The naval forces of the American Civil War (1861-1865) fielded a variety of warship types throughout the conflict, generally consisting of ironclads, gunboats, raiders, cruisers, blockade runners and even the submarine. USS Miami represented a gunboat design ordered by the Union Navy as a side-wheel, "double-ender" steamer. She was constructed at the Philadelphia Navy Yard and launched on November 16th, 1861. She was then formally commissioned into U.S. Navy service on January 29th, 1862.
As built, USS Miami utilized an all-wood hull and displaced 742 tons while holding a running length of 208 feet with a beam of 33 feet and a draught down to 8.5 feet. Drive power was from a single 7-foot stroke, inclined direct-acting steam engine arrangement which allowed the vessel to reach speeds of up to 8 knots in ideal conditions. Her crew numbered 134 personnel made up of officers and enlisted men. Armament consisted of 1 x 80-pounder Parrott rifled gun fitted over the bow, 1 x 9" (230mm) Dahlgren smoothbore gun fitted over stern and 4 x 24-pounder guns - two each overlooking port and starboard.
At midships were the side-wheel paddle housings and elevated bridge house. The smoke funnel used to aspirate the steam engine was fitted ahead and angled ever-so-slightly aft. Two sailing masts were installed as well, one forward and one aft of midships. As a double-ender ship, her bow and stern were comprised of similar form while also each carrying a rudder - this allowed the ship to reverse course without having to completely turn itself around, a vital quality for river operations seen in the Civil War.
Upon her completion, USS Miami was sent to Ship Island, Mississippi to head off the upcoming Confederate attack on New Orleans (Battle of New Orleans, April 25th - May 1st, 1862). The Federal plan was to utilize mortar fire against enemy forts while providing safe passage for ground forces to retake the installations. This involved Miami towing three schooners carrying the mortar equipment within range of Fort St. Phillip and Fort Jackson. Once in place, the vessels opened fire and occupied the forts for some time which allowed a Federal naval flotilla to push past the forts. With the fleet successfully moved beyond direct danger, USS Miami began moving in ground forces. The fighting that ensued eventually led to the capture of both forts for April 28th.
From there came action against Vicksburg as the mortar flotilla was called to action once more. USS Miami took her mortar schooners from New Orleans upriver on June 7th and reached Vicksburg on June 21st. The schooners were then kept in and out of range of the enemy as their mortars were put to good use in bombarding enemy positions. Lacking a ground element to finish the Confederate defenses once and for all, the force was recalled back downriver on July 15th.
Miami's next stop came at Fort Monroe and she arrived there on September 9th. For the next two months she was used to reconnoiter enemy positions and strength along the James River. At Hampton Roads, she assisted in a naval blockade before entering a period of refit. She was then relocated to North Carolina where her next actions placed her at Plymouth.
USS Miami aided in the defense of Plymouth from Confederate attack on April 17th to April 18th. With CSS Albemarle threatening, USS Miami was joined to USS Southfield to help concentrate their firepower and strength against a formidable foe. Albemarle commenced its attack on the pair on April 19th and rammed USS Southfield which tied Albemarle to the Federal warship. This allowed Miami to move in with her guns but little success was had. The engagement eventually ended with USS Miami being chased from the scene while USS Southfield was sunk by Albemarle. Plymouth then fell to Confederate forces on April 20th though Albemarle's steaming days were over on October 27th when a spar torpedo was used against her.
USS Miami took to the James River once more in support of General Grant's move on Richmond (Virginia). This moved Miami into position against Confederate gunworks at Wilcox's Landing which had, themselves, been assailing Federal troop transports moving in. Four hours later, southern forces were driven from their positions. USS Miami, along with USS Osceola, again succeeded the following day in driving off additional Confederate forces near Harrison's Landing.
USS Miami served along the James River for remainder of the war which ended with the Confederate surrender of April 9th, 1865. USS Miami was decommissioned from U.S. Navy service on May 22nd, 1865 at Philadelphia and her hulk was auctioned off on August 10th. She steamed for a few more years in merchant service before being given up for good in 1869.
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