Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 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, April 27, 2022: Sparks Paratus
Here we see the U.S. Revenue Cutter U.S. Grant, in her original scheme, seen sometime late in the 1890s, likely off the coast of New York. With the Union general and 18th President’s birthday today– coincidentally falling on National Morse Code Day– you knew this was coming, and interestingly, the above cutter, which had served during the SpanAm War, was the first post-Civil War U.S. vessel named in honor of Ulysses S. Grant.
Built at Wilmington, Delaware at the yards of Pusey & Jones Corp in 1871, Grant was a one-off Barque-rigged iron-hulled steam cutter ordered for the Revenue Cutter Service at a cost of $92,500. With the Revenue Marine/Cutter Service one that typically ran quick little sloops and schooner-rigged vessels between 1790 and 1916 when it became part of the newly-formed U.S. Coast Guard, Grant was one of the few built for the seagoing service with three masts.
Some 163-feet in length (overall) the 350-ton ship was the largest of four new steam cutters– the other three were paddle-wheelers– authorized by Congress in 1870 as part of a plan by N. Broughton Devereux, head of the Revenue Marine Bureau, in an effort to revitalize the force that had languished in the days immediately after the Civil War despite having been the sole federal agency tasked with patrolling the broad and wild seas off Alaska.
Despite the massive amounts of left-over Civil War ordnance being sold as surplus, Grant was given a battery of four bronze M1841 24-pounder muzzleloading howitzers– field guns that had been considered obsolete at Gettysburg– and a small arms locker made up of rare .46 caliber (rimfire) single-shot Ballard carbines. She was known to still have this armament into the early 1890s. Her crew consisted of about 35 officers, engineers, and men.
Her shakedown complete just after Christmas 1871, Grant was assigned to the New York station on 19 January 1872 a cruising ground that covered from Montauk Point to the Delaware.
For the next 20 years, she maintained a very workaday existence in the peacetime Revenue Service. This included going out on short patrols of coastal waters, assisting with the collection of the tariff, catching the occasional smuggler, responding to distress calls (helping to save the crew of the reefed Revenue Cutter Bronx in 1873, saving the schooner Ida L. Howard in 1882, the British steam-ship Pomona bound from this port for Jamaica in 1884, and the demasted three-masted schooner William H. Keeney in 1887), policing posh ocean yacht races (even hosting her namesake President aboard in July 1875 for the Cape May Regatta), taking President Rutherford B. Hayes’ Treasury Secretary John Sherman (Gen. William T. Sherman’s brother) for a tour of all Revenue Cutter stations along the east coast in 1877, searching for lost cargo (notably spending a week in December 1887 along with the sloop-of-war USS Enterprise on the hunt for a raft of logs towed from Nova Scotia hat had departed its line off New England), suppressing mutinies (the steamer Northern Light in November 1883), and getting in the occasional gunnery practice.
In 1877, Grant had the bad fortune of colliding with the schooner Dom Pedro off Boon Island on a hot July night. Standing by, the cutter rescued all nine souls aboard the sinking vessel and brought them safely into Boston. An inquiry board found the Dom Pedro, who had no lights set while in shipping lanes at night, at fault.
In July 1883, Grant inspected– and later seized under orders of the U.S. Attorney’s office and at the insistence of the Haitian government– the tugboat Mary N. Hogan, which had reportedly been fitting out in the East River as a privateer under finance from certain British subjects to carry arms to rebels in Haiti.
Grant would serve as a quarantine vessel hosting Siamese royalty, as well as Hawaiian Queen Kapiʻolani and Princess Liliʻuokalani, the latter royals stopping in New York on their way to attend the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria in London.
From November 1888 through April 1889, Grant had her steam plant replaced at the DeLamater Iron Works docks– the same plant that had constructed the steam boilers and machinery for the ironclad USS Monitor.
Shortly afterward, Grant landed her ancient Army surplus howitzers for a pair of brand-new rapid-fire Mark 1 Hotchkiss Light 1-pounders, from a lot of 25 ordered by the Revenue Cutter Service from a Navy contract issued to Pratt & Whitney of Hartford.
