The Protected Cruiser Olympia
Three Historic Ships Formerly at the Naval Academy
In the brief period since 1850, the United States Navy had been revolutionized. The wooden frigates of other days were supplanted in this short interval by ironclads propelled by steam. So great was this sudden change that it has been aptly said that the sailor of the Invincible Armada would have more at home on a frigate in 1840, than the "marline spike seaman" of the middle of the nineteenth century was in the new types of ships that came into being during the Civil War. In other words, three centuries had not effected such great changes as had the brief quarter of a century ending in 1865.
These revolutionary changes were mainly the invention of rifled guns, the heavy smooth-bores of Dahlgren, and the torpedo; the introduction of ironclads; and the application of steam to ships of war. Of all these changes, perhaps the greatest was the supplanting of sail by steam. This made possible the revival of the ram, which had gone out after oar‑galleys were succeeded by sailing vessels. The first forms of steam ships, the side-wheelers, were exceedingly vulnerable; but a great advance was made by the invention of the screw-propeller, which permitted the defense of the machinery by submersion and by armor-plating on the sides. And, as every new mode of defense leads to new means of offense, the torpedo was devised for use against the under-water body, the only vulnerable part of this latest type of ironclad. Thus began the race, still going on, between armor and ordnance.
But, as far as the United States was concerned, p407development in the science of naval warfare that had been so rapid during the Civil War ceased abruptly with its close. The nation, weary of the tremendous burden of armies and fleets, demanded a wholesale reduction in the military establishment. The general opinion was that the chances of a conflict with any European nation were remote, and since ships and men had been forthcoming in sufficient numbers to crush the forces of secession in the greatest civil war in history, there would be time enough to raise armies and build fleets when another war came.
For the reduction of the navy at this time there were also special reasons. An inventory of the ships made after the war showed that most of them were unfit because of faulty design, the use of unseasoned timber, and hurried construction. Common sense demanded the weeding out of these, and the few vessels that remained Congress regarded as sufficient for a peace footing, with the addition of four new monitors. These monitors, however, were built in the style prevailing in the Civil War, with wooden hulls heavily plated with iron; and by 1874 they had rotted so badly that they were ordered broken up and rebuilt in iron. Congress subsequently stopped the work of reconstruction, and for twenty years the United States had not a single armored ship. During the administration of President Hayes our navy was inferior to that of any European nation; even Chile's two ironclads, if properly handled, would have been more than a match for all our ships combined. The most discouraging feature of the situation was that the navy at this time seemed to be without friends at Washington, and the country at large was wholly indifferent to its needs. All naval appropriations that could be got out of Congress were designed to keep existing ships in repair, and much of this money was wasted because the congressmen were more interested in "making business" for their constituencies than in p408repairing the ships. The Navy Department, in order to have any men-of‑war at all, was forced to rebuild ships under the old names, paying for them out of the proceeds from the sale of condemned hulks and out of the appropriation for "repairs."
One excuse can be offered for the attitude of Congress towards the navy. After the Civil War, changes in naval construction followed each other with such bewildering rapidity that naval constructors and line officers held the most divergent opinions as to the type of ship worth building, the amount of sail power to be retained, the kind of engines, the use of steel or iron, the amount of armor plate, etc. Naturally, this utter lack of agreement among the experts made Congress unwilling to appropriate money for new vessels which might prove costly blunders.
The year 1881, when Garfield succeeded to the Presidency, marks the lowest point to which the navy has ever sunk since the days when the United States had to pay a ransom to Algiers. Out of the 140 vessels on the navy list in 1881, twenty-five were tugs, and only a few of the rest in condition to make a cruise. Not a single ship was fit for warfare. An engraving published in 1881 pictured the "Fleet" being reviewed by the President, a pathetic attempt to put the best face possible on our miserable ships. This group represented the best dozen vessels in the navy at that time; they were all built of wood, and included not only the side-wheel steamer Powhatan, a relic of the forties, but also the ancient frigate Constitution! And the batteries mounted by these ships were chiefly smooth-bores left over from the Civil War. No wonder that an American captain in those days was ashamed to take his ship to European waters!
