|Delaware Military History
U. S. S. Wilmington (PG-8) Gunboat
U. S. S. Dover (IX-30), 1897-1945
By Kennard R. Wiggins, Jr.
U.S.S. Wilmington (PG-8) on the Amazon River, painting by Kennard Wiggins
The USS Wilmington was a riverine gunboat designed to enforce United States polices in China.
The term “Gunboat Diplomacy” refers to this type of vessel as originally coined by President
Theodore Roosevelt as “Big Stick Diplomacy” from his famous phrase “talk softly and carry a big
stick”. Big Stick Diplomacy describes a policy of negotiating diplomatically first, with a military
force to resort to if necessary. Roosevelt successfully employed this policy in Venezuela, Panama,
and in the Far East to promote American interests.
The westward expansion of the United States during the 19th century was not limited to North
America, but also included an ongoing push to establish a stronger U.S. presence in and across
the Pacific Ocean. This maritime expansion, driven mostly by commerce, had important
implications for U.S. foreign policy.
The appeal of profits to be earned from the China trade served as the initial impetus to motivate U.
S. citizens and officials to enter into the Pacific region. China was the source of some of the world’
s most sought after commodities—tea, porcelain, and silk—and Western merchants had sought
access to this highly lucrative trade since at least the 17th century.
U.S. expansion across the Pacific fundamentally changed the global position of the United
States. By 1900, the United States was a recognized world power with substantial commercial,
political, and military interests and territorial holdings throughout the Pacific region. Maritime
expansion led to the proclamation of an Open Door policy for China in 1899–1900, and set the
stage for much greater involvement in local and regional politics and trade during the early 20th
Secretary of State John Hay first articulated the concept of the “Open Door” in China in a series
of notes in 1899–1900. These Open Door Notes aimed to secure international agreement to the U.S.
policy of promoting equal opportunity for international trade and commerce in China, and respect
for China’s administrative and territorial integrity. British and American policies toward China
had long operated under similar principles, but once Hay put them into writing, the “Open Door”
became the official U.S. policy towards the Far East in the first half of the 20th century.
America’s economic interests in China would be best protected and promoted by a formal
agreement among the European powers on the principle of maintaining an Open Door for trade
and commercial activity.
Hay proposed a free, open market and equal trading opportunity for merchants of all
nationalities operating in China, based in part on the most favored nation clauses already
established in the Treaties of Wangxia andTianjin. Hay argued that establishing equal access to
commerce would benefit American traders and the U.S. economy, and hoped that the Open Door
would also prevent disputes between the powers operating in China. For the United States, which
held relatively little political clout and no territory in China, the principle of non-discrimination in
commercial activity was particularly important.
The British diplomat James Cable spelled out the nature of gunboat diplomacy. He defined the
phenomenon as "the use or threat of limited naval force, otherwise than as an act of war, in order
to secure advantage or to avert loss, either in the furtherance of an international dispute or else
against foreign nationals within the territory or the jurisdiction of their own state.”
The USS Wilmington was designed to be an instrument of these policies as the necessary stick that
would go unused until negotiations failed.
The USS Wilmington was a small river gunboat that enjoyed a very long and productive career.
She was the most modern design of her time. She served in three wars over a span of half a
century. She roamed the globe, explored the upper reaches of the Amazon, and the Orinoco rivers,
patrolled the South Seas and China rivers, and endured a sixty one degree roll in a monsoon
storm, the most radical roll in recorded US Navy history by a vessel to survive.
Named after the largest city in Delaware, USS Wilmington (PG-8) was laid down on 8 October
1894, and launched on 19 October 1895; sponsored by Mrs. Anne B. Gray, daughter of Delaware
Senator George Gray with Commander Chapman C. Todd in command. She was built by the
Newport News Shipbuilding Company at Newport News, Virginia, and was commissioned on 13
May 1897. The Wilmington Delaware Board of Trade led by Alvin Morrison purchased and
presented a silver service to the ship in November 1897 when the ship paid a port call in her
The ship was a 1,571-ton gunboat approximately 251 feet long and 40 feet wide, had a top speed
of 15 knots, and had a crew of 212 officers and men. Wilmington and her sister ship the USS Helena
(PG-9) were specifically designed for river service in China where she served for more than two
decades (1901-1922) . The Wilmington-class gunboats had a shallow draft, a flat bottom, and twin
screws, with oversized rudders for good maneuverability. Wilmington was built with a double
bottom to protect her engineering spaces against flooding should she ground.
She was designed to meet the requirements of roomy and well-ventilated quarters, so as to
provide for refugees, as in the case of missionaries, and to enable her to carry a large landing party
of U.S. Marines. She had berthing capacity for many men besides her crew, and carried ships'
boats of an unusual size, her steam cutter and sailing launch being each 33 feet long, or as large as
those supplied to the heaviest battleships.
Wilmington was powered by cylindrical fire-tube (“Scotch”) boilers and two vertical triple-
expansion reciprocating engines fueled by coal. She made a trial speed of 15.08 knots when new.
Her unusually tall single stack was designed by Engineer in Chief George Melville to give her
boilers a good natural draft, reducing the need for forced draft.
During more than a decade and a half in the post, of Chief of the Bureau of Steam Engineering
Commodore Melville was responsible for the Navy's propulsion systems during an era of
remarkable force expansion, technological progress and institutional change. Melville
superintended the design of 120 ships of the "New Navy". He was a Civil War combat veteran and
a noted Arctic explorer. Among the major technical innovations that he helped introduce, were
the water-tube boiler, the triple-screw propulsion system, vertical engines, the floating repair ship,
and the "distilling ship."
An unusual feature of Wilmington was the combination tubular-steel foremast and coning tower,
designed to give the commanding officer a good field of vision over the high banks of the Yangtze
River. Wilmington and her sister ship, USS Helena were armed with eight 4-inch guns and four 3-
Wilmington was commissioned in May 1897 and was kept close to American shores for the time
being. After completing sea trials and training exercises off America’s East Coast, Wilmington was
assigned to the North Atlantic Squadron and was based at Key West, Florida. Wilmington
continued participating in training exercises until early 1898 as tensions began growing between
the United States and Spain over Cuba. On 21 April 1898, the United States declared war on Spain
and the US Navy began moving ships south to blockade Cuba.
