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A Civil War Gunboat in Pacific Waters

Life Aboard the USS Saginaw

Hans Konrad Van Tilburg

Publication Year: 2010

The USS Saginaw was a Civil War gunboat that served in Pacific and Asian waters between 1860 and 1870. During this decade, the crew witnessed the trade disruptions of the Opium Wars, the Taiping Rebellion, the transportation of Confederate sailors to Central America, the French intervention in Mexico, and the growing presence of American naval forces in Hawaii.

In 1870, the ship sank at one of the world's most remote coral reefs; her crew was rescued sixty-eight days later after a dramatic open-boat voyage. More than 130 years later, Hans Van Tilburg led the team that discovered and recorded the Saginaw's remains near the Kure Atoll reef.

Van Tilburg's narrative provides fresh insights and a vivid retelling of a classic naval shipwreck. He provides a fascinating perspective on the watershed events in history that reshaped the Pacific during these years. And the tale of archaeological search and discovery reveals that adventure is still to be found on the high seas.

Published by: University Press of Florida


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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List of Figures

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

Water is unquestionably the most important natural feature on earth. By volume, the world’s oceans compose 99 percent of the planet’s living space; in fact, the surface of the Pacific Ocean alone is larger than that of the total land bodies. Water is as vital to life as air. Indeed, to test whether...

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pp. xiii-xiv

The project of compiling the historic narrative of USS Saginaw has stretched slowly over the last six years; this account was written on various weekends, certain vacation days, and after work hours. During that time, I have had the personal pleasure of seeking out the details of...

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pp. 1-8

Sometimes the biggest stories begin with the smallest discoveries. In 2003, research divers with the Office of Marine Sanctuaries of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) came across a small and almost insignificant accumulation of brass sheathing tacks...

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1. A New Ship for a New Ocean

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pp. 9-36

Hardly any of us today would remember—though their grandparents may once have told them of it—a time when California and the west coast seemed as distant to most Americans as the moon. America was an east coast nation, and few initially felt themselves hardy enough to attempt...

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2. Seasoning on the China Station

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pp. 37-79

The pressing need for strengthening the East India Squadron led to a fair deal of anxiety among those waiting for Saginaw’s arrival in China. Secretary Toucey had envisioned a multipurpose antipiracy patrol vessel and had communicated this to Captain Stribling, who had just replaced...

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3. The Civil War on the Pacific Coast

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pp. 80-120

By any measure, the Civil War had an immense and devastating impact on the United States. The issues of slavery and emancipation, the right of secession and the nature of the union, and the violence and horrendous loss of life and destruction of property combined to literally tear...

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4. Hard Times on Coastal Patrol

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pp. 121-146

On May 9, 1865, Commander Charles Baldwin was relieved of his temporary duty on Saginaw and returned to the naval yard as ordnance officer. Lieutenant Commander Charles J. McDougal replaced him as commander, but like Baldwin, his term on Saginaw would be short. Still, command of...

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5. Exploring Seward’s Icebox

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pp. 147-178

Fortunately, a new role did emerge for the little ship. Following years of service in sweltering tropical climates, Saginaw and her crew were finally in for a drastic change to a beautiful, cold, and mostly unknown region. The ship’s move north was prompted by one of the most cost-efficient...

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6. Hawai`i and the End of the Archipelago

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pp. 179-217

Lieutenant Commander Montgomery Sicard, looking down on USS Saginaw as she was decommissioned at Mare Island from the nearby deck of USS Pensacola, may have recognized the little side-wheeler from his days on the China Station, when he had served as sailing master on...

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7. The Castaways of Ocean Island

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pp. 218-279

USS Saginaw was sent to Midway to terminate the channel project and take the Boston divers home. To their credit, Townsend’s men continued to work at blasting and hoisting on the bar, weather permitting, for a week following the ship’s arrival. If the Navy Department wanted to find a...

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8. Afterword

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pp. 280-323

Our maritime heritage is that part of our seafaring past that we choose to treasure, that part of ourselves that informs us about our human relationship to the sea. We were all sailors once, no matter where we find ourselves now, so this heritage is made up of many things: charts, oral histories...


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pp. 325-342


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pp. 343-348


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pp. 349-361

E-ISBN-13: 9780813036571
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813035161
Print-ISBN-10: 0813035163

Page Count: 378
Illustrations: 42 b&w photos
Publication Year: 2010

OCLC Number: 695994117
MUSE Marc Record: Download for A Civil War Gunboat in Pacific Waters

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Saginaw (Steamer).
  • Pacific Area -- History, Naval -- 19th century.
  • Seafaring life -- Pacific Area -- History -- 19th century.
  • United States. Navy -- History -- 19th century.
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