If the year 1881 represents the lowest ebb in the American Navy, it marks also the turning of the tide. The policy of trusting to luck in our relations with foreign p409nations began to lose favor. Long before this the weakness of our navy had been felt during the strained relations with Great Britain arising from the Alabama Claims shortly after the war, and again when war with Spain seemed imminent over the Virginius affair in 1873. And when, in 1880, France laid hands on the Isthmus of Panama without any regard for the Monroe Doctrine, it began to dawn on the Americans that European nations laughed at the demands of our State Department when backed by nothing better than a few, rotting, wooden hulls mounting antiquated guns.
The first step toward a new navy was taken by Secretary Hunt, with the approval of President Garfield, in the appointment of an advisory board to prepare a report on the needs of the navy. President Arthur, in his first annual message (1881), declared his policy in regard to the navy in the following words, "I cannot too strongly urge upon you my conviction that every consideration of national safety, economy, and honor imperatively demands a thorough rehabilitation of the navy." Although he was hampered by the reluctance of the Congress, President Arthur succeeded in beginning the regeneration of the American Navy.
The advisory board, mentioned above, recommended the construction of thirty-eight unarmored cruisers, five rams, five torpedo gunboats, ten cruising torpedo-boats, and ten harbor torpedo-boats. The smaller vessels were to be all of steel, and of the cruisers it was recommended that eighteen should be of steel and twenty of wood. Strange as it seems now, the minority members of the board, including three naval constructors and Chief Engineer Isherwood — the great engineer of the Civil p410War — opposed the use of steel and recommended iron, largely on the ground that we had no plants capable of producing the steel required. The new market, however, created new plants to meet its needs, and the decision of the majority resulted in the rapid development of one of the greatest American industries, the manufacture of steel.
Congress was now willing to do something to better the navy, but not prepared for the ambitious program recommended by the Advisory Board. The House Naval Committee accepted the decision on steel as "the only proper material for the construction of vessels of war," and urged the building of two cruisers capable of an average speed of fifteen knots, four cruisers capable of a speed of fourteen knots, and one ram. It ignored the torpedo-boats and recommended only one ram because it regarded the type as experimental.
The House Committee had thus made a sweeping reduction of the number of ships called for by the Board, but Congress was not willing to go even as far as the Committee. The act of August 5, 1882, called for only "two steam cruising vessels of war . . . to be constructed of steel of domestic manufacture: . . . said vessels to be provided with full sail power and full steam power." Then Congress neglected to make any appropriation for them! The only effective clause of this act was a provision appointing a second advisory board. This board promptly recommended five vessels, one of about 4000 tons, three of about 2500 tons, all of steel, and one iron dispatch boat of 1500 tons.
The act of March 3, 1883, provided for these ships with the exception of one of the smaller cruisers. These four, the first of the "white squadron," were the Chicago, the Boston, Atlanta, and the Dolphin. In the same year, to put an end to the practice of rebuilding old ships p411out of money for "repairs," Congress prohibited the repairing of any wooden vessel when it amounted to twenty per cent of the cost of building a new one. This action instantly dropped forty‑six ships from the naval list. Later on the figure was changed from twenty to ten per cent, and the patchwork policy was definitely abandoned.
The decay of the navy after the Civil War had resulted in the lack of facilities in this country for the manufacture of steel plates or of modern ordnance. American inventors of guns, like Hotchkiss, for example, had been compelled to go abroad to sell their patents. When in 1885 the Government was ready to mount modern guns on the warships, it had to get the forgings and castings abroad. In five years, however, by the creation of a home market for ships and guns, manufacturing plants were developed in America capable of turning out the highest types of large calibre and machine guns, as well as every other requisite for the construction of a modern battleship.
Four more vessels were ordered in 1885, the cruisers Newark and Charleston, and the gunboats Yorktown and Petrel. The Charleston was the first of our men-of‑war to abandon sail power and to use only military masts. The following year Congress ordered the completion of the four monitors, work on which had been suspended twelve years before, and the construction of one other. These were the Miantonomoh, Amphitrite, Monadnock, Terror, and Monterey. With each succeeding year thereafter, new vessels were added. In 1890 the Government took a long stride forward in naval construction; hitherto there were no ships larger than cruisers, but in this year Congress authorized three first-class battleships — the Indiana, the Massachusetts, and the Oregon. Eight years later our successes in the War with Spain gave the navy a p412tremendous impetus, which has since put the United States for the first time in the front rank among the naval powers of the world.
