By Patrick McSherry 
The USS HARVARD was the government-subsidized ocean liner, CITY OF NEW YORK. In times of war, the fast vessel was used by the U.S. Navy as a fast auxiliary cruiser and transport. She saw hevy sevice during the Spanish American War as part of blockading squadron, and as a transport. It was also aboard this vessel that the unfortunate "HARVARD Incident" occurred.


The USS HARVARD was built as the CITY OF NEW YORK in 1888 by J & G Thompson of Clydebank, Scotland, for in Inman Line. In 1893, she was transferred to the American Lne and changed to American registry. She was purchased under an agreement between the American Line and the U.S. government. In times of need, the U.S. Navy could appropriate her for use. In exchange, the U.S. government subsidized her purchase. The same agreement was used with her sistership, the CITY OF PARIS, which became the USS YALE during the Spanish American War.

The vessel was known for her speed, and when she was built was one of the largest liners on the seas. In same year she joined the American Line, she gained the record for speed in crossing the Atlantic Ocean between Southampton and New York.

When the Spanish American War broke out, the U.S. government exercised its rights and appropriated the vessel for use as an Auxiliary Cruiser. She was sent to the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Docks Company to receive her batteries and be converted for Navy use. The vessel was commissioned on April 26, 1898 at New York, and placed under the command of Captain C. S. Cotton.

The vessel was assigned as a scout, to help locate the Spanish fleet, and was sent to the West Indies. While in the harbor at St. Pierre, Martinique, on May 12, reports arrived indicating that the Spanish Torpedo Boat Destroyer FUROR had arrived, effectively blockading the HARVARD in the harbor. The FUROR was followed shortly by the TERROR. When the situation was safe, on May 17, HARVARD proceeded to the vicinity of Santiago de Cuba where she was given dispatches by Commodore Schley to take to the telegraph station in Haiti. This placed her within the odd situation that was occurring when the U.S. government had obtained information locating Cervera's Spanish squadron at Santiago, but Schley was not privy to all of the facts. He was not convinced that the squadron was present and intended to return to Key West. HARVARD returned to Schley with orders for Schley to stay at Santiago.

On June 7, 1898, HARVARD returned to Newport News, were her crewmen were officially taken into the naval service. She remained at Newport News until June 26. The vessel then began carrying troops and supplies to Cuba. After the naval Battle of Santiago, HARVARD was ordered by Captain Robley Evans to aid his crew in rescuing the Spanish sailors from the burning wrecks of the ALMIRANTE OQUNEDO and MARIA TERESA, an order which the ship and crew williningly complied. Dropping nine of her boats and sending them into the chaos of firing and exploding ammunition, the crew of the HARVARD rescued 35 officer and 637 men from the wrecks. Clothing, hats and shoes were provided by the HARVARD to the Spanish sailors, many of which had lost everything in the carnage of the fires aboard their vessels. HARVARD transferred the most dangerously injured to the hospital ship SOLACE.

The vessel was awaiting orders to proceed to the U.S. when, on July 4, an incident broke out aboard the vessel, resulting in the killing of several Spanish prisoners. It  was mistakenly thought that they wer trying to attack the guards. This became known as the "HARVARD Incident."

On July 10, the vessel steamed for Portmouth, New Hampshire, making stops to drop off the prisoners along the way. No longer needed as a scout, the vessel was transferred from Navy Department to the War Department, and was used to bring the American troops home from Cuba.She made one trip, carrying General Chaffee and his staff, and 27 officers and 616 men of the 33 MichiganVolunteer Infantry (Companies A, B, C, D, F, H, I,K, L, and M). Leaving Santiago on August 21, she arrived at Montauk Point on August 25, 1898.

HARVARD was officially decommissioned on September 2, 1898.

Following the war, she went back to her old name of NEW YORK and continued her transatlantic oceanliner service. She underwent extensive refitting on 1903, even losing one of her funnels. During World War One, she was again taken by the U.S. Navy and commissioned as the PLATTSBURG. The vessel made eleven cruises to Europe carrying troops to war zone, and then bringing them home. She was returned to the American Line on October 6, 1919.

She went back into service as a liner, but age had taken its toll, in 1920, she was sold to the Polish Navigation Co.  She only made two more crossing before the company was forced to close down. The vessel was scrapped in 1923.


The vessel was greatly rpized during the war for her speed and size. She did excellent service as a dispatch vessel and as a transport.


Classification: Auxilary Cruiser
built: 1888
Comissioned: April 26, 1893
Rig: Three masted with schooner rig
Armament: Eight 5-inch guns
Eight 6-pounder guns
Contractor: J & G Thompson, Clydeank, Scotland
Length: 527 feet
Beam: 63 feet, 2 inches
Mean draft: 23 feet
Max. draft fully loaded: ?
Displacement: 13,000 tons
Complement: 26 officers and 381 enlisted men.
Commanded by Capt. C.S. Cotton
Engine type: Twin screw
Boiler type: ?
Speed: 20 knots
Coal bunker capacity: ?
Normal coal supply: ?
Endurance @ 10 knots:  ?
Armor: Unarmored
Cost: ?


Clerk of Joint Comittee on Printing, The Abridgement of Message from the President of the United States to the Two Houses of Congress, Washington: Government Printing Office, 1899. Vol. II, 1145, 1216-1217, Vol. IV 360, 408, 549-550.

Naval History Department, Navy Department, Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, (Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1977). Vol. III, 264-265.

Spears, John R., Our Navy in The War with Spain. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1898). 228.

The American Navy/Cuba and the Wrecked Maine/The Hawaiian Islands. (Chicago:
George M. Hill Company, 1898). (image).

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