By Patrick Long, updated August 26, 2015
Prior to the second Geneva Convention of 1906 and the Hague Convention of 1907, in which Hospital Ships were recognized as having a special status, the Navy had at least 6 designated hospital ships –
USS Intrepid (1798), a captured ketch in the United States Navy during the First Barbary War.
USS Ben Morgan (1826), a schooner acquired by the Union Navy during the American Civil War.
USS Pawnee (1859), a sloop-of-war in the United States Navy during the American Civil War.
USS Red Rover (1859), a 650-ton Confederate States of America steamer that the United States Navy captured and repurposed.
USS Home (1862), a large steamship purchased by the Union Navy during the American Civil War.
USS Relief (1896), which started out as the passenger ship John Englis that was purchased by the United States Army and in 1902 acquired by the Navy. In 1918, she was renamed Repose to allow the name Relief to be assigned to AH-1 USS Relief.
As well, in the Civil War, there was steamship Star of the West which was used by the Confederate States Navy as CSS Saint Philip, serving as a naval station and hospital ship.
During the first World War (aka “The Great War”), between November 1918 and March 1919, three US Navy-operated and staffed Hospital Ships, (USS Comfort, USS Mercy and USS Solace) evacuated patients from Europe to the United States.
Since the Geneva Conventions, the Navy has only had 20 Hospital Ships.
Some were used for a short time, some put into lay-up and reactivated when needed. Most were in service during WWII.
The first ship of the U.S. Navy designed and built from the keel up as a hospital ship was the previously mentioned AH-1 USS Relief, commissioned in 1920 on 28 December. At the time, Relief was one of the world's most modern and best equipped hospital ships with all the facilities of a modern shore hospital, and with a bed capacity of 550 patients.