William McKean Log of the USS Niagara and Related Papers, 1814-1863 (MSS 0777)

Extent: 2 Linear feet (1 archives box, 1 oversize box, and 1 oversize folder)

The collection consists of two log books and a small amount of related papers from Union naval Flag Officer William McKean, captain of the USS Niagara and commander of the Gulf Blockading Squadron from 1861 to 1862.

William Wister McKean (1800-1865) was an officer in the United States Navy. He was appointed midshipman in 1814, rose through the ranks to become a flag officer, and served through the beginnings of the Civil War. McKean was notable for his command of the Union's Gulf and East Gulf Blockading Squadrons (appointed Commander 22 September 1861 to 20 January 1862, and 20 January 1862 to 3 June 1862, respectively), which closed Confederate seaports and seized blockade-running ships. He was released from active duty in June 1862.

The USS Niagara was a screw-streamer driven frigate in the United States Navy. First launched by the New York Navy Yard in 1855, her early missions included laying cable for the first transatlantic telegraph, returning interdicted Africans from the slave ship Echo to Liberia, and, with Captain McKean in command, ferrying the first diplomatic mission to the United States from Japan. McKean's log onboard the Niagara commences on 1 February 1861, as the ship rounded the Cape of Good Hope. Arriving in Boston on 23 April 1861, the crew learned of the outbreak of the Civil War. Captain McKean and the Niagara received orders for Union blockade duty, and immediately commenced patrols of the southeast coast and the Gulf of Mexico. After a period of inaction due to repairs in 1862-63, the Niagara resumed war duties in the European Squadron, finally returning to Boston in 1865. The ship was decommissioned and remained in the Boston Navy Yard until she was sold on 6 May 1885.

The collection consists of two log books and a small amount of related papers from Union naval Flag Officer William McKean, captain of the USS Niagara and commander of the Gulf Blockading Squadron from 1861 to 1862. The log book entries began on 1 February 1861 as the Niagara rounded the Cape of Good Hope on her way back to the United States following a diplomatic mission with Japanese dignitaries, and end on 17 May 1862, shortly before McKean left the service. The log books contain descriptions of the ship, weather, and patrolling action in the early years of the Civil War, in addition to longer journal entries with McKean's observations of events. The papers include Civil War-era correspondence, signed oaths of allegiance by the Niagara's officers and crew, and military orders pertinent to the Gulf Blockading Squadrons.

Container List

PAPERS

Box: 1 Folder: 1
Midshipman warrant for McKean, 1814 November 30
Box: 1 Folder: 2
Orders for McKean to take command of the Niagara, 1860 April 28
Box: 1 Folder: 3
Captain's oath of allegiance, 1861 May
Box: 2
Niagara crew and officers' oaths of allegiance, 1861 May
Box: 1 Folder: 4
Letter, Admiral David D. Porter to McKean, 1861 June 8

Letter regarding the Union loyalty oath of First Lieutenant John L. Broome.

Box: 1 Folder: 5
Portrait of William McKean, 1861 August
Box: 1 Folder: 6
Oath of allegiance of John Rainbow, carpenter, 1861 August 20
Box: 1 Folder: 7
Orders and letter appointing McKean to the Command of the Gulf Blockading Squadron, 1861 September 3, 6

Letter signed by Gideon Welles, U.S. Secretary of the Navy. It describes blockade duties at the mouth of the Mississippi River and in the Gulf. The orders direct the transfer of responsibility for the Squadron to McKean from Flag Officer Mervine.

Box: 1 Folder: 8
Letter, McKean to Capt A. Harwood, 1861 September

Letter describes the condition of the Niagara and advises on strategy in the Gulf, including a recommendation to attack Pensacola.

Oversize: FB-295 Folder: 5
Letter, McKean to his family, 1862 January

The letter mentions the launch of the Burnside Expedition and the ships Baltic and Atlantic.

Box: 1 Folder: 9
Release from command of the USS Niagara, signed by Gideon Welles, 1862 June 14
Box: 1 Folder: 10
Letter, Gideon Welles to McKean, regarding prize money for the capture of the Salvor, 1863 October 27

LOG BOOKS

Scope and Content of Series

The log book entries began on 1 February 1861 as the Niagara rounded the Cape of Good Hope on her way back to the United States following a diplomatic mission with Japanese dignitaries, and end on 17 May 1862, shortly before McKean left the service. The log books contain descriptions of the ship, weather, and patrolling action in the early years of the Civil War, in addition to longer journal entries with McKean's observations of events. Details include narrative descriptions of the capture of the Rebel blockade runner General Parkhill as she attempted to make port at Charleston; warning off British ships; shelling Fort Pickens; and other skirmishes.

Box: 1 Folder: 11
1861 February 1 - October 16

Includes a pen-and-watercolor sketch of Cape Town and Table Bay.

Box: 1 Folder: 12
1861 October 17 - 1862 May 17