USS Wabash was added to the United States Navy (USN) inventory in the lead-up to the American Civil War (1861-1865). She played a crucial role in the conflict, operating along the Atlantic Coast and managed a short career after the war. Amazingly, despite origins in the mid-1850s, this steam screw frigate warship was not done away with until 1912. Wabash was laid down on May 16th, 1854 and launched on October 24th, 1855. She was commissioned for service into the USN on August 18th, 1859. At the time of her commissioning, the warship became the first USN vessel to carry the "Wabash" name.
As built, Wabash displaced 4,800 tons and featured a length of 301.5 feet, a beam of 51.3 feet and a draught of 23 feet. Power was from a combined arrangement involving a schooner-type sail pattern along with a steam engine, driving the vessel to speeds of 9 knots in ideal conditions. Her crew numbered 642 and armament included 2 x 10" Dahlgren smoothbore main guns, 24 to 28 x 9" Dahlgren smoothbore secondary guns, 14 x 8" Dahlgren smoothbore guns and 2 x 12-pounder smoothbore cannons.
During the Civil War in July of 1863, Wabash's armament scheme was reworked to become 1 x 150-pounder rifled gun, 2 x 100-pounder rifled guns, 1 x 10" Dahlgren smoothbore gun, 42 x 9" Dahlgren guns, 1 x 30-pounder rifled gun and 1 x 12-pounder howitzer. In 1865, a final armament revision took place. She was now outfitted with 1 x 150-pounder rifled main gun, 1 x 10" Dahlgren smoothbore gun, 42 x 9" Dahlgren guns, 4 x 32-pounder smoothbores and 1 x 30-pounder rifled gun.
Her first assignment was with the Home Squadron and she sailed until decommissioned on March 1st, 1858. In May she was recommissioned and served as flagship of the Mediterranean Squadron until decommissioned again on December 20th, 1859. With the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861, she was called into action once more (this on May 16th) and served as flagship of the Atlantic Blockading Squadron.
USS Wabash claimed several Confederate war prizes before participating in the taking of Fort Hatteras and Fort Clark during August of 1961. From there she was assigned to the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron and helped to take Port Royal (South Carolina) in October where her mighty guns were put to good use. This was of particular note as the port would serve as a useful Union Navy base for the blockade actions against both Charleston, South Carolina and Wilmington, North Carolina.
As part of the Charleston blockade, Wabash helped to force the surrender of Confederate elements at Fort Pulaski in Georgia during April 1862. She then took part in the Battle of Pocotaligo (South Carolina) - a Confederate victory - in October of that year. In April of 1864, a torpedo attack against Wabash from CSS David was thwarted by an observant crewman. Before the end of 1864, she was assigned to the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron and attacked Fort Fisher, North Carolina in December. The fort fell the following month. Her next stop was Hampton Roads and then the Boston Navy Yard where she was decommissioned on February 14th, 1865.
In the early 1870s, the vessel was overhauled and recommissioned on October 24th, 1871. Again she was station with the Mediterranean Squadron as its flagship and ultimately returned to home waters in January of 1874, decommissioned for the final time on April 25th of that year. From 1876 until 1912 she served as a receiving ship housing new USN recruits until officially struck from the Naval Register that November - her hulk sold off and burned.
USS Wabash was sister-ship to USS Colorado (1858) - another American Civil War veteran. She shared the same design plans as the lead ship of the two-strong class.