USS Potomac III - History

USS Potomac III - History


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Potomac III

(AT-50: dp. 785; 1. 138'9", b. 28'6"; d. 12'; s. 16 k.; cpl. 56;
a. 2 3-pdrs.)

The third Potomac, a tug built in 1897 as Wilmot by the F. W. Wheeler Co., West Bay City, Mich., was purchased by the Navy from the Oeean Towing and Wreeking Company 14 April 1898 for service in the Spanish Ameriezn War, commanded by Lt. G. P. Blow. During the war, she served in the West Indies, and was retained by the Navy after peace was restored. In the ensuing years Potomac operated out of East Coast ports. She left Newport, R.I. 28 January 1914 to rescue vessels icebound off Newfoundland. Potomac was herself ieed-in and abandoned 14 February 1914 but salvaged in the late spring, arriving New York Navy Yard 9 June 1914.

After overhaul and repair, she became a tender in the Atlantic Fleet during 1915, and tender to the Canal Zone submarine squadron in 1916. Late in 1916, she was transferred to the West Indies, and while based at Santo Domingo served as transport and tug. After training exercises with the Atlantic Fleet off the Virginia Capes and a brief overhaul Potomac returned to the Caribbean. Based in Haiti, she serves as a transport for Marines, as well as carrying mail and stores. The tug was again home ported at Santo Domingo in early 1920, and in July of that year was designated AT 50. She remained in servlee in the Caribbean until May 1922, when she returned to Norfolk. Decommissioned 26 June 1922, she was struck from the Navy List 31 July and sold to New Orleans & Bisso Towboat Company 1 December 1922.


THE PENINSULAR CAMPAIGN. The Prince de Joinville's History of the Army of the Potomac. III.

In our last notice of this work, we followed the author to the battle in front of Williamsburgh, where the retreating rebels made a stand mainly for the purpose of delaying pursuit. This object they accomplished completely. The main body of the Confederate army had passed through the town on Friday and Saturday, the 2d and 3d of May. On Sunday, the evacuation of Yorktown was discovered by Gen. MCCLELLAN, who thereupon, in a tone of exultation, proclaimed his purpose to "push the enemy to the wall." On Monday, the rebel rear guard engaged our advance in front of Williamsburgh with so much success, though finally forced to yield, that Gen. MCCLELLAN moderated his expectations considerably, and confined himself to saying that his forces were "inferior to those of the enemy," but that he should "venture to hold him in check." His purpose of a rapid pursuit seems to have been at once abandoned. Gen. FRANKLIN left Yorktown for West Point on Tuesday, and on Wednesday, attempting to land to attack the retreating column of the rebels in flank, was repulsed -- the main body of Gen. MCCLELLAN's army failing to support turn by attacking the enemy on the rear. Indeed, instead of pushing forward in rapid pursuit and to the aid of Gen. FRANKLIN, Gen. MCCLELLAN, with his whole army, remained at Williamsburgh three days, "looking up the wounded who were scattered through the woods, and burying the dead."

The battle of Williamsburgh, fought by a strong rear-guard of the Confederates, thus gave their main army five days' time for the prosecution of their retreat. Our troops behaved with the most conspicuous gallantry men never fought better anywhere, and we gained the ground which was contested. Yet the result was disastrous for us, because the enemy gained all he fought for -- time for his retreat. Our men fought at a terrible disadvantage. The narrow roads were crowded with troops enormous wagon trains encumbered their march -- the successive divisions reached the ground without any knowledge of each other's movements -- and the engagement was fought to the very end without any plan and without the supervision of any commanding officer.

The Prince DE JOINVILLE throws the whole responsibility for this upon the defective organization of the American army: --

"In the United States," he says, "there is no such thing as a corps of the General Staff. The American system of ɾvery man for himself,' individually applied by the officers and soldiers of each corps to one another, is also applied by the corps themselves to their reciprocal relations. There is no special branch of the service whose duty it is to regulate, centralize and direct the movements of the army. In such a case as this of which we are speaking, we should have seen the General Staff Officers of a French army taking care that nothing should impede the advance of the troops, stopping a file of wagons here and ordering it out of the road to clear the way, sending on a detail of men there to repair the roadway or to draw a cannon out of the mire, in order to communicate to every corps commander the orders of the General-in-Chief.

Here nothing of the sort is done. The functions of the Adjutant-General are limited to the transmission of the orders of the General. He has nothing to do with seeing that they are executed. The General has no one to bear his orders but Aides-de-Camp, who have the best intentions in the world, and are excellent at repeating mechanically a verbal order, but to whom nobody pays much attention if they undertake to exercise any initiative whatever.

The want of a general Staff was not less severely felt in obtaining and transmitting the information necessary at the moment of an impending action. No one knew the country the maps were so defective that they were useless. Little was known about the fortified battle-field on which the army was about to be engaged. Yet this battle-field had been seen and reconnoitred the day before by the troops which had taken part in STONEMAN's skirmish. Enough was surely known of it for us to combine a plan of attack, and assign to every commander his own part in the work. No, this was not so. Every one kept his observations to himself, not from ill will, but because it was nobody's special duty to do this general work. It was a defect in the organization, and with the best elements in the world, an army which is not organized cannot expect great success. It is fortunate if it escape great disaster.

Thanks to this constitutional defect of the Federal armies, HOOKER's Division, which led the column on the left-hand road, and had received, the day before, a general order to march upon Williamsburgh, came out on the morning of the 5th upon the scene of STONEMAN's cavalry fight without the least knowledge of what it was to meet there."

We are not prepared to say that our army is not defective in this particular. But we certainly think the Prince has greatly exaggerated its deficiencies, and that even if they did exist they ought to have been remedied. Gen. MCCLELLAN had been at the head of the army for nearly a year. His special task had been to perfect its organization -- to prepare it for the requirements and contingencies of the field. He could scarcely have overlooked so capital a point as this. Familiar as he was with the organization of the armies of Europe, and foreseeing, as he must have done, the necessity of vigorous and effective cooperation among the several corps, he could not have neglected to provide for it so completely as the Prince represents him to have done. He had organized the largest Staff ever known in the American Army. He had taken care to place upon it some of the most skillful and accomplished soldiers in the service. He had a large body of able Topographical Engineers, whose special duty it was to prepare maps of the country. All this apparatus was certainly sufficient to perform the duties and supply the defects of which the Prince so warmly speaks. Gen. MCCLELLAN must have relied upon it, else he would have made some other provision. And although the Prince seeks to cast upon the great body of our officers and men the reproach of "paying very little attention" to orders from the General's aids, and of acting each man for himself, and each corps for itself, in the general movements of the army, we venture to say that in no army in the world is this reproach so little deserved as in ours. We do not believe the Prince can cite, or ever knew, a solitary instance in which orders were thus slighted, or in which any officer failed to communicate to another, where he could possibly do so, information of the field in which he was to be engaged. Some of the most important orders during the even days' fight before Richmond were given by Gen. MCCLELLAN's Chief of Staff, and were implicitly obeyed. Nor is the French service to perfect in this respect as the Prince represents. On the morning of Solferino, the advance movement of the French cavalry was arrested for two hours in the narrow streets of Castiglione by a pontoon train, which had found its way there without orders and the extraordinary panic among a portion of the French troops on the day after the battle was due mainly to the fact that no one officer deemed it his duty to give information or advice to another.

The great defect at Williamsburgh was the lack of a commander. Gen. MCCLELLAN had contented himself with issuing a general order the day before to "march on Williamsburgh." He neither went to the front himself to supervise the movement, nor did he send thither the officers of his Staff to do so. He remained in his tent two miles in rear of Yorktown, -- leaving the army to advance and to fight as best it could. Gen. STONEMAN, in his advance upon Williamsburgh, had met the enemy on Sunday evening and, with some loss to himself, had thoroughly reconnoitered the ground on which he was intrenched. "Enough," as the Prince remarks, "was surely known of it for us to combine a plan of attack and assign to every commander his own part in the work." -- "No," he adds, -- "this was not so." -- Why not? Whose fault was it that this knowledge was not used and a combined plan of attack formed for the next day? Whose business was it to form one? Was it not clearly that of the Commanding General? Yet nothing whatever seems to have been done in that direction. Gen. HOOKER came out upon that strongly guarded field, and fought for hours against overwhelming odds without support though 30,000 men were within five miles of him: -- KEARNY, HEINTZELMAN, PECK and the other officers finally came up, and gave him their aid -- "during all this time," as the Prince remarks, "the part of the army massed on the road to the right remained passive" for lack of orders and a commander, -- and it was not till 3 oɼlock that "the Generals resolved to act." After they had acted and had driven the rebels from the field Gen. MCCLELLAN arrived.

