Cyrus Rand assigned to just one ship, the USS Agawam

Cryus R. Rand – enlisted 15 April 1863 at age 19 as a Fireman and coal heaver in the US Navy Regiment.  He was assigned to the USS  Agawam, and was discharged 14 April 1865, having served 1 Year, 11 Months and 29 Days aboard the same ship.  Born in Portsmouth, when he was 16 year s old in 1860,  he was working on the family farm in Rye.  At age 19 he went to Portland, Maine and enlisted in the US Navy.

(photo: Cyrus Rand in his G.A.R. uniform. Photo, Newmarket Historical Society)

At the war’s end he came to Newmarket and worked as a blacksmith.  On 16 Aug 1874 at age 36 he married Emma  (Mary Augustie) Meader in Newmarket.   The Town directory of 1872 lists him as a blacksmith living in a house on Central Street, and the 1880 census lists him as living in Newmarket, working in the Cotton Mill.  By the time of the Spanish American War, his wartime experience sent him to the Portsmouth Naval shipyard when he was employed as a blacksmith.  At age 65 in 1910, he was still smithing at the yard.

The  Exeter Newsleter writing on the Spanish American War, published 13 May 1898

May 11 - There is one man in Newmarket who has a special interest in the victory of Commodore Dewey.  He is Cyrus R. Rand who served with him in The Rebellion on the Agawam, in 1864-1865. Mr. Rand says Commodore Dewey is a born fighter and one of the bravest men he ever saw.

He died Jan 14, 1927 at about age 83. He remained active in Town affairs and the G.A.R. serving on many Town and Post boards.

USS Agawam

(photo:USS Agawam (1864-1867)  Photo # NH 58913-U.S. Navy public domain)

Ship’s officers and crewmen pose on deck, while she was serving on the James River, Virginia, August 1864. Commander Alexander C. Rhind, ship’s Commanding Officer, is at the extreme right with his foot on the ladder. Standing next to him is Assistant Surgeon Herman P. Babcock. Lieutenant George Dewey is in the right center, wearing a straw hat, directly below the end of the davit. The pivot gun is one of the ship’s two 100-pounder Parrot rifles. Note Marine in the left foreground.

 Capture of the Chesapeake by Southern agents

The USS Agawam , the first U.S. Navy vessel to carry that name, was built at Portland, Maine. In Dec 1863, some three months before Agawam was placed in full commission, Southern agents and sympathizers had boarded the steam packet Chesapeake at New York City under the guise of being passengers bound for Portland, Maine.

Shortly after midnight on the 7th, when the liner had reached a point some 20 mi (32 km) north of the tip of Cape Cod, these men revealed their formerly concealed side arms and took over the ship, killing her second engineer. From there, they took the ship to Canadian waters in the hope that their daring act would provoke Union warships into violating British neutrality and thereby embroil the United States in a war with England.

When word of Chesapeake’s capture reached Portland, the deputy collector of customs at that port wired Rear Admiral Francis Gregory, the supervisor of construction of all Union warships then being built in private shipyards, informing him of the loss and requesting permission to arm, man, and send out in pursuit the unfinished but seaworthy Agawam. Temporary arms, officers, and men for the new warship would come from the revenue cutter James C. Dobbin which had arrived at Portland in July.

The Navy’s extant records seem to contain no report of Agawam’s chase of Chesapeake. The Federal correspondence contains both statements maintaining that she did at least get underway and evidence indicating that she did not.

In any case, after being commissioned, Agawam remained in the Portsmouth Navy Yard fitting out until standing down Portsmouth Harbor on 17 March. However, she returned to the yard two days later and entered drydock for repairs before heading back to Portland on 18 April.

Assigned to the North Atlantic blockade

Assigned to the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, the gunboat departed Portland on 6 May. Agawam reached Hampton Roads, Virginia on 9 May and two days later stood up the James River to join other Union ships in protecting Benjamin Butler’s transports and supply ships which were threatened by torpedoes (naval mines), shore batteries, and a possible attack by Confederate ironclads which were lying in the river above the Confederate batteries of Fort Darling at Drewry’s Bluff.

(photo: illustration of Confederate mines in the James River)

The danger lurking in the muddy waters of the James River had recently been emphasized by the sinking of Commodore Jones on the 6th while that side-wheel ferryboat was dragging for Southern torpedoes, or, in 20th century parlance, floating and submerged mines.

(Navy Recruiting poster showing Admiral David Farragut lashed to the sails “Damn the Torpedeos!”)

On the 14th, Rear Admiral Samuel Phillips Lee, the commander of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, took over command of the Agawam since the latter drew less water and thus would enable him to supervise minesweeping operations more closely, and he remained in the new side-wheeler while giving his primary attention to operations in the James during the ensuing month and one-half.

Agawam’s first taste of fire

Agawam’s first combat came at dawn on the 18th when she shelled Confederate forces at a straight stretch of the river flowing east along the northeastern section of Bermuda Hundred. During this time, besides serving as the squadron flagship, she helped to clear the river of mines, was a mobile platform for observation of Confederate activity along both banks of the river, acted as an intelligence and communication clearinghouse, and used her guns to suppress Southern batteries ashore.

(photo: USS Agawam in the James River, Virginia, July 1864. Source  Photographed by Brady & Company, Washington, D.C. Collection of Surgeon Herman P. Babcock, USN. Donated by his son, George R. Babcock, 1939.)

 From first planning to land a force at Bermuda Hundred, General Butler had been fearful that Confederate warships might descend from Richmond and sink his transports and supply ships. Once his troops were actually ashore on the south side of the river, the general’s anxiety was intensified by daily rumors reporting that the South was ready to launch just such an offensive. For instance, late in May, a deserter from the Southern gunboat Hampton warned that

“… the enemy have now below Drewry’s Bluff three ironclads, six smaller gunboats, plated with boiler iron … all mounted with torpedoes, and nine fire ships … to attack at as early a moment as practicable … .”

Confident in the ability of his warships, Admiral Lee was eager to meet the Southern squadron and was hopeful that his flotilla might ascend the James past the batteries at Drewry’s Bluff and capture Richmond.  As a result, he constantly opposed obstructing the channel.  However, early in June, Ulysses S. Grant decided to shift the Army of the Potomac from its lines at Cold Harbor across the James to join Butler in operations against Richmond from the south.

(photo :NH 61929, U.S. Navy public domain, USS Agawam (1864-1867) Source   Library of Congress)

Some of the ship’s officers relaxing on deck, while she was serving on the James River, Virginia, in the summer of 1864. They are (from left to right): Assistant Paymaster H. Melville Hanna; Commander Alexander C. Rhind, Commanding Officer; Assistant Surgeon Herman P. Babcock; and Lieutenant George Dewey.  Note awning overhead, and windsail rigged for ventilation of the spaces below decks.


The Agawam was re-directed to Pamlico Sound, North Carolina, and operated in the island waters of that state through the end of the Civil War.

Post-war service and disposal

Following the war, Agawam operated along the Atlantic coast between Florida and the Virginia Capes for almost two years. She was decommissioned at Norfolk, Virginia, on 31 March 1867. The ship was sold at auction there on 10 October to Mr. James Power. No record of her subsequent career has been found.