On 21 April 1898, two months after the sinking of the battleship Maine in Havana harbor,
Cuba, the U.S. declared war on Spain. Meanwhile, the Navy had moved its warships into position
to attack Spanish possessions in the Far East and in the Caribbean.
On 11 May 1898, while on blockade duty off Cardenas, Cuba, Wilmington was ordered to join the
gunboat USS Machias (PG-5), the torpedo boat USS Winslow, and the US Revenue Cutter Hudson
to attack the port of Cardenas and sink the three Spanish gunboats that were reportedly moored
there. The American ships entered Cardenas harbor and withstood a barrage of gunfire from shore
batteries as well as from the Spanish gunboats. The American gunboats returned fire and damaged
two of the Spanish gunboats, but did not sink either of them. Wilmington and Machias also
managed to hit some of the Spanish shore batteries as well as destroy several buildings along the
waterfront, causing some Spanish casualties. But the torpedo boat Winslow was heavily damaged
by Spanish shore batteries, suffered substantial casualties, and had to be towed to safety by the
Revenue Cutter Hudson. After that, the remaining American ships withdrew from the harbor. It
was one of the few times the US Navy was forced to retreat during the Spanish-American War.
On 15 July 1898, Wilmington arrived off Cape Cruz, near Manzanillo, Cuba, and joined
Wompatuckon station with the blockading forces. The next day, Wilmington stopped two small
fishing boats outside Manzanillo harbor and, after interrogating their crews, the Americans
discovered that there was a submerged telegraph cable nearby. After arriving at the location
designated by the fishermen, the Wilmington’s crew lowered a grappling hook and dragged it
along the ocean floor until it snagged the cable. The crew then lifted the cable out of the water and
cut it. After that, Wilmington steamed to Cuarto Reales and joined USS Helena (PG-9), USS
Wompatuck, and USS Hist.
On 17 July, Wilmington and the three other ships sailed to El Guayabal, located 20 miles north of
Manzanillo. Once there, the small flotilla rendezvoused with USS Scorpion, USS Hornet, and USS
Osceola. That afternoon, the commanding officers of the four largest gunboats held a conference
and devised a plan to attack the port of Manzanillo and destroy all of the Spanish shipping located
Accordingly, at 03:00 on 18 July, the American ships set out from Guayabal and set course for
Manzanillo. At 06:45, the group split up according to plan: Wilmington and sister ship Helena made
for the North Channel; Hist, Hornet, and Wompatuck for the south; Scorpion and Osceola for the
central harbor entrance. Fifteen minutes later, the two largest ships entered the harbor with black
smoke billowing from their tall funnels and gunners ready at their weapons.
The harbor was filled with Spanish ships and the American gunboats opened fire. Taking
particular care not to damage the city beyond the waterfront, the American gunners directed their
gunfire solely at the Spanish ships and took a heavy toll of the steamers congregated there. The
Spanish supply steamer Purissima Concepcion was hit and caught fire and sank at her moorings. The
Spanish gunboats Maria Ponton, Estrella, and Delgado Perrado were sunk and the transports Gloria
and Jose Garcia were destroyed as well. Two smaller Spanish gunboats, Guantanamo and Guardian,
were forced to beach themselves and then were blown to pieces by the American warships. During
the 20-minute battle, not one American ship was hit and all of the US Navy warships quickly
withdrew to resume their blockade duties with the North Atlantic Squadron off the coast of Cuba.
Beyond the effective range of Spanish shore batteries, the Americans emerged unscathed, leaving
columns of smoke to mark the pyres of the enemy's supply and patrol vessels. The 20-minute
engagement ended with the attackers withdrawing to sea to resume routine patrol with the North
Atlantic Squadron for the duration of hostilities.
Wilmington returned to the United States and was dry docked at Boston from 24 September to 3
October 1898. After repairs were made to the ship, the gunboat left Massachusetts on 20 October
and arrived at the Norfolk Navy Yard on 1 November for additional repairs. The mission for
which she had originally been built would have to be postponed as she performed another
mission for which the Wilmington was admirably suited. After her repairs were completed,
Wilmington spent from 1899 to 1900 on patrol in the Caribbean and off the coast of South
With the reestablishment of the South Atlantic Squadron, Wilmington got underway on
Christmas Eve and set her course for Puerto Rico. She arrived at San Juan on 30 December 1898,
but she resumed her voyage south on 2 January 1899 and proceeded via Castries, Saint Lucia, to
Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, where she made port on 15 January.
Six days later, Wilmington left Trinidad behind and pointed her straight stem toward Venezuela.
She was commanded by Commander Chapman C. Todd, USN. Aboard were Hon. F. B. Loomis,
United States minister to Venezuela, Capt. Charles Collins US Army, military attache to Caracas,
and Mr. J. S. Williams, photographer accompanying the minister. On the 23d, she arrived off
Barima Point and stood up the Santa Catalina River, which led to the main branch of the Orinoco.
After a brief stop at the town of Las Tablas, she stood up the River about 200 miles to put into
Ciudad Bolívar on the 24th. The mayor, the American consul, and a number of city officials came
on board the ship for a visit. The British Vice Consul , Brazilian Vice Consul and the Governor of
the Province were received with customary honors. Diplomatic affairs occupied the officers, with
the commanding officer visiting the provincial governor and collector of customs. Nevertheless,
Hydrographic notes were taken and photographic documentation of the voyage was undertaken.
Captain Todd made notes concerning economic potential of the region with emphasis on mining
operations. Wilmington was "full-dressed" with flags and appropriate ceremonial trappings on 28
January when she welcomed the citizens of the city on board. Two days later, the gunboat
departed Ciudad Bolívar to return to Port-of-Spain, stopping at Guayana Viega.
She was based at Trinidad through February and into March. During this time, she visited
Guanta and La Guria in northern Venezuela; Georgetown, British Guiana; and proceeded up the
Surinam River to Paramaribo, Dutch Guiana.
