The USS Galveston (C-17/PG-31/CL-19) was a Denver-class “protected” cruiser built by the William R. Trigg Company of Richmond, Virginia. Protected cruisers differed from armored cruisers. While the latter had armored belts and decks, protected cruisers only had armored decks designed to protect the engines, boilers, and magazines. This left the ships’ sides vulnerable to armored piercing shells. These Denver-class ships were also referred to as “peace cruisers.” They were not designed to support a battle fleet or act as a scout because they were inadequately armored and too slow. Their mission was to support U. S. interests in the Caribbean and Latin America. Protected cruisers were more gunboat than cruiser.
Galveston was the first ship named after the Texas coastal city. Its keel was laid down on January 19, 1901. Sponsored by Miss Ella Sealey, Galveston was launched on July 23, 1903, and commissioned on February 15, 1905, at Norfolk, Virginia. The vessel measured 308 feet in length with a beam of 44 feet. Unloaded, it displaced 3,200 tons and was capable of 16 knots. Her first captain was Cmdr. William Gifford Cutler.
On April 10, 1905, the ship departed Norfolk for Galveston, Texas. Nine days later the city’s residents presented the ship with a silver service set at a ceremony at the Grand Opera House. On May 3 Galveston returned to the East Coast where it joined the North Atlantic Fleet and on June 18 departed New York Harbor with the cruisers Brooklyn, Chattanooga, and Tacoma for Cherbourg, France. The squadron arrived in Cherbourg on June 30 and, after an elaborate ceremony, embarked the body of Adm. John Paul Jones, the “Father of the American Navy,” for transport back to the United States. On July 22 the squadron reached Annapolis where the body was eventually laid to rest in the chapel of the U. S. Naval Academy.
In early August Galveston arrived at Oyster Bay, Long Island, and for several days escorted delegates of the Russo-Japanese Peace Conference to Newport, Rhode Island, and Portsmouth, New Hampshire; the conference resulted in the Treaty of Portsmouth. On August 13 Galveston departed for Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. It carried American economist Jacob H. Hollander, who, acting as Special Commissioner Plenipotentiary, was to investigate financial conditions within that country for President Theodore Roosevelt.
On December 28, 1905, Galveston departed Tompkinsville, New York, to join the European Squadron in the Mediterranean. After four months, on March 28, 1906, Galveston departed Port Said, Egypt, for Cavite Navy Yard in the Philippines where it joined the Asiatic Fleet. During the next four years, the cruiser operated in Philippine, Chinese, and Japanese waters. In October 1907 Galveston served in the reception fleet for the U. S. Secretary of War William Howard Taft’s visit to Manila to open the Filipino Assembly. In November it escorted Taft’s ship to Vladivostok to begin a Trans-Siberian journey west.
Galveston returned to the United States via San Francisco in February 1910. On February 21, 1910, she was decommissioned at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Washington. The ship was refitted and on June 29, 1912, was re-commissioned. After a training cruise to Alaska, Galveston left Puget Sound on September 19 and returned to Cavite Navy Yard to rejoin the Asiatic Fleet. During the next five years, Galveston escorted supply ships and troop transports to ports in China and Japan as well as protected American interests in the region.
On January 10, 1918, Galveston returned to San Diego on its way to join the Atlantic Fleet Cruiser Force. Two weeks later, it transited the Panama Canal and then escorted the British troop transport SS Athenic to Norfolk, Virginia. After a brief stop in New York, Galveston joined Squadron 2, Division 5, of the Atlantic Fleet Cruiser Force and was assigned escort duty and the training of U. S. Navy Armed Guards, tasked to provide defense for American merchant ships and escort coastal convoys between New York and Norfolk. On September 22, 1918, she departed from Tompkinsville with a nineteen-ship convoy to Ponta Delgada in the Azores. On September 29, the U. S. Army cargo ship SS Ticonderoga developed engine trouble and fell behind. In the early morning hours of September 30, the German submarine U-152 torpedoed Ticonderoga. Galveston set course for the submarine and fired, but with no effect. A running battle ensued, and, after suffering extensive damage, Ticonderoga sank with a loss of 213 lives; the Germans captured two U. S. Naval officers. U-152 subsequently escaped, and the remainder of the convoy safely reached the Azores on October 4, 1918. Galveston returned to Norfolk and resumed escorting coastal convoys until the end of the war.
