USRC Harriet Lane
The only cutter to serve in the US Revenue Cutter Service, the US Navy, and the Confederate Navy
The United States Revenue Cutter Harriet Lane was launched in New York on 19 November 1857. An inclined direct-acting steam engine powered two side-wheel paddles. The vessel was also brigantine-rigged, in accordance with common practice in those early days of steam-powered ships. The vessel was named for the niece of President James Buchanan. Buchanan was a bachelor and Ms. Lane served as the First Lady during his time in the White House. She was extremely popular – more popular than her uncle. With a length of 180 feet, a draft of only ten feet, and a maximum speed of 14 knots, the cutter proved to be highly versatile. Late in 1858, the cutter was loaned to the US Navy to join a squadron for an expedition to Paraguay. Following the successful expedition, Admiral W.B. Shubrick singled out Harriet Lane for special commendation on the invaluable service she rendered in extricating his other ships which repeatedly ran aground in the treacherous waters of the Parana River. Resuming duties as a revenue cutter, in September 1860, USRC Harriet Lane embarked Edward Albert, the Prince of Wales, on the first trip to the United States by a member of the British Royal Family, for passage to Mount Vernon where he placed a wreath on the tomb of George Washington. On 30 March 1861, just days after Abraham Lincoln succeeded James Buchanan as President, Harriet Lane was again transferred to the US Navy for service in an expedition to supply Fort Sumter, besieged by rebels in Charleston Harbor. She arrived off Charleston on 11 April. That night, she fired a shot across the bow of the merchant vessel Nashville, which was showing no colors. Nashville promptly hoisted the United States ensign and bore off, but later became a Confederate blockade runner. USS Harriet Lane is credited with firing the first naval shot of the Civil War. In August 1861, Harriet Lane joined a task force that conducted the first combined amphibious operation of the war, supporting the landing of troops who captured Fort Clark and Fort Hatteras on the outer banks of North Carolina and establishing a Union foothold in and around Pamlico Sound. She then supported Admiral Farragut’s operations to take control of New Orleans and the entire Mississippi River. Harriet Lane was part of a small squadron that bombarded and captured Galveston on 3 October 1862. On 1 January 1863, the Confederates counter-attacked, sinking several of the Navy ships. The commanding officer and executive officer of USS Harriet Lane were killed in the action and the ship was heavily damaged and captured. After serving some months as the CSS Harriet Lane, the ship was sold and converted into a blockade runner named Lavinia. The ship sailed to Havana on 30 April 1864, where she was interned for the duration of the war. When she was recovered in 1867, it was determined that she was unfit for government service. She was sold, converted to a bark rig, and renamed Elliott Richie. After 17 years of commercial service, she was abandoned at sea off Pernambuco, Brazil on 13 May 1884 after a major fire broke out in her cargo holds.