Author Topic: USS Bonhomme Richard stirs echoes of 1905 disaster, San Diego’s birth as a Navy town  (Read 117 times)

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Online Elderberry

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American Military News by  John Wilkens - The San Diego Union-Tribune  7/31/2020

The fire that rampaged on board the Navy ship Bonhomme Richard in San Diego Bay last week sent up smoke that could be seen or smelled throughout downtown and across the water on Point Loma, where a tall granite obelisk speaks of an earlier maritime disaster.

On July 21, 1905, the Bennington, a Navy gunboat, blew up in the bay, killing 65 sailors and one officer and injuring dozens more — proportionally still the deadliest catastrophe in city history. The population then was just 20,000.

The obelisk in Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery rises 60 feet and marks the final resting place of 35 of the victims. Erected two years after the explosion, it quickly became a landmark featured on postcards.

Taller trees surround it now, making it hard to see from a distance. But something else is not as easily obscured, all these years later. San Diego became a Navy town in part because of what happened to the Bennington.

Commissioned in 1891 and named for a town in Vermont near where a key Revolutionary War battle was fought, the 230-foot steel-hulled steamer was used for patrol during the Spanish-American War. The ship and its crew of 200 made several trips to San Diego around the turn of the century.


Online AL

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Bennington (Gunboat No. 4) had quite a history for the Navy sailing mostly in the Pacific.  From official navy website:

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

Offline truth_seeker

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The dead at Rosecrans National Cemetery are arranged chronologically from South to North.

The site south from La Jolla,  at Point Loma is very scenic.   

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« Last Edit: August 01, 2020, 10:44:14 AM by truth_seeker »
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