Warship Wednesday March 23, 2016: A stormy tale of colonial standoff gone wrong

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all of their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday March 23, 2016: A stormy tale of colonial standoff gone wrong

Courtesy of the Rev. William D. Henderson, 1967. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.Catalog #: NH 64694

Courtesy of the Rev. William D. Henderson, 1967. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.Catalog #: NH 64694

Here we see the Kansas-class (later Adams-class) wooden-hulled screw gunboat USS Nipsic in Limon Bay, Panama, during the Darien Expedition of 1870. We say (later) because, though on the Navy List from 1863-1913 in one form or another, the Nipsic was actually two vessels.

Laid down 24 December 1862 by the Portsmouth Navy Yard, Kittery, Maine, the 129-foot sail-rigged steamer was commissioned just nine months later on 2 September 1863 at the height of the Civil War. Rushed to the blockade of Charleston, she arrived by Thanksgiving and spent the next 18 months in Southern waters, capturing the blockade-runner Julia in 1864.

Lithograph of USS Nipsic, Kansas class screw steam gunboat. Catalog #: 2014.72. Naval History & Heritage Command

Lithograph of USS Nipsic, Kansas class screw steam gunboat. Catalog #: 2014.72. Naval History & Heritage Command. She and sistership Yantic were kept around after the war and refitted with a third mast.

After the end of the war, unlike most vessels acquired during the conflict by the Navy, she continued in active service, chopping to the South Atlantic Squadron where she served off the coast of Brazil and in the West Indies for eight years, being rebuilt at the Washington Navy Yard in 1869 during this time.

At the Washington Navy Yard, District of Columbia. The Yard's western shiphouse is in the background. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 45212

At the Washington Navy Yard, District of Columbia. The Yard’s western shiphouse is in the background. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 45212

Once rebuilt, she carried the Darien Expedition to the Isthmus of Darien (Panama) led by Cmdr. Thomas Oliver Selfridge. The purpose of the expedition was to determine a canal route and a collection of photographs taken by Timothy O’Sullivan is in the Library of Congress.

Columbia Harbor, eastern terminus of canal, mouth of Atrato, U.S.S. NIPSIC

Darien Selfridge Survey. The First Reconnoitering Expedition, upon its return from the Isthmus of Darien Survey, No. 1 Commander Selfridge. No. 2. Captain Houston, USMC. No. 3. Lieutenant Goodrell, No. 4. Lieutenant Commander Schulze, No. 5 P.A. Surgeon Simonds, No. 6 P.A. Paymaster Loomis, No. 7 Lieutenant Jasper, No. 8 Mr. Sullivan Asst C.S. , No. 9 Lieutenant Allen, USMC: NH 123343

Darien Selfridge Survey. The First Reconnoitering Expedition, upon its return from the Isthmus of Darien Survey, No. 1 Commander Selfridge. No. 2. Captain Houston, USMC. No. 3. Lieutenant Goodrell, No. 4. Lieutenant Commander Schulze, No. 5 P.A. Surgeon Simonds, No. 6 P.A. Paymaster Loomis, No. 7 Lieutenant Jasper, No. 8 Mr. Sullivan Asst C.S. , No. 9 Lieutenant Allen, USMC: NH 123343

Upon return, Nipsic was kept around for a bit and laid up in 1873 at Portsmouth next to her Civil War sister USS Kansas (who was sold for scrap in 1883). The Navy had already stricken the remainder of the Kansas-class vessels (USS Maumee, USS Nyack, USS Pequot, USS Saco) and was working on disposing of them. Only USS Yantic was still in service– rebuilt in a “great repair” and kept around until 1930 as a training vessel and hulk.

What’s a great repair?

Well the Navy, lacking funds for new ship construction, traded a number of condemned vessels in the 1870s to shipbuilders to break up and either recycle or sell the salvaged materials for new ships that carried names of vessels already on the Naval List. However, ship specific items such as bells, wheels, furnishings and other objects were transferred to retain the ruse.

That’s how, on 11 October 1879, after a six-year “lay-up” in Portsmouth, a new iron-hulled 179-foot Adams-class third rate gunboat, still USS Nipsic, emerged from the Washington Navy Yard, to be “recommissioned.”

The Adams-class vessels were barque-rigged/steam-powered vessels that could make 11 knots when needed and mounted a modern armament of a single 11-inch gun, a quartet of 9-inchers, and a 60-pound Parrott. Nipsic‘s new sisterships, all new construction, carried historic USN ship names (Adams, Enterprise, Essex, and Alliance) and were designed to show the flag in far-off parts of the world, soon making their presence felt across the globe.

