(Destroyer No. 49; dp. 1,036 (n.); l. 305'3"; b. 30'4" (wl.); dr. 9'5" (mean); s. 29.59 k. (tl.); cpl. 100; a. 4 4", 8 18" tt.; cl. Aylwin)
Andrew Ellicot Kennedy Benham, born on 10 April 1832 on Staten Island, N.Y., was appointed a midshipman on 24 November 1847 and served in the East Indies Squadron on board the sloop of war Plymouth in 1847 and 1848 and on board the brig Dolphin in 1849 and 1850. In the latter warship, he participated in the capture of a pirate Chinese junk near Macao, China. During this action, he received a pike wound in the thigh. After another tour of duty in Plymouth followed by one in the frigate Saranac, Benham attended the Naval Academy in 1852 and early 1853.
On 10 June 1853, he was promoted to passed midshipman. From mid 1853 to early 1857, he served in the sloop of war St. Mary's on the Pacific Station. On 16 September 1855, while still in St. Mary's, Benham was commissioned a lieutenant. He next served a tour of duty with the Coast Survey late in 1857 and early in 1858. Later that year, he was transferred to the steamer Western Port assigned to the expedition sent to Paraguay to extract an apology for shooting at the gunboat Water Witch. In 1860, he moved to the steamer Crusader in the Home Squadron.
After the Civil War broke out, Lt. Benham served on board the steamer Bienville in the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron and, in her, took part in the capture of Port Royal, S.C., on 7 November 1861. On the date that rank was established, 16 JuIy 1862, Benham was promoted to lieutenant commander. Following brief service in Sacramento in 1863, he assumed command of the gunboat Penobscot and served in her through the end of the Civil War, patrolling the Texas coast as part of the West Gulf Blockading Squadron.
Upon the return of peace, he served at the New York Navy Yard from 1866 to 1870, but for a stint of duty in Susquehanna in 1867. Following duty as a lighthouse inspector in 1870 and 1871, Benham commanded first Canonicus and then Saugus, both on the North Atlantic Station and returned to lighthouse inspecting in 1874. After commanding Richmond on the Asiatic Station between 1878 and 1881, he went to the Portsmouth (N.H.) Navy Yard. The years 1885 and 1886 brought him his third tour of duty as lighthouse inspector. Following a tour of duty at League Island, Pa., in 1888, he became commandant of the Mare Island Navy Yard in 1889.
While there he became Rear Admiral Benham in February 1890 and continued at that post until June of 1891. At the end of a year waiting for orders, he assumed command of the South Atlantic Station in June 1892. However, Rear Admiral Benham was soon transferred to command the North Atlantic Station, flying his flag in San Francisco (Cruiser No. 1). When Admiral Custodio de Mello launched his naval revolt in Rio de Janeiro in late 1893, Rear Admiral Benham commanded the American naval units sent there to protect American citizens and interests. Retired from the Navy on 10 April 1894, Rear Admiral Benham died on 11 August 1905 at Lake Mahopac, N.Y.
The first Benham (Destroyer No. 49) was laid down on 14 March 1912 at Philadelphia by William Cramp & Sons; launched on 22 March 1913; sponsored by Miss Edith Wallace Benham; and commissioned on 20 January 1914, Lt. Comdr. Charles R. Train in command.
During February and March 1914, Benham conducted a shakedown cruise to the West Indies and, in April, began operations out of Hampton Roads, Va. In July, the destroyer went into reserve at the New York Navy Yard. She came back into active service on 21 December 1914 and plied the waters along the east coast until the United States entered World War I in the spring of 1917. During that time, in October 1916, Benham rescued the crew of the Dutch steamer SS Blommersdijk which had been torpedoed by U-53 off the New England coast.
After the United States entered World War I on 6 April 1917, Benham was one of the first group of destroyers chosen for antisubmarine duty in European waters. She departed Tompkinsville, N.Y., on 17 May and arrived in Queenstown (now Cobh), Ireland, on 24 May. Four days later, the destroyer began the first of many tours of duty at sea hunting U-boats and shepherding convoys to their destinations.
Her first encounter with U-boats came on 13 July when she was apparently attacked by two submarines. They launched a total of three torpedoes at Benham, but she and her convoy evaded them. The destroyer then drove them away with a depth charge attack. On 30 July, while she was on her way to Queenstown, the destroyer spied the wake of another torpedo some 1,500 yards from her. Immediately, she charged to the attack with guns and depth charges. Later, her crew sighted air bubbles and oil on the surface. The British Admiralty commended her for probable damage to a German U-boat. The destroyer continued her patrols out of Queenstown until June of 1918 when she moved to Brest, France, her base of operations through the end of World War I.
On 21 December 1918, Benham put to sea from Brest for the last time and began the voyage back to the United States. Rejoining the Atlantic Fleet at the beginning of 1919, the warship participated in the annual fleet maneuvers held in Cuban waters and then made a cruise to the Azores in May. Upon her return that summer, she was placed in ordinary at Norfolk on 28 June. Active again in 1921, she cruised the eastern seaboard until assigned duty as plane guard and tender to the Atlantic Fleet Air Squadrons. That duty terminated in May 1922, and she stood into Philadelphia on the 12th to prepare for inactivation.
Benham was placed out of commission there on 7 July 1922. Her name was struck from the Naval Vessel Register on 8 March 1935; and, after she had been scrapped by the Philadelphia Navy Yard, her materials were sold on 23 April 1935.
Raymond A. Mann
8 February 2006