Departing Paramaribo on 6 March, Wilmington commenced the initial leg of her cruise in 10
March from Para up the Amazon River to the mouth of the Negros River arriving at Manaos on
April 5. Manaus was the seat of government for the Brazilian State of Amazonas with a
population of 30-40,000, second in importance only to Para. It was an important distribution port
and home to several steamship lines, carrying passengers, goods, and rubber to market. Manaos is
lighted by electricity, has an electric railway, waterworks (all American enterprise) and possesses a
good telephone service. American goods and machinery were in high demand in Manaos.
Commander Todd recommended the establishment of improved coaling facilities at Manaos for a
The inhabitants of Manaos claim to lie at the head of the Amazon proper where the Solimoens
and Rio Negro meet approximately in the center of the Brazilian Amazon basin. This is a Brazilian
point of pride, but the residents of Iquitos, Peru upriver some 1300 miles make a similar claim as
the head of the Amazon.
Navigation upriver would be a challenge. Commander Todd reported, “All vessels of any size
bound up the Amazon touch at Para to obtain pilots for navigating the river. This is imperative
on account of defective charts and frequent changes each season of the channel. During the rise of
the river between November and June, bars are formed by deposits brought down from above and
deposited at the ends of the many islands and it is only by constant communication among the
pilots themselves are they able to safely direct vessels. Two pilots are necessary if the vessel is to
run day and night as did the Wilmington.“
Todd continued, “Efforts were made in Para to procure any existing chart of the Amazon of
recent date. None could be found. Some maps of the river on a very small scale were obtained from
the steamer companies but of no practical value. The only charts on board the Wilmington were
those prepared by the Enterprise twenty years previous and while doubtless accurate when made
were found to require very many corrections...Very careful hydrographic notes were entered on
these Enterprise charts and which proved to be of great service on while descending the river from
Manaos to Para without pilots.”
Navigable for nearly 2,300 mi (3,700 km) of its 3,200 mi (5,100 km) length during the rainy
season, the Amazon and its verdant banks presented the ship's company with interesting and
unusual flora and fauna as she proceeded upriver. She had to be on constant alert for logs drifting
downriver, in the flood, especially sunken logs that could foul the ship’s propellers. Commander
Todd commented on the absence of large timber on the shores and the lack of rafts of cut timber. It
is interesting to note that by 1899 the banks of the Amazon had already been logged over for large
specimen trees for nearly its entire length. Todd also noted the remarkable absence of significant
bird and animal life which he anticipated would be abundant. This may be due to the flood stage
river covering sandbars and shallow habituated by jungle creatures in the drier season. The
fishing was poor, no manatees were seen, and only a few alligators were sighted on occasion.
Only parrots and kingfishers were seen in abundance.
The ship passed the little town of Santarem, which had been a notable destination for expatriate
rebels from the Civil War. The population was now about 70 people, only one of whom was an
Wilmington arrived at the Peruvian border at Leticia, Peru, on 11 April. Heaving-to, the
gunboat dropped anchor off Leticia to secure permission from Peruvian authorities to proceed
further up the Amazon. With permission granted, she again got underway and arrived at Iquitos
on 13 April. While numerous official calls were exchanged during the visit, the gunboat also
acquired a small menagerie: three monkeys and one tiger cat which were presented to the ship by
the Peruvians. They also acquired a South American Tapir, a two-toed sloth, a peccary, two spider
monkeys, a macao prego, two agoutis, one harpy eagle, a black howling monkey, a coati, a
common macaw, a crested curassow and other brown monkeys. These were sent by commercial
shipper back to the states and those that survived the journey were given to the Smithsonian
Commander Todd served as a kind of scout for American capitalism. He wrote, ”The needs of
Iquitos at present in the order of their importance are good drainage system, electric lighting,
water supply and electric railway. I was informed by the governor that liberal concessions would
be granted to foreign capital undertaking these works. It appears to be a good opening for
On 18 April, Wilmington departed Iquitos, headed back down stream on the Solimoes River
stopping off at Leticia Peru and Tabatinga and reaching Manaos on April 22. Wilmington arrived
at Para on May 6th and proceeded down the Para River and out to sea. En-route south she made
port calls at Itaculurmy, Maranhee, and Penambuco exchanging appropriate honors with local
government officials at each port of call.
Commander Todd also reported on health conditions aboard ship, writing, “The unhealthy
season up the Amazon appears to during the rainy period from December to May. But by taking
special precautions in respect to diet, clothing and exposure of the ship’s company the Wilmington
had no sickness of any importance. No officer or man was allowed to remain ashore overnight.
the awnings were kept spread, and regular inspections were made during the night to prevent the
men from sleeping out from under the awnings and exposing themselves to the night air. Every
opportunity was taken to keep up the general physical condition by frequent purchases of beef
and vegetables. Fruit was prohibited. No water other than distilled was allowed to be used. the
inconvenience of mosquitoes was not generally felt, except by one or two sick men for whom
nettings were provided.”
Wilmington reached Rio de Janeiro on 28 May, completing a 4,600 mi (7,400 km) round-trip
voyage on the Amazon. On 6 June, she entered the Brazilian government dry-dock at Rio de
Janeiro for routine bottom cleaning. From the time of her last dry-dock stay in Boston she was
underway for 81 days and in various ports 175 days cruising approximately 16,000 nautical miles
at an average speed of 9.25 knots. Her bottom was found to be remarkable clean which was due to
the character of the waters in which she had sailed, about equally divided between salt and fresh
water. The scouring effect of the muddy rivers removed a great deal of salt water growth during
her long voyage.
She remained in Rio until 4 July, when she got underway and cruised south along the coast
visiting the Brazilian and Uruguayan ports of Santos and St. Catherines Bay. She arrived at
Montevideo on 16 July and fired a 21 gun salute returned gun for gun by the fortress. She also
fired eleven guns each to the British Commodore which was returned by HMS Flora and eleven
guns to the French Commodore returned by the Protab. Wilmington spent one month operating
out of that port at the mouth of the Rio Platte for target practice.
On July 25, the captain of the Port accompanied by Commodore of the Uruguayan vessels, as
well as Generals Rivera and Suarez paid a visit on board in return for the visit made on the
president of the Uruguayan Republic by Commodore Todd, captain of the Wilmington.
On August 14 Commander C.O. Albone relieved Commander Chapman.C. Todd as skipper of
the Wilmington. Todd was her original commander and had served on her for over two years.
