William Bainbridge, born on 7 May 1774 at Princeton, N.J., went to sea in a Philadelphia merchantman at the age of 15. He developed rapidly as a seaman and leader and attained command of the ship Hope by the end of 1793. During ensuing years, he took her on trading voyages to European ports, calling often at Bordeaux, as well as to the islands of the West Indies.
After trouble with Republican France and with the Barbary pirates prompted the United States to revive its Navy, Bainbridge was commissioned a lieutenant and given command of Retaliation. While that 14-gun schooner was protecting American merchantmen in the Caribbean on 20 November 1798, Retaliation encountered the French frigates L'Insurgente and Volontaire and their superior firepower forced him to surrender. As a prisoner on board Volontaire, Bainbridge tricked the senior French officer into recalling L'Insurgente which had been pursuing Montezuma and Norfolk and thus permitted these small American warships to escape. During his imprisonment at Guadaloupe, Bainbridge did everything in his power to protect and to further the interests of his countrymen who were also held captive, and he was later permitted to return to home in Retaliation as a cartel ship carrying other Americans who had been held captive on the island.
Promoted to master commandant and given command of Norfolk, one of the warships he had saved from capture, Bainbridge joined Commodore Thomas Tingey's squadron in waters surrounding the Leeward Islands on 24 May 1799. On 5 June, his brig engaged a 14-gun French privateer and was about to force the enemy ship to surrender when the wind of a sudden storm carried away Norfolk's two top masts, allowing her opponent to escape.
Following repairs at St. Kitts, Norfolk cruised with Ganges and assisted that flagship in capturing the French privateer Vainqueur. At the end of July, Norfolk and Retaliation, recently recaptured and once more flying American colors, left St. Kitts escorting a large group of merchant ships. When the convoy encountered a large French frigate, Bainbridge ordered his charges to scatter and then lured the enemy warship away from the merchantmen, beginning a long chase in which the American brig finally escaped. The American convoy later reassembled and proceeded on to New York where it arrived on 12 August without having lost a single ship.
In September, Bainbridge got underway in Norfolk for Hispaniola to combat both picaroons and French privateers. In one instance, the brig acted as a forerunner of a World War I "Q" ship. On 30 October, off Gonaive Island, she pretended to be a defenseless merchant ship, keeping her gunports closed to lure pirates. A barge manned by about 50 men approached her; but, after coming within cannon range, became suspicious and shied off under "...a broadside of round and canister which sprinkled all around them." Unfortunately, the wind failed as the Americans were beginning the pursuit and allowed the picaroons to row frantically away.
A short while later, Norfolk joined the frigate Boston; and, on 7 November, they captured a French armed sloop. Norfolk then sailed to Cuba for patrol duty in the vicinity of Havana. On 20 February 1800, she chased the French schooner Beauty into shallow water where the American brig could not follow. Bainbridge then used Norfolk's guns so effectively that he battered the enemy privateer, which had been a great plague to American commerce, to pieces. Thereafter, while Norfolk neither captured nor sank any enemy ships, she kept the coast of Cuba free of enemy warships until sailing for home escorting 23 merchantmen.
The convoy reached Philadelphia on 12 April 1800; and, a bit more than a month later, the 25-year-old Bainbridge received his commission as a captain. The Treaty of Mortfontaine soon ended hostilities with France obviating another voyage to the West Indies for the successful young officer, but a task far less to his liking awaited.
The Barbary Powers, city states along the coast of North Africa, had long claimed hegemony in the Mediterranean Sea and were demanding tribute from all nations whose ships traded in its waters. Placed in command of George Washington, a merchantman converted to a 32-gun warship, Bainbridge was charged with carrying the American payment for the year 1800 to the Dey of Algiers. After delivering the tribute, a cargo of stores and timber, to Algiers and while preparing to sail for home, Bainbridge was surprised to receive instructions from the Dey to carry a special mission to the Sultan in Constantinople. Although he did so under protest, Bainbridge took the opportunity to make friends there and received a letter of protection from the Capudan Pasha which enabled him to free several enslaved Americans and to sail for home with them unmolested. Upon returning to the United States, Bainbridge took command of the frigate Essex and sailed back to the Mediterranean with Commodore Richard Dale's squadron. He arrived at Gibraltar on 1 July 1801 and cruised the "middle sea" protecting American trade until the summer of 1802 when he returned home.
