Alabama Sailors Who Vanished Along with the USS Cyclops
May 3, 2018
By Laura Newland Hill, Encyclopedia of Alabama
When the USS Cyclops (Fuel Ship No. 4) disappeared in March 1918, among the 309 men aboard were at least 12 sailors who called Alabama home. The ship was declared officially lost at sea on June 1, 1918, by Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt. The announcement followed a massive sea search that had been underway after the collier failed to arrive in Baltimore, Maryland, as expected on March 13. The disappearance of the Cyclops remains the U.S. Navy’s greatest non-combat related loss of life.
The USS Cyclops, in the background, conducting an experimental coaling at sea with the USS South Carolina off the coast of Virginia in April 1914. (U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph)
The USS Cyclops, circa 1913. (U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph)
The ship carried 10,800 long tons of manganese ore from Brazil destined for munitions. It departed Rio de Janeiro for Baltimore on February 22. The Cyclops made an unscheduled stop on March 4 in Barbados. It is speculated that the course deviation was related to problems with the starboard engine. The ship’s captain, Lt. Commander G.W. Worley, reported that a cracked cylinder was reducing the ship’s speed to 10 knots. The ship carried 10,800 long tons of manganese ore from Brazil destined for munitions.
The eight-year-old, 542-foot vessel disappeared without a trace in the Atlantic. There was no distress signal, no debris, nothing. German navy logs, released after the war ended, ruled out its sinking by a submarine. The location of the Cyclop’s wreck is still undiscovered.
Correspondence from the Secretary of the Navy to the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, dated July 8, 1918, advised that the “official date of death on all the officers who were on board that vessel has been designated as June 14, 1918.” Included on the list of officers “whose death occurred in the line of duty” was Boatswain Roy T. Smith, a native of Phenix City.
Other Alabama sailors aboard the Cyclops at the time of its disappearance were:
Lee Otis Battle, seaman, second class, from Andalusia
Bascomb Newton Branson, coxswain, from Whistler
Earl LeBaron Carroll, seaman second class, from Oak Grove
Thomas Jackson McKinley, seaman second class, from Evergreen
George Mason McNeal, fireman, second class, from Birmingham
John Freeman Mitchell, seaman second class, from Pratt City
William Thomas Wise, fireman, third class, from Glenmore
Hamilton Thomas Beggs, electrician, second class (G), from Birmingham
Hamilton Thomas Beggs, born in Birmingham on October 12, 1895, was the son of John Phillip and Amy Etter Beggs. He joined the Navy in 1912 and served on the USS Michigan for four years, where he learned “the occupation of electrician.” His paternal grandfather settled in Birmingham in 1871 and built and operated one of the first foundries in the city. (Image: Alabama Department of Archives and History)
John Clarence Dempsey, seaman, from Dothan
John Clarence Demspey (on right), born on October 18, 1900, in Montgomery, was the son of Charles Clarence and Annie Trott Dempsey. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy on April 8, 1917. His uncle, Frank Trott, served in the Spanish-American War and died in Cuba. (Image: Alabama Department of Archives and History)
Austin Mize, seaman, from Odenville
Austin Mize (Image: Alabama Department of Archives and History)
Francis Olney Strong, fireman, third class, from Ashland
Frances Olney Strong (Image: Alabama Department of Archives and History)
We Need YOU to Help Transcribe World War I Service Records!
April 25, 2018
The Alabama Department of Archives and History has launched its first crowdsourced transcription project, and we want YOU to join the effort.
Earlier this month, as part of its commemoration of the World War I Centennial, the Archives launched the Alabama History DIY: World War I Service Records initiative. Archives staff, volunteers, and student workers spent eighteen months digitizing more than 100,000 index cards with information about the men and women who served in the war. Details ranging from biographical (age, residence, race) to military (enlistment date, branch of service, engagements) make the records a boon to both genealogists and historians. Users of the Archives’ World War I Gold Star Database will find this an excellent supplement, as it also includes survivors of the war.
Now that the cards have been scanned, we are seeking volunteers to help us transcribe the information and create a new, searchable resource for our patrons. Anyone with an Internet connection can contribute, anytime, anywhere, as “virtual volunteers.” The steps are simple, the software (from Ben and Sara Brumfield, creators of FromThePage) is user-friendly, and the work is addictive—try to stop after one card. No special technical skill or subject knowledge is required. When you sign up, you’ll be given login information and a project guide with thorough instructions. Just read the guide, sign in, pick a county, and get started.
The project was made possible through the generous support of the Friends of the Alabama Archives and the Alabama Genealogical Society, along with the state archives of Virginia, Indiana, and Missouri, who saw the benefit of the new features that we commissioned.
Though we have not set an official target date for completion, everyone has an eye toward November 2018. What better way to celebrate the one-hundredth anniversary of Armistice Day than to present this collection as a tribute to Alabamians who served?
To join the effort, contact Meredith McDonough at [email protected] or visit alabamahistorydiy.org.
Alabama History DIY is a program of the Alabama Department of Archives and History that provides do-it-yourself museum exhibits, virtual volunteer projects, and other resources to local organizations and individuals.
A Waltz & A Foxtrot: Dance Cards of World War I
April 18, 2018
By Haley Aaron, Manuscripts Archivist, Alabama Department of Archives & History
Throughout World War I, dances entertained soldiers and civilians living in Montgomery. Weekly dances were hosted by civic organizations such as the Woodmen of the World, the Knights of Columbus, and the Girl’s Patriotic League. “Patriotic dances” not only allowed organizers to raise money for war relief efforts; they also provided a way for soldiers and local girls to meet.
For young women who lived in Montgomery, such as 20-year-old Helen White, there were countless opportunities to dance the night away. Helen carefully preserved dance cards from two of the events that she attended. These programs are now part of the collection at the Alabama Department of Archives and History. The first dance card, dated April 19, 1918, contains a list of songs played at a farewell dance hosted by the 112th U.S. Engineers. The song dedications were, in turn, sentimental and tongue-in-cheek. Each of the company’s officers was honored with a selection, while the “Montgomery girls” were collectively recognized with the song, “I’m Old Enough for a Little Lovin.’” With the last waltz, the corps paid a fond farewell to the State of Alabama. Under each song, Helen carefully penned the name of the man with whom she danced.
The second dance card, dated March 21, 1919, was from a farewell dance at Montgomery’s City Auditorium, hosted by men stationed at the Aviation Repair Depot. The dance card gives us little information about the event, but newspaper coverage from the Montgomery Times described the event at length. “The entire auditorium was most beautiful in an elaborate decoration of flags and flowers,” the newspaper reported. “It really seemed a veritable flower garden.” Baskets of sweet peas, ferns, and carnations surrounded airplane propellers that were placed on either side of the main stage. The newspaper concluded that the event was “one of the most elaborate” social events of the season.