Named after a mountain in New Hampshire, the first Kearsarge was built at Portsmouth Navy Yard in Kittery, Maine under the 1861 Civil War emergency shipbuilding program. The new 1550 ton Steam Sloop Of War was commisioned in January 1862, and soon after started hunting for Confederate raiders in European waters.
In June of 1864, Kearsarge found C.S.S. Alabama in Cherbough, France. Alabama had been raiding U.S. shipping, and went to Cherbough to make repairs. Kearsarge took up station outside the port and waited for Alabama to make her move in what would become one of the most famous naval battles of the Civil War.
On June 19, 1864 the Confederate Sloop Of War left port to confront Kearsarge. The vessels met each other and moved in a circular motion, firing at each other, each ship trying to get the upper hand. The ships were evenly matched, but a shell from Kearsarge broke the hull of Alabama at the waterline. The Alabama sank, and Kearsarge rescued most of her crew. The Captain of the Alabama and some of her crew were picked up by a British vessel, and thereby avoided capture. Seaman Joachim Pease was awarded the Congressional Medal Of Honor for his bravery in this battle.
Kearsarge contintued to operate in European waters searching for C.S.S. Florida until she was sent to the Caribbean and then to Boston for repairs. She then returned to European waters with hopes of finding the Iron Clad C.S.S. Stonewall. After the Civil War ended, Kearsarge remained in Europe for a time before she returned to the United States for decommisioning in 1866.
In January 1868 Kearsarge returned to active duty and was sent to the Pacific coast of South America. In 1869 she cruised as far as Australia before returning to Peru. In 1870 she went to Hawaii, and then to Mare Island, California for decommissioning in October of that year.
Kearsarge was reactivated again in 1873 when she operated in Asiatic waters until September 1877 when she went through the Suez Canal, and then returned to the East Coast for deactivation in early 1878.
Recommisioned in 1879, Kearsarge operated in the North Atlantic and Caribbean areas until 1883 when she was sent to Europe and Africa until late in 1886. From 1888 Kearsarge was stationed in the West Indies and Cental America. On February 2, 1894, while enroute from Haiti to Nicaragua Kearsarge wrecked on Roncador Reef. A salvage attempt was made, but was deemed impossible, and U.S.S. Kearsarge was stricken from the Navy List later in the year.