Her skipper at the time, a man who would remain with Grant for the rest of her career, was Captain Dorr Francis Tozier. Something of a legend in the service already, the Georgia-born Tozier received his commission from Abraham Lincoln one month before the president’s assassination and was awarded a Gold Medal by the President of the French Republic “for gallant, courageous, and efficient services” in saving the French bark Peabody in 1877, while the latter was grounded on Horn Island in the Mississippi Sound.
In July 1891, it was announced that the 11 large sea-going cutters of the RCS would switch to a white paint scheme– something that the modern Coast Guard has maintained ever since.
In October 1893, as part of beefing up the Bearing Sea Patrol which enforced a prohibitory season on pelagic sealing as well as protecting the Pac Northwest salmon fisheries, the East Coast-based cutters Perry (165 ft, 282 tons, four guns)– which had been based at Erie Pennsylvania to police the waters of Lake Ontario– along with our very own Grant, were ordered to make the 16,000-mile pre-Panama Canal cruise from New York to Puget Sound, where they would be based. The two vessels would join the cutters Rush, Corwin, Bear, and Wolcott, giving the RSC six vessels to cover Alaskan waters, even if they did so on deployments from Seattle.
The re-deployment from Atlantic to Pacific was rare at the time for the RSC, as vessels typically were built and served their entire careers in the same region. Sailing separately, the two cutters would call in St. Thomas, Pernambuco, Rio, Montevideo, Stanley, Valparaiso (which was under a revolutionary atmosphere), Callao, and San Diego along the way.
Leaving New York on 6 December, Grant arrived at Port Townsend on 23 April 1894, ending a voyage of 73 days and 20 hours, logging an average of 8.45 knots while underway, burning 358 pounds of coal per hour.
Rather than chopping as a whole to the Navy as the Coast Guard would do in WWI and WWII, President McKinley’s Secretary of the Treasury, John D. Long, implemented a plan to transfer control of 20 cutters “ready for war” to the Army and Navy’s control during the conflict with Spain.
Supporting the Army, from Boston to New Orleans, were seven small cutters with a total of 10 guns, crewed by 33 officers and 163 men, engaged in patrolling, and guarding assorted Army-manned coastal forts and mine fields.
A force of 13 larger revenue cutters, carrying 61 guns, staffed by 98 officers and 562 enlisted, served with the Navy. Eight of these cutters, including the famed little Hudson, served under the command of ADM Simpson off Havanna while the cutter McCulloch served with Dewey’s Asiatic Squadron for the conquest of the Philippines. Meanwhile, four other cutters (ours included) served with the Navy on the Pacific coast, keeping an eye out for potential Spanish commerce raiders, and filling in for the lack of Navy vessels along the West Coast at the time.
The four cutters patrolling the Pacific:
Arriving at San Francisco from Seattle on 7 April 1898, U. S. Grant and her crew were placed under Navy control four days later, on 11 April, operating as such through June.
Dispatched northward once again to search for a rumored Spanish privateer thought seeking to prey on the U.S. whaling and sealing fleet in Alaskan waters ala CSS Shenandoah-style, Grant found no such sea wolf and returned to the Treasury Department on 16 August, arrived back in Seattle on 18 September.
Back to peace
Returning to her peacetime duties and stomping grounds, Grant ran hard aground on an uncharted rock off Saanich Inlet just northwest of Victoria on 22 May 1901. Abandoned, she languished until her fellow cutters Perry and Rush arrived to help pull her off, patch her up, and tow her to Seattle for repairs.
Fresh off repairs, in December she was part of the search for the lost Royal Navy sloop HMS Condor, which had gone missing while steaming from Esquimalt to Hawaii. Never found, it is believed Condor’s crew perished to a man in a gale off Vancouver. Grant recovered one of her empty whaleboats, along with a sailor’s cap and a broom, from the locals on Flores Island, with Tozier, the cutter’s longtime skipper, trading his dress sword for the relics. The recovered boat was passed on to the British sloop HMS Egeria, and Tozier’s sword was later replaced by the Admiralty, a matter that required an act of Congress for Tozier to keep.
Switching back to her role as a law enforcer, Grant was busily interdicting the maritime smuggling of opium and Chinese migrants from British Columbia to the Washington Territory in the early 1900s.
She also was detailed to help look for one of the last of the Old West outlaws, Harry Tracy, “the last survivor of the Wild Bunch.” After a shootout that left six dead in 1902, Tracy was at large in the region, taking hostages and generally terrifying the citizenry.
