Length: 504 feet 5 inches. Breadth: 72 feet 10 1/2 inches. Mean Draft: 25 feet. Displacement: 14,500 tons normal, 15,981 tons full load. Machinery: 28,600 IHP; Babcock boiliers, 2 sets of 4-cylinder, Triple Expansion Engines, 2 screws, outward turning. Speed: 22.16 knots. Coal Bunker Capacity: 900 tons normal, 1,992 tons maximum. Batteries: Main Battery: four 10-inch, 40 cal. breech-loading rifles, sixteen 6-inch, 50 cal. rapid fire guns. Secondary Battery: twenty-two 3-inch, 50 cal. rapid fire guns, two 3-inch antiaircraft, four 3 pdr. saluting guns, two 3-inch field pieces, six automatic guns, caliber .30, four 21-inch submerged torpedo tubes. Armor: Belt, 3 to 5 inches; turrets, 5-9-inches; barbettes, 5-inches; deck, 3 inches; Conning Tower, 9 inches. Complement: 41 officers, 850 men (921 as flagship). Built by: Cramp Shipbuilding Co., Philadelphia, PA Class: Tennessee
USS Tennessee circa 1907 in her Spar and White colors
The fourth Tennessee (Armored Cruiser No. 10) was laid down by the Cramp Shipbuilding Co., Philadelphia, Pa., on 20 June 1903 and launched on 3 December 1904. Miss Annie K. Frazier, daughter of Governor James B. Frazier of Tennessee was the sponsor of the USS Tennessee. She was the subsequent founder of the Society of Sponsors of the United States Navy. Tennessee was commissioned at the Philadelphia Navy Yard on 17 July 1906, with Capt. Albert O. Berry in command.
The four ships of the Tennessee class of armored cruisers were nearly identical to the six cruisers in the Pennsylvania class. The big difference in the Tennessee class was the main guns, which were of the 10"/40 caliber Mark 3 type, over the 8"/45 caliber Mark 6 guns of the Pennsylvania class.
Ordinance technology had advanced greatly in the 20-years before the U. S. Navy built a class of ten armored cruisers, six Pennsylvania’s and four Tennessee’s. Gone was the old fast burning, smoky propellants, which had given way to the newer slower burning “smokeless” powders. The new propellants gasified almost completely and could accelerate a projectile more efficiently through a gun barrel of 40 or more calibers in length. This new technology gave birth to high-velocity naval guns. Naval ordinance soon discovered a side benefit, which was the flatter trajectory, leading to more accurate firing of a gun. This in turn led to the development of centralized fire controls.
The United States Naval Ordinance Department through the use of the new propellants were able to create a new generation of longer-barreled naval guns. As early as 1899 the drafting boards at the Naval Ordinance Department were busy drawing blueprints for a new type 10-inch gun, which came to production as the 10-inch 40 Caliber Mark 3 gun. It first was put into service in 1902. And the guns installed into the four Tennessee class cruisers was the last of this type built for the U. S. Navy.
Each gun weighed 74,836 lbs. including the breech and was 413-inches in length and could be fired at a rate of 2-3 rounds per minute. Each gun consisted of a tube, jacket, four hoops, locking ring and a screw box liner, all manufactured from nickel-steel. A typical Armor Piercing shell of this type weighed 510-pounds and took about 200-pounds of propellant to fire a shell. A typical gun on the Tennessee class cruisers held an ammunition stowage capacity of 60 shells in peace time and during wartime each gun held 72 shells.
The 1905 style 10” Armor Piercing projectiles could penetrate 10.74” of side armor at 6,000-yards and could penetrate 6.78” at 12,000-yards. By 1918 this had been improved by being fitted with a longer ballistic cap, to 12.1” at 6,000-yards, and 7.8” at 12,000-yards. At a typical elevation of 5.2 degrees the projectile would travel 10,000-yards and at 14.5 degrees the shell would travel 20,000-yards. Time of flight of the shell at the 5.2-degree elevation was 13.9-seconds. A typical shell would leave the barrel at 2,700-feet per second.
Each gun was provided with an electric hoist that delivered two complete rounds per minute. Automatic shutters were fitted in the ammunition supply tubes between the turret and magazines in order to increase flash protection. Handling rooms were equipped with a tracked trolley system that helped in moving rounds to the hoists. The guns could be loaded at any elevation.
Turrets had a longitudinal bulkhead separating the guns and a turret officer’s booth. These turrets used the "grass-hopper" counter recoil system whereby a spring box, located under the gun pit, was connected via two heavy, pivoted arms to the gun yoke. The two-gun turret on the Tennessee class cruisers weighed in at 275-tons. The guns could elevate from -3 degrees to a maximum of 14.5 degrees, and each turret could be rotated 150 degrees to port or starboard.
On August 9, 1906 orders were sent to Lt. Commander Samuel Shelburne Robinson then on duty in Washington, DC at the Navy Bureau of Equipment, who was an expert with much experience in wireless and telegraph communications. His orders directed his to proceed to the League Island Navy Yard in Philadelphia and report to the Commanding officer of the Armored Cruiser Tennessee for duty as the ships Navigation Officer.
Tennessee departed Hampton Roads, Virginia, on 8 November 1906 as escort for Louisiana (BB 19) in which President Theodore Roosevelt had embarked for a cruise to Panama to check on the progress of work constructing the Panama Canal. After a brief visit to Puerto Rico on the return voyage, the Tennessee arrived back at Hampton Roads on 26 November. Tennessee was present for the Jamestown Exposition held from 7 to 11 June 1907 to commemorate the tri-centennial of the founding of the first English settlement in America.
The boiler tubes of the Pennsylvania and her sister ship the Colorado, became part of a lawsuit levied by the United States Government on October 4, 1906. It was alleged by the Navy Department that thousands of boiler tubes were installed in the boilers of the Pennsylvania, Colorado, Maine and Georgia, and other un-named naval ships, were never subjected to government tests. Many of the tubes, which were installed in these vessels was done so after the manufacturer of the tubes had rejected them and this fraud may have started as early as 1898. A man named Frank L. Emmett, of Sharpsville, PA, brought this fraud to the attention of the Navy Department. Emmett was at the time in charge of the shipping department of the Shelby Steel Tube Company, located in Greenville, Pennsylvania. This scandal continued on for some time before charges were brought against the Shelby Company.
Three men of the Shelby Steel Tube Company, J. Jay Dunn, Charles L. Close and frank L. Emmett were all charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States Government in connection with the defective tubes. United States District Attorney John W. Dunkle brought before Judge Nathaniel Ewing of the United States District Court on May 6, 1907 a lawsuit stating that these defective boiler tubes were alleged to have been installed into the following United States ships; Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Maryland, Charleston, Nebraska, Minnesota, Vermont, Washington, and Tennessee. Before judge Ewing, Frank L. Emmett pleaded guilty and waived a hearing. Emmett one of the three men charged had struck a deal with the prosecutor and turned State’s evidence against his former employer the Shelby Steel Tube Company and Dunn and Close, the other two men named in the suit. The specific charges against the three defendants involved the alleged furnishing of defective boiler tubes to United States naval vessels form the Greenville, Pennsylvania mill of the Shelby Steel Tube Company, by which the defendants were employed. During the trial over sixty witnesses from different sections of the country were subpoenaed to give testimony.
