Like many naval officers, John Lorimer Worden sought active service when the United States went to war with Mexico. As the war was being waged along the Gulf and Pacific coasts, this appeared to be a grand opportunity for a young officer to attain laurels that surely would advance his career. Accordingly, on 26 May 1846 Worden made the request to be detached from the U.S. Naval Observatory, also requesting leave until he was called for sea duty. Both requests were granted.
He moved his family to Quaker Hill, Dutchess County, New York. While on leave, Worden was warranted a master, in line for promotion, on 15 August. On 18 January 1847, he was promoted to lieutenant, to date from 30 November 1846.
The newly minted lieutenant was detailed to the store ship USS Southampton, berthed at Gosport Navy Yard in Portsmouth, Virginia, across the Elizabeth River from Norfolk, on 29 January 1847. He assumed his position as the Southampton’s executive officer on 5 February. Lieutenant Robert D. Thornton commanded the vessel. The ship remained at Gosport until she stood out to sea on 17 February to join the U.S. Pacific Squadron. Contrary winds delayed the store ship from clearing the Chesapeake Capes until 23 February.
The Southampton reached Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on 12 April. The highlight of the subsequent brief stay was when the U.S. minister to Brazil, Henry Alexander Wise of Virginia, toured the Southampton. While in port, Worden orchestrated the acquisition of supplies and recruited more sailors, as several of the original crew had deserted.
Nine days later, the Southampton left Rio de Janeiro for Valparaíso, Chile. She reached its harbor on 17 June. The voyage already had taken four months, indicative of the communication problems associated with the Pacific Squadron’s operations. Worden organized the procurement of fresh food, water, and supplies in Valparaiso. Crew members were permitted to go on liberty, which Worden oversaw, at Valparaiso was the last solid ground they would walk on for another two months. The Southampton stood out in the Chilean port, with Worden serving watch, on 24 June; destination: California.
Alta California, was already controlled by U.S. military forces when the Southampton arrived at Monterey on 17 August 1847. Immediately, the ship went to work supplying the Pacific Squadron. Its warships, whether steamers or sail powered, could deploy bluejackets, Marines, and artillery anywhere, enabling the Americans to establish a blockade of Mexican ports and expand their control of Mexican territory. The Pacific Squadron was on the move, and the Southampton would soon play an active role in the conquest of Baja California.
On 28 August, the Southampton supplied the sloop-of-war USS Portsmouth with 431 gallons of whiskey and 933 pounds of rice and provided the frigate USS Congress with 2,992 pounds of bread. The next day, Worden orchestrated the delivery of 11 barrels of rice and 955 gallons of whiskey to the Congress.
Although she was a supply vessel, the Southampton also was an active warship serving in hostile waters. Even though the ship was armed with just two 42-pounder carronades, Worden mustered the enlisted men at quarters to practice working the guns. After significant training to operate these heavy, short-barreled weapons was completed, Worden had the carronades secured. While in Monterey, he also trained certain crew members in small arms—a skill that would be useful in defending the ship and would serve the crew members well when they were assigned to shore excursions.
The loaded store ship set sail north to San Francisco on 12 October 1847 and arrived there on the 15th. The Southampton anchored in Yerba Buena Cove and began receiving ordnance supplies from Colonel Richard Mason. Two 10-inch mortars were loaded aboard the Southampton—extremely arduous work as each mortar weighed 5,775 pounds. In addition, Worden, on 16 October, guided the men loading other ordnance material such as hand spikes, gunner gimblets, and gunner quadrants, and the next day, they brought on board 200 mortar cartridges, 200 10-inch shells, and 200 10-inch fuses. The Southampton left San Francisco on 19 October, destined for Baja California. She stopped at Monterey, Santa Barbara, San Pedro, Los Angeles, and San Diego. At each port, Worden obtained fresh water and provisions. His ship then headed South for the Baja combat zone on 6 November.
Meanwhile, Commodore W. Bradford Shubrick, commander of the Pacific Squadron, sortied from Monterey with the ship-of-the-line USS Independence, followed by the sloop-of-war Cyane. On 29 October, these ships joined with the Congress and anchored off San Jose del Cabo, a fishing village at the very tip of Baja. Shubrick wished to enforce U.S. control of the Gulf of California region. The commodore proclaimed on 4 November that the purpose of his campaign was to conquer Baja permanently.
Much of the local population was overjoyed by this announcement and supported the U.S. occupation. A small garrison of Marines commanded by Navy Lieutenant Charles Heywood was left in San Jose del Cabo to enforce U.S. control. Heywood established his force in a run-down mission building and a dwelling known as Mr. Mott’s house that overlooked the village.
