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Despatch III (Screw Steamer)

(ScStr: t. 560; l. 198'; b. 27'; dr. 12'4"; s. 12 k.; cpl. 81; a. 3 20-pdr.)

As a verb, to send off or away, to dispose of speedily, to execute quickly. As a noun, a message sent with speed.


The third Despatch, formerly the steamer America, was purchased in November 1873 at New York; and commissioned 23 November 1873, Lieutenant Commander F. Rodgers in command.

Purchased for dispatch duty because of her speed, Despatch was assigned to the North Atlantic Station and joined the Fleet in December 1873 at Key West in anticipation of war with Spain over the seizure of the American filibustering steamer Virginius by the Spanish cruiser Tornado. Virginius had been taken into Santiago de Cuba and summarily condemned, with 53 of her passengers and crew executed. After lengthy diplomatic negotiations, 102 survivors were delivered on board Juniata, and the captured steamer was ordered to be turned over to Captain W. D. Whiting, Chief of Staff of the North Atlantic Fleet. Despatch carried Captain Whiting to Bahia Honda to take charge of Virginius, and took the steamer in tow for Key West. She remained with the Fleet, serving as dispatch vessel and participating in squadron drills until returning to Washington Navy Yard 24 April 1874.

From 1874 to 1877 Despatch carried out special duty assignments from her base at Washington, D.C., and at various times operated with the North Atlantic Fleet along the east coast and in the Gulf of Mexico. She was kept ready for use as a dispatch and relief vessel, and on several occasions transported the Secretary of the Navy and Senate committees. She also towed monitors from one point to another and experimented with spare torpedoes at Newport.

Despatch sailed 20 April 1877 for the eastern Mediterranean and a special assignment with the U.S. Embassy at Constantinople, Turkey. Arriving there 14 June, Despatch carried dispatches and transported the American minister to Turkey, in turmoil because of war with Russia and internal political unrest. She was detached early in 1879, and returned to her home port, where she was placed out of commission 9 July 1879.

After extensive repairs Despatch was recommissioned 8 June 1880 for use as a practice ship and cruised along the east coast with cadet engineers from Annapolis on board. She was again out of commission at Washington from 23 September to 19 October 1880, then operated principally in the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay and along the eastern coast from Norfolk to Maine until 1891, carrying out special assignments. She was frequently used by the President, the Secretary of the Navy and other members of the Cabinet, Congressional committees, members of naval boards conducting inspections, and for varied ceremonial duties. She carried dispatches and men to the Fleet and along the east coast, towed into port or destroyed damaged ships and wrecks, and escorted new ships during their trials. From 12 December 1881 to 3 June 1882, Despatch cruised to Santo Domingo to survey Samana Bay and the Yuna River.

After carrying the Secretary of the Navy on a cruise along the New England coast to review the Fleet in August 1891, Despatch put into New York, from which she sailed for Washington 9 October. Early the next morning, in a gale, she was wrecked on Assateague Island off the Virginia coast. With the gallant aid of men from the Assateague Life-Saving Station, all of Despatch's crew got ashore safely. The wrecked hulk was sold for salvage 12 November 1891.

Published: Mon Jul 06 14:48:02 EDT 2015