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September 25, 2023

Long-obscured relic from famous Civil War ship likely headed to CT Convention Center

Michael Puffer | Hartford Business Journal The USS Hartford Bell in Constitution Plaza.

A ship’s bell that once rang out from the USS Hartford, flagship of famous Civil War Rear Admiral David G. Farragut, will likely soon move from a lonely corner of Hartford’s Constitution Plaza office park to a more prominent spot by the Connecticut Convention Center.

Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin is asking the City Council to revoke a 1964 loan of the artifact to the now-defunct Constitution Plaza Inc., and then lend it out to the Capital Region Development Authority. 

The CRDA is responsible for much of Hartford’s economic development projects as well as maintenance of important government-owned sports and entertainment venues like the Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field, XL Center and Connecticut Convention Center.

The question will go before the council during a meeting Monday evening.

CRDA Executive Director Michael Freimuth stumbled across the tarnished bell earlier this year in a deteriorating display in Constitution Plaza. He said he thought it deserved a more prominent display.

“It’s forlorn, sitting in a decrepit concrete garden,” Freimuth said in an interview in March. “It was given to the city by the U.S. Navy as a symbol of the USS Hartford, the city’s namesake ship. And it needs a little more respect.”

Now, it will very likely get that respect in a new display at the Connecticut Convention Center under the care of CRDA. Freimuth has previously said the city and Convention Center could use more iconic landmarks – like the bell – to help foster its identity and tourism.

The USS Hartford was a 2,900-ton sloop launched from the Boston Navy Yard on Nov. 22, 1858, measuring 358 feet in length, with rigging for sail but also with a single propeller powered by a steam engine, according to a 2004 report written by local historian Bill Caughman for the League of Women Voters. 

The warship was to be crewed by 302 sailors.

USS Hartford carried 18 nine-inch Dahlgren smoothbore cannons, two 20-pounder Parrott rifles, one 30-pounder Parrott gun and three 12-pounder deck Howitzers.

Commissioned on May 27, 1859, the ship began its service with the East India Squadron but returned to American waters with the outbreak of the Civil War. It was to serve as the flagship to Farragut, who became a household name.

The ship participated in the Battle of New Orleans, Siege of Vicksburg and then, in 1863, the Battle of Mobile Bay. The latter is probably the ship’s most famous action, where Farragut led a fleet to capture one of the Confederacy’s last major ports.

It was at this battle where Farragut was said to rally his commanders – who were worried about sea mines (then known as “torpedoes”) -- with the famous battle cry “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”

The USS Hartford continued in full service until 1887, when it was decommissioned in California for use as an apprentice training vessel, according to the National Museum of the U.S. Navy. The ship was rebuilt and recommissioned in 1899 to serve in the Atlantic as a training vessel for midshipmen. The ship was put out of service in Charleston, South Carolina in 1926 and moved to Washington, D.C. to serve as a museum in 1938.

In 1945, following the close of World War II, the Hartford was towed to Norfolk, Virginia, where it rotted away until it sank in 1956. The following year the ship was pushed aground and stripped.

Pieces of the famous ship have been scattered widely. Two USS Hartford cannons overlook the playing fields at Trinity College in Hartford.
One anchor sits on the campus of the University of Hartford and has been ceremoniously used over the years as an object that rival athletic teams have painted over and over in their colors.

Another USS Hartford anchor can be found at Mystic Seaport.

The bowsprit of USS Hartford — a wooden spar extending from the bow of the sloop — is on display at the state Capitol building. 

Other relics reside at the National Museum of the United States Navy, in Washington, D.C.

Some pieces have ended up in odd spots. One of USS Hartford's Dahlgren naval guns went to a hotel parking lot in Hagerstown, Maryland.

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