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Chapter 9

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Thence Round Cape Horn

by
Robert Erwin Johnson


published by
United States Naval Institute
Annapolis, Maryland
1963

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Chapter 11
This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

 p143  10. A Stagnant Station

Although Acting Rear Admiral George Brown had a modern cruiser for his flagship, the remainder of his squadron was still a part of the "old" Navy. The Mohican, Iroquois, and Ranger featured the familiar combination of full sail rig and muzzle-loading guns, and their presence indicated that the transition from "old" to "new" would not be a rapid process, at least on Pacific Station.

Nor was the Charleston a formidable warship even by the standards of that day. Her armament was not unimpressive, but in no sense was she intended to take a place in the line of battle. She was too lightly protected for anything other than scouting or commerce raiding, and her eighteen-knot speed was barely adequate for these duties, especially since that speed was largely theoretical. Foreign designers had incorporated such a mixture of old and new ideas in her engines that they were never completely dependable until rebuilt.1

Squadron maneuvers, absent from the Pacific Station since 1842, if one excepts the tactical drills carried out in 1883 by Rear Admiral Aaron K. Hughes, were impossible with so heterogeneous a squadron. But the formation of the "Squadron of Evolution" on the Atlantic coast in 1889 presaged a new awareness of the value of such maneuvers throughout the United States Navy.

Had the recommendations made to Secretary of the Navy Benjamin F. Tracy in 1889 by Commodore James A. Greer, head of the Board on Organization, been put into effect at that time, the Pacific Squadron would soon have received enough modern warships to make tactical maneuvers practicable. Greer held that the effective fighting ships should be gathered in fleets based on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, while detached small squadrons or single ships performed  p144 the police duties presently the major concern of the Navy. He added:

This method, with the flag officer commanding having stated headquarters, would lead to a better management of the naval force at the disposal of the government. At present, for example, in the Pacific, the flag officer commanding is often of little assistance to the Department in disposing his force to advantage because of his inability to communicate promptly with the Dept. and with vessels of his command.2

The advantages of this organization were obvious, but the fact was that there were not enough effective warships to put it into operation immediately. Even after the Navy had obtained these, the recommended reorganization was not realized in the Pacific Ocean until after the turn of the century.

Admiral Brown's first success on Pacific Station was in the field of Navy regulations. Since his permanent rank was that of commodore, he was decidedly junior to the commandant of the Mare Island Navy Yard, Rear Admiral Andrew E. K. Benham. When Brown's flagship first visited the yard, her saluting battery boomed out the thirteen‑gun salute due Benham's flag, but the old Independence answered with only eleven guns. Brown protested in vain; he was only a commodore in Benham's eyes. An exchange of letters with the Navy Department followed, and Benham was informed that he was wrong. Accordingly, some three months later the Charleston again arrived at Mare Island, and was received with a thirteen‑gun salute. This was in answer to Brown's earlier salute; consequently, the cruiser's guns did not reply. The Pacific Squadron had emerged victorious from the battle of the regulations.

Like his predecessors, Admiral Brown found it necessary to spend much of his time at Honolulu, and there he was when a revolution broke out in Chile in 1891. Chilean adherents of congressional government were attempting to block President Balmaceda's assumption of dictatorial powers and needed arms for that purpose. These were obtained in the United States, and arrangements were made for the steamer Itata to load them at San Diego. This was protested by Balmacedist sympathizers in the United States; hence, the ship was seized and placed in custody of a deputy marshal. However, the vessel left San Diego on 6 May 1891, landed the American  p145 officer, and stood to the southward after loading the arms from a schooner at sea.

The USS Charleston, no longer carrying Brown's flag, was ordered in pursuit, and for a time it was feared that she might have had to fight the Chilean cruiser Esmeralda, thought to be escorting Itata. But the Charleston was unable to intercept the merchant vessel before the latter's arrival at Iquique, Chile. Authorities there surrendered her readily, and she headed back toward the United States, escorted by the Charleston. Although the Congressionalist officials at Iquique had acted properly with a minimum of unpleasantness, the incident added another to the grievances held against the United States by ambitious Chileans.

As it was impossible to communicate rapidly with Brown at Honolulu, Rear Admiral William P. McCann, commanding the South Atlantic Squadron, was ordered to the coast of Chile in his flagship Pensacola when the revolution began. The waters south of Callao were added to the South Atlantic Station temporarily. McCann was reinforced by the modern cruiser Baltimore from the Atlantic, and Rear Admiral Brown in the new San Francisco joined him soon afterward. McCann transferred the command to Brown in July and returned to his station in a merchant vessel. The Baltimore remained at Valparaiso, while the Pensacola was sent to San Francisco.

More tension resulted from Admiral Brown's visit to Quinteros Bay to observe troop landings and to watch a battle developing there. The Congressionalists, now obviously winning, accused the American officer of giving information and encouragement to their foes, although there seems to have been little basis for the accusations.

