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USAT Sumner, ex USS Cassius, in May 1900
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Design: Passenger & Cargo, 1882
Displacement (tons): 3,458 gross
Dimensions (feet): 366.8' oa, 351.1' pp x 43.0' x 26.0' mn
Original Armament: 1-6pdr (1898)
Later armaments: --
Speed (kts.): 13
Propulsion (HP): --
Machinery: Vert. compound, 1 screw
||24 May 98
||23 Nov 82
||6 Jun 98
||29 Dec 98
||16 Sep 99
In 1882 the Hamburg American Line began the building of large vessels in Germany by ordering two passenger and cargo ships for its emigrant service from German shipyards, RHAETIA from the Reiherstieg Schiffswerfte at Hamburg and her sister RUGIA from the Vulcan yard at Stettin. Previously most German merchant ships had been built in England. RHAETIA, launched on 23 Nov 82, had a three-masted barkentine rig, one funnel, and accommodations for 96 first- and 1,100 third-class passengers. She began her maiden voyage from Hamburg to Havre and New York in April 1883 and began her last voyage on this service in November 1894. In 1895 she was taken by the Harland & Wolff shipbuilding firm as part payment for a new ship and then went to another German firm before being purchased by the U.S. Navy in 1898. She was probably rebuilt during the 1890s, losing her amidships mast.
On 12 Mar 98 the Secretary of the Navy appointed a Naval Board on Auxiliary Cruisers to select and purchase civilian vessels for Navy use in the impending war with Spain. The Board initially focused on potential auxiliary cruisers and on tugs and yachts, but by the end of March it also had orders to find six colliers, two repair ships, and two distilling ships. By mid-April the Navy had acquired the six colliers, SATURN, LEBANON, NIAGARA, STERLING, SOUTHERY, and MERRIMAC, but the Department soon instructed the Board to find more. Ultimately between 2 Apr 98 (SATURN) and 30 Jun 98 (NERO) the Navy acquired twenty ships for use as colliers plus three more as distilling ships and one as a repair ship.
The Navy's qualifications for efficient colliers included a carrying capacity of 2,000 or more tons of coal, a speed of 12 or more knots, thorough seaworthiness, as little draught of water as possible, and the capability of being armed sufficiently to protect themselves against privateers, armed transports, and small gunboats. The vessels purchased as colliers were all of the merchant-ship type, and, in order to render their character more difficult to ascertain, their general appearance was not changed. They were fitted with towing appliances, as most of them were powerful vessels, capable of towing disabled ships of war should it become necessary. 15 vessels were purchased and employed on the Atlantic Coast and two more, NERO and BRUTUS, were purchased for use on the Pacific coast and in convoying ships to Manila. In addition NANSHAN was acquired in the Far East, HECTOR was captured from the Spanish, and SCIPIO was acquired but not placed in service. These vessels were purchased outright, manned by a naval force, and provided with batteries for repelling attacks from privateers. Notwithstanding the many difficulties which developed, there was at no time any complaint of lack of coal.
CASSIUS was sold to the Navy by William Lamb. Her cargo coal capacity was 2,897 tons. CASSIUS carried coal in the vicinity of Norfolk through the Spanish-American War and between 11 Oct 98 and 13 Dec 98 she carried coal for ships serving in the vicinity of Bahia, Brazil; Barbados Island, West Indies; and St. Thomas, V.I. CASSIUS was decommissioned 29 Dec 98 and stricken on 16 Sep 99. She was sold to the War Department at her original purchase price of $160,594 and the Army refitted her as the transport SUMNER. USAT SUMNER was wrecked on Barnegat Shoals, New Jersey, on 11 Dec 16.
||Ex merc. RHAETIA. To Army 1900 as SUMNER, wrecked on Barnegat Shoals, New Jersey, 11 Dec 16.
Compiled: 01 Jan 2013
© Stephen S. Roberts, 2002-2013