Adams, Nipsic's new sistership. Note how much this ship differs from the above.

Adams, Nipsic’s new sistership. Note how much this ship differs from the above.

Nipsic was soon sailing, serving on European station before rounding the Horn and heading into the Pacific with her complement of Sailors and Marines.

USS Nipsic ship's Marines drilling on deck, circa the 1880s. Their rifles are of the trap-door Springfield type. Photographed by Bradley & Rulofson, San Francisco, California. Note hammocks lashed and stowed in the hammock rails, details of standing rigging, fancy railings over hatches, capstain, and lookout with telescope standing on the bulwark. Donation of Rear Admiral Ammen Farenholt, USN (MC), November 1931. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 44709

USS Nipsic ship’s Marines drilling on deck, circa the 1880s. Their rifles are of the trap-door Springfield type. Photographed by Bradley & Rulofson, San Francisco, California. Note hammocks lashed and stowed in the hammock rails, details of standing rigging, fancy railings over hatches, capstain, and lookout with telescope standing on the bulwark. Donation of Rear Admiral Ammen Farenholt, USN (MC), November 1931. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 44709

One of the far-off ports alluded to above was the nation archipelago of Samoa, which was locked in a three-way fight with the U.S., Germany and Great Britain all vying to take over.

Becoming station ship at Apia, Samoa, Nipsic was in the harbor on the night of 15-16 March 1889, during a violent hurricane that wrecked two German (the 1,040-ton gunboat SMS Adler and the 760-ton gunboat SMS Eber) and two U.S. Navy warships (the majestic Pacific Squadron flagship, the 3,900-ton frigate USS Trenton, and the USS Vandalia, a 2,033-ton sloop). You see, instead of setting course for open water to weather the storm at sea, neither the Germans nor the Americans wanted to leave the harbor alone to the other for fear of shenanigans.

While Nipsic and the German 2,424-ton corvette SMS Olga survived the storm, but both were driven ashore and seriously damaged. The only British man of war in the port at the time, HMS Calliope, who bravely put to sea to the cheers of the stricken vessels and survived the tempest.

The destruction in the harbor was staggering, with the warships bouncing off each other in the hurricane’s unrelenting tidal surge proving too much.

The Nipsic beached, wrecks of Trenton & Vandalia astern. Artwork by Rear Admiral Lewis A. Kimberly, contained in his personal journal of the Apia Hurricane. It shows the southeastern part of Apia Harbor after the storm's end. USS Nipsic is in the foreground and USS Vandalia is sunk at right, with USS Trenton wrecked alongside her. Courtesy of the Naval Historical Foundation. Donation of Miss Elsie S. Kimberly, January 1958. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 42125

The Nipsic beached, wrecks of Trenton & Vandalia astern. Artwork by Rear Admiral Lewis A. Kimberly, contained in his personal journal of the Apia Hurricane. It shows the southeastern part of Apia Harbor after the storm’s end. USS Nipsic is in the foreground and USS Vandalia is sunk at right, with USS Trenton wrecked alongside her. Courtesy of the Naval Historical Foundation. Donation of Miss Elsie S. Kimberly, January 1958. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 42125

Gunboat Adler overturned on the reef, on the western side of Apia Harbor, Upolu, Samoa, soon after the storm. Note her battered hull, well for hoisting propeller, rescue buoy mounted on her stern, and decorative windows painted on her quarters. NHHC Photograph Collection, NH 42286

Gunboat Adler overturned on the reef, on the western side of Apia Harbor, Upolu, Samoa, soon after the storm. Note her battered hull, well for hoisting propeller, rescue buoy mounted on her stern, and decorative windows painted on her quarters. NHHC Photograph Collection, NH 42286

View from the wrecked USS Trenton, with USS Vandalia sunk alongside. Taken in Apia Harbor, Upolu, Samoa, during the salvage of the ships' armament and equipment. Lines between Vandalia's foremast and Trenton's deck were used to save men clinging to Vandalia's rigging during the storm. Courtesy of the Naval Historical Foundation. Collection of Admiral Richard H. Jackson, 1965. NHHC Photograph Collection: NH 97996.

View from the wrecked USS Trenton, with USS Vandalia sunk alongside. Taken in Apia Harbor, Upolu, Samoa, during the salvage of the ships’ armament and equipment. Lines between Vandalia’s foremast and Trenton’s deck were used to save men clinging to Vandalia’s rigging during the storm. Courtesy of the Naval Historical Foundation. Collection of Admiral Richard H. Jackson, 1965. NHHC Photograph Collection: NH 97996.

