The first USS Delaware was launched in July 1776, the month the fledgling United States declared its independence from Great Britain. Delaware was a 24-gun sailing frigate, and her career in the U.S. Navy was eventful and short. In September 1777, Delaware and several other ships bombarded British shore fortifications being erected after the British capture of Philadelphia. Unfortunately, the ship ran aground during an ebb tide, and, helpless, was pummeled by British shore batteries until she was forced to strike her colors. The Royal Navy took her into service for some time before selling her in 1783. Renamed United States, she spent years as a merchant ship and whaler before being sold again. She was converted to a French privateer in 1795, after which she faded from the history books.
As an example of shifting alliances in U.S. history, the second USS Delaware served in the U.S. Navy during the Quasi-War with France. Originally built as the merchant ship Hamburgh Packet, she was purchased by the Navy on May 5, 1798. She was 94 feet 9 inches long, displaced 321 tons loaded, and was armed with 16 9-pounder guns and four 6-pounder guns. Her first captain was Capt. Stephen Decatur, Sr., and among those he took to sea with him was his son, Stephen Decatur, Jr., who would become a legend in the U.S. Navy.
Between 1798 and 1801, Delaware protected American merchant shipping from French privateers from the coasts of Philadelphia and New York, across the West Indies, and in the waters off Havana, Cuba. On July 7, 1798, Delaware captured the French privateer schooner La Croyable. It was the first capture of any ship by the United States Navy. Delaware took several other prizes, both alone and sailing with the frigate USS United States. She returned to Baltimore and was sold in June 1801.
The third USS Delaware was designed and built as a warship. She weighed more than 2,600 tons, was 196 feet long, and had a crew of 820 officers and men. She was armed with 30 long 32-pounder guns, 32 medium 32-pounder guns, and two 32-pounder carronades. Launched in October 1820 in a time of relative peace, she didn’t put to sea until 1828, becoming the flagship of Commodore W. M. Crane in the Mediterranean, returning to be decommissioned in 1830.
Recommissioned in 1833, she set sail for the Mediterranean, where she served as flagship for Commodore D. T. Patterson until her return to Hampton Roads, Virginia, again taken out of service until her recommissioning in 1841. Sailing in November 1841 for a tour of duty on the Brazil Station, she was the flagship for Commodore Charles Morris, patrolling the coasts of Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina to represent U.S. interests during a time of unrest in those countries. She departed the coast of South America in 1843 to return to the Mediterranean for another cruise before returning to Hampton Roads in 1844 for her final decommissioning. In the final episode of her naval career, she was burned in Norfolk Navy Yard by the Navy on April 20, 1861, just days after the start of the Civil War, to keep her from falling into Confederate hands.
While the third Delaware was burned down to the waterline, a fourth rose almost from the ashes. The Virginia Dare, a sidewheel steamer, 161 feet long and displacing 363 tons, was purchased by the U.S. Navy in October 1861 and commissioned as the USS Delaware. This fourth Delaware had a long and eventful career, first in the U.S. Navy and later in the Revenue Cutter Service, one of several services that merged to eventually become the U.S. Coast Guard. With a crew of 65 in U.S. Navy service, she was armed with four 32-pounder guns and one 12-pounder naval rifle. Powered by a walking beam steam engine driving her sidewheels, she could make 13 knots at full speed.
Assigned to the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, Delaware left Philadelphia in December 1861, and in the first two months of 1862 participated in the capture of Roanoke Island from the Confederates, and then helped capture or destroy seven Confederate ships during an attack on Elizabeth City, North Carolina. In March 1862, Delaware helped capture the town of New Bern as well as four Confederate vessels.
Between June 1862 and October 1862, Delaware operated in the waters off Virginia, dueling with enemy shore batteries and capturing numerous small vessels, and later cruised the rivers and waters of North Carolina as well as the James and York rivers and Chesapeake Bay until November 1863. After repair and refitting in Baltimore, Maryland, she returned to the waters of Virginia, performing in a number of roles until the end of the Civil War. Decommissioned on Aug. 5, 1865, she was soon to take on another set of roles.
By the end of August 1865, Delaware had been sold to the Department of the Treasury and commissioned as the Revenue Cutter USRC Delaware. Repaired, updated, and modified over the next decade, she was renamed Louis McLane in 1873. She served in the Gulf of Mexico for most of her career, until she was finally decommissioned in 1902.
The fifth Delaware existed, under that name, for just 15 months. She began life as the USS Piscataqua, a screw steamer commissioned in October 1867. She was more than 312 feet long, displaced 2,400 tons, and was armed with 20 9-inch smoothbore guns. She served between 1867 and 1869 as flagship on the Asiatic Station. On May 15, 1869, her name was changed to USS Delaware, and she left Singapore under that name in August 1870, only to arrive in New York and be decommissioned in December 1870.
The sixth and mightiest of the Delawares was the battleship USS Delaware (BB 28), the lead ship of her class of dreadnoughts. Built by Newport News Shipbuilding, Delaware was more than 518 feet long and displaced 22,400 long tons at full load. She had a crew of 933 officers and men. Powered by 14 coal-fired boilers feeding two triple-expansion steam engines that drove two screws, Delaware was capable of making 21 knots, and was the first battleship in the U.S. Navy able to steam continuously for 24 hours at her top speed. The battleship was armed with 10 12-inch, 45-caliber guns mounted in five twin turrets. She had a secondary battery of 14 5-inch guns mounted in casemates along the hull, as well as a pair of submerged 21-inch torpedo tubes. Delaware was commissioned into the U.S. Navy on April 4, 1910.
In the ensuing years before World War I, Delaware made goodwill cruises to England and France, and carried out trials and exercises with her battleship division of the Atlantic Fleet. Delaware participated in the Battle of Veracruz and occupation of Veracruz that ensued after the Tampico Affair in Mexico in 1914.
After the American entrance into World War I in April 1917, Delaware sailed with Battleship Division (BATDIV) Nine for Great Britain to reinforce the Royal Navy’s Grand Fleet. Upon joining the Grand Fleet at Scapa Flow, BATDIV Nine became the 6th Battle Squadron. For the remainder of the war until the Armistice in 1918, Delaware helped escort merchant convoys and served in other duties, but was never able to achieve the hoped-for engagement with the German High Seas Fleet. She was attacked twice by a German U-boat, though she managed to evade the torpedoes fired at her.
Delaware was overhauled after the war and then returned to her peacetime routine of cruises and training, but in the years after World War I, the United States, Great Britain, and Japan were trying to avoid a costly naval arms race. The three nations signed the Washington Naval Treaty in February 1922. Under its terms, the Delaware and her sister ship, North Dakota, would have to be taken out of service and scrapped once the new battleships USS Colorado and USS West Virginia joined the fleet. Delaware was decommissioned in November 1923 and sold in February 1924 for scrap.
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