Warship Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018: One of the most unsung Boxers in the ring

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, Oct. 24, 2018: One of the most unsung Boxers in the ring

NH 85847

Here we see a 1908 postcard photo of brigantine-rigged training ship USS Boxer. At least the 4th in a long line of vessels in the U.S. Navy to carry the name and among the most under-recognized, which is odd because she had a very long and interesting career path that saw her on government service during both World Wars.

Constructed at the Portsmouth Navy Yard in 1904 at a time when the Navy had for a generation been busy constructing steel and steam warships with rifled modern breechloading naval guns, Boxer was something of a throwback to an earlier time. Some 125-feet long with a displacement of around 350-tons, she was steel-hulled but, in something not often seen in the fleet in a purpose-ordered navy ship since the 1840s, was sail-powered only as she was meant to provide a floating school for the instruction of landsmen and apprentices at Naval Training Station, Newport.

The first Boxer in the Navy was technically His Majesty’s Brig Boxer, of 14 guns, captured in a storied close-combat naval battle during the War of 1812 with the USS Enterprise (12 guns) off Portland, Maine, on 5 September 1813 that left the RN ship “a complete wreck, all of her braces and rigging shot away, her main topmast and topgallant mast hanging over the side, fore and main masts virtually gone, three feet of water in her hold and no surgeon to tend to her wounded.”

On 5 September 1813, the schooner Enterprise, commanded by Lieutenant William Burrows, captured the brig HMS Boxer off Portland, Maine in a twenty-minute action that saw both commanding officers die in battle. Enterprise’s second in command, Lieutenant Edward R. McCall then took Boxer to Portland, Maine. USS Enterprise versus HMS Boxer in action off the coast of Maine. Artist, Dwight Shepler. Enterprise was commanded by Lt William Burrows. NHHC Photograph Collection, NH 47013-KN (Color).

The prize was later sold in New England but the action was so fierce that a 14-gun brig constructed by C. and D. Churchill of Middletown, Conn. was commissioned as the USS Boxer in 1815. Finishing the war, she went to fight pirates in the Gulf of Mexico (Jean Lafitte, anyone) but was lost at sea off Belize in 1817. The 2nd and 3rd Boxers under the Navy Jack were a 10-gun schooner that served in the West Indies and African squadrons in the 1830s and 40s and a captured blockade runner flipped into federal service during the Civil War then disposed of in 1868.

A beautiful ship, the Boxer at the center of our tale was commissioned 11 May 1905 and sailed for Newport where she spent the next seven years on Narragansett Bay as relief for the old stationary training ship USS Constellation in her mission of schooling the bluejackets that the U.S. Navy would start the Great War with.

Naval Training Station, Newport, R. I. USS CONSTELLATION, USS BOXER and ferry boat INCA NH 116964

USS Boxer training brigantine, photo taken in May 1905. NHC 5918

Boxer Shown in May 1905. NH 2905

On 20 October 1912, she reported for duty at Annapolis, Md., to serve as a training vessel for Naval Academy midshipmen, a task she would complete in June 1914 that saw her take mids on a number of cruises in the West Indies that included at least one stop in the Panama Canal Zone.

Chopping back to Naval Training Station Newport, she would continue her duties in educating boots until she was declared surplus after just 15 years with the fleet.

On 14 May 1920, she was transferred to the Department of the Interior for use by the Bureau of Education in Alaska and would start a new chapter in her life. With a capacity of 500 tons, she would be used annually to carry supplies, equipment, teachers, and medical personnel to stations and distribution points along the coast of Alaska, to as far north as Point Barrow. During seasons when northern navigation was closed, Boxer served as a floating school to train local Alaskans in operating and maintaining the vessel and its equipment– what we would call STEM today.

U.S. Bureau of Education ship Boxer smothered in cargo

Equipped with an auxiliary 450 hp. diesel engine while keeping her sail rig, she was to make two (sometimes three) trips per season from Seattle to Alaska carrying supplies and educators to establish and maintain schools and hospitals in the growing but isolated land.

Put into service as the BIA Motor Vessel Boxer, she was often still just referred to as USS Boxer in correspondence.

While in Navy service her regular crew amounted to 64 but while working for Ed it was decreased to a dozen officers and men.


By 1924-25, she carried 18 crew, not counting passengers and medical staff, as noted by the book “Arctic Mood” by Eva Alvey Richards. Many of which were locally recruited.

