USS Miantonomoh was the lead ship in a class of powerful, double-turreted monitors. Despite having her keel laid down early in the war, she was never commissioned until after the war's end and never saw action. She was, however, the first American monitor to present herself to Europe, causing a sensation wherever she made a port of call.
The first ship named for a leader of the Narragansett Indians, Miantonomoh, a double‑turreted, twin‑screw, wooden‑hulled, ironclad monitor, was laid down at the New York Navy Yard, Brooklyn, New York in 1862; launched 15 August 1863; and commissioned 18 September 1865, Commander Daniel Ammen in command.
Trip to Europe
Assigned to the North Atlantic Squadron, Miantonomoh cruised for a short time along the east coast, thence steamed to the Washington Navy Yard where she remained until April 1866. In late April she sailed to New York and there prepared for an extended cruise to European waters. Under the command of Commander John C. Beaumont, she sailed with steamers Augusta and Ashuelot on 6 May. After touching at Halifax, Nova Scotia, she reached St. John’s, Newfoundland, 23 May. There she embarked the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Gustavus V. Fox, who arrived 3 June en route to undertaking special assignments in Europe.
Upon the order of President Andrew Johnson, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles instructed Fox to deliver Alexander II, Emperor of Russia, a copy of a Joint Resolution of Congress which expressed "deep regret" at the recent attempt on the Czar’s life and congratulations on his escape from harm. In addition, and of greater importance, Welles requested Fox to visit important naval stations and collect:
- "...all the information that is attainable relative to the means which are possessed by the principal naval powers for building, repairing, and laying up naval vessels, an...in regard to their navy yards and navy establishments....You should also examine some of the more modern built naval vessels abroad; and, availing yourself of your experience...institute comparisons between the present naval appliances and improvements of your own country and those of Europe...."
Departing St. John’s 5 June, the three ships crossed the Atlantic in less than 11 days. Fox described the first ocean crossing of an ironclad monitor as "a pleasant trip." During much of the voyage she was towed by Augusta "as a matter of convenience and precaution rather than necessity."
After reaching Queenstown 16 June, Miantonomoh steamed via Portsmouth to Cherbourg, France, where Fox debarked 29 June for talks with Napoleon III. She returned to the English coast 7 July and a week later received visitors including British royalty, government officials, and members of the press, all of whom viewed her with wonderment and amazement. Her departure in naval design caused considerable comment in the English press, and the Times exclaimed: "The wolf is in our fold; the whole flock at its mercy."
The success of her reception in England typified her subsequent visits to other European nations during the next several months. Departing 15 July, Miantonomoh steamed to Denmark where she was inspected by King Christian and the royal family; thence, on the 31st, she entered the Baltic Sea en route to Russia. Eleven ships of the Russian Navy, including four monitors, met her at Helsingfors (Helsinki) and escorted her to Kronshtadt where she arrived 5 August. She remained at that important Russian naval base for more than a month. During that time she was viewed with interest and attention by the Czar, his family, and leading Russian naval officers.
Commenting on the success of the naval mission to Russia, Captain Alexander Murray later wrote: "We were the victims of a hospitality which I did not believe had an existence out of America, and...of a generosity which does not often fall to the lot of navy officers anywhere."
From Russia Miantonomoh continued her triumphant visit to European ports. With Assistant Secretary Fox embarked, she visited Stockholm, Sweden in mid‑September; thence, she arrived Kiel, Prussia on 1 October amidst "a great number of the Prussian ships of war." The monitor left Fox to complete his duties 3 October and steamed to Hamburg where she arrived the 6th. "Here we remained a week," wrote Captain Murray, "and experienced the full flood of that tide of visitors to the ‘monitor’ which had been increasing ever since we left the United States."
Miantonomoh called at French, Portuguese, Spanish, and Italian ports during the next 6 months. Her mission of showing both the flag and herself proved wholly successful. The “tide of visitors,” reported Captain Murray, "wherever we went, overwhelmed us."
In company with Augusta, Miantonomoh departed Gibraltar on 15 May 1867. Steaming via the Canary and Cape Verde Islands, Caribbean ports and the Bahamas, she anchored off League Island, Philadelphia on 22 July, thus completing a cruise of more than 17,700 miles. Captain Murray concluded his report to Secretary of the Navy Welles: "The vessels themselves [are] in such a condition as to be readily enabled to repeat the service just performed." Miantonomoh, however, decommissioned at Philadelphia on 26 July 1867 and was laid up at League Island.
Miantonomoh recommissioned 15 November 1869, Commander R. W. Shufeldt in command. She steamed to New England and served with the funeral fleet that escorted the British ship carrying the body of George Peabody, noted American philanthropist, back to Massachusetts for burial. She continued her operations in the North Atlantic station until 28 July 1870 when she decommissioned at Boston.
As part of Secretary of the Navy George M. Robeson’s ambitious plans to overhaul and modernize ships of the Navy, Miantonomoh was taken to Chester, Pennsylvania in 1874, ostensibly for "repairs" at the yard of John Roach. On 23 June 1874 Congress authorized funds for the purpose of "completing the repairs" of four double‑turreted monitors including Miantonomoh. However, the "repairs" consisted of the constructing of new vessels under the guise of repairing the old ones. She was broken up in 1875 and but few of her materials were used in the building of the larger, more heavily armored, iron‑hulled "New Navy" monitor which became the second Miantonomoh.
Part of the text is incorporated from the United States Navy's Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, a work in the public domain.