Warship Wednesday, June 14, 2017: The newly found enforcer of Dewey’s squadron

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 their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, June 14, 2017: The newly found enforcer of Dewey’s squadron

Commissioned in 1897, the McCulloch was the largest of a new breed of revenue cutters and the only one with three masts.

Here we see the one-of-a-kind barquentine-rigged steel-hulled cruising cutter McCulloch of the Revenue Cutter Service as she appeared while in the U.S. Navy attached to one Commodore Dewey on the Asiatic station in 1898. While I generally try to alternate U.S. and foreign ships on Warship Wednesday, and generally only do about 4-5 Coast Guard cutters a year, bear with me this week as the McCulloch is very much in the news again after being lost for the past 100 years.

Named after Hugh McCulloch, the gold-standard-loving Secretary of the Treasury under Presidents Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, Chester A. Arthur, and Grover Cleveland, the cutter McCulloch followed the longstanding tradition of the USRCS of naming large cutters after past Treasury bosses.

The message of President Abraham Lincoln nominating Hugh McCulloch to be Secretary of the Treasury of the United States, 03/06/1865, via The U.S. National Archives.

McCulloch passed away at his home in Maryland in May 1895 and his name was assigned to the newly ordered 219-foot cutter then being built at a price of $196,500 by William Cramp & Sons, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

McCulloch was rather fast, at 17.5 knots on trials with a twin boiler-fed triple-expansion steam engine, and could carry a quartet of deck guns (up to 5-inchers in theory, though only 6-pdr 57mm mounts were fitted) arranged in sponsons and located in the bow and stern quarters of the ship, as well as a single bow-mounted 15-inch torpedo tube for an early Whitehead-style fish. She was a composite design, with a steel hull sheathed in wood, and carried both her steam suite and an auxiliary sail rig.

Four near-sisters of what was known as the “Propeller-class” at the time were built during the same period, each to slightly tweaked designs, in an effort to modernize the aging RCS fleet. McCulloch was slightly larger and enjoyed more bunker space as a result. McCulloch maintained her distinction as the largest revenue cutter, and later USCG cutter, during her 20-year career.

Her shorter sisters:

Gresham, a brigantine-rigged 206-foot, 1,090-ton steel-hulled steamer built by the Globe Iron Works Company of Cleveland, OH for $147,800
Manning, a brigantine-rigged 205-foot, 1,150-ton composite-hulled steamer, was built by the Atlantic Works Company of East Boston, MA, for a cost of $159,951.
Algonquin, brigantine-rigged 205.5-foot, 1,180-ton steel-hulled steamer built by Globe for $193,000.
Onondaga, brigantine-rigged 206-foot, 1,190-ton steel-hulled steamer built by Globe for $193,800.

McCulloch, note her bow tube just above the waterline. Photo by Edward H. Hart, Detroit Publishing, via State Historical Society of Colorado, LOC LC-D4-20618

Commissioned 12 December 1897, McCulloch was placed under the command of Captain D.B. Hogsdon, RCS.

Captain Daniel B. Hodgsdon, US revenue cutter service, Reproduced from “Harper’s Weekly,” volume 43, 1899, page 977. NH 49012.

With the Spanish-American War looming, she was dispatched to join Dewey in the Far East via the Med, being the most modern and combat-ready vessel in the cutter service. Arriving at Singapore 8 April 1898, she was the first cutter to venture into the Indian Ocean or complete the Suez Canal.

Sailing with Dewey’s force of four cruisers and two gunboats, McCulloch was tasked to be something of the squadron’s all-purpose dispatch ship: scouting over the horizon, watching the squadron’s rear, keeping an eye on the supply ships Nanshan and Zafire, and being available for tow work as needed.

She did, however, make ready her guns once the balloon went up and, as the squadron penetrated Spanish-held Manila Bay on midnight of 30 April, she fired her guns in one of the first actions in the Pacific theater of that war.


Just as McCulloch brought El Fraile Rock [now Fort Drum ] abaft the starboard beam, the black stillness was broken. Soot in the cutter’s stack caught fire and sent up a column of fire like a signal light. Immediately thereafter a battery on El Fraile took McCulloch under fire. [The cruiser] Boston, in column just ahead of the cutter, answered the battery, as did McCulloch, and the Spanish gun emplacement was silenced.