On Wednesday morning September 11, 1907 aboard the Tennessee, which was then in the Boston Navy Yard, an urgent message is delivered to the commanding officer. Captain Howard reads the message and quickly sends a Marine guard to bring Lt. Frank Rorschach to the Captains quarters. Captain Howard then informs Lt. Rorschach that his wife, Mary Lawless Rorschach, had been killed on the morning of September 10 in her home in Portsmouth, NH. Captain Howard then relieved Lt. Rorschach of duty and he proceeded home to tend to his wife’s funeral.
Lt. Rorschach arrived at his home at 11 o’clock that morning and finds out what had happened to his wife. At 3:15 in the morning of September 10 at the Rorschach home which was located at 832 Park Ave. in Portsmouth, NH, which was directly behind the Naval Hospital, Mary Rorschach was awakened by a noise made by someone entering the home. Mary and her two young children, seven-year old Frank, Jr. and two-year old Anthony were the only ones in the home at the time. Mary got up and without waking the two sleeping boys, took a pistol in one hand and a lamp in the other hand descended the stairs.
When Mary reached the dining room and looked into the kitchen she heard the burglar in the kitchen. She then fired two shots into the kitchen hitting the wall. The burger then charged at Mary took the pistol from her hand and shot her in the chest causing Mary to scream loudly. Upstairs young Frank Jr. now was awake and heard his mother shouting “Frank! Someone has taken my pistol and shot me! Go quickly for Help.” This was the last words he would ever hear his mother speak to him. By the time Frank, Jr. had returned with the neighbors his mother was dead being shot through the heart.
The burglar had come into the house through a window but dashed out through the back door. It was said that Mary had some money on her and that her diamond ring was still on her finger and the burglar did not get away with anything other than taking Mary’s life. It was about 45-minutes after the murder that Portsmouth policeman Elliott saw a man go into a home on 1028 Glasgow Street. Patrolman Elliott entered the home and questioned the man who was in his bed. He was found to have blood spots on his clothing and his shoes were wet because it was a wet night. It turns out that the man was discharged from the Navy recently and knew that Mary was alone because her husband was then away at sea. The man whose name was Archer was then arrested for the murder of Mary Rorschach. That afternoon another man by the name of Horace Lee was also arrested in connection to the murder. And still a third man was then arrested who was named William Shields. The city of Portsmouth was then upset by the murder and New Hampshire Governor Swanson offered a $200 reward for information on the case. Mary Rorschach was the sister of Joseph T. Lawless the former secretary of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and a beautiful woman and very accomplished musician. Mary Rorschach was then buried in Portsmouth City, Virginia, in the Oak Grove Cemetery.
Lt. Frank Rorschach had only been assigned to the Tennessee a few months and had been transferred to the cruiser when he was promoted to Lieutenant after serving two-years aboard the Marietta. Rorschach was a career naval officer with over 30-years’ service when he retired at the rank of Commander in December of 1921. His son, the seven-year-old who ran to the neighbors for help when his mother was shot, would follow his father’s footsteps and enter the Naval service serving also as a Lieutenant. He died while on Active Duty serving with Destroyer Squadron 5 on July 4, 1934. Lt. Frank Rorschach, Jr. was buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Section: South, Site: 4395. Four months later his father, Commander Frank Rorschach, Sr. would pass away and was buried next to his son in Arlington in Site 4393. And Anthony Lawless Rorschach, the two-year old son who was also in the home asleep when his mother was shot and killed, also followed the family naval tradition. Anthony Lawless Rorschach would retire at the rank of Rear Admiral and passed away in July of 1977 after serving during WWII and Korea. He is also buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Towards the early fall of 1907, the Tennessee has 12 new mounts for 3-pounder guns installed. Shortly afterwards she received orders to duty with the Pacific Fleet. In 1907 wireless communication with ships at sea both ship to ship and ship to shore was just beginning to be implemented. Aboard the Tennessee her radio equipment in the fall of 1907, was able to communicate ship to shore with the Norfolk Navy Yard at a range of 12-miles. And the Tennessee was able to communicate ship to ship with an Old Dominion steamer off Cape Charles at a range of 20-miles. At the time this was said to have exceeded expectations of the equipment then in use with the navy. The wireless operator aboard the Old Dominion Line steamship was said to have commented that the sound of voice and music that the Tennessee had broadcast 20-miles away was so clear he thought it came from a radio aboard his own ship.
In late October Tennessee gets underway for the trip down the Atlantic side of South America and into the Pacific Ocean for the first time. Her sister ship the USS Washington also has orders for duty with the Pacific Fleet and they sail together.
On November 8, 1907 the Tennessee and the Washington make a good-will stop in Rio de Janerio, Brazil. Rear Admiral Sebree and Captain Howard of the Tennessee and Captain Knight of the Washington along with their staff went ashore on the afternoon of November 8 and paid a visit to the Brazilian Marine Arsenal and were met by the Brazilian Chief of Staff for Minister of Marines Alencar. After a brief meeting and tour the group of United States Naval officers was escorted by Minister Alencar to meet with Brazilian President Penna. President Panna and Admiral Sebree then met privately where President Panna expressed his pleasure with the visiting American Naval ships. Admiral Sebree in a good will offer invited President Penna out to tour the Tennessee and Washington the following day.
Rear Admiral Evans on March 24, 1908, has the Pacific Fleet on the target range at Magdalena Bay, Mexico, which included the battleships and the armored cruisers, all firing at ranges of 1,600-yards. And the Battleships with 12 and 13-inch guns will also shoot at 9,000-yards ranges at both stationary and moving targets. The standard target that they were using was 12-feet by 21-feet in size. Admiral Evans had his ships on the firing range every day for the previous 10-days. Once completed the ships will re-coal, clean up and ready for sea and the trip north to California and home. Admiral Evans will have the fleet sail at daylight on April 12, which was a month to the day they arrived in Magdalena Bay.
The Navy Department was keeping the accuracy of his ships under wraps but it was said there was a high percentage of hits on target. Official reports from the Tennessee with regards to ammunition expelled during her time on the range give an idea of how much they practiced.
The Tennessee expelled during her preliminary practice 13,742-pounds of powder and 36,242-pounds of shells, resulting in a cost of $18,909.20. And at her official recorded shoot she shot 19,992-pounds of powder, and 21,966-pounds of shells, at a cost of $25,742.50. The battleships of the fleet would shoot at least one third to a half more than the Tennessee would shoot. Lt. Joseph R. Defrees, USN of the U. S. Naval gun factory in Washington, DC was present during the shoots to inspect and observe how the guns performed.
This year the USS Albany one of the smaller cruisers, made 123 hits out of 130 shots at a very quick pace. The Albany does not have turrets guns but rather a deck gun with a splinter shield and she took home the championship pennant flying the red pennant from her mast proudly showing up the bigger battleships and cruisers of the fleet.
