Tuesday, October 16, 2007

USS Monocacy

Named after a Civil War battle, the USS Monocacy was built at A. & W. Denmead & Sons in Baltimore, Maryland, and was commissioned in early 1866. She was a 1,370-ton Mohongo class sidewheel “double-ender” gunboat and was 265 feet long and had a beam of 35 feet. “Double-enders” were unique ships invented by the talented Union engineer Benjamin Isherwood during the Civil War. These ships were designed for coastal work, especially on rivers. They were side-wheelers and had rudders at both ends of the ship, thereby enabling them to go forwards or backwards without turning, making them ideal for work in narrow waterways where turning was not always possible. They were usually armed with several guns, carried a crew of approximately 160 men, had a shallow draft of nine feet, and could steam at a speed of 11 knots.

The Monocacy was immediately sent to join the US Asiatic Station and was part of a squadron of warships representing the US Government at the opening of the ports of Osaka and Hiogo, Japan, to American commerce on 1 January 1868. Japan was an isolationist nation at that time, so the opening of Japanese ports to US merchant ships was an important event. The Monocacy went on to do some survey work in the Inland Sea between Nagasaki and Osaka to locate appropriate sites for lighthouses, another critical development for merchant ships steaming in the area. From 1869 to 1870, the Monocacy spent most of her time protecting American trade interests by steaming off the coast of Japan, which was experiencing some political turmoil at that time.

After undergoing some repairs in Shanghai, China, the Monocacy began charting the Yangtze River for the US Navy in March 1871. In May she was sent as part of a five-ship expedition to survey the Salee River in Korea. While on this mission, Korean shore batteries fired on the Monocacy. The Monocacy (with Commander Edward P. McCrea in charge), as well as the other ships in the expedition, responded quickly to this attack. Approximately 576 sailors and 110 marines from the five American ships landed on shore and stormed the Korean forts along the Salee River on 10 June, with three Americans killed and ten wounded. The Korean forts were silenced and the American ships left in July after completing their surveying mission. The Monocacy then returned to China and resumed its duties on the Yangtze River.

Beginning in 1872 the Monocacy patrolled the coasts of Japan, Korea and China, protecting American lives and property in that volatile part of the world. In 1900 the infamous “Boxer Rebellion” gripped China (which was a national uprising that attempted to expel all foreigners from China). The USS Monocacy was part of the naval task force of Western warships that was quickly formed to help put down the rebellion and rescue Western citizens that were trapped in China because of the uprising. On 14 June 1900, the Monocacy captured seven small craft in a battle off Tongku, China, where a Chinese cannon shell also hit her. Most of the fighting ended after Allied land forces of the China Relief Expedition captured Peking on 14 August. Once the conflict was over, the Monocacy was ordered to remain at Taku for the destruction of the Chinese forts there. The destruction of the forts was part of the formal settlement signed between China and the Western Powers in September 1901. The Monocacy’s career ended on 22 June 1903, when she was struck from the Navy list and sold to Hashimoto and Son in Nagasaki, Japan. All of her amazing 37 years of service was spent in Asian waters and she was by far the longest-lived of the nearly four-dozen “double-enders” built for the US Navy during the Civil War era. For many years the Monocacy was one of the most enduring symbols of the US Navy’s “China Station” and she also proved to be one of the toughest.


Figure 1 (Top): USS Monocacy (1866-1903) dressed with flags in the Pei-Ho River, Tientsin, China, in 1902. Photo printed on a stereograph card, copyrighted in 1902 by C.H. Graves, Philadelphia, PA. Donation of Louis Smaus, 1985. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 2 (Middle, Top): USS Monocacy towing landing boats in the Han River, during the Korean expedition of May-June 1871. Collection of Rear Admiral Ammen C. Farenholt, USN(MC). U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 3 (Middle, Bottom): Ship's officers and crew on deck of the USS Monocacy during the Korean expedition of May-June 1871. Standing to the left front, wearing a sun helmet, is Monocacy's Commanding Officer, Commander Edward P. McCrea. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 4 (Bottom): Monocacy at the landing with a hole through her bow made by a Chinese shell during the burning of Tongku, China, June 1900. Photo printed on a stereograph card, copyrighted in 1901 by Underwood & Underwood. Courtesy of Commander Donald J. Robinson, USN(MSC), 1982. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.