Following leave and shore duty, Bainbridge assumed command of the frigate Philadelphia and set out for the Mediterranean to join Commodore Preble's squadron in operations against Tripoli. Soon after reaching Gibraltar on 24 August 1803, the frigate began to hunt two corsairs reportedly preying upon American shipping near Cape de Gata, Spain. Two days later, Bainbridge captured the Moroccan ship Mirboka, operating under a commission of Tangier, and freed the privateer's prize, the American merchant brig Celia.
Philadelphia, accompanied by schooner Vixen, next escorted American merchantmen along the southeastern coast of Spain and then visited Malta en route to Tripoli where they established a blockade. Soon after, Bainbridge sent Vixen to sea to hunt for two Tripolitan warships which had been reported to be preying on merchantmen in the Mediterranean. While the schooner was away, Philadelphia ran aground off Tripoli harbor on 31 October while chasing a corsair vessel. Efforts to refloat the frigate failed and, to make matters worse, Philadelphia's guns could not bear on the attacking Tripolitan gunboats, who began firing on the frigate with impunity. Able neither to defend his ship nor to escape, Bainbridge surrendered.
Freed some 19 months later, Bainbridge came home late in 1805 and received assignment to the New York Navy Yard. Financial embarrassment as a result of his extended captivity, however, forced him to request release from active duty in order to enter merchant service. He continued so engaged until the spring of 1808 when he received orders to command frigate President. Not only did he take command of that 44-gun frigate but also, in her, broke the broad pennant of a commodore for the first time, taking command of the station comprising the waters along the southern Atlantic coast. That duty lasted until 1810 at which time Bainbridge took up merchant service once again.
Yet, by 1811, it seemed unlikely that circumstances would permit him his commercial ventures for long. For years, the Wars of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars had resulted in friction between the United States and the warring powers. Since the Royal Navy generally controlled the oceans, Great Britain abraded American sensibilities much more than did France; and war with the old mother country became increasingly more probable with each succeeding provocation. When Bainbridge heard of the incident between his former command, President, and HMS Little Belt just 50 miles off Cape Henry, Va., he made haste to get home and offer his services in Washington.
He performed his first important deed for the country in the War of 1812 when he joined Commodore Charles Stewart at the outset in opposing the Madison administration's overly cautious and purely defensive naval policy and to convince influential members of Congress to champion an aggressive approach to the sea war. This campaign not only succeeded in altering the policy but also quickly brought enduring fame to the Navy in the form of some of its most spectacular single-ship victories.
Moreover, Bainbridge later contributed one of those brilliant victories himself. After serving ashore initially at the Charlestown (Boston) Navy Yard in 1812, he relieved Isaac Hull as captain of Constitution when Hull asked for and received a leave of absence after his own great triumph over HMS Guerrière. Sailing in command of a small squadron made up of Constitution, Essex and Hornet, Bainbridge took his unit south to hunt British shipping and to protect American shipping in the waters off Brazil. On 29 December 1812, he encountered the 38-gun British frigate, HMS Java, near Bahia, Brazil.
Bainbridge cleared his ship for action and attacked straightaway. There followed a lively action of maneuver and cannonade, each frigate striving to cross the other's "T" without being overtaken by that fate herself. Bainbridge suffered two wounds during the fight. Early on a sniper's ball struck him in the hip; and, later, he sustained grievous splinter wounds when a cannonball shattered Constitution's wheel. Nevertheless, Bainbridge retained command and fought his ship superbly. Steering by means of tackles below decks, he succeeded in raking Java time and again until his battered adversary could do nothing but strike her colors. So badly damaged was the British ship that Bainbridge took off her surviving crewmen and burned her.
