Bennington I (Gunboat No. 4)
A town in the southwestern corner of Vermont. It is the seat of government for Bennington County. During the American Revolution, Bennington was the nearest town to the site of a battle, actually fought on New York soil, in which American victory contributed to the ultimate defeat of "Gentleman Johnnie" Burgoyne at Saratoga. As the nearest town, Bennington gave its name to the battle.
The first Bennington (Gunboat No. 4) was laid down in June 1888 at Chester, Pa., by the Delaware River Tron Works; launched on 3 June 1890; sponsored by Miss Anne Ashton; and commissioned at the New York Navy Yard on 20 June 1891, Comdr. Royal B. Bradford in command.
Bennington, one of a new class of steel hulled gunboats, was one of the first series of ships of the so called "New Navy" begun in the late 1880's. She and her colleagues heralded a new era for America's Navy. After commissioning, the warship joined the Squadron of Evolution, a unit made up entirely of "New Navy" ships and established to test and perfect fleet tactics and strategic doctrine developed at the Naval War College specifically for the ships of the "New Navy."
While operating as the first tactical fleet of the resurgent American Navy, the squadron performed the secondary mission of cruising to foreign ports to show the world the types of modern ships the United States could build. It was in that second role that the squadron, including Bennington, departed New York on 19 November 1891 and visited West Indian and South American ports unti1 5 May 1892 when she transferred to the South Atlantic Squadron.
Bennington cruised South American waters until 19 July, when she set out from Bahia, Brazil, to visit Spanish and Italian ports during the quadricentennial celebration of Columbus' voyage to and discovery of the western hemisphere. She concluded the European portion of those festivities on 18 February 1893 when she departed Cadiz, Spain, with a replica of Columbus’s caravel Pinta in tow for Cuba. After stops in the Canary Islands, the Netherlands West Indies, and Havana, Cuba, the gunhoat arrived back in the United States at Hampton Roads, Va., on 26 March.
Following participation in the 1893 naval review at Hampton Roads, she moved north for operations along the coast of New England before beginning preparations for foreign service. To this end, she entered the New York Navy Yard on 24 May and remained there unti1 6 August. The ship departed New York on the 6th and arrived in Lisbon, Portugal, on the 18th. She cruised the Mediterranean Sea, visiting various ports along its shores, for the next six months. In February 1894, orders arrived sending her to the Pacific. On the 18th, the gunboat transited the Strait of Gibraltar and headed back across the Atlantic. After steaming around Cape Horn and stopping at several Latin American ports, the warship finally arrived at the Mare Island Navy Yard on 30 April.
Bennington served In the Pacific for a little more than four years. For the most part, her duty consisted of cruising along the west coast protecting American interests in Latin America during the numerous political upheavals that occurred at that time in Central and South America. In addition, she made two extended cruises to the Hawaiian Islands. The first came after a group of pro royalists attempted in January 1895 to stage a counter coup against the provisional government of the islands. She departed Mare Island on 28 May, arrived at Honolulu on 5 June, and spent the next nine months protecting American interests in the islands. On 5 March 1896, she departed Honolulu, bound for San Francisco where she arrived on 16 March. The following day, the warship entered the Mare Island Navy Yard for five months of repairs. On 8 August, she resumed cruises along the west coast. That employment lasted a year and a week. On 14 August 1897, Bennington headed back to Hawaii. She arrived in Lahaina Roads on 27 September and reached Honolulu on the 30th. But for a six day cruise back to Lahaina in March 1898, the gunboat remained at Honolulu for just over nine months.
Bennington saw no combat during the Spanish-American War. After spending the first two months of the war in the Hawaiian Islands, she departed Honolulu on 16 June and steamed to the west coast of the United States. The warship arrived in San Francisco on 26 June and patrolled the California coast for the remainder of hostilities.
On 18 September, Bennington stood out of San Francisco on her way ultimately to the Philippine Islands. She arrived in the Hawaiian Islands on 27 September and devoted a little over three months to operations in nearby waters. On 7 January 1899, she resumed her voyage west. Ten days out of Honolulu, she paused at desolate Wake Island where her captain, Comdr. Edward D. Taussig, took possession of the atoll in the name of the United States. The ship later made a stop at San Luis d'Apra, Guam, from 23 January to 15 February before continuing on to Manila where she arrived on 22 February.
For a little more than two years, the gunboat served in the Philippine Islands in support of the Army's campaign to suppress Filipino resistance to America’s acquisition of the archipelago. For the most part, her service in the islands consisted of patrol and escort duty, preventing rebel movement and stopping the importation of arms, as well as seeing American troops and supplies safely between the islands. Occasionally, Bennington did see action. On 10 September, she shelled a fort near Legaspi on the southeastern coast of Luzon. Two days later, she captured and destroyed the insurgent vessel Parao. Between 7 and 9 November, the warship supported an Army landing at San Fabian on the shores of Lingayen Gulf in northwestern Luzon. The gunboat began a four month assignment as station ship at Cebu on 26 November and concluded that duty on 19 March 1900.
After visiting Cavite on Luzon, the gunboat headed for Japan on 3 April and underwent repairs there from 9 April to 19 May before heading back to the Philippines. The warship arrived at Cavite on 27 May and resumed patrols on 3 June. She spent another seven months conducting patrols in the Philippines and supporting the Army’s pacification of the island chain. On 3 January 1901, she departed Cavite and shaped a course for Hong Kong. The gunboat arrived in that British colony on the 6th and began over six months of repairs. At the completion of that work, she departed Hong Kong on 25 June. After a visit to Shanghai, the warship headed back to the United States sometime in July and arrived at the Mare Island Navy Yard on 19 August. She was deommissioned there on 5 September 1901.
After 18 months of inactivity, Bennington was recommissioned on 2 March 1903, Comdr. Chauncey Thomas in command. Over the next 27 months, she cruised in the eastern Pacific along the coasts of North and South America. The warship visited Alaskan ports in the summer of 1903 and the coast of Central America the following fall and winter. In May 1904, she steamed to Hawaii and then proceeded to the Aleutians in June. The winter of 1904 and 1905 saw her voyage south for visits to Pacific ports in Central and South America. In February of 1905, she departed San Francisco for a two month cruise to the Hawaiian Islands. She returned to San Diego on 19 July. Two days after her return, Bennington was rocked by a boiler explosion and sank. The gunboat lost 1 officer and 65 men dead, and nearly every other man on board suffered some injury. Later refloated, the ship was towed to the Mare Island Navy Yard. Her condition, however, precluded repairs, and she was decommissioned on 31 October 1905. The warship remained inactive for five more years. On 10 September 1910, her name was struck from the Naval Vessel Register, and she was sold on 14 November 1910 for scrapping.
Raymond A. Mann
8 February 2006