This was the 5th of May. The enemy had made good his retreat, and Gen. MCCLELLAN, discouraged by the battle of Williamsburgh and the repulse of FRANKLIN at West Point, had abandoned the pursuit. It soon became clear that the evacuation of Yorktown had been part of a general movement of the enemy for the concentration of his forces in the immediate vicinity of Richmond. The main body of his army had recrossed the Chickahominy. Norfolk was evacuated immediately after Yorktown, and Gen. HUGER, with the 18,000 men who had held it, had joined the main force in front of Richmond. The corps opposing BURNSIDE in North Carolina had also been withdrawn, and the rebel President had ordered a levy en masse of all men able to bear arms. An immense effort was thus in progress to concentrate and strengthen the Confederate forces for the defence of Richmond -- and time was all that was needed for its success. If Gen. MCCLELLAN had advanced rapidly with the splendid army of over 125,000 men which he commanded, he might have prevented the junction of the rebel forces and could certainly have rendered impossible that "discipline of the enemy's raw levies in camps of instruction," of which the Prince DE JOINVILLE speaks. Or if he had then "changed his base" of operations and marched upon Richmond by the James River, where, as the Merrimac had been destroyed, he could have had the cooperation of our gunboats, there is but little doubt he could have speedily reduced Fort Darling and entered Richmond long before the Confederate army could have prepared for his reception. Mr. HURLBERT, who was in Richmond at thus time, in one of his notes to the Prince DE JOINVILLE's pamphlet, thus states the condition of the city and its defences:

"A couple of war steamers sent up the James when the army of MCDOWELL advanced from Washington, might have neutralized the Southern victory at Bull Run and I have the authority of a Southern naval officer for saying that the banks of the James were never adequately protected against the passage of even a single powerful gunboat until the works at Drewry's Bluff were extemporized in May, 1862. These works were thrown up so hastily, and so little was known or believed at Richmond of their capacity to resist a serious attack, that the excitement which reigned throughout the city during the dull gray morning of the day in which the heavy guns of the attack and defence were heard sullenly booming down the river, more nearly approached a panic than anything else which I witnessed during the whole time of my detention there.

The preparations of the Government, State and Confederate, for evacuating the city had been hurried forward with great earnestness from the time when the sacrifice of Norfolk and the Merrimac became a probable military necessity but there was such a conflict of councils in both Governments that the successful passage of Drewry's Bluff would unquestionably have brought on a tremendous general catastrophe."

The Prince himself does not hesitate to express the opinion that it would have been "the wiser course" for MCCLELLAN to have "abandoned the plan of campaign which he had begun to execute," using the York River as his base, and to have "sought the James River by a rapid oblique march, in order to combine his operations with those of the navy upon that river." Whatever risks the movement might have involved, he says, would have been "better than the dismal position in which the army really found itself for a month in the marshes of the Chickahominy."

But Gen. MCCLELLAN did not change his plan. He continued his advance along the York and Pamunkey Rivers. On the 16th of May he reached the White House, which is the head of navigation, and where the railroad to Richmond crosses the Pamunkey. This point he made his depot of supplies, and speedily encamped his army upon the Chickahominy. "He had thus succeeded," says the Prince, "in pitching his camp without accident in front of the capital of the seceded States, and of their main army. The Confederates could fall back no further without losing all their prestige in the eyes of their partisans and of the whole world. They were thus driven to accept a decisive battle upon this point." "I know," he adds, "that a battle ought to have been won at this point, and that it was not won."

The responsibility for the failure to win it, is among the vexed questions of the war. When Gen. MCCLELLAN, in October of the previous year, formed his plan of advancing upon Richmond by this route, he based its success on the rapidity of his movements. Yet it was not until the close of May that he found himself in front of Richmond. And instead of attempting to prevent the concentration of the scattered forces of the rebels by a rapid advance upon them, his first attempt was to offset it by securing reinforcements himself. "Evidently," says the Prince, "we needed reinforcements. Could we obtain them? Could the Federals meet with a powerful concentration of troops, that concentration which the enemy had effected?" But it is quite clear that the enemy had not yet effected that concentration. JACKSON, with 40,000 troops, was in the Valley of the Shenandoah, menacing Washington, and could not possibly have reached Richmond in time to aid in meeting a prompt and vigorous attack upon the army defending it. But Gen. MCCLELLAN applied for reinforcements, and his first attempt, according to the Prince DE JOINVILLE, was to secure a junction with MCDOWELL, who was at Fredericksburgh, 60 miles north of Richmond, with 40,000 men, -- being held there to aid in covering Washington. Of this attempt the Prince DE JOINVILLE says:

"Accordingly, MCCLELLAN had no sooner arrived before Richmond, than he undertook to discover what he had to hope for from this quarter. No official advices, either from Washington or from Fredericksburgh, had informed him of McDowell's presence at that point, only sixty miles distant, but rumor and probability agreed so well in placing him there that the General-in-Chief resolved to make an attempt to establish communication with him. On the night of the 26th, he sent forward Gen. PORTER's Division with a few squadrons of cavalry, in a furious storm, to Hanover Court-house, a village about twenty miles north of Richmond, where the railway to Fredericksburgh crosses the Pamunkey. The troops of PORTER moved rapidly, and about midday on the 27th came upon the hostile division of BRANCH, at Hanover Court-house. This they assailed with vigor, dispersed it, and took one of its guns. Assailed in their turn by Confederate troops who had suffered them to pass by the woods in which they lay hidden, the Federals turned on their new enemies and scattered them also. This brilliant affair cost the Federals 400 men, and left Gen. PORTER in possession of a cannon, of 500 prisoners, and of two bridges, one on the Fredericksburgh and one on the Virginia Central road. The advanced guard of MCDOWELL was then at Bowling Green, fifteen miles from that of PORTER. It needed only an effort of the will the two armies were united, and the possession of Richmond certain! Alas this effort was not made. * * * Not only did not the two armies unite, but the order came from Washington to burn the bridges which had been seized. This was the clearest way of saying to the Army or the Potomac, and to its chiefs, that in no case could they count on the support of the armies of Upper Virginia."

Nothing could be more unjust or more incorrect than this statement. The Prince states that on the 26th of May Gen. MCCLELLAN, having no "official advices" of any kind of the intentions of Gen. MCDOWELL, or even of his presence at Fredericksburgh, sent PORTER to Hanover Court-house "to discover what he had to hope for from this quarter." All this is utterly without foundation, as a reference to official records will show.

On the 17th of May -- nine days before the time specified by the Prince -- the Secretary of War sent a dispatch to Gen. MCCLELLAN in reply to his application for reinforcements. And in that dispatch Gen. MCCLELLAN is informed that, "in order to increase the strength of the attack upon Richmond at the earliest possible moment, Gen. McDowell has been ordered to march upon that city by the shortest route." He adds that Gen. MCCLELLAN was to extend his right wing to the north of Richmond, so as to unite with MCDOWELL's left and that he was further to instruct his Staff officers to be prepared to furnish Gen. MCDOWELL's forces with supplies from West Point. On the 20th of May Gen. MCDOWELL also informed Gen. MCCLELLAN of his intended movement, telling him that he had a rebel force of 15,000 men in his front, which he should engage at once, and which he hoped to cut off by a flank movement from reinforcements, and adding:

"I beg to ask to what extent I can rely on cooperation from you in my present movement, in the way of your cutting off the retreat of the enemy upon Richmond, where they would add 12,000 to the forces against you, and in saving the bridges across the Pamunkey and to what point on the Pamunkey can you extend your right to join me, and to what point can you cause supplies to be placed for my command, and by what date can I count on finding them ready for me? I shall require subsistence for 38,000 men and forage for 11,000 animals."

