Enter keywords or a search phrase below:

USS Harriet Lane (Pyro Blockade Runner) questions

51 replies
1 rating 2 rating 3 rating 4 rating 5 rating
  • Member since
    January 2006
Posted by EPinniger on Monday, May 14, 2007 11:14 AM

Just a final update - I started work on rigging the model yesterday, it is now about 50%-60% done. I am fully rigging this model (unlike the Kearsarge), including blocks, as I have a bit more confidence with rigging now! The only thing I am omitting is the ratlines.

I've also managed to add a nameplate to the stern of the ship using Slaters 3mm styrene letters. I'll post some photos of the finished model when it's done. 

Glad to see my post has provoked discussion on this ship (I'd be interested to know the answer to the hull colour question myself, though it's too late now to repaint my model). I hope it'll inspire other modellers to build this interesting old kit if they have it in their stash!

  • Member since
    May 2003
  • From: Greenville, NC
Posted by jtilley on Monday, May 14, 2007 3:48 AM

This discussion of the Harriet Lane's hull color is most interesting indeed.  A couple of years ago I got hired by the Coast Guard Historian's Office to do a color version of the drawing I'd made earlier.  Both the CG Historian himself and I took it for granted, I guess, that the ship had a black hull - and that's how it's colored in the picture, several hundred copies of which, presumably, are now in distribution.  The evidence folks have brought up in this thread does indeed seem to establish pretty firmly that, at least for part of her career, her hull was painted green; if I'd known about that evidence earlier, I would have given her a green hull. 

The CG Museum in New London is officially under the direction of the CG Historian in Washington, but the two places obviously don't review each other's correspondence.  Apparently the New London curator knew something Dr. Browning, in Washington, didn't.  Dr. Browning is a Civil War historian himself, with a couple of fine books about the blockade to his credit; he'll be interested in this topic.  I've left him a voicemail message about it.

There is, of course, the distinct possibility that her hull color changed during her career.  I think (I honestly don't remember all the sources I looked at back when I was working on that original drawing; there weren't many of them) at least one painting commissioned by the CG shows her with a black hull.  So maybe the colored version I did isn't exactly incorrect. 

Youth, talent, hard work, and enthusiasm are no match for old age and treachery.

  • Member since
    December 2002
  • From: Derry, New Hampshire, USA
Posted by rcboater on Saturday, May 12, 2007 6:55 PM

I am coming to this thread rather late-- I've been away for a while, and I'm sorry I missed the discussion on one of my favorite ships.  (I'm a plankowner of USCGC Harriet Lane.)

Some comments on the discussion so far:

EDIT (2/2/2020):   I now know the following paragraph about the ship's color and the painting are in error. That painting dates from 1975, and is basically fiction. See my post at the bottom of page 2 in this thread (2019) for more....

On the hull color:  One reference that no one has mentioned yet is the portrait of Miss Harriet Lane. Painted in the 1859-1860 timeframe, it was a formal portrait of Harriet, with the Revenue Cutter in the background.  That portrait showed the ship with a dark green hull.   I forget where the original portrait is-- the copy I saw was on the cover the USCG Academy Alumni magazine many years ago.  (I think it is at the USCG museum at the Academy, but I'm not sure.)

I've thought about converting the plastic model to RC,, but not seriously, as I fear it would be a rather poor performing model.  The problem with little paddlewheels is that you can't scale down the water molecules with the model-- a motorized model would have a lot of thrashing and cavitation.  It would probably only be suitable for sailing on dead flat calm waters.

A larger RC model has been on my "someday" list for years.   A couple of things have held me back:

-  What size?  The uncertainty over the length of the orginal made it hard to pick a scale for a model.  Thanks to J Tilley for straightening that out.  (When I looked on the Model Expo website not too long ago, I found that the current wood kit is described as 1/144 scale in one area, and as 1.96 in another.)

-  How did the original operate?  And how would a model perform?   I assume that the orignal must have operated mostly as a motorsailer-- that performance under sail alone would have been rather poor, with the drag of the paddlewheels.   Under power, it must have been a bit awkward as well, as when sailing, one of the wheels would be deeper in the water than the other.  

A model would also handle poorly, as there would be no propwash over the rudder.  The model wouled need a fair amount of headway before the rudder would be very effective, I think....An overscale rudder would probably be needed.


Webmaster, Marine Modelers Club of New England


  • Member since
    June 2006
  • From: Carmichael, CA
Posted by Carmike on Friday, May 11, 2007 3:27 PM


Good to see your progress on the Harriet Lane.  There's an interesting clue as to her hull color in USCG service in "The Civil War at Sea, Volume One: The Blockaders" by Virgil Carrington Jones: "This vessel [the Harriet Lane], in attempting to run into the inlet, grounded on a shoal, and there she hung until she could be lightened.  Over the side went an assortment of thirty-nine items, including... seventy-five pounds of green paint, two hundred and sixty-seven cylinders of powder, four rifled thrity-two pounders, two Maynard rifles...."

I agree that it was likely that she spent most of her war service with her pull painted black or possibly dark gray, so you should be OK there.

I've built the Monogram re-issue of Imai Susquehana kit and had the same challenge regarding the arrangement of her armament following the outbreak of the war.  I opted to replace the kit guns with Model Shipways fittings in an arrangement similar to that used on the Hartford class steam sloops early in the war: two Parrots on the focs'l in the forward-most gun ports, fourteen 9" Dahlgrens in the remaining broadside ports, and a Parrott on the poop deck.  It looks reasonable, but it is not accurate. 

I ordered copies of plans from the National Archives but most of these deal with an intended post-war refit (that included converting her to screw propulsion) that never happened, but they do provide some idea of the general layout of the ship.  DANFS gives the armament of the ship as being two 150-pdr. Parrott rifles, twelve 9" Dahlgrens, and one 1 12-pdr. rifle.  I'm guessing that the big Parrots were on the focs'l (just like the 10" guns when she was first commissioned), the Dahlgrens in the remaining gun ports (four aft and two forward of the paddle wheels) and the 12 pounder on the poop.

