(Protected Cruiser: dp. 3,189; l. 270'3" (wl.); b. 42'0"; dr. 17'0"; s. 15.60 k. (tl.); cpl. 284; a. 2 8", 6 6", 2 6-pdrs., 2 3-pdrs., 2 1-pdrs., 2 47mm. Hotchkiss revolving cannon, 2 37mm. Hotchkiss revolving cannon, 2 Gatlings; cl. Boston)
A city and seaport located in eastern Massachusetts on Massachusetts Bay at the mouths of the Charles and Mystic Rivers. It is the capital of Massachusetts and the seat of government for Suffolk County. One of the oldest cities in the United States, Boston was the site of historical events far too numerous to mention here.
The fifth Boston, a protected cruiser, was laid down late in 1883 at Chester, Pa., by John Roach & Sons; launched on 4 December 1884; and commissioned on 2 May 1887 at the New York Navy Yard, Capt. Francis M. Ramsay in command.
Boston was one of the ABCD ships of the so called "New Navy," ships constructed with the latest developments in steel shipbuilding and steam propulsion. She was the second cruiser completed of the first four ships in the transition from wood and sail to steel and steam. After completing her outfitting period at New York, Boston was dispatched to Livingston, Guatemala, to inquire into an alleged case of gross maltreatment of an American citizen by local military authorities. From there, she voyaged to the waters around Haiti where she also served to protect American interests in that politically unstable nation. She returned to New York on 24 November 1888 and remained there until May 1889. Between 15 May and 10 July, she made two coastal voyages from New York to Norfolk and back. On the first, she towed a ship from Norfolk to New York; and, on the second, she pulled one from League Island, Pa., to Norfolk. Between 29 July and 5 August, she conducted trials off Newport, R.I., and then returned to New York.
On 30 September 1889, the Squadron of Evolution was created. Boston was one of the initial four ships assigned to that organization. That squadron remained at New York until 18 November when all ships headed for Boston's namesake city. They arrived there on 22 November. On 7 December, the entire squadron departed Boston en route to port visits in European waters. The ships arrived in Lisbon, Portugal, on the 21st and entered the Mediterranean Sea on 5 January 1890. For the next four months, they cruised the waters of the western Mediterranean visiting numerous ports along the way. They exited the Strait of Gibraltar on 26 May 1890 and shaped a course for Brazil, via Madeira and the Cape Verde Islands. The squadron arrived at Bahia, Brazil, on 17 June 1890. For about three weeks, the ships of the squadron made goodwill calls, first at Bahia and, later, at Rio de Janeiro. On 5 July, Boston and her squadron mates set sail to return to the United States. En route, they made one stop in the West Indies before arriving back in New York on 29 July 1890. On 23 August, she joined the other Navy ships at New York in the ceremony honoring the late Capt. John Ericcson, creator of the United States' first armored warship Monitor, as his remains were embarked in Baltimore for the voyage back to the nation of his birth, Sweden.
Boston served with the Squadron of Evolution until 21 October 1891 helping to develop the Navy's first set of tactical rules and doctrine for a group of steam-powered steel warships acting as a unit. On 21 October 1891, she was detached from the Squadron of Evolution and was ordered to the Squadron for Special Service. Three days later, she put to sea bound via Cape Horn to the Pacific Ocean. After stops at numerous Latin American ports on both coasts, she arrived in San Diego, Calif., on 26 April 1892. From there, she moved north to San Francisco where she entered the Mare Island Navy Yard on 4 May to begin three months of repairs. On 11 August 1892, the protected cruiser returned to sea once more and shaped a course for the Hawaiian Islands with Rear Admiral Skerett, prospective Commander, Pacific Squadron, embarked. Boston arrived at Honolulu on the island of Oahu on 24 August.
Owing to the unsettled nature of Hawaiian politics and the presence of a relatively large American population in the islands, Hawaii had long been a frequent stopping place for Navy ships. In fact, some Navy warships had served on station in the islands for months and even years. Boston remained in Hawaiian waters for more than a year. During her stay, events occurred which led to the downfall of the Hawaiian monarchy and the institution of a provisional government strongly American in composition. In January 1893, events came to a head, and Capt. Wiltse of Boston took matters into his own hands by sending a landing party ashore to protect American lives and interests. While American forces took no active part in the revolution, their presence emboldened the usurpers and cowed Queen Liliuokalani's government. The inferred support for the forces of what became the provisional government insured the success of those forces. Inactive though it was, Boston's role in the events of January 1893 contributed to the ultimate annexation of Hawaii by the United States five years later in 1898.