Albone paid an official visit to the American Minister and Vice Consul the following day.
On 17 August, she departed Montevideo. However, at 17:50 the following day, the port propeller
shaft failed, resulting in a change of course back to Montevideo, anchoring on English Bank. After
remaining in the Uruguayan port for the days following her arrival on 22 August, she departed
on 3 September, steaming by her starboard engine only, for Buenos Aires.
Arriving on 4 September, Wilmington broke the Argentine flag at the main and her saluting guns
barked out a 21-gun salute to the Argentine nation as she entered port. After the usual boarding
calls and shore visits by the American officers to the American charge d'affairs and consul, the
gunboat entered the drydock at Buenos Aires on 8 September.
Unshipping the port propeller shaft and landing the propeller and a section of the shaft on 16
September, she left the drydock the following day with the assistance of two tugs and proceeded to
basin number 4 at the Brazilian navy yard.
Wilmington remained incapacitated at the basin until 18 January 1900, when she was moved to
Ensenada, Argentina. Eleven days later, the flagship cruiser Chicago passed a towline to the
gunboat, and the two ships set out for Montevideo. On 9 February, steamship Coronda arrived
with new shafts from the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Subsequently, the gunboat returned to Buenos
Aires, under tow from the cruiser Montgomery, and entered dry-dock on 3 March 1900, nearly six
months after having first been crippled by the damaged propeller shaft.
Once the repairs were finally corrected after dockyard overhaul and a trial period, Wilmington
continued cruising on the South American station through the summer and early fall of 1900.
While en route to Rio de Janeiro on 10 May 1900, her inclinometer recorded 45° rolls in each
direction while traversing heavy, choppy seas. On 16 October, she departed Pernambuco, Brazil,
bound for the Far East.
Arriving at Gibraltar on 3 November, she pushed on across the Mediterranean and transited the
Suez Canal early in December, arriving at Port Said on the 4th. On 21 January 1901, the gunboat
made port at Manila, in the Philippines, to commence her Asiatic service.
Departing from Cavite on 10 May, Wilmington headed for the China coast and called at Hong
Kong on the 13th. Still nominally attached to the South Atlantic Fleet, she served in Chinese
waters through 1904 on routine cruises showing the stars and stripes along the China coast at
ports such as Shantou, Xiamen, Fuzhou, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. On 30 June 1904, she was
decommissioned at Cavite.
On 2 April 1906, Wilmington was recommissioned there, with Comdr. William L. Rodgers in
command. For the next two years, she served off the China coast, carrying out her routine
cruising and "showing the flag". On 17 December 1908, the gunboat commenced her river service,
on the Yangtze River as far as Hankou, with the Yangtze Patrol. Ordinary activities included the
usual calls and port visits to such places as Hong Kong, Canton, and Swatow. She conducted
target practice after constructing her own target rafts and laying out a firing area. On one
occasion, Chinese fishermen decided that the raft presented a good perch from which to fish.
Repeated attempts by the gun-boaters to shoo away the fishermen only ended in frustration.
Finally, as she steamed slowly toward the area, she fired a few blank rounds purposely "over", and
the squatters promptly abandoned their erstwhile fishing vantage point.
Log of China Marine Private
Walter Klinepeter 1905-08
Private Walter Klinepeter was born 29 Sep 1886 and died February 1965. He had a 6th grade
education and was listed in a later US census as a “shop man.” Originally from Pennsylvania, and
standing at only 5 feet and ½ inch tall he enlisted February 1905 at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania for a
four-year cruise, leaving the Marine Corps February 1909. He served a good portion of that cruise
aboard the gunboat USS Wilmington where he served as the Captain’s orderly. Prior to joining
the USS Wilmington he served in the Philippines Islands and was listed as a telephone orderly.
Klinepeter, like many Marines who kept such logs, was fascinated by the distances they traveled
which he noted at the end of most days’ entries. Strangely, Pvt Klinepeter stopped making entries
in his log after he qualified as a 1st Class Gun Pointer March 21st 1908. Yet we know from the
Marine Corps Muster Rolls and photos found with his log, he continued to serve aboard the
Wilmington until November 1908, when he resumed duty at Olongapo before returning to the
United States to be discharged. For a man with limited education, Klinepeter’s penmanship is
excellent making each entry easy to follow.
His full diary of this time can be found at
Reprinted below are some selected samples from the diary which give one the flavor of life aboard
the Wilmington in 1906. In our first example a five day period in 1906, Private Klinepeter records
the comings and goings of the Admiral, Captain and Flag Lieutenant. Showing the American flag
abroad evidently required a great deal of exchanges of various salutes, using copious amounts of
powder. There were salutes fired upon entering and departing port, when encountering ships
from other nations, and when celebrating special occasions. These were the rituals of power at sea,
in acknowledgement of their diplomatic peers.
Dec 1st at 9:00 A.M. up anchor and stood over to Manila and anchored near Flag Ship at 9:00 A.M.
Distance 8 miles. Admiral left flag ship and came aboard this ship. A salute of 13 guns was fired
when the Admiral left flag ship, salute was returned by this ship gun for gun. Hoisted the
Admiral’s flag at 10:00 A.M. AT 10:10 all hands up anchor and left Manila Bay for the Southern
Islands. The USS Raleigh Guard Ship, fired a salute of 13 guns while we were passing, salute was
returned by this ship with 7 guns. Passed Corregidor Island, at 1:00 P.M.
Dec 2nd at 4:40 PM arrived at Iloilo Panay Island distance 425 miles. The Admiral, Flag Lieutenant
and Captain left ship to visit the US Army Post. When the Admiral left the post a salute of 13 guns
were fired as honor and returned aboard at 7:00 P.M. At 7:10 up anchor and stood out to sea.
Dec 3rd at 4:45 arrived at Zamboanga, Mindanao Island and anchored. Admiral, Flag Lieutenant
and Captain left ship to visit Governor General Bliss, was not there and returned to the ship.