During early May 1908 there was a great armada of the United States Navy assembled in San Francisco Bay, which was reviewed by Navy Secretary Metcalf. There were 44 Battleships, Cruisers and Destroyers assembled and lay at anchor in four long columns’ just a short distance off of Goat’s Island. Captain Thomas B. Howard was the commanding officer of the Tennessee at the time. On board the USS Yorktown, Commander J. H. Glennon transported Secretary Metcalf up and down the columns of warships where he reviewed each ship.
There was an explosion on board the Tennessee that happened on June 5, 1908. At 11:15 in the morning one of her boiler tubes in the G Boiler blows out filling the fire-room with hot steam and burning embers, killing 7 sailors. The men killed in the explosion were:
Coal Passer Earle Claton Boggs
Coal Passer Edward Joseph Burns
Fireman 2c John Patrick Anthony Carroll
Fireman 2c Fredric Sardin Maxfield
Fireman 1c George Waddle Meek
Machinist Mate 2c Adolph Reinhold
Water Tender George Wood
Within 9 days’ time of the boiler tube accident, on June 14, 1908, Tennessee sailed for Europe and reached Royan, France, on the 23rd of June. She returned home in August when she was ordered to form a special Pathfinder Squadron with the USS Washington. This Pathfinder Squadron was formed on the orders of Admiral Sebree and was to traverse the course that would be sailed for the upcoming cruise of the battleships of the famous Great White Fleet two months later. Washington and Tennessee steamed out of Hampton Roads, Virginia on October 12, 1908 bound for Magdalena Bay, Mexico, where they met up with the USS California and the USS South Dakota. The California and the South Dakota then were joined with the Pathfinder Squadron and together all four cruisers steamed for San Francisco.
President Teddy Roosevelt had called for a cruise of the Great White Fleet to sail around the world to show good will and also a show of force to the far reaches of the world. And in so he wanted to have an additional force of ships in the Southern Pacific areas just in case his Great White Fleet of Battleship needed assistance if hostile conditions warranted. The Navy Department also wanted to have a fleet of smaller Torpedo Boat Destroyers that would be based out of Samoa and gave orders for Admiral Swinburne’s Cruiser fleet to tow 7 of these ships out to Samoa from San Diego. The tow lines were made of 10-inch ropes with a 1-inch steel cable embedded it the rope. Each towline was 450-yards long and the small destroyers during the tow would keep steam up in the boilers in case of an emergency, manned only with a skeleton crew. Once in Samoa they would be crewed with sailors and officers there.
Admiral Swinburne aboard his flagship the West Virginia towed the USS Preble, with the Maryland towing the USS Stewert, Pennsylvania towing the USS Perry, Tennessee towing the USS Hopkins, Washington towing the USS Hull, California towing the USS Truxtun and the South Dakota towed the USS Whipple. The USS Colorado was unable to join her sisters due to her still being repaired in Bremerton, Washington because of her recent grounding event of August 15 where she ran aground in Puget Sound at Lip Lip Point.
On 17 August 1908, Admiral Swinburne’s fleet of 7-cruiser towing their small destroyers for a cruise to Pago Pago, Samoa and Honolulu, left San Diego to start the cruise. About the 15th of September 1908 the fleet crossed the equator on their way to Navigators Island (Samoa). The crossing was made at 165° Longitude. After the Great White Fleet passed through the Southern Pacific areas the fleet headed eastward to operate in Central and South American waters. Fall battle practice for the cruiser fleet was then held off Magdalena, Bay, Mexico from October 23-December 4, 1908.
During 1908 the USS Tennessee was the first ship to win the Spokane Trophy. The Spokane Chamber of Commerce in 1907 sent a letter to Victor Metcalf, then Secretary of the Navy in which the Spokane Chamber wanted to donate an annual award for Atlantic Fleet turret marksmanship. President Theodore Roosevelt and Secretary Metcalf decided that it should be awarded annually to the battleship or armored cruiser of either fleet that made the highest final merit with all of her turret guns. Trophy costs of $1,500 was paid for and donated by citizens of Spokane, Washington to be awarded to the best battleship or cruiser in the U. S. Navy Fleet. The Spokane Trophy has undergone several changes from 1908 and is still active today being awarded by CINCPACFLT to the surface combatant ship considered to be the most proficient in overall combat systems readiness and warfare operations.
During December of 1908 there were a few transfers within the officers of the Tennessee. Aboard the USS Washington, Lt. Commander Stephen V. Graham is relieved and assigned to duty aboard the Tennessee as the Engineering Officer. Lt. Commander Ashley H. Robertson reported for duty as the new Executive Officer of the Tennessee, and Commander Harry A. Field was relieved from the Tennessee to replace Commander James H. Glennon as the Commanding Officer of the USS Yorktown.
On January 20, 1909 both the Tennessee and the Washington were laying in the harbor in Coquimbo, Chile. Ashore there was a fire that broke out and quickly became a threat to the town of Coquimbo. Officers on the two cruisers watching the events ashore became worried that this fire was getting the best of the disorganized Chileans and each sent one bluejacket from their ships ashore to help get the local Chilean fire department in control so they could get the fire under control. Boatswain William H. Gowan from the Washington and Shipfitter George H. Wheeler from the Tennessee were sent ashore. Both sailors were able to get the Chilean’s under control and if it were not for the skills of the two bluejackets directing men in a crisis situation the fire would have destroyed the town. Five months later on May 11, 1909 both men were issued medals of recognition for their courage from Rear Admiral Swinburne in helping to fight this fire.
On October 5, 1909 Tennessee and her fleet mates, under command of Rear Admiral Sebree left Honolulu bound for Philippine waters. It was reported that as the fleet left Hawaii there were several navy enlisted men from Admiral Sebree’s fleet who had missed the boat so to speak. It was thought that several of these men had been stowaways on the Lurline, a steamer bound for San Francisco on October 6, and Sebree sent a wireless message to the steamer that these men were to be arrested and turned over to the naval authorities when they arrived San Francisco.
It was reported in the October 18, 1909 edition of the Oakland Tribune that the Navy did not take kindly to prisoners breaking out of a ships brig when incarcerated. One such sailor who was during the time of the infractions a former Colorado enlisted sailor Warrant Machinist Michael C. Goebel. He had been charged and found guilty in a court martial of several infractions including misappropriation of money. His sentence was to be dishonorably dismissed from the service and was at the time being held in the ships brig aboard the USS Tennessee then in San Francisco. But before his sentence was imposed upon him Goebel broke out of the brig and escaped. The Navy did not take this lightly and was using all the resources available to them to recapture prisoner Goebel to send a stern message to anyone who might try the same thing. The Navy said in the article that when captured he would be made an example of and given a harsh sentence of a long imprisonment for his desertion, compared to his original sentence which was a simple dismissal.
The cruiser squadron consisting of the USS Tennessee as flagship along with the Maryland, Colorado, California, South Dakota, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Washington, took a cruise to Chinese and Japanese ports. The Squadron left Manila in December 1909 and assembled off Yokohama, Japan on January 19, 1910 for the start of the return trip. During the cruise it was ordered that no more than two of the ships of the fleet would be in port at any one time. The fleet reached San Francisco on February 1, 1910. Published aboard ship were small cards called Forecastle Logs. These cards were intended for the crew to use as post cards to send back to the home folks. Here is one such card transcribed for the week of January 9-15, 1910 as the Tennessee is making ready for her return trip to the West coast of the United States.