I decided to omit the kit ratlines and built them "in-situ" on the ship using black thread and white glue.  I painted lengths of thread with the white glue and let it dry, rigged the verticals on the ship, painted them with white glue as well and then cut lengths of the dried thread and attached them to form the "rungs." I let them dry for a day and trimmed them with a sharp scissors.  The completed kit is now ten years old and the ratlines have stood up very well.  

Good luck - the Susquehana is a great build and a beautiful model when completed.


  • Member since
    January 2006
Posted by EPinniger on Friday, May 11, 2007 11:19 AM

I based the colour scheme mostly on photos of the Model Shipways kit and the couple of contemporary engravings I could find (on I think). I've no idea whether the ship was originally painted green or not, I can't find any information one way or the other about this, but as my model represents the ship during the Civil War, I assumed it would be painted black then,so that's the colour I used. The bulwark interior and top strake is white, as is the deckhouse and bowsprit, the lower masts and mast tops are black, and the upper masts and yards varnished wood.
Also, I didn't drill out the openings on the paddle houses, as I didn't actually know they were openings at the time- I just painted the raised detail black, as on the MS kit, with the eagle highlighted in gold.  

I think the railings were bars, and the kit parts are definitely overscale in thickness - if I'd thought about it, I would have cut off the moulded bars, drilled out the stanchions and added replacement bars from thin brass rod - too late for this now though.

No idea about the pivot guns. I assume that larger ports (as on the Kearsarge) would have been added to the bulwarks in this case. As you say there doesn't seem to be enough room on the deck for them, possibly some of the deck fittings and hatches were moved?

I know about the Preiser railway figures - I'm intending on buying some of these in various scales (1/100, 1/144 and 1/220) soon to use on my ship models. Thanks for the info all the same!

I also have the Susquehanna kit but have not started work on it yet - I want to convert the ship to represent it in its Civil War configuration, but do not have the plans/references needed to do this. I'll also have to scratchbuild some new guns though this should not be too hard.

The "Harriet Lane" is now basically complete other than rigging, and some extra details (oars, rudders) needed for the boats; hopefully I'll have some photos of the finished model in a couple of weeks.

To JTilley - I don't know why I forgot the "Clermont" in my last post! This is another of those fascinating old kits which I have been unsuccessfully trying to acquire for quite some time. From the photos I've seen it looks like a very nice model of a historically significant ship. It would make an interesting motorised model, though getting the paddles to move at a reasonably in-scale speed might be tricky.
  • Member since
    December 2002
Posted by rayers on Thursday, May 10, 2007 5:49 PM

This is a great thread and very useful to me because I have an unbuilt Pyro Harriet Lane and had all the same research questions EPinniger did. Your build looks great and is giving me inspiration to start working on this kit again... I had started making new spars out of wood dowel to replace the kit's fragile plastic ones, but have done little else other than trying in vain to find out more about this interesting ship.

What color are you using for the hull of your model? What little research I have (a response to a letter I sent to the curator of the Coast Guard Museum) suggests that the hull was painted green. I thought this would be kind of strange-looking so I was going to use a very dark (almost black) Brunswick Green for the hull. Did you Dremel out the decorative openings on the paddle boxes? This was something I had considered doing but I'm not sure whether those areas are just ginerbread decoration or actual openings in the paddle boxes.

I have heard all kinds of different suggestions as to the scale of this kit. I agree that 1/96-100 is too large and it looks more like it is in the 1/120-144 range. However, if that is the case, the injection-modeled railings for the paddle box walkways and gangways are drastically overscale. Does anyone know whether the railings on the original ship were made of bar/pipe or of rope/cable?

The information about the guns is very interesting as I had intended to replace the poorly-made kit guns myself. Would the later-war guns on pivot mountings be mounted amidships as in the Kearsarge? There wouldn't seem to be enough room forward of the foremast to make that possible.

As for figures for the crew, I would suggest using Preiser model railroad figures. They come in a wide variety of scales, including 1/144, 1/100, 1/200 and 1/120. I think the TT Scale (1/120) would work best with this particular model, especially because the Preiser 1/144 range is limited to WWII airmen and tankers. But in 1/120 scale there is a set of several dozen unpainted railway personnel, including conductors in double-breasted coats and peaked caps, that could probably be converted into 19th century sailors. Check out this link: You can probably get these same figures cheaper from a model railroad shop across the pond, but you can use this site to look at images of all the figure sets and get the model numbers for the set(s) you might need.

After I finish the Harriet Lane it's on to my Imai 1/150 Susquehanna. But I will need to get my rusty modeling skills back in practice because that kit will demand an even higher level of skill.

  • Member since
    May 2003
  • From: Greenville, NC
Posted by jtilley on Monday, April 30, 2007 2:30 AM

I think Jayman has it right.  There doesn't seem to have been a standard system of abbreviations - for the U.S. Navy or anybody else - prior to the twentieth century.  (I guess "U.S.S." and "H.M.S." just may have been in use by the time of the Spanish-American War, but I'm not sure.  I'll see if I can find some contemporary source on that.  I also have a hunch that the first appearance of the abbreviations just may have been in reference books like Jane's Fighiting Ships.  That's a guess; I'll take a look.)  The retroactive use of the abbreviations for earlier periods is found in some thoroughly respectable books, but I agree:  naval officers of earlier centuries didn't use them.

Maybe this is a profound comment on the twentieth century's obsession with time.  In earlier periods, perhaps, people didn't begrudge the time it took to write out "United States Steamer" or "His Majesty's Frigate."  Things seem to be getting worse in that regard.  Nowadays I find myself hollering at my students that things like "@," "a/b," and "w/o" don't belong in stuff they hand in.  ("That's fine when you're taking notes for yourself, but not on a term paper or an essay exam!")  Thus my reputation as a Certifiable Olde Phart. 

