USS Congress (1841)

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USS Congress (1841)
Career 100x35px
Name: USS Congress
Launched: 16 August 1841 at Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Commissioned: 7 May 1842
Struck: 1862 (est.)
Fate: sunk in battle, 8 March 1862
hulk sold September 1865
General characteristics
Type: Frigate
Displacement: 1,867 long tons (1,897 t)
Length: 179 ft (55 m) (p.p.)
Beam: 47 ft 9.6 in (14.569 m)
Draft: 22 ft 6 in (6.86 m)
Propulsion: Sails
Complement: 480 officers and enlisted
Armament: 4 × 8 in (200 mm) guns, 48 × 32 pdr (15 kg) guns

USS Congress (1841) — the fourth United States Navy ship to carry that name — was a sailing frigate, like her predecessor, USS Congress (1799).

Congress served with distinction in the Mediterranean, South Atlantic Ocean, and in the Pacific Ocean. She continued to operate as an American warship until the American Civil War, where she was destroyed by the ironclad CSS Virginia in battle off Newport News, Virginia.

The frigate was launched at the Portsmouth Navy Yard on 16 August 1841 and placed in commission under Captain Philip Voorhees on 7 May 1842.

Mediterranean and South Atlantic Ocean operations

Her first cruise — starting on 15 July — took her to the Mediterranean for service with the Squadron of Commodores Charles W. Morgan and Charles Morris. In December 1843, she proceeded to the east coast of South America, seizing the Buenos Aires naval squadron blockading Montevideo on 29 September 1844, where she was active until January 1845 in safeguarding U.S. trade.

She was placed in ordinary at Norfolk, Virginia in March.

Mexican-American War operations

Congress was recommissioned on 15 September 1845, as flagship of Cmdre. Robert F. Stockton and sailed for the Pacific Ocean in late October. After landing the U.S. Commissioner to the Sandwich Islands at Honolulu, Hawaii on 10 June, she proceeded to Monterey Bay where she joined the Pacific Squadron. Capt. Elie A. F. La Vallette assumed command on 20 July employing her along the west coast during the Mexican-American War.

Large detachments of her crew participated in battles on Rio San Gabriel and the plains of La Mesa, and in the occupation of Los Angeles. She assisted in the bombardment and capture of Guaymas in October 1847, and in November furnished a detachment which aided in the occupation of Mazatlán. On 23 August 1848, she departed La Paz, Baja California Sur for Norfolk, Virginia, arriving the following January to be placed in ordinary.

Suppressing the slave trade

In May 1850, she was assigned a threefold mission; protect U.S. interests between the mouth of the Amazon and Cape Horn, prevent the use of the American flag to cover the African slave trade, and maintain neutral rights during hostilities among the South American countries.

Departing Hampton Roads, Virginia on 12 June, she arrived at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on 1 September and assumed duty as flagship of the Brazil Squadron under Cmdre. Issac McKeever until June 1853. She returned to New York City on 20 July for decommissioning.

Mediterranean operations

On 19 June 1855, Congress sailed for the Mediterranean and there followed two years as flagship of Cmdre. Samuel L. Breese. Sailing from Spezia, Italy on 26 November 1857, she arrived at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on 13 January 1858, and was placed out of commission.

In 1859, Congress was reassigned as flagship of Cmdre. Joshua R. Sands and the Brazil Squadron, remaining in that area until the Civil War precipitated her return to Boston, Massachusetts on 22 August 1861.

American Civil War service

On 9 September 1861, she was ordered to duty under command of Capt. Louis M. Goldsborough in the Atlantic Blockading Squadron, later to serve under commanding officer W. Smith, and executive officer Lieutenant Joseph B. Smith.

Congress was anchored off Newport News, Virginia, as part of the blockade of that port on 8 March 1862, when she fell under attack by the Confederate ironclad, CSS Virginia (ex-USS Merrimack) and five other small ships. After exchanging broadsides with Virginia, Congress slipped her moorings and ran aground in shallow water.

The ironclad and her consorts attacked from a distance and inflicted great damage on the ship, killing 120, including the commanding officer, W. Smith. Ablaze in several places and unable to bring guns to bear on the enemy, Congress was forced to strike her colors. Heavy shore batteries prevented Virginia from taking possession. Instead she fired several rounds of hot shot (red-hot cannon balls) and incendiary causing Congress to burn to the water's edge, and her magazine to explode. Lt. Smith — having been in command at the time — died in the action.

Hulk raised and sold

In September 1865, Congress was raised and taken to the Norfolk Navy Yard where she was later sold. She later was stripped for the valuable wood and metal near her mast. The sails later were used to make a flag in memory of the ship.


Coordinates: 36°57′45″N 76°24′10″W / 36.9625°N 76.40278°W / 36.9625; -76.40278