USS Tennessee's Forecastle Log. Week Ending January 15, 1910
At Anchor at Yokohama, Japan
Sunday January 9. Light showers in forenoon. Held Devine Services on board at 10:30 AM, a Chaplain from Yokohama officiating. Liberty party.
Monday January 10. Weather moderate. The Commander-in-Chief called officially on Commander of the Third Squadron on board USS Charleston, and was saluted with 13 guns on leaving. In afternoon Japanese Minister of Marine, American Ambassador, Commander Third Squadron and Commanding Officer USS Washington made official visits. Officers held reception in afternoon. At 8:30 PM supply ship Glacier stood in and anchored.
Tuesday January 11. Fine weather. At 7:45 SS Manchuria came in and anchored. At 9:45 Glacier went alongside English collier to take on coal.
Wednesday January 12. Raining nearly all day. Transferred several marines to Yokohama hospital. USS Charleston got under way at 2:30 PM to swing ship anchoring again at 3:25 PM. SS Manchuria stood out towards sea at 4:45 PM. U.S. Naval Collier stood in and anchored at 5:40 PM.
Thursday January 13. U.S. Collier Alexander stood in and anchored at 9:00 AM. Received commissary stores from Glacier. At 5:00 PM SS Cleveland stood out. Rigged coaling gear. Musicians were sent to Tokyo to play at dinner given by U. S. Ambassador.
Friday January 14. At 6:30 AM started coaling. At 7:30 AM had taken on 88-tons. SS Tenn Maru stood in and anchored inside breakwater. At 9:45 AM American Consul made official visit aboard Charleston. Knocked off coaling at 3:30 PM
Saturday January 15. Snowing and windy. Did not start in coaling, as weather did not permit. Washed down decks and sent liberty party ashore at 4:00 PM.
In the first week of February 1910 the USS Tennessee gave up her flagship status of the 8 ships of the Pacific Cruiser Fleet. Rear Admiral Uriel Sebree relinquished command of the fleet to Rear Admiral Giles B. Harber and he raised his pennant flag on the California as she took over flagship duties as the fleet was in Honolulu. On the 9th of February the fleet of 8 cruisers sailed for the U.S. West Coast. The California, Colorado, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, West Virginia and Maryland sailed direct to San Francisco and the Tennessee and Washington sailed to the Bremerton Navy Yard for overhaul. The six cruisers arrived San Francisco about the 15th of February and the crews were given several days Liberty before the fleet sails south for Magdalena Bay, Mexico for scheduled target practice.
On 15 May 1910, Tennessee arrived and anchored in the bay at Bahia Blanca, Argentina to represent the United States at the centenary celebration of the independence of Argentina. Once she had finished her official visit she steamed back north for home waters.
It was on August 27, 1910 that the Navy Department issued orders to the Tennessee to act as flagship for the upcoming visit to the Panama Canal for President Taft that would take place in November. The Montana was also ordered to serve the president as escort ship to the Tennessee. Both ships were then at the Portsmouth Navy Yard undergoing general repairs.
On 8 November, Tennessee departed Portsmouth, N.H., and proceeded to Charleston, S.C., to embark President William Howard Taft for a round trip voyage to Panama to inspect progress on the Panama Canal, which was then being constructed. Tennessee returned to Hampton Roads on 22 November and then engaged in battle practice thereafter. On November 10, President Taft boards the Tennessee under the command of Captain Harry Knapp. The Tennessee was escorted by the cruiser Montana under the command of Captain John Quinby. As Taft boards the Tennessee he is accompanied by a very small party consisting Mrs. Taft, his brother Charles P. Taft and wife, Presidential Secretary Charles D. Norton and his wife, Lt. Leigh Carlyle Palmer, USN Presidential Naval Ade, Captain A. W. Butt, USA Presidential Military Ade, a physician and stenographer. Also, on board was a pool of six newspaper reporters the President’s detail of Secret Service men.
But on the trip north from the Canal Zone with President Taft, the Tennessee narrowly avoids a collision at sea. As the Tennessee and Montana were about 149 miles south of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba on Friday November 18, 1910, the German protected cruiser thought to be the SMS Freya cuts across the Tennessee’s bow at a distance of about 400-yards. The Freya was some 363-feet in length and was then being used as a school ship for sea cadets in the German Navy. No doubt they got the lesson of their careers that day.
A heavy squall had just closed in on the Tennessee, making visibility for the helmsman not quite a ship’s length. The storm was short in duration and as the Tennessee came out of the squall line and visibility was regained, there was the German ship cutting directly across the headway of the Tennessee. The officer who had the deck at the time ordered the Tennessee’s helm put hard over as the Freya continued on her course. There was no exchange of signals as the two ships passed each other, as they were lucky not to have made impact.
President Taft then wanted to make a stop at the Guantanamo Bay Navy Base where he inspected the base and rifle range. Taft was the first American President to set foot on the island of Cuba, even though Guantanamo Bay is sovereign United States soil. Back at sea again on Monday November 21, Taft’s fleet steams north into more disagreeable weather. When the fleet was off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida they run into very rough seas from a hurricane then in the Atlantic. For several hours the two cruisers were shedding green water off their decks making for a very sporting ride. Speed was reduced to nearly zero headway, and all hatches were dogged down and ventilators and other deck gear was lashed tightly. The height of the storm was seen at about 3 o’clock in the morning on Tuesday and it was past noon when the seas eased off. It was said of President Taft that he was an excellent sailor and did not mind the sporting ride. The Tennessee was to drop President Taft off at Fort Monroe, Virginia. As the Montana and the Tennessee with the blue Presidential Ensign flying from her mast approached the bay below Fort Monroe a salute to the President rang forth from the guns in the Fort. Taft remained aboard the Tennessee until about 3 o’clock in the afternoon and then departed the Tennessee as the Companies of Coast Artillery again fired salutes from the Fort.
In December of 1910 the Atlantic Battleship Fleet was in England and was due to participate in the winter battle practice. This year’s practice would have the battleship fleet sail from England and make a mock attack on the Panama Canal Zone. The defending force was made up of the following ships; the armored cruisers USS Tennessee, Montana, North Carolina and Washington, the scout cruisers Salem and Birmingham, and the destroyers Smith, Flusser, Reid, Lamson, and Preston. The North Atlantic Battleship fleet of 16 ships steamed from England on December 30, 1910 and the defending force of 11 cruisers and destroyers were to seek out this invading force in mid ocean. The cruiser fleet defeated the battleship fleet and then the combined ships steamed on to Guantanamo, Cuba for target practice. Following a Mardi Gras visit to New Orleans and a visit to New York early in March, the ship steamed to Cuban waters for two months of operations out of Guantanamo Bay.
