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 Nov. 9: The hardworking white hull from Beantown
Here we see the Atlanta-class protected cruiser USS Boston during the early 1890s. She had a long running career that saw the end of the old Navy, the creation of the new one, and then lived long enough to see herself become the forgotten dowager of the fleet she once led.
The Squadron of Evolution, or White Squadron, consisting of the three new protected cruisers (Atlanta, Boston and Chicago), dispatch boat USS Dolphin and gunboats USS Yorktown, Bennington and Concord, were authorized by Congress for the “New Navy” starting in 1883. Breaking from the monitors and sailing ships of the Navy’s first 100 years, they were modern men-of-war of the sort that would prowl the seas moving forward. The squadron, once assembled, toured ports in America, Europe, North Africa, and South America, demonstrating the U.S. Navy’s technological prowess as well as its commitment to protecting the nation’s merchant fleet.
Two of the principal vessels, Atlanta and Boston, were sisters at 3,189-tons and 283-feet in length, roughly the size of a modern corvette or sloop today. Armed with a pair of 8″/30 guns and a half-dozen 6″/30s protected by a couple inches of armor plate, they could make 16.3-knots and sail over 3,300 nms before needing to find a refill of coal. The pair were among the Navy’s first four steel ships, with Atlanta completed at the New York Navy Yard and Boston built by John Roach & Sons, Chester, Pennsylvania.
Commissioning 2 May 1887, Boston was ready to fight.
View on the forecastle, looking aft, with crewmembers at their stations looking out for torpedo attack, 1888. Several weapons and related items are visible on the bridge wings, all of relevance for repelling a torpedo boat attack. They include (from left to right): a 1-pounder gun, a Gatling machine gun, a 37mm revolving cannon, and a searchlight. The ship’s very exposed forward 8/30 gun is in the right foreground, with its crew standing at their posts. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 56537
View of the quarterdeck looking forward, circa 1887. Gun is an 8″/30cal of her main battery– again in a very exposed mount. Catalog #: NH 56523
Taken in 1888, the guns are 6″/30cals with the gun deck almost a throwback to the days of the USS Constitution. Catalog #: NH 56536
Enlisted port watch in 1888. Note the one pounder gun on the left and the Navy model Gatling machine gun on the top right. Catalog #: NH 56549
View of the mast and fighting top, circa 1888. Note 37 mm Hotchkiss gun in top. Catalog #: NH 56522
Her crew was also ready to go ashore and fight in a company-sized force with the traditional rifle, bayonet and cutlass, as well as modern automatic weapons by Mr. Gatling and Hotchkiss.
Now THIS is the Navy of Decatur! Caption: Sword practice on USS Boston, “Single stick exercise” in 1888. Description: Catalog #: NH 56552
Two prints showing the cruiser’s landing force drilling in riot tactics, in a square fighting formation, and in column of fours marching formation, 1888. Probably taken at the New York Navy Yard. Note these Sailors rifles, bayonets and military field gear. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 56551
Crewmembers in landing force drill, New York Navy Yard, 1888. Guns are 37 mm Hotchkiss revolving cannon, on field carriages. Note the BOSTON in the background of the lower photograph. Catalog #: NH 56529
Boston was a product of the 19th Century and she was finely equipped– as photos of her interior attest– with ornate wood paneling and joinerwork in wardrooms, leather appointments, brightwork and the like that would seem more at home in a 17th Century ship of the line than a steel warship with electric lighting and steam heating.