I can add one more kit to the woefully short list of paddle-propelled, motorized plastic kits:  the Lindberg Clermont.  I have a soft spot for that one.  Due to the fact that the steam plant was exposed to the open air, it had a really ingenious motorization system.  The (more-or-less) scale piston moved up and down in the single cylinder, and the scale gears and flywheels turned along with the paddlewheels.  You had to look closely to see the little worm gear arrangement sticking through the bulkhead of the engine compartment; the Mabuchi electric motor and the batteries were hidden under the deck.  That kit had another distinction:  it had some nicely-sculptured figures of crew and passengers, and the latter included a female.  I think it may have been the first plastic ship model to include a figure of a woman - though the Airfix Mayflower later shared that distinction.  I think I've seen the kit fairly recently in a new-style Lindberg box with a color photo on it - but without the motor.  I'm normally not a fan of motorized models, but I found that one quite interesting.

Youth, talent, hard work, and enthusiasm are no match for old age and treachery.

  • Member since
    April 2007
  • From: Fort Lauderdale
Posted by jayman1 on Sunday, April 29, 2007 9:10 PM

I am fortunate in having a contemporary reference for this time period. The short title is "Message of the Pesident of the United States, 1861". It is an 836 page document in small print.  Of this, 184 pages is devoted to reports from the Secretary of the Navy,

 There are many references to naval vessels in this section. There are two observations that may be made.

 First, there is no uniformity as to way the Navy at that time refered  to their vessels, An example of the way ships are refered to in this document are as follows:United States Frigate Wabash, United States Steam Frigate Wabash, U. S. Flag-Ship Wabash, United States Steamer Cambridge, United States Ship Vincennes, United States Propeller Daylight, United States Steamer Harriet Lane, United States Coast Survey Steamer Corwin.

Second, no where in this document is a vessel refered to as USS (Blank). The conclusion is that such refrences came in at a much later time.

In skimming this document, it becomes very apparent that the role of the Navy in the Civil War was  crucial to to the outcome. I think that it is little understood and under appreciated by later generations.  But there was little reporting of Naval matters at that time. Harper's magazine did not have reporters aboard many naval vessels and I can recall few of Brady's photos taken aboad ships. Even in the Civil War, the reporting of naval matters did not receive the attention it deserved.

So, it appears that, during her lifetime, the Harriet Lane, and for that matter, her contemporary vessels, were not refered to by standard designations. Vessels were refered to by the most descriptive reference that fit the moment. That is, at one moment she was a Steam Frigate and in the next dispatch she was a U. S. Flag-Ship.

But when does the reference to a U. S. Naval vessel as "USS" come into contemporary correspondence? Is this about the time of WWI? Or even later.

 The real bottom line is that the Harriet Lane is a beautiful vessel with a storied past and a very good example of the transition from sail to steam. As such, she is a more than worthy model project, either plastic or wood.

Even more entriguing is the thought of motorizing the model. Now that could be a very interesting and challenging project!

  • Member since
    January 2006
Posted by EPinniger on Sunday, April 29, 2007 7:08 AM

I have no plans on using Model Shipways parts to replace the guns - although I know they are very good quality, the shipping costs from the US, along with customs/tax fees, would be prohibitive - it would probably end up costing at least as much as the kit did (I paid about £20 including shipping).
I usually avoid using aftermarket parts if I can help it, for budget reasons (though I make an exception for 1/350 and 1/400 as I do not have the skills or patience to scratchbuild things like railings, ladders, gunsights and radars in this scale...) and either adapt/improve the kit components, use parts from the spares box, or scratchbuild extra details - all 3 of which I've done on this model.
The guns and carriages look OK to me now they are painted; I drilled out the barrels and cleaned up all the edges and mould seams. I will also be adding basic rigging to the guns (after fitting eyebolts either side of the gun ports) as well as shell storage racks.

Putting the guns on pivots would be an interesting conversion, I'm too far along with the build to make a large change like this (which would involve scratchbuilding the rails on the deck as well as possibly moving some of the deck fittings) but if I ever find another of these kits in the future I may try improving/converting it more extensively.

 jtilley wrote:
Speaking of its paddlewheels - if I remember correctly (the usual caveat; I frequently don't remember things correctly these days) they're connected to each other by a shaft that has a square section in the middle of it.  I think I've seen some vague references to a motorized version of the kit - but I've never seen one in that form.  I've never gotten into operating models seriously, but it strikes me that a motorized Harriet Lane would be an interesting thing to run on the pond.

Unfortunately there's no way I can motorise this particular model. The kit was a second-hand, partly built example and the paddlewheels and shaft had been assembled, very badly, and part of the shaft was missing. I tried to scratchbuild a replacement shaft but eventually decided to just glue everything fixed in place.
BTW there appears to be no provision for a motor or batteries in the hull - I dismantled the hull as it was so badly painted and glued, it required a lot of cleanup before re-assembly. (it's moulded in 2 halves split laterally)
I have had thoughts, however, of motorising the Susquehanna or Great Western, both of which I have. (The Susquehanna would probably be the best bet, as both the G.W. and Harriet Lane are a bit small for R/C models, at least for a beginner like me) Apart from the problems of access to the motor and R/C gear, gearing down the motors so that the wheels rotate at anything close to an in-scale speed will be a problem, though.

Two paddle steamer kits I know were designed for motorisation are the Pyro 1/150 Mississippi riverboat Robert E Lee/Natchez (not to be confused with the smaller, 1/200ish Revell one) - which apparently was originally made as a static model and later modified for motorisation with a deeper hull - and the Lindberg 1/64 (according to the box) stern-wheeler "Southern Belle". Neither of which I currently own, though I do have the smaller Revell riverboat kit.

One final thing to add to the discussion on ship name prefixes; I have often seen smaller Royal Navy ships from the 18th and early 19th centuries referred to with prefixes like "H.M. Mortar Vessel", "H.M. Bark", "H.M. Armed Transport" (the latter referring to HMS Bounty). Perhaps these smaller craft, often converted merchant vessels, were not considered worthy of the term "ship"? However, it's equally possible that these terms are contemporary inventions - the boxes of wooden ship kits are the places I've most often seen them.

Anyway, glad to see there are plenty of other modellers interested in this (relatively) obscure old ship. As mentioned, I'll post some photos of the finished article in (hopefully) a few weeks.