Shubrick then moved his main force across the mouth of the Gulf of Mexico to Mazatlán and occupied the town on 11 November. U.S. Army Lieutenant Henry W. Halleck went ashore with the landing force and laid out fortifications. Four hundred sailors and Marines were left to garrison the town. So far, the commodore’s campaign was highly successful.
Meanwhile, the Southampton neared the Gulf of California on 11 November 1847. Lieutenant Worden noted in the ship’s log on 11 November that the vessel passed an American whaler. While he was still on watch, he met Lieutenant Alion Bartlett of the brig Caroline. Bartlett was the first American alcalde (mayor) of Yerba Buena, and he had renamed the town San Francisco in January 1847.
The Southampton reached San Jose del Cabo on 14 November and anchored in the harbor. Worden took the ship’s No. 2 cutter to shore to communicate with Lieutenant Heywood’s command. Worden knew Heywood from his cruise on board the Cyane when that officer was a passenger on board the sloop in September 1838. All seemed well, and the store ship upped anchor and stood out for Mazatlán on 16 November.
When the Southampton arrived in the port’s large anchorage, Worden immediately noticed the U.S. flag flying over the quartelle (barracks). Shubrick’s entire squadron was at Mazatlán, including the Independence, Congress, Portsmouth, and Cyane. The commodore had added the brig steamer Scorpion and several bomb gun (mortar) vessels such as the Vesuvius and Hecta, as well as other small support vessels to his squadron. Worden then organized the resupply of the squadron for the next ten days. Each ship under Shubrick’s command received sufficient supplies to maintain her duties.
By 23 November, Commodore Shubrick knew of uprisings on the lower Baja Peninsula. Intelligence sources informed him that loyalist Californios had attacked Lieutenant Heyward’s position in San Jose del Cabo.
The commodore detailed the Southampton to return to that port to reinforce U.S. control. Worden noted that as the Southampton was being hauled out of Mazatlán’s harbor, she received eight Marines (one sergeant and seven enlisted men) from the Portsmouth as supernumeraries. According to Worden, the Independence then supplied the Southampton with grape and canister shot, musket cartridges, and other ammunition to resupply the by-then-fortified U.S. position at San Jose del Cabo.
As the Southampton sailed west on 25 November, Worden exercised the crew with small arms on a few occasions. He also supervised the repair of the ship’s flintlock muskets and pistols. Worden knew that the store ship was headed toward an active combat zone.
The Southampton arrived off San Jose del Cabo on 28 November, a welcome sight to Lieutenant Heywood, whose post was being threatened by the loyalist Californios. The fortified position was on high ground overlooking the town. Heywood had one 9-pounder cannon and a four-week supply of provisions. The garrison consisted of 28 Marines and 20 pro-American Baja Californians.
Loyalist Captain Manuel Pineda had decided to strike against the Americans at both San Jose del Cabo and La Paz, 60 miles up the peninsula. Pineda sent a force of 150 irregulars, under the command of Lieutenant Vicenta Meijia. On 19 November, Meijia demanded that Heywood surrender, which he refused to do. The Mexicans attacked later that day but were forced to retreat.
The next night, Meijia led an assault to capture the 9-pounder gun position. The attack failed and Meijia was killed. His force had three others dead, and three American personnel were wounded. Pineda then decided to besiege the American position; however, two American whalers, the Magnolia and Edward, appeared in the harbor. The Baja loyalists took these vessels to be American warships. Since he knew that the heavy American guns made it impossible for his command to capture the American San Jose outpost, the Mexican commander consolidated his troops to attempt to capture La Paz.
The Southampton had been detailed to reinforce and resupply Heywood’s garrison. Immediately on her arrival, Worden, a pilot, and eight men took a cutter ashore. They brought with them the ship’s surgeon, Dr. James McClellan, to attend to the garrison’s sick and wounded while Worden assessed the situation. He immediately sent ten Marines to reinforce the San Jose position. Worden then began transferring to the mission a 12-pounder carriage gun with ten rounds of solid shot and ten stands of grape along with the equipment to operate the cannon.
The lieutenant took Carpenter’s Mate Anthony Woodhouse ashore to properly mount the gun atop Mr. Mott’s house and make other improvements to the American defenses. To further reinforce Heywood, Worden sent Passed Midshipman Henry K. Stevens with 60 bluejackets to add to the onshore force. Worden also provided food, candles, and other necessities, including 343 gallons of whiskey.
Once the San Jose del Cabo situation had been stabilized, the Southampton began to receive supplies from the American brig Libertad to take to Army Lieutenant Colonel Henry S. Burton and his two companies of New York volunteers at La Paz. Pineda’s forces were pressing Burton. The Southampton was loaded with additional supplies such as Paixhans shells, food, and water. On 6 December, she set sail. Her delivery of the supplies at La Paz is not mentioned in her log, but she likely did so. The ship continued farther north, arriving at Guaymas on 20 December. With assistance from the sloop-of-war Dale’s boats, the Southampton was towed into the harbor.
