The USS Saginaw’s Journey through the Pacific
The USS Saginaw, a wooden side-wheeler equipped with both sails and steam engines, was the first naval ship built on America’s West Coast. Its originating shipyard was on Mare Island off the coast of Vallejo, California, and the Saginaw launched in 1859, two years before the start of the American Civil War. During the Civil War, USS Saginaw protected Pacific steam liners along the West Coast from Confederate ship raids from the likes of CSS Shenandoah, the last major Confederate cruiser to ever set sail.
The ship, powered by both sail and steam, represented a transitional period between pre-Industrial and modern methods of transport, and was an integral part of a critical period of American naval history in the Pacific, traveling to Alaska, Japan, and China throughout her lifetime. After nearly 11 years in operation, the Saginaw ran aground on a reef near Kure Atoll in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and wasn’t seen again until well over one hundred years later.
On her unknowingly final voyage, Saginaw supported divers for six months during an attempt to develop a coal depot at Midway Atoll, an island southeast of nearby Kure Atoll. However, the operation was not successful. In October 1870, captained by Captain Sicard, Saginaw set sail for nearby Kure Atoll to check for castaways before returning to port in San Francisco. On October 29th, 1870, Saginaw wrecked on Kure Atoll due to heavy swells and dangerous conditions. The crew did not expect to be within range until daybreak, but encountered the island’s reef crest around 3:15 a.m. Unfortunately, even with sails taken in and engines reversed, the ship could not avoid its fate. The reef punctured the ship’s hull and slowly but surely, the ocean overtook the ship.