The second ESSEX, an ironclad steamer, was built in 1856 for use as a ferry. Originally NEW ERA, she was renamed ESSEX following purchase by the War Department on September 20, 1861.
In January 1862, with W. D. Porter as her commanding officer, USS Essex and USS St. Louis engaged Confederate gunboats in the Tennessee River near Lucas Bend, Mo. In company with six other gunboats commanded by Flag Officer A. H. Foote, she cooperated with the Army in capturing Fort Henry, Tenn., on 6 February. During this action Essex suffered a penetrating hit that severely damaged her boiler, killing 11 and wounding 23 of her crew, including Porter.
Essex was extensively modified and repaired, including new, protected boilers, heavier armor and a 45-foot hull section inserted in the middle of the ship. Essex steamed south and participated in the assault on Vicksburg on 13 July 1862. Nine days later she ran past the batteries of Vicksburg and, in company with USS Queen of the West, attacked and damaged the Confederate ram, Arkansas. Since her engines were not strong enough to carry her back north, Essex retired to south to Baton Rouge, LA. In a later battle Essex attacked Arkansas again and, during the engagement, Arkansas broke down and drifted ashore where she was destroyed by her crew.
In September, Essex retired to New Orleans for a refit. During that period, the entire Western Flotilla, including Essex, was turned over to the Navy on 1 October 1862 in compliance with congressional enactment and thereafter was named the Mississippi Squadron.
The daily bombardment by Essex and Mortilla helped bring about the eventual surrender of Port Hudson LA in July 1863. Later in July she engaged the enemy at Donaldsonville and although damaged in the battle, carried out her patrol duty through March 1864 when she sailed with the fleet into the mouth of the Red River and assisted in the capture of Fort de Russy. In April Essex got underway for Vicksburg. In May she proceeded to Memphis, Tenn., where she remained as a guardship for the duration of the war. In April 1865, following a massive boiler explosion in steamship Sultana, Essex's boats help rescue 60 people from the water. Essex was decommissioned at Mound City, Ill., on 20 July 1865.
For more detailed history on the second USS Essex visit the Navy Archive page at http://www.history.navy.mil/danfs/e5/essex-ii.htm.