It is perfectly certain, therefore, that Gen. MCCLELLAN had "official" information, both from Washington and Fredericksburgh, of Gen. MCDOWELL's presence at the latter place, when he sent PORTER to Hanover Court-house, on the 26th of May. Besides his advices from the Secretary of War, he had others from Gen. MCDOWELL, making very important inquiries, especially as to supplies, upon the answer to which his movements must depend. It does not appear as yet that Gen. MCCLELLAN answered these inquiries at all. Nor have we any official information from him or any one else as to the object of burning the bridges which connected the two armies, and of which Gen. PORTER held possession.

There is one point, however, made clear by the official correspondence to which little attention has been given. The Prince DE JOINVILLE represents Gen. MCCLELLAN as being very impatient that MCDOWELL should join him from Fredericksburgh, and as doing all in his power to have him march for that purpose. None of Gen. MCCLELLAN's dispatches to the Government, on this or any other subject, have as yet been permitted to see the light. But the opening paragraph of the reply of the Secretary of War, dated May 17, to his request for reinforcements: indicates the specific character of that request. It is as follows:

Your dispatch to the President, asking for reinforcements, has been received and carefully considered. The President is not willing to uncover the Capital entirely, and it is believed that even if this were prudent it would require more time to effect a junction between your army and that of the Rappahannock, by the way of the Potomac and York Rivers, than by a land march.

In order, therefore, to increase the strength of the attack upon Richmond at the earliest possible moment, Gen. MCDOWELL has been ordered to march upon that city by the shortest route. He is ordered -- keeping himself always in position to cover the Capital from all possible attack -- so to operate as to put his left wing in communication with your right, and you are instructed to cooperate so as to establish this communication as soon as possible.

It is evident from this language that Gen. MCCLELLAN had applied to have Gen. MCDOWELL sent to him by water, so that he might reach him at the White House instead of Hanover Court-house, and guard his rear, instead of joining in the march upon Richmond. Indeed, Gen. MCCLELLAN believed himself strong enough to take Richmond -- so far as his column of advance was concerned. He did not want MCDOWELL in front, where he thought he had troops enough he wanted him in his rear, to guard his line of communications and we think that when the complete correspondence on this subject sees the light, it will be found that he remonstrated against sending MCDOWELL to him by way of Hanover Court-house, and urged that he should come, if he were to come at all, by the way of the York and Pamumkey Rivers. Whether his failure to answer MCDOWELL's inquiries -- to inform him where he would find supplies and when -- and to what extent he could count on his aid in cutting off the retreat of the rebel Gen. ANDERSON's force to Richmond, and the burning of the railroad bridges in Gen. PORTER's possession, had anything to do with the specific route which he wished Gen. MCDOWELL to take, we shall not know until the whole correspondence on the subject sees the light -- and possibly not even then.

It is true that these orders to Gen. MCDOWELL were countermanded on the 24th of May, and he was directed to go to the relief of BANKS in the Valley of the Shenandoah. The reasons for this sudden change of destination may or may not have been sufficient but it is clearly incorrect to represent Gen. MCCLELLAN as having been abandoned by the Government, or left in ignorance of its purpose to send Gen. MCDOWELL to his aid just so soon as the safety of the National Capital would permit.


Death of the III Corps

“God bless the III Corps!” Major General Daniel Sickles reportedly uttered that benison as he was being carried from the field at Gettysburg on July 2, in the aftermath of a furious fight that earned him lasting fame and no small measure of controversy. Yet it was the officers and men of his III Corps who paid the ultimate price for Sickles’ questionable tactics that day.

The Army of the Potomac’s III Corps already had a proud history before Gettysburg. Created in the spring of 1862, the unit had seen action during the Peninsula, Second Bull Run and Fredericksburg campaigns under the command of Generals Samuel Heintzelman and George Stoneman. With Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker’s promotion to command of the army in early 1863, Stoneman was made chief of cavalry and Sickles became the corps’ new commander. His flamboyant style and obvious courage made him extremely popular with his men.

At Gettysburg the III Corps was organized into two divisions and numbered approximately 10,600 officers and men. On the morning of July 2, 1863, when the Army of the Potomac arranged its famous “fishhook” line on a series of hills and ridges south of Gettysburg, the shank of the hook ran along Cemetery Ridge and the III Corps was assigned to its lower portion by the army’s new commander, Maj. Gen. George G. Meade. Little Round Top, the fishhook’s eye, was to be occupied “if possible.”

Confederate General Robert E. Lee decided to follow up his partial success of July 1, calling on two veteran divisions of his First Corps, led by Lt. Gen. James Longstreet and numbering over 14,000, to crush the Union left with an en echelon assault. Lee hoped a simultaneous demonstration by Lt. Gen. Richard Ewell’s Second Corps against the Union right, at Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill, could be converted into a real attack against that flank.

Throughout the morning, as Lee formulated his offensive, Sickles fretted about his assigned position, which he felt was a poor one. He later wrote: “…the direct line [along Cemetery Ridge] to Round Top was a line through swale, morass swamp, bowlders, and forest and tangled undergrowth, unfit for infantry, impracticable for artillery, and hopelessly dominated by the ridge in front….” He also believed his position was too long for his command to occupy and that the woods in his front would mask Confederate movements and limit his field of fire, especially for his artillery.

Sickles’ overriding concern was that “ridge in front” that he felt made his position so vulnerable: the Emmitsburg Road Ridge and Peach Orchard Knoll, which he feared the Confederates would occupy with their own batteries. To prevent that, Sickles felt he had to take up an advanced line along the Emmitsburg Road. After repeated attempts to get Meade’s permission, a frustrated Sickles began moving forward around 1 p.m.

The two III Corps’ divisions pushed forward up to three-fourths of a mile, so that Sickles’ left flank, held by Maj. Gen. David Birney’s 1st Division, rested not on Little Round Top as Meade had directed, but at Devil’s Den, about 600 yards to the left front. The line then ran northwest through the Wheatfield to the Peach Orchard. There it turned, making a right angle where it connected with Brig. Gen. Andrew A. Humphreys’ 2nd Division, which extended the line north along the Emmitsburg Road.

While this advanced line gained advantages due to the terrain, it had several flaws. One of the most important was that Little Round Top was left undefended. It also isolated the entire III Corps, as it was completely dis connected from the main Union line on Cemetery Ridge, and thus beyond immediate support. Sickles had also overextended himself, to the point of leaving gaps in his new line.

Yet another problem was that the III Corps’ line created a salient, and thus faced two directions—south and west—allowing Confederates batteries to deliver enfilading or flanking fire along both its wings. The salient itself, at the Peach Orchard, was a weak point because it could be attacked from two directions. By the time General Meade discovered this major shift in his line, it would be too late to pull the III Corps back.

Around 3 p.m. Longstreet began to deploy his two divisions opposite the Union left. Shortly after that, Confederates batteries rolled into position along Warfield Ridge and opened fire upon the III Corps’ newly placed line, signaling the start of the second day of fighting at Gettysburg.

Meade rode toward his left to investigate and discovered that “General Sickles had taken up a position very much in advance of what it had been my intention that he should take….” He found the III Corps commander near the Peach Orchard, where the two generals talked briefly. Sickles later wrote, “General Meade…arrived on the field and made a rapid examination of the dispositions which I had made, and…remarked…that my line was too extended, and expressed his doubts as to my being able to hold so extended a line….” Although Sickles responded that “it was not yet too late” to withdraw his corps, Meade told him “the enemy would not permit him to withdraw, and that there was no time for any further change or movement.” Meade knew he had to throw reinforcements into the battle quickly to shore up the III Corps’ overextended front. Meade’s only reserve, the V Corps, was told to move to the left, while artillery was ordered up to bolster Sickles’ new line.

By 4 p.m. Longstreet had ordered his first infantry to advance, launching his brigades forward en echelon. Brigadier General J.H. Hobart Ward’s III Corps brigade clung to Devil’s Den, whose massive rock formations marked the far left flank of the Union line. Although desperate counterattacks blunted the initial Confederate assaults, Ward’s line eventually crumbled, and Devil’s Den fell, along with three cannons of Captain James Smith’s 4th New York Artillery. But the time purchased by the corps enabled reinforcements to reach Little Round Top just before the first Rebel attacks.