Because of the heavy weather encountered en route to Guaymas, the store ship required important sail repairs. The Southampton then began her resupply of the Dale on 21 December. As the Dale was receiving these goods, the sloop simultaneously sent shells against enemy troops in the town.
Meanwhile, Worden organized the transfer of two 32-pounder shell guns with gun equipment from the Dale to the Southampton. They were mounted on her port side. Worden also guided the hoisting of a 10-inch mortar into one of the Dale’s launches. The mortar was then transported to Little Almagre Island near the entrance to Guaymas Harbor. All the supplies, equipment, and ammunition needed to operate this large siege weapon also were offloaded.
After the bluejackets hauled the gun into position, it was test fired, and one of the trunnions broke off. The second 10-inch mortar was taken out of the store ship and sent to the island. Under Worden’s command, Gunner William Myers managed the replacement mortar. It sent three shells into Guaymas on 24 December, and three more were fired into the town the next day.
On 20 January, Worden was placed in command of the prize schooner Fortuna. She was his first ship command, and he armed her with a medium 12-pounder. Worden’s command included Purser’s Clerk M. D. Winship, a pilot, and a crew of ten well-armed bluejackets.
The Fortuna got under way for a brief cruise along the coast, towing the Southampton’s third cutter. Worden then secured 430 gallons of water from the Libertad. One week later, Worden, his command, and armaments returned to the Southampton as the Fortuna was left in a secure anchorage.
Worden was placed in command of a launch on 2 March 1848. Lieutenant Halleck was attached to his command along with an eight-man crew. Their duty was to harass Mexican shipping. Worden soon captured the schooner Rosita and returned her to La Paz on 10 March. Between 1 and 6 April, Worden commanded several expeditions from the Southampton to defend La Paz and the American supplies stored there.
Worden became ill on 28 April and was admitted to the sick bay for gastric derangement. Six days later, due to his poor health, the lieutenant was transferred to the Independence by order of Commodore Shubrick. The Independence was the flagship of the Pacific Squadron and was stationed off Mazatlán.
On reaching La Paz on 14 July 1848, Worden was detached from the Independence. He was not transferred to another vessel until 10 August, when he was assigned to the store ship USS Warren. Almost immediately, Worden wrote Secretary of the Navy William B. Preston, requesting he be relieved of his Pacific Squadron duties and returned to the United States in “the most convenient and expeditious manner.” Urgent family matters led Worden to make such a request. His personal business was likely associated with his grandfather’s failing health. Dr. Issac Gilbert Graham, a Revolutionary War veteran, died on 1 September. The lieutenant’s sister, Martha Ann Eliza Worden (Mrs. Moses Kipp), also became ill. She died on 22 December.
Worden’s request was not answered, and on 12 September, he was detached from the Warren. That same day, he reported to the ship-of-the line USS Ohio, commanded by Captain William V. Taylor. The Ohio was not destined to return to the United States anytime soon because of her duties in the Pacific. Therefore, on 23 March, Worden again requested to be relieved of his Pacific Squadron assignment with orders to return to the United States by “the most convenient and expeditious route.” The lieutenant noted he had completed his second three-year cruise in the Pacific and hoped the Navy Department would offer an officer to replace him. Worden closed his request, writing, “I beg that the Department will pardon me when I earnestly ask for a speedy return to my family.” On 16 June 1849, Worden was finally given orders “to return home in the first public vessel.”
While Worden’s service on board the Southampton offered lessons about logistics and navigation, the lieutenant also was involved in several serious combat situations, especially his work to enhance Lieutenant Heywood’s position in San Jose del Cabo.
Without ever facing direct combat with the enemy, Worden gained leadership expertise. He commanded the prize schooner Fortuna, which had a successful but brief cruise along the Gulf of California coast. He captured the Mexican schooner Rosita, receiving prize money for the action. Lieutenant John Worden achieved much practical knowledge during the Southampton’s long voyages, and his involvement in active operations in the Gulf of California would serve him well.
Richard W. Amero, “The Mexican War in Baja California,” San Diego Historical Society Quarterly 30, no. 1 (Winter 1984).
K. Jack Bauer, The Mexican War 1846–1848 (New York: Macmillan, 1974).
Log of USS Southampton, 1847–1848.
“Memorandum of Captain H. W. Halleck Concerning His Expedition in Lower California, 1846–1848,” San Diego Historical Society Quarterly 26, no. 3 (Summer 1980).
HR Report 1776.3, “Record of Service of Rear Admiral John L. Worden.”