USS Texas (1895)
The USS Texas became the first battleship of the United States Navy when commissioned in 1895.
Authored By: JR Potts, AUS 173d AB | Last Edited:
The first USS Texas was America's first battleship. The US Navy needed battleships to protect her shores and to be seen as a major player among the world's great navies. The US Congress authorized the money to build the two ships, Texas and her sister ship the Maine on August 3rd, 1886. USS Texas was commissioned 32 days before USS Maine, making Texas first in her class. However, at this time, the navy department did not issue a class identification. Many see both ships as unique though, a type of class in themselves.
USS Texas was a 2nd Class Battleship and also became a pre-dreadnought battleship in 1900. Texas was built from an English design which came about from a competition with a $15,000 grand prize. The ship was built at the US Navy yards at Norfolk, Virginia, and commissioned on August 15th, 1895 with Captain Henry Glass in command. After being commissioned, it was discovered her bottom plating was to light and she was returned to the Norfolk Yard for repairs.
In many ways USS Maine was superior to the Texas - Texas carried lighter armament and her coal bin bunkers had less capacity. Both of these weight issues did, however, make the Texas faster than Maine. She was a turret ship categorized as in design as "echeloned", having two 12-inch turrets with one positioned to port and the other slightly off to the starboard side center line surrounded by 12-inch armor. Texas had overhanging sponsons used to assist in coal supplying form collier ships. Sponsons were projections from the sides of a ship useful for protection, stability or for the mounting of equipment. They extend a hull dimension at or below the waterline and serve to increase flotation or add lift when underway. A coal-fired ship, having a bulkhead between the rearmost hold in the stern and the engine room, was bent or curved at its center portion to project and provide a main coal bunker between the hold and the engine room. After loading of coal and supplies, the USS Texas sank so low in the water that the ship's armor belt was submerged below the waterline and greatly reduced her speed and sea keeping. Fire on board ship has always been the most feared calamity to the sailor and the use of coal in the Texas was no different. Coal bunker fires and explosions were common, with coal dust being almost as flammable as gun power itself.
Texas was assigned to the North Atlantic Squadron and the warship cruised up and down the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. In February of 1897, she was detached and left the Atlantic Squadron to cruise to the Gulf coast ports of Galveston and New Orleans. She resumed Atlantic coast duty in March of 1897 until the beginning of 1898. The United States wanted to become a world power and to do that needed a wide-ranging navy to expand and project her power. To accomplish this she needed coaling stations for her ships and the Spanish Empire maintained a foothold in strategic locations throughout Cuba and Puerto Rico - both islands being in close proximity to American shores and within the sphere of influence of the "Monroe Doctrine". The Monroe Doctrine specified that any efforts by European governments to colonize to take part in the affairs of the Americas could be deemed an act of aggression by the United States.
The Philippines was another such American interest, situated deep in the Pacific, and could help expand US power globally. Spain and the US at this time were not at odds and Spain had indeed supported the United States in the past. By this time, however, nations were constantly rising and declining in power and reach - as such, Spain's military was not in her prime. Early in the spring of 1898, war between the United States and Spain erupted over conditions in Cuba and the reported Spanish destruction of the battleship Maine in Havana harbor. In February of 1898, this single act fanned the flames of war between the two nations. By May18th, Texas was in Key West, Florida to coal and take on supplies and munitions to prosecute the war.
On May 21st, Texas and the Flying Squadron arrived off Cienfuegos, Cuba, to blockade the Cuban coast. With a lack of coal ships and no local coal station Texas returned to Key West for resupply then returned to Santiago de Cuba on the 27th. She patrolled off the port for the next five weeks between Santiago de Cuba and Guantanamo Bay. In mid June, Texas was joined by the unarmored cruiser USS Marblehead (C-11) to bombard the fort on Cayo del Tore in Guantanamo Bay. The two ships opened fire - Marblehead with her five inch 177mm guns and Texas with her 12-inch 305mm guns - together they destroyed the fort in a little more than an hour.
The Spanish Fleet under Admiral Cervera was bottled up in the bay of Santiago de Cuba by the Flying Squadron. Big guns surrounded the bay to keep the American war ships out. Cervera's ships were out-matched in both quantity and quality of ships. The largest caliber gun the Spanish ships fielded was 5.5-inch compared against the 12-inch guns found on the Texas and the other US battleships. Smaller-caliber guns were not the only problem the Spanish had - their shells themselves were of poor quality and not wholly reliable. Cervera knew he had to run the blockade but the timing of the action was the question. Night was not a realistic possibility with the American collier Merrimack having been sunk in the narrow channel. He chose Sunday morning, hoping the American sailors would be attending their weekly church services.
Texas and the squadron were on station when, on July 3rd, 1898, the Spanish fleet made a desperation attempt to escape. Texas immediately made headway and started to fire on four of the enemy ships. While the battleship's main battery pounded the Spanish cruisers Vizcaya and Colon, her secondary battery joined the first-class Battleship USS Iowa and the gunboat USS Gloucester in shelling two torpedo boat destroyers. The two Spanish destroyers were hit numerous times suffered reduced speed, ultimately beaching themselves with heavy damages. One by one, the Spanish cruisers were shelled and succumbed to the combined fire of the American Fleet. One after another they headed toward shore and beached themselves - Texas and the other ships of the Flying Squadron had officially annihilated the Spanish Fleet. Two weeks later, the Spanish city of Santiago surrendered and soon afterwards Spain sued for peace. Texas arrived in New York on July 31st, 1898.
Texas fell back into peacetime patrolling along the East coast and visited the new possessions in San Juan and Havana - America now had her new regional coaling stations. She went in for repairs to Norfolk Navy Yard in 1901 and served as the flagship for the Costal squadron in 1902. She was at the end of her career and, by 1908, had become a station ship residing in Charleston harbor of South Carolina. In 1911 the Navy wanted to name a new battleship No. 35 Texas, so the original ship's name was changed to San Marcos.
In retrospect, the USS Texas' famous sister ship, the USS Maine, was sunk without firing a shot. Texas had proven herself in battle and helped win the war with Spain but her actions here are oft-overlooked in most history books. Later that year, on October 10th, her name was struck from the Navy's list of active ships. Her last duty was to be sunk as a target in Chesapeake Bay.