USS Lehigh was launched 17 January 1863 by Reaney, Son, & Archibold, Chester, Pa., under a subcontract from John Ericsson; and commissioned at Philadelphia Navy Yard 15 April 1863, Comdr. John Guest in command.
A week later the new monitor joined the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron at Newport News, Va. She performed blockade duty in the Hampton Roads-Virginia Capes area, and on the night of 10 June joined a flotilla under Rear Adm. S. P. Lee in an expedition up the James River to assist Army troops. Returning to Newport News 2 days later, she resumed blockade duty until sent back up the James with seven other Union warships to threaten Richmond. The movement was designed to divert Confederate strength from Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia which had invaded the North and imperiled Washington. The expedition caused the South to evacuate Fort Powhatan, leaving no defenses on the James below Chaffin’s or Drewry’s Bluffs, some 8 miles from Richmond. The situation relaxed as the southern army retreated across the Potomac, and the Union warships dropped down river to Hampton Roads. On the morning of 23 July, Lehigh, towed by Circassian, got underway north and arrived New York 2 days later for repairs.
In August, commanded by Comdr. Andrew Bryson, she headed south and joined the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron off Charleston. The monitor took part in the attacks on Fort Sumter of 1 and 2 September, being struck several times; engaged Sullivan’s Island 7 September; Fort Moultrie 8 September, receiving 29 hits; covered a landing party attacking Fort Sumter 9 September; and from 27 October to 20 November engaged Fort Sumter almost daily, running aground 16 November off Sullivan’s Island under heavy enemy fire.
After repairs at Port Royal, Lehigh rejoined the fleet off Charleston 13 January 1864, was assigned to picket duty, and during the following year kept up an intermittent fire on various enemy fortfications in Charleston Harbor. In March 1865, Lehigh joined the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron and served in the James River through the end of the Civil War. She decommissioned at League Island Navy Yard 9 June 1865.
Laid up and under repairs at League Island for a decade, Lehigh recommissioned 15 December 1875, Comdr. George A. Stevens in command, and served as practice and school ship at the U.S. Naval Academy. In April 1876 she was assigned to the North Atlantic Station, and operated in the vicinity of Port Royal.
From 1879 to 1895 Lehigh lay in the James River at City Point and off Richmond. In 1895 she was taken to League Island and repaired, and 18 April 1898 recommissioned under Lt. R. G. Peek for coastal defense and stationed off the New England coast. She was decommissioned 8 September 1898, and remained at League Island until sold 14 April 1904.
Part of the text is incorporated from the United States Navy's Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, a work in the public domain.