October 17, 1861
Wars need warships, and the United States Navy wasted little time turning to Maine boat builders to produce new ships for the new war.
Among the first to land contracts were Stephen Larrabee and Amos L. Allen, who agreed to build two gunboats in their Bath shipyard. They were Bath’s first warships.
Larrabee and Allen launched the 507-ton USS Katahdin, the first of a class of 23 so-called "90-day gunboats," on October 17, 1861.
The Katahdin’s 300-horsepower engine powered one of the innovative new screw propellers, rather than the more common paddlewheels of earlier steamboats. The Katahdin packed a punch with an 11-inch smoothbore Dahlgren cannon, a 20-pounder Parrott rifle (a cannon with a rifled bore), and two 24-pounder howitzers.
The flush-decked, steam-powered gunboat was ideally suited for the river warfare that would characterize much of the Union’s effort to divide the Confederacy in two along the Mississippi River.
The Katahdin’s first assignment was to aid Admiral David Farrugut’s attack on New Orleans, in April, 1862.
Commanded by Portland native George Henry Preble, the Katahdin chased off a Confederate steamer, maneuvered past the Rebel forts below New Orleans, and helped the Union forces capture the city.
Preble and the Katahdin patrolled the Mississippi for the next year, capturing, among other prizes, a herd of 1,500 cattle from Texas.
In 1863, the Katahdin joined the blockade of Galveston, Texas, and remained on duty in the Gulf of Mexico until the war’s end in 1865.
Decommissioned July 14, 1865, the boat was sold in New York City and renamed Juno.
Captain Preble rose through the ranks of the navy before retiring as a rear admiral in 1878. He wrote History of the American Flag, and produced an extensive collection of naval documents, now in the Navy Department Library.