In February 1813, he returned to Boston where he spent the rest of the war supervising the construction of the 74-gun ship-of-the-line Independence. When that ship-of-the-line finally put to sea from Boston on 3 July 1815, she wore the pennant of Commodore Bainbridge and led a squadron headed for the Mediterranean to chastise the Algerine pirates. By the time that Bainbridge's squadron arrived, however, Commodore Stephen Decatur had already accomplished the mission for which both his and Bainbridge's squadrons had been dispatched. Though his squadron had arrived too late to help impress upon the Barbary pirates the virtues of restraint, Bainbridge took over as commander of the American naval forces in the Mediterranean when he arrived and Decatur, his junior, went home. In that role, he performed a service just as important as, if less glamorous than, Decatur's by keeping the pressure on the Barbary states to adhere to their newly learned behavior.
Bainbridge himself returned to the United States late in 1815, sailing Independence into Boston in November. There, he remained, still flying his commodore's flag in Independence, for a little over four years. In April 1820, he put to sea in the ship-of-the-line Columbus and embarked on his last duty afloat. Once again, he cruised the waters of the Mediterranean Sea in command of the squadron that maintained respect for the commerce that travelled under the American flag. Bainbridge came back to the United States in 1821 and, after failing to supplant Isaac Hull at the Charlestown (Boston) Navy Yard, served as the president of the Board of Naval Commissioners in Washington during the mid-1820s. After that assignment, Bainbridge became commandant of the Philadelphia Navy Yard, a post he held until 1831 and again briefly in 1833. Commodore Bainbridge died of pneumonia at Philadelphia on 27 July 1833 and was buried there at Christ Church.
The second Bainbridge (Torpedo-boat Destroyer No. 1) was laid down on 15 August 1899 at Philadelphia, Pa., by the Neafie & Levy Ship & Engine Building Co.; launched on 27 August 1901; sponsored by Miss Bainbridge Hoff; placed in reserve commission on 24 November 1902, Lt. Walton R. Sexton temporarily in command; towed to Norfolk, Va.; and placed in full commission there on 12 February 1903, Lt. George W. Williams in command.
Bainbridge was the lead ship, though not the first to be commissioned, of the first class of a new type of small warship, the torpedo-boat destroyer, larger and more versatile versions of which later became known simply as destroyers. That evolution had begun with the torpedo boat, originally a steam launch with a long spar torpedo (basically a long pole with a bomb at the end) attached to its bow. By the 1880s, however, the inventions and refinements of Luppis, Whitehead, Howell, and Schwartzkopff yielded the self-propelled torpedo and called forth a larger and faster torpedo boat able to attack enemy ships from a distance, though it remained tied very closely to the coast. Within a decade, the automotive torpedo's increasing success sent the world's navies scrambling to devise defenses for fleets approaching hostile coasts defended by torpedo boats. One answer was a small gun-armed ship, larger than the torpedo boat and capable of limited operations with a fleet on the high seas, that came to be called the torpedo-boat destroyer. For a time navies, developed the two as distinct ship types; but, by the turn of the century, technological advances, notably the triple-expansion steam engine, allowed the larger ship type to be designed and built for both missions. Bainbridge and her sisters comprised the first such class of warship in the United States Navy.
Assigned to the 1st Torpedo Flotilla, she spent the next three months completing trials and outfitting. On 1 June 1903, her flotilla made the trip to Annapolis, Md., where it became part of the North Atlantic Fleet's recently formed Coast Squadron. A week later, Bainbridge left Annapolis with the flotilla and the Coast Squadron and headed south to Newport News, Va. After a week there, the destroyer and her traveling companions set out on 18 June for a summer of drills and exercises in New England waters. Those evolutions consisted of a search problem followed by joint maneuvers with units of the Army, most of which took place along the coast of Maine. Detached from the Coast Squadron on 26 September 1903, the 1st Torpedo Flotilla returned to Hampton Roads to fit out for service on the Asiatic Station. Following weeks of preparation, Bainbridge stood out of Chesapeake Bay and headed south with the rest of the 1st Torpedo Flotilla and Baltimore (Cruiser No. 3) on 12 December 1903. After stops in South Carolina at Charleston and Parris Island, the little convoy arrived at Key West, Fla., on 18 December.
