Tuesday, November 1, 2011

USRC Hudson

Figure 1: USRC Hudson at the Norfolk Navy Yard, Portsmouth, Virginia, 21 April 1898. Courtesy of the US Coast Guard History website. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 2: USRC Hudson at the Norfolk Navy Yard, Portsmouth, Virginia, 21 April 1898. Courtesy of the US Coast Guard History website. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 3: USRC Hudson at the Norfolk Navy Yard, Portsmouth, Virginia, 21 April 1898. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the US National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 4: USS Winslow (TB-5) photographed circa 1898, with a small "water taxi" rowing past her bow. Courtesy of Jack Howland, 1985. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 5: USS Winslow (TB-5) off Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1898. The Neafie & Levy shipyard is in the background. The original photograph was copyrighted by William H. Rau, 1898. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 6: USRC Hudson coming to the rescue of USS Winslow during the Battle of Cardenas, Cuba, during the Spanish-American war, 11 May 1898. Courtesy USCG Historian’s website: http://www.76fsa.org/cgta/usrc_hudson_-_battle_of.htm Click on photograph for larger image.

Named after William L. Hudson (1794-1862), a noted US Navy Captain, the 128-ton United States Revenue Cutter (USRC) Hudson was built by John H. Dialogue at Camden, New Jersey, and was commissioned into the Revenue Cutter Service (which was the forerunner of the US Coast Guard) 17 August 1893. Hudson was approximately 94 feet long and 20 feet wide, had a top speed of 12 knots, and had a crew of 11 officers and men. Hudson also was the Revenue Service’s first vessel to have a steel hull and a triple-expansion steam engine. The small ship was armed with two 6-pounder Driggs-Schroeder rapid fire guns and one Model 1895 Colt automatic machine gun.

For most of her career, Hudson was assigned to duties in the New York Harbor area. Since she was a Revenue Cutter, the ship was under the control of the Treasury Department. But with the coming of the Spanish-American War, Hudson was transferred to the US Navy on 24 March 1898 and commissioned as USS Hudson, with First Lieutenant Frank Hamilton Newcomb of the Revenue Cutter Service in command.

Hudson left New York on 24 April 1898, shortly after war was declared with Spain. She steamed south to Key West, Florida, and was assigned to patrol duties as soon as she arrived. Hudson then was used as a dispatch carrier and ordered to join the other US Navy ships that were blockading Cuba. On the morning of 11 May 1898, the gunboats Machias, Wilmington, as well as Hudson, were ordered to blockade the harbor at Cardenas on the north coast of Cuba. These ships were joined by the torpedo boat USS Winslow, under the command of Lieutenant J. B. Bernadou. After three Spanish gunboats were seen in the harbor, the small American task force decided to run in after them. Winslow went in first to reconnoiter the area closest to shore, with the two larger gunboats ready to provide gunfire support as soon as anything was spotted.

At this point, Hudson was sent to scout the western shore of the bay while Winslow was investigating the east side of the harbor. When Winslow was roughly 1,500 yards from Cardenas, numerous shore guns opened fire on the torpedo boat. Shells were exploding all around Winslow, when, suddenly, some of them started to hit their target. Within a few minutes several more shells slammed into the torpedo boat, killing and wounding some men, and disabling the ship. Winslow now was dead in the water and drifting towards shore.

As soon as First Lieutenant Frank H. Newcomb, commander of Hudson, saw what was happening to Winslow, he immediately steered his ship into the enemy fire to assist the torpedo boat. Hudson’s six-pounders sent a steady stream of fire at the Spanish artillery emplacements on shore. At the same time, the gunboat Wilmington kept firing everything she had against the town of Cardenas, destroying storehouses along the shore as well as all three of those Spanish gunboats that were originally in port. Because of the fire coming from both Hudson and Wilmington, the shots coming from the Spanish artillery began to subside. This allowed Hudson to gradually come near Winslow and try to rig a tow line. But as the Revenue Cutter neared the torpedo boat another Spanish artillery shell hit Winslow, killing Ensign Worth Bagley and wounding several men. Yet despite the Spanish shells that were now hitting the revenue cutter, Hudson got closer to Winslow and, after two tries, managed to secure a tow line.

