The USS Texas was the United States' first battleship, being commissioned a month earlier than USS Maine. In 1886, Congress sanctioned the construction of two seagoing armored vessels, double-bottomed, displacing about 6000 tons each, and steaming 16 knots. Designs for these vessels were invited from English as well as American shipbuilders, and thus by entering late upon the field, and by making the fullest use of foreign experience, the United States' government was able to avoid mistakes which had been made in England France, and Italy.
Of the two ships, one was to be a battleship, and the other, though virtually a battleship, by the specification an armoured cruiser. For the battleship Texas, the design of the English Barrow Shipbuilding Company was accepted, and the vessel was laid down in 1889. The 6315-ton ship was built at the Norfolk Navy Yard. The ship was originally designated as a battleship, but this was changed to a second-class battleship in 1894.
USS Texas was built from plans developed in England, and represented a considerable advancement in American naval defenses. The Texas was similar in many respects to the Maine, except that while the Maine was a fairly satisfactory ship, the Texas proved wholly unsatisfactory. Too much was probably aimed at on a displacement of 6300 tons. There was a time when she was commonly known as "the poor old Texas". While the Texas is not a ship that can be regarded with the same pride as the Indiana and her class, she is by no means the lame duck that a good many people imagine. Compared to her contemporary, the USS Maine, she carried lighter armament, and had less endurance due to a smaller coal bunker capacity. In compensation, Texas was slightly faster than the Maine.
She was of the "echeloned" turret-ship type, having a diagonal breastwork across the ship plated with 12-inch armour, on which stand the two turrets, similarly protected, and each armed with one 1 2-inch gun. The breastwork did not descend to the armor deck, or to the belt which, 12 inches thick, covered one half of the water-line; but coal bunkers afforded a measure of safety. The disposition of the heavy guns was faulty, as in spite of the diagonal arrangement, only one 12-inch weapon can fire right ahead or right astern, and on either broadside the arc of one gun is very limited. Four 6-inch guns were placed in separate sponsons, one on each bow and quarter, and two more were carried on the superstructure. There were two military masts and one funnel; the speed was 17 knots. In speed she is one of the best of the United States battleships, being about as fast as the Iowa.
The Texas had overhanging sponsons which always placed the refueling colliers in danger of being stove in. At full load, the ship road so low in the water that the armor belt was submerged below the water line, and thereby greatly reduced in effectiveness. The hull of the ship has proved too weak, some of her frames having buckled up in dock. In 1896 her bulkheads were found to be far from water-tight, and she sank in dry dock.
The Richmond Locomotive and Machine Company, of Richmond, Va., was the only locomotive manufacturing plant in the South. When it was established, in 1865, it was intended for the manufacture of plantation and saw-mill machinery, and it was not until many years later that it began to build street cars - horse cars at first, and, finally, motor cars. In 1889 the company secured a contract from the government to build the machinery for the new battleship Texas, and, although this work was successfully completed, the concern has since devoted its attention almost exclusively to the making of locomotives.
On May 7, 1898 the US Congress approved "An Act To pay to the Richmond Locomotive und Machine Works its claim for damages and losses incurred in the construction of the armored battleship Texas." The Secretary of the Treasury was directed to pay to the Richmond Locomotive and Machine Works the sum of sixty-nine thousand five hundred and fifty dollars and thirty-nine cents, out of any money in the Treasury not otherwise appropriated, iu full of its claim for damages and losses incurred iu the construction of the armored battle ship Texas.
The Texas was built at the Norfolk Navy Yard by Naval Constructor Francis T. Bowles, USN later the head of the construction department of the New York Navy Yard. While she was still on the ways, certain officers claimed that she would float so deeply below her calculated water line that she would be entirely useless. Republicans charged that Navy Secretary Whitney's " ... prejudice against American expert talent remained. He sent to England for designs of ships and machinery and discredited the ability of our engineers to compete with the best talent in Europe. Some of his English American ships would have proved miscaleulated failures if gross errors had not been discovered. The battleship Texas would not have floated if she had been built on the original English lines." The Navy Department had her plans thoroughly gone over, and decided that the calculations were correct. Her construction was therefore continued, and she was launched in July, 1892.