Frank B. Randall, R.C.S., Chief Engineer of the Revenue Cutter McCulloch, died from the effects of heat and over-exertion while trying to stop the blaze from the smokestack of the McCulloch, and should rightfully be considered a death from the engagement, though in the subsequent rush to smother Dewey with a “no Americans were killed” moniker for the upcoming battle which began at 0540 on 1 May, he is often overlooked. He was buried at sea, with military honors, the following day.

Chief Engineer F.B. Randall, U.S. Revenue Cutter Service, an engraving reproduced for publication in “Harper’s Weekly” for September 30, 1899, page 975

McCulloch took part in the fleet engagement, minding the supply vessels from molestation from Spanish shore batteries and small craft. She also prevented the British steamer Esmeralda (1,989t) from leaving the harbor, on orders from Dewey.

Immediately after the battle, as Dewey had ordered the submarine cable from Manila to Hong Kong cut, he used McCulloch to convey messages to the latter location to communicate with Washington, giving the cutter the honor of carrying the news to the world of the great Battle of Manila Bay. Arriving at Hong Kong on 3 May, with Dewey’s aide, Lt. Brumby aboard to cable the report to the U.S., Hogsdon, sent his own.

From the USCG Historians Office:

U. S. STEAMER McCulloch,
Manila Bay, May 3, 1898.

SIR: Regarding the part taken by this vessel in the naval action of Manila Bay at Cavite, on Sunday morning, May 1, 1898, between the American and Spanish forces, I have the honor to submit the following report:
Constituting the leading vessel of the reserve squadron the McCulloch was, when fire opened, advanced as closely as was advisable in rear of our engaged men of war, in fact, to a point where several shells struck close aboard and others passed overhead, and kept steaming slowly to and fro, ready to render any aid in her power, or respond at once to any signal from the Olympia. A 9-inch hawser was gotten up and run aft, should assistance be necessary in case any of our ships grounded. At a later hour during the day, just prior to the renewal of the attack by our squadron, I intercepted the British mail steamer Esmeralda, in compliance with a signal from the flagship, communicated to her commander your orders in regard to his movements, and then proceeded to resume my former position of the morning, near the fleet, where I remained until the surrender of the enemy. I desire to state in conclusion that I was ably seconded by the officers and crew of my command in every effort made to be in a state of readiness to carry out promptly any orders which might have been signaled from your flagship.
Respectfully, yours,

Captain, R. C. S., Commanding

On a return trip from Hong Kong, the cutter brought Philippine Insurgent leader Emilio Aguinaldo back to the islands from his exile– which was to prove a mixed result for the U.S.

While patrolling Manila Bay, she helped assess the Spanish situation there and, in an individual fleet action on 29 May, captured the Spanish Albay-class gunboat Leyte (151t, 98-feet, 1x87mm, 1x70mm) with 25 officers and men aboard as well as 200 soldiers and a small amount of gold. That humble vessel would later be pressed into service as the USS Leyte and work around Cavite yard until sold for scrap in 1907.

Spanish Albay-class canonero Leyte

It was not only the Spanish the cutter had to worry about. With ships of the Kaiser’s navy poking around, McCulloch followed orders from Dewey to chase off the much larger cruiser SMS Irene (5,500-tons, 14x159mm guns) with a shot across the bow on 27 June. She ship was there ostensibly to pick up any German expats in the area and, while she did evac some noncombatants on Isla Grande, none of the Kaiser’s subjects were to be found.

"U.S.S. McCulloch firing a shot across the bow of the German cruiser Irene" by Frank Cresson Schnell, 1898, LOC LC-DIG-det-4a14436

“U.S.S. McCulloch firing a shot across the bow of the German cruiser Irene” by Frank Cresson Schnell, 1898, LOC LC-DIG-det-4a14436. Note the cutter is shown in perspective as being much larger than the German, when in fact the truth was the other way around.

On 5 July, the cruiser USS Raleigh fired a shot across the bow of the German Bussard-class cruiser SMS Cormoran in a similar incident.

McCullough remained in Manila Bay through November, participating in the final fall of the city that August.

