USS Augusta (1853) - Political Operations

Political Operations

Despite the seriousness of the ship's damage, the Navy decided to keep Augusta because of her outstanding sea-keeping qualities. Nevertheless, the fighting had ended before the steamer was again ready for service. By that time, the Government was cutting the Fleet back to peacetime size, so the ship remained in reserve until the spring of 1866, a year after the collapse of the Confederacy.

Augusta was recommissioned at the Washington Navy Yard on 2 April 1866, Cdr. Alexander Murray in command. A fortnight later, she received orders to proceed to New York; and she arrived at the New York Navy Yard on 23 April. On 5 May, she stood out into the Atlantic in company with the double-turreted monitor Miantonomoh and the side-wheel, double-ended gunboat Ashuelot. Two days later, Ashuelot left the group and set course for Boston where she embarked Gustavus Vasa Fox, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy. Augusta and the monitor arrived at Halifax, Nova Scotia on 10 May and there, Murray later reported, received ". . . the first flow of that tide of visitors which, wherever we went, overwhelmed us." Underway again on 18 May, the two ships arrived at St. John's, Newfoundland on 24 May. Ashuelot rejoined the group there on 3 June.

The cruise the three ships were about to begin was undertaken to serve several purposes. First, it carried Mr. Fox to Russia as President Andrew Johnson's personal representative and as the bearer of a resolution of Congress congratulating Tsar Alexander II for his escape from the attack of a nihilist assassin. The United States also wished to express to the Tsar its appreciation for Russia's warm — albeit unofficial — support of the Union cause during the Civil War, especially of the Russian Fleet's friendly visit to Union controlled waters during the conflict.

Secondly, the cruise was made to show the world's naval powers the Nation's innovation in warship design, the monitor, and to demonstrate its ability to operate in the open sea. Finally, the operation was an effort to cultivate friendly relations with all of the nations visited — an early example of the Navy's "show-the-flag" policy.

The flotilla departed St. John's on 5 June and reached Queenstown, Ireland on 16 June. Ashuelot parted from the group at that port. The two remaining warships headed for England on 21 June; and, during the ensuing year visited most of the maritime countries of Europe and, in every case, received enthusiastically friendly hospitality from royalty and commoners alike. The highlight of the cruise was the visit to Russia which began upon the warships' arrival at Helsingfors (Helsinki) on 3 August. Finland was then an autonomous duchy owing allegiance to the Tsar. Three days later, the pair reached Kronstadt, the port serving St. Petersburg and the Americans, home-away-from-home for more than a month in which they enjoyed the warmest of welcomes. The Tsar and members of the Russian royal family visited the ships on 9 August. Lavish entertainment on board the royal yacht, sightseeing tours, and an inspection of the Russian Fleet filled the ensuing days until Augusta and Miantonomoh got underway again on 15 September and headed for Stockholm.

Besides their four days in Sweden, the Americans visited Germany — including the port of Kiel in the King of Prussia's newly acquired province of Schleswig-Holstein-France, Portugal, and Spain before they transited the Strait of Gibraltar two days before Christmas. They welcomed in the new year, 1867, at Málaga, Spain, and spent the next four and one-half months visiting the traditionally popular ports of call in the Mediterranean before departing Gibraltar on 15 May and heading home, via the Canary Islands, the Cape Verdes, Barbados, and the Bahamas. Following a week at Nassau, they began the final passage of the cruise on 17 July and moored in the Philadelphia Navy Yard on the 22nd. Soon thereafter, Augusta was laid up in the New York Navy Yard and remained there until sold at auction on 2 December 1868 to "Commodore" Cornelius Kingsland Garrison.

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