Wardroom, 1888. Now this is style. Catalog #: NH 56532
Two of the ship’s warrant officers in their stateroom, 1888. Note personal photographs and other decorations in the room, fancy wooden desk, and uniform collar insignia worn by these officers, also the sword. How much mustache pomade do you think these guys ran through per cruise? U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 52424
Junior officers reading by electric light, in the ship’s steerage quarters, 1888. Note objects on the table in the foreground, among them a T-Square and other drafting instruments, pipes and cigarettes, and dice. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 47025
Officer’s stateroom in 1888. Note the desk lamp. Catalog #: NH 56533
Captain’s cabin, 1888. Note the silver service. Catalog #: NH 56531
View in ship’s dispensary, 1888, showing bottles in sheet metal wall racks; instruments on tables and bulkheads; wooden joinerwork; electric light with hanging hook on top; and use of overhead pipes as a storage rack. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 56543
View in the forward compartment of the berth deck, looking toward the bow, 1888. Note the storage lockers at right, tin cups hanging from the overhead, swinging mess table, cable reel, anchor chain and capstain mechanism, ladders and hatches. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 56539
In drydock at the New York Navy Yard, Brooklyn, New York, 1888. Note fancy scrollwork on her bow bulwark, and reinforcing strip on the side of her ram bow. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 56526
View in ship’s chart house, 1888, showing steering wheel, binnacle, engine order telegraph, steam radiators, and other features. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 56540
In a throwback to the days of John Paul Jones, the ships of the White Squadron still commissioned with auxiliary sailing rigs.
The protected cruiser USS Boston at anchor with her dirty canvas out. Note ships’ boats alongside. Photo courtesy of Marius Bar via Navsource.
Once commissioned, Boston was shown off far and wide, being something of a love boat for the Navy.
White Squadron in 1891, note the cruisers Atlanta and Boston, Yorktown, Chicago Petrel, Cushing. Newark, and Dynamite ship Vesuvius
In the first five years in the fleet, she participated in naval parades with Civil War veterans on her deck, delivered gunboat diplomacy in the Caribbean and Latin America, sailed the Med, rounded Cape Horn to visit California, and made for Hawaii– then mired in conspiratorial colonial actions.
There, she provided a shore party in January 1893 that, sadly for history, bolstered the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy.
Dressed with flags and manning her yards during the Centennial Naval Parade in New York Harbor, 29 April 1889. The four-star flag of Admiral David Dixon Porter is flying from her mainmast peak– since the death of Farragut the only four star until Dewey. Photographed by Loeffler, Tomkinsville, Staten Island, New York. Donation of Rear Admiral Ammen Farenholt, USN(MC), 1933. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 416
USS Boston left and near-sister USS Atlanta tied up together, probably at the New York Navy Yard, circa the late 1880s or early 1890s. Note that their yards have been cocked to avoid striking each other and they have different schemes with Atlanta lacking bow scrolls. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 69173
Steaming off San Francisco, California, circa 1892-1893. Photographed by Marceau, 826 Market St., San Francisco. Collection of Rear Admiral Wells L. Field, USN. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph Catalog #: NH 73387
Fine screen halftone reproduction of a photograph of the ship’s landing force on duty at the Arlington Hotel, Honolulu, at the time of the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy, January 1893. Lieutenant Lucien Young, USN, commanded the detachment, and is presumably the officer at right. Note the very Civil War-like formation. I believe the rifles to be M1885 Remington-Lees. The original photograph is in the Archives of Hawaii. This halftone was published prior to about 1920. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. NH 56555
Laid up at Mare Island for overhaul, Boston joined the Asiatic Squadron at Yokohama, Japan on 25 February 1896 and sailed into history two years later as one of the stronger ships under the command of Commodore George Dewey when he kicked in the door of Manila Bay and destroyed the Spanish fleet off Cavite in a brief but historic engagement.
Battle of Manila Bay, 1 May 1898. Description: Colored print after a painting by J.G. Tyler, copyright 1898 by P.F. Collier. Ships depicted in left side of print are (l-r): Spanish Warships Don Antonio de Ulloa, Castilla, and Reina Cristina. Those in right side are (l-r): USS Boston, USS Baltimore and USS Olympia. Collections of the Navy Department, purchased from Lawrence Lane, 1970. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 71839-KN
The protected cruiser USS BOSTON in action, 1 May 1898. Description: Presented by Lieutenant C.J. Dutreaux, USNR (retired) Catalog #: USN 902933
Boston remained in the PI and Chinese waters through most of 1899 on pacification duties before returning once again to Mare Island, where she was modernized, losing her dated sailing rig.
