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USS Prairie as a training ship circa 1903-1905
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Class: PRAIRIE (AD-5)
Design Cargo, 1890
Displacement (tons): 5,000 light, 6,620 normal
Dimensions (feet): 404.75' oa, 391.5' pp x 48.25' e x 20.75' mn
Original Armament: 10-6"/40 6-6pdr (1898)
Later armaments: 8-6/"40 6-6pdr 4-3pdr (1900)
10-3"/50 2-3pdr (1908, special service); 10-3"/50 2-6pdr 2-1pdr (1910); 10-3"/50 2-6pdr 3-1pdr (1911);
8-3"/50 2-6pdr 2-1pdr (ca. 1917); 8-3"/50 2-1pdr (ca. 1918) 8-3"/50 1-3"/50AA 2- 1pdr (1919)
Complement: 461 (1920)
Speed (kts.): 14.5
Propulsion (HP): 3,800
Machinery: Vertical triple expansion, 1 screw
||6 Apr 98
||William Cramp & Sons
||27 Sep 90
||14 Apr 98
||22 Nov 22
||22 Nov 22
||22 Jun 23
In the late 1840s Charles Morgan established a line of steamers that operated between New Orleans and ports in Texas and Mexico. In 1876 the Morgan Line opened a new service between New Orleans and New York that carried exclusively freight. In 1883 the Southern Pacific Railroad completed rail connections from the Pacific Coast through Texas to New Orleans, and in around 1885 it purchased Morgan's steamship line and, to compete with the transcontinental railroad further north, established the Sunset Route along which freight was carried from New York to New Orleans by steamer and then to the West Coast by rail. Between 1884 and 1889 the Morgan Line (which retained its old name under Southern Pacific ownership) took delivery of five 14-knot ships of 3,500 tons from William Cramp & Sons, EUREKA, EL PASO, EL DORADO, EL MONTE, and EL MAR. In 1890 it jumped to 15 knots and 4,500 tons with EL SOL (later USS PRAIRIE). This 405-foot long (overall) iron-hulled ship, designed to carry freight only, had three decks (lower, main, and awning) with low iron deckhouses that contained the officers' quarters. For rapid cargo handling the ship had four cargo hatches served by booms on her four iron masts (which also carried fore-and-aft sails) and six large cargo ports in her sides (which the Navy used as gun emplacements). The ship also had four coal ports on each side. Her vertical triple expansion engines were supplied by three cylindrical return-tube double-ended boilers arranged side by side under her single smokestack. With her extra speed (when new she maintained over 17 knots in service) EL SOL was expected to make seven trips between New York and New Orleans to five trips for any of the earlier Morgan Line vessels. She could carry 14,000 bales of cotton. For four later near sisters Morgan shifted to the new Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co. For these see USS YOSEMITE (ex EL SUD), YANKEE (ex EL NORTE), DIXIE (AD-1, ex EL RIO), and BUFFALO (AD-8, ex EL CID). In the last two of these iron was replaced by steel and the number of masts was reduced from four to two. After the Navy bought four of these fast freighters in 1898 Morgan replaced them in 1899 with four similar ships and in 1901-1902 added four more. In World War I four of the eight new ships served in the Navy as minelayers and then as troop transports (the CANONICUS class).