  • Member since
    May 2003
  • From: Greenville, NC
Posted by jtilley on Sunday, April 29, 2007 1:31 AM

It's rare to find those abbreviations in narrative prose written by naval officers - even in the twentieth century.  The memoirs of people like Halsey and Cunningham rarely, if ever, refer to ships as "U.S.S." or "H.M.S."; neither do their official reports, which were written to be read by people who didn't need to be told such things.  The abbreviations (or spelled-out versions of them - e.g., "United States Ship Whatnot") do appear in such super-formal documents as logbooks and war diaries - but I'm sure there are inconsistencies.

I have the general impression that the use of such abbreviations really became common in the twentieth century, which, as we all know, was fascinated with such things.  (That probably says something about the twentieth century's obsession with saving time and ink.)  I'm sure earlier appearances of "H.M.S." and "U.S.S." can be documented, but people like Porter probably weren't in the habit of using it. 

The story is even murkier in the cases of merchant vessels.  The Titanic, for instance, is usually cited in formal documents as "R.M.S. Titanic"  "R.M.S." meaning "Royal Mail Steamer" - i.e., that the vessel in question was authorized to carry the Royal Mail.  But photos show clearly that "S.S. Titanic" was painted on her lifeboats.  ("S.S.," meaning "Steamship," can quite properly be applied to any non-naval vessel that's powered by steam - as opposed to a sailing vessel, or one with diesel engines.)  I've also seen the abbreviation "T.S.S." (either "Twin Screw Steamer" or "Triple Screw Steamer").  I remember seeing it, specifically, on the engraved nameplates of several of the grand old "builders' models" of liners in the museum where I used to work.  I suppose it would be correct to designate a merchant vessel with quadruple screws "Q.S.S.," but I can't recall having seen that one.

I think one is fairly safe (though undoubtedly there's some room for argument) with the following:  

"H.M.S." for English/British warships after about 1660 (no abbreviation for English warships prior to that time).   

"U.S.S." for vessels of the U.S. Navy during any period after its creation (in either 1794 or 1797, depending on how you count).  No abbreviation for ships of the U.S.N.'s predecessor, the American Continental Navy.

"U.S.R.C." for vessels of the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service, prior to its amalgamation with the Life-Saving Service to form the U.S. Coast Guard, in 1916.

"U.S.C.G.C." for vessels of the modern-day U.S. Coast Guard.

There's undoubtedly room for differences of opinion there, but if you follow the above system you're unlikely to get anybody mad at you.

One recent development on this front does, I have to confess, irritate me a little:  the U.S. Coast Guard has decreed that, in all its publications, Coast Guard vessels are to be referred to with neuter pronouns.  A Coast Guard cutter (or tender, or patrol boat, or whatever) is not a "she" but an "it."  That policy comes from the Commandant's Office, and feminine pronouns in any document submitted for publication by a Coast Guard agency will get edited out.  (I speak from experience.)  A few years ago the Coast Guard - which (quite properly, in my opinion) prides itself on being in the forefront of the gender equality issue among the armed forces -went through some growing pains in which it got accused of sexism; this policy was part of the response.  The Navy does not (so far, at least) have a policy on the subject.  (The U.S.S. Nimitz, for the time being at least, is still a "she.")

This thread really has descended to the level of the trivial.  I guess that's my fault.  But anybody who spends any time writing about ships will recognize that "sweating the small stuff" like this is a necessary evil.

Youth, talent, hard work, and enthusiasm are no match for old age and treachery.

  • Member since
    June 2006
  • From: Carmichael, CA
Posted by Carmike on Saturday, April 28, 2007 11:44 AM

When in doubt, I always go back to source documents.  I have a reprint of the "Naval History of the Civil War," by Admiral David D. Porter that provides portions of official reports.  Porter, in writing to the Secretary of the Navy after the Battle of New Orleans, refers to the "United States Steamer Harriet Lane" but elsewhere simply refers to her as the "Steamer Harriet Lane," or just the "Harriet Lane."  This is the same for other vessels so it would seem as a very general rule, that ships were usually referred to by their names, such as Brooklyn, Hartford, or Harriet Lane, except in official correspondence.

I wonder if the USN has pubished a piece on ship names and nomenclature that might provide some insight as to how this changed over the years.  I've seen some correspondence from the 1790's regarding the building of the frigates authorized by Congress where the name of the ship is given followed by her armament, i.e., "Constitution, 44" without USS, USF, or any other prefix.

The shaft for the paddlewheels does indeed have a square section in the middle, but looking carefully at my completed model I can't find any evidence that the kit might have been motorized at some point.  Getting the cabin properly aligned is a bit of pain and with the paddle wheel shaft running through the walls it would be difficult to remove to replace batterys, etc.  If someone has an unbuilt kit, it would be interesting to know if there are any molded features in the hull to support a motor mount and battery cradle (like Lindbergh?).

  • Member since
    May 2003
  • From: Greenville, NC
Posted by jtilley on Saturday, April 28, 2007 9:00 AM

The question of appropriate abbreviations is rather interesting - and surprisingly complicated.

In this recent spate of digging for material about the Harriet Lane, I've come across several "U.S.S." references to her.  All of those references are in quite recent documents - most of which have pretty glaring mistakes in them.  I haven't, however, looked at any original, contemporary, unpublished documents about her.  I suppose it's possible that somebody in the 1850s or 1860s referred to her as "U.S.S."

In the twentieth century it has been U.S. government policy that the Coast Guard (as created by Congress in 1916) moves from whatever department of the executive branch it's normally in to the Department of the Navy when war is declared.  (That's happened twice:  in World War I and World War II.)  That doesn't mean the Coast Guard ceases to exist for the duration of the war; it just means that the senior civilian head of the service becomes the Secretary of the Navy (rather than the Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of Transportation, or, today, the Secretary of Homeland Security), and the Navy Department takes over responsibility for the budget.  The Coast Guard ranks and chain of command remain intact, Coast Guardsmen continue to wear Coast Guard uniforms (which are slightly different than Navy uniforms) - and the ships and boats retain their Coast Guard designations.  Official Coast Guard policy is that any vessel that's at least 100 feet long is a "cutter."  So Coast Guard ships, whether operating under the Navy Department or some other entity, are designated "U.S.C.G.C."  The abbreviation "U.S.S." is reserved for vessels of the Navy and the Army.  (During World War II, if you count all ships and boats of all sizes, the Army operated more vessels than the Navy did.)