By early 1903, with Tracy dead, it was announced the aging cutter would be sold.
To tame the airwaves!
Nonetheless, as part of a maintenance period, Grant was fitted by the Pacific Wireless Company while berthed in Tacoma with experimental Slaby Arco equipment to receive wireless messages. Regular use of wireless telegraphy by the Revenue Cutter Service was inaugurated by Grant on 1 November 1903. This was an important achievement for the service, as the Navy had only three ships with wireless equipment installed at the time.
As detailed by the Coast Guard Historian’s office:
Tozier’s initial wireless tests proved successful, allowing the Grant to keep in contact with the Port Townsend Customs House throughout its patrol area—a 100-mile radius from the cutter’s homeport. After testing and adjustment of the new equipment, the Grant was ready for its first practical use of wireless for revenue cutter duties. On April 1, 1904, the Grant switched on its wireless set and began a new era of marine radio communication between ship and shore stations.
The new wireless radio technology proved very effective in directing revenue cutters and patrol boats in maritime interdiction operations. However, it took another three years to convince Congress of the importance of “radio” (which superseded the term “wireless telegraph” in 1906) to both its law enforcement and search-and-rescue missions. In March 1907, Congress finally appropriated the $35,000 needed to fund wireless installations on board 12 cruising cutters.
However, Grant would not get a chance to use her new radio equipment much, and by 1906 she was reported condemned, although still in service.
Grant’s last official government duty, in February 1906, was to solemnly transport bodies from the Valencia accident from Neah Bay to Seattle for burial. The affair, the worst maritime disaster in the “Graveyard of the Pacific” off Vancouver Island, left an estimated 181 dead.
Grant was sold from government service in 1906 to a Mr. A.A. Cragen for $16,300, and then further to the San Juan Fishing and Packing Co. who rebuilt her as a halibut fishing steamer. The old cutter was wrecked for the last time in 1911 on the rocks of Banks Island.
Her logs are in the National Archives but, sadly, have not been digitized.
As for her longtime skipper Tozier, while stationed in Seattle he became a renowned collector of local artifacts. As related by the Summer 1992 issue of Columbia Magazine:
The assignment gave Tozier the opportunity to put Grant into remote rivers and harbors where natives were as eager to trade the things they made and used as their forefathers had been to trade fur pelts. He became imbued with collecting fever, realizing that his was a rare opportunity to bring out from the wilderness, to be seen, preserved, and appreciate, the elements of a civilization that was rapidly being superseded by that of the white settlers.
In all, once retired from the RSC in 1907, Tozier sold his collection of some 10,000 artifacts including 2,500 baskets, 100 stone chisels and axes, carved jade pipes, harpoons, war clubs, knives of copper, ivory, shell and iron, a war canoe, and “12 mammoth totems, each weighing between 600 to 20,000 pounds.” In all, the collection weighed 60 tons and required 11 large horse-drawn vans to move to the Washington State Art Association’s Ferry Museum in 1908.
Speaking of museums, the last pistol owned by the Outlaw Tracy is on display at the White River Valley Museum in Auburn, Washington. Bruce Dern portrayed him in the 1982 film Harry Tracy, Desperado.
As for Grant’s name, neither the RCS nor its follow-on USCG descendant reissued it.
The Navy only felt the need to bestow the moniker post-1865 to a successive pair of unarmed Great War-era transports before finally issuing it during the centennial of the Civil War to a James Madison-class FBM submarine, USS Ulysses S. Grant (SSBN-631), which served from 1964 to 1992.
The Coast Guard, however, did mention our old revenue cutter in its last HF CW transmission, sent by station NMN from Chesapeake, Virginia, at 0001Z on April 1, 1995. As an ode to the first wireless message transmitted in 1844, “What hath God wrought,” the message concluded with, “we bid you 73 [best regards]. What hath God wrought.”
Displacement: 350 tons
Draft: 11’ 4”
Machinery: Barque rigged steamer, vertical steam engine, two boilers, one screw, 11 knots max
4 x M1841 24-pounder guns, small arms (1871)
2 x Hotchkiss MK 1 37mm 1-pdrs, small arms (1891)
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