While the Montana, Tennessee, and North Carolina are in Cuban waters conducting target practice, back at the Portsmouth Navy Yard, new searchlights sat awaiting the three cruisers to return to have them installed. But on February 16, 1911 the yard workers at the Portsmouth Navy Yard were ordered to ship them to the New York Navy Yard. It was noted in the February 16, 1911 Portsmouth Herald, Navy Yard notes section, that although the work did not amount to much the Portsmouth yard workers were a bit displeased that the work was sent to the New York Yard. The Portsmouth Yard was the homeport of the Atlantic Fleet Armored Cruisers and the Portsmouth Yard workers saw this as an insult that the work on their cruisers was sent to New York. The Montana, North Carolina, and Tennessee arrived at the New York Navy Yard about March 7, and the new searchlights were installed. Once the work was completed the three cruisers steamed south to Cuba on March 11 to meet with the Washington near Guantanamo.
But when the Tennessee steamed south on March 11, she did so without three of her crew. On the evening of Wednesday March 8, 1911 three sailors from the Tennessee had checked into a hotel room in Hoboken, New Jersey and spent the night. But in the room somehow a gas light jet was accidently turned on and not lighted. During the night the three men, unaware of the deadly gas went to bed and were overcome with the effects of the gas and died as a result. There were several other men from the Tennessee staying in the same hotel but not in the room with the three men who were overcome with the gas. When they did not report aboard ship it was then that they were found dead in the room on Thursday March 9. The three men were A. C. Wallin, J. W. Wadsworth, and E. R. Bradley.
On the morning of March 13, 1911, the Fifth Division of the Atlantic Feet commanded by Rear Admiral Sydney A. Staunton, arrived in Caimanera, Cuba, which included the cruisers Tennessee, North Carolina and the Montana. Joining the Fifth Division was the auxiliary cruiser Prairie with a battalion of marines aboard. The fleet would be undertaking training exercises held in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Galveston, Texas.
On 8 June 1911 acting Secretary of the Navy Winthrop ordered the 2,000 Marines stationed at Guantanamo Bay home. This was following President Taft’s ordered withdrawal of the United States forces due to the improvements of the situation in Mexico. The Marines were to return on board the Tennessee and the transport Dixie and the hospital ship Solace.
Placed in reserve at the Portsmouth (N.H.) Navy Yard on 15 June 1911, she remained on the east coast for a year and one-half before departing Philadelphia on 12 November 1912 for the Mediterranean.
During her time in reserve her crew would be dispersed and she would have a crew of 25 men to look after the ship during this time. During the spring and early summer of 1911, the Navy Department was finding it difficult to fill out the man power required to man the vessels of the Atlantic Fleet. This was compounded by the fact they were also adding several new ships into the fleet that summer, which were namely the Ohio, Maine and Missouri, along with the newly completed Utah and Florida. This was the reason the Tennessee which was on station in Cuban waters was ordered home to the Portsmouth Navy Yard and placed into reserve status, as the Navy Department needed her 35 officers and nearly 900 enlisted men for the battleships. Even with the Tennessee’s crew added to the man power for the five battleships they were still short and would have to be put into service with reduced crews.
On June 24, 1911 over 200-seamen of the Tennessee were transferred to the USS Maine and the Marine detachment aboard the Tennessee went to the Marine Barracks in the Portsmouth Yard. Captain Charles C. Carpenter, USMC who had been in command of the Tennessee’s Marine detachment was ordered to proceed to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for recruiting duty in Philadelphia. Even her commanding officer, Captain Harry Shepard Knapp was not immune to transfer; Captain Knapp was ordered to take command of the new battleship USS Florida (BB-30). When the Florida was launched on September 15, 1911 Captain Knapp was her first commanding officer.
As the Tennessee undergoes repairs many Portsmouth Navy Yard workers come aboard and begin working on the machinery of the ship. Many of these tasks are not without danger, as heavy parts require great skill in knowing how to handle them properly. On June 26, 1911 in one of the fire-rooms of the Tennessee, Frank Rose a civilian boilermaker from the Portsmouth Yard machinery division is working on a set of furnace doors and injured his right hand quite painfully. He was taken to the ships sick bay and patched up and then sent home to rest.
On Wednesday evening July 12, 1911 the officers of the Tennessee then in the Portsmouth Naval Yard gave a dance, which was according to the Portsmouth Daily Herald, “…the social event of the season.” The dance was held on the Quarter Deck of the Tennessee and the dock and ship were decked out with ships colors and signal flags. The Tennessee’s band provided the music for the evening of dancing and festivities. It was said to be a very pretty party. The dance was well received and a large number of folks from New Castle and York Harbor in attendance.
For the local towns folk near the Portsmouth Navy Yard the presence of the big cruisers drew much curiosity. It was common practice for the Yard to open its gates and allow the locals in to look around and tour the big ships. These tours were often a social event and attended by many who wanted to see the big ships up close. One such open house was held on Sunday July 16 where hundreds swarmed both the Montana and the Tennessee. Work on the overhaul progresses throughout July and into August on the Montana and Tennessee. By July 19 both ships have their electrical generating stations put out of commission for rebuilds and had no internal power of their own, so both cruisers were hooked up to the yard’s central power plant for several days.
While in reserve at the Portsmouth Navy Yard the Warrant Officers of the ship organized and held a banquet aboard the ship on the evening of September 7, 1911. Several local friends of the Warrant Officers were invited and all enjoyed the festivities and food. The Tennessee’s Warrant Officers Ralph Martin, J. Dempsey, R. L. Drake, S. W. Snider and E. Covey arranged the banquet.
A liberty party from the Tennessee was returning back to the ship aboard one of the Tennessee’s steam launches on Saturday evening November 18, 1911. The steam launch, which was in command of Coxswain J. J. Howard, and Engineer Calvin Bruneau, Fireman J. F. Campbell, and Seamen Melvin and Lovelace as the crew of the steam launch, had just dropped off a load of their fellow shipmates to the Tennessee. Coxswain Howard’s crew was returning again to Portsmouth to pick up more shipmates but on the way back as the launch was making a turn they struck a rock punching the bottom and the launch quickly sank. The five crew took to the water almost as fast as the launch left them and were now in danger of drowning as at the time the tide was running very strong. On the Tennessee men saw what had just happened and set out in a smaller whale boat and rescued the five in the water. All were safe and no one was injured except for the crew’s pride.
The Navy Department decided that the Atlantic Fleet should have reserve fleet to handle, move and train sailors and officers for the fleet. And as such on May 1, 1912 the Atlantic Reserve Fleet was organized with Rear Admiral Austin M. Knight in command. Admiral Knight had previously been serving on the special board on Naval Ordnance and that work had now been completed. The functions of the Atlantic Reserve Fleet would be to conduct the business of the various Receiving Ships in the Atlantic Fleet’s Naval Bases. They would also handle the men awaiting transfers, discharges, men in the various hospitals and take custody of men awaiting trials and those serving in the Naval prisons. Additionally, the reserve fleet would handle the Navy Recruiting stations, along with other miscellaneous duties.
