmouth, New Hampshire on 15 January 1878.
Kearsarge recommissioned 15 May 1879 for 4 years of duty in the North Atlantic ranging from Newfoundland to the Caribbean Sea and the coast of Panama. She departed New York 21 August 1883 to cruise for 3 years in Mediterranean, Northern European waters, and along the coast of Africa. She returned to Portsmouth, New Hampshire on 12 November and decommissioned in the Portsmouth Navy Yard 1 December 1886.
Two years later Kearsarge was recommissioned for the final time on 2 November 1888 and largely spent her remaining years protecting American interests in the West Indies, off Venezuela, and along the Central Americas. She departed Haiti 30 January 1894 for Blue-fields, Nicaragua, but was wrecked on Roncador Reef off Central America 2 February 1894. Her officers and crew safely made it ashore.
Congress appropriated $45,000 to raise Kearsarge and tow her home; but a salvage team of the Boston Towboat Company found that she could not be raised. She was struck from the Navy List in 1894. In a later act of honor, the daughter-in-law of Captain Winslow would commission into service USS Kearsarge (BB-5) in 1898, the only American battleship not to be named for a state.
Some of this text is from the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, a work in the public domain.