At any rate, the feeling toward Americans was very unfriendly when Captain Winfield S. Schley, commanding the Baltimore, decided to grant liberty to his men at Valparaiso. About one hundred and fifteen sailors entered the city on 16 October 1891, and a few hours later were involved in a series of riots in which the police also proved to be decidedly anti-American. Two American enlisted men were killed, and eighteen others were wounded. Whether or not the sailors were drunk (Chileans and Schley could not agree on this point), Schley had acted unwisely in granting liberty when he was  p146 acquainted with the temper of the Chileans. He then allowed himself to become involved in a rather pointless argument about the sobriety of his men, and the situation seemed extremely grave.

It appeared very likely that the United States might go to war with Chile in December 1891. The Chilean government was extremely slow in accepting responsibility for the Baltimore incident, and the whole tone of the correspondence relating to it seemed to be leading up to hostilities. As Brown had returned to California waters before the incident occurred, Schley was warned to be ready for any eventuality, and the modern gunboat Yorktown was ordered from the Atlantic to join him.

American naval preparations were much more extensive than was commonly realized at the time. An informal strategy board, which included Captain A. T. Mahan and officers from the Office of Naval Intelligence, formulated plans for operations in southeastern Pacific waters. Negotiations with Peru for obtaining a naval base site on Chimbote Bay had been conducted sporadically since the end of the War of the Pacific in 1884 and with more interest after 1889, but the American desire for exclusive territorial jurisdiction had prevented any agreement. Hence there were no coaling facilities in the region which American warships could rely on, and Admiral Brown pointed out that a fleet of steam colliers would be required in addition to all of the modern men-o'‑war to insure success. Perhaps Secretary Tracy was more excited about the possibility of war than any of his advisers; he even urged that the uncompleted monitor Monterey, still without her armor at San Francisco, be rushed to sea as soon as her guns could be mounted and steam raised in her boilers.

Fortunately for all concerned, cooler heads prevailed. The Yorktown's Commander Robley D. Evans showed unexpected diplomatic skill, together with his usual firmness, in handling the situation at Valparaiso; and the Chileans became somewhat more reasonable after Captain Schley departed in the Baltimore. President Benjamin Harrison's bellicosity was curbed by Secretary of State James G. Blaine, while the Chileans were coming to realize that they could not hope to wage successful war against a nation more than twenty times their superior. Accordingly, the Chilean Foreign Minister sent an apology early in 1892, and the families of the murdered sailors were ultimately paid some $75,000. The war scare subsided  p147 quickly thereafter, but Chile did not forget her humiliation, and the citizens of the Pacific coast states had been made fully aware of their vulnerability.a

Another duty which came the way of the Pacific Squadron in 1891 was that of enforcing the modus vivendi for the regulation of pelagic sealing reached by a Paris tribunal. The United States had been alarmed at the rapid depletion of the herds of fur seals which bred on the Pribilof Islands in the Bering Sea. Warships and revenue cutters had occasionally cruised in these waters for their protection after 1869, and in 1889 orders had been issued that schooners participating in the hunt anywhere in the Bering Sea were to be seized. Most of these sealers were Canadian, and their government, supported by the Court of St. James, had protested vigorously at this American attempt to transform the Bering sea into a mare clausum. The tribunal declared that the United States must pay damages for the vessels so seized and outlined some rather ineffectual rules governing the conduct of the sealers.

The United States and Royal Navies were assigned the duty of enforcing these regulations, but the majority of the patrolling was carried out by Americans. The Thetis sailed from San Francisco for this purpose on 17 June 1891, and the Mohican, Marion, and Alert soon followed. Every summer thereafter for the remainder of the century some of the older and smaller ships of the Pacific Squadron, together with revenue cutters operating under the orders of the senior naval officer, cruised the Bering Sea to watch the activities of the sealing schooners. It was hard, uncomfortable, and unrewarding work, and their base at Unalaska provided nothing beyond coal and the most essential supplies. Small wonder it came to be regarded as duty fit only for outcasts.

There is a story of an officer who called at the Bureau of Navigation in Washington to request assignment to a vessel fitting out for a cruise with the popular and socially desirable European Squadron. He informed the Bureau chief that he had been at sea for many years on the Pacific Station, his last cruise having been in the Bering Sea. "I'm sorry," the old admiral replied, "but officers who cruise in the Behring [sic] Sea are not the ones we send to Europe. Good-morning."3

After 1900, this duty was performed almost entirely by vessels of  p148 the Revenue Cutter Service, and the fur seal herds were saved from extinction by agreement of the United States, Japan, Russia, and Great Britain in the North Pacific Sealing Convention of 1911.

In September 1892, the Pacific Station received evidence that it was still of secondary importance in the eyes of the Navy Department. Admiral Brown acknowledged an order to transfer his flag to the old Mohican in order that his erstwhile flagship might join a Special Service Squadron being formed under the command of Rear Admiral Bancroft Gherardi. This was to include the modern warships Baltimore, San Francisco, Charleston, Boston, and Yorktown; the Pacific Squadron was left with the Mohican, Alliance, Adams, Ranger, and Thetis, all obsolete and inefficient. However, the Boston's presence was required at Honolulu, so she did not join Gherardi's flag. She was reassigned to the Pacific Squadron in 1893.

The Special Service Squadron left San Francisco in the autumn of 1893, and made its leisurely way down the coast, exercising in fleet tactics and routine drills. A novel and presumably noisy facet of the night maneuvers was the use of steam whistles for transmission of Morse code signals. Admiral Gherardi's ships visited the various ports on the Central American and South American coasts before passing through the Strait of Magellan to join the North Atlantic Squadron.

