|Jim Robenalt of Tiffin, Ohio views his replica of the U.S.S. Michigan now on display as part of the Hayes Presidential Center's new exhibit, Privy to History: Civil War Prison Life Unearthed|
Photograph by Julie Mayle
The U.S.S. Michigan was the United States Navy's first iron-hulled vessel. She was laid down in 1842 and launched the following year. She operated on the Great Lakes. During the Civil War, she was armed with a 30-pounder Parrott rife, five 20-pounder Parrotts, six 24-pounder smoothbores, and two 12-pounder howitzers. The U.S.S. Michigan provided a level of security against possible invasion by Confederates from the Canadian shores.
Tiffin, Ohio resident built a replica of the U.S.S. Michigan to enhance the Hayes Presidential Center's current exhibit, Privy to History: Civil War Prison Life Unearthed. Through artifacts, documents, letters, diaries, and photographs, the exhibit tells the war time experience of the Confederate officers imprisoned on Lake Erie's Johnson's Island.
March 1864, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles ordered the Michigan to "prepare for active service as soon as the ice will permit." That fall John Yates Beall and 20 Confederates launched their secret plan to free Confederate officers incarcerated at the Union prison on Johnson's Island. The Confederates seized the Philo Parsons and captured and burned the Island Queen, but Commander Carter discovered the plot before Beall could reach Johnson's Island on the Philo Parsons. Beall reluctantly gave up the plan to free the prisoners and fled to Windsor, Ontario where he stripped and burned the vessel.
In 1905, the Michigan's name was changed to the U.S.S. Wolverine. She was turned over to the Pennsylvania Naval Militia, which she served for 11 years making training cruises in the summer for the Naval Reserve. It was the Wolverine who towed the brig USS Niagara from port to port during the 1913 centennial celebration of Perry's Victory on Lake Erie during the War of 1812. In 1927, the Wolverine was pushed up on Misery Bay at the Presque Isle State Park. After fundraising for her preservation failed, she was sold for scrap. However, her prow was donated and today, after restoration, she resides at the Erie Maritime Museum.