On 12 Mar 98 the Secretary of the Navy appointed a Naval Board on Auxiliary Cruisers to select civilian vessels for Navy use in the impending war with Spain. The Board initially focused mainly on potential auxiliary cruisers and on tugs and yachts. On 22 Mar 98 the Board planned to examine several ships of the Morgan Line then at New York. These were used exclusively for freight but were speedy and, with one or two exceptions, were among the fastest of the coasting fleet. It was thought they would be fitted out as cruisers, the absence of extensive saloon and stateroom arrangements making them more easily convertible to Navy needs. On 4 Apr 98 the Navy Department directed the Board to select at once ten vessels for auxiliary cruisers, and late in the same day the Board reported to Washington that it had made arrangements for the purchase of four steamers of the Morgan Line: EL SOL, EL SUD, EL NORTE, and EL RIO. The ships were to be sent to the New York and Norfolk Navy Yards for immediate conversion into cruisers, and if the work could not be done there within a few days some of them would be taken in hand by private shipbuilding firms. The first three ships were purchased from the Morgan Line's owner, the Southern Pacific Co., on 6 Apr 98, and EL RIO followed on 15 Apr 98. Arrangements were also made to purchase the VENEZUELA and CARACAS of the Red D Line, the KANSAS CITY of the Savannah Line, and the YORKTOWN, JAMESTOWN, and PRINCESS ANNE of the Old Dominion Line, but of these only VENEZUELA and YORKTOWN (PANTHER, AD-6, and the transport RESOLUTE) were acquired.
Commissioned on 14 Apr 98 while beginning conversion to an auxiliary cruiser, PRAIRIE performed war service in Cuban waters as a unit of the North Atlantic Fleet in July and August 1898. Decommissioned at Philadelphia on 15 Mar 99, she was placed in reserve commission on 23 Mar 99 and used for naval militia training until again decommissioning on 18 Feb 01. During this period she transported U.S. government exhibits to France for the Paris Exposition of 1900. PRAIRIE recommissioned at Boston on 9 Nov 01 as a training ship and served as such until decommissioning at Boston on 14 Jun 05 for repairs. She recommissioned on 26 Sep 06 at Boston as a transport assigned to special service, protected American interests in Cuba in the spring of 1907, and carried out naval militia training in the summers of 1907, 1908, and 1909. She continued to serve as an Atlantic Fleet transport into 1917, being reassigned from special service to general service circa 1913.
On 9 Aug 17 the Secretary of the Navy assigned PRAIRIE, then at Philadelphia, to duty as a destroyer repair ship and tender. Directing that she be converted at Philadelphia he noted that it might not be possible to obtain a tender finished in all respects by this conversion but that emphasis should be given to the most important features, which were the repair facilities, store room facilities, and cold storage facilities.
PRAIRIE was designated AD-5 when the Navy's standard hull classification scheme was implemented on 17 Jul 20. On 10 Aug 21 CNO wrote that on account of the prevailing shortage in naval appropriations and the poor material condition of the vessel, it had been decided to place PRAIRIE in a practically inoperative status at San Diego as a base repair ship for the Destroyer Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet. Although the ship was immobilized her repair facilities were to be kept fully available and effective, and he described her as status roughly equivalent to "in commission in reserve with special characteristics." On 2 Nov 21 CNO instructed the Commandant, 3rd Naval District, to place the newly-acquired RIGEL (AD-13) in commission at the New York Navy Yard and direct her to proceed to the Pacific with minimum crew and equipment to relieve PRAIRIE at San Diego. On 21 Nov 21 the Department ordered PRAIRIE sold when relieved and placed out of commission. RIGEL did not go into commission until 24 Feb 22, and on 28 Apr 22 the Navy Department sent the Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet, the curious instruction, "In view of uncertain conditions that will prevail until naval appropriations bill passes Senate do not place PRAIRIE alongside pier without further definite instructions." PRAIRIE was carried on the sale list in the Naval Directory of 1 May 22 with the notation "ordered out of commission" but remained in commission until 22 Nov 22. The Bureau of Construction and Repair then placed her on the Stricken and Sale List as of that date in accordance with Dept. instructions of 24 Apr 22 that a vessel ordered sold and placed out of commission would be put on the stricken list. The Navy Department on 1 Mar 23 again ordered the ship sold and stricken, although on 5 Mar 23 it agreed to consider the ship as stricken on 22 Nov 22, the date originally reported. PRAIRIE was sold on 22 Jun 23 to Louis Rothenberg of Oakland, Cal. for scrapping.
||Ex merc. EL SOL (completed Oct 90). Scrapped at Oakland, Cal., in 1923.
Compiled: 27 Oct 2012
© Stephen S. Roberts, 2002-2012