The situation which had called Admiral Brown to Honolulu just before the outbreak of the Chilean revolution, and later had kept the Boston from sailing with the Special Service Squadron, resulted from the death of the irresolute Hawaiian King. His strong-willed and anti-American sister Liliuokalani succeeded to the throne early in 1891. Two‑thirds of the taxable real estate in the kingdom belonged to a little group of Americans, and they feared for their property. The United States government too was interested because of its right to the naval station site at Pearl Harbor.

Two years after assuming the throne, Liliuokalani was ready to act. She staged a coup d'état, ousted her few American advisers, and imposed an autocratic constitution on the kingdom. This action did not catch the local American leaders off guard. A revolution was quickly organized, and United States Minister John L. Stevens was asked to lend his support. He arranged with Captain Gilbert C. Wiltse to land more than one hundred and fifty sailors and Marines  p149 from the Boston to protect American lives and property. With this reinforcement, the Americans definitely had the upper hand, and Stevens recognized the revolutionary government on 17 January 1893, one day after the Boston's men landed. A commission hastened to Washington to arrange for American annexation, and on 1 February, Stevens proclaimed Hawaii an American protectorate.

Washington and American public opinion were favorable to immediate annexation, but President-elect Grover Cleveland requested that the Senate postpone action on the treaty until after his inauguration. He then withdrew the treaty from the Senate, and sent ex‑Congressman James H. Blount to make a thorough investigation of Hawaiian affairs. Georgian Blount was greeted by the Royal Hawaiian band playing "Marching through Georgia," an air hardly calculated to make an ex‑Rebel look with favor on things Hawaiian.

Blount ordered the landing force re‑embarked in the Boston, had the American flag hauled down, and found that a majority of the populace was not in favor of annexation. Blount's report led Cleveland to order Liliuokalani restored to her throne on the condition that the revolutionists be treated leniently. She retorted that their heads, as well as their lands, would be removed. Under the circumstances, the revolutionists could not be expected to surrender peaceably; moreover, their army was in control of the situation. As Cleveland could not use force to restore the deposed queen, he accepted the situation by recognizing the Hawaiian Republic in 1894.

An impartial student of the Hawaiian revolution has concluded that it could not possibly have succeeded without the presence of the Boston's landing force, most of which was disposed in positions calculated to intimidate the Queen and some distance from the American property it was supposedly guarding. The account published by an officer of the Boston makes it very clear that Wiltse and his subordinates were strongly opposed to Liliuokalani's rule and sympathetic to the aims of the revolutionists.

Clearly the naval forces were guilty of unneutral conduct in this instance. But it need not be concluded that they were governed by motives highly improper in naval officers. For some years the Navy, and the American public as well, had been swayed by the arguments of Captain Mahan that Hawaii in foreign hands would be a  p150 definite threat to the west coast of the United States, as well as to the Central American region where one day a canal linking Pacific and Caribbean might be constructed. In addition, it cannot be doubted that many features of Liliuokalani's rule were repugnant to the American naval officers.

However, there can be no doubt as to the significance of the rejection of the treaty of annexation for the Pacific Squadron. Honolulu would continue to be a focal point of the whole Pacific Station until Hawaii was finally annexed.

The Pacific Squadron which Brown turned over to Rear Admiral John Irwin in 1893 was almost devoid of modern ships, but the monitor Monterey, a ship which had been many years a‑building, was commissioned at San Francisco soon afterward. Fitted only for coast defense duties, she was of doubtful value to the squadron. The protected cruiser Philadelphia came out to carry Irwin's flag, and in 1894 the new gunboat Bennington arrived from the Atlantic coast. The Charleston and Yorktown also were under orders for the Pacific, but Rear Admiral Lester A. Beardslee assumed command only of the Philadelphia, Monterey, Bennington, and some older ships in 1895.

Soon after taking command of the Pacific Squadron, Beardslee was informed that the Navy Department wished him to assemble such vessels as could be spared from other duties for squadron maneuvers at least every six months. But the composition of his squadron made it impossible that much value should result from tactical evolutions. One cruiser, a gunboat, and a monitor could never have been an effective tactical unit, and the older ships were too slow and weak to participate in most drills. However, the commander in chief replied that he would carry out maneuvers before cruising to the southward to visit Californian and Mexican ports.

In the last days of 1895, President Cleveland's handling of the British Guiana-Venezuela boundary controversy brought into sharp focus the weakness of the Pacific Squadron. His message to the Congress in mid‑December virtually threatened the British government with war if it attempted to enforce its claims upon Venezuela without resort to arbitration. With Anglo-American relations almost at the breaking point, there was fear of attack in the Puget Sound region by torpedo boats from the Royal Navy's base at Esquimalt in  p151 British Columbia. The only vessel of the Pacific Squadron available for defense of that area was the monitor Monterey, and Beardslee revealed that she required repairs before undertaking such service. Moreover, the distinctive qualities of her type — low speed, poor maneuverability, and low freeboard — made her peculiarly liable to capture by boarding and vulnerable to torpedo attack, although it now appears that reports of British torpedo boats at Esquimalt were erroneous.