Distance 260 miles. At 7:10 P.M. up anchor got underway and stood out to sea. Arrived Jolo, Zulu
Dec 4th 8:00 A.M. distance 110 miles. Admiral, Flag Lieutenant and captain left ship to visit the US
Army Post and Governor General Bliss. When the Admiral left post a salute of 13 guns were fired
as honor. Left Jolo, Zulu Island same day at 11:45 A.M. and arrived Zamboanga same day at 7:25 P.
M. Distance 110 miles.
Dec 5th 7:10 A.M. up anchor and got underway and arrived at Isabela, Basilan Island same day 8:
30 A.M. distance 17 miles. Up anchor at 9:30 A.M. and back to Zamboanga and arrived there 10:50
A.M. Distance 17 miles. Admiral, Flag Lieutenant and Captain made another official visit to the
Army Post. A salute of thirteen guns was fired when Admiral left the post as a Honor Gov
General Bliss and staff officers returned the Admirals call. When Gov General Bliss left the ship a
salute of 17 guns was fired as honor. The USS Elcanio arrived from Cavite and anchored. Saluted
Admirals flag with 13 guns. Salute was returned with 7 guns. Left Zamboanga at 6:00 P.M. and
stood out to sea.
Klinepeter bears witness to a change of command:
July 17th (1907) at 3:15 P.M. Commander W.R. Rush took command of the USS Wilmington, and
W. L. Rodgers was relieved from duty to sail for the United States.
Readers Note: William Rees Rush would go on to win the Medal of Honor at Vera Cruz, Mexico in
1914 and retire a Captain. William Ledyard Rodgers would eventually become a Vice Admiral and
return, December 1918 to command the Asiatic Fleet. He was a Navy Cross winner as well.
Private Klinepeter records a tragedy underscoring the hazards of sea duty even in peacetime:
August 15, (1907) at 5:00 A.M. up anchor and got underway and stood down the river, arrived at
Wu-Hu 11:50 A.M. and anchored. Distance 218 miles.
Reader Note: Here Klinepeter adds a small note on a separate sheet of paper: “On our way from
Wuhu to Nanking an accident occurred aboard this ship. One of the tubes in boiler D exploded
and three men badly scalded. One who died of the effects 7 hours later, the deceased was Phil
Hind, Fireman 1st Class, USN.”
Private Klinepeter offered a glimpse of life on a steamer whose fuel was coal. The ship had a
vociferous appetite for the fuel and coaling was one of the demanding routines of the days of
November 19th (1908) the crew of the Wilmington coaled ship 180 tons in 4 ½ hours. The First
Division and Marines on starboard side, the Second Division and Power Division on the port side.
The Starboard side beat the port side by ¾ of an hour, each side having 80 tons.
January 12th (1908), Chinese coolies coaled ship, 200 tons.
March 11th (1908) the crew coaled ship 200 tons. All hands called at 3:00 A.M. started in coaling at
3:30, and finished coaling at 7:23 A.M. at the rate of 70 tons per hour. The Captain set a period for
coaling, he said if the crew was willing and try to do their best and put the coal on, at a rate of 1
ton per minute, would break the record of other ships in her class. And the crew started to do
their best, which they did, and put the coal on in 173 minutes. After coaling the captain
congratulated the officers and men of their wonderful success in coaling, and this would be the
record for some time. Had breakfast and started to clean the ship.
November 15th 1907 at 8:00 A.M. dressed ship in honor of the Empress of China, who’s birthday is
on this day at 12:00 N[oon]. Fired a National salute of 21 guns as honor.
Showing the flag on behalf of the United States the ship often encountered the vessels of other
nations doing essentially the same thing. During her voyages she encountered ships from Britain,
Germany, Japan, France, Italy, and China.
January 21st (1908) dressed ship in honor of King Edward the VII birthday. At noon all ships (Man-
o-wars) in the harbor fired a national salute of 21 guns.
Jan 27th Dressed ship in honor of Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, who‘s birthday is on this day. At
noon all ships in the harbor fired a national salute of 21 guns. At 3:00 P.M. same day unmoored
ship got underway and stood out to sea, enroute for Swatow.
The ship’s routine included firing practice for both her guns and her men.
Jan 12th (1907) up anchor and stood over to Manila and anchored near flag ship. Distance 8 miles.
Immediately up anchor and proceed to target range for annual record target practice. Distance 8
Readers Note: During this time a fellow Marine, Pvt Harry Floyd recorded in a letter to a young
stateside boy: We had a great time when we was out at the target range. "When there was nothing
to do we would fish for sharks. At first they would break all our lines and hooks but the
blacksmith made us a good big hook and then we took a big chain for a line and the new caught
three of them. They ranged between eleven and fifteen feet long…”
Jan 16th finished target practice, up anchor and stood over to Manila and anchored near flag ship.
Distance 8 miles.
May 8th (1907) coaled ship 125 tons.
Readers Note: While in Shanghai fellow Marine Pvt Harry Floyd noted the Wilmington Marines
went to a rifle range at Hangchow to fire rifles and revolvers at two and three hundred yards.
Floyd also goes on to note in Shanghai the ship’s featherweight prize fighter won $250.00 by
defeating the Royal Navy’s featherweight champion.
November 23rd (1907)at 1:00 P.M. up anchor, got underway and stood out to target range for night
battle practice. Arriving at range 2:15 P.M. from 2:30 P.M. until 5:00 had tactical maneuvers.
Distance 32 miles. At 7:30 P.M. got underway and stood over USS Denver to take umpires aboard,
and thence to the range at 9:00 P.M. commenced firing, fired No. 1 and 3 six pounders of the
starboard side and No. 2 and 4 of the port side, completed firing at 9:45 P.M. and returned to
Cavite and came to anchor at 11:00 P.M. Distance 24 miles.
(1908) March 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th, & 18th had sub-caliber practice. The USS Concord
arrived at the range.
March 19th Bore sited all guns and making preparations for the annual record practice.
March 20th the USS Concord stood on the firing line, for her annual record target practice.
March 21st The USS Helena stood in from Olongapo and came to anchor on the range art 7:00 A.M.
received umpires from the Helena, and immediately stood on the firing line. Commenced firing at 7:
30 A.M. for annual record target practice, and finished at 5:15 P.M. and came to anchor. The crew
did some excellent firing and it is considered that she will get the trophy for 1908.
March 23rd the USS Helena stood on the firing line, for her annual record practice.
