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Profile - The U.S.S. Reina Mercedes

In 1898, as a consequence of the Spanish-American War, the U.S. Navy acquired several Spanish warships. Most were gunboats, but one was the cruiser Reina Mercedes.

Technically an “unprotected cruiser,” Reina Mercedes lacked any significant armor. She was completed in the late 1880s. A little over 3,000 tons and about 278 feet long, she was able to make a credible 17 knots in her prime, not bad for the times. When the Spanish-American War broke out in April of 1898, Reina Mercedes was at Santiago, in eastern Cuba. On May 19th, Vice Admiral Pascual Cervera y Topete's armored cruiser squadron arrived at Santiago. Eight days later the U.S. Navy imposed a blockade on the port and then a few weeks later the U.S. Army’s V Corps arrived to invest the city.

During the blockade and siege of Santiago, Reina Mercedes saw a little action, helping to frustrate the American attempt to sink the collier Merrimac as a block ship on June 3rd, and taking a number of hits during an American bombardment on June 6th. But having boiler problems, she was not a viable warship, and so her guns were stripped off to bolster the defenses. On July 3rd, of course, Admiral Cervera attempted to escape to sea, but his entire squadron was annihilated within hours. The following day the Spanish tried to block the entrance to the harbor by sinking Reina Mercedes in the channel, which led to a skirmish with some of the blockading warships, causing her to sink in a spot that did not impede shipping. Naturally, when Santiago surrendered on July 17th, the Reina Mercedes passed into American hands. In the aftermath of the war, the U.S. Navy concluded that the ship was not so badly damaged that she could not be salvaged, and she was raised in early 1899. Initially thought to be useful as a training ship, the Reina Mercedes was shortly refitted as a receiving ship. Over the next decade she was used to house personnel, especially recruits, on a temporary basis and for various administrative purposes at Newport and New York. In 1912 she was refitted and assigned to the Naval Academy at Annapolis.

The Reina Mercedes would serve as the “station ship” at Annapolis until 1957, when she was sold for scrap. Classified as a “Miscellaneous Auxiliary” with the designator IX-25, she was usually tied up dockside in a now long filled-in basin. She was used to house enlisted personnel assigned to duty at Annapolis, supported sail training activities, and housed the Naval Academy “brig,” a facility where midshipmen guilty of various infractions were housed away from their normal quarters. Rarely moved, and then only for refit and maintenance, Reina Mercedes was jokingly referred to as the “fastest ship in the fleet,” because she remained fast to the dock.

Naturally, because the Reina Mercedes was a commissioned naval vessel, she required a “captain,” who also commanded the Annapolis naval station. Although not necessarily a prestigious command, the Reina Mercedes was quite possibly the most luxurious assignment in the fleet. 

Reina Mercedes had been built as a flagship, and so had quarters intended for an admiral. The U.S. Navy permitted her captain to have his family with him, so elaborate were the facilities, which meant that he did not have to spend money on housing. Rufus Fairchild Zogbaum, who commanded her for three years in the mid-1920s, called the Reina Mercedes “the best billet ashore for a commander” in the Navy.

Biographical Note: Rufus Fairchild Zogbaum (1879-1956), was the son of the noted artist, journalist, and war correspondent Rufus Fairchild Zogbaum (1849-1925), author of Horse, foot, and dragoons: Sketches of army life at home and abroad (1881) and many other works. A 1901 Annapolis classmate of Ernest J. King, Zogbaum became connected with aviation early, supervising construction of the platform aboard the armored cruiser Pennsylvania (ACR-4) which Eugene Ely to make the first airplane landing on a ship in 1911, and performed similar duties during other aviation experiments over the next decade. During World War I Zogbaum served on the staff of Adm. William Sims, Commander, U.S. Naval Forces in Europe, and was an enthusiastic advocate of the use destroyers and convoys as a solution to the submarine problem. He then performed diplomatic missions in  Dalmatia, Greece, and Turkey. In 1928, upon completing his three year tour as captain of the Reina Mercedes, the 49 year old Zogbaum, newly promoted to captain, took flight training. Over the next few years he commanded the seaplane tender Wright (AV-1) and the carrier Saratoga (CV-3), proving an innovative carrierman, before retiring as a rear admiral in 1936. Zogbaum’s three sons served in World War II, among them the modernist painter, sculptor, and photographer Wilfred Zogbaum (1915-1965). A forgotten pioneer of naval aviation. Zogbaum’s memoirs, FROM SAIL TO SARATOGA, A NAVAL AUTOBIOGRAPHY , published in 1961, are interesting and often lively.  

 

The Dumfries Volunteers

Does haughty Gaul invasion threat?
Then let the louns beware, Sir;
There's wooden walls upon our seas,
And volunteers on shore, Sir:
The Nith shall run to Corsincon,
And Criffel sink in Solway,
Ere we permit a Foreign Foe
On British ground to rally!
We'll ne'er permit a Foreign Foe
On British ground to rally!

O let us not, like snarling curs,
In wrangling be divided,
Till, slap! come in an unco loun,
And wi' a rung decide it!
Be Britain still to Britain true,
Amang ourselves united;
For never but by British hands
Maun British wrangs be righted!
No! never but by British hands
Shall British wrangs be righted!

The Kettle o' the Kirk and State,
Perhaps a clout may fail in't;
But deil a foreign tinkler loun
Shall ever ca'a nail in't.
Our father's blude the Kettle bought,
And wha wad dare to spoil it;
By Heav'ns! the sacrilegious dog
Shall fuel be to boil it!
By Heav'ns! the sacrilegious dog
Shall fuel be to boil it!

The wretch that would a tyrant own,
And the wretch, his true-born brother,
Who would set the Mob aboon the Throne,
May they be damn'd together!
Who will not sing "God save the King,"
Shall hang as high's the steeple;
But while we sing "God save the King,"
We'll ne'er forget The People!
But while we sing "God save the King,"
We'll ne'er forget The People!

Burns served with the Royal Dumfries Volunteers as a private in the 2nd Company. By all accounts, a good volunteer, he served without pay and provided much of his own kit, while attending drill twice a week. Burns only served 18 months, for on July 21, 1796, he died, at 37, probably the victim of a weak heart and high living. On July 25th Burns was escorted to his funeral by his regiment and elements of two others, with his uniform hat and sword on his coffin, which was borne by pall bearers drawn from his comrades.

Sometimes known by it's opening line, "Does haughty Gaul invasion threat?", the dialect piece had some popularity during the French Wars, but later passed into obscurity.

 


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