By Eric Cruanes
The Connecticut State Capitol building is home to many artifacts of the Civil War, each one a reminder of the honor and sacrifice of those who fought. The USS Hartford, named after Connecticut’s capital city, is represented by two different artifacts—its figurehead and the scale model of the ship (the two on display adjacent to one another).
The USS Hartford was commanded by America’s first Admiral, David Farragut. Farragut brought the ship to fame when, after leading the US fleet into Mobile Bay in 1864, he lashed himself to the mast of the Hartford and shouted, “Damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead!”—urging his ships to press the enemy defenses despite intense and relentless fire from the coastal batteries and mines scattered throughout the bay. He and his fleet won the day due to the iron-like fortitude of both man and vessel. Twelve men would be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor on the Hartford for their service that day. However, this time of glory and honor for the USS Hartford did not last.
As the American navy modernized, the vessel fell behind the times and into disrepair. She was decommissioned in 1926 and over the years was moved from dock to dock, ending up at the Norfolk Naval Yard on October 19, 1945. As various agencies debated over the fate and commemoration of the once mighty ship, the Hartford corroded beyond repair and finally sank at her berth on November 20, 1956.
Preserving the Memory of the USS Hartford
The same year she was docked at her final location, the state purchased a scale model of the Hartford to serve as a companion piece to her figurehead. This highly detailed scale model represented the grandness of this ship in a smaller scale, with 1/8 inch equaling one foot on the actual ship. Former United States Army Major, Paul A. Larned, a West Point graduate and a local business man, built the miniature sloop. He had offered to sell his ship to the state a few years prior, but like other efforts at commemorating the Hartford, his offer was rejected due to a lack of funds. Finally, in 1945, the state purchased his model ship and has since displayed it inside the State Capitol (located around the corner from her figurehead).
In addition to the figurehead, over a dozen other items were saved and restored following her sinking. These objects were then spread across the country, with several being scattered around Connecticut. These salvaged historical pieces included the ship’s cannons, lifeboats, bells, and several anchors. Possibly the most interesting relic was the hatch cover turned coffee table located in the Superintendent’s office at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.
Despite her treatment in later years, the USS Hartford was once the pride of the United States Navy. She served her noble and violent purpose for nearly a century before neglect and money woes scuttled the once mighty ship. Her legacy now lives on, however, through her many salvaged relics and various commemorations located not only in Connecticut, but also throughout the entire United States.
Eric Cruanes is currently a history teacher at East Catholic High School and is presently working on his master’s in history from Central Connecticut State University.
This article was published as part of a semester-long graduate student project at Central Connecticut State University that examined Civil War monuments and their histories in and around the State Capitol in Hartford, Connecticut.