Here Pvt Klinepeter ends his log, although he does note in the back of the log on the 21st of
March 1908 he qualified as a 1st Class Gun Pointer on No.4-6 pounder. His crew made a score of 8
hits out of 10 shots in fifty seconds, or an average of 9.6 hits per minute. This allowed him to draw
4 extra dollars per month in pay from the day he qualified.
After repairs while stationed at Hong Kong from 30 June 1912 – 30 June 1914, Wilmington
resumed her routine cruises, attached to the Far Eastern Squadron, Asiatic Fleet, and continued
such duty for the next five years.
This painting depicts U.S.S. Wilmington in the storm tossed South China Sea during a voyage from Hong
Kong in December 1915. She is portrayed almost on her beam ends during a dramatic 61 degree roll. Classified
as a 'light-draft' gunboat; Wilmington's log records numerous rolls between 50 and 60 degrees as well as
substantial damage to her gear and boats during the three day passage to Manila. 61 degrees was the
maximum roll recorded on the voyage; occurring at 1:20 a.m. on December 20 just off the coast of Luzon.
The following first- hand account by a Wilmington sailor describes the incident pictured above.
It offers a glimpse of shipboard life on a river gunboat transiting the blue water of an open sea in a
From Navy Life magazine, December 1918, p.29
MY GREATEST THRILLER at SEA
By Chief Quartermaster A.E. Epperson, U.S.N.
“Wilmington now one hundred eighty miles from Manila in heavy sea rolling sixty one degrees,
making four knots, not enough coal to recross China Sea against seven and eight monsoon.
Lifeboat washed away, mast and port anchor ready to carry away, one third engineer’s force
exhausted on sick list, no cooked food for three days. Request further instructions. “
That message sent from the USS Wilmington to her flagship, the Saratoga at Manila, gives only a
part of the worst seventy hours I have ever spent at sea. You see, the Wilmington had been built
for river service for work on the Amazon to be exact. Later she was given patrol duty on in
Chinese waters and was stationed at Hong Kong with the policing of the Yangtze under the care
of her commander Lieutenant Richard R. Mann. She was a typical river boat about two hundred
fifty feet long, drew some ten feet of water, and had a bottom as flat as the feet of the worst “flat
foot” in the service.
Since the Wilmington was not built for sea service her navigation across the China would be more
or less a feat under any circumstances. But when we were ordered to be present at Manila when
the USS Brooklyn relieved the Saratoga as flagship of the fleet in Asiatic waters you may be sure
there was no dissatisfaction on board, for that meant that all hands would spend Christmas in
Manila, and Manila beats Hong Kong a long mile as a Christmas port.
We got underway from Hong Kong on the seventeenth. (December 1915) I remember and struck a
heavy storm the first thing out. By midnight the ship started rolling, forty five degrees being a
frequent tip, and from then on the passage was just one roll after another, with every slant worse
than the one that preceded. At that time I was a first class quartermaster, and with the help of one
of my mates I was forced to stand watch through the whole of the storm which lasted seventy
Early on the morning of the second day out things began to happen. One man was nearly
crushed to death while trying to secure the bulkhead door to the marine quarters which had been
snapped off by an unusually sharp tip. Everything loose on board was fastened down. In the
afternoon the course was changed to windward, but without affecting the roll noticeably. Most of
the day our first class cook, L.N. Carroll spent lashed to a stanchion; in fact the only way to be
sure of remaining on board was to get under or make your self fast to something immovable.
All day the wallowing grew worse, the maximum being fifty degrees. An attempt to navigate a
bicycle down a long flight of steps with a hundred pound weight on one side will illustrate very
well what it meant to try to hold the Wilmington to anything like a course while that monsoon
What little food anyone wanted they took hanging to light fixtures or benches or anything else
that offered, like monkeys in cocoanut grove. Naturally it is impossible for cooks to light a fire in
the galley; with the ship fifty degrees on her side there was no use even to try to keep lids on the
range. Practically everyone on board was sick, and the ship’s cat was kept busy dodging flying
knives and other gear.
Men were sent from the deck crew to relieve such of the engine room force as were laid out by the
pitching of the ship. Ropes had been strung in front of the firebox doors, but of course it was
impossible to make fast the coal and shovels, which made wild flights over the floor and
bulkheads, and incapacitated at least a third of the force in the course of the storm. Between rolls
the injured were carried to the sick bay, and strapped to the bunks, where there were given what
little attention was possible.
By six o’clock in the morning of the nineteenth the maximum roll was fifty seven degrees and the
Ardois (communication light system)set at the masthead had broken off and dropped into the
upper top. Just why the mast itself did not follow is something that old father Neptune himself
knows. At every roll my mate and myself on the bridge were able to look down and see water
directly below. Below decks the few things it was impossible to fasten down were describing weird
courses; I remember Carroll's telling of a drum of shellac starting on a miniature cruise, sliding
across deck, hesitating for an instant at the foot of a ladder and then starting daintily to roll up
the same ladder!
The air ports were leaking and the water poured in so heavily that Matthew's blues were washed
cleaner than ever. The gig filled with water on a fifty nine degree roll and was carried away, and
shortly after the starboard ladder from quarterdeck to superstructure followed it to the bottom of
the roughest seas I have ever seen in my years of service. The decks were covered with water
practically all the time and were washed so clean the crew was denied the honor of massaging
them while we were in Manila. And all the time it was impossible to get out of the trough of the
sea because on both sides were reefs and islands and rocks less hospitable than the twisting waves.
At one twenty o’clock in the morning of the twentieth our clinometer (the instrument that
measures the roll) went out of commission on a tilt of sixty one degrees, the heaviest any vessel on
the navy has ever survived. And unbelievable as it is, I am sure the succeeding twists were worse;
I believe that before we sighted land a little later, and turned down the coast of Luzon into quieter
waters we had survived rolls of as much as sixty eight degrees. And a ship making steerage way
under a tip of sixty eight degrees is simply slithering along on her side with nothing more than a
wish between her and the bottom of a chilly sea. With us was a party of naval constructors, who
between gasps, swore all that was seagoing to kill the man who designed that type of ship.
