Doug S. Jones
Too Much Top for its Bottom: The Historical and Archaeological Identification of the USS Castine and the Significance of U.S. Gunboats in the Early Steel Navy.
(Under the direction of Dr. Bradley Rodgers) Department of History, December 2007.
In 2005, archaeologists visited shipwreck Site 15170, located off the Louisiana coast, in the Gulf of Mexico. Through a combination of archaeological and historical investigation, this previously unidentified site was determined to be the remains of the USS Castine, a Navy gunboat that was built in 1892 and foundered in 1924. Castine was an early example of the steel warships that replaced obsolete wooden vessels of the post-Civil War Navy. This thesis will first examine the mix of political, economical, and technological elements that precipitated the creation of this so-called New navy at the end of the 19th Century. These factors include the United State's desire to create a more powerful and far-reaching naval influence in pursuit of an expansionist foreign policy, and the technological advances in steel production and steam engineering that enabled this pursuit. Concurrent with the development of the New Navy was the development of Bath Iron Works, the nationally significant naval shipbuilding firm that constructed Castine as its first vessel and the first steel vessel built in Maine.
This study will also document the historical significance of Castine by tracing its career from construction through its naval service in the Spanish-American War, Philippine Insurrection, Boxer Rebellion, peacetime "gunboat diplomacy" operations, World War I, and, finally, its sinking as a commercially-operated fishing barge. These events will be used to illustrate the role of gunboats within the U.S. Navy Fleet at that time. Gunboat service in the early steel navy has typically been under-recognized as a significant factor in U.S. naval operations and American geopolitics.
Finally, this thesis will document the archaeological and historical investigation of Site 15170 that led to its positive identification as the Castine. The wreck retains a high degree of archaeological significance and has been nominated to the National Register of Historic Places.