1st USS Somerset
The first USS Somerset, a wooden-hulled, side-wheel ferryboat built at Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1862, was purchased by the Navy at Washington, D. C., on 4 March 1862 and commissioned at the New York Navy Yard on 3 April 1862 with Lt. Earl English as the commanding officer.
Somerset was assigned to the East Gulf Blockading Squadron and sailed on 1 May 1862 for waters off the coast of Cuba to seek blockade runners. On 4 May she captured screw steamer Circassian flying British colors between Havana and Matanzas about 10 miles off the Cuban coast. Lt. English placed a prize crew on the steamer and towed her to Key West for adjudication. In the next few months she participated in blockade duty, a reconnaissance expedition to Way Key where she engaged Confederate troops, shelled a Confederate fort near the lighthouse in St. Mark's River, captured the blockade running schooner Curlew and destroyed the salt works at the end of the Fernandia Railroad.
Because of the shoal waters she patrolled, Somerset often sent boat parties into action. Somerset and her boats spent much of the next two and one-half years in operations in St. George's Sound blockading the Apalachicola River. Up the Apalachicola the Confederates were building screw gunboat Chattahoochee and ironclad center wheel steamer Muscogee. In May 1864 a party of Confederate sailors from Chattahoochee attempted to capture Union side wheeler Adela which was also blockading the Apalachicola. Launches from Somerset discovered the Confederate expedition, drove them off, and captured their boats and supplies.
Somerset spent most of the final year of the war guarding lest the Southern warships attempt to break the blockade. From time to time, an expedition to gain intelligence or a foray against Southern salt works would enliven her routine blockade duty. Her last real action came in the closing weeks of the war when, on 30 March 1865, she joined the Sunflower in destroying salt works on St. Joseph's Bayou.
After peace returned, Somerset was sold at public auction on 12 July 1865 to the Union Ferry Co. Documented on 14 February 1866, the rejuvenated Somerset began a career as a New York ferryboat which lasted until she was retired in 1914.
For a more detailed history of the first USS Somerset