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USS Yosemite circa 1898
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Design: Cargo, 1892
Displacement (tons): 4,659 gross, 6,179 displ.
Dimensions (feet): 391.5' pp x 48.2' x 20.1' mn
Original Armament: 10-5"/40 6-6pdr (1898)
Later armaments: --
Speed (kts.): 16
Propulsion (HP): 3,800
Machinery: Vert. inverted triple expansion, 1 screw
||6 Apr 98
||Newport News SB & DD
||16 Mar 92
||13 Apr 98
||13 Nov 00
In around 1885 the Southern Pacific Railroad purchased the Morgan Line, which had been founded by Charles Morgan in the 1840s, and to compete with the transcontinental railroad further north established the Sunset Route, along which freight was carried from New York to New Orleans on Morgan steamers and then to the West Coast on the railroad's newly completed line between New Orleans and California. Between 1884 and 1889 the Morgan Line took delivery of five 14-knot ships of 3,500 tons from William Cramp & Sons, and in 1890 it jumped to 15 knots and 4,500 tons with its last Cramp-built ship, EL SOL (later USS PRAIRIE). Morgan then successively ordered four near sisters from the new Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co., EL SUD (later USS YOSEMITE), EL NORTE (YANKEE), EL RIO (DIXIE), and EL CID (BUFFALO ex Brazilian NICTHEROY). These 405-foot long (overall) ships, designed to carry freight only, had three decks (lower, main, and awning) with low deckhouses that contained the officers' quarters. For rapid cargo handling they had four cargo hatches served by booms on their masts and six large cargo ports in their sides (which the Navy used as gun emplacements). The ships also had four coal ports on each side. The vertical triple expansion engines were supplied by three cylindrical return-tube double-ended boilers arranged side by side under the single smokestack. They could carry 14,000 bales of cotton. In the last two of these ships, EL RIO and EL CID, steel replaced iron as the construction material and the number of masts was reduced from four to two. After the Navy took over four of these fast freighters in April 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. EL SUD was taken to Newport News, Va., and was commissioned there as USS YOSEMITE on 13 Apr 98. She departed the shipyard for post-conversion trials and war service on 16 May 98.
After the war, YOSEMITE left the New York Navy Yard on 10 May 99 for duty as station ship at Guam. On 13 Nov 1900 a strong typhoon slammed into the island. YOSEMITE, which was occupying a berth near the collier JUSTIN, dragged her anchors and was driven aground a hundred yards from the South Reef, her bows being crushed in. The storm eventually veered round and the ship was carried to the Sumaye cliffs where her rudder and propeller were broken. The storm then blew the wrecked ship to sea, ending up 60 miles north and 40 miles west of Guam. After the storm's winds subsided the ship's crew was able to get her engines started but she could only make two knots with her damaged screw while the holds continued to flood. On 15 Nov 00 JUSTIN, which had miraculously escaped, found her and tried without success to take her under tow. YOSEMITE was then scuttled and JUSTIN brought her 173 men back to Guam.
||Ex merc. EL SUD (completed 27 Jul 92). Foundered off Guam.
Compiled: 01 Jan 2013
© Stephen S. Roberts, 2002-2013