Dickinson road official was victim of German U-boat attack
Menominee Range Memories
IRON MOUNTAIN –The 39th installment of Menominee Range Memories, a series of articles by William J. Cummings, Menominee Range Historical Foundation historian, now available on the Dickinson County Library’s website, is titled “Gilbert V. Carpenter, Victim of a World War I German U-Boat Attack Off the New Jersey Coast.”
Gilbert Vilas “Bert” Carpenter, born Dec. 20, 1873, in Ishpeming, was the oldest son of Dr. William Thomas and Carolina (Vilas) Carpenter.
A graduate of Iron Mountain High School, Carpenter enrolled at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in the fall of 1893. The following year he began studying medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
He resumed his studies in the medical department of the University of Pennsylvania in September 1897, and would have received his degree by spring of the following year.
However, with true patriotic spirit, Carpenter abandoned his studies in Philadelphia to join other members of Iron Mountain’s Company E, Fifth Regiment of the Michigan National Guard, to serve in the Spanish-American War. Company E had arrived at Camp Eaton, Island Lake, near Brighton on April 27, 1898, and Carpenter arrived four days later, on May 1.
After he enlisted, he was assigned to the hospital service under Major Peter D. MacNaughton, surgeon. He was appointed a hospital steward with the rank of sergeant.
On May 23, 1898, Company E’s official designation became the 34th Michigan Volunteers.
On June 26, 1898, the 34th Michigan Volunteers left Newport News, Virginia, by rail and left Fort Monroe, Virginia, the following day, aboard the Steamer Harvard, for Santiago, Cuba, arriving there June 30.
After the surrender of Santiago, the 34th Michigan Volunteers Regiment suffered severe losses from Cuban fever. Seventy-five per cent of the regiment was sick and only one surgeon and one hospital steward of the medical staff, Carpenter, were able to care for the patients. In recognition of his service Carpenter was appointed assistant surgeon with the rank of captain even though he had not completed his course in medicine.
The Spanish-American War — a 10-week conflict — began on April 25 and ended Aug. 12, 1898.
The following year Carpenter attempted to continue his medical studies at Rush College in Chicago. However, his system was still suffering from the effects of malaria from his service in Cuba, and his failing health compelled him to seek a more northern climate. He enrolled in the University of Minnesota, but his health gave way again and he returned to his home at Iron Mountain to take up “open-air” work.
Carpenter began working for the Dickinson County Road Commission. In this new field of work he regained strength.
Due to his keen interest in the work and after taking a course of study in engineering, he was appointed Dickinson County road engineer in early November 1905, by the Dickinson County Board of Commissioners to succeed his boss, Charles L. Baxter, who had resigned to become an instructor at the Michigan College of Mines (now Michigan Technological University) in Houghton.
Carpenter retained his position for the rest of his life. His roads became known as among the best in the state.
On July 14, 1909, he was unanimously appointed supervising engineer for the construction of the Upper Twin Falls Bridge and causeways by the Joint Commission of Florence and Dickinson counties. The bridge and causeways were considered an engineering challenge at the time.
Carpenter was one of the founders of the Northern Michigan Road Builders’ Association and was also a member of the American Road Builders’ Association. He was always one of the first men to register at the Annual Short Course in Highway Engineering at the University of Michigan, taking an active role in improving his engineering skills.
He was also a member of the Board of Public Works in Iron Mountain.
Shortly after the United States declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917, Carpenter again tendered his services to the government and was sorely disappointed when he was rejected, due to physical limitations. At a later date, however, the government requested his services as a road builder at cantonments, or military garrisons or camps.
Carpenter was first in charge of superintending road construction at Camp Grant, in Rockford, Ill. His work there was so satisfactory that the Quartermaster’s Department then sent him to superintend road and street construction in a new military cantonment near San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Carpenter left Iron Mountain for San Juan in about February 1918. As he was under contract as county road engineer for both Dickinson County and Houghton County, he expected to return in about six weeks. His wife, Leonora Augusta (Crowell) Carpenter, left Iron Mountain in late April 1918, for Washington, D.C., to meet him. Bert’s brothers, William R. and James S. Carpenter, lived in Washington, D.C., at the time.
While in Puerto Rico, Carpenter had been appointed road engineer for Houghton County, where he planned to devote two-thirds of his work time.
