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Gunners Mate Walter J. Bennett

of the Auxiliary Cruiser ST. PAUL Writes to

Pvt. William Karg

of the 8th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Co. M

Contributed by Laurie Melson
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The following letter was sent by William J. Bennett, a gunner’s mate on the Auxiliary Cruiser ST. PAUL. Bennett was sending a copy of the ship's newspaper, entitled the St. Paul War Budget to Private William Karg of the 8th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Co. M. The newspaper was a collector's item because it was dated August 13th, 1898, the day that the armistice would have been made known, ending the war's fighting.

Bennett was apparently a member of the ship's crew when it was in civilian service as part of the American Line. The ship's crew enlisted to serve during the war and were given naval ranks comparable to their station within the civilian crew. The civilian crew was then supplemented with trained naval personnel. When the ship was no longer needed, both the ship and crew were returned to civilian service, and the navl crew transferred. Interestingly, Bennett's rank is given as Gunner's Mate. This was not a position generally given to the civilian crewmen, because they were not trained in gunnery. In addition, his name does not appear on the roster issued by the American Line. There is one designated gunner's mate aboard the vessel who was part of the civilian crew, but his name was J. D. Rhodes.

The letter is interesting too, because it shows that a good relationship existed between the crew of the ship and the men being transported. This was somewhat unusual, since, in many cases, there was friction between the transport crews and the men being transported. The difference may be attributed to the fact that the ST. PAUL was an ocean liner, more suited for the transporting of large number of men than were the converted freighters generally used. The unit had left the U.S. aboard the ST. PAUL on July 6, 1898 bound for Cuba, arriving four days later.

Also, the letter makes reference to the treatment of the 8th Ohio Volunteer Infantry at Montauk. This is a reference to the conditions at Camp Wikoff located at Montauk, Long Island, where the majority of the 5th Corps was sent on its return to the U.S.

Lastly, the person named “Pepper” was Charles R. Johnston, another member of 8th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Co. M.

The Letter:

"U.S.S. St Paul
U.S. Navy

Westerly, RI
Sep. 27th 1898.

Dear Friend Karg,

While looking over my mail this morning I ran across your address but I thought I had lost. You know that when you gave it to me I promised to send it to your mother. Now I only have that so will send it that way hoping you arr[ive] home safe & well as I am.

I read in the papers of the terrible way you fellows was used & that you had your home. I wish I could have been able to come over to Montauk which is not far from her[e] 2 hours sail. I was over the first Sunday I came home to visit the 2nd Infantry. We brought them home from Guantanamo also 250 of the 71st N.Y.I. the same trip. I hear you boys suffered terrible of the fever.

We carried the 4th Ohio to Porto Rica [Puerto Rico] but they weren’t the life & sociability the 8th was. We all were hoping we could have brought you fellows home because we were well acquainted & besides you fellows liked the St Paul. Now I had one of these papers left having given them all away but you shall have this one with welcome as I truly promised to send one to your home in case you were at Santiago.

We are all mustered out having enlisted for 1 year or the War. The St Paul went out of commission the 1st of this month & will be all _______ up & go back on the American Line soon. We all came from Phila. to N.Y. in a special car & had a good time.

One of my sisters was married to the judge of this town yesterday. He is no more than 31 yr. old. So I was very glad to be home with the whole family to witness it. It is very pleasant here only 5 miles to the sea shore place called Watch Hill. Electric cars run there until next month. Give my regards to all the boys home & to Pepper if you ever see him.

P.S. Address to Walter J. Bennett #112 High St. Westerly, R.I.
Praying that you are home safe & well.
I remain your friend,


Melson, Laurie - the letter from Walter J. Bennett.

United States Lines Company, American Line, New York-Southampton. (New York, 1898) “In Peace” (a 71 page work produced by the shipping line to commemorate the Line’s involvement in the war).

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