Longstreet’s assaults slowly spread north. By 5 p.m. the first Confederate troops had struck Colonel P. Regis de Trobriand’s III Corps brigade defending the Wheatfield, beginning the struggle later known as “the Whirlpool.”

Meanwhile the Union troops defending the Peach Orchard were under heavy shelling. The battle was described by a member of Battery B, 1st New Jersey: “To the left I could see the enemy driving…up the sides of Little Round Top….During this time the front of the Battery was almost a sheet of flame the men at the guns fairly flew to their work….Every one’s shirt was soaked with sweat, some with blood. All were grimed with powder smoke, and not a man but kept to his work. Heroes, every one.”

Around 5:30 p.m. the artillery fire around the Peach Orchard seemed to increase. It was soon followed by a multibrigade attack upon the salient angle of the III Corps line, held by Brig. Gen. Charles Graham’s brigade. The first attack was delivered from the south by Brig. Gen. Joseph Kershaw’s South Carolina brigade, followed by Brig. Gen. William Barksdale’s Mississippi brigade, which struck from the west.

Graham’s brigade was swept away, with Graham himself wounded and captured. Longstreet’s textbook attack had worked to perfection. By the time the Confederates struck the Peach Orchard, nearly all the Union reserves sent to support the III Corps had been committed to battle along its left wing, at Little Round Top, Devil’s Den and the Wheatfield. The Rebel breakthrough at the salient angle of the III Corps’ position signaled its doom, for it not only left a gaping hole in Sickles’ front, but also each of the corps’ wings could be easily flanked and routed.

With the Peach Orchard overrun, the Union line in the Wheatfield was outflanked and quickly collapsed. At the same time, the III Corps’ right wing, held by General Humphreys’ division along the Emmitsburg Road, also came under attack, as described by one of Humphreys’ staff officers: “A copious shower of shell and canister from the enemy was followed up by a diabolical cheer and yells….Our batteries opened, our troops rose to their feet, the crash of artillery and the tearing rattle of our musketry was staggering, and added to the noise on our side, [to] the advancing roar & cheer of the enemy’s masses, coming on like devils incarnate.”

Humphreys conducted a withdrawal, “retiring very slowly, continuing the contest with the enemy, whose fire…was destructive in the extreme” down the east slope of the Emmitsburg Road ridge and toward Cemetery Ridge. The maneuver cost his division dearly, resulting in the loss of nearly 2,100 of its 4,900 officers and men.

As a whole the III Corps had lost more than 4,200 killed, wounded and missing, nearly 40 percent of its strength. Included in these casualties were 10 regiments that lost more than half of their men, with 17 of the corps’ 37 regimental commanders becoming casualties along with their beloved chief, Daniel Sickles. The remains of Sickles’ lower right leg, crushed by a random cannonball, were amputated that evening. The flamboyant general would never again command troops on a field of battle.

Despite all that went wrong, in the end the III Corps contributed to a Union victory. One veteran proudly recalled, “The soldiers of the Third Corps, had done their duty manfully, holding their ground against superior numbers…falling back to Cemetery [Ridge], only when successful resistance to the outflanking hosts of the enemy was no longer possible.” But Meade wrote, “Sickles’s movement practically destroyed his own corps…and with what result?—driving us back to the position he was ordered to hold originally.” The III Corps remained a corps in name only through the Bristoe Station and Mine Run campaigns that fall. In March 1864, the corps passed out of existence.

Originally published in the August 2009 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.


USS Potomac: Franklin Roosevelt's Presidential Yacht

Many presidents have used ships for both relaxation and diplomacy. From fishing to meetings with foreign dignitaries, water travel provides variety and a momentary change of scenery from life and work in the White House.

From 1936 to 1945, President Franklin D. Roosevelt enjoyed travel aboard the USS Potomac. The ship, originally named the Electra, was built in 1934 as a Coast Guard Cutter and was commissioned by the U.S. Navy in 1936 after refitting and trial runs at Norfolk Navy Yard and in the Chesapeake Bay. 1 Roosevelt desired a historically inspired name for the ship that would not cause confusion between ships already in service. After consulting with Captain Wilson Brown, his naval aide, the president decided on the name Potomac.

This new ship was preferred over the previous presidential yacht, the Sequoia, partly because of security concerns. While the Sequoia was made of wood, the Potomac was made of steel, which made the ship less fire-prone. The larger ship was also able to accommodate more members of the Secret Service protecting the president onboard. 2

The ship was not only used for recreation but also for informal political and diplomatic meetings. To accommodate the president’s need for wheelchair accessibility, a concealed elevator was installed in what had been the rear funnel to carry the president from the main deck to the boat deck.

Roosevelt delivered one radio address from the Potomac. His remarks gave insight into his enjoyment and relaxation while aboard the ship. During a March 29, 1941 address to participants of annual Jackson Day fundraising dinners, he said, “I am sitting in the little cabin of the little ship Potomac, in the harbor of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, after a day of sunshine out in the Gulf Stream . . . I try to get away a couple of times a year on these short trips on salt water. . . Even when I go to Hyde Park or to Warm Springs, the White House office, the callers, and the telephones all follow me. But at sea the radio messages and the occasional pouch of mail reduce official work to not more than two or three hours a day.” 3

During the 1936 presidential campaign, Roosevelt once told his opponent, Kansas Governor Alfred “Alf” Landon, “If you are elected President, I can give you one good piece of advice. Get yourself a boat to go down the Potomac.” 4

While relaxing on board, the president fished, read detective stories, and worked on his stamp collection. On Sundays, a sea plane would often land alongside the ship to deliver newspapers, mail and anything requiring the president's signature. 5 Newspapers occasionally reported on the fishing prowess of the president, with one paper commenting on a 1936 fishing trip that, “when the yacht reached Caicos Island in the Bahamas . . . the Roosevelt luck returned. . . the catch including large kingfish, mackerel, groupers and barracuda.” 6

One of the most well-known prewar uses of the boat occurred during the June 1939 visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain. The ship carried the royal couple and President and Mrs. Roosevelt down the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. to nearby Mount Vernon, the former home of George Washington. Newspapers described the ship with the royal standard of the King of England on the foremast and the U.S. presidential flag on the main mast. 7 A 21-gun salute greeted the royal couple as they entered the Navy Yard prior to boarding. Soon after arriving at the first president’s estate, the Potomac was moored to dock where one news reporter noted, “the stifling, windless day had left the river flat and seemingly motionless as the vessel was tied against the wharf.” After a tour of Mount Vernon and a visit to Washington’s tomb, the royal and presidential entourage returned to Washington, D.C. via automobile. 8

The USS Potomac with President Franklin Roosevelt and the King and Queen of Great Britain onboard as the ship travels from Washington to Mount Vernon and back on June 9, 1939.

Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum/NARA

The ship was also used in August 1941 as part of a stealth operation while President Roosevelt secretly met with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to draft the Atlantic Charter. 9 Afterwards, President Roosevelt hosted a press conference onboard the Potomac in which he explained the secrecy of the meeting, given the potential threat of a German submarine attack: “Things of that kind cause trouble, if you make known the exact location on the high seas of the President and the Prime Minister.” 10

After the death of President Roosevelt, the Potomac was decommissioned. Under President Harry S. Truman, the Williamsburg, a former World War II gunboat, became the new presidential yacht. 11 Before the Williamsburg became the official presidential yacht in September 1945, Truman and his family enjoyed the Potomac briefly, including one early May 1945 Potomac River excursion. 12

For several decades, the Potomac served a variety of roles for a number of owners. Briefly returned to the Coast Guard, the Potomac resided in Maryland for about a decade. The ship then served as a ferry between Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The ship was then taken to California with the intention of serving as an attraction at the 1962 Seattle World Fair. This plan failed and it seemed as if the historic ship was destined for the scrap heap.