The senators and congressmen of the three coastal states memorialized Secretary of the Navy Hilary A. Herbert with regard to the lack of protection for the Pacific coast. Herbert replied that the Pacific Squadron would soon be strengthened by the commissioning of the monitor Monadnock. This was not the Civil War monitor, but a ship built to replace her with the funds allotted for repairs to the original. This was known as "administrative rebuilding" since there was no authority to build a new vessel. This second Monadnock was under construction for more than twenty years. The Secretary also advised the west coast representatives that the battleship Oregon, nearing completion at the Union Iron Works, would be placed in commission if Congress would appropriate enough money to provide a crew for her.

Even with the Pacific Squadron so reinforced, it is well that diplomacy and Afro-European affairs made Great Britain averse to an American war. Among Her Majesty's vessels in the eastern Pacific in 1896 were the armored cruiser Imperieuse and the cruisers Royal Arthur and Icarus, none so formidable as the Oregon, but the battleship could hardly have become an efficient fighting unit in less than six months. The Monterey and Monadnock carried heavier guns than the Britons, but would have been effective only under the most favorable conditions. However, the only warlike message received by Beardslee was that ordering him to keep his vessels fully coaled and ready for sea, and soon the tension eased.

For some time Americans had feared that the Japanese might attempt to gain control of the Hawaiian Islands, and this feeling was intensified in 1897 by reports that the government of Japan was undertaking a slow "mongolization" of the islands by the many Japanese settling there. Accordingly, the commander in chief of the Pacific Squadron was ordered there to remain as long as necessary.  p152 Beardslee protested that this order had the effect of isolating him from the rest of his station as communication with Honolulu was completely dependent on mail steamers, but the Department replied that his presence was necessary in Hawaiian waters. As the Japanese cruiser Naniwa at Honolulu was rumored to be loaded with arms for Japanese nationals, the State Department told its representative there to be prepared to meet force with force and to proclaim an American protectorate if Japanese occupation was attempted.

So matters stood when Rear Admiral Joseph N. Miller arrived in the Baltimore to assume command of the Pacific Station later in 1897. He remained at Honolulu, and such attention as other parts of the station received was from warships operating virtually independent of the commander in chief.

While the Hawaiian situation was yet undecided, events far to the eastward were moving steadily toward the Spanish-American War. The destruction of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor on 15 February 1898 must have prepared naval officers for the occurrences which followed. Early in March, Secretary John D. Long left Assistant Secretary Theodore Roosevelt temporarily in charge of the Navy Department, and the latter took full advantage of the opportunity to prepare the Navy for the war he desired so ardently. To Mare Island went orders to load the old Mohican with ammunition for Commodore George Dewey's Asiatic Squadron. This was transshipped to the flagship Baltimore at Honolulu, and she departed for Hong Kong as soon as Miller had transferred his flag to the Mohican.

At this time, the battleship Oregon was being docked at the Puget Sound Naval Station. That base had been formally established at Bremerton, Washington, in 1891, but so slowly had it been developed that almost its only facility was the dry dock completed in 1896.4 The battleship was undesirably large for docking at Mare Island and had been sent to Bremerton. But, with war threatening, the most powerful warship in the eastern Pacific had no offensive power at all, unless she employed the collision tactics suggested by her ram bow, for her ammunition was safely stored at Mare Island, distant some eight hundred miles by sea. Orders went out for her to be undocked and sailed to San Francisco with utmost dispatch. She arrived on 9 March, and coal and ammunition were hastily taken on  p153 board, while Captain Charles E. Clark relieved Captain Albert Barker as her commanding officer. The gunboat Marietta at Panama was ordered to arrange for a supply of coal at Callao and more southerly ports where the battleship would touch on her way to the Atlantic via the Strait of Magellan. The Oregon stood out through the Golden Gate on 19 March, bound for a more active role in the Spanish-American War than any of her less fortunate sisters of the Pacific Squadron.

Midway through April, Roosevelt favored his superior with a view of the preparation of the Pacific Squadron:

The Commander-in‑Chief of the Pacific Station should be at once ordered to return to San Francisco. He should then undertake the protection of the Pacific coast, using his own discretion, but providing that the Monterey and Monadnock with their scouts should protect San Fransisco [sic] and Puget Sound, and that one of the vessels should be kept at San Franciscoº to cruise up and down the coast wherever needed; that if possible a war vessel should protect southern California, and that at least five vessels, with their headquarters at Unalaska and Sitka, should be used in protecting the coal piles and Yukon trade from the mouth of the Yukon to Puget Sound.5

Secretary Long ordered Miller to return to San Francisco with his staff on 19 April, but the inevitable communications delay prevented the admiral from complying for some weeks. He finally arrived in the mail steamer on 10 May. Meanwhile, provisions for the defense of the Pacific coast were put into effect as the Monadnock steamed north to Puget Sound, while the Monterey remained at San Francisco. With the declaration of war on 25 April, an Auxiliary Naval Force composed of revenue cutters, armed yachts, and other hastily converted vessels, manned in part by the Naval Militia, came into being. At first its ships in the Pacific were placed under Admiral Miller, but that officer was still isolated from his squadron and from rapid communication with the Navy Department. Accordingly, Captain John R. Bartlett, commanding the Auxiliary Naval Force in the Atlantic, received command of the Pacific section also, with Lieutenant William E. Gunn as his assistant in California. Such a separation of command was inherently faulty, and in fact Admiral Miller exercised direction of all the naval forces on Pacific Station after he arrived in San Francisco.