The protected cruiser departed Hawaii in September 1893 and arrived in San Francisco on 7 October. She moved to the Mare Island Navy Yard three days later and was decommissioned there on 4 November 1893. She remained in ordinary until recommissioned on 15 November 1895, Capt. Frank Wildes in command. On 10 January 1896, Boston stood out of San Francisco bound for the Far East. The warship stopped at Oahu from 30 January to 7 February before continuing her voyage west. She arrived in Yokohama, Japan, on 25 February. For a little more than two years, Boston cruised Asiatic waters protecting American interests there. Her primary area of operations was along the Chinese and Korean coasts though she did make frequent visits to Japanese ports. At the beginning of 1898 when war with Spain was imminent, she served at Chemulpo, Korea, as station ship watching over American missionary and trading activities. She moved to Hong Kong between 28 February and 3 March on the heels of Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt's famous 25 February telegram to Admiral Dewey ordering him to concentrate the Asistic Squadron at Hong Kong for instant action against the Spanish fleet in the Philippines.
On 23 April, British authorities at Hong Kong ordered Dewey out of Britiah waters. The next day, he led the squadron to Mirs Bay to await the arrival of the American consul assigned to Manila. With Consul Oscar F. Williams and his valuable intelligence safely on board cruiser Baltimore (Cruiser No. 3), Dewey took the squadron to sea on 27 April. The voyage to the Philippines proved peaceful though punctuated by daily action stations drills. The squadron arrived off Cape Bolinao, Luzon, before dawn on 30 April. Boston joined Concord in a reconnaissance mission to Subic Bay in order to make sure the Spanish squadron had not taken refuge there. Finding Subic Bay empty of warships, they rejoined the American squadron that afternoon. After a final meeting of ships' commanding officers on board Olympia, the squadron resumed its voyage to Manila Bay.
On the night of 30 April and 1 May, the Asiatic Squadron steamed through Boca Grande, the passage into Manila Bay between Corregidor and Caballo Islands to the north and El Fraile to the south. The squadron's passage was ignored by the Corregidor batteries, but those on El Fraile fired several ineffectual shots. Boston, Concord, Raleigh, and the revenue cutter McCulloch returned the fire with a couple of shots each. The Asiatic Squadron, however, soon steamed out of range toward Manila.
The squadron caught sight of the lights of Manila at about 0300. At dawn, the American warships were close enough to see that the Spanish squadron was not there. They then set off for Cavite where they found the Spanish in Canacao Bay between Sangley Point and Cavite. The action opened at about 0530 after Olympia's forward turret had fired several ranging shots. Over the next two hours, Boston and her squadron mates passed the stationary enemy ships five times subjecting them to a severe pounding on each pass. At about 0730, Dewey received a report, later proved to be erroneous, that the flagship's supply of ammunition was getting dangerously low. Thus, at about 0735, he broke off the action, and the squadron retired to the middle of the bay, out of range of the enemy guns, to take stock of ammunition supplies and to feed the men.
While the crews ate breakfast, several heartening things occurred. First, the commanding officers of the other ships made their reports of the action on board Olympia. They indicated that the Spanish had inflicted only inconsequential damage to the Asiatic Squadron and that they felt the squadron had battered the enemy pretty well. Second, the commodore received the information that ammunition supplies were quite adequate to go back and finish the job. Finally, the pall of smoke that had shrouded the enemy squadron through most of the action cleared off and revealed that the squadron commanding officers' assessment of enemy battle damage was quite correct. The Spanish had suffered severely. At about 1045, the Asiatic Squadron returned to Cavite to complete its mission. By noon, all enemy ships had either been destroyed or had surrendered. Cavite itself surrendered also. Though Manila remained in Spanish hands, the threat of bombardment of civilians silenced the city's guns; and the Asiatic Squadron anchored peacefully off the town.
The warship remained at Manila for the duration of hostilities in the Spanish-American War which ended with the protocol signed on 12 August 1898 although the treaty did not come along until 10 December. On 1 September, Boston took leave of the Philippines and shaped a course for Hong Kong and repairs. The repairs took only six days, and she was back in Manila by 12 September. Boston patrolled the islands until 4 October at which time she headed back to Chinese waters. A coup d'etat staged by the Dowager Empress, Tz'_ Hsi, of China against her reform-minded nephew, the Emperor Kuang Hsü prompted the American minister to Peking to request ships from Dewey's squadron to be sent to Taku, China, as a show of strength to protect United States' interests in China. Boston was one of the ships sent by Dewey in response. Steaming by way of Amoy, China, where she took on coal, the protected cruiser arrived at Taku on 18 October 1898. But for a two-day visit to Chefoo to take on additional coal, the warship remained off Taku with Petrel and Nero until the second week in December. On the 9th of that month, Boston headed back to the Philippines. She stopped at Woosung, China, between 12 and 18 December and arrived at Cavite on the 23d.
