Warship USS Kearsarge. Her 1:92 scale model is on display at the beginning of our exhibition on the history of modern naval warfare on deck 5 of the museum.
The American Civil War (1861-1865) is considered the end of the age of naval warfare using sailing ships. Armoured steamships were used for the first time in this conflict and proved their superiority. However, the war was also the scene of an event generally regarded as the last great duel between wooden warships: the battle between the USS „Kearsarge“ and the CSS „Alabama“ off the port of Cherbourg, France, on 19 June 1864. Both ships were already propeller-driven sail-steam hybrids. The victory of the USS „Kearsarge“ was made possible by two innovations: Although she was a wooden ship, the sensitive areas of the hull surrounding her engine and her coal bunkers were armoured with camouflaged chains. She also carried two highly effective 28-cm Dahlgren pivot guns.
The „Kearsarge“ was built in 1861 at the Portsmouth Navy Yard in Maine as part of the Union’s emergency program for the war. She was sent to the west coast of Europe to hunt down Confederate merchant raiders active there. The CSS „Alabama“ had been built in Britain in 1862 and in less than two years had engaged over 450 ships and captured or sunk 65 of them. The USS „Kearsarge“ had hunted her for almost the entirety of her career at that time. Their encounter off Cherbourg, in which both ships used steam propulsion, lasted an hour. Many people witnessed the event and Édouard Manet even immortalized it on canvas. In the end, the sinking „Alabama“ capitulated. Some of the surviving crews were taken prisoner, while others managed to be rescued by a British ship. This and the British support for Confederate merchant raiders led to the Alabama Claims, a series of reparations demands made by the US to the UK in 1869. The UK ended the matter by making a payment in 1872.
The USS „Kearsarge“ still had a long career ahead of her. She protected US economic interests and carried out humanitarian and diplomatic missions – especially in the South Pacific, Japan, and the Caribbean. She ran aground on a reef off Roncador Cay on 2 February 1894. All crew members survived, but efforts to salvage the ship were unsuccessful.
Her 1:92 scale model is on display at the beginning of our exhibition on the history of modern naval warfare on deck 5 of the museum.