USS Althea

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Althea

Althea

A shrub of the mallow family; the rose of sharon; a hollyhock.

I

(ScTug: t. 72; 1. 70'; b. 16'4"; dph. 7'; s. 9 k.; cpl. 15; a. 1 heavy
12-p r. sb.)

Alfred A. Wotkyns—a screw tug built in 1863 at New Brunswick, N.J., by Lewis Hoagland—was purchased at New York City by the Navy on 9 December 1863; renamed Althea soon thereafter, and fitted out for naval service by Secor and Co., of Jersey City, N.J. Since the logs for her first period of service are missing—presumably lost when she was sunk by a torpedo—we have no record of Althea's commissionine date but, on 24 April 1864, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles ordered the commandant of the New York Navy Yard to hurry the tug to Rear Admiral David Glasgow Farragut who then was trying to build up his West Gulf Blockading Squadron for an attack on Mobile, Ala.

About this time, however, Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant was preparing to launch a two-pronged campaign against Richmond: drivmg south from the Rapidan River with the Army of the Potomac toward the Confederate capital and simultaneously ascending the James River, with a force under Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler, for an amphibious landing at Bermuda Hundred to begin a push through Petersburg. The destructive foray of the Confederate ironclad ram Albemarle from the Roanoke River into Albemarle Sound, N.C., on 17 April and her reappearance on 5 May—the day Grant's offensives began—increased Union anxiety over the possibility that the Confederate squadron at Richmond might descend the James, wrest control of that vital stream from the Union flotilla and wreck Butler's transports and supply ships, stranding his troops in hostile territory where they would be at the mercy of Southern soldiers. To prevent SUch an eventuality, Welles sent several warships, formerly ordered to the Gulf of Mexico, to Hampton Roads to reinforce the James River Flotilla.

Althea was one of these ships. While the date of her departure from New York is not known, the tug was said to be serving on the James in the dispatch dated 17 June 1864 which resorted the locations of the ships of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron. She had been fitted out with a torpedo spar to be used in attacking any Confederate ironclad which might appear and she was prepared to act as a ram should an opportunity for such employment arise. The tug also served as a tender to Union ironclads in the James.

Late in July, the situation in that river seemed stable enough to permit the Union warships borrowed from Farragut to move on to the gulf. Repaired and prepared for sea by the Norfolk Navy Yard, Althea departed Hampton Roads in company with three other tugs on the 26th and reached Mobile Bay on 5 August the day of Farragut's great victory there.

Too late to participate in the historic Battle of Mobile Bay Althea busied herself in ensuing months supporting Farragut's combatant ships as they joined Army forces m operations against the city of Mobile. On 12 April, the day Mobile finally surrendered, Althea struck a torpedo in the Blake River and sank while returning from a run up that stream in which she had dragged primitive sweep gear in an effort to clear the channels of explosive devices. Two members of her crew were killed in the accident, and three others—including the tug's commanding officer, Acting Ensign Frederick A. G. Bacon—were wounded.

Raised and repaired after the Confederate collapse, Althea was recommissioned at Mobile on 7 November 1865, Acting Ensign William F. Kilgore in command. She carried out towing chores and performed other varied services there, at Pensacola and at Key West until—towing the monitor Sangamon-she departed the latter port on 10 April 1866. After reaching the Philadelphia Navy Yard on the 18th, she was decommissioned on 25 April 1866 and sold at auction on 8 December 1866. Redocumented Martin Kalbfleisch on 10 January 1868, she served as a merchant tug until 1896.