Blog 01/06/2021 - USS Saginaw
MHT Blog January 6, 2021 - USS Saginaw – Midway, Cure, Kauai & Oahu Islands
“The 150th Anniversary of the USS Saginaw Sailors Rescue by the Captain’s Gig”
MHT honors the bravery of the survivors of the U.S. Navy’s Saginaw, a sidewheel sloop-of-war’s crew at Kure Atoll. The ship had been at Midway Atoll supporting dredging operations to deepen the harbor entrance.
On 28 October 1870, sailing for San Francisco, LCDR Sicard, USN intended to check for shipwrecked sailors who might be stranded at Kure. The next day, as she neared this rarely visited atoll, the USS Saginaw struck an outlying reef and grounded. Before the surf battered the ship to pieces, her 93 sailors managed to transfer much of her gear and provisions to the atoll.
On 18 November, a five-man crew, commanded by LT John Talbot, the XO, set out for Honolulu in the Captain’s Gig, a small boat to get relief for their stranded shipmates. As they neared Kauai after 29 days and some 1,500 miles, their boat was capsized by breakers. Only the Coxswain William Halford survived as three drowned including Lt Talbot and the fourth died of a head wound.
Ashore on Kauai, Halford reached Captain Dudoit of the schooner Wainona, who offered to take him straight to Honolulu. They sailed on 20 December and arrived at Honolulu on Christmas Eve and was taken to the United States Consulate.
The U.S. Consul authorized the dispatch of the fast-sailing coaster, Kona Packet, which departed on Christmas Day to rescue the shipwrecked sailors. The King of Hawaii also sent the inter-island steamer, Kilauea under Captain Long after loading with coal for 2 days and food and copious fresh water he departed on 26 December. The Kilauea arrived at Kure on 3 January, much to the crew’s elation, with the Kona Packet arriving shortly after. Hoping to celebrate the rescue, LCDR Sicard was informed of the gig’s voyage and the ultimate sacrifice made by four of his crew. The celebration turned to sorrow when the crew learned of their four shipmate’s fate. The USS Saginaw Memorial is located in the U.S. Naval academy Chapel.
Today 150 years ago, all 88 of the remaining crew were loaded on the Kilauea, the larger vessel, for Honolulu, but due to the coal required for the return journey they steamed to Midway Island loading 40 tons of coal and left on 7 January, arriving on 14 January. On Kauai, locals had brought Captain’s Gig on shore and shortly after the crew were rescued, it was transported by the schooner Fairy Queen to Honolulu. The boat was auctioned to benefit the USS Saginaw’s crew. On January 25, 1871, a group of Oahu locals purchased the boat before donating it back to the Navy. It was then transported to San Francisco a few days later. This photo of William Halford on the captain’s gig was taken in January 1871 possible at Mare Island in San Francisco Bay. The metal reinforcements to the bow can be clearly seen, which are still in place today.
In 1886, the gig was sent to the east coast on the USS Jamestown to serve as a training boat for naval apprentices. In 1889, the boat was brought to the U.S. Naval Academy. In the mid 1930’s ADM Sellers, the USNA Superintendent contacted Captain Knox, Curator for the Navy, to assist with research on the gig. ADM Sellers knew the epic history of the boat as he said, “The Saginaw Gig has always appeared to me to be a living example of heroism and it has a peculiar appeal to all sailormen” and believed it could be used to inspire future generations of Navy Midshipmen. He drafted plans to display the gig in a glass display structure on the Annapolis campus. The Pittsburg Plate Glass company offered glass free of charge only wanting recognition for their donation.
By January 1938, the academy had a cost estimate of $5,055 to construct the glass-enclosed building. A location was selected between Luce and Macdonough Halls near the boat basin off Santee Road. It appeared as though the gig was to finally be displayed in a location fitting her history. Unfortunately, Sellers started this effort too late in his USNA tour as after his retirement his successors did not take up this cause and the gig was just placed on display in Macdonough Hall.
In July 1946 the head of the Department of Physical Training, Mr. Taylor, asked that the gig to be removed arguing that as the USNA had not done anything with it in the past, it couldn’t have been that historically significant to Navy History and should be removed from his hall. So, in January 1947, the Curator of the Navy, now the Curator Branch, Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) moved the gig to storage at Fort Washington, MD where it stayed until 1954. It was loaned to the City of Saginaw, MI after it underwent restoration and repair. During the next several decades, the boat moved to various display location within Saginaw, MI include the Saginaw Art Museum, the Saginaw Water Treatment Plant and eventually to the Saginaw County Historical Museum.
In September 2015, Saginaw contacted the NHHC wishing to terminate the loan after 61 years and return the gig. Later in December of that year, the boat was shipped to the NHHC Collection Management Facility in Richmond, VA. The NHHC had a custom steel mount made for the gig, to provide proper support along the keel and for the hull of the Captain’s Gig that saved 89 sailors. Photo by Jeffery Bowdoin, NHHC.