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USS Potomac (1898-1922) in Hampton Roads on 2 May 1907
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Class: POTOMAC (AT-50)
Design: Tug, 1897
Displacement (tons): 475 gross, 785 displ.
Dimensions (feet): 138.75' pp x 28.5 x 12.0' mn
Original Armament: 2-6pdr 2-1pdr (Apr-May 1898)
Later armaments: 2-1pdr (Dec 1898);
Complement: 56 (1921)
Speed (kts.): 16
Propulsion (HP): 2,000
Machinery: Vert. triple expansion, 1 screw
||14 Apr 98
||F. W. Wheeler
||31 Aug 97
||5 Apr 98
||26 Jun 22
||31 Jul 22
||1 Dec 22
In 1897 F. W. Wheeler & Co of West Bay City, Mich., built the large steel tug ROBERT W. WILMOT for W. G. Wilmot of New Orleans. She was to be used for towing and wrecking service in the Gulf of Mexico and was designed to be able to cross the Atlantic safely. She was built at the same time and place as WILLIAM H. BROWN (see AT-49) and the two may have been sisters, the dimensions of 156.7' oa, 143.3' pp x 28.0' x 12.0' mn being reported in mid-1898 for both tugs before the Navy began reporting the different dimensions shown here.
On 12 Mar 98 the U.S. 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, but on 25 Mar 98 the press reported that the Board had been ordered to secure at once a dozen tugs and yachts to be equipped for active service as torpedo craft at Key West. On 30 Mar 98 the press reported that the tugs, which Secretary of the Navy Long at first thought would be used for torpedo boats by putting in torpedo tubes, would be used as scout boats. The Navy purchased ROBERT W. WILMOT from the Ocean Towing & Wrecking Co. in April 1898 for $125,300 and renamed her POTOMAC.
Wilmot immediately ordered a replacement tug from the Globe Iron Works of Cleveland, Ohio, for a cost of about $110,000. The new R. W. WILMOT, delivered in late 1898, was reportedly 11 feet longer, 2 feet wider, and 1 foot deeper, than her predecessor, but her reported dimensions of 156.7' oa, 143.3' pp, x 30' x 14' mn were identical in length to those reported in mid-1898 for the older pair. The new tug was somewhat more powerful, developing 2,600 IHP including auxiliary machinery (2,500 without). During World War I (see separate page) this tug was numbered ID-604 and was temporarily acquired by the Navy before being transferred to France.
POTOMAC served in the West Indies during the Spanish American War and then served along the East Coast, probably with periods out of commission in 1898-1899 and 1902-1903. She left Newport, R.I. on 28 Jan 14 to rescue vessels icebound off Newfoundland but was herself iced in and abandoned on 14 Feb 14. Salvaged in the late spring, she arrived at the New York Navy Yard on 9 Jun 14. After overhaul and repair, she became a tender in the Atlantic Fleet during 1915, and tender to the Canal Zone submarine squadron in 1916. Late in 1916 she was transferred to the West Indies, where she spent much of her time based at Santo Domingo and in Haiti. POTOMAC was designated AT-50 when the Navy's standard hull classification scheme was implemented on 17 Jul 20. She returned to Norfolk for the last time in May 1922, her 3-pounder guns were removed on 26 Jun 22, and she was stricken and and ordered sold on 31 Jul 22. Sold to a New Orleans firm, she recovered her original name and remained in service until 1981.
||Ex merc. ROBERT W. WILMOT. Sold to New Orleans & Bisso Towboat Co., New Orleans, for $40,000. Merc. ROBERT W. WILMOT 1922, deleted 1981.
Compiled: 19 Feb 2013
© Stephen S. Roberts, 2002-2013