James Alden was born March 31, 1810, in Portland, Maine, a direct descendent of John Alden and Priscilla Mullins of Mayflower fame.
He was well acquainted with the San Juan Islands and much of the Pacific basin, as he served as a passed midshipman under Charles Wilkes on the U.S. Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842.
He has likewise been criticized for not taking the U.S.S. Merrimack out of the Gosport Naval Yard in April 1861 when the yard was about to be overrun by Confederate forces. Engineering crews had miraculously reassembled the ship's engines in a matter of days, but Alden would not take the ship without the permission of the yard commander. The ship had to be scuttled, but the hulk was raised by the Confederates and converted into the ironclad, C.S.S. Virginia, which fought the U.S.S. Monitor to a draw in the world's first battle between ironclad warships.
Did You Know?
James Alden, commander of the USCS Steamer Active, carried dispatches during the Pig War crisis. During the Battle of Mobile Bay he led the Union fleet into the harbor until stalled by Confederate mines. That's when Admiral David G. Farragut shouted "Damn the torpedoes..."