A model of the three-masted sloop of war USS Hartford

Built by William Graham, c. 1892
Wood, linen, string and paint
Collection of the Trustees of the Sailors’ Snug Harbor in the City of New York

 Built in the decade just prior to the American Civil War and launched on November 22, 1858, the USS Hartford represents the last hurrah of the wooden warship.  The advent of metal hulled, armored vessels, and the introduction of heavier guns eventually made vessels like her obsolete.

When the Civil War started, the North blockaded Southern ports to prevent shipments of produce from these ports as well as munitions from abroad.  In 1862, the Hartford became the flagship of Admiral David Farragut, who took her and the United States fleet up the Mississippi, where he forced the Confederate Army to abandon Fort Jackson and Fort St. Phillips and surrender New Orleans. The following year, the ship was part of General Grant’s encirclement of Vicksburg, Mississippi, which effectively divided the Confederacy in half.  Late in 1864, the Union fleet, with Admiral Farragut again commanding the Hartford, forced his ship into Mobile Bay. When the USS Techumsen struck a mine and sank, there was hesitation among some of the other captains to proceed, but Farragut ordered the fleet to continue and take on the Confederate Navy. He is famous for his cry, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”  That month, the Union fleet effectively closed Mobile Bay.

On October 19, 1945, the Hartford was towed from Washington D.C. to the Norfolk Navy Yard and classified as a relic.  She was beyond salvage and sank in her berth on November 20, 1956.

Around 1890, the publishers A.D. Worthington & Company undertook production of a “volume to give scrupulously exact descriptions of life and scenes in the great metropolis.” The first section was written by missionary and philanthropist Helen Campbell, who visited institutions and homes across New York City and wrote about “the unfortunate” and efforts to lift them above “the squalor and misery among the hopelessly poor.”   She came to Sailors’ Snug Harbor, where, she wrote, “hundreds of seamen have cast anchor, and, like the old whalers in New Bedford and Nantucket, lie in dock gradually going to pieces and glad of quiet harbor.”  Here is her description of one of the resident model builders, William Graham, a Civil War veteran.

"In a little room under a skylight at the top of one of the buildings was— during a recent visit— Wm. Graham, a one-armed  naval veteran of Commodore Farragut’s fleet, an ingenious and intelligent man, who with his left hand had just completed, after two years’ faithful labor, a perfect model of the famous old flag-ship Hartford. Every block and rope was in working order, every gun in its place between decks.  In equipment, rigging, and armament the model is an exact fac-simile of its renowned prototype, all measurements being mathematically calculated, thus giving the model the true proportions and a faithful appearance of the old war ship."

From Darkness and Daylight; Lights and Shadows of New York Life. A Woman’s Story of Gospel, Temperance, Mission, and Rescue Work’ by Mrs. Helen Campbell

Photographs by Michael Falco