USS Saginaw

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USS Saginaw
Career United States Navy Jack
Laid down: 16 September 1858
Launched: 3 March 1859
Commissioned: 5 January 1860
Fate: Wrecked 29 October 1870
General characteristics
Displacement: 453 tons
Draft: 4 feet 5 inches
Speed: approx. 7 knots under steam
Complement: 50 officers and crew
Armament: One 50-pounder; one 32-pounder; two 24-pounder guns

USS Saginaw was a side-wheel sailing ship in service to the United States Navy during the mid-1800s. Named for Saginaw, Michigan, she was known for her wreck in the western Hawaian Islands and an epic voyage in a small boat by several crew members to get the remaining crew rescued.

Ship's history

Toucey, the first vessel of the "long line of ships" built by the Mare Island Navy Yard, was laid down on 16 September 1858 and launched on 3 March 1859. She was sponsored by Miss Cunningham, daughter of the commandant of the navy yard. Prior to commissioning she was renamed Saginaw, and commissioned into the Navy on 5 January 1860. Comdr. James F. Schenck in command.

The new side-wheel steamer sailed from San Francisco Bay on 8 March 1860, headed for the western Pacific, and reached Shanghai, China, on 12 May. She then served in the East India Squadron, for the most part cruising along the Chinese coast to protect American citizens and to suppress pirates. She visited Japan in November but soon returned to Chinese waters. On 30 June 1861, she silenced a battery at the entrance to Quinhon Bay, Cochin China, which had fired upon her while she was searching for the missing boat and crew of American bark, Myrtle.

On 3 January 1862, Saginaw was decommissioned at Hong Kong and returned to Mare Island on 3 July for repairs.

Relaunched on 3 December 1862 and recommissioned on 23 March 1863, the side-wheeler was attached to the Pacific Squadron and operated along the western seaboard to prevent Confederate activity. She visited Puget Sound that spring to investigate reports that Southern privateers were being outfitted in British Columbia but returned after learning that the scheme had no chance of success.

Her cruises during 1864 took Saginaw to ports in Mexico and Central America to protect the interests of the United States endangered by Confederate activity and by European interference in Mexico. During the closing months of the year, she escorted steamers of the Pacific Mail Steamship Company carrying rich cargoes of bullion from the California gold fields. In the spring of 1865, the ship was assigned to the Revenue Service but was returned to the Navy on 2 June. She spent the remainder of the year protecting American citizens at Guaymas and other Mexican ports during the unrest and disorder which beset Mexico during the struggle between Maximilian I and Benito Juarez.

In March 1866, Saginaw returned to Mare Island. She sailed in August for Puget Sound to support settlers in the northwest. While there, she aided the Western Union Company in laying a cable which first brought telegraphic service to the region. After returning to Mare Island in December, the ship remained at the navy yard through 1867.

In April 1868, Saginaw got underway for Alaska and, with the exception of a run home late in the year for replenishment, spent the next 12 months exploring and charting the coast of that vast, newly acquired territory. After steaming back to San Francisco Bay in April 1869, the ship departed her home port on 28 July and operated along the coast of Mexico until arriving back at Mare Island on 11 November.


Saginaw's next assignment took her to Midway Island to support dredging operations to deepen the entrance to the harbor. She reached Midway on 24 March 1870 and completed her task on 21 October. A week later, she sailed for San Francisco, intending to touch at Ocean Island en route home to rescue any shipwrecked sailors who might be stranded there. The next day, 29 October, as she neared this rarely visited island, Saginaw struck an outlying reef and grounded. Before the surf battered the ship to pieces, her crew managed to transfer much of her gear and provisions to the island.

On 18 November, a party of five men, headed by Lt. John G. Talbot, the executive officer, set out for Honolulu in a small boat to get relief for their stranded shipmates. As they neared Kauai, 31 days and some 1,500 miles later, their boat was upset by breakers. Only Coxswain William Halford survived to obtain help for the marooned men of Saginaw.


The wreck was discovered in 2003 at Kure Atoll [1] by a team led by Hans Van Tilburg, the maritime heritage coordinator for the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve, in addition to assistance from NOAA, the Naval Historical Center, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the state of Hawaii. According to the evidence discovered, Saginaw was given little warning as to the rapidly-shallow depth; the bow striking the reef head-on, with the breaking waves swinging the vessel around and causing an eventual breakup of the ship. The location of the wreck is classified, as it is considered the property of the United States government. The long boat used by the executive officer during his rescue attempt is on display at the Saginaw County Historical Society, Saginaw, Michigan.

Text used in part from the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, a work in the public domain


Copyright Details
License: This work is in the Public Domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States Federal Government under the terms of Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 105 of the U.S. Code
Source: File available from the United States Federal Government [3].