Acton Memorial Library
The second Niagara, a steam frigate, was launched by New York Navy Yard 23 February 1855; sponsored by Miss Annie C. O’Donnell; and commissioned 6 April 1857, Captain William L. Hudson in command.
Niagara sailed from New York 22 April 1857 for England, arriving Gravesend 14 May. Here she was equipped to lay cable for the first transatlantic telegraph, which was to follow the shallow tableland discovered between Newfoundland and Ireland by Matthew F. Maury. By 11 August, when a break in the cable defied recovery, she had laid several hundred miles westward from Valentia Bay, Ireland. She returned to New York 20 November and decommissioned 2 December to prepare for a second essay at cable-laying. Recommissioning 24 February 1858, Captain William L. Hudson in command, she sailed 8 March, arrived Plymouth, England, 28 March, and experimented with HMS Agamemnon. The ships returned to Plymouth to fit out, then made a mid-ocean rendezvous 29 July, spliced their cable ends, and each sailed toward her own continent. On 5 August, Niagara’s boats carried the end of the cable ashore at Brills Mouth Island, Newfoundland, and the same day Agamemnon landed her end of the cable. The first message flashed across 16 August, when Queen Victoria sent a cable to President James Buchanan. This first cable operated for three weeks; ultimate success came in 1866.
Niagara’s next mission was one of profound humanity, carrying 200 Africans liberated from slave brig Echo off Cuba by brig Dolphin 21 August to Liberia. She sailed with them from Charleston 20 September, reached Monrovia 9 November, and returned to New York 11 December, decommissioning there 17 December.
Niagara recommissioned 14 May 1860, Captain William W. McKean in command. Another unique assignment awaited; she was to carry Japan’s first diplomatic mission to the United States from Washington to New York, and then home. Leaving New York 30 June, Niagara called in Porto Grande, Cape Verde Islands; Sao Paulo-de-Loande (now Luanda), Angola; Batavia (now Djakarta), Java; and Hong Kong. The frigate entered Tokyo Bay 8 November to land her distinguished passengers, then sailed 27 November for Hong Kong, Aden, and Capetown, returning Boston 23 April 1861 to learn of the outbreak of the Civil War.
Quickly preparing for duty on the blockade of southern ports, Niagara arrived off Charleston, S. C., 10 May and two days later captured blockade runner General Parkhill attempting to make Charleston from Liverpool. Through the summer she gave similar service at Mobile Bay, and was at Fort Pickens, Fla., 22 September when Flag Officer McKean in Niagara took command of the East Gulf Blockading Squaron. She engaged Confederate defenses at Fort McRea, Pensacola, and Warrington 22 November, and was hulled twice above the waterline. On 5 June 1862 she sailed for repairs at Boston Navy Yard, where she decommissioned 16 June. Recommissioned 14 October 1863, Niagara steamed from New York 1 June 1864 to watch over Confederate warships then fitting out in Europe. She reached her base, Antwerp, 26 June, and from there roved the English Channel, the French Atlantic Coast and the Bay of Biscay. On 15 August she took steamer Georgia, a former Confederate warship, off Portugal. In February and March, with Sacramento she lay at El Ferrol, Spain, to prevent Confederate ironclad Stonewall from departing, but the much more powerful southern ship was able to make good her escape.
Niagara patrolled with the European Squadron through 29 August when she cleared Cadiz for Boston, arriving 20 September. There she decommissioned 28 September, remaining in the Boston Navy Yard until sold 6 May 1885.
From: Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Washington: Navy Dept., Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Naval History Division, 1959-1981, vol. 5, p. 80. Online at: www.history.navy.mil/danfs