The old Revenue Cutter Service got moved (I'm pretty sure) from the Treasury Department to the Navy Department five times:  in the Quasi-War with France, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Civil War, and the Spanish-American War.  But in all those cases it retained its identity; all that changed was the chain of command (and the budget).

The rigid, formalized usage of such abbreviations seems to be a relatively new phenomenon.  It's customary to use "H.M.S." when talking about ships of the British Royal Navy beginning in the seventeenth century.  I imagine because prior to that time the definition of what constituted a "warship" was a little hazy.  (Nobody talks about "H.M.S. Golden Hind," or refers to Lord Howard's flagship at the defeat of the Armada as "H.M.S. Ark Royal."  But the ship-of-the-line Prince, launched in 1670, is referred to in perfectly respectable publications as "H.M.S. Prince.)  I've gotten into discussions with several knowledgeable people about when Navy people actually started using that abbreviation.  To my knowledge, nobody's found it in an actual, contemporary document prior to the early nineteenth century.  I certainly didn't bump into "H.M.S." when I was working on my book on the American Revolution.  At that time, British naval officers seem invariably to have referred to British warships as "his Majesty's Ship the Whatnot," or simply "the Whatnot."  (And they never omitted the article "the" before a ship's name.  That's another argument.)

What was the typical American habit at the time of the Civil War?  I guess I don't actually know; I've never had occasion to dig through any contemporary naval documents from that period.  I do remember one curious detail from my days at the Mariners' Museum.  The museum's archives contained an original logbook of the Confederate commerce raider Florida.  It was in fact a standard U.S. Navy logbook - a big, leather-bound volume with heavy, durable pages.  (How Captain Moffit, the commanding officer of the Florida, managed to get hold of it I have no idea.)  Printed at the top of every page were the words "Log of the United States Ship _______________."  On every page that had entries on it, somebody had very neatly lined through the word "United" and written the word "Confederate."

In recent years I've noticed, in some quarters, a tendency to invent abbreviations for particular ships.  For a long time the people in charge of the old U.S.S. Constellation were in the habit of referring to her as "U.S.F."  (Maybe they quit doing that when the management of the ship yielded to the overwhelming evidence that she is, in fact, a corvette built in the 1850s, rather than a frigate from 1797.)  It's a bad habit, and one that isn't supported by any official policy.  We don't refer to the battleship Arizona as "U.S.B.S.," or the ship-of-the-line Victory as "H.M.S.O.L."

I suppose it's possible that, somewhere or other, there's a contemporary document referring to the "U.S.S. Harriet Lane."  If so, though, I suspect it uses that terminology because the person who wrote it didn't realize she was a revenue cutter.  The Revenue Cutter Service certainly continued to exist during the Civil War - and its ships continued to be designated Revenue Cutters.  For modelers, the safest approach - especially if there are any Coast Guard history buffs in the vicinity - is to label her "U.S.R.C."

Well, there's fifteen minutes of computer time spent on an utterly trivial subject.  But I do think it's a rather interesting one.

Youth, talent, hard work, and enthusiasm are no match for old age and treachery.

  • Member since
    April 2007
  • From: Fort Lauderdale
Posted by jayman1 on Saturday, April 28, 2007 12:13 AM

Like so many of the esrly ships, we shall never know exactly what she looked like at any one particular point in time. But, suffice it to say, she provided a transition from sail to steam and, in my view, her lines could be compared with some of the most beautiful ships of the period.

Another interesting note, the Harriet Lane escorted the USS Constitution "Old Ironsides" for a  portion of her trip in her repositioning to Newport RI as the school ship for the Naval Academy during the temporary relocation of the Naval Academy during the Civil War.

She was taken into the Naval service in 1861. Did her designation change from a Revenue Cutter to a Naval Ship or did she retain her original Cutter designation? Whatever the answer, it seems not to have changed her appearance.

I look forward to building a model of her in the future. Wood or plastic makes little diffrernce even though I think I would like the challenge of the Model Shipways wooden kit.

  • Member since
    May 2003
  • From: Greenville, NC
Posted by jtilley on Friday, April 27, 2007 11:43 PM

The article in The Southwestern Historical Quarterly is the one by Philip Tucker that I found by way of Wikipedia.  (You can read it on the web by clicking on the footnote at the end of the Wikipedia article, the link to which I put in my last post.  The Wikipedia link is acting a little weird, but if you click on the name "Harriet Lane" often enough you'll get there.)  The article starts out with the aforementioned howlers about the ship's length, her launch date, and Miss Lane.  I don't have any reason to doubt the rest of it - but when an article gets off to a start like that, I have to have reservations about it.

Carmike's reference to the 1918 date of the article (which I hadn't noticed) brings up an interesting question:  where in the name of heaven did Mr. Tucker come up with that figure of 270 feet for the ship's length?  I'd assumed that he'd mistakenly copied down the length of the current U.S.C.G. Harriet Lane (which is, in fact, 270 feet long), but in 1918 he obviously couldn't do that.  So the Coast Guard built a new Harriet Lane with a length that had been predicted by accident 66 years earlier.  Weird.

I'm a big fan of the kit too.  Pyro may indeed have been commiting piracy in borrowing the design from Model Shipways, but the result was a sound, basic kit.  It's crude by modern standards, but the basic material for a serious scale model is there.

It's worth noting, perhaps - especially by those who contend that wood kits are inherently superior to plastic ones - that the Model Shipways kit's paddle boxes are solid blocks, with cast metal parts representing the bottom portions of the paddlewheels stuck on their bottoms. Pyro, on the other hand, offers complete paddlewheels that rotate in hollow boxes.  It seems to me that makes the plastic kit a more accurate scale model.

Speaking of its paddlewheels - if I remember correctly (the usual caveat; I frequently don't remember things correctly these days) they're connected to each other by a shaft that has a square section in the middle of it.  I think I've seen some vague references to a motorized version of the kit - but I've never seen one in that form.  I've never gotten into operating models seriously, but it strikes me that a motorized Harriet Lane would be an interesting thing to run on the pond.

