After arrival in Erie and reassembly, the decks and rigging were installed. The engine was fitted in the fall of 1843. During the launch, on December 5, she slid fifty feet down the ways and became stuck fast. She could not be budged. Early the next morning, however, she was found floating majestically in Presque Isle Bay. On December 8, 1843, she was named U.S.S. MICHIGAN by President John Tyler, in honor of the recently proclaimed 26th state in the Union.
For a ship of this size, a full complement of armament would have included fourteen guns in broadside and two mounted on pivots. As it was, the MICHIGAN was originally equipped with four thirty-two pound carronades and two eight inch pivot guns. This was the first example of a "dreadnought" warship's main gun arrangement. In battle, she was designed to catch and close with vessels that had inferior firepower. She also had the luxury of speed, making her able to run away from more powerful ships.
The MICHIGAN was manned by a crew of 106 and through most of her service saw Presque Isle Bay. off the Pennsylvania port of Erie as her home port. In an average season she criscrossed Lake Erie many times and took an extended cruise or two to Mackinac Island or Green Bay. Her tasks were routine patrol and providing assistance to vessels in distress. After the locks at Sault Ste. Marie were completed in 1855, she ocassionally patrolled Lake Superior as well.
She helped protect Americans during a couple of Canadian Separatist uprisings nad was patrolling and involved in the fight on Beaver Island when the Mormon 'King" James Strang was assassinated and the Mormons run off the island.
During the Civil War, she was used in a recruiting and training role on the Lakes. As Britain saw the armies of the Union being raised, she committed over 11,000 troops to Canada. As the Civil War dragged on and became more unpopular, the MICHIGAN used her imposing presence to deter rioting. Still later in the war, she patrolled amund Union POW camps on the Great Lakes and was the object of a pair of plots to capture her and turn her into a Confederate raider.
In the summer of 1865, the MICHIGAN helped put down an illegal miner's strike in Marquette and later went to Houghton and Hancock and did the same. After the war, she resumed her training and rescue duties. She spent a considerable amount of time amund Chicago, preparing for and participating in the 1893 World's Fair. She was well maintained and upgraded into the 1900's.
THE FINAL YEARS
Its been said that its bad luck to rename a ship. The Navy is not superstitious and changed the MICHIGAN's name to WOLVERINE in 1905. She was still fit for service, though. A drydock asessment showed that the only damage to her hull was a bit of corrosion under her steam engine. This was most likely caused by spillage of the acid that was routinely added to her boiler water to prevent scaling. It was easily repaired.
She was decommissioned in 1912 and turned over to the Pennsylvania Naval Militia, which used her for training for a week or two every summer. She participated in the raising and reconstruction of Oliver Hazard Perry's 1813 flagship NIAGARA. Her proud crew tried to keep her in service, even selling some of her brass fittings and replacing them with steel in an effort to upgrade her and avoid the inevitable.
She was recommissioned to the Navy during the First World War and served as a training ship out of Chicago's Great Lakes Naval Station. After the War she returned to the PNM.
Her aged engine had served a long and trouble-free life due in part to the very low RPM's at which it ran, but in 1920 it suffered its first and last major breakdown. One of her irreplaceable connecting rods broke. She was able to limp from the Straits of Mackinac to Harbor Beach, but she was about to join the battle of "Who's going to pay the bills." The Navy no longer wanted her and the Pennsylvania Naval Militia was in no position to finance the repairs. The city of Erie gave her free docking space and wanted to see her turned into a museum, but couldn't afford her. In an odd piece of politics, the Navy finally had the WOLVERINE "turned over to" Erie, but who actually had title to the ship was never resolved. The city fathers of Erie refused to spend money on something they didn't own.
By 1949, after years of getting nowhere, a group of dedicated U.S.S. MICHIGAN/WOLVERINE followers decided to sell the hulk for scrap and use the proceeds to build a memorial to her. Her decks were rotten, but her hull was still sound, and in a final act of defiance, she rammed and swamped the tug that was towing her to her demise.
It is ironic that the U.S.S. MICHIGAN survived five major wars over the course of a century, only to be destroyed in peacetime for little apparent reason.
MODOC WHISTLE is published quarterly by the Saginaw River Marine Historical Society, Dept. W, Box 2051, Bay City, Mi. 48707-2051