When Carpenter boarded the SS Carolina, a passenger ship bound for New York, at 5 p.m. on May 29, 1918, he was on his way home from Puerto Rico. The ship left San Juan with 217 passengers and 113 crew members and a cargo of sugar.
On Sunday, June 2, 1918, at about 5:55 p.m., as the passengers were in the dining hall enjoying food and entertainment, Captain Barbour of the SS Carolina received a wireless message that the Isabel B. Wiley had been attacked and sunk by a German submarine. At this time the Carolina was about 125 miles off of Sandy Hook, New Jersey.
The Carolina’s master, Captain Barbour, ordered full speed and steered away from the reported location. Scanning the horizon, Captain Barbour spotted the conning tower of a submarine surfacing about two miles away. Shortly after 6 p.m. three warning shots were fired by the submarine. The signal from the submarine to abandon ship became visible.
The mission of Korvettenkapitan von Nostitz, captain of the SM U-151, and his crew was to disrupt shipping along the northeastern United States coast. Their record was impressive, with a total of 23 vessels successfully attacked in a month’s time.
The U-boat arrived near the end of May 1918, and immediately mounted several unsuccessful attacks with their deck gun. Mines were planted off the Delaware capes, and the crew even cut telegraph cables connecting New York with Nova Scotia. These acts marked the first time that the battlefield had been brought to American shores in a hundred years.
On May 25, the SM U-151 stopped three American schooners off Virginia, took their crews captive in order to keep the submarine’s presence a secret, and bombed all three ships. Only one, the Hattie Dunn sank; the Hauppauge and the Edna remained afloat and were eventually salvaged. After these attacks, Captain von Nostitz lurked along the mid-Atlantic coast for a week, not launching any further attacks.
With the three warning shots from the SM U-151’s deck guns and the flag signal for “abandon ship”, Captain Barbour ordered all hands to abandon ship. Passengers, some dressed in formal wear and others scantily dressed, boarded lifeboats and were lowered as the submarine stood poised to sink the ship. The captain ordered the ship’s life boats to be filled, women and children first, and lowered at 6:30 p.m.
Frantic passengers, screaming and pleading, could be heard as the lifeboats rowed westward away from the line of fire. As Lifeboat Number 5 was being lowered, occupants were dumped into the water when one end of the boat slipped as it was being launched.
The motor launch in which Bert Carpenter was on stayed behind and through his efforts the occupants were rescued and were able to re-enter the lifeboat.
At 7:15 p.m., when all the life boats were away, the SM U-151 fired three shells into the ship’s port side. The ship remained steady about 20 minutes and then gradually sank.at 7:55 p.m.
The lifeboats, tethered together, rowed into the night. Shortly after midnight the sky was lit up with lightning and the sounds of rolling thunder echoed in the night. As the seas became too rough for the boats to be lashed together they were forced to separate.
The following account by one of the occupants of the motor launch was given to reporters upon rescue:
“Lifeboat Number 5 and the motor launch were tethered together until the connecting ropes broke twice during the nighttime storm. The two boats lost sight of each other.
“Finally the motor launch capsized and all of the 35 (occupants) were thrown into the sea. She was righted and capsized again while we clung to her. This occurred several times.
“The storm passed and the sea began to calm. It was pitch dark. The launch was full of water. We clung to her and bailed out the water with our hands. Some became exhausted, let go of their hold and sank. It was terrible.
“We bailed out enough water to let one of us in. Then he bailed furiously and enough water was bailed out to permit a second to get into the launch.
“We kept bailing until the launch was able to bear the weight of a third and fourth. We kept this up all night, until finally all those who still clung were able to get in. When the last one was helped over the side we found that there were 19 of us. Sixteen of us had gone.”
The following account appeared in the June 6, 1918 edition of the Iron Mountain Press under the headline “AMONG MISSING!: G.V. Carpenter a Passenger on the Torpedoed Str. Carolina”:
“Captain Barbour, of the Carolina, reported to the company last Tuesday [June 4] that he was aboard the schooner Eva B. Douglass [sic] with 150 passengers and ninety-four of the crew. The schooner is being towed by a tug, which was sent to her aid and is expected to arrive early this morning.
“A boat containing twenty-eight survivors, twenty-one passengers and seven of the crew, arrived at Lewes, Del., with the report that sixteen of the thirty-five who had started from the ship had lost their lives in the storm Sunday night.