The Atlantic Reserve Fleet would have about eleven vessels to start and would expand to about 20 vessels when fully implemented. By July 1, 1912 the first vessels would join the reserve fleet consisting of the battleships Alabama, Illinois, Kearsarge and Kentucky. The armored cruiser Tennessee would serve as the Reserve Fleet Flagship. There would be about 4,000 enlisted men would be attached to the reserve fleet.
On the 27th of November 1912 Tennessee reached the British coaling port of Malta for re-coaling. As soon as she has finished coaling she sailed on to Smyrna. Arriving off Smyrna (now Izmir), Turkey, on December 1, 1912 she would be joined by her sister ship the Montana on December 2. The Tennessee remained there protecting American citizens and property during the First Balkan War until early May 1913 when she headed home to the States. Captain Harry A. Field received orders on July 4, 1913 relieving him of command of the Tennessee and directed him to the battleship USS Louisiana to assume command of that vessel. After reaching Hampton Roads on the 23rd of May, Tennessee operated on the east coast until entering the Atlantic Reserve Fleet at Philadelphia on 23 October.
On 2 May 1914, Tennessee became receiving ship at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. In this duty she became the clearing house for new sailors ready for sea duty assignments and the place sailors returned to after being reassigned from sea duty. Participation in ceremonies and such would also be part of her duties.
President Woodrow Wilson was going to pay tribute to the nation’s marines and bluejackets that had been killed during the recent actions in Vera Cruz, Mexico. The memorial service was going to take place on Monday May 11, 1914, at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Along with President Wilson, Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels, Secretary of War Lindley M. Garrison, and Admiral Dewey would accompany the President during the service.
The Navy Department had selected the cruiser Montana to steam south to Mexico and return with the bodies of those marines and sailors who had been killed in Vera Cruz. When the Montana arrived back to the States with the honored dead aboard President Wilson took the occasion to mark the return with a memorial speech at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. As such Secretary Daniels aboard the Presidential Yacht Mayflower, met the cruiser Montana, which had just arrived in the Hampton Roads area, and would escort the Montana with the bodies aboard up to New York for the ceremonies. Once the Mayflower and Montana arrived in the lower harbor of New York the battleship Wyoming and cruiser Tennessee would meet them and escort them into the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
During the memorial service which was witnessed by a crowd of at least 10,000 at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, President Wilson gave the main speech. Prayers were said by Rabbi Stephen S. Wise of New York, and the Rev. Father John P. Chadwick, who was the Navy chaplain serving aboard the USS Maine when it exploded in Havana, Cuba in 1898 gave the benediction. At the closing of the service the Tennessee gave a salute from her guns.
In early August of 1914, as the nations of Europe were boiling over into a conflagration of war, in Washington, DC, President Wilson gave a speech to Congress where he recommended the immediate passage by Congress of an act appropriating at least 2.5-millon dollars to be used as relief funds for the protection and transportation of Americans then in Europe. At the time there were about 100,000 Americans in the countries of Europe that would be in danger within days.
Officials from the State, Navy, War and Treasury Departments quickly put into place plans to move gold coins and other money aboard a United States warship to Europe as quickly as could be made ready. By Wednesday August 5, 1914 the Tennessee is being loaded with 8-million dollars in Gold coins and another currency. Government officials were also reporting aboard the Tennessee who would be in charge of the distribution of this money to the various American diplomatic bureaus in aiding stranded Americans. On August 6, 1914, Tennessee under command of Captain Benton Clark Decker, and Lt. Commander Earl Percy Jessop, Executive Officer, sailed from New York for duty in Europe through the first half of 1915 supporting the American Relief Expedition.
All day on Thursday August 6, Revenue cutters were kept busy shuffling back and forth from a pier at Wall Street and the Tennessee which was anchored just off Tompkinsville swinging with the tide in the Lower New York Bay. The Revenue cutters were bringing out gold and currency from the Treasury vaults and various private banks on Wall Street out to the Tennessee. By sundown that evening the last cutter had been unloaded and she was making steam ready to head out the Narrows for sea. At 9:45 that evening as Captain Benton Clark Decker gave orders to Lt. Commander Earl Percy Jessop, his Executive Officer to take in lines from the mooring and head to sea under cover of darkness, the Tennessee had aboard 6-million dollars in Gold — 3-million dollars from the Bankers Trust Company — 2.75-million dollars from the Government — and another $300,000 in the Tennessee’s Paymaster’s vault from individuals on board the ship. Additionally, there was a large group of Army officers and Treasury officials aboard. Among the Tennessee’s passengers was the Assistant Secretary of War Henry Skillman Breckinridge and his party, and the United States Ambassador to Spain Joseph Willard.
At the same time in the Boston Navy Yard the North Carolina, the sister ship of the Tennessee was also being made ready to steam to Europe. She too would carry money bound for American relief in Europe. North Carolina under command of Captain Joseph W. Oman sailed a day after the Tennessee and the plan was to have the North Carolina rendezvous with the Tennessee at sea and transfer some of the Army officers and Treasury officials from the overcrowded Tennessee to the North Carolina. The Tennessee was under orders to stop at a French port, then on to Falmouth and London, England. The North Carolina would steam through the straits of Gibraltar and make ports of call along the French Mediterranean coast. She had aboard several American foreign Consuls. Consul General Charles Denby was to go to Vienna, Consul General George Horton was to go to Smyrna, Turkey. The Tennessee reached the port of Falmouth, England on Sunday evening at about 5:30.
As the Tennessee is at Falmouth, she was to sail for Holland at dawn on August 19 but was kept in port. Asst. Secretary of War Breckinridge had expected to receive assurances from European governments for safe passage for the Tennessee but when that did not come he gave orders to keep the Tennessee in Falmouth until such assurances could be met. Another restriction put on the Tennessee was she was not to use her wireless radio while in the war zone and that would have cut off communications which were vital to safety. Meanwhile at Cherbourg, France on August 19 the North Carolina made port there and offloaded Major Charles A. Hedekin, USA who was to direct American relief operations in France. The French government had provided a special train to carry the Major and the North Carolina’s Gold to Paris.
It was not until two-days later that Asst. Secretary Breckinridge received the assurances of safe passage and on Friday evening August 21, the Tennessee with Breckinridge aboard steamed out of Falmouth bound for Rotterdam.
At the War Department in Washington, DC, diplomacy was in full swing as Secretary of War Garrison had sent a letter to governments involved in the European War as to whether American army officers would be allowed to be present at the front to act as military observers. England was the only country to return an answer, which was that two American army officers could be present with the British troops to act as observers. In the letter Secretary Garrison had sent it specifically stated that the American army officers then traveling aboard the Tennessee for Europe were not acting as military observers but rather were on a charitable mission to look after the welfare of stranded Americans.
During the time that the Tennessee was steaming eastward across the Atlantic, many of the ships at sea were very wary of war conditions at sea. The RMS Mauretania was at sea west bound from Liverpool to New York and was warned by the British cruiser HMS Essex of the presence of German cruisers in American waters. The Mauretania then changed course and put into Halifax, Nova Scotia off-loading her passengers. The Norwegian bark Ville de Dieppe was also west bound and reported seeing an unidentified warship with two funnels off Nantucket, and on Friday passed and signaled the Tennessee as she was steaming out eastward bound for France. Along the way the Tennessee is passed by the Red Star liner flying the Stars and Stripes, the SS Kroonland, headed west bound packed full of refugees from Antwerp, Belgium.