There, the auxiliary cruiser Buffalo relieved Baltimore as the flotilla's escort for the remainder of the journey to the Far East. Setting out on the 23d, the flotilla proceeded by way of Puerto Rico and the Canary Islands to Gibraltar where it arrived on 27 January 1904. Resuming the voyage on the 31st, the warships stopped at Algiers for a week in early February. On 9 February, they arrived at Valletta, Malta, where the flotilla and Buffalo had to lay over for a fortnight while Barry (Torpedo-boat Destroyer No. 2) went into drydock to have her propellers repaired after damaging them while mooring. Transiting the Suez Canal on 26 February, the flotilla stayed at Port Suez, Egypt, until the 29th when it headed down the Red Sea to Aden. In March, Bainbridge and her companions visited Bombay, India, and Colombo, Ceylon. They made the last stop before reaching their destination, a port call at Singapore, between 3 and 9 April. The flotilla then made the relatively short final leg of the voyage, from Singapore to Cavite in the Philippines, on the 9th.
Their successful completion of the four-month voyage from the east coast to the Orient did much to prove torpedo-boat destroyers capable of extended operations at sea with the fleet. The manner in which she and her colleagues served on the Asiatic Station, alternating between duty in Chinese waters and service in the Philippines, further substantiated their utility and hinted at their ultimate versatility. Less than seven weeks after arriving in the Philippines, Bainbridge led the flotilla, she wore the flotilla commander's flag, out of Manila Bay on its way to its first tour of duty in China. The warships spent June and early July at Hong Kong, making the passage from Hong Kong to Shanghai on 11 July. For the rest of the summer, Bainbridge and the other destroyers joined the Asiatic Fleet's Battleship Squadron in gun and torpedo drills off the Chinese coast and spent much time showing the flag in Chinese ports.
The latter employment, supporting American diplomatic presence in China, had taken on an increasing importance as the Imperial Chinese government's effectiveness degenerated in the course of the nineteenth century and during the early years of the twentieth century. Foreign governments felt compelled to send naval forces to provide protection for their nationals conducting all sorts of business in China but then used this need as a pretext to extort quasi-colonial concessions from the prostrate nation. As a result, the Great Powers entered into a fierce competition for political and economic advantage in China. Bainbridge and her flotilla-mates served as a part of American diplomacy's effort both to maintain Chinese sovereignty and to keep access open to American interests in China.
This, her first, tour of duty in China coincided with one of the several occasions when the friction over benefits in China created enough heat to burst into the flames of war. Earlier in the year, war between Japan and Russia began with Japan's attack on the Russian squadron at Port Arthur. Unable to bottle the Russian ships up securely in Port Arthur or to lure them out to their destruction, the Japanese set about investing their base. After several months, the siege forced the Russian squadron to attempt the run to Vladivostok on 10 August 1904. Japanese mines sank or damaged several Russian ships; and, in the ensuing confusion, some Russian ships were separated from the main body before it retired back into Port Arthur to its ultimate doom. Thus, Bainbridge found herself at Shanghai when Askold, one of the refugees from Vitgeft's squadron, sought sanctuary there. When her pursuers sent a destroyer into the Yangtze to reconnoiter Askold, Rear Admiral Yates Stirling dispatched Bainbridge to deter the probe and to discourage a repetition of the high-handed Japanese behavior at Chefoo where they had violated international law by seizing another refugee from Vitgeft's squadron after she had interned herself in the neutral port. The ploy succeeded. The Japanese chose to allow Askold to intern herself, and the Russian commander wisely did so.