Samoan Hurricane of 15-16 March 1889. Crewmembers of USS Vandalia at their camp at Apia, Upolu, Samoa, shortly after their ship was wrecked in the storm. Courtesy of the Naval Historical Foundation. Donation of Lt. H.E. La Mertha, 1934. NHHC Photograph Collection, NH 97917.

Samoan Hurricane of 15-16 March 1889. Crewmembers of USS Vandalia at their camp at Apia, Upolu, Samoa, shortly after their ship was wrecked in the storm. Courtesy of the Naval Historical Foundation. Donation of Lt. H.E. La Mertha, 1934. NHHC Photograph Collection, NH 97917.

Jury rudder being made for use in the ship's voyage to Hawaii to receive repairs for damage received during the 15-16 March 1889 hurricane. Probably taken at Apia, Upolu, Samoa, circa April-May 1889. The men present are (from left to right) the blacksmith's helper, blacksmith and carpenter's mate who built the rudder as designed and supervised by Rear Admiral Lewis A. Kimberly, USN. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. NH 63405

Jury rudder being made for use in the ship’s voyage to Hawaii to receive repairs for damage received during the 15-16 March 1889 hurricane. Probably taken at Apia, Upolu, Samoa, circa April-May 1889. The men present are (from left to right) the blacksmith’s helper, blacksmith and carpenter’s mate who built the rudder as designed and supervised by Rear Admiral Lewis A. Kimberly, USN. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. NH 63405

Jury Rudder for the Nipsic. 22 feet-long, with Bollards filled with grape shot for weights. Made at Apia, it worked satisfactorily on a voyage of over 3000 miles from Pango-Pango to Fanning Island and Honolulu called by the sailors The 'Admiral's Fiddle' Artwork by Rear Admiral Lewis A. Kimberly, contained in his personal journal of the Apia Hurricane, photographed against the text of one of the journal's pages. Courtesy of the Naval Historical Foundation. Donation of Miss Elsie S. Kimberly, January 1958. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 42128

Jury Rudder for the Nipsic. 22 feet-long, with Bollards filled with grape shot for weights. Made at Apia, it worked satisfactorily on a voyage of over 3000 miles from Pango-Pango to Fanning Island and Honolulu called by the sailors The ‘Admiral’s Fiddle’ Artwork by Rear Admiral Lewis A. Kimberly, contained in his personal journal of the Apia Hurricane, photographed against the text of one of the journal’s pages. Courtesy of the Naval Historical Foundation. Donation of Miss Elsie S. Kimberly, January 1958. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.
Catalog #: NH 42128

When pulled out of the water in Honolulu, what the screw looked like was unbelievable

Ship's propeller, showing damage received during the 15-16 March 1889 hurricane at Apia, Samoa. Not only was the propeller bent beyond repair, but also the rudder and rudderpost were torn away, as were the keel and deadwood below the propeller. Photographed in dry-dock at Honolulu, Hawaii, after Nipsic had arrived from Samoa, circa August 1889. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 63082

Ship’s propeller, showing damage received during the 15-16 March 1889 hurricane at Apia, Samoa. Not only was the propeller bent beyond repair, but also the rudder and rudderpost were torn away, as were the keel and deadwood below the propeller. Photographed in dry-dock at Honolulu, Hawaii, after Nipsic had arrived from Samoa, circa August 1889. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 63082

Repaired to some extent, Nipsic remained in Hawaiian waters until she could make the trip to California, where she was decommissioned and disarmed in 1890. Her machinery was removed and her only value was as a barge.

Even as such, she lived on for another quarter century, with a large roof built over her amidships area, as a barracks and prison hulk at Puget Sound Naval Station, Bremerton, Washington.

At the Puget Sound Naval Station, Bremerton, Washington, 5 October 1897, while serving as a barracks ship. Off Nipsic's stern is the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey ship Hassler, a 350-ton steamer built at Camden, New Jersey, in 1872. Donation of Rear Admiral Ammen Farenholt, USN(MC). U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 44602

At the Puget Sound Naval Station, Bremerton, Washington, 5 October 1897, while serving as a barracks ship. Off Nipsic’s stern is the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey ship Hassler, a 350-ton steamer built at Camden, New Jersey, in 1872. Donation of Rear Admiral Ammen Farenholt, USN(MC). U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 44602

Photographed in 1898, while serving as a barracks ship at the Puget Sound Naval Station, Bremerton, Washington. Collection of Naval Cadet Cyrus R. Miller. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 44603

Photographed in 1898, while serving as a barracks ship at the Puget Sound Naval Station, Bremerton, Washington. Collection of Naval Cadet Cyrus R. Miller. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 44603

In February 1913, she was sold for her value as scrap, which at the time was $15,000; and used as an unpowered timber barge, but was burned for salvage just two years later.

