Arthur Gill Caffee – Lieutenant, United States Navy

Born at Carthage, Missouri, on December 20, 1882, he was killed in an accidental explosion while testing guns at Indian Head, Maryland, on November 10, 1910. His stone in Section 3 of Arlington National Cemetery reads:

“Do not bother with me anymore, Doctor. Look after the others.”

Lieutenant A. G. Caffee One of the Victims
Three Other Victims Were Enlisted Men
The Explosion Occurred At The Indian Head Proving Ground of the Navy Department

WASHINGTON, November 19, 1910 – By the premature explosion of a 5-inch, .51 caliber gun at the Indian Head, Maryland, Proving Grounds of the Navy, four men are dead, including Lieutenant Arthur G. Caffee, who was in charge of the gun, and one man, a negro, seriously injured.  The breach block of the gun, which was being tested, blew backward into the crew which was firing the gun.  The explosion probably was due to a bent or fouled firing pin, which projected beyond the face of the breech plug of the gun.

The dead, in addition to Lieutenant Caffee are:

J. L. Brown, Battery Foreman, instantly killed.
Nelson Jackson, colored, Battery Attendant, Fatally injured and died shortly afterward
J. J. Leary, Ordnance Man, Fatally inured and died at 11:35 a.m.
Sidney Dyson, colored, A member of the gun crew, was seriously injured.

The Ordnance Bureau has ordered a Board of Inquiry to develop details of the accident, the only witnesses to which, so far as can be learned, were John C. Coleman and Sidney Dyson.

The gun, which was a new one from the Navy Yard Gun Factory and being tested for the first time, had already been fired twice.  The accident occurred during the third round just as the breech was being closed.

Lieutenant Arthur Gill Caffee was born in Missouri, and was attached to the staff of Rear Admiral Shroeder, on the Atlantic Fleet Battleship Connecticut before he was assigned to duty at Indian Head as Inspector of Ordnance.  He entered the Naval Academy in 1900.  The assistants who were killed and injured were all civilians, and lived in the neighborhood of the proving grounds, 40 miles below Washington.

Lieutenant Caffee was a most competent young officer, highly regarded by his brother officers, and had been in charge of the proving of guns at Indian Head since April, because of his abilities in ordnance.  He was born at Carthage, Missouri, in 1882, entered the Naval Academy in 1900, graduating in 1904.  He served two years on the USS Nebraska, was promoted from Ensign to Lieutenant in April 1909, and was on the USS Connecticut last year as aide to Rear Admiral Schroeder, Commander-in-Chief of the Atlantic Fleet.  Lieutenant Chaffee had his home at Indian Head and when the accident occurred his young wife and little son were within sound of the charge by which he lost his life.

Lieutenant Caffee had been on duty at the proving grounds since last April.  He resided on the reservation with his wife and one child.  His body will probably be interred in the Arlington Military Cemetery.

The Naval Ordnance Bureau has been trying for a long time to find some safety device applicable to guns of this caliber, but so far without success, and if the Gun Captain fails to obey the rule to pass his hand over the face of the breech lock before it is closed to detect any improper projections of the firing pin, then just such an accident as occurred today may happen any time, it is said.

Every precaution ordinarily is taken to protect the firing crews from the failure of the gun under test.  It is required that after loading the gun the crew shall retire to a bombproof in its rear and discharge the piece by electricity.  The trouble in this case lay in the fact that the gun was discharged before the crew had finished loading it.  The brass shell containing the powder and the projectile had been inserted in the piece and the breech box had swung on its hinge.

But before the heavy screw threads had interlocked, the projecting firing pin struck the primer on the head of the shell and exploded the charge which blew backwards, tearing off the breech and killing or fatally wounding the crew.

The employees’ liability act will come into play in this case, and the families of the victims of the explosions will receive the equivalent of one year’s pay.

The Evening Star, November 22, 1910
Indian Head Victims Taken to the Grave
Funeral Services Held Today for Lieut. Caffee

Escorted by several companies of bluejackets and attended by six members of his class at Annapolis as pallbearers, the body of Lieut. A.G. Caffee, who, with his gun crew, was killed by an explosion at Indian Head last Saturday, was borne to its grave at Arlington cemetery this afternoon.

The burial was made with military honors, and a brief religious service was conducted by Rev. George F. Dudley. Col. W.K. Caffee and Mrs. Caffee, parents of the young officer, arrived here yesterday afternoon for the funeral. They were accompanied by Mahlon Caffee, brother of the victim.

Mrs. Caffee, widow of the lieutenant, and their three-year-old child were accompanied to the cemetery by Dr. Dwight Dickinson, U.S.N., retired, father-in-law of the dead man.

The pallbearers were Lieut. C.R.P. Rodgers, Lieut. Davis LeBurton, Lieut. W.F. Halsey, Lieut. Charles Soule, Lieut. O.C. Dodge and Lieut. Michael. The latter was Lieut. Caffee's brother officer at the proving grounds at Indian Head.

With Masonic rites conducted by Naval Lodge, No. 4, and Indian Head Lodge, the body of James L. Brown, one of the Congressional Cemetery at noon. Funeral services were held in the chapel of the cemetery. Rev. E.M. Thompson of the Chapel of the Nativity and Rev. C.J. Curtis of Indian Head officiated.


INTERESTING NOTE: Patty Caffee Thomas, 93, died April 8, 2001, at Blue Hill. She was a resident of Parker Ridge, Blue Hill, and a lifelong summer resident of Deer Isle. She was born March 16, 1908, in Carthage, Missouri, the daughter of Lieutenant Arthur Gill Caffee, USN, and Mayotta Dickinson Caffee Southworth. Her husband, John Samuel Thomas, predeceased her in 1982.

She is survived by her son, John Samuel Thomas Jr. and his wife, Lisa, of Oviedo, Fla.; and her daughter, Sarah Thomas Gillett and her husband, Kendall, of Deer Isle and Sanibel, Fla.; seven grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren; sisters, Betty Caffee Brown of Deer Isle and New Smyrna Beach, Fla., and Mayotta Southworth Kendrick of Deer Isle and Wenham, Massachusetts.

She was a graduate of Northampton School for Girls and attended Smith College, Northampton, Mass. She was an active member of the Junior League of Scarsdale, N.Y., volunteered at the White Plains Hospital, New York, and was a member of St. Joseph of Arimathea Episcopal Church, Elmsford, New York.

On Deer Isle, she was a member of the Island Country Club and an honorary member of the Deer Isle Yacht Club.

A memorial service will be held at Sunset Congregational Church at a later date. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made in her memory to the Blue Hill Hospital or the Island Medical Center, Deer Isle.

DATE OF DEATH: 11/19/1910


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