The Tennessee had delivered all her gold and other funds along with her government officials to their intended destination by late October 1914. The State Department now had fears about the safety of American missionaries then serving in the eastern Mediterranean regions and so they gave orders to Captain Decker to shift the Tennessee to that region to be ready if needed. On November 3, 1914 the Tennessee anchors in the harbor of Mytilene, Greece on the island of Lesbos in the Aegean Sea.
In the third week of November 1914, the Tennessee is laying just outside of the Port city of Smyrna, Turkey along the Aegean Coast. Smyrna was under the control of the Ottoman Empire and was part of the German-Turkish alliance. It seems that there was considerable friction between American Naval officers seeking to protect American noncombatants ashore in Smyrna, and German-Turkish officials who resented outside interference into local affairs.
This friction nearly ignited a fire one morning when a launch from the Tennessee with sailors and marines escorting an American consul aboard were fired upon by pro German-Turkish forces ashore. There were no casualties but feathers were ruffled to say the least. American diplomats speculated that the Germans were eager to impress the Turks and it was also felt that the Germans were in a way trying to get even for events that took place in the Spanish-American War at Manila Bay.
The U. S. State Department cabled Ambassador Henry Morganthau then in Constantinople to ask the Ottoman government for an explanation of why the Turkish forces fired on the launch from the Tennessee. Navy Secretary Daniels simultaneously cabled the commanders of the Tennessee and the North Carolina who were both in the same general area, to take no actions that might embarrass the United States government, and to await specific instructions from the Navy Department concerning the general situation.
This statement was in part made from a message received from Captain Decker of the Tennessee, which read: “Captain B. C. Decker, in command of the Tennessee, wired Daniels that, while proceeding from Vouriah to Smyrna to make official calls, the boat was fired at. Consul is anxious for the safety of the Consulate. The Tennessee proceeded to and left Vouriah at the request of the Ambassador and is now anchored in the harbor of Scio (Chios), Greece, from which Captain Decker’s telegram was sent. Secretary Daniels wired for fuller information.” President Wilson was determined that the United States would not be involved in a Turkish war and if Turkish officers acted without authority of the Ottoman government and the firing was not justified it was believed that the Ottoman government will render an apology to the United States.
President Wilson on Thursday evening November 19 met with the Navy Secretary Daniels and Acting Secretary of State Lansing over the situation with the Ottoman Empire over the shooting at the Tennessee’s launch. Wilson wanted to know if anything new had been learned or if a reason for the Turks to fire on the American sailors was found, but nothing new was coming in. Due to the war conditions then in Europe getting messages out of the war zones came by roundabout routes and were coming in about 5-days after the event. As such President Wilson was going to ask the British Admiralty for help in getting messages out of the region on a timely manner. Wilson was of the mind that the shots fired at the Tennessee’s boat were merely a friendly warning, giving notice that the port was closed and mined and not to enter. Even if the shots fired were with a hostile intent, Wilson believed the Ottoman government would render apology promptly for unauthorized acts of subordinate officers. Wilson still was standing frim that the United States had no quarrel with the Ottoman Empire.
But at the same time President Wilson was sticking to his theory that the shots fired at an American warship were in a friendly way, there were others in Washington who were not so sure. Senator Henry Cabot Lodge was one who did not take the same opinion as the President.
Secretary Daniels was said to have commented, “I believe that when Captain Decker’s report is received it will prove that the firing was a friendly and not an unfriendly act. Reports that the waters of Smyrna harbor are mined indicate that the shots were fired to warn the vessels against the danger of mines which it might have come into contact with had they entered the harbor.” Daniels added that he would not decide on whether the North Carolina or the Tennessee would be withdrawn from Turkish waters, until all the facts were known. There were reports that seemed to indicate that the Captain Decker aboard the Tennessee threatened to enter Smyrna harbor by force if the Turks refused permission, but this could not be confirmed and were unfounded.
At the Navy Department Secretary Daniels received on November 20, messages of receipt of the orders he had given to Captain Decker of the Tennessee and Captain Oman on the North Carolina. Both Captains returned with message understood that they were not to take any action against the Turks while in Turkish waters without specific instructions from Daniels. Additionally, orders were issued to keep both the Tennessee and North Carolina in Turkish waters or very near, no matter what the outcome was.
In Captain Decker’s first message in reporting what had happened he stated that as soon as the boat was fired upon they quickly turned around and headed back to the Tennessee, which at the time was several miles away near the port of Vouriah. During this time was when Captain Decker reported to Mr. Morgenthau what had just took place. Captain Decker then after taking his boat back aboard took the Tennessee into Grecian waters about 50-60-miles away. As this was taking place Ambassador Morgenthau was getting in touch with the Consul at Smyrna and asking for an answer on what had just taken place.
By November 22, 1914 Secretary Daniels had received Captain Decker’s full report. But Daniels refused to make public anything in Decker’s report, only saying that in Captain Decker’s opinion “the shots were not fired in a hostile act, but unfriendly.” Captain Decker had the Tennessee laying at Chios, Greece about 60-miles from Smyrna, under orders not to act in a retaliatory manner. Daniels and Wilson felt this would be a cooling off period for both parties.
But by November 23 President Wilson had changed his mind and gave orders to Secretary Daniels to issue orders to the Tennessee and North Carolina that they could act to protect American lives should they feel the need was warranted. Secretary Daniels cabled both Captain Decker and Oman giving them authority to deal with situations that might arise in protecting Americans in Turkey.
With still no official response from the Ottoman government Wilson now took the stance that America must act in our own best interest and defend our people where ever they are. Daniels placed both his local commanding officers of the Tennessee and North Carolina who were on isolated commands under navy regulations where they could act at their discretion should the situation call for military interventions to protect the loss of American lives. Captains Decker and Oman were told to keep in close touch with the Navy Department and the American embassy at Constantinople, making reports frequently. Daniels cautioned his local commanders to consider carefully the critical conditions brought on by the war now taking place in Europe, and for the desire of President Wilson to preserve strict neutrality. Secretary Daniels stated that he had the utmost confidence in Captain Decker and Captain Oman and did not fear they would take any actions that would embarrass the United States government. Daniels went on to state in his orders to the two commanders that the United States had no intention in removing the two vessels from Turkish waters and would remain in easy reach of the coast towns for the protection of Americans. At the same time Ambassador Morganthau would work with the Ottoman government to secure permission for boats from the Tennessee and North Carolina to come ashore so that friction can be avoided.
Finally, on November 27 an official response came from the Ottoman government. Ambassador Morgenthau was given this response as to what took place. The launch from the Tennessee which attempted to enter the closed harbor of Smyrna was given a signal that she was approaching a mine field before the shots were fired as a warning to the little craft. This was the stated explanation of the Turkish minister of war given to Ambassador Morgenthau.