 p154  Commodore Dewey's decisive victory at Manila Bay on 1 May relieved the Pacific coast from any immediate danger so the Pacific Squadron became a reservoir from which the more actively engaged forces could draw additional vessels. The cruiser Charleston was hastily recommissioned at Mare Island and escorted transports to the Philippines. The monitors Monterey and Monadnock departed to join Dewey's flag in June, and the Fishery Commission's oceanographic vessel Albatross became flagship of the Pacific Squadron. The remainder of Miller's force included four revenue cutters, three tugs, and the gunboat Wheeling. The latter, the squadron's only warship, was ordered to Alaskan waters by the Department and so was not available to Miller. The gunboat Bennington was at Honolulu, and joined the flag at San Francisco when relieved by the Mohican.

When the Navy Department requested a copy of Miller's war plans, he replied that he had indeed prepared such plans, but detachment of ships from his force had made them meaningless almost before they could be completed:

Now with the present force . . . it is only possible to patrol the harbors on the Coast which are mined, and to keep these few poorly armed vessels ready for any service of convoy or patrol work which may be required of them. The Perry is in Puget Sound and will be used for patrol work in that locality, the Corwin will leave in a day or two for San Diego Bay to protect the mines there; the Grant and Rush are here, and the Albatross will not be ready for about a week. When the Bennington returns and is ready for service, she will be kept here unless the Department otherwise directs. The three tugs are not yet ready, but work is being pushed on them. In this connection I would state that there is no apprehension among commercial people on this Coast as to danger from the enemy, and that practically there is no insurance war risk.6

Miller went on to say that, if the war continued and events took an unfortunate turn, he would concentrate on defense of the San Francisco region.

Rumors that a Spanish privateer was operating in the Puget Sound vicinity sent the Bennington to the northward in July to investigate, but her commander found nothing. When the United States consul at El Salvador expressed fears that Spanish sympathizers might try to seize one of the Pacific Mail steamers in the same manner as that attempted by Confederates during the Civil War, the  p155 Navy Department felt it necessary to take no steps beyond warning the Pacific Mail Steamship Company. No more concise indication of the lack of danger to the Pacific coast, or of the diminished importance of the Panama route, could be needed than this calmness of the Department. At the same time, it was realized that the Spaniards might send a raiding force to this undefended area and ships of other squadrons were supplied with charts to enable them to operate in the eastern Pacific if necessary.

Agitation for annexation of Hawaii, continuing sporadically ever since Cleveland had prevented it in 1893, was given a powerful assist by Dewey's victory at Manila Bay. The commodore became the hero of his country, and almost no one denied that he should be supported in every way. It was desirable that communications with the Asiatic Squadron should be ensured, and this could be accomplished by taking possession of the important island group almost directly on the route from the United States to the Philippine Islands. Actually this was unnecessary because the Hawaiian Republic had consistently violated its neutrality to aid the United States in every way. At any rate, both sides were eager for annexation, and President William McKinley signed a joint resolution of Congress putting it into effect on 7 July 1898.

Admiral Miller, thus far excluded from the events in which more fortunate officers were gaining fame, was ordered to Hawaii to participate in the annexation ceremonies. He could hardly go in the little Albatross, probably still smelling of fish; therefore, the Hawaiian Islands remained nominally independent until the Mare Island Navy Yard could recommission the cruiser Philadelphia to carry his flag to Honolulu.

The formal transfer of the Hawaiian Islands to American sovereignty took place on 12 August, with one of the Philadelphia's men hoisting the flag. Ordinarily this duty would have flown to the chief quartermaster, but he bore the very un‑American name of Czarnicke, so a sailor named Winters was selected instead. Later it developed that Winters was an assumed name; he had taken it in order to reenlist after deserting during his first cruise. His true name? Murphy!

The Spanish-American War terminated on the same day, and most of the unwarlike vessels of the Pacific Squadron returned to their former occupations. The purchased tugs Active, Iroquois, and Vigilant  p156 were retained for future use in the Navy, and the Pacific Squadron received additional warships as the fleets of Dewey and Sampson were reduced.

The role of the Pacific Squadron in the Spanish-American War was even smaller than it had been in the Civil War. In its supporting part, Admiral Miller's force did well, but almost the only shots fired by the ships under his command were involved in the twenty‑one gun salutes with which they greeted the news of the victories of Manila Bay and Santiago de Cuba.

The return of peace brought no new developments so far as the Pacific Squadron was concerned. Commodore Albert Kautz, who relieved Miller in October 1898, had only the flagship Philadelphia and the gunboats Bennington and Yorktown under his command. To be sure, his responsibilities had been diminished by American annexation of the Hawaiian Islands. His immediate predecessors had been forced to remain at Honolulu for long periods, but now there was little need to maintain a naval force there. The old Mohican was assigned as station ship and was available for annual cruises through the islands to discourage infringements on American rights, particularly by Japanese nationals.

