Two years after the ship was commissioned, the American Civil War broke out. The ships arsenal includes 20 x 9'' Dahlgren smoothbore guns, 2 x 20-pounder Parrott rifled guns, and 2 x 12-pounder guns. Before the ship was used in the Civil War, the Hartford was assigned to the East India Squadron. After coming back to fight in the Civil war, the Hartford was present at several major battles of the war. She fought in the Battle of New Orleans during 1862, and then in the Vicksburg Campaign from 1862-63. The biggest role of the Hartford was in the Battle of Mobile Bay in Alabama. This battle is where the famous line Damn the torpedoes-full speed ahead! was uttered by Admiral Farragut. The Union was victorious in all three of these battles, and they served as turning points in each campaign against the Confederacy.
After the war, the Hartford was decommissioned for some time for repairs. The ship then was used as a flagship for the Asiatic Squadron before being decommissioned again. The Hartford was then under construction and rebuilding in Mare Island, California from 1890-1899. October of 1899, she was recommissioned to the Atlantic to train new naval recruits. She was then berthed in 1912 at Charleston, South Carolina, and was later decommissioned again in 1926 and sent to Washington D.C. In 1938, the vessel was planned to be a part of a museum by the current president at the time, Franklin Roosevelt. When President Roosevelt died, the museum plans died too.
The Hartford was then relocated once more to the Norfolk Navy Shipyard and eventually sank in 1956 by the abuse from the elements long-term exposure. The anchor was then sent to its present location at Fort Gaines in Dauphin Island, Alabama.