Were we glad when the lights of port appeared about midnight of the twentieth? We probably
would have been had we been nearly enough alive to know we were in sight. Not a man had had
a minutes sleep since we left Hong Kong. We made port with a lot of sleeping beauties and among
other things an ice box that was one large omelet. The contents of the box were in the most
scrambled condition it has ever been my misfortune to see. Several cases of eggs furnished the
ground color for the picture with fruit, milk, canned goods and meat for the rest. The decks were
clean but that ice box was an eyesore for a week.
January 20,1917, was observed in memory of George Dewey, Admiral of the US Navy, who had
died on the 16th. Two days later the Chinese Navigation Company’s Steamship Linan collided with
the Wilmington. While underway downriver the Linan attempted to pass on the port side of
Wilmington. The Wuchang was headed downstream on Wilmington’s starboard. Linan slowed to clear
Wuchang, but in doing so, she fouled Wilmington carrying away two stanchion bolts and sockets
and buckling a side plate. This necessitated repairs in the Shanghai dockyard. She left Shanghai
on March 2nd.
World War I
On January 1, 1917 at Shanghai China Wilmington reported a ship’s complement of ten officers,
161 men and 31 Marines attached to the Second Division, Far Eastern Squadron, US Asiatic fleet.
On 7 April 1917, Wilmington received a cable informing the ship that Germany and the U.S. were at
war. Events in the Atlantic had resulted in the severing of relations and the commencement of
hostilities. In the Far East, the neutral Chinese greeted the news by issuing terms of internment to
all belligerent shipping on 5 May. While the gunboats Palos, Monocacy, Quiros, Samar, and Villalobos
were directed to stay and be interned, Wilmington got underway on the 6th, within the stated 48-
hour limit, and made for the Philippines.
Arriving at Manila on 11 May, Wilmington moored alongside the cruiser Brooklyn. Proceeding
first to Cavite and then to Olongapo City, she commenced patrol duties in the Philippine Islands,
off Corregidor Island's north channel. Operating from Mariveles Bay, she cruised on patrol duty
in the Manila Bay area through the fall of 1917, with occasional overhauls at Cavite. She helped to
protect the Philippines for the duration of hostilities, intercepting and escorting various vessels
entering Philippine waters while carrying out regular drills and exercises. She remained in the
archipelago into February 1919, when she again steamed to Shanghai, China.
Wilmington remained at Shanghai as station ship from 11 February-24 June, when she got
underway for Hankou. Five days later, the ship dropped anchor off the American consulate at
that port. On 11 July, 1919 after weeks of official calls and routine business, she was fouled by a
raft of logs; and two Chinese raftsmen fell overboard into the muddy river. She rescued the two
men while other members of the crew proceeded to cut away the log raft.
Her 1919 call sign was George - Rush - Mike - King.
The very next day, the unfortunate Wilmington was once again the victim of a minor collision as
the USS Samar drifted down upon the starboard bow of the Wilmington in a shifting Hankow
anchorage. The Wilmington suffered no damage, but the Samar lost a smashed gangway and a
Wilmington continued routine patrol and "flag-showing" duties in 1919-1920 and into 1921. On 8
July 1921, the starboard propeller shaft parted, and the propeller was carried away. Proceeding on
one engine, the ship finally arrived at Shanghai on 22 July and entered drydock. She operated on
the Yangtze through December, when she headed south for duty along the China coast until
heading to the Philippines where she operated into the late spring of 1922.
On 2 June of that year, the ship departed Olongapo and set her course for the east coast of the U.
S. En route, she called at Singapore; Colombo, Ceylon; Bombay and Karachi; Aden, Arabia; Port
Said, Egypt; Gibraltar; and Ponta Delgada, in the Azores. On 20 September 1922, the ship dropped
anchor off the Portsmouth (N.H.) Navy Yard.
She remained there in an unassigned state until July 1923, when she was ordered to join the 3d
Regiment, United States Navy Reserve Force, 9th Naval District, for the states of Ohio and
Kentucky. After repairs and overhaul, Wilmington departed Portsmouth on 19 July, bound for
Wilmington anchored off Quebec, Canada, on the 25th and proceeded on toward Montreal on the
following day, arriving on 27 July. After passing through the Soulanges and Cornwall Canals,
she proceeded up the St. Lawrence River to Kingston, Canada, before setting course for the
Welland Canal. After coaling at Port Colborne, she entered Lake Erie, stopped briefly at Cleveland,
and arrived off Toledo on 1 August 1923.
Wilmington served as a training ship on Lake Erie— operating out of Toledo and calling at
Cleveland and Buffalo—well into 1923. On 2 September of that year, she became inactive as her
men were released from their training period. She remained in this state until 1 June 1924, when a
large draft of reservists reported on board for training.
During that month, she operated in company with the gunboats Paducah, Dubuque, and the
unclassified vessel Wilmette. On 10 June, the commanding officer, 7 officers, and 55 men left the ship
at Cleveland to participate in a parade in conjunction with the Republician Party's national
convention. The following day, Secretary of the Navy Curtis D. Wilbur came on board to inspect
On August 23, after anchoring in Cleveland following a reservist training cruise, Frank
Zimmerman Seaman 2/c USNR fell overboard. A life buoy was dropped from starboard and a life
preserver was thrown into the water. H. Ferrell Seaman 2/c dove in for the man immediately, but
Zimmerman never came to the surface. His body was recovered on August 26th.
Wilmington remained as training vessel on the Great Lakes for reservists through the 1930s,
occasionally calling at Chicago, as well as her normal ports of call — Toledo, Buffalo, and
Cleveland. During the winter months, she was laid up at her home base in preparation for spring
and summer cruising.
World War II
On 27 January 1941, Wilmington was designated IX-30 and renamed Dover. Her call sign was Nan
- Zebra - Dog - Oboe. Based at Toledo, Ohio, the ship cruised on Lake Erie between Toledo and
Cleveland until the autumn of 1942, when she headed down the St. Lawrence River toward the
Atlantic. She arrived at Quebec on 24 November and began voyage repairs and received a 5 in (130
mm) gun which was installed forward. Dover departed Quebec on 17 December and reached the
Gut of Canso the next day.