Members of McCulloch’s crew pose with a Spanish shore gun disabled during Battle of Manila Bay at Corregidor. Courtesy of U.S. Navy.

Her service in the Far East with Dewey inspired a poem by H.M. Barstow to counter her image in stateside papers as only a “tender” or “dispatch boat.”

U.S. Revenue Cutter McCulloch, tender to the Admirals Fleet poem 1898

Arriving back in the U.S. at the end of 1898, she reverted to Treasury service. She did bring back with her a quartet of 37mm (1-pdr) revolving cannon from the Spanish cruiser Reina Cristina as war trophies presented to the ship and her crew by Dewey, which today rest outside of Hamilton Hall at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.

Right into drydock at San Francisco, California, circa 1899. Note her single screw Catalog #: NH 72407

Photographed circa 1900. You can see her torpedo tube molded into the bow. Note: Rigging has been retouched in this print Description: Catalog #: NH 46471

USRC McCulloch (1897-1917) Off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, circa 1900. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 46474

USRC McCulloch (1897-1917) Photographed by Vaughan & Keith, San Francisco, California, circa 1900. Halftone print. Description: Catalog #: NH 46472

Off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, circa 1900. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 46473

Off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, circa 1900. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 46473

For the next two decades, the cutter lived a much more sedate life, cruising from the Mexican border northward from her station in San Francisco until being ordered to Alaskan waters from 1906-12 as part of the Bearing Sea Patrol where she did everything from rescue lost fishermen to enforce the law in gold rush port towns to regulate the sealer exclusion zones in the Pribilof Islands.

In Alaskan waters during the time of Jack London’s books. She is likely dressed for a national holiday, probably July 4

McCulloch in Seward, Alaska Territory

Returning to California she cruised the West Coast until war broke out in April 1917.

USRC McCulloch Caption: At San Diego, California, before World War I. Description: Courtesy of Thomas P. Naughton, 1973. Catalog #: NH 92209

Note the difference in profile. In 1914, USRC Cutter McCulloch was ordered to Mare Island Navy Shipyard where the cutter’s boilers were replaced, the mainmast was removed and the bowsprit shortened. In 1915, McCulloch became a US Coast Guard Cutter when the US Revenue Cutter Service and US Life-Saving Service were combined to create the United States Coast Guard. Credit: Gary Fabian Collection via NOAA

Transferring once again to Navy service, she prowled the coast just in case German surface raiders popped up (remember the raider Seeadler was active at the time and captured three American-flagged schooners in June-July in the Southeast Pacific, and the raider Wolf had poked her nose into the West Pac).

However, McCullough was not destined to take another German ship under fire in time of war, as on the morning 13 June 1917, three miles northwest of Point Conception, California, she collided with the Pacific Steamship Company’s steamer Governor (5,474-tons) in dense fog.

One crewman, Acting Water Tender John Arvid Johansson, lost his life but all other hands were saved while the cutter sank in just 35 minutes. Johansson, trapped in his bunk when the collision occurred, never stood a chance.

“I heard the signal to abandon ship and went up on deck through the companionway onto the main deck to go to my station when I heard someone singing out for help. It was Johanson [sic] and he was all doubled up in the wreckage about three feet from where his bunk was. He was out against the ice boxes. There was nobody else around, so I took some of the wreckage away and there was a piece of wood eight inches long stuck in his side. The master-at-arms passed the word for men to carry him to a surf boat.” Robert Grassow, Carpenter, USCG Cutter McCulloch. Credit: San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park_ K036.07068.1o

Note, she has twin masts, a scheme she only carried in 1917. Also, note the fog bank. A court of inquiry showed that the cutter had stopped in the fog and turned her signals on, while SS Governor was making 14 knots.

At the time, the vessel was deemed lost in water too deep to permit any salvage effort. A naval board of inquiry in March 1918 placed the blame for the collision on the Governor, who was barreling through the fog bank at 14 knots in a dangerous area known as the “Cape Horn of the Pacific.”

During the collision with the McCulloch, there were 429 passengers and crew aboard the Governor with no reported injuries. The big steamer was found at fault for not obeying the “rules of the road” and agreed to a settlement payment to the U.S. government of $167,500 in December 1923.