Music legend Elvis Presley intervened and bought the ship in 1964 with the desire that it be given to the March of Dimes Foundation and preserved as a “national shrine.” Elvis’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker said of Presley’s intentions that “Elvis feels the yacht could be a strong source for donations in memory of the late Presidents Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy.” 13 The foundation, concerned over maintenance cost and the overall mission of their organization declined the offer with regret.

President Franklin Roosevelt enjoys time aboard the Potomac while on the Hudson River in 1937.

Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum/NARA

After several more owners, the ship sank after being towed to Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay when several pilings pierced her hull. Raised two weeks later, the ship was sold by U.S. Customs to the Port of Oakland. Spearheaded by the Port, the Potomac was preserved and restored during a 14 year collaborate effort by President Roosevelt's son, James, multiple organizations, and many dedicated volunteers.

The Potomac, now a National Historic Landmark, is maintained by the Association for the Preservation of the Presidential Yacht Potomac. It resides today in Oakland, California and has been open to the public since 1995. 14

President Franklin Roosevelt and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt with the King and Queen of Great Britain aboard the Potomac in 1939.


Floating history / USS Potomac History Cruises / FDR's yacht offers the chance to see presidential decor up close

It set sail, sleek and graceful, from Oakland's Jack London Square and made its way into San Francisco Bay, gliding past Treasure Island. People waved from Pier 39. After all, this wasn't just any yacht but a part of presidential history. From 1936 to 1945, this former U.S. Coast Guard cutter served as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's presidential yacht, after being renamed the USS Potomac and being recommissioned as a Navy vessel in 1936. During Roosevelt's term, it was a retreat for the president from the tremendous pressures of dealing with the Great Depression and World War II.

On a recent Saturday, passengers stood on the ship's teak decks, enjoying a fogless afternoon and a two-hour history cruise narrated by Capt. Wade Church. Docents from the Potomac Association, including David McGraw, took visitors on a guided tour of the ship's three decks, telling of Roosevelt's time there. The association, a nonprofit historical and educational organization devoted to teaching the continuing influence of the Roosevelt era, also offers dockside tours, fall and spring educational tours by reservation, and cruises.

Before setting sail, tour-goers watched a 15-minute video at the Potomac Visitor Center about Roosevelt and the ship's restoration. Exhibits there include Roosevelt family photographs, models of the ship and a gift shop.

The Potomac's simple decor reflects Roosevelt's preference for casual living, and restorers used historical photographs to replicate each room. Today, black-and-white prints showing Roosevelt and others in various parts of the ship dot the walls. On the main deck, a small room with a single bed and minimal furnishings functioned as the president's cabin. Its bathroom houses a replica of Roosevelt's original, stainless steel bathtub. The fantail deck, with its curved divan and padded wicker chairs, offers a comfortable spot to relax.


South Bay History: The long, tumultuous voyage of the USS Potomac, FDR’s presidential yacht, included a stop in Redondo Beach

Redondo Beach was once briefly home to a former presidential yacht — a ship that’s had quite the extraordinary life.

When Franklin Delano Roosevelt succeeded Herbert Hoover as president in 1933, the USS Sequoia served as the chief executive’s official yacht.

Sam Gnerre

But a couple of years later, Roosevelt switched from the mahogany-hulled boat to a metal-hulled one — the recently built U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Electra — for fire-safety reasons.

The 165-foot Electra had been commissioned in 1934 by the Coast Guard for patrolling the seas and searching for ships importing illegal liquor into the U.S.

Shipmaster Dallas De Caussin, top, aboard the USS Potomacat its site in King Harbor in Redondo Beach on Aug. 22, 1963. (Credit: Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection)

It was renamed the USS Potomac and transferred to the U.S. Navy in March 1936, undergoing more than $60,000 in renovations in the process.

A false second smokestack, for example, was put in to conceal an elevator used for lifting the president to the ship’s deck Potomac also got new furnishings for below-deck staterooms, and meeting and entertaining areas on the top deck.

Roosevelt used the boat both for official business and recreation. King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (mother of Queen Elizabeth II) of England came aboard in 1939 during the first visit by British royalty to an American president.

The Potomac was used as a smokescreen in August 1941 for a famous meeting with Winston Churchill. The president was transferred to another boat, the USS Augusta, for the journey to the then-secret meeting in Newfoundland. All the while, a Secret Service agent dressed as Roosevelt made it look like the president was still on a pleasure cruise aboard the Potomac

Roosevelt felt comfortable enough aboard the ship to use it as a location for one of his famous “Fireside Chat” radio broadcasts in 1941.

The USS Potomac with President Roosevelt and the King and Queen of Great Britain onboard as the ship travels from Washington to Mount Vernon and back on June 9, 1939. (Credit: Naval History and Heritage Command website)

After FDR’s death in 1945, the Potomac was returned to the Coast Guard, which then decommissioned it in May 1946. For the next 14 years, the state of Maryland used the boat as a fisheries industry enforcement vessel along its coastal areas.

U.S. presidents from Harry Truman to Gerald Ford reverted to using the Sequoia as the presidential yacht, until Jimmy Carter sold it to private owners in 1977 in a cost-cutting move.

In 1960, the state of Maryland sold the Potomac to a private owner. The buyer moved it to the Caribbean, where it was used as a ship ferrying passengers between Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

The deteriorating Potomac’s next owner, the Hydro-Capital Co., acquired the ship in 1962. Its plan included renovating the ship at a cost of $500,000, then mounting it in the newly constructed King Harbor in Redondo Beach as a tourist attraction.

The restoration included the addition of many Roosevelt artifacts and the reconstruction of the below-deck staterooms.

The Potomac, moored on the north side of Basin 2 in the harbor, opened to visitors on Aug. 2, 1963. It proved a popular draw among tourists, with estimates of more than 14,000 visitors during its first few weeks.

Unfortunately, the winter brought storms and high surf to Redondo. The Potomac was threatened by the waves crashing over the breakwater and had to be moved and anchored outside of the harbor. Harbor officials deemed the boat to be a navigational hazard.

The USS Potomac after sinking into San Francisco Bay in March 1981. (Credit: Presidential Yacht Potomac website)

The insurance company could no longer cover the ship once it was under its own anchor and not permanently moored. Without insurance, the attraction was forced to close when its owners couldn’t find a new, nonhazardous site.

Hydro-Capital sold the Potomac on Jan. 30, 1964, to Elvis Presley, through his manager, Col. Tom Parker, for $55,000, without Presley ever seeing the boat in person. The plan was for Presley to donate the boat to the March of Dimes in a publicity ploy aimed at getting him back in the news in the midst of Beatlemania.

When that charity refused the gift, Presley turned to Danny Thomas, and the boat was donated instead to his St. Jude’s Hospital charity on Feb. 14, 1964. St. Jude’s later resold the boat for $62,500.

So it would go for the Potomac over the next few years, drifting from one owner to another.

In 1971, bail bondsman Aubrey Phillips bought the ship and eventually moved it to Stockton Harbor, where it operated as a tourist attraction Phillips moved it a few years later to Pier 26 in San Francisco.

In 1980, the Potomac, adorned with a banner for a phony, nonexistent children’s charity — was raided by U.S. Customs agents, who had seized it after determining it had been acting as a headquarters for a marijuana dealing ring.

The ship reached its lowest point when the feds towed the boat to Treasure Island, in San Francisco Bay, where it sank unceremoniously six months later, probably due to a leaky hull.

Fortunately, preservationists came to the Potomac’s rescue. The boat was raised from the bay floor and purchased by the Port of Oakland for $15,000.

Elvis Presley, right, and Danny Thomas at the February 1964 ceremony handing the Potomac over to the St. Jude’s Hospital charity. (Credit: Elvis History Blog website)

After a $5 million renovation program, the USS Potomac reopened with much fanfare in the summer of 1995, near Jack London Square in the Port of Oakland, once more showcasing its role in presidential history.

The ship has attracted more than 250,000 visitors since opening, operating both as a standing museum and as a functioning ship offering San Francisco Bay scenic cruises.

Sources: Daily Breeze files Desert Sun (Palm Springs) files Los Angeles Times files Presidential Yacht Potomac: FDR’s “Floating White House” website San Francisco Chronicle files Torrance Press-Herald files “The USS Potomac … Elvis Presley’s Gift to St. Jude Hospital,” by Alan Hanson, Elvis History Blog, February 2017Wikipedia.