Early in 1899, reports of trouble in Samoa caused Secretary Long to order Kautz to proceed to that area in the Philadelphia. The terms of the Berlin Agreement of 1889 had included provision for the selection of a "king" to succeed Malietoa. Upon his death, on 22 August 1898, trouble had arisen when rival factions each chose a new leader and refused to accept the decision of the Samoan chief justice about which should be Malietoa's successor. As usual, the consuls present were involved, the Briton and the American supporting the chief justice, while their German counterpart was strenuously opposed to his decision.

Kautz, as senior naval officer present, took charge and worked out a settlement, but this was unacceptable to most of the Samoans. In April, the Philadelphia joined with British warships in a punitive bombardment of villages in protest against the local intransigence and the arrogance of the German consul. Samoans ambushed an Anglo-American landing force in retaliation, and sporadic fighting continued until the arrival of a joint commission in the USS Badger in May.

 p157  International tension rose over the Samoan crisis, but an armed clash was averted by an agreement among the three powers. The German Minister in Washington had proposed that the islands be divided among the United States, Great Britain, and Germany, but the British were not in agreement with this proposal. After further negotiations, it was agreed, on 9 November 1899, to divide the islands group between the United States and Germany, with Great Britain accepting from Germany her rights in Tonga and certain areas in the Solomon Islands and in West Africa. Germany took the large islands Upolu and Savaii, while the United States annexed the islands east of 171° West longitude. These included Tutuila with its Pago Pago Harbor, already the site of a coaling station, and the smaller Manua and Rose Islands.

This disposition ended the Samoan difficulties once and for all, but there was less than unanimous opinion as to the wisdom of the American action. Rear Admiral Arent S. Crowninshield, Chief of the Bureau of Navigation, had already protested that the United States had no need of a base in those remote waters, valuable only as a way station on the route to Australia. Moreover, it was unlikely that the Pacific Squadron would be large enough to spend time cruising in that area. Unfortunately for his argument, Crowninshield prefaced it with an admission that the matter was beyond the scope of his duties, and it received scant notice from the Navy Department.

The collier Abarenda had been sent out to serve as station ship at Pago Pago even before the annexation, and when, on 1 February 1900, all of American Samoa was placed under Navy Department administration, the Abarenda's Commander Benjamin F. Tilley added to his duties that of territorial governor. His instructions read:

While your position as Commandant will invest you with authority over the islands in the group embraced within the limits of the Station, you will at all times exercise care to conciliate and cultivate friendly relations with the natives.

A simple, straightforward method of administration, such as to win and hold the confidence of the people, is expected of you, by the Dept.7

This duty as station ship was one of the most uneventful to which a vessel could be assigned. The Abarenda spent her time moored at Pago Pago while her men worked on the new naval station; or she cruised through the waters of her station, surveying or carrying the  p158 legal authority to the smaller islands. Occasionally she went to New Zealand for docking, but generally she stayed in the vicinity of American Samoa. The Abarenda and her successors were officially attached to the Pacific Squadron most of the time, but they rarely came in contact with the flag officer commanding on Pacific Station.

In the years following the war with Spain, the Philippine insurrection caused the retention of a sizable number of warships in the Asiatic Squadron, with consequent neglect of the Pacific Squadron. For the most part, the latter consisted of a few protected cruisers and gunboats with a battleship attached occasionally. However, the large ship rarely remained in the eastern Pacific for long, and her presence merely reduced the tactical unity of the Pacific Squadron. Such maneuvers as were held were hardly more than useless because no two ships possessed even similar characteristics. And few maneuvers were held — the number of vessels assigned to the Pacific Station was too small to permit them to gather without neglecting duties of more immediate importance.

The Oregon's long voyage to join the North Atlantic Squadron vividly demonstrated the necessity for a canal across Central America. American acquisition of Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and base sites in Cuba made this more practical, for the United States was now in a position to dominate both the Pacific and the Caribbean approaches to such a canal. The probability that it would be built either in Nicaragua or in Panama led to increased interest in these localities. A revolution in Panama in 1901 caused the landing of Marines from the USS Iowa of the Pacific Squadron to ensure safe rail transit across the Isthmus. A continuation of the trouble in the following year brought American warships to both Panama City and Colón, the whole force commanded by Rear Admiral Silas Casey, commander in chief of the Pacific Squadron. Casey withdrew his landing forces as Colombian troops demonstrated their ability to keep the railroad in operation, and then he called a conference between government and revolutionary leaders on board the flagship Wisconsin. Under his supervision, the Colombian terms were not unduly harsh, and the revolutionists accepted them on 21 November 1902. Admiral Casey sailed for San Francisco on the following day to receive the approbation of the Department for his tactful handling of a delicate situation.

 p159  Almost a year later the Pacific Squadron's cruiser Boston was ordered to Panama on a similar mission. But this time American warships helped to prevent Colombian forces from interfering in the revolution that was to make Panama independent and to lead directly to construction of the Panama Canal. The Boston's part in this affair was very small. Only on the Caribbean coast did the Colombian troops attempt to land, and they were dissuaded by a shrewd mixture of bribes and threats from the American men-o'‑war at Colón. No one gained any honor in this incident, but President Theodore Roosevelt had cleared the last political obstacle to construction of the canal and could now "make the dirt fly."

