By Patrick McSherry

Monocacy, from the U.S. Navy Historical Center


The old sidewheel double-ender, MONOCACY, was a part of Commodore Dewey’s Asiatic squadron. Its age and condition required that it be left behind when the remainder of the squadron steamed for the Philippines and destiny.


The sidewheeler steamer MONOCACY was launched in December, 1864, in the closing months of the United States’ Civil War. She was not completed until late 1865, and not commissioned until 1866.

The vessel was immediately assigned to the Asiatic Squadron, where she was destined to serve out her entire, long career. Soon after her arrival, she had to pass through a strong hurricane in which she lost many of her sails and even her funnel was sent overboard by the wind and sea. Though damaged, she survived. She was present at the opening of the Japanese ports of Osaka and Hiogo on January 1, 1868. Later that same year she surveyed the Inland sea and helped to choose site for lighthouses, increasing the safety of commerce with Japan.

In 1871, as the United States Navy began to enter its lowest ebb, the MONOCACY underwent repairs at Shanghai, and then began charting the Yangtze River, a river she would come to know well. Later, while she was involved in a survey expedition to the Salee River in isolationist Korea, the expedition was attacked by tbe Koreans. The expeditionary forces, including MONOCACY, retaliated. In the ensuing action, three of her crew were killed and ten more wounded.

The remainder of her career was spent traveling to the various ports of the Far East. Charles Clark, who would later command the Battleship OREGON in the Spanish American War, served aboard the vessel in the mid-1870's and found duty aboard herto be an enjoyable duty.

As war clouds began to form between the United States and Spain, Commodore Dewey, who had arrived in the Far East to command the Asiatic Squadron, was ordered to prepare for action. By this time, the ship was "only fit for a museum shelf." The old and slow MONOCACY was to be left to fend for herself, with all crewmen who could be spared, consisting of about fifty men, being transferred to the over vessels in the squadron. Her commanding officer, Commander O.W. Farenholt, was given the task of obtaining a source for coal and supplies for the Asiatic Squadron through a Chinese intermediary. The efforts were kept secret, because this was against the neutrality laws. During the war, she was left to take care of herself in case of Spanish attack, however, the Navy Department ordered her to be kept in the Yangtze River, where she was fairly safe from Spanish incursions.

In late 1899, MONOCACY carried the U.S. minister to China to ports along the Yangtze River. The following year the Boxer Rebellion occurred. Though present, MONOCACY would not take part in the naval action against the forts at Taku because of orders from rear Admiral Kempff not to begin a fight with the Chinese. She was however, hit in the battle when a Chinese shell damaged one of her cutters. As war had broken out, Kempff's orders no longer applied and MONOCACY was able to act in concert with the other allied vessels. She remained at Taku until Boxer Rebellion had been concluded in September, 1901.

On June 22, 1903, MONOCACY was struck from the U.S. Navy rolls. She had served for an incredible thirty-seven years in the Far East. Her long career in Far Eastern waters had earned her the nickname of "jinricksha of the Navy."

The vessel was sold to Hashimoto and Son, of Nagasaki, Japan.

Original Hatband from the MONOCACY


The MONOCACY was completely outdated by the time of the Spanish American War. She was slow, with antiquated engines, no armor, and only light armament. Being originally built for service on the rivers of the United States, her shallow draft allowed her to navigate the rivers of China.


Classification: Sidewheel Gunboat
Launched: December 14, 1864
Commissioned: 1866
Rig: Two masted schooner
Armament: Four 8 inch smoothbore (Dahlgren) guns
Two 60 pounder breechloading rifles 
One 3 inch breechloading gun
 Two 47 mm. Hotchkiss revolving cannons
Four 37mm Hotchkiss revolving cannons
Two Gatling Guns
One 12 pounder howitzer (for landing parties).
Contractor: A, & W. Denmead & Son, Baltimore, MD.
Length: 265 feet
Beam: 35 feet
Draft: 9 feet
Displacement 1,370 tons
Compliment: 12 Officers and 146 Enlisted Men under
 the command of Commander O.W. Farenholt.
Engine Type:   Single inclined direct acting engine, 850 hp.
Speed: 11.2 knots
Coal bunker capacity: 1224 tons
Armor: Unarmored
Cost: $275,000


(As a service to our readers, clicking on title in red will take you to that book on

Bodin, Lynn E., The Boxer Rebellion.  (London: Osprey Publishing Ltd., 1979).

Clark, Charles E., My Fifty Years in the Navy . (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1984).

Clerk of the Joint Committee on Printing, The Abridgement of the Message from
the President of the United States to the Two Houses of Congress. Vols. 2 & 4 (Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1899).

Dewey, George, Autobiography of George Dewey (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1987, originally published in 1913 by Charles Scribner's Sons, New York) ISBN 0-87021-028-9.

Hoyt, Edwin P., The Lonely Ships: The Life and Death of the U.S. Asiatic Squadron. (New York: David McKay Company, Inc., 1976).

Marsh, Capt. C C., Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War
of the Rebellion. Series II, Vol. 1, (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1921).

Naval History Department, Department of the Navy, Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Vols. 4 (Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1969).

Silverstone, Paul H., Warships of the Civil War Navies. (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1989).

Young, L. S., The Cruise of the U.S. Flagship "OLYMPIA" From 1895 to 1899.

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