The frigate warship has been a fixture of naval warfare for centuries and, prior to the steel, steam-driven beasts of the 20th Century, warplanners relied on fleets of sailing frigates. While generally varying in both size and role in regards to fleet action, the type was typically of larger dimension than other classes and fielded formidable armament. Their size also allowed for a considerable crew to be carried that included a detachment of fighting marines armed for boarding actions.
USS Congress of the United States Navy (USN) was launched on August 16th, 1841 out of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard of Maine. She was formally commissioned for service into the USN on May 7th, 1842 and led an active career that spanned into the early 1860s where she was ultimately doomed by events of the American Civil War (1861-1865). At the time of her commissioning she became the fourth ship to carry the "Congress" name for the American Navy.
Dimensions included a length of 179 feet, a beam of 47.9 feet and a draught of 22.5 feet. Displacement was 1,870 tons. The ship was powered by a conventional three-masted sailing arrangement. Aboard were 480 officers and enlisted personnel and armament centered on 48 x 32-pounder guns with 4 x 8" (200mm) Paixhan guns.
Her first voyages were centered on the Mediterranean in 1842 and, for 1843, she was stationed off the coast of Uruguay in South America to protect U.S. trade during the ongoing Uruguayan Civil War (1839-1851). Following a political row with Argentina after Congress took an Argentine schooner, the warship was retained stateside at Norfolk for the near future.
In 1845 she was called to action once more, this time in response to the Mexican-American War and joined the Pacific Squadron at Monterey Bay. The war spanned from April 1846 until February of 1848 and was the response to the American annexation of Texas into its expanding holdings. USS Congress was deployed along the American West Coast during this time and used her guns in anger when bombarding Guaymas in October of 1947 and was instrumental in other facets of the American conquest of California for her time in the war. From there the vessel continued to support related actions against Mexico before returning to Norfolk once again in January of 1849.
From 1850 to 1853 the warship was called to combat the human slave trade in South Atlantic waters, primarily near South America. On July 20th, 1853, she arrived in New York waters and was decommissioned. By 1855, the ship was back in sailing service and took a journey to the Mediterranean, returning to the American East Coast in November 1857. She rejoined the fleet in 1859 and served until August 1861.
When the "War Between the States" broke out in 1861, USS Congress remained a viable warship and was pressed into further service when she was returned to active duty in September. She formed part of the Atlantic Blockading Squadron of the Union Navy, tasked with denying shipments to-and-from Europe intended for the Southern cause. Her last notable action was a run in with the Confederate ironclad CSS Virginia - converted from the remains of USS Merrimack. The fighting took place on March 8th 1862 near Newport News, Virginia and the battle saw USS Congress run aground in the commotion. This offered the enemy a perfect opportunity to advance on the disabled ship - leading to 120 aboard Congress being killed. The remaining crew ultimately surrendered but Union offshore guns saved the vessel from capture.
Badly damaged and on fire, USS Congress billowed smoke and burned until her magazine supply exploded, sending her under. It was not until the war ended in 1865 that attempts were made to raise her - and this occurred in September of that year to which her remains were stripped of their usefulness and the rest sold off.