The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Detroit Evening News (Detroit, MI), Sat., Sep. 25, 1886

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Clearing the Decks for Action - Repelling Boarders - Other Naval Maneuvers - A Well Disciplined Crew

There was a scene of suppressed excitement on the U. S. gunboat Michigan this morning. Everything was in apple pie order, and everybody awaited the visit of the board of inspectors, with a real live admiral at its head. At 9:15 a.m. Admiral James E. Jouett, Capt. R. T. Bradford, Commander H. Taylor, Chief Engineer Philip Inch and naval Constructor Philip Hichborn arrived at the foot of Bates street. The steam cutter lying at the dock hoisted the admiral's flag, and the Michigan immediately hoisted a similar signal "at the fore," and thundered forth an admiral's salute of 13 guns. The party were received on the quarter deck by Commander Read and other officers, with all the minutia of respect demanded by naval etiquette. The visitors at once proceeded to the inspection of the men in line, and then the command of "clear away for action" was given. All superfluous articles were removed from the deck, the gratings placed on the hatchways, the deck iron rails were unshipped and put away, the hammocks were removed from the rails and piled on the quarter deck and hurricane deck as a shelter for the marines, who act as sharpshooters on such occasions, the awnings were folded and placed with the hammocks - in short, the vessel was stripped like a game cock for fighting. The armament consists of four 30-pounder rifled, breech-loading, converted parrots, two 24-pound smooth bore Dahlgrens, a short, old-fashioned gatling gun, a three-inch breech-loading howitzer, and a small smooth-bore howitzer. The last three named were placed on the hurricane and top gallant forecastle decks. At the command of "general quarters," the men armed with revolvers and cutlasses sprang to the guns, which they placed in order, every man in his place.

Capt. Bradford ordered the supply box brought forward, which consists of a number of tools and appliances for working the guns. Calling forward the captain of gun, the second captain of gun, the loader, and the spongers, he held forward the various tools and appliances and asked their uses. All of the men answered readily and intelligently, indicating a high state of drill. All the motions of preparing and firing were gone through, and then the order rang out from Capt. Bradford: "Prepare to repel boarders!" The gunners sprang to the bulwarks with drawn swords, the marines went to their posts, and another squad of seamen, armed with guns and bayonets. The motions of repelling the enemy were done by rapid firing and cutlass strokes in the air.

The motions of firing guns at 500 and 1,000 yards, at various angles, we also gone through with. Then the men were suddenly called to extinguish a fire in the forecastle, one of the contingencies in naval battle, and a petty officer announced that the water was poured on the fire in 45 seconds.

"Clear away disabled gun." The supposedly disabled parrot was dragged away instantly, while the gun's crew on the other side of the boat immediately dragged another gun to its place.

"Forty-five seconds," answered the clerk.

"Very good time," said Admiral Jouett. The guns were replaced in their original positions and fired in exactly the same time.

"Shift breeching" was executed in 15 seconds. This was replacing the breeching securing the guns and damaged by the enemy's fire. The new cables were brought into position and attached.

"Retreat to forecastle," ordered Capt. Bradford. The enemy had supposedly gained the poop deck in great force, and the men ran forward and formed to dispute their further progress. The gatling gun had been moved on top of the paddle wheel, and was supposed to be pouring a shower of 1,000 bullets a minute on the enemy's boarders.

"That one is of the old pattern," said Admiral Jouett to the NEWS reporter. "The new kind throws 1,500 bullets a minute, and cuts a swath several yards wide that no force can stand before."

Then came "fire in the cabin," and the hose, Babcock fire extinguisher and hand grenades came in to play, and the suppositious fire met a watery death in short order.

At the command "secure after action," everything was restored to its original positions.

Some portions of the rigging having to be adjusted under the order, the reporter called the attention of the admiral to the daring of a seaman who was doing work aloft.

"Oh. that's nothing. You can't kill those fellows. I was on the U. S frigate St. Lawrence at Naples in 1848. The young boys of the various war vessels, English, French, Austrian, Italian and others - were allowed to cut up as they pleased at night, and they did all sorts of daring tricks in emulation of each other. One boy on our frigate climbed to the man truck, that is that little circle of wood six inches in diameter at the top of the mainmast. Well, he lost his grip and fell forward. He fell first in the main royal stay, that rope there that goes forward to the foremast. He caught at it, but his hold gave way, and he fell on the main top gallant stay, but was unable to hold on. He fell again to the main topmast stays, which consisted of two ropes, and managed to secure a good grip. What did he do then? Why he climbed up the foremast again, got up to the mainmast, and stood on it with one foot and waved a salutation with his hat to the fleet. When he came down he said that when his feat was equaled he would try something else. Ha! ha! ha!"

The command, "Abandon the ship," which is a drill to facilitate leaving a sinking vessel, was done with alacrity and precision. The boats were lowered, the arms, flags, provisions and everything needful was carried into the boats. Every United States vessel has provisions for two weeks kept in separate boxes for this contingency, and men are detailed for carrying these things on the boats. On the seas the provisions include beakers of water. This was a combination drill, and included a boat expedition. Every one of the six boats, which included the steam cutter, went on a cutting out or other naval expedition. Their course and evolutions while from the ship were directed by flag signals. First they proceeded in line, then in column, then in double column or center, then right oblique, etc. The general recall flag was hoisted and the boats came back.

The coming back was in the nature of a race, each trying to reach the ship first. Of course the steam cutter beat all the rest.

"That's a fine cutter," said Commander Read. "I can put 40 men in that in a gale of wind."

"Yes," said Admiral Jouett, "and it came near drowning my dear old friend, Dow Elwood."

The boats all reached ship and were hoisted into their davits, and the stores, etc., returned to their places. The provisions of the quartermaster's stores were then inspected, the admiral tasting the contents of several cans of meat, pickles, butter, bread, etc., and pronounced them wholesome.

The next on the program was dinner for all hands. This afternoon at 3 o'clock there will be a sail drill, in which the canvas will be handled - reefed, furled, laid on, clewed, etc. The Michigan will then proceed to Belle Isle, and the marines and sailors will land and be put through the various evolutions of infantry battalion drill.

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Unbelieveably, a photo appears on-line of the same board of inspectors at another inspection earlier in the same month as this one. Dig those whiskers! Click here. From left: Capt. Robert T. Bradford, Rear Admiral James E. Jouett, Commander Henry C. Taylor (captain of U.S.S. Trenton), Chief Engineer Philip Inch, Naval Constructor Philip Hichborn aboard the U.S.S. Trenton, a 3,900 ton (dispacement) steam frigate. (U.S. Navy's naval historical center web page The huge TRENTON was a far cry from the 685 ton MICHIGAN.
The U.S.S. Michigan, featured in yesterday's extremely interesting 1886 transcript from the Detroit Evening News, was the first iron-hulled warship in the United States Navy, built at Pittsburgh in 1843 and reassembled at Erie which became her homeport. She was renamed the U.S.S. Wolverine in 1905 to permit her former name to be applied to a new battleship. For almost 80 years, this paddlewheel steamer was the sole United States Navy vessel on the Great Lakes. With the exception of her decorative prow, she finally fell victim to the wrecker's touch in 1949.
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Date of Original:
Sat., Sep. 25, 1886
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Dave Swayze
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Public domain: Copyright has expired according to the applicable Canadian or American laws. No restrictions on use.
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Detroit Evening News (Detroit, MI), Sat., Sep. 25, 1886