During the period immediately following 1903 the composition of the Pacific Squadron remained about the same. The battleships Iowa and Wisconsin had been withdrawn, the former to Atlantic waters and the latter to the Asiatic Squadron. The armored cruiser New York carried the flag and was supported by the familiar protected cruisers and gunboats. The new monitor Wyoming was also assigned to the squadron and proved nearly as difficult to fit into any tactical formation as her older sisters had been.

Something new appeared in the Pacific when the submarine torpedo boats Grampus and Pike were commissioned at Mare Island on 28 May 1903. They were not a part of the Pacific Squadron. In fact, many felt that they really were not a part of the United States Navy. It has become fashionable to scorn the mossbacks whose conservatism blinded them to the value of the new weapons, but in truth only a visionary could have foreseen a very brilliant future for these strange craft. Usually one commanding officer was assigned to the two boats since only one was available for service at a time, and often both were laid up for alterations and repairs. Their cruising radius almost restricted them to San Francisco Bay, and their infrequent dives were made in the shallow waters of San Pablo Bay near Mare Island.

Lieutenant Arthur MacArthur, Jr., the first commanding officer of the Pike and Grampus, believed in the submarines, and bent his mind to finding the best way to make them useful to the Navy. Recognizing the difficulty of procuring a suitable mooring site and the limitations imposed by the short cruising range of the primitive submersibles, he recommended that a tug or other small surface vessel  p160 be assigned to serve as their tender. She could carry fuel, stores, and spare parts, and provide berthing facilities for their crews. Thus any harbor could serve as a base of operations so long as the tender was present, and she could even tow them from port to port if their gasoline supplies would not permit them to cruise under their own power. Perhaps this idea of a submarine tender was not original with MacArthur, but its value has been demonstrated in two wars.

MacArthur was relieved by Ensign Stanley Woods in 1905. This young officer had an even greater faith in the ability of the submarines to participate actively in naval operations. He obtained permission to go to San Diego with the boats and their tender, the tug Fortune, to take part in maneuvers with the Pacific Squadron.

Unfortunately, Woods was more daring than some of the men who served under his command, and they lost confidence in his ability to handle the submarines. When ordered to demonstrate the military value of one of the boats to the Western Board of Inspection and Survey in 1905, several of the most important control operators indicated their unwillingness to dive with him. Woods wished to continue the test with other men, but the Board members felt that it would be unwise to station inexperienced men at the diving controls. Ensign Woods was therefore relieved of his command, and the enlisted men were assigned to other submarines.8

The submarines were not the only torpedo craft on Pacific Station at this time. The need for surface torpedo boats had been emphasized by the Spanish-American War, and several had been built by private shipyards on the Pacific coast. These boats were grouped in the Torpedo Flotilla based at Mare Island. Owing to lack of funds, only one was kept in commission, but her crew took the other boats out occasionally, and they could have been commissioned readily had the need arisen. Like the early submarines, the torpedo boats were very small and could carry only limited amounts of coal, fresh water, and supplies. Since they could not operate as cruising units of the Pacific Squadron, the Farragut, Davis, and Fox were under a separate command, but joined the larger vessels periodically for maneuvers.

The larger torpedo-boat destroyers Perry, Preble and Paul Jones were attached to the Pacific Squadron in 1904. During operations in  p161 Panamanian waters, they proved to have a range of about twenty‑six hundred miles at ten knots and were especially valuable as dispatch boats. But life in the little ships was hardly attractive. Virtually all boilers and engines, they would have been hot even in Arctic waters when steaming on all four boilers, and in tropical heat they were unbearable. They were painted black for lower visibility during night torpedo attacks, although most American naval vessels of the time wore the white coats so welcome in tropical waters. Rear Admiral Henry Glass, commanding the Pacific Squadron, recommended that the destroyers also be painted white, and this alleviated the discomfort of their personnel to some extent.

Despite the apparent usefulness of the destroyers to the Pacific Squadron, the Navy Department could not decide to assign them to that force permanently. Even its commander in chief was occasionally in doubt about whether or not the Torpedo Flotilla was under his command, a graphic example of the uncertainty as to the tactical use of destroyers.

The first disaster to strike the patrol squadron since 1889 occurred on 21 July 1905 when an explosion on board the gunboat Bennington at San Diego killed one officer and sixty-five men. The monitor Wyoming had lost her starboard crew, and the gunboat was raising steam to go to her assistance when two boilers exploded. The Bennington sank at her moorings, but was later raised under the direction of Naval Constructor Holden A. Evans of Mare Island. He also undertook the defense of her commanding officer and won their acquittal by proving that defective material in one boiler had caused the original explosion. This incident and the subsequent inquiries brought to light the palpable indifference toward engineering in the United States Navy — the Bennington's chief engineer was an ensign who had never stood an engine-room watch before being assigned to his post — and led to increased emphasis on the training of officers for engineering duty.b

For the most part, the Pacific Squadron busied itself with the routine duties of cruising; maneuvers and target practice on the "drill ground" at Magdalena Bay, Mexico; surveying; observing conditions in the region of Panama where the canal was under construction; and  p162 establishing coaling stations in Alaska and the Aleutians. And the squadron was hardly large enough even for these prosaic tasks. Rear Admiral Gaspar F. Goodrich wrote in 1905:

