The call of “square-rigger in sight,” standing toward the harbor entrance at Newport, Rhode Island, late one afternoon in December 1901, prompted commotion on the foc’sle of the training ship Newport. At those words, Apprentice Joseph L. Bachus noted, “up from below tumbles every jack in the ship.” The training ship Constellation, moored nearby, asked the newcomer, with black hull and buff stack and upperworks, to identify herself. When the flags “G,” “One,” “Eight,” and “Six” fluttered from the stranger—Navy code for the Hartford—Bachus later wrote, “Oh, what a cheer went up!”
The young apprentice and his shipmates clearly knew of the Hartford’s fame, for they “did not need to look for information concerning the beautiful training ship.” The sailors cheered and talked excitedly among themselves as their transfer to the new arrival drew near. Ordered to get their bags and hammocks clean, Bachus and his mates “scrubbed every thread of wool, cotton, duck, and broadcloth” so that by the next morning, everything was “fresh and clean in preparation for departure.” Once on board the legendary vessel, the new men’s excitement and enthusiasm soon gave way to the more mundane aspects of naval training. They made their ways to the various parts of the ship assigned to them, were greeted by their division officers (Bachus’ was Lieutenant Charles Hussey—“a finer gentleman,” he wrote, “I have rarely met”) and then “shown where to stow our gear, where to eat and sleep and instructed where to work.”
The routine aside, that first day nonetheless proved memorable. A storm compelled Commander William H. Reeder, the Hartford’s captain, to have the crew served an early dinner in preparation for a midday departure. Standing out “in one of the worst gales that hit the eastern coast in some years,” Bachus noted that at the beginning of his cruise in the Hartford, “I was far from being in love with old Father Neptune.”
Laid down at the Boston Navy Yard on New Year’s Day 1858, the Hartford, named for Connecticut’s capital city, was launched on 22 November of that year. As the new sloop-of-war entered the water, Miss Carrie Downes, daughter of Captain John Downes, christened her with a bottle of water from a Hartford spring; Miss Lizzie Stringham, daughter of Commodore Silas Stringham, employed a bottle of water from the Connecticut River; and Lieutenant George Preble smashed a bottle of saltwater over the bow to complete the process. “Amid loud cheers and the waving of handkerchiefs,” the Boston Journal recounted, “the good ship gracefully settled upon her destined element.”
As the Hartford neared completion on 2 April 1859, Harrison Loring, who had designed her propulsion machinery, noted his product’s performance: “[The engines] work well, no noise, no leaks, every joint is perfect, and the whole machinery seems to be in perfect order.” Commissioned on 27 May 1859, the Hartford became the flagship of the East Indies Squadron.
Called home from Asian waters when conflict between the North and the South convulsed America, the warship underwent a refit. Recommissioned on 19 January 1862 with a main battery of 20 IX-inch Dahlgren smoothbores, the Hartford became the flagship for Flag Officer David G. Farragut, commander of the West Gulf Blockading Squadron. Over the course of the Civil War, the fame of the man and the ship became forever intertwined. Outside of a refit at New York Navy Yard (10 August 1863–3 January 1864), the Hartford wore Farragut’s flag in hard-fought actions from New Orleans to Vicksburg, Port Hudson, and Mobile Bay.
Decommissioned in December 1864, the Hartford returned to the East Indies after the Civil War, where she served two three-year stints as flagship from 1865 to 1875. While flagship of the North Atlantic Station (1876–77), she began to be used in a training role and served in that capacity on the South Atlantic Station from 1877 to 1879.
During the installation of new machinery in 1880, workmen replaced the Hartford’s two-bladed screw with a more efficient four-bladed propeller. The old screw was melted, its bronze cast into the statue of Admiral Farragut that stands in the square named for him in Washington, D.C.
More than a decade later the Hartford underwent a modernization (December 1894–October 1899). She received new engines, was rerigged as a bark, and received a battery of 13 5-inch/40- caliber Mk VIII guns, identical to those projected for installation in the Kearsarge (Battleship No. 5) and the Brooklyn (Armored Cruiser No. 3)—new warships of the modern steel Navy. As a training ship for landsmen and apprentices, and also for a time for U.S. Naval Academy midshipmen and naval cadets (such as William F. Halsey Jr., Husband E. Kimmel, and Frank Jack Fletcher), the Hartford ranged from Europe and the Mediterranean to the West Indies.
After becoming station ship at Charleston, South Carolina, in 1912, her spar deck was housed-over to provide accommodations for the sailors quartered on board during instruction at the Machinists’ Mate School there. Deemed “unserviceable” for sea duty during World War I, she was stripped of her main battery, retaining only two 6-pounders. She was decommissioned for the final time on 20 August 1926.
In the autumn of 1939 the tug Umpqua (AT-25) towed her from Charleston to Washington, D.C. Still housed-over and dismasted, there she awaited repairs but not restoration; funds for the latter had not been appropriated. Plans called for the ship to be part of a floating naval museum near Memorial Bridge in Arlington, Virginia, but expanding the Navy to fight a global war soon became a higher priority. The Hartford—given the identification number IX-13 about 1941—thus sat idle at the Washington Navy Yard until October 1945. The Norfolk Naval Shipyard, to which she was towed for repairs and alterations, was in the midst of a heavy schedule of dry-docking and decommissionings, however, as the Navy demobilized. The shipyard recommended against spending the $300,000 allocated for the Hartford, and BuShips closed out the project order on 6 September 1946.
In 1948, BuShips estimated that to refit the deteriorating Hartford as a “relic” would cost more than $1 million. Towing her to Hartford (as had been first proposed in 1935) or to Mystic, Connecticut, would cost at least $30,000—but only after $25,000 had been expended to make her seaworthy enough for the trip. Patriotic groups at Mobile, Alabama, expressed interest in having the Hartford in that city, but funds proved a stumbling block. By July 1956 a security watch maintained by the shipyard performed only enough maintenance to keep Admiral Farragut’s former flagship afloat—about $50 a day just to pump the bilges. BuShips estimated her scrap value at about $1,000.
Ultimately nature did what Confederate shot and shell could not. The security watch discovered flooding on the night of 19 November 1956. A crew with additional equipment was sent to augment the pumps. Four hours of intensive labor failed to stem the rising tide. The following morning the Hartford sank in 25 feet of water. Salvage crews dismantled her there the following year.
“In England,” Captain Harry E. Yarnell had observed in the U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings in 1926, “Nelson’s flagship [HMS Victory] has been a shrine for a century to the officers and men of the Royal Navy. Our Victory [the Hartford] serves as a receiving ship at an obscure naval station.” Sadly, while no one could question the stout ship’s historical value, the practical means for memorializing her ran afoul of budgets and priorities, and ultimately resulted in a famous ship’s sad demise alongside a Tidewater pier.