Commissioned in August 1895, her initial service was spent along the U.S. east and Gulf coasts. After being placed in commission she was docked at the New York Navy Yard. It was then discovered that her bottom plating was not strong enough, and she was returned to the Norfolk Yard, put out of commission, docked, and her bottom plating was strengthened. After the completion of these repairs she was again placed in commission. In July, 1896, she ran aground in the harbour of Newport, RI, an event which brought forth the usual avalanche of unfavorable press comments.
In November, 1896, the Texas distinguished herself by a unique accident. While at the New York Navy Yard, she settled peacefully to the bottom alongside the dock. At the time one of her main injection pipes was out for repairs; and the yoke holding the main injection valve suddenly broke, admitting a solid stream of water the size of the pipe. This yoke was of cast-iron, contrary to the usual navy practice, which is to make such yokes of composition metal. A good deal was heard at the time in the press to the effect that the Texas was likely to go to the bottom at any time at sea, in the same manner; but at sea the injection pipe would always be in, the valve open, and the pipe full of water, so that such fears were quite groundless.
In the summer of 1897 the Texas' steam launch blew up, which concludes her chapter of accidents. She had at one time a serious defect, in that her turret guns could be loaded in only two positions; and one of these her officers held to be impracticable in a sea-way. Thanks to one of her own officers, Lieutenant Haesler, this has been completely remedied, and her turret guns can now be loaded in any position.
As war with Spain loomed, the battle-ship Massachusetts, the second-class battleship Texas, and the commerce-destroyers Minneapolis and Columbia were assembled at Hampton Roads. These ships comprised the Flying Squadron which was held in readiness to defend any point on the American coast or to assail a port of Peninsular Spain. During the Spanish-American War, Texas was active off Cuba and participated in the Battle of Santiago on 3 July 1898. At that time the Texas was rated a second-class battleship.
On the third and last day of the land battle of Santiago 3 July 1898 was fought the second and last great and decisive sea-Harbor fight of the war, at the entrance to Santiago harbor. Not a shot from the guns of the Spanish ships told, while every shot of the American vessels produced telling effect. The battleship Iowa and the battleship Texas were among the most conspicuous American vessels in this great sea-fight. When the men of the Texas cheered as the Spanish ships lay as helpless, burning wrecks, Captain Philip stopped them, saying: "Don't cheer, boys ; the poor devils are dying!"
Sailors have been noted for their superstition from time immemorial. The Roman sailors used to consult oracles before sailing, in order to be sure to sail at just the right time; and sailors all over the world have kept up strange customs. The battleship Texas had been considered unlucky by the sailors-or, as they called it, "hoodooed." It seems that they considered Lieutenant Haeseler was responsible for removing the "hoodoo" from the vessel because he altered the position of some of the guns and, as the sailors thought, thus enabled the Texas to later do such splendid work off Santiago. The crew contributed money to buy a handsome watch and chain for the lieutenant. Inside the case of the watch there is the following inscription: "Lieut. Francis J. Haeseler, from the crew of the battleship Texas, in recognition of his services in converting this vessel from the old hoodoo to the new hero."
The Texas for years after it had been placed in commission, was regarded as the lame duckling of the navy. American naval officers had never forgotten the fact that the ship had been built from designs supplied by British officers. Indeed, the Texas was declared to be un-seaworthy and incapable of cruising any distance from its dock. And yet, in the blockade of Cuba the Texas took its place with larger and more seaworthy vessels and in the battle of Santiago actually outstripped many of the American ships in speed and was one of the three vessels able to join in the pursuit of the Cristobal Colon. The Texas in the one battle redeemed her reputation and was later regarded as one of the serviceable ships of the fleet.
After the War, Texas continued her western Atlantic operations and was flagship of the Coast Squadron in 1902-05. The Coast Defence Squadron consisted of the battleship Texas, three monitors - the Florida, the Arkansas and the Nevada - and nine torpedo boats forming the Third Flotilla. The Squadron was under the command of Admiral Dickins. By 1904 she had been down-rated to a Third Class Battleship. In 1908, she became the station ship at Charleston, South Carolina. The ship was renamed San Marcos in February 1911. Struck from the Navy List the following October, she was sunk in gunnery tests in Chesapeake Bay.
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