The Tennessee called on the port city of Alexandria, Egypt in the week before Christmas of 1914. In 1914 as a result of the declaration of war with the Ottoman Empire, of which Egypt was nominally a part, Britain declared a Protectorate over Egypt and deposed the Khedive, replacing him with a family member who was made Sultan of Egypt by the British. As a result, the great British Imperial Army was massing in Egypt and would be the base of operations against the Ottoman Empire during the First World War. The British Army was being quartered within the shadows of the pyramids at Giza, with Australian, Indian, New Zealand, British, Egyptian, Irish and Tasmanian troops encamped in the British Protectorate. As the Tennessee made port in Alexandria on December 18 liberty was given to the crew. The American sailors were able to mingle with British troops from all parts of the world. It was a city unto itself, and the Australians had even brought with them frozen meat, so the men ate very well in the desert of Egypt. After a 4 day stay in Alexandria the Tennessee sailed for Jaffa to continue her relief work with the North Carolina, which was then just off Beirut, Syria.
There were so many Europeans, Americans and Jews trying to leave the regions of the Ottoman Empire at the end of December 1914, that the Italians, British and Americans all had ships in the waters off Jaffa and nearby assisting in this relief work. The Italian cruiser Calabria was with the North Carolina off Beirut, and the Tennessee along with the fuel ship Vulcan and the gunboat Scorpion were near Jaffa in the last days of December, doing what they could.
As a result of the fighting in the middle east there were at least 12,000 homeless persons who had been displaced now gathered in Jerusalem, without food or shelter. This was conveyed in a cable to Ambassador Morgenthau from the U. S. State Department. Both the British and Turkish governments had approved a plan put forth by the United States where they could send relief for this displacement of humanity. The Tennessee arrived in the port city of Jaffa on Christmas Eve of 1914 and Captain Decker made no mention of any rioting or mistreatment of the Jews by the Turks. The crew of the Tennessee began to tend to the mass of displaced persons in Jerusalem and make arrangements for transportation out of the area. Just after Christmas Captain Decker had brought aboard the Tennessee 500-refugees and was steaming out of Jaffa bound for Alexandria, Egypt to land the refugees. Ambassador Morganthau then contacted the American Jewish Committee and the Red Cross in New York to also provide help with the relief efforts. Morganthau had commented that local assistance from Bagdad was totally insufficient to meet the demand of the starving and shelter-less multitude.
Once the refugees were off loaded in Alexandria, Captain Decker again steams back to Jaffa and made that port on January 7, 1915. Aboard he has much needed supplies for those still ashore in Jaffa. At the same time the collier Jason under command of Commander Charles Edward Courtney was nearing Beirut where she had orders to resupply and re-coal the Tennessee and the North Carolina. The Tennessee along with the collier Jason arrived in Alexandria, Egypt on January 10, 1915. But the Tennessee did not stay long in Alexandria and was once again steaming back to Jaffa. When the Tennessee arrived back at Jaffa she had to wait outside as the weather was very rough. But ashore her refugees waited in sight of the Tennessee just outside the harbor but was not able to bring any aboard. The Tennessee needing to take on coal and supplies from the Jason that was in Alexandria had to leave Jaffa at great discouragement to the 2,000 refugees still ashore. Two days later on January 12, she returned again to Jaffa, and loaded another 500 refugees aboard. In all Tennessee made three such trips into Jaffa taking on refugees.
USS Tennessee in Alexandria, Egypt 1914
In London, England on January 16, 1915 the story of the last five British citizens to leave Jerusalem was told by a clergyman who was among the group. He stated that the American consul who was then in Jerusalem with the last British citizens in the city accompanied them from Jerusalem to the port city of Jaffa. They arrived at the quay in Jaffa for a steamer to pick them up and while they were waiting Turkish soldiers came and took the five British citizens and held them. The American consul used every bit of his persuasive powers he had and was able to get them released from the Turkish commander. They were escorted back to the quay where they again waited for a ship. But now a great crowd and quite nearly a mob assembled around the Brits and American consul who likely were fearing the end was near, but just in the nick of time the Captain Decker aboard the Tennessee belching black coal smoke, came into the harbor of Jaffa. The Tennessee with her four stacks and guns bristling out her side made an imposing threat to the pro-Turkish mob and they decided no further opposition should be offered to the Brits and American consul. The Brits did not have to be asked to hustle up in getting aboard the Tennessee as they had plenty of their own motivation.
By May and April of 1915, the Tennessee was back again in Alexandria, Egypt tending to over 2,000 refugees from Palestine. By mid-summer of 1915 Captain Decker receives orders from the Navy Department to return back to the east coast of the United States, and so, the Tennessee bids fare-well to the waters of the Mediterranean and heads back west across the Atlantic for home.
In early August of 1915 the Tennessee was steaming passed the Delaware Breakwater bound for the Philadelphia Navy Yard where she put in to take on stores, medicines, coal and ammunition. She was then under orders to proceed to Haiti to join the fleet commanded by Rear-Admiral Caperton. When she sailed she loaded and transported the 1st Regiment, Marine Expeditionary Force under the command of Colonel Littleton W. T. “Tony” Waller, USMC, consisting of 350 men, and the Marine Artillery Battalion, consisting of three companies with an enlisted strength of 318 men, under command of Major R.H. Dunlap, USMC, with their 3-inch guns to Haiti. The brash 59-year old Colonel Waller within 3 days’ time had assumed administrative control over the city.
The Tennessee arrived in Port-au-Prince on August 15, 1915 and off-loaded part of her marines. The following day on the 16th of August, the 1st Reg. Headquarters, and 1st Battalion of that regiment remained aboard the Tennessee and sailed from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, for Cape Haitian, Haiti. They landed and joined the First Brigade on August 31, 1915.
From 28 January to 24 February 1916, the Tennessee served as flagship of a cruiser squadron off Port-au-Prince, Haiti. In March, she embarked a group of dignitaries at Hampton Roads for a two-month, round trip cruise to Montevideo, Uruguay.
On 25 May 1916, Tennessee was renamed Memphis, honoring a city of Tennessee, so that the name of Tennessee could be reassigned to a new warship, the battleship USS Tennessee (BB-43). On June 3, 1916, a landing force consisting of 9 officers and 3 companies of navy bluejackets, under command of Lt. Thomas Withers, USN, was landed from the Memphis, at Santo Domingo City, Dominican Republic. Portions of that landing force returned aboard the Memphis on July 15th and 25th. The balance was returned aboard on August 19th, 1916.
While under the command of Captain Edward L. Beach on the afternoon of 29 August, while at anchor in the harbor of San Domingo, Memphis was driven ashore by an unexpected tidal wave and totally wrecked. The casualties, including a boatload of Memphis sailors returning from shore leave, numbered some 40 men dead or missing and 204 badly injured.
Memphis was struck from the Navy list on 17 December 1917 and sold to A. H. Radetsky Iron and Metal Co., Denver, Colorado, on 17 January 1922 for scrapping.
|USS Memphis on the rocks in San Domingo.|
As I find names of men who sailed this ship I will add them here with what I know of each. If you know additional facts about these men or others who were crew of the USS Tennessee / USS Memphis please e-mail them to: Joe Hartwell