Galveston arrived in Plymouth, England, on March 16, 1919, and was assigned to transport American and British troops from Harwich, England, to Murmansk, U.S.S.R. Galveston next served as the flagship of Squadron Three, Patrol Force, Atlantic Fleet. Its duties included patrolling Western European waters, transporting prize crews (ship crews that take control of a captured ship), and the repatriation of crews of German ships until June 22. On July 14 Galveston arrived at its new station—Constantinople, Turkey, and became the flagship of Adm. Mark L. Bristol, Commander of U. S. Naval Forces in the Eastern Mediterranean and American High Commissioner to Turkey.
In March 1920, at the height of the Russian Civil War, Red Army forces were advancing on the coastal city of Novorossiysk, Russia. Ships of various nations began evacuating refugees. On March 27, Galveston evacuated approximately 200 refugees (women and children) while under fire from Red Army artillery. Their destination was the island of Proti (modern-day Kinaliada), just off the coast of Constantinople.
On July 15, 1920, Galveston was relieved by its sister ship, USS Chattanooga. Two days later, the U. S. Navy reclassified their ships’ hull numbers; Galveston (C-17) became a patrol gunboat (PG-31). On September 17, 1920, the ship arrived at Boston, and was assigned to the Special Service Squadron. The squadron’s mission was to protect American interests and influence Latin American foreign policy with overt displays of naval sea power along the west coast of Central America and the Gulf of Mexico. On August 8, 1921, Galveston was again reclassified, this time as a cruiser, CL-19.
After three years, Galveston ended her service with the squadron with a port-of-call to her namesake city. She arrived on August 26, 1923, to represent the U. S. Navy at the State of Texas American Legion Convention. Galveston next steamed for Charleston Navy Yard in South Carolina where the cruiser was again decommissioned on November 30, 1923.
Galveston was re-commissioned again on February 5, 1924, and returned to the Special Service Squadron and was based in Panama Canal at Cristóbal, the northern coast, and Balboa, the southern coast. During the next several years, Galveston played an active role along the coasts of Honduras, Cuba, and Nicaragua and maintained order and protected American lives and property.
After an overhaul at Boston Navy Yard in 1929, the ship returned to Galveston for Navy Day celebrations from October 26 to 29. Galveston resumed its duties with the Special Service Squadron until May 19, 1930, when it transited the Panama Canal. The ship returned to Galveston for one last visit and remained there from May 24 to 31 before departing for the Philadelphia Navy Yard where it was decommissioned on September 2, 1930. The following month, Galveston’s silver service set as well as the ship’s bell and wheel were returned to the city of Galveston. Galveston was struck from the U. S. Navy list on November 1, 1930, and sold for scrap to the Northern Metal Company of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on September 13, 1933.
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Norman Friedman, U. S. Cruisers: An Illustrated Design History (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1984). Galveston Daily News, October 26, 1929; October 12, 1930. Naval History and Heritage Command: Galveston I (Cruiser No. 17) (https://www.history.navy.mil/research/histories/ship-histories/danfs/g/galveston-i.html), accessed October 19, 2021. Naval History and Heritage Command: List of Expeditions 1901–1929 [List of Expeditions Formed and Landings Effected by the U.S. Naval Force in Central America, Mexico and the West Indies, From 1901 to May 1, 1929] United States. Office of Naval Intelligence Navy Department Washington, D.C. 17 June, 1929 (https://www.history.navy.mil/research/library/online-reading-room/title-list-alphabetically/l/list-of-expeditions-1901-1929.html#1920), accessed October 19, 2021. New York Times, July 1, 1905; August 4, 1905; October 11, 12, 1918. Presentation Silver, USS Galveston, Rosenberg Library Museum Online Catalog (https://rosenberg.pastperfectonline.com/webobject/21E06857-E481-4F2D-9B98-942348401676), accessed October 19, 2021. William N. Still, Jr., American Sea Power in the Old World: The United States Navy in European and Near Eastern Waters, 1865–1917 (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1980).
Upper Gulf Coast
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