By now Winslow was in terrible shape and near sinking. Unfortunately, Winslow’s rudder was jammed due to a direct hit on her stern and this made towing impossible. So, as a last resort, First Lieutenant Newcomb ordered that both ships be lashed together. Even though Spanish shells were still hitting both Winslow and Hudson, the Revenue Cutter managed to pull Winslow away from shore and limp slowly out of the harbor area. Hudson’s two six-pounders kept up a steady stream of protective fire, shooting 120 rounds in less than 30 minutes. But even though progress was unbearably slow, Hudson managed to keep Winslow afloat and pull her to safety.

As soon as Winslow was out of range and out of danger from further damage, Lieutenant Bernadou on board Wilson signaled to Wilmington, “Many killed and wounded—send boat!” Eventually, Hudson brought Winslow alongside Wilmington and all of Winslow’s dead and wounded were transferred to the larger gunboat. Of the Winslow’s crew of 21, five were killed and five were wounded (including Bernadou, who was hit by some shrapnel from an exploding Spanish shell that ripped into his right thigh; he used a towel as a tourniquet so that he could stay in command of his ship during the battle). Once the wounded were treated on board Wilmington, they (along with the dead) were again transferred, this time to Hudson, which was heading back to Key West along with some dispatches regarding the battle.

While this whole battle was going on, the other American gunboat during this operation, Machias, was also very active. Machias was bombarding Spanish positions on the smaller islands within Cardenas Harbor known as “The Keys.” Machias opened fire on the Spanish signal station on Diana Key, destroying it. After it was destroyed, Machias sent a landing party to take over Diana Key and to make sure there were no wires on the island that were attached to mines in the bay. After the landing party arrived on Diana Key, the American flag was hoisted next to the burning Spanish signal station and the men also discovered that there were no wires leading to mines in the bay.

As soon as Hudson returned to Key West, the wounded and the dead were taken off the ship. First Lieutenant Newcomb was interviewed after the battle and stated, “I know we destroyed a large part of the town near the wharves and burned their gunboats. But we were in a vortex of shot, shell and smoke, and could not accurately tell how much damage we did to the city.” Evidently the American ships did a lot of damage to Cardenas, because it was never a problem for the United States for the rest of the war. For their bravery during the Battle of Cardenas, First Lieutenant Frank H. Newcomb received a gold Congressional medal, the other officers on board Hudson received silver medals, and the crew received bronze medals. These were unique awards made specifically to commemorate the battle itself and were the only specially struck medals awarded for bravery during the war. President William McKinley noted in his request to Congress for the special medals that: “In the face of a most galling fire from the enemy’s guns, the revenue cutter Hudson, commanded by First Lieutenant Frank H. Newcomb, United States Revenue Cutter Service, rescued the disabled Winslow, her wounded commander and remaining crew. The commander of the Hudson kept his vessel in the very hottest fire of the action, although in constant danger of going ashore on account of the shallow water, until he finally got a line fast to the Winslow and towed that vessel out of range of the enemy’s guns, a deed of special gallantry.”

Hudson remained on blockade duty for several weeks after the attack on Cardenas, mostly to deliver dispatches for the fleet, though she did capture two small fishing sloops that were attempting to run the blockade off Havana, Cuba. She then returned to Key West and steamed to Norfolk, Virginia, arriving there on 21 August 1898. The ship was then returned to the Revenue Service and became, once again, USRC Hudson.

Once back with the Revenue Service, Hudson was again based in the New York Harbor area. She resumed her traditional duties as a Revenue Cutter, which was generally patrol, search and rescue, and stopping any smuggled goods or contraband from entering the country. On 28 January 1915, the Life-Saving Service and the Revenue Cutter Service were combined to create the US Coast Guard. Hudson became the US Coast Guard Cutter (USCGC) Hudson and remained with the Coast Guard until 6 April 1917, when she was once again transferred into the Navy for use during World War I. Hudson was mainly given patrol and escort duties during the war, but was returned to the Coast Guard on 28 August 1919. Hudson remained active in the Coast Guard until 3 May 1935, when she was decommissioned and sold after giving more than 40 years of service. USCGC Hudson proved that you don’t have to be big or powerful to make a difference in a battle and both Winslow and her crew owed much to this little ship.