Following that incident, Bainbridge spent another two months in Chinese waters before departing Shanghai on 4 October. She and her flotilla-mates then passed three weeks at Hong Kong before resuming the voyage to the Philippines on the 26th. The destroyer reached Cavite on 28 October and spent the remainder of 1904 and the first few weeks of 1905 engaged in local operations, mostly torpedo drills and gunnery practice. In March 1905, Bainbridge and the destroyer flotilla left the Philippines with the Battleship Squadron for drydocking in Hong Kong. She returned to Manila with those units early in April, and the destroyers received orders to head "south to patrol the coast of Palawan and the waters north of Borneo...." These orders came in response to reports that Russian Rear Admiral Rozhestventsky's Baltic Fleet had finally set sail after a three-month layover at Madagascar to complete its voyage to join the war in the Far East. Bainbridge and her colleagues spent the next few months guarding the American Philippines against neutrality violations by the Russians and the Japanese. This danger effectively evaporated with the nearly complete destruction of the Russian Baltic Fleet by Admiral Togo on 27 and 28 May.
On 1 July 1905, Bainbridge stood out of Manila Bay with the flotilla to accompany the battleship and cruiser squadrons on the annual northern redeployment to conduct summer exercises and to show the flag in Chinese waters. The first portion of the normal summer drills and port visits went off as usual; but, early in August, China displayed another burst of nationalism when a boycott was organized in response to the Chinese exclusion policy then in effect on the American west coast. Initially, this brought little disruption to the Asiatic Fleet's routine. The warships carried out their exercises and visited Chinese ports as usual. The destroyers even returned south to the Philippines in October according to custom. Only then came the break with normal routine. Instead of passing the winter months in the Philippines, Bainbridge and Barry spent just six weeks there before returning north to China late in November after President Theodore Roosevelt chose to brandish the "Big Stick."
The mission lasted through the winter with the destroyers joining other ships of the Asiatic Fleet in repeated calls at Chinese ports in a vigorous display of the naval might of the United States. By the spring of 1906, the Chinese national feeling against the United States had subsided so that, though Bainbridge and Barry remained in Chinese waters and continued to "show the flag," they were also able to resume many of the normal training evolutions more typical of their annual summer sojourns in Chinese waters. Her stay in northern waters thus continued through the summer and into the fall. At the end of September, Bainbridge and Barry left Chefoo, China, in company with Chattanooga (Cruiser No. 16) to return to the Philippines for the first time since the previous fall. After stopping off at Amoy, China, from 3 to 8 October, the warships arrived back at Cavite on the 10th.
On 9 January 1907, Bainbridge was placed out of commission at the Cavite Navy Yard to undergo repairs to her machinery. Problems with the boilers in the new destroyers had been reported as early as 1905 when the Asiatic Fleet commander's report alluded to the need to retube them as soon as circumstances allowed. The repairs appear to have staggered, no doubt to allow some of the flotilla to remain active and possibly because of limited yard facilities. Three of them;Chauncey (Torpedo-boat No. 3), Dale (Torpedo-boat No. 4) and Decatur (Torpedo-boat No. 5) had been out of commission at Cavite since early December 1905. Presumably, Bainbridge's decommissioning date had been arranged to nearly coincide with Chauncey's return to active duty on 12 January 1907. Bainbridge remained out of service at Cavite for nearly 14 months before being recommissioned on 2 April 1908, Ens. Joseph V. Ogan in command.
For three years after her return to active service, the warship carried out a normal routine for Asiatic Fleet destroyers unburdened by extraordinary diplomatic demands. This meant drilling and patrolling in the Philippines each winter followed by exercises conducted in Chinese waters in the summer. Near the end of the 1911 summer cruise, however, events transpired to upset this pattern. Disturbances in China in September and early October of 1911 led to an anti-Manchu revolt which grew into the revolution that toppled the dynasty in 1912. This sequence of events kept Bainbridge and the other destroyers from returning to the Philippines from north China in the fall of 1911. Instead, they remained in Chinese waters, where they were soon joined by every available Asiatic Fleet ship, to protect Americans and their interests in China through the winter and into the spring of 1912.