“Advices from Washington this morning are to the effect that all but ten of the 218 passengers aboard the liner Carolina have been accounted for. Mr. Carpenter is one of the ten.
“Christian Nelson, chief engineer of the lost ship, declares that only seven were lost from the launch.
“Nelson told of the terrible experience of the survivors after leaving the Carolina.
“‘It was getting dark and a storm was brewing,’ he said. ‘We were in No. 5 life boat and we rowed up to No. 1 boat, which was motor driven, but the twenty-four persons in it were unable to start the engine. I climbed aboard with my assistant and we finally started the engine and took No. 5 in tow.
“‘All of this time the storm was growing more. Finally our boat was overturned. All were thrown into the water. Everybody had on life belts and we managed to keep afloat. After a great effort I righted the boat and climbed aboard. The boat was half filled with water and we bailed it out, working until near daybreak. Then we started to pick up those floating in the water. Some had lost their life belts and were clinging to the boat. We found, however, only nineteen of the twenty-six. The other seven had disappeared. We were then adrift in a water logged boat in which the engine would not work. A British tramp picked us up and brought us here.'”
Most of the ship’s boats stayed together and survived a squall during the night. They were picked up by the schooner Eva B. Douglas at 11 a.m. the following day on June 4. One life boat made it to the coast at Atlantic City and another was picked by the British steamship Appleby. At 4 p.m. the Danish steamship Bryssel found the swamped motor dory from the S.S. Carolina; the eight male passengers and five crew on the boat had drowned.
The following article appeared in the New York Tribune shortly thereafter under the headline “13 Still Missing From the Carolina; Hope Not Given Up.”
“Eight passengers and five of the crew of the steamship Carolina sunk last Sunday by a German submarine still are missing, according to an announcement last night by the New York and Porto Rico Steamship Company, owners of the vessel. The missing persons are not listed as dead, nor will they be, it was stated, until all hope of finding them has been abandoned.
“So far as known all those missing from the Carolina were lost overboard from a lifeboat in a storm Sunday night. When the boat arrived at Atlantic City it carried only nineteen persons, and it was understood there were thirty-five aboard when it left the ship.”
Those reported missing by the shipping authorities were Chief Purser Mussenden, First Assistant Engineer Johansen, one male, one Negro woman, a stewardess, a deck steward and a fireman.
The 10 passengers listed as missing were Frederick Atkinson, Master Eduardo Beltran, Miss Maria T. Beltran, G.V. Carpenter, Miss P.L. Cueto, Felife (sic – Felipe) Delia, Domingo Gonzales (sic – Gonzalez), Damingo (sic – Domingo) Perasa, Rafael Virella and C.B. Parker, of New York City.
Mrs. Charles B. Parker, of 435 W. 119th St., the wife of the last named on the list, was one of the crowd that witnessed the landing of the survivors from the Steamer Appleby.
The SS Carolina was one of six vessels sunk by the U-151 on June 2, 1918, all within 50 miles of the New Jersey coast. Known as “Black Sunday,” this disaster was the first loss of life caused by U-boat activity on the U.S. Atlantic seaboard.
Captain Bert Carpenter’s body was never recovered. In addition to his wife, he was also survived by their two children, Gilbert Crowell Carpenter and Leonora Carpenter, who were 8 and 5 years old respectively when their father died.
Read the rest of this 48-page story on the Dickinson County Library’s website at www.dcl-lib.org, which includes a detailed account of Bert Carpenter’s service during the Spanish-American War; extensive genealogical information on the Carpenter family, including Bert’s grandparents, parents and children; a history of the Upper Twin Falls Bridge at Badwater; and more information on the SS Carolina and Black Sunday.
Ceremony Saturday at Upper Twin Falls Bridge
Kingsford’s American Legion Carpenter Clash Post 363 will mark the centennial of local World War I veteran Gilbert Vilas Carpenter’s death at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at the Carpenter Monument, about 3 miles north of Iron Mountain on County Road 607 at the Michigan entrance to the historic Upper Twin Falls Bridge. The public is encouraged to attend.
“This ceremony brings the words, ‘You’re gone but not forgotten,’ to life, 100 years later,” said Joe Sparpana of Breitung Township, who led successful efforts to have the Upper Twin Falls Bridge listed on the National Register of Historic Places.