S. T. L. Whitlam, Captain
O. J. Hansen, First Officer. (’24)
Arthur Friend, First Officer. (’25)
Elsworth Bush, Second Officer
Herman Selwick, Chief Engineer
Emil Holland, Second Engineer
Billy Woodruth (Eskimo), Asst. Engineer
Abraham McGamet (Eskimo), Asst. Engineer
Duff Barney, Steward (’24)
J. S. Clark, Steward (’25)
Alphonso Manuel, Asst. Steward
Carl Madsen (Eskimo), Asst. Steward
Harry Anakok (Eskimo), Asst. Steward

Eskimo Sailors and Deck Hands:
Ray Barster—from Barrow, Alaska.
George Porter—from Wainwright, Alaska.
Robert James—from Wainwright, Alaska.
Isaac Washington—from Kotzebue, Alaska.
Jack Jones—from Noatak, Alaska.
Dwight Tivick—from Wales, Alaska.
Roy Coppock—from Noatak, Alaska.
Sweeny Uluk—from St. Lawrence Island, Alaska.

During the summer months, doctors and nurses aboard Boxer held clinics wherever the ship anchored. In 1925, the staff treated 500 children in the region and noted the following issues:

Her schedule the first year in service shows how busy this work was:

By 1927, her efforts helped support 93 schools attended by 3,660 pupils.

As noted by the report of the Commissioner of Education to Congress:

“To may settlements, the annual visit of the Boxer furnishes their only means of communication with the rest of the world. Its passengers are the teachers, doctors, and nurses going to or returning from their voluntary exile. Its cargo includes lumber and hardware for use in constructing school buildings at places hitherto unreached by the bureau, the coal and food supplies required for a year and a year’s supply of books, furniture and equipment needed by the schools.”

Boxer, 1931

View of the USMS Boxer moored in a harbor in 1928.

Boxer had some issues in the poorly-charted territory and ran aground at least three times with the most serious of these being on White Cliff Island Reef in British Columbia, although she was no worse for wear. In turn, she rescued the crew of the lost schooner Arctic in August 1924 after that vessel was crushed in the ice just south of Point Barrow and later did the same that season for the crew of the smashed Canadian coaster Lady Kindersley.

Boxer high and dry near Ugashik Bay in 1935.

Boxer getting fresh water near Wainright 1931 UAA-hmc-0731-141

Remaining in active service with BIA through 1937, she also transported reindeer from one place to another (as well as reindeer meat and hides to market in Seattle obo small town vendors), and her crew installed a wireless station at the village of Savoonga on Saint Lawrence Island.

It was that year that her skipper reported something strange:

“The weather bureau here [Seattle] said today [November 3) it received a radiogram from the Bureau of Education ship Boxer describing a violent volcanic eruption on Yunaska Island in the Aleutian chain west of Unalaska. The Boxer said it passed 15 miles northwest of Yunaska and that the island was in flames from the eruption. The disturbance seemed to be the most violent in the center, diminishing on the east and west ends.”

A UP article published in the Nevada State Journal states that Isak Lystad, captain of the Boxer, reported the eruption sighted on November 2, and that “explosions could be heard from hundreds of miles” and that “smoke, fire, and ashes were ballooned thousands of feet into the air.”

Largely sidelined by 1938, (replaced by the purpose-built and much larger wooden-hulled North Star) Boxer was snatched up along with 16 other vessels in 1941 by the Army for use in the World War II Alaska Supply Service, shipping supplies up from the lower 48 to the territory that was then under threat from the Japanese.

Ex-USS Boxer in Army service as a barge at Seattle, WA. Boxer apparently lost her mainmast and spars before the Army acquired her, leaving little evidence of the handsome brigantine she once was. Photo Corps of Engineers, Seattle District.
Photos and text from “U.S. Army Ships and Watercraft of World War II” by David H. Grover via Navsource

All 16 of these vessels were liquidated by the Army after the war, leaving Boxer‘s ultimate fate unknown.

Little remains of the vessel today other than her log books (both Navy 1905-1920 and BIA 1922-1937) in the National Archives

Boxer, of course, has been remembered in two much more high-profile follow-on vessels, the Essex-class fleet carrier USS Boxer (CV-21), which joined the fleet in 1945 and remained in service until 1969:

NH 97282. USS Boxer (CV-21) steams past the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco Bay as she returned from her first Korean War deployment, November 1950 flew 59,000 sorties in Korea

And the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD-4), which has been on active service since 1995 and is going strong.

Specs:
Displacement (tons): 346
Length: 125.3 feet oa, 108.0 feet, wl
Beam: 29.75-feet
Draft: 9.2-feet mean, 16.7-feet full load
Rig: Sail, hermaphrodite brig rig as constructed
Propulsion (HP): 450 hp., diesel after 1922
Complement: 4 officers, 64 men. Could carry as many as 100 cadets
Armament: none designed, later mounted 4-6pdrs after 1910 (removed 1920)

If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find. http://www.warship.org/membership.htm

The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.

With more than 50 years of scholarship, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

PRINT still has its place. If you LOVE warships you should belong.

I’m a member, so should you be!

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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.

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