Dover operated in the vicinity of Canso and Gaspe Bay from 18 December and put into Halifax,
Nova Scotia, on Christmas Eve. On Christmas Day, 1942, she escorted Convoy HF-42 out of the
harbor, bound for Boston, and arrived with her charges at the Massachusetts port on 27
December. Given her poor sea keeping qualities and the weight of additional armament, it is
surprising she was given this mission.
Following this duty, she put into New York, where she remained until 27 January 1943, at
which date she turned her bow south and headed for the warmer climes of the gulf coast. Arriving
at Miami on 1 February, she soon departed and made port at Gulfport, Mississippi, three days later.
Subsequently operating under orders of the Commandant, 8th Naval District, at New Orleans,
La., Dover served as an armed guard training ship, performing this duty through the remainder of
Decommissioned on 20 December 1945, she was struck from the Navy list on 8 January 1946 and
sold for scrap on 30 December 1946.
She is one of the very few U.S. Navy ships to have served in the Spanish–American War, the
First World War and the Second World War.
The only other Wilmington namesakes were both stillborn for different reasons:
Wilmington (CL-79) was laid down as a Cleveland-class light cruiser on 16 March 1942 at
Newport News, Va., by the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Co. Converted to a light
aircraft carrier before launching, her name was changed to Cabot (q.v.) and the ship was
Fargo-class light cruiser Wilmington (CL-111) was laid down on 5 March 1945 at Philadelphia,
Pa., by William Cramp and Sons. However, construction of the warship was suspended on 12
August 1945; and her unfinished hulk was subsequently scrapped.
• Sampson Medal Commemorating Naval Engagements in the West Indies
• Spanish Campaign Medal
• World War I Victory Medal
• American Defense Service Medal
• American Campaign Medal
• World War II Victory Medal
Known Commanders U.S.S. Wilmington
CDR Chapman C. Todd, USN
13 May 1897
CDR C.O. Albone, USN
14 August 1899
CDR Ebenezer Scudder Prime, USN - USNA Class of 1867
27 April 1901
CDR U. Harris, USN
2 December 1902
CDR Carlos Gilman Calkin, USN - USNA Class of 1872
13 October 1904
CDR William Ledyard Rodgers, USN - USNA Class of 1878
Awarded the Navy Cross (1920) - Retired as Vice Admiral
2 April 1906
CDR William L. Rush, USN
17 July 1907
CDR Webster A. Edgar, USN
17 December 1910
CDR John F. Hubbard, USN,
12 May 1912
CDR Henry H. Hough, USN
30 June 1914
CDR Stanford Elwood Moses, USN - USNA Class of 1892
23 September 1915
CDR Francis Laird Chadwick, USN - USNA Class of 1893
Awarded the Navy Cross (1920) - Retired as Captain
11 May 1916 - 9 June 1917
Lieutenant (j.g.) A.C. Roberts, USN (Exec. Officer) temporary command
9 June 1917
LCDR Lloyd D. Shapley, USN (promoted to CDR)
12 June 1917
LCDR W.E. Whitehead, USN,
4 May 1918
*CAPT Thomas Albert Kearney, USN - Awarded the Navy Cross (1920)
9 January 1919
CDR Lloyd Stowell Shapley, USN - USNA Class of 1899 relieved Whitehead
5 Feb. 1919 18 May 1919
Lieutenant C.H. Mecum, USN, temporary command
1 Dec 1919
CDR John Barklay Rhodes, USN - USNA Class of 1907
23 December 1919
CDR William Linn Culbertson, USN - USNA Class of 1905
30 November 1920
LCDR John P. Bowden, USN Exec Officer, temporary command
9 June 1921
CDR G. M. Baum, USN
11 June 1922
Lieutenant (j.g.) Carl K. Fink
26 October 1922
*CDR Richard Thomas Broohead, USNR
LCDR George E. Brandt, USN
25 December 1922
Lieutenant Arthur D. Warwick,, USN
12 April 1923
CDR Anthony F. Nicklett, USNRF
17 July 1923
Epperson, A.E., U.S.N., Chief Quartermaster, My Greatest Thriller at Sea, Navy Life magazine
December 1918, pp. 29-30
Todd, C.C. Commander, U.S. Navy, Report on Voyage of the USS Wilmington up the Amazon
river, Preceded by A Short Account of a Voyage up the Orinoco River 1899. Washington
Government Printing Office, 1899. Navy Department, Washington DC, Navy Yard Library. An
exemplary report of the expedition prepared in booklet form of some 24 pages, well worth reading
in its entirety.
Letter from Director of Naval History to Capt. H.N. Key Jr. USN, Subject: USS Wilmington
Request for Information 30 July 1973. Navy Department, Washington DC, Navy Yard Library
Letter of thanks from Secretary, Smithsonian Institution, to Commander Todd for collection of
animals on Amazon River expedition, 29 May 1899. Navy Department, Washington DC, Navy
Letters to Hon. John Long, Secretary of the Navy from A.R. Morrison Of Wilmington Board of
Trade regarding Silver Service for USS Wilmington 18 March, and 3 November, 1897. Navy
Department, Washington DC, Navy Yard Library
Sketch of U.S.S. Wilmington, Historical Section, Navy Department, Washington DC, Navy Yard
Library. This twelve page document is the most detailed history of the Wilmington available,
although it ends in the year 1926. Most other comprehensive histories appear to draw heavily
from this record.
Wilson, W. Emerson, USS Wilmington Ended an Era 20 Years Ago, Evening Journal, Wilmington
Delaware 29 March, 1966
Blue World Web Museum, Maritime Art Collection, U.S.S. Wilmington (PG-8) Near Capsizing,
Dec. 20, 1915
The China Marines, Log of Private Walter Klinepeter 1905-08
Naval History and Heritage Command, USS Wilmington (Gunboat No.8)
Naval Warfare, Examining ships that have made an impact on Naval Warfare and Naval History.
Tuesday, June 9, 2009 USS Wilmington (PG-8)
USS Wilmington (PG-8)
USS Wilmington gunboat, a detailed ship’s model in close up photography
NavSource Online: Gunboat Photo Archive Dover (IX 30), ex-Wilmington (PG-8)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_W._Melville Rear Admiral George Wallace Melville, Naval
Office of the Historian US Department of State