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The Hartford was in every respect a remarkable ship, with a history that spanned a ninety eight year career. Beginning with her first deployment in 1859 as the flagship in the Far East, the Hartford made diplomatic ports of call in Manila, Shanghai and other ports in the Far East. Her majestic presence portrayed a symbol of American sea power wherever she traveled
With the outbreak of the Civil War the Hartford was ordered home from Asiatic waters arriving in Philadelphia 2 December 1861 to be outfitted for war with the mission of preserving the Union. Hartford’s involvement in the Civil War as the Flagship of Admiral David Farragut, “damn the torpedoes”, who was a colorful and bold fellow, to be sure, was to help blockade the South’s gulf Coast and to capture New Orleans, the richest city in the South. After the Hartford’s courageous exploits during the Civil War, which would fill volumes, she was ordered to New York where she was decommissioned for repairs. After repairs were completed in July 1865 the Hartford served as flagship of the Asiatic Station Squadron returning to Asia until August 1868 when she was ordered back to New York and decommissioned. When recommissioned in October 1872 she returned to her Asiatic patrol until October 1875 when she headed for her new home port of San Francisco. With her new assignment, she patrolled the Pacific until again being decommissioned in January 1887 and was used for apprentice sea training.
During the period of 1890 to 1899 the Hartford was laid up at the Mare Island shipyard. During the last five years of her inactive period she received an extensive rebuild. On 2 October 1899 the Hartford was recommissioned and ordered to the Atlantic coast for midshipmen training until 24 October 1912 when she was transferred the Navy Yard at Charleston, S.C. where she remained until late 1939. Upon the arrival of the Hartford at the Charleston Yard she replaced the Baltimore as a receiving and station ship until 1938, a fitting duty for a grand old ship. When assigned to the Charleston Yard she also as the Flagship of the Sixth Naval District. The Hartford spent her remaining active duty years receiving Navy Admiralty and Officers along with visiting dignitaries.
Considering the Hartford’s Civil War exploits, it was an ironic twist of fate that she would spend the bulk of her remaining years as a fixture in Charleston, S.C. where the first shots of the Civil War were fired from the cannons at Fort Sumter in the Charleston Harbor
The USS Hartford had a relationship with one of America’s most prolific artists and illustrators along with one of this countries beloved presidents, Franklin Roosevelt. In 1918 a young artist named Norman Rockwell arrived at the Charleston Shipyard. Another twist of fate involving the Hartford put Mr. Rockwell at the shipyard. He was originally deployed from New York on his way to Ireland to paint insignias on aircraft. Before clearing the New York harbor his ship was stopped by an American submarine. The sub’s Captain ordered Rockwell’s ship south to Charleston to avoid a German submarine which was lying off the coast. Upon Rockwell’s arrival in Charleston he was assigned to the yard’s newspaper Afloat and Ashore as an artist. His tenure on the Hartford began with a chance encounter with the yard’s new Commanding Officer, Mark St. Clair Ellis who had his headquarters on the Hartford. In Mr. Rockwell’s words “One afternoon O’Toole and I were in my studio discussing the situation (the new Commanding Officer) when the door was suddenly flung open, and a voice yelled “A-ten-shun!” and in walked the new commander in full-dress uniform. White jacked and trousers, gold braid and white gloves. A big handsome beefy looking fellow. His wife, a square mannish lady smartly dressed accompanied him. “Carry on, men carry on,” he said. I went back to work on the portrait I was painting and O’Toole fussed with a pile of old canvases in the corner. The new commander stood behind me looking at the portrait. After a minute I happened to glance around and saw that he was leaning on my palette table, one of his white gloved hands squished down in the gobs and smears of oil paint. Oh, Lord, I thought , Siberia, here I come. “Ah, Commander, Sir, ”I said, “your hand, sir. Paint, sir.” He lifted his hand and looked at the glove sticky with paint of many colors. I composed a brave farewell letter to my friends at home. But then he laughed and , stripping off his glove, said, “A souvenir,” and handed it to me. He chatted a bit, asking about my work and how I liked the Navy, and left the room.” At this time Rockwell was stilled employed by the Saturday Evening Post producing his famous front cover illustrations. He was allowed to continue his employment as long as the subject matter was about the U.S. Navy. The next day, Rockwell was transferred to Commander Ellis’s staff and moved his studio aboard the Hartford.
Not long afterwards the war ended. On 12 November 1918 Rockwell was discharged and his brief career in the Navy ended. The following is a description of the interior of the Hartford by Norman Rockwell. “In the center of the ship a grand, red carpeted staircase swept down to a huge ballroom whose walls were decorated with ornate, hand carved scrollwork. The staterooms, which were the officer’s quarters, were lavishly appointed and hung with all manner of rich velvets and tapestries. Down all the carpeted hallways ran handrails of gleaming brass. The kitchen was staffed by a horde of cooks, meat cooks, pastry cooks, vegetable cooks, salad cooks, sauce cooks, etc. A marine band, scarlet jackets, blue trousers, white belts, and all, was kept always at the readiness and marines in full dress uniforms, dark blue coats, light blue trousers guarded the gangplanks.
The Hartford remained at the yard through the twenties and the Depression. President Roosevelt made many visits to the yard while traveling to Warm Springs, Ga. Franklin fell in love with the old ship and thought it should be refurbished. He saw that WPA funds were provided for such a task. In 1937 and 1938 she was extensively refurbished. After the rebuilding project was completed she was moved to Washington, D.C. In 1945 she was moved to the Norfolk Naval Shipyard and declared a relic. She sank at her berth in 1956 and was finally dismantled.
The Hartford was a magnificent ship with a history that included serving as a flagship, making diplomatic ports of call, battling the Confederate ironcalds and running Confederate blockades. Providing a training platform for midshipmen along with hosting dignitaries invited aboard for grand receptions and the enduring admiration of an American President.
Compiled and written by Robert Hall.
References: Dictionary of Naval Fighting Ships and historical documents from the Charleston Naval Shipyard
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