As for her classmates: Cleveland-built sisters Algonquin and Onondaga had been sold in 1930 and 1924 respectively and disposed of. Boston-built Manning likewise was sold for scrap in 1931. Gresham, sold by the Coast Guard in 1935 for scrap was required by the service in WWII for coastal patrol, then became part of the Israeli Navy before disappearing again in the 1950s and was last semi-reliably seen in the Chesapeake Bay area as late as 1980.

However, we are not done with McCulloch.

On Tuesday 13 June 2017, RADM Todd Sokalzuk, commander of the 11th Coast Guard District, and Robert Schwemmer, West Coast Regional Maritime Heritage Coordinator for NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, announced that USCGC McCulloch CG-3 had been found and identified.

During a joint NOAA – USCG remotely operated vehicle (ROV) training mission in October 2016, the science team confirmed the historic remains of McCulloch off Point Conception. Working off the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary’s R/V Shearwater, a VideoRay Mission Specialist ROV was deployed to survey and characterize the archaeological remains of this historically significant shipwreck in America’s U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Navy’s military history.

The helm, or steering station, was located on the upper deck of the flying bridge of the USCG Cutter McCulloch. The helm’s steering shaft interfaced with a second helm located in the protected pilothouse one deck below. Both helms were connected to a steam steering machine that provided power-assisted steering, so the ship could be piloted from either station. Because the flying bridge was unprotected from the weather, that helm had to be constructed of nonferrous metal. Its wooden handles have succumbed to wood-boring organisms.Credit: NOAA/USCG/VideoRay

The first diagnostic artifact discovered at the shipwreck site of the USCG Cutter McCulloch is the 15-inch torpedo tube molded into the bow stem. Metridium anemones drape the bow stem and are found on other sections of the wreck where there is exposure to prevailing currents. Credit: NOAA/USCG/VideoRay

McCulloch and her crew were fine examples of the Coast Guard’s long-standing multi-mission success from a pivotal naval battle with Commodore Dewey, to safety patrols off the coast of California, to protecting fur seals in the Pribilof Islands in Alaska,” said Sokalzuk. “The men and women who crew our newest cutters are inspired by the exploits of great ships and courageous crews like the McCulloch. I extend the Coast Guard’s heartfelt thanks to our partners in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for helping us locate this important piece of our heritage and assisting us in preserving its legacy.”

McCulloch rests on the ocean floor off of Point Conception near the 1917 collision site.

Officials have not determined plans for the next phase of exploration of the shipwreck. McCulloch is not located within a NOAA Marine Sanctuary, but the ship is U.S. government property and is protected under the Sunken Military Craft Act of 2004. No portion of any government wreck may be disturbed or removed.

On the East Coast, McCulloch’s memory is maintained as well.

Every USCGA and NOAA Officer Corps cadet pass these almost every day

Remember, the guns she brought back from Manila Bay are at the USCGA are the following pieces of maritime art.

McCulloch in the Battle of Manila Bay, her four 6-pdrs barking. By Donald J. Phillips

McCulloch heading off the Germans at Manila Bay by Donald J. Phillips

USRC McCulloch; painting, Coast Guard Academy Museum Art Collection, “Here McCulloch, with her while hull and buff superstructure and stack, makes way under steam and full sail. In the first years of the twentieth century the masts and sails (with a few exceptions), coal-fired boilers, and iron hulls gave way to steel, oil and diesel fuels, and turbine propulsion, closely emulating the maritime technological advancement of the US Navy. Nevertheless, the cutters remained distinctive vessels, easily recognizable from their Navy counterparts due to their “form following function” designs as well as the colors adorning their hulls.”


Plans with overlay information by NOAA

Displacement: 1,280 tons
Length: 219′
Beam: 33′ 4″
Draft: 14′
Machinery: Triple-expansion steam, 21 1/2″, 34 1/2″, and 56 1/2″ diameter x 30″ stroke; 2400hp to a single shaft. Two boilers, 200 psi.
Rig: Barquentine with nine sails, later two “military” masts without rigging by 1914
Performance: 17.5 knots at trial
Complement: 68 Officers and Men as designed. 130 in 1914
4 x 6pdr (57mm); 1 torpedo tube (as built)

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