Underway, circa the early 1900s, after her sailing rig had been removed and other modifications made. Note the new-type gun shield fitted to her forward eight-inch gun (finally!) and the huge contrast to her profile from the lead image above. Donation of Rear Admiral Ammen Farenholt, USN(MC), 1935. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 61699
Recommissioned 11 Aug 1902, Boston resumed her cruise life off South America, Hawaii, and the US West Coast, sent her crew ashore in San Francisco to help in disaster response to the famous earthquake and fire there in 1906 and by June 1907 was back in ordinary.
She went on to serve as a training vessel for the Oregon Naval Militia through 1916.
When the next war came in April 1917, she was far too old to fight. Landing her guns, she was converted to a freighter and then towed to Yerba Buena Island, California, where she served as a receiving ship until 1940.
View in the crew’s space, on the lower deck looking aft, with the mainmast at left. Taken at the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, 23 December 1918, following Boston’s conversion for service as the receiving ship at Yerba Buena Island, California. Note the electric lights in the overhead. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 74472
USS Boston tied up at Yerba Buena Island, while serving as receiving ship there, shortly before World War II. This ship was renamed Despatch on 9 August 1940 and designated IX-2 on 17 February 1941. Note the old destroyers at left, lightship at right and San Francisco Bay ferryboats in the distance. Courtesy of Ted Stone, 1979. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 89404
Remaining at Yerba Buena Island, Boston, then under the designation IX-2, was the site of a floating radio school there in World War II.
When her second World War ended, she was towed out to sea and sank in deep water off San Francisco on 8 April 1946, after 59 years of service.
No gold watch for her.
She far outlived her sister Atlanta, who was stricken and sold to the breakers in 1912.
Boston‘s 8″/30s, which fired at Manila Bay, were saved and installed at the Seattle Naval Hospital in 1942, then moved to Hamlin Park, in Shoreline, Washington sometime in the 1950s, where they remain today in very good shape.
Boston’s two 8″/30 guns. These guns are on display in Shoreline, Washington just north of Seattle at Hamlin Park. These pictures were taken 14 OCT 2007. Via Navsource
She has also been remembered in maritime art.
USS Boston (1887-1946) Painting by Rod Claudius, Rome, Italy, 1962. This artwork was made for display on board USS Boston (CAG-1). Photographed by PHCS G.R. Phelps, Boston Naval Shipyard, 10 April 1963. Official U.S. Navy Photograph. Catalog #: KN-4782
USS Boston underway, probably off Boston, Massachusetts, 1891. Photographed by H.C. Peabody, Boston. Collection of Warren Beltramini, donated by Beryl Beltramini, 2007. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.Catalog #: NH 105556
Displacement: 3,189 long tons (3,240 t)
Length: 283 ft. (86.3 m)
Beam: 42 ft. (12.8 m)
Draft: 17 ft. (5.2 m)
8 × boilers
1 × horizontal compound engine
3,500 ihp (2,600 kW)
Sails (as built)
1 × shaft
Speed: 16.3 kn (18.8 mph; 30.2 km/h) on trials, 13 kn (15 mph; 24 km/h) designed
Range: 3,390 nmi (6,280 km; 3,900 mi) at 10 kn (19 km/h; 12 mph)
Complement: 284 officers and men
Armament: (Removed in 1916)
2 × 8-inch (203 mm)/30 caliber Mark 1 guns (shields added in 1902)
6 × 6-inch (152 mm)/30 caliber Mark 2 guns
2 × 6-pounder (57 mm (2.24 in)) guns
2 × 3-pounder (47 mm (1.85 in)) Hotchkiss revolving cannon
2 × 1-pounder (37 mm (1.46 in)) Hotchkiss revolving cannon
2 × .45 caliber (11.4 mm) Gatling guns
Barbettes: 2 in (51 mm)
Deck: 1.5 in (38 mm)
Conning tower: 2 in (51 mm)
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