Of her second set of sisters, Adams served as a training ship to the New Jersey Naval Militia in WWI and was sold in 1920; Enterprise did the same for the Massachusetts Maritime Academy for decades before meeting the same fate as Adams in 1909; Essex was the training ship for first the Ohio then the Minnesota Naval Militia before being burned like Nipsic in 1930; and Alliance, after service which included fighting Colombian privateers in the 1880s, was hulked and kind of lost to history.

It seems in the end, that out of the Kansas and Adams-class gunboats, only Nipsic is memorialized.

Samoan Hurricane of 15-16 March 1889. Memorial tablet in the Chapel at the Mare Island Navy Yard, Calif., dedicated to the memory of officers and men of USS Trenton, USS Vandalia, and USS Nipsic who lost their lives in the storm. Photographed circa the early 1900s or earlier. NHHC Photograph Collection, NH 1897.

Samoan Hurricane of 15-16 March 1889. Memorial tablet in the Chapel at the Mare Island Navy Yard, Calif., dedicated to the memory of officers and men of USS Trenton, USS Vandalia, and USS Nipsic who lost their lives in the storm. NHHC Photograph Collection, NH 1897.

The damaged propeller of the Nipsic is on display at the Vallejo, California waterfront, across the channel from Mare Island while the tablet above is still in a place of honor today at St. Peter’s Chapel, the oldest naval chapel in the United States, maintained as part of the Mare Island Historic Park Foundation.

In addition, her Civil War-era 100-pound Parrott is on display at the Iowa State Capitol Complex.

Image by Knox Williams

Image by Knox Williams

She has also been remembered in a stamp issued by the Samoan government.

SG342

To date, Nipsic is the only ship to carry that name on the Naval List.

Specs:
(Kansas class, 1862-1879)
Displacement: 625 tons
Length: 129 ft. 6 in (39.47 m)
Beam: 29 ft. (8.8 m)
Draught: 10 ft. 6 in (3.20 m)
Propulsion: steam engine, screw propelled
Speed: 12 knots
Complement: 108
Armament:
one 100-pounder rifle (currently preserved in Iowa)
two 12-pounder rifles
two 20-pounder Dahlgren rifles
two 9” Dahlgren smoothbores

(As Adams-class, 1879-1913)
Displacement: 1,375 long tons (1,397 t)
Length: 185 ft. (56 m)
Beam: 35 ft. (11 m)
Draft: 14 ft. 3 in (4.34 m)
Propulsion: Steam engine, screw
Sail plan: Barque-rigged
Speed: 11 knots
Complement: 190
Armament: (Removed 1890)
1 × 11 in (280 mm) gun
4 × 9 in (230 mm) guns
1 × 60-pounder Parrott rifle
If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International

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About laststandonzombieisland

Let me introduce myself. I am a bit of a conflict junkie. I am fascinated by war and warfare, assassination, personal protection and weaponry ranging from spud guns and flame throwers to thermonuclear bombs and Soviet-trained Ebola monkeys. In short, if it’s violent or a tool to create violence it is kind of my thing. I have written a few thousand articles on the dry encyclopedia side for such websites as Guns.com, University of Guns, Outdoor Hub, Tac-44, History Times, Big Game Hunter, Glock Forum, Firearms Talk.com, and Combat Forums; as well as for print publications like England Expects, and Strike First Strike Fast. Several magazines such as Sea Classics, Military Historian and Collector, Mississippi Sportsman and Warship International have carried my pieces. Additionally I am on staff as a naval consultant and writer for Eye Spy Intelligence Magazine. Currently I am working on several book projects including an alternative history novel about the US-German War of 1916, and a biography of Southern gadfly and soldier of fortune Bennett Doty. My first novel, about the coming zombie apocalypse was released in 2012 by Necro Publications and can be found at Amazon.com as was the prequel, Chimera-44. I am currently working on book two of that series: "Pirates of the Zombie Coast." In my day job I am a contractor for the U.S. federal government in what could best be described as the ‘Force Protection’ field. In this I am an NRA-certified firearms, and less-than-lethal combat instructor.

3 responses to “Warship Wednesday March 23, 2016: A stormy tale of colonial standoff gone wrong”

  1. Chuck says :

    I just wanted you to know that I really enjoy your posts on warship Wednesday. Thanks

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