Experience History Aboard the USS Potomac in Jack London Square

World War II veteran, Don Güt, and his companions from the Widowed Persons Social Club of Elk Grove snagged the premier spot aboard Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidential yacht, the USS Potomac, for the annual November 11 Veterans Day cruise on the San Francisco Bay. The group started out their day from the Sacramento Station and rode the Capitol Corridor to Jack London Square in Oakland, where the Potomac has been docked and open to visitors since 1995.

Don Güt and his companions enjoy premier seating in the “fantail” section of the former presidential yacht.

Mr. Güt, a former torpedo man in the Navy, was one of about two dozen veterans who took to the water on the pleasant, cloudless Wednesday for the 2-1/2 hour cruise hosted by the Association for the Preservation of the Presidential Yacht Potomac. The non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization owns and operates the Potomac as an active memorial to FDR and the momentous times through which he led our nation.

The Veterans Day Cruise is just one of many special events and sightseeing cruises available between May and November on the Potomac, which was originally built in 1934 as the Coast Guard cutter Electra. Visitors can also participate in docent-led dockside tours year-round on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays between 11am and 3pm, or charter the boat, dockside or on the bay, for private events.

The Perfect Way to Experience the San Francisco Bay
A cruise on the Potomac is one of the most pleasant ways to enjoy the San Francisco Bay. As the Potomac pulled out of the Oakland Estuary, blaring what is apparently the loudest horn on the Bay, many of the 119 passengers congregated on the top deck to get a good look at the Port of Oakland’s space-age cranes and the stacks of colorful shipping containers.

After passing under the Bay Bridge, the Potomac continued into the heart of the Bay. We sailed past Treasure Island and Pier 39, and alongside the WWII-built SS Jeremiah O’Brien docked at Pier 45 in San Francisco. Returning to Jack London Square, we were able to navigate within close proximity to the aircraft carrier USS Hornet docked at Alameda Point.

View of the Bay Bridge and San Francisco from the Potomac.

Tina Bachemin of Oakland joined the Veterans Day cruise last minute with a friend, but never knew the Potomac existed before that day. “It’s amazing that a place with such deep history is available so close to us, “ she commented as the 165-foot yacht glided under the Bay Bridge expanse. “The cruise has been very relaxing and educational it’s a living history really.”

The Potomac makes it way from the Oakland estuary into the San Francisco Bay.

From Coast Guard Cutter to Presidential Yacht
It was in 1936 that the Potomac was converted from the Coast Guard cutter to the presidential yacht, allowing FDR to get away from the formalities of the White House, and, according to a docent, the White House chef whose meals didn’t exactly appeal to the 32nd president.

FDR was himself an excellent sailor and a former Assistant Secretary of the Navy. His deep love of the sea and naval tradition are reflected throughout the beautifully restored ship. With rooms carefully refurbished to depict their original décor as much as possible – including FDR’s small, modest stateroom, the wood-paneled wheelhouse, and the radio room from which the president addressed the American people during a fireside chat in 1941 – the Potomac is as much museum as leisure sailing vessel.

FDR’s narrow and modestly-decorated stateroom.

A paraplegic since the age of 39, FDR’s greatest fear was being caught in a fire and unable to escape, so he chose the Potomac for its steel versus wood construction. A hand-operated elevator was installed inside a false stack on the ship so the president could use ropes and pulleys to move the elevator up and down between the saloon and upper boat deck.

Aboard the Potomac, FDR met with administration officials, cabinet members, foreign dignitaries, advisers, friends, and family as he worked through the problems of the Great Depression and the brewing international conflict. During a visit to the U.S. by England’s King George VI and Queen Elizabeth – the first to the U.S. by a reigning British monarch – the royal couple joined FDR and Eleanor for a cruise down the Potomac River to Washington’s home at Mt. Vernon. Other royal visitors on the Potomac included Crown Prince Olaf and Crown Princess Martha of Norway, Prince Frederick and Crown Princess Ingrid of Denmark, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, and Crown Prince Gustav of Sweden.

The guest room where King George VI and Queen Elizabeth stayed on their visit.

Purchased by the “King of Rock n’ Roll”
When the U.S. entered WWII, FDR stopped using the Potomac regularly due to the increased pressures of leading the nation and growing concerns for his security. After FDR’s death in April 1945, the boat was decommissioned, and her story entered a far less romantic chapter.

Briefly returned to the Coast Guard, the Potomac spent about 10 years in Maryland before becoming a private ferry between Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Later, when she was about to be junked, rock star Elvis Presley gave her another lease on life by buying and donating the boat to St. Jude Children’s Hospital.

The Potomac’s later adventures included an attempt to turn her into a floating disco and being seized by the DEA for drug running in 1980. In a sorry state of neglect, she was impounded at Treasure Island in San Francisco and sank there a year later before being raised and sold at auction to the Port of Oakland, the only bidder, for a mere $15,000. Spearheaded by the Port, the Potomac was preserved and restored in a 14-year, $5 million cooperative effort by FDR’s son, organized labor, maritime corporations, and volunteers.

Today, the Association for the Preservation of the Presidential Yacht Potomac relies on donations, ticket sales, and grants to fund the yacht’s ongoing management and operation. The yacht is maintained by the non-profit organization’s small staff and almost a hundred dedicated volunteers like Mike Torrey, a former stockbroker who works every Monday on the yacht, using his wood crafting talent to restore the railings on the main deck and the paneling on the wheelhouse. Mr. Torrey was also volunteering on the day of the cruise, entertaining questions and sharing stories about the Potomac.

The wood-paneled wheelhouse on the Potomac features more original material than any other room on the boat.

Easy to Reach from the Capitol Corridor
Docked in Jack London Square near the Port of Oakland, the Potomac is a short and scenic stroll from the Jack London Square Capitol Corridor Station. Jack London Square boasts a wide variety of excellent waterside restaurants (and a Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream), so visitors can turn their visit to the “Floating White House” into a full-day excursion that begins and ends with a relaxing train ride.


Cruise The San Francisco Bay and Experience Living History Aboard the USS Potomac

World War II veteran, Don Güt, and his companions from the Widowed Persons Social Club of Elk Grove snagged the premier spot aboard Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidential yacht, the USS Potomac, for the annual November 11 Veteran’s Day cruise on the San Francisco Bay. The group started out their day from the Sacramento Amtrak station and rode the Capitol Corridor to Jack London Square in Oakland, where the Potomac has been docked and open to visitors since 1995.

Don Güt and his companions enjoy premier seating in the “fantail” section of the former presidential yacht.

Mr. Güt, a former torpedo man in the Navy, was one of about two dozen veterans who took to the water on the pleasant, cloudless Wednesday for the 2-1/2 hour cruise hosted by the Association for the Preservation of the Presidential Yacht Potomac. The non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization owns and operates the Potomac as an active memorial to FDR and the momentous times through which he led our nation.

The Veteran’s Day Cruise is just one of many special events and sightseeing cruises available between May and November on the Potomac, which was originally built in 1934 as the Coast Guard cutter Electra. Visitors can also participate in docent-led dockside tours year-round on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays between 11am and 3pm, or charter the boat, dockside or on the bay, for private events.

The Perfect Way to Experience the San Francisco Bay
A cruise on the Potomac is one of the most pleasant ways to enjoy the San Francisco Bay. As the Potomac pulled out of the Oakland Estuary, blaring what is apparently the loudest horn on the Bay, many of the 119 passengers congregated on the top deck to get a good look at the Port of Oakland’s space-age cranes and the stacks of colorful shipping containers.

After passing under the Bay Bridge, the Potomac continued into the heart of the Bay. We sailed past Treasure Island and Pier 39, and alongside the WWII-built SS Jeremiah O’Brien docked at Pier 45 in San Francisco. Returning to Jack London Square, we were able to navigate within close proximity to the aircraft carrier USS Hornet docked at Alameda Point.

View of the Bay Bridge and San Francisco from the Potomac.

