Commissioned on February 25, 1858, the first Harriet Lane was named in honor of President Buchanan's
niece and official White House hostess. The Harriet Lane was the Revenue Marine's first successful steam
side wheeler. She consumed 1,500 lbs. of coal per hour at a maximum speed of 12 knots. Harriet Lane also had a brigantine
sail rig. She was 180 feet in length, 30 foot beam, 700 tons displacement, and draft of 10 ft. and was armed with one 8-inch rifled gun,
4 32-lbr guns, 2 24-lbr and 1 12-lbr boat howitzers, making her the largest, fastest and most heavily-armed cutter in the service to date.
Captain John Faunce oversaw her construction, and was her only commander under Revenue service. During late 1858 to early 1859,
Harriet Lane was attached to a Navy flotilla sent to Paraguay in response to an attack on an American vessel in the Parana River.
In 1859 the Navy returned Lane to the Revenue-Marine with a testimonial from the Flotilla commander, Commodore Shubrick, USN; "All the vessels grounded more than once, and it is proper that I express my sense of appreciation of the skill and zeal with which Captain Faunce has used this very efficient vessel in extricating us from our difficulties...USS FULTON would have been lost altogether, if not for the assistance afforded by the Harriet Lane."
The Lane resumed normal duties, patrolling the Florida coast to enforce the slave trade law. In 1860, she returned to New York, carrying out normal duties for about a year. Later that year, Miss Lane hosted the Prince of Wales on board her namesake for a cruise from Washington to Mount Vernon.
When the southern states began to secede, the Navy again needed the services of Revenue-Marine cutters. Harriet Lane was probably the best-known cutter in the service during the Civil War. During the shelling of Fort Sumter in April 1861, Harriet Lane patrolled offshore of Charleston harbor, and challenged the steamer Nashville to show her colors. After a shot across her bow, Nashville quickly ran up the Union flag. Captain Faunce noted that his shot "had the desired effect." Thus the Harriet Lane is credited with firing the first shot from any naval vessel in the Civil War.
Harriet Lane joined a squadron to capture Forts Clark and Hatteras, which served as bases for Confederate blockade runners. The steamer, with her 8 in. and four 43 lb guns, kept the beach and woods beyond it under fire while soldiers went ashore. A correspondent from "Harper's Weekly" wrote, "Harriet Lane opened fire. With her rifled guns she did good execution. Several projectiles going into the battery and one going directly through the ramparts. The fire was so hot that the enemy went into a bombproof...and soon white flag rose." This was the first joint amphibious operation of the war, and was a major Federal victory.
The Revenue-Marine transferred Harriet Lane to the US Navy in the fall of 1861 and Commander Wainwright, USN relieved Captain Faunce. The USS Harriet Lane served as Potomac River Flotilla flagship from October 1861 to January 1862, escorting troop and supply ships. TheLane later assumed duty as flagship for Admiral David Porter's flotilla. She later participated in the capture of Pensacola and the first abortive siege of Vicksburg.
Harriet Lane joined the West Gulf Blockade Squadron and On October 1, 1862 entered into Galveston Bay to capture the city. Lane remained with the Federal presence there. On January 1, 1863 a Confederate force attacked Federal garrison and the cutter was captured by boarding. During the hand-to-hand combat, Captain Wainwright was killed, and his executive officer Lieutenant Edward Lea mortally wounded, dying in the presence of his father, Major Albert M.Lea, CSA - one of the officers in the Confederate boarding party.
Harriet Lane, Commanded by Captain W. H. Fleig, gained fame as a blockade runner for the South. She was later sold to a cotton merchant, loaded with cotton, and ordered to sail to Havana, where she stayed until the end of the war.
In 1867, a movement began to return Harriet Lane to the Revenue Cutter Service. Captain Faunce was dispatched to tow her back to the U.S. Years of neglect had made her unfit for service. She was sold to a Boston merchant, renamed ELLIOT RITCHIE, and used in the lumber trade. In May 1884, buffeted by hurricane force winds in the Caribbean, she foundered and was abandoned to the sea.