The Panama station requires practically the undivided attention of two vessels, leaving but three others available for Squadron work during such brief periods as they may be out of the navy yards. Their advanced years and feebleness render their visits to these most useful, if at times somewhat exasperating, adjuncts to naval power, not only frequent, but prolonged.9

He went on to ask that six of the militarily worthless, but tactically identical, Tacoma-class cruisers be assigned to his squadron in order that his officers might improve their tactical skill and that some of the more remote waters of the station might be visited. But the Department replied that commitments in West Indian and Asiatic waters made it impossible to reinforce the Pacific Squadron; Goodrich would have to be satisfied with his old and slow cruisers and gunboats, no two of which were similar in anything but age.

That they had some value, however, was demonstrated when Admiral Goodrich at Long Beach received a wireless message informing him of the San Francisco earthquake and fire of 18 April 1906. He got the flagship under way immediately, ordered the Marblehead to follow, and raced to the northward. The admiral disembarked from the Chicago to find that the commandant at Mare Islandc had sent his tugs to aid in fighting fires, while the destroyer Preble and other vessels brought Marines and sailors. The Navy established a waterfront patrol in addition to rendering aid wherever required. The last of the naval forces were re‑embarked in the Boston and Princeton on 10 May, leaving the San Francisco in the hands of army and militia personnel. It would be impossible to evaluate the assistance given to the populace of San Francisco by naval personnel on this occasion, nor is it necessary to do so. It was simply another instance of the ability of a naval force to be of great assistance to fellow-countrymen even in time of peace.

In December 1906, Captain Alfred T. Mahan's doctrine of fleet concentration was approaching reality. With few exceptions, American battleships had been concentrated in the North Atlantic Ocean to form the Atlantic Fleet. The Asiatic Squadron possessed a strong and homogeneous group of cruisers in addition to the necessary gunboats,  p163 but most of the old distant stations had been discontinued.

Only the Pacific Squadron seemed to have been forgotten; however, better things were promised it in a letter received by its commander in chief in the waning days of 1906. This informed him that the force under his command would be reorganized on 1 January 1907. The First Division of the First Squadron was to include the new first‑class (partially armored) cruisers Charleston and Milwaukee, the protected cruiser Chicago, and the gunboat Yorktown. The protected cruiser Boston and the gunboat Princeton would form the Second Division, and the Fourth Torpedo Flotilla — the destroyers Preble and Paul Jones — would also be attached to the Pacific Squadron. This relatively imposing organization was somewhat less powerful in reality, for the Milwaukee had not completed her trials. This merely meant that only the two destroyers were tactically identical; a situation by no means unusual for the Pacific Squadron.

Civilian interest in naval affairs continued to be great on the Pacific coast, and it was encouraged by reports that the Navy Department intended to form the long-desired "Pacific Coast Fleet" containing at least eight of the most modern warships. The editor of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer sought to confirm the rumors by a telegram to Secretary of the Navy Victor H. Metcalf on 5 February 1907. Metcalf replied:

Press dispatch misleading. Dept. simply contemplates placing all vessels in Pacific Ocean under one command, same as present force in Atlantic. Eventually all vessels in Pacific can be repaired on our own coast, moving by divisions from Asiatic waters. No present change in distribution of vessels.10

The Secretary's answer seemed to presage the end of the old Pacific Station, but it was destined to return.


The Author's Notes:

1 John D. Long, The New American Navy (New York: Outlook Co., 1903), I, 39.

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2 Greer to Tracy, 5 October 1889, "Area Nine File, 1814‑1910."

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3 Henry A. Wiley, Rear Admiral, USN (Ret.), An Admiral from Texas (New York: Doubleday, Doran & Co., 1934), p63.

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4 C. S. Freeman, Rear Admiral, USN, "The Puget Sound Navy Yard," Historical Transactions, 1893‑1943 (New York: Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers, 1945), p82.

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5 Roosevelt to Long, 18 April 1898, "Area Nine File, 1814‑1910."

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6 Miller to Long, 15 June 1898, ibid.

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7 Acting Secretary of the Navy Allen to Tilley, 17 February 1900, ibid.

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8 This was the "Navy Mutiny of 1905" described in Holden A. Evans, One Man's Fight for a Better Navy (New York: Dood, Mead and Co., 1940), pp158‑160. My account is based largely on a letter from Admiral Arthur J. Hepburn to me, 28 November 1955. Both Hepburn and Evans were members of the Board.

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9 Goodrich to Secretary of the Navy, 26 November 1905, "Area Nine File, 1814‑1910."

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10 Secretary of the Navy Metcalf to Editor, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 5 February 1907.


Thayer's Notes:

a For a full treatment of the Itata and Baltimore incidents, see Osgood Handy, The Itata Incident (HAHR 5:195‑226).

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b Holden A. Evans, One Man's Fight for a Better Navy, pp161‑178.

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c His identity was a surprisingly difficult piece of information to discover. As far as I can tell — I'm still not 100% positive — he was Rear Admiral Bowman Hendry McCalla, who retired two months later, June 19, 1906: a retirement that was statutorily mandated, it being his 62d birthday.


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