Tina Bachemin of Oakland joined the Veteran’s Day cruise last minute with a friend, but never knew the Potomac existed before that day. “It’s amazing that a place with such deep history is available so close to us, “ she commented as the 165-foot yacht glided under the Bay Bridge expanse. “The cruise has been very relaxing and educational it’s a living history really.”

The Potomac makes it way from the Oakland estuary into the San Francisco Bay.

From Coast Guard Cutter to Presidential Yacht
It was in 1936 that the Potomac was converted from the Coast Guard cutter to the presidential yacht, allowing FDR to get away from the formalities of the White House, and, according to a docent, the White House chef whose meals didn’t exactly appeal to the 32nd president.

FDR was himself an excellent sailor and a former Assistant Secretary of the Navy. His deep love of the sea and naval tradition are reflected throughout the beautifully restored ship. With rooms carefully refurbished to depict their original décor as much as possible – including FDR’s small, modest stateroom, the wood-paneled wheelhouse, and the radio room from which the president addressed the American people during a fireside chat in 1941 – the Potomac is as much museum as leisure sailing vessel.

FDR’s narrow and modestly-decorated stateroom.

A paraplegic since the age of 39, FDR’s greatest fear was being caught in a fire and unable to escape, so he chose the Potomac for its steel versus wood construction. A hand-operated elevator was installed inside a false stack on the ship so the president could use ropes and pulleys to move the elevator up and down between the saloon and upper boat deck.

Aboard the Potomac, FDR met with administration officials, cabinet members, foreign dignitaries, advisers, friends, and family as he worked through the problems of the Great Depression and the brewing international conflict. During a visit to the U.S. by England’s King George VI and Queen Elizabeth – the first to the U.S. by a reigning British monarch – the royal couple joined FDR and Eleanor for a cruise down the Potomac River to Washington’s home at Mt. Vernon. Other royal visitors on the Potomac included Crown Prince Olaf and Crown Princess Martha of Norway, Prince Frederick and Crown Princess Ingrid of Denmark, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, and Crown Prince Gustav of Sweden.

The guest room where King George VI and Queen Elizabeth stayed on their visit.

Purchased by the “King of Rock n’ Roll”
When the U.S. entered WWII, FDR stopped using the Potomac regularly due to the increased pressures of leading the nation and growing concerns for his security. After FDR’s death in April 1945, the boat was decommissioned, and her story entered a far less romantic chapter.

Briefly returned to the Coast Guard, the Potomac spent about 10 years in Maryland before becoming a private ferry between Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Later, when she was about to be junked, rock star Elvis Presley gave her another lease on life by buying and donating the boat to St. Jude Children’s Hospital.

The Potomac’s later adventures included an attempt to turn her into a floating disco and being seized by the DEA for drug running in 1980. In a sorry state of neglect, she was impounded at Treasure Island in San Francisco and sank there a year later before being raised and sold at auction to the Port of Oakland, the only bidder, for a mere $15,000. Spearheaded by the Port, the Potomac was preserved and restored in a 14-year, $5 million cooperative effort by FDR’s son, organized labor, maritime corporations, and volunteers.

Today, the Association for the Preservation of the Presidential Yacht Potomac relies on donations, ticket sales, and grants to fund the yacht’s ongoing management and operation. The yacht is maintained by the non-profit organization’s small staff and almost a hundred dedicated volunteers like Mike Torrey, a former stockbroker who works every Monday on the yacht, using his wood crafting talent to restore the railings on the main deck and the paneling on the wheelhouse. Mr. Torrey was also volunteering on the day of the cruise, entertaining questions and sharing stories about the Potomac.

The wood-paneled wheelhouse on the Potomac features more original material than any other room on the boat.

Easy to Reach from the Capitol Corridor
Docked in Jack London Square near the Port of Oakland, the Potomac is a short and scenic stroll from the Amtrak station where the Capitol Corridor stops. Jack London Square boasts a wide variety of excellent waterside restaurants (and a Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream), so visitors can turn their visit to the “Floating White House” into a full day excursion that begins and ends with a relaxing train ride.


USS Potomac

USS Potomac at Jack London Square via Wikimedia Commons

The USS Potomac was originally commissioned the USCG Cutter Electra in 1934. In 1936 it was renamed the USS Potomac and served as Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Presidential Yacht until his death in 1945.

"After FDR’s death in April 1945, the Potomac began a long and ignominious decline from her former role in world affairs. After many adventures and many owners – including Elvis Presley at one point – she was seized in 1980 in San Francisco as a front for drug smugglers - impounded at Treasure Island, she sank. The ship was raised and unceremoniously dumped on the East Bay Estuary where she sat abandoned and rotting. A week away from being sold as scrap the ship was rescued by the Port of Oakland and the process of restoration was begun."

"Since it opened to the public in the summer of 1995, more than a quarter of a million people have visited and sailed aboard former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's beloved "Floating White House," the USS Potomac. $5 million was spent over a 12-year period to restore the 165-foot-long vessel as a memorial to the president who authored the New Deal and led the United States during the Great Depression and the World War II years." 1

On April 23, 1985 the USS Potomac was designated Oakland Landmark #LM 85-38, and is also on the National Register of Historic Places.

Dockside Tours of the Presidential Yacht Potomac are available thru January 26, 2014, 11am & 3pm

For more info and to purchase tickets: www.usspotomac.org


From labyrinths to the USS Potomac, discover Oakland's hidden treasures

1 of 32 Blacksmithing instructor Celeste Flores works in the blacksmith shop at The Crucible, a nonprofit industrial arts education organization, in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, June 6, 2017. The Crucible offers over 20 areas of study with departments such as blacksmithing, glass blowing, woodworking, welding and many more. Laura Morton/Special to The Chronicle Show More Show Less

2 of 32 Blacksmithing instructor Celeste Flores shows a coat hanger she was making in the shape of a Viking long ship in the blacksmith shop at The Crucible, a nonprofit industrial arts education organization, in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, June 6, 2017. The Crucible offers over 20 areas of study with departments such as blacksmithing, glass blowing, woodworking, welding and many more. Laura Morton/Special to The Chronicle Show More Show Less

4 of 32 Brent Beavers works on glass blowing at The Crucible, a nonprofit industrial arts education organization, in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, June 6, 2017. The Crucible offers over 20 areas of study with departments such as blacksmithing, glass blowing, woodworking, welding and many more. Laura Morton/Special to The Chronicle Show More Show Less

5 of 32 Brent Beavers works on glass blowing at The Crucible, a nonprofit industrial arts education organization, in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, June 6, 2017. The Crucible offers over 20 areas of study with departments such as blacksmithing, glass blowing, woodworking, welding and many more. Laura Morton/Special to The Chronicle Show More Show Less

7 of 32 Brent Beavers works on glass blowing at The Crucible, a nonprofit industrial arts education organization, in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, June 6, 2017. The Crucible offers over 20 areas of study with departments such as blacksmithing, glass blowing, woodworking, welding and many more. Laura Morton/Special to The Chronicle Show More Show Less

8 of 32 Chris Niemer, the head of the blacksmithing department at The Crucible, a nonprofit industrial arts education organization, works on a piece at the facility in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, June 6, 2017. The Crucible offers over 20 areas of study with departments such as blacksmithing, glass blowing, woodworking, welding and many more. Laura Morton/Special to The Chronicle Show More Show Less

10 of 32 Tools used in jewelry making are seen in a classroom at The Crucible, a nonprofit industrial arts education organization, in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, June 6, 2017. The Crucible offers over 20 areas of study with departments such as blacksmithing, glass blowing, woodworking, welding and many more. Laura Morton/Special to The Chronicle Show More Show Less

11 of 32 The Crucible, a nonprofit industrial arts education organization, is seen in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, June 6, 2017. The Crucible offers over 20 areas of study with departments such as blacksmithing, glass blowing, woodworking, welding and many more. Laura Morton/Special to The Chronicle Show More Show Less

13 of 32 Steffen Brandt works on making a wood piece during a woodworking class at The Crucible, a nonprofit industrial arts education organization, in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, June 6, 2017. The Crucible offers over 20 areas of study with departments such as blacksmithing, glass blowing, woodworking, welding and many more. Laura Morton/Special to The Chronicle Show More Show Less