The years of peace have afforded splendid instances of heroism in the service of polar exploration, which are well worthy to rank with the more famous deeds of war. The record begins with the year 1837, when an expedition was fitted out for "maritime observation" in the South Pacific and Antarctic. So much quarrelling marked the organization of the expedition that several officers in turn declined to accept the command. Finally it was given to a junior officer, Lieutenant Charles Wilkes, U. S. N., noted later for his connection with the "Trent affair." The squadron consisted of five small ships ranging from 780 to 96 tons, "wretchedly prepared for an extended voyage, and especially unsuited for Antarctic navigation."1 However, what his expedition lacked in equipment, Wilkes very nearly made up by his resourcefulness, persistence, and courage. It was not until further exploration was a physical impossibility that he reluctantly turned his ice‑shattered squadron home.2 The most important result of his voyage of three years and ten months was conclusive evidence as to the existence of the Antarctic continent, which had been a matter of speculation. The next naval expedition and all subsequent ones were sent to the Arctic.
In the spring of 1845 Captain Sir John Franklin, of the British Navy, set sail with two ships to discover the Northwest Passage. The last message received from him p413by the Admiralty was dated the following July, and although the squadron was fitted out with supplies for three years, as time went by with no word whatever from the party, anxiety deepened, and one relief expedition after another was dispatched. In 1850 American sympathy was represented by a squadron of two ships under Lieutenant E. J. De Haven, U. S. N. The expenses of the enterprise were shared by private subscription, headed by Mr. Grinnell of New York, and by the Government. The American vessels entered northern waters almost at the same time as those of English relief parties. No clues except a few graves of the Franklin party were discovered. In August Lieutenant De Haven decided to return, but a succession of gales, combined with severe cold, caught his ships before he could reach clear water. The two vessels were frozen into the ice pack, and drifted helplessly with the currents. The imprisonment lasted over eight months, and all the while the two vessels were in daily peril of being crushed. The life on board was made almost unendurable by the strain of constant danger, the monotony, the privations, and the fearful cold, against which there was no adequate protection. For •1050 miles the ships were carried by the drift before the midsummer sun released them from their prison of ice. During the northerly drift of the floe, De Haven discovered Murdaugh Island and the wide plateau to which he gave name "Grinnell Land." His ships were so weakened by the strain they had undergone, that he abandoned the idea of continuing the search for the Franklin party, and sailed for the United States, reaching New York on September 30, 1851.
The next expedition had for its aim the discovery of the Pole. In the summer of 1879 a party left San Francisco in the steamer Jeannette, Lieutenant-Commander p414G. W. De Long, U. S. N., commanding. It was organized by James Gordon Bennett, proprietor of the New York Herald, with the co‑operation of the Government. It was known that the Japanese current splits in Behring Strait, sending one branch to the west coast of North America, and the other into the Antarctic Ocean in a northeasterly direction. Before this time no polar explorers had ever set out by way of Behring Strait, and the idea of the Jeannette party was to try to reach the Pole by following this northeasterly branch of the Japanese current. The first voyage, however, was to be more of a preliminary or experimental nature than of an actual dash for the Pole.
The Jeannette early encountered ice floes, which crowded her off her intended course. Finally, De Long decided to winter at Wrangell Land, then supposed to be part of a huge Arctic continent. By September 6, the vessel was wedged and frozen solidly into a floe and carried to the northwest of Wrangell Land, which proved to be only a small island. All winter she drifted with the ice, in imminent danger of being crushed. Once she certainly would have foundered but for the skill of her chief engineer, G. W. Melville. Summer did not bring the party their expected release, and still another year dragged by in the icy prison, with only sickness to vary the fearful monotony of their existence. Finally, on June 12, 1881, the long-threatened disaster fell — the Jeannette was sunk by ice, leaving her people stranded on the floes in mid ocean. To add to the hardships of their situation, two of the officers and three of the men were sick, provisions were scanty, and the clothing of the entire party was so worn that many a march had to be made over the snow and ice with bare feet.