She remained at Cavite through January of 1899 and into February. On 6 February, Boston departed Manila Bay bound for Iloilo in the central Philippines. Two days later, she reached her destination and relieved Baltimore as guard ship there. Boston and gunboat Petrel cooperated in the capture of the town of Iloilo on 10 February, and a landing party from Boston went ashore to take possession of the town. The protected cruiser remained at Iloilo until 10 March at which time she got underway for Cebu. After a day at that island, she continued on to Zamboanga on western Mindanao where she again served as a guard ship between 13 and 15 March. The warship returned to Cavite on 18 March and stayed until the 23d. Heading back to Cebu on the latter day, Boston arrived there on the 25th and remained as guard ship for about two months. On 27 May, she shaped a course for Manila. The cruiser reached that city four days later and stopped over until 8 June. She ended her participation in the Philippine pacification campaign on the 8th by putting to sea bound via Hong Kong to Japan. After Hong Kong, she visited the Japanese ports of Nagasaki, Kobe, and Yokohama.
From the latter port, Boston got underway on 29 July 1899 to return to the United States. She stopped at Honolulu in the Hawaiian Islands from 9 to 17 August before continuing on to the west coast. The warship arrived in San Francisco late in August and was decommissioned there on 15 September 1899. She remained inactive at San Francisco until recommissioned on 11 August 1902, Comdr. Charles P. Perkins in command. For the remainder of 1902, she cruised the coastal waters of California, Mexico, and Central America. Early in 1903, the protected cruiser patrolled the coast of Honduras in protection of American interests there. She performed similar duties through most of the year. However, when the Colombian province of Panama declared its independence on 3 November 1903, Boston received orders to the new republic's western coast, ostensibly to protect American interests should fighting ensue. She arrived off Panama on 7 November, and the remaining ships of the Pacific Squadron joined her three days later. The presence of United States naval vessels on both coasts of Panama had the effects of insuring the success of the insurgents and of allowing the United States to acquire from them a treaty for the construction and control of a transisthmian canal.
Boston remained in Panamanian waters until 2 March 1904 at which time she sailed for Callao, Peru, in company with New York, Bennington, and Concord. The warships arrived at Callao on 9 March and remained there until the 25th. Boston returned to Panama on 1 April and stayed there until 26 May at which time she put to sea bound for San Francisco. The warship arrived in the California port on 12 June. She remained there until 1 August when she resumed normal operations along the California coast. By mid-November, Boston found herself operating along the west coast of Panama once more. That assignment occupied her time until 8 February 1905 when she headed back to San Francisco. She operated in California coastal waters again until 11 April when she departed Mare Island for the Hawaiian Islands. The cruiser arrived in Honolulu on 20 April and stayed in the islands for about three weeks. On 12 May, she headed back to the west coast, arriving in San Francisco on 30 May.
For the next two years, she ranged the coasts of British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, California, and Mexico, with one visit to Panama in mid-October 1905. In April 1906, she was on duty at San Francisco assisting the victims of the great San Francisco earthquake. On 8 April 1907, Boston left Mexican waters to return to the Central American coast. The event that brought her back to that theater of operations was the war between Nicaragua and Honduras. She carried the Honduran peace mission from Amapala, Honduras, to Corinto, Nicaragua, and back again. By mid-May, she completed that mission and returned to California waters. At the end of May, she moved north to Bremerton, Wash. She was decommissioned at the Puget Sound Navy Yard on 10 June 1907.
The protected cruiser remained inactive at Puget Sound until 15 June 1911 when she was loaned to the Oregon Naval Militia. In September 1916, Boston was returned to the Navy, though she apparently was not recommissioned. On 3 May 1917, Boston's name was struck from the Navy list. Three weeks later, she was transferred to the United States Shipping Board (USSB). No records explaining the use to which the USSB put her have been found. In any event, the Navy reacquired Boston in June of 1918 and refitted her as a receiving ship. She was recommissioned at the Mare Island Navy Yard on 16 December 1918. Towed to San Francisco soon thereafter, Boston served as a receiving ship for the next 27 years. On 9 August 1940, she was renamed Despatch so that the name Boston could be assigned to CA-69. On 17 February 1941, she was assigned the hull designation IX-2. On 8 April 1946, Despatch was towed to sea off San Francisco and sunk. Her name was struck from the Navy list on 17 April 1946.
Raymond A. Mann
23 December 2005