14 of 32 Steffen Brandt works on making a wood piece during a woodworking class at The Crucible, a nonprofit industrial arts education organization, in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, June 6, 2017. The Crucible offers over 20 areas of study with departments such as blacksmithing, glass blowing, woodworking, welding and many more. Laura Morton/Special to The Chronicle Show More Show Less

16 of 32 Blacksmithing instructor Celeste Flores works in the blacksmith shop at The Crucible, a nonprofit industrial arts education organization, in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, June 6, 2017. The Crucible offers over 20 areas of study with departments such as blacksmithing, glass blowing, woodworking, welding and many more. Laura Morton/Special to The Chronicle Show More Show Less

17 of 32 A glassblower works on creating a piece at The Crucible, a nonprofit industrial arts education organization, in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, June 6, 2017. The Crucible offers over 20 areas of study with departments such as blacksmithing, glass blowing, woodworking, welding and many more. Laura Morton/Special to The Chronicle Show More Show Less

19 of 32 A glassblower works on creating a piece at The Crucible, a nonprofit industrial arts education organization, in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, June 6, 2017. The Crucible offers over 20 areas of study with departments such as blacksmithing, glass blowing, woodworking, welding and many more. Laura Morton/Special to The Chronicle Show More Show Less

20 of 32 Idalis Price (left) and Emilie Abel walk through Temescal Alley while shopping in Oakland, Calif., on Thursday, June 8, 2017. The charming, pedestrian alley features a collection of unique, locally-owned specialty shops. Laura Morton/Special to The Chronicle Show More Show Less

22 of 32 Gunnar Ravnur, Dana Ravnur and Shelise Ravnur (left to right) eat ice cream from Curbside Creamery in Temescal Alley in Oakland, Calif., on Thursday, June 8, 2017. The charming, pedestrian alley features a collection of unique, locally-owned specialty shops. Laura Morton/Special to The Chronicle Show More Show Less

23 of 32 Tinctures made by Homestead Apothecary are seen on display at their shop in Temescal Alley in Oakland, Calif., on Thursday, June 8, 2017. The charming, pedestrian alley features a collection of unique, locally-owned specialty shops. Laura Morton/Special to The Chronicle Show More Show Less

25 of 32 Crystals and stones are seen on display at Homestead Apothecary in Temescal Alley in Oakland, Calif., on Thursday, June 8, 2017. The charming, pedestrian alley features a collection of unique, locally-owned specialty shops. Laura Morton/Special to The Chronicle Show More Show Less

26 of 32 Gunnar Ravnur plays in a puddle in Temescal Alley in Oakland, Calif., on Thursday, June 8, 2017. The charming, pedestrian alley features a collection of unique, locally-owned specialty shops. Laura Morton/Special to The Chronicle Show More Show Less

28 of 32 A display is seen inside the shop Crimson, which specializes in unique botanicals and handmade pottery, in Temescal Alley in Oakland, Calif., on Thursday, June 8, 2017. The charming, pedestrian alley features a collection of unique, locally-owned specialty shops. Laura Morton/Special to The Chronicle Show More Show Less

29 of 32 Plants for sale are seen on display inside the shop Crimson, which specializes in unique botanicals and handmade pottery, in Temescal Alley in Oakland, Calif., on Thursday, June 8, 2017. The charming, pedestrian alley features a collection of unique, locally-owned specialty shops. Laura Morton/Special to The Chronicle Show More Show Less

31 of 32 A display is seen inside the shop Crimson, which specializes in unique botanicals and handmade pottery, in Temescal Alley in Oakland, Calif., on Thursday, June 8, 2017. The charming, pedestrian alley features a collection of unique, locally-owned specialty shops. Laura Morton/Special to The Chronicle Show More Show Less

Even before Oakland&rsquos modern-day renaissance, the city&rsquos wealth of entertainment options has made it difficult to narrow things down to what a mere human can accomplish. But beyond its most popular attractions, the allure of Oakland&rsquos unexpected and under-the-radar treasures add essential character to the East Bay city.

The Crucible

Step into the fire at this industrial arts hub of DIY mastery, and come away with a new avenue of creative exploration &mdash whether it&rsquos welding, leather working, glass blowing, fire dancing or neon sculpture. Classes here conjure up old-school days of working on cool projects with funky art and shop teachers. Programs for kids and adults help inspire an individual creative process, self-confidence for risk-taking and new skills to take into the future.

Temescal Alley and Alley 49

Once housing stables for the horses that pulled historic Oakland trolleys, the early 20th-century structures in these alleyways are now home to indulgent restaurants, independent shops and artist spaces. From botanically inspired treasures at Crimson to fine jewelry at Esqueleto to handcrafted tinctures from Homestead Apothecary, these pedestrian alleys are havens for creative spirits.

Labyrinths at Sibley Volcanic Regional Park

One of the East Bay&rsquos original three parks, Sibley Volcanic Regional Park includes a 10-million-year-old volcano, Round Top. But on your hike through the park, keep a look out for other formations &mdash labyrinths are tucked away like treasures. The largest, created by Montclair sculptor Helena Mazzariello, is a short walk from the parking lot. A delicate heart-shaped labyrinth lies near the intersection of the Quarry and Volcanic trails.

Housed in a former hangar at Old North Field and once home to the Boeing School of Aeronautics, this museum highlights the importance aviation has played in Oakland&rsquos history. Display aircraft, such as the Short Solent Mark III flying boat (from &ldquoIndiana Jones and the Temple of Doom&rdquo) and Douglas KA-3B Skywarrior, lure aeronautics fans especially on Open Cockpit Days when visitors can sit inside and pretend to fly.

Joaquin Miller Park&rsquos Woodminster Amphitheater & Woodminster Cascades

One of Oakland&rsquos many natural treasures, Joaquin Miller Park was named for the Pony Express rider and California poet who championed this urban environment. Catch one of the summer musicals or popular Sundays in the Redwoods concert series presented at the historic Woodminster Amphitheater, surrounded by a redwood forest. While you&rsquore there, wander up the Cascades, the granite staircase that ascends right next to a gentle waterfall, leading you to views of downtown Oakland.

USS Potomac

Get a look at the 165-foot vessel that served as the &ldquoFloating White House,&rdquo Franklin Delanor Roosevelt&rsquos presidential yacht until his death in 1945. Dockside tours of the floating memorial to the president allow visitors to walk in his footsteps, while public cruises (like sightseeing history cruises, blues cruises, wine cruises and more) include San Francisco Bay views and historical background on FDR&rsquos role in the bay&rsquos development.

Dunsmuir-Hellman Historic Estate

Alexander Dunsmuir, the son of a coal baron from British Columbia, built this home as a wedding gift for his wife in 1899, but he tragically died on their honeymoon, and she lived here alone until 1901. Later purchased by the Hellman family as a summer home, the estate was developed further. Seasonal mansion tours open the doors of this elegant house to the public, and special events let you enjoy the grounds as if they were (almost) yours.

Peralta Hacienda Historic Park

As settlers who were part of the de Anza expedition from Mexico to California, the Peralta family built adobes on a vast Spanish land grant in what is now Oakland. After the adobes were destroyed in an earthquake, Antonio Peralta built the Peralta House in 1870, which serves as a historic house museum. Together with the remnants of the adobe structures and hacienda walls and the Peralta Creek nature area, the 6-acre park tells the stories of the Peralta rancho and of the Fruitvale community today.

Millionaire&rsquos Row in Mountain View Cemetery

You&rsquore not crazy to hang out in this graveyard. The winding roadways and native live oaks of park-like Mountain View Cemetery are only some of the reasons to visit. The two lanes that make up Millionaire&rsquos Row include crypts of many big names in California and Bay Area history, like Charles Crocker, Samuel Merritt, Julia Morgan, Anthony Chabot and Domingo Ghirardelli. Linger a while for the beautiful views of Oakland from this spot.

Mormon Temple

The second temple in California to be built by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (after Los Angeles), the Oakland California Temple commands sweeping views of the Bay Area from its perch in the Oakland hills. Check in at the visitor center for illuminating exhibits and special event news before strolling around the stunning manicured grounds that lie in the shadow of the golden spires.


Watch the video: The USS Potomac leaves her berth at the Port of Oakland


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