Still, by the spring of 1912, the remarkable restraint that both factions in the struggle for power in China displayed toward foreign lives and rights allowed much of the recently assembled foreign naval might to stand down. Accordingly, though some of her sisters stayed on station in the Yangtze River, Bainbridge headed back to the Philippines. Her return coincided with, and may have been caused in part by, a widespread manpower shortage that forced a number of torpedo boats and destroyers into a form of caretaker status. Upon her return from China, Bainbridge was placed in reserve on 24 April 1912 and remained in this semi-active state for almost a year, resuming full active duty on 1 April 1913, Lt. (jg.) Raymond A. Spruance in command.
Though she became fully active once again, complications on the international scene still held her back from the old comfortable routine. In mid-April, the diplomatic crisis over California's Asian Exclusion Act arose with Japan and forestalled the usual summer deployment to Chinese waters. Instead, Bainbridge and the rest of the flotilla stayed close by Luzon as part of the defenses for Manila Bay in the event of a war. The situation eased considerably by the end of May, but the destroyers kept close to their Philippine base all during the summer and fall of 1913 and through the winter of 1913 and 1914. Circumstances seemed to change later because Bainbridge and her division mates sailed off on the familiar cruise to north China in the summer of 1914. That tour of duty, however, did not signal a return to the schedule of old but, instead, proved to be the last of those regular summer journeys north in the Far East. In 1915, Bainbridge made a short deployment to Shanghai but it came late in the fall, November and December, rather than in the summer and it was her last visit to China. She and her sisters spent all of 1916 patrolling in the Philippines and continued so engaged during the first three months of 1917. Even the entry of the United States into World War I in the spring of 1917, which found Bainbrige moored at Cebu in the southern islands, did not disrupt her schedule of Philippine operations immediately. Only in mid-summer 1917 did orders arrive sending her and her sisters to duty in European waters.
On 1 August 1917, Bainbridge stood out of Cavite with the rest of her division and embarked on the long voyage to Europe. She steamed by way of Borneo, Singapore, Ceylon, and India, making extended pauses at Columbo, Ceylon, where the division had to wait for Barry to repair a damaged propeller, and at Bombay, India, before reaching the southern terminus of the Suez Canal on 23 September. The division transited the canal on the 25th arriving at Port Said, Egypt, early in the afternoon. After a week at Port Said, Bainbridge headed across the Mediterranean with the division. Although they had yet to reach their base of operations, the destroyers really began their war service upon entering the Mediterranean Sea where German and Austro-Hungarian submarines based on the Dalmatian coast were highly active. Bainbridge, in fact, claimed her only submarine contact just a week after departing Port Said on her way to Gibraltar. She had steamed with the division to Malta, arriving in Valletta on 6 October and leaving again the following day escorting some ships to Naples. On the 8th, her lookouts spied a U-boot on the surface stalking one of her charges, SS Camilla Rickmers, and Bainbridge charged to the attack. Before she could close the target to within gun range, however, the submarine submerged and escaped. On the 9th, Bainbridge and her division mates saw the merchant ships safely into Naples where they stood down for almost a week. She and her colleagues stood out of Naples on the last leg of their voyage on 15 October and reached their new base at Gibraltar on the 20th.
The warship served nine months in the European war zone based at Gibraltar escorting Allied shipping into and out of the Mediterranean Sea and between various points on the western Mediterranean littoral. On 15 July 1918, Bainbridge departed Gibraltar in company with Nashville (Gunboat No. 7) to return to the United States. Sailing by way of the Azores and Bermuda, the two warships reached Charleston, S.C., on 3 August. She operated out of Charleston, carrying out a variety of patrol and escort missions, until 27 November when she set out for Boston, Mass. The destroyer served along the northeastern coast until the summer of 1919. On 3 July 1919, Bainbridge was decommissioned at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, and her name was struck from the Naval Vessel Register on 15 September 1919. She was sold to Joseph G. Hitner, of Philadelphia, Pa., on 3 January 1920 for conversion to mercantile service as a fruit carrier.
Raymond A. Mann
13 December 2005