There was one chance of escape, and that was to reach the settlements on the Lena delta, •500 miles away. To this p415end De Long and his men laid their course, partly by boat and partly by sledge. Unluckily, at the outset they had against them the northerly drift of the ice floes, which carried them •twenty-eight miles in the opposite direction, to the northernmost point ever reached in that sea, before they could make any gains to the southward.
On September 12, exactly three months after their desperate retreat began, the three boats of the expedition were separated by a violent gale, just off the Lena delta. Melville, commanding the whale boat, entered a mouth of the Lena and succeeded, with his nine men, in reaching a Siberian village on its banks, after fearful sufferings. The second cutter, commanded by Lieutenant Chipp, evidently foundered, for nothing was ever heard of it or its crew after the night of the storm. The first cutter, under Commander De Long, with the surgeon and twelve men, succeeded in entering the Lena delta, and struggled southwards.
It was the fate of this party not to meet any of the natives of the region or to know of villages nearby which might have proved their salvation. They were soon facing death from starvation. De Long, remaining with his sick and dying, dispatched his two strongest seamen to hasten up the course of the Lena and bring relief. By the end of October these men managed to reach a village, more dead than alive. They gave one of the natives a pencil message to be taken with quickest dispatch to the nearest Russian official, thence to be forwarded to St. Petersburg; but the native, having heard that another American — Melville — was in the neighborhood, carried the dispatch to him.
This was the first word Melville had heard from his shipmates, and although the early winter had set in, and his feet and legs were still in such condition from frostbite that he was unable to stand, he organized a sledging p416outfit and made the journey to the village where the two survivors were. Thence, with these two seamen and some native guides, he started north to find De Long and his men. At various points along the river he found records left by De Long, but was baffled by the fact that De Long had, toward the end of his march, crossed on the ice to the opposite banks. The search was blocked by a furious snowstorm on November 14, and Melville narrowly missed giving his own life in the vain quest.
As early as possible the following spring he renewed his search, and on the 23d of March, 1882, he came upon the bodies of Long and his men. The last entry in the commander's diary was October 30, 1881, recording briefly the death of two and the approaching end of a third in the party. Probably by the first of November the last man had died of starvation.
Meanwhile, in 1881, a party under Lieutenant A. W. Greely, U. S. A., had gone north for three years of exploration and scientific exploration in Grinnell Land. A store ship was to be sent them in 1882, and another in 1883. As it happened, the first supply ship was unable, on account of ice, to reach either Fort Conger or Lady Franklin Bay, and instead of leaving the supplies in a "cache" on shore, returned to the United States with everything on board. The second vessel was sunk by the ice, its crew returning on the steamer Yantic which accompanied it. The failure of these two expeditions made the situation of the Greely party critical. While Congress wasted valuable time in quarrels over the necessary appropriation,a Secretary Chandler took the responsibility on himself of purchasing two Scotch whalers, the Bear and the Thetis, and fitting them out to undertake the rescue at the earliest practicable moment in the summer of 1884. Queen Victoria gracefully repaid the American efforts for the relief of p418the Franklin party by contributing the Alert, a ship especially designed for polar service and regarded as the stoutest wooden vessel afloat. The squadron of three vessels was placed under Commander W. S. Schley, who conducted the relief with the most praiseworthy skill and dispatch. On June 22, 1884, they discovered the survivors of the Greely party, including Lieutenant Greely himself, in a tent on Cape Sabine, and conveyed them to the ships, with the greatest difficulty, during a violent gale. These survivors were almost at the point of death from starvation, but all except one recovered on the return voyage to the United States. The indomitable Melville had returned from Siberia just in time to go north again with the Schley expedition, and was one of the first to clasp hands with Lieutenant Greely in the tent on Cape Sabine.
The Arctic Regions
The conquest of the Pole was at last accomplished by an officer of the American Navy after a siege of twenty-three years. In 1886, Civil Engineer Robert E. Peary, U. S. N., made a reconnoissance of the Greenland ice cap. In 1891‑2 he discovered and named Melville Land and Heilprin Land, lying beyond Greenland, and by the same expedition he determined the insularity of Greenland. The ten years between 1892 and 1902 were spent in exploration. In the expedition of 1898‑1902 Peary attained a new "farthest north" for the western hemisphere.3 His expedition of 1905‑1909, with the Roosevelt, was crowned with success. On April 6, 1909, the climax of all northