The second Kansas was named for the state, which was admitted to the Union 29 January 1861, as the 34th state.
The first Kansas was built at Philadelphia Navy Yard with machinery taken from prize steamer Princess Royal; launched 29 September 1863; sponsored by Miss Annie McClellan; and commissioned at Philadelphia 21 December 1863, Lt. Comdr. Pendleton G. Watmough in command.
The day of her commissioning, the gunboat was ordered to Hampton Roads to join the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron. She arrived Newport News, Va., 30 December; but engine and boiler trouble required her to return to the Washington Navy Yard for repairs.
In March 1864 the gunboat was stationed at Wilmington, N.C., off New Inlet, where she served during most of the remainder of the war. With Mount Vernon, Howquah, and Nansemond, she engaged Confederate ironclad-ram Raleigh, (Flag Officer Lynch) which had steamed over the bar at New Inlet 6 May to attack the Northern blockaders. The withering fire from the Union ships caused Raleigh to withdraw toward safety within the harbor, but she grounded and broke her back while attempting to cross the bar at the mouth of the Cape Fear River. After strenuous efforts to save the stricken vessel proved fruitless, she was destroyed to prevent her falling into Union hands.
Shortly before dawn 15 May, Kansas ended a 2-hour chase by capturing British steamer Tristram Shandy as the blockade runner attempted to escape to sea with a cargo of cotton, tobacco, and turpentine. The next day the proud gunboat towed her prize into Beaufort. On her return passage she brought Colonel James Jourdan to reconnoiter Confederate defenses at Fort Fisher in preparation for future attacks.
Throughout the night of 27-28 May, Kansas chased a blockade-running steamer which finally escaped. That morning boiler trouble prevented her getting underway to chase another steamer which dashed out from Wilmington. After remaining on blockade duty at New Inlet until August, the gunboat returned to Philadelphia for repairs.
Kansas rejoined her squadron late in September; and, after briefly cruising at sea, she returned to her old station off New Inlet in mid-October. There she chased and headed off steamer Annie trying to slip out of New Inlet with a cargo of cotton. This action 31 October enabled Wilderness and Niphon to capture the chase a short time later. On 7 December, while Admiral Porter and General B. F. Butler planned joint operations against Wilmington to close that vital Confederate port once and for all, Kansas was one of the Union gunboats which were making blockade-running in that quarter hazardous. That day they forced steamer Stormy Petrel ashore where she was abandoned by her crew and, a few days later, destroyed by a gale.
At daylight Christmas Eve, Kansas was part of the huge fleet which formed in line of battle before Fort Fisher and pounded the formidable Confederate works with a furious bombardment. Although the cannonade drove the staunch Southern defenders from their guns to shelter in bomb proofs, transports carrying the Union soldiers did not arrive from Beaufort until too late to launch the assault that day.
The next morning, the ships again opened fire on the forts and maintained the bombardment while troops landed near Flag Pond Battery, north of the main defensive works. Some 2,000 men established a beachhead under the protection of naval gunfire which kept the Confederate garrison pinned down and away from their guns. Late that afternoon, supported by heavy fire from the Union ships, Army skirmishers advanced to within yards of the fort. Lt. Aeneas Armstrong of the Confederate Navy later described the effectiveness of the bombardment: "The whole of the interior of the fort, which consists of sand, merlons, etc., was as one 11-inch shell bursting. You can not inspect the works and walk on nothing but iron." However, General Butler, considering the works too strong to be carried by assault with the troops available, aborted the operation by ordering his troops to reembark.
Undaunted by this setback, the Navy was not to be denied. At Porter's request Grant sent him a new commander. Kansas was one of some five dozen ships which Porter sent against Fort Fisher 13 January 1865. A naval landing party of 2.000 sailors and marines reinforced 8.000 soldiers under Major General Alfred H. Terry. The ensuing onslaught was a classic example of complete Army-Navy coordination. New Ironsides led three monitors to within 1,000 yards of Fort Fisher and opened on its batteries. Meanwhile, Kansas and the other wooden warships formed in line of battle in close order and shelled Flag Pond Battery and the adjacent woods at 0715. Half an hour later they sent in boats to assist in disembarking the landing party which went ashore out of range of the fort's guns. Once the beachhead had been established, Kansas stood toward Fort Fisher to join in the bombardment of the main Confederate works. She continued the bombardment intermittently for the next 2 days. Shortly before noon 15 January, her launch went ashore with 20 men to join the naval brigade for the final push. The gunboat maintained heavy fire during the following hours while soldiers, sailors, and marines braved the deadly fire of the stouthearted Southern defenders. Finally at 2200 loud cheering and illumination of the fleet announced the fall of the forts.
After cleanup operations in the Wilmington area, Kansas moved to the James River late in February to support General Grant's final drive to Richmond. From time to time during the closing weeks of the war, Kansas supported Army operations ashore with her guns, particularly near Petersburg. The day after General Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House, the gunboat was ordered to a station off Cape Henry to prevent the escape of Confedredate sympathizers who were reportedly planning to capture vessels in the bay.
Kansas entered the Philadelphia Navy Yard 23 April and decommissioned 4 May. She recommissioned 28 July, Lt. Cmdr. Clark H. Wells in command, and departed Philadelphia 5 August to begin a 4-year voyage in the South Atlantic which took her to Cape Town, Africa, as well as to many ports in the Caribbean and South America. This long and interesting deployment ended 15 September 1869, when the gunboat arrived Washington Navy Yard, where she decommissioned a week later.
After a year in ordinary at Washington, she recommissioned 26 September 1870, Lt. Cmdr. Norman H. Farquhar in command. She stood down the Potomac 10 October and arrived Hampton Roads 3 days later to join Mayflower for the Tehuantepec surveying-expedition sent to southern Mexico to determine the feasibility of constructing an interoceanic canal across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec which separates the Gulf of Mexico from the Pacific Ocean. The ships sailed via Key West for Vera Cruz 14 October. The expedition carefully surveyed the narrow neck of land and recorded invaluable scientific information making "many calculations to prove that a ship-canal across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec is not only practicable, but that the obstacles in the way of the canal route are of the most ordinary nature."
When she returned to Washington 15 June 1871, her crew was seriously debilitated by fever contracted in the tropics. As a result, she was ordered to the North Atlantic to join a special squadron under Vice Admiral Rowen at Portsmouth, N.H. She stood in to Staten Island 10 October to participate in the reception given the Russian Fleet. She departed New York Harbor 29 November for Cuba and arrived Havana o December. The gunboat left that port 25 February 1872 to obtain supplies and await Comdr. A. F. Grossman who headed another Nicaragua-surveying expedition. She was employed gathering data on potential interoceanic canal routes until returning to Key West 13 July.
Kansas departed Key West 6 August to determine positions for a submarine cable between Key West and Havana and returned a week later. She departed Key West 21 August and arrived Halifax, N.S., 5 September. She stood out of Halifax 17 September and arrived New York 21 November after visiting Salem, Mass., and Newport, R.I., en route. She got underway for another surveying expedition of Central America 1 January 1873, which ended when she returned to Key West 15 July.
In November Spanish authorities in Cuba seized arms-running ship Virginius, illegally flying the American flag on the high seas, and summarily shot 53 of her passengers and crew. On hearing of this incident, Wyoming sailed without orders to Santiago and entered a vigorous protest. Kansas stood out of New York 14 November to join Wyoming in checking brutal action and in protecting the nation's interests. After battling severe weather, she arrived Santiago 2 December. As a host of other warships from the Home Fleet, the South Atlantic, and the European station converged on Cuba, the 102 survivors of Virginius, owing their lives to the prompt naval action, were delivered on board the first arrival, Juniata, and taken to New York.
Kansas returned to Key West Christmas Day. In February 1874 she participated in a naval drill in Florida Bay. Her final year of active service was devoted to cruising in the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, at the time a region of considerable unrest. She sailed from Pensacola 8 July 1875, and arrived Portsmouth, N.H., on the 21st. She decommissioned there 10 August and laid up until sold at Rockland, Maine, to Captain Israel L. Snow 27 September 1883.