Youth, talent, hard work, and enthusiasm are no match for old age and treachery.

  • Member since
    June 2006
  • From: Carmichael, CA
Posted by Carmike on Friday, April 27, 2007 10:10 PM


You might consider not using the Dahlgren and Parrott cannons supplied with the kit.  They are out of scale and the trucks are pretty bad.  Model Shipways has some nice fittings for the kit including 9" Dahlgrens and the Parrott rifle with trucks that are much closer to the prototype.  If you use the Model Shipways fittings you are going to have to increase the height of the gunports and take a little bit off of the wheels so that the cannons will fit properly in the ports.

In the course of a business trip to New York, I did some research on the Harriet Lane at the NY Public Library and found an article in the Southwestern Historical Quarterly, No. 4, April 1918, which provides a report of the capture of the Harriett Lane by Confederate forces at Galveston (I believe that NYPL has their index available online if you would like to get the full reference).  The article quoted a report filed after her capture that the Harriet Lane had "One 4" rifled Parrott as a pivot forward of the foremast, one 9" Dahlgren as a pivot of forward of the foremast, and two 8" Dahlgren Columbiads and two twenty-four pounder brass howitzers on ship carriages aft."

Assuming that the article in the Southwestern Historical Quarterly is correct, that would probably mean that the forward gun ports were enlarged forward and aft to make full use of the pivots.  Given that she was used as a blockader and was likely to chase vessels, having the bow guns on pivots seems to make sense.

An alternative would be to fit the Harriet Lane as she was equipped as part of the Fort Sumter relief expedition in 1861 with four thirty-two pounders on ship carriages.

Hope this helps, good luck with the build.  I love the kit and it looks great alongside the Susquehanna.





  • Member since
    May 2003
  • From: Greenville, NC
Posted by jtilley on Friday, April 27, 2007 9:11 AM

Well, I just spent some time on the web trying to nail down the scale of the kit.  What a confusing, frustrating experience.

The first link I got from Google was to Wikipedia.  It contains a surprisingly lengthy article on the Harriet Lane:

Most of the text apparently is based on an article in an historical journal by a gentleman named Tucker, with whom I'm not acquainted.  There's some interesting information about the layout of the deckhouse (including, sure enough, the galley).  But Mr. Tucker's article contains some alarming errors.  Aside from the common mistake of labeling her "U.S.S.," he gives the wrong date for the ship's launch (she was launched in 1857, not 1859), and asserts that Harriet Lane was the niece of Senator (later President) Andrew Johnson - and that she served as "first lady" when Johnson became president after Lincoln's assassination.  Miss Lane was in fact the niece of James Buchanan, who was president when the ship was launched; he was a bachelor, and brought Miss Lane to the White House to serve as mistress of social activities there.  (A separate Wikipedia entry on the lady herself agrees with all that.)

More seriously, for modeling purposes, both Mr. Tucker's article and the Wikipedia entry give the ship a length of 270 feet.  That's absurd.  If the Harriet Lane had been 270 feet long (with or without bowsprit), she would have been one of the biggest wooden warships in history. Somebody obviously mixed up references to two ships.  The modern medium-endurance Coast Guard cutter Harriet Lane, launched in 1984, is 270 feet long.

Having given up on that source, I tried the U.S. Coast Guard Historian's Office website.  Its entry on the (original) Harriet Lane is relatively brief, but it should be reasonably reliable.  Here's the link:

This source gives her a length of 180 feet - but doesn't specify whether that's the length on the keel, the length overall, or the length between perpendiculars, or the length on the maindeck, or what.  I think somebody copied the number out of another source, without giving it much thought. 

So, as a desperate last resort, I dug out the drawing of the Harriet Lane that I made for the CG Historian's Office back in 1989.  (Gawd, I feel old - but that's not unusual these days.)  I based that drawing on the one Merritt Edson made for the Smithsonian (the CG sent me a copy), and he worked from the original William Webb drawing.  Unless either Merritt or I made an extremely stupid mistake (certainly possible in my case), the dimensions of that drawing ought to be right.  It's on 1/96 (1/8" = 1') scale.  It has an overall length (including the bowsprit) of 27 3/4".  The length of the hull excluding the bowsprit is 24 1/8". 

24 1/8" x 96 = 193 feet.  I think that's the actual length of the Harriet Lane minus bowsprit.

That figure of 180', from the CG website, is believable if it's the length of the keel.  (The length of the keel can't be measured from my drawing.  It's the dimension from the extreme stern to the scarf joint between the keel and the stem, which doesn't show on an outboard profile.) 

Several things are obvious from this exercise.  One - the Coast Guard's records regarding its early history are a mess.  (Anybody who's ever done any serious work on the subject knows that.  The guys who work in the CG Historian's Office operate in a perpetual state of envy, thinking about their counterparts in the Navy.)  Two - the description by Model Shipways/Model Expo of its kit as being on 1/96 scale, with an overall length of 18", is just plain wrong.

There's one good source to which I don't have convenient access:  Donald Canney's book on early U.S. Revenue Cutters.  Don is a good historian and an extremely conscientious researcher, and the book is quite recent.  Unfortunately I don't have a copy.  If I were doing really serious research on the Harriet Lane (or any other revenue cutter), that's the first place I'd look.

When I was much younger (much, much younger), I spent a lot of time poring over Model Shipways catalogs and dreaming about buying and building some of those kits.  (The truth is that I probably could have built some of them to an acceptable standard - but, like so many young people who grew up in the age of the plastic model, I was intimidated by those wood and metal parts.)  My recollection - which is extremely unreliable - is that the Harriet Lane kit was listed in the old, pre-Model Expo catalogs as being on the scale of 1/12" = 1' (i.e., 1/144).  I remember being puzzled by what seemed a strange scale; none of the other MS kits were on it. 

Doing the arithmetic, on the assumption that the MS kit has an overall length of 18", produces an overall length for the real ship (including bowsprit) of 216 feet.  According to my drawing (on 1/96 scale), it ought to be 222 feet.  That six-foot difference translates into half an inch on 1/144 scale.  Pretty close; well within the tolerances that kit manufacturers typically observe.

Conclusion:  the Model Shipways and Pyro kits are (or originally were intended to be) on 1/144 scale.  I'll be more than happy to be corrected on the basis of further, reliable information, but I feel fairly safe in making that assertion.

One other little detail - the entry on the CG Historian's Office website includes a reproduction of that drawing showing the Confederates capturing the ship.  (More precisely, it's an engraving based on that pencil drawing.  I think somebody copied the caption, which includes the abbreviation "U.S.S.," from some other source that didn't know better.)  It appears to show a simple molding inside the bulwarks.  Whether the artist actually looked at the ship closely enough to be certain about such details I have no idea.  I'm inclined to think he didn't; the deckhouse and several other features in the picture certainly don't match the plans.  But that molding does look reasonable.

Youth, talent, hard work, and enthusiasm are no match for old age and treachery.

  • Member since
    May 2003
  • From: Greenville, NC
Posted by jtilley on Friday, April 27, 2007 7:58 AM

The second steering wheel is correct.  Lots of early - and not-so-early - steamships were configured like that.  The one at the stern served as an emergency wheel in the event that the pilothouse got damaged by gunfire or (more likely) the rather elaborate gear connecting the wheel in the pilothouse to the rudder broke down.  Dual-wheel arrangements can be seen on various types of ship, from the big steel square-rigged sailing merchantmen (which almost invariably had wheels on their midship houses and at their sterns) to WWII warships (I believe the original design for the Fletcher-class destroyers included an auxiliary steering station, complete with wheel, binnacle, and engine room telegraph on the after superstructure.)

The Harriet Lane did indeed have beautiful lines.  It's often struck me that if the paddlewheels and deckhouse were removed, and another mast were added, she'd be a believable-looking clipper ship.  William Webb, the designer, was one of the great ones.

Youth, talent, hard work, and enthusiasm are no match for old age and treachery.

  • Member since
    January 2006
Posted by EPinniger on Friday, April 27, 2007 7:12 AM
Many thanks for the information and advice - I'll keep this in mind when building the model!
Regarding the scale, it definitely looks a bit smaller than 1/96 (1/8" = 1') to me, but larger than 1/144, so I'm guessing something like 1/110-1/120. The hull is 15.5" long, 18" long including the bowsprit. 
I have a whole load of crew left over from the Revell Kearsarge and Cutty Sark, but they look very overscale on this model, compared to the size of the doors, bulwarks, ladders etc.

 Robert wrote:
Your deck look superb; how did you get that colour?

As I've mentioned before, the way I usually paint deck planking on ships is to first paint the whole thing with Revell Earth Brown (I use acrylic paint, but I think the same shade is available in enamel), then, when this has dried, drybrush heavily with Revell Stone Grey. This colour isn't actually grey but more of a yellowish-brownish light grey, very like the colour of bleached, worn wood decks.
The heavier you apply the Stone Grey, the brighter and cleaner the deck looks. For models with engraved plank detail, I usually next apply an oil wash (oil paint heavily diluted with turpentine) of black or burnt umber to highlight the plank edges; this makes the decks look fairly grimy so an extra drybrush of Stone Grey is usually needed after this. 
For smaller-scale models (1/350 and smaller) I usually just paint the deck solid Stone Grey, possibly with a wash or dry-brush to bring out the plank detail.

 kapudan_emir_effendi wrote:
Hello EP, Congratulation ! that's a superb old model; eons forward considering its issue year. However, I'm confused, as far as I know the little cabin behind the foremast is the wheelhouse, why did you add another wheel ?

BTW, the ship looks more like a merchantman than a man-of-war. Indeed, her lines are nearly an iconic representation of one of those industrial revolution workhorses. I'm torn between the idea of building mine as a merchant or in her original form.

The aft wheel is found on the Model Shipways kit (link, so I assumed it was accurate! I'm guessing this was an auxiliary wheel and the main one is in the wheelhouse. I think the "cabin" is just a housing for the steering gear. I also added the ship's bell to the front of the wheelhouse, as the MS kit has one there (the bell was taken from the spares box, it was originally from a Revell Cutty Sark)

I'm not very familiar with civil ships from this period, but I think that the Harriet Lane was actually sold into civilian service after the Civil War (renamed "Elliot Richie") so a merchantman conversion would definitely be possible.

Anyway, thanks for the comments! I'll post photos of the completed ship when it is finished. Not too much left as regards the structure and fittings, but the rigging and shrouds will take some time even with a simple rigging setup like this! I plan to use the deadeye/chainplate assemblies from the kit but replace the blocks with ones left over from the Revell Kearsarge, which are smaller and finer than the kit parts despite being in a larger scale.
  • Member since
    January 2006
  • From: istanbul/Turkey
Posted by kapudan_emir_effendi on Friday, April 27, 2007 6:00 AM

Hello EP, Congratulation ! that's a superb old model; eons forward considering its issue year. However, I'm confused, as far as I know the little cabin behind the foremast is the wheelhouse, why did you add another wheel ?

BTW, the ship looks more like a merchantman than a man-of-war. Indeed, her lines are nearly an iconic representation of one of those industrial revolution workhorses. I'm torn between the idea of building mine as a merchant or in her original form.

Don't surrender the ship !
  • Member since
    August 2006
  • From: Sydney, Australia
Posted by Robert on Thursday, April 26, 2007 11:31 PM


Hi EP, I cannot answer any of your questions but the model looks terrific. I have built this kit 6 times in 40 years and will never get tired of it, it is such a beautiful ship. Your deck look superb; how did you get that colour? My skills are very basic but I love the early steamships and will one day do this kit again. When I figure out how I will post some pictures. Please show us more photos of your work. Robert


  • Member since
    May 2003
  • From: Greenville, NC
Posted by jtilley on Thursday, April 26, 2007 9:17 PM

I had to do some digging for information about this ship some years back, when I made a drawing of her for the Coast Guard Historian's Office.  Our conclusion at that time (and I don't think there's any reason to revise it) was that, as is so often the case with famous ships, the actual, hard, reliable information about her is remarkably scanty.

There's a set of plans for her (lines, sailplan, and outboard profile) in William Webb's Plans of Wooden Ships.  Those drawings don't include any detail regarding deck furniture - or much else.  I'm aware of one genuine, contemporary piece of artwork that depicts the Harriet Lane:  a pencil sketch by a newspaper artist of the action in which the Confederates captured her at Galveston.  It's reproduce in The American Heritage Century Collection of Civil War Art.  It's a nice, action-filled picture, but just about useless for ship modelers.  (Most, if not all, of the other paintings and drawings of her that get published were, in fact, done in the twentieth century.)  And there seems to be one photograph of her.  It's a shot of Prince Albert's arrival for a visit to New York Harbor.  The Harriet Lane appears in the background; it was a foggy day, and in the 8x10 reproduction I have, she shows up as a blurry shape about 1/4" long.  (But the shape does match Webb's sailplan.)

So far as I know, that's it. 

The Model Shipways kit, in its original issue, included a highly simplified set of plans by John Shedd, one of the company's founders.  Subsequent editions of the kit contained more detailed plans which are, I think, based on a set that the Smithsonian commissioned from Merritt Edson, back in the sixties.  Mr. Edson was a fine researcher and draftsman; that set of plans is quite impressive. 

The Model Shipways instruction book is, indeed, a very useful guide for this project.  Here's the link:

MS says its kit is on the scale of 1/8" = 1'.  It's about 18" long.  That's just about the same size as the Pyro-Lindberg version - isn't it?  If so, and if you have access to an old Revell Constitution or Cutty Sark, either of those kits could provide an excellent crew.

So far as I know, there's no firm evidence about pinrails - or any other features - on the insides of the bulwarks.  Model Shipways apparently doesn't provide any such fittings.  The rigging instructions to make reference to some cleats and eyebolts inside the bulwarks, but the majority of the running rigging seems to be belayed on the fiferails at the feet of the masts.

I don't think she had a capstan.  The windlass in the bow would have taken over the capstan's functions.  There would be nothing unusual about a ship having both a capstan and a windlass - but this vessel's rigging was simple enough that I doubt the capstan would have been necessary.

Any ship has to have some sort of mooring fittings at her bow and stern - bitts, bollards, chocks, etc.  Just how they were laid out in this vessel I don't know.  I can only suggest taking  a look at what - if anything - the MS instructions have to say about that point.

Red and green side navigation lights were in use by the time of the Civil War, though apparently not universally.  They most likely would have been secured in the foremast shrouds.

A chimney (aka "Charlie Noble") for the galley stove certainly would be a logical addition.  But its location would depend on the location of the galley - and so far as I know there's no evidence about that.  My guess is that the galley was in the big deckhouse somewhere.

It seems reasonable that the ship's name might well have appeared on the stern -  in the form of either paint or carved lettering.  This was a spit-and-polish, rather famous ship.  By the way, she wasn't "U.S.S.," but U.S.R.C. Harriet Lane.  U.S.R.C. stands for "United States Revenue Cutter."  The U.S. Revenue Cutter Service (aka Revenue Marine) was one of the five institutions that eventually merged to become the modern U.S. Coast Guard.  (The others:  the Life Saving Service, Lighthouse Board, Steamboat Inspection Service, and Bureau of Navigation.)  The Revenue Cutter Service originally was part of the Department of the Treasury; the original function of the revenue cutters was to enforce the customs laws.  The Revenue Cutter Service, like the modern Coast Guard, was taken over by the Navy Department in wartime - but its vessels continued to be called "revenue cutters" (as their World War II counterparts continued to be designated "U.S.C.G.C.").  Trivia, but the sort of thing that Coast Guard history buffs dote on.

Hope that helps a little.  Good luck.

Youth, talent, hard work, and enthusiasm are no match for old age and treachery.

  • Member since
    April 2007
  • From: Fort Lauderdale
Posted by jayman1 on Thursday, April 26, 2007 7:12 PM
Perhaps you already know this, but you can go to the model shipways web site, click on their Harriet Lane model and print out a copy of their assembly instructions. That might help to answer some questions. Or, it might create new questions. The best of luck and I hope you will post some photos.
  • Member since
    January 2006
USS Harriet Lane (Pyro Blockade Runner) questions
Posted by EPinniger on Wednesday, April 25, 2007 11:59 AM
I'm currently building the Pyro/Lindberg revenue cutter USS Harriet Lane (aka "Civil War Blockade Runner"). It's now mostly complete other than the upper spars and rigging. (Guns and boats are assembled but not shown in the photo - also, the davits aren't painted)

I've already added a number of extra details to the model including belaying pins on the fife rail, a wheel at the stern, a ship's bell, ladders in the companionways, and replacement cleats and eyebolts. I also plan to add eye bolts on the davits, fire buckets, oars and rudders on the ship's boats, and shell racks beside the guns, as well as crew figures if I can find some in the right scale (about 1/110-120 I think)
For painting and detail reference I've used photos of the Model Shipways wooden kit (which the Pyro kit is based on) and the few contemporary engravings of the ship I can find.

There are a number of other details and fittings which are not included in the Pyro kit and which I'd like to add, but I'm not sure whether they were actually fitted to the Harriet Lane and if so where they would have been located.
Would the ship have had any of the following:
 - Pin rails on the interior of the bulwarks (I've already added pins to the fife rails)
 - A capstan
 - Bollards/bitts at the bow and stern
 - Navigation/running lights
 - Chimney for the galley stove
All of these seem very likely (not sure about the capstan, as there is already a winch at the bow for the anchor chain) but are not visible on the photos of Model Shipways' kit, and the contemporary pictures do not show the ship close enough to see small details like this.

Also, would the ship's name have been painted at the stern? I've seen this on other USN ships from this era.

Our community is FREE to join. To participate you must either login or register for an account.

By signing up you may also receive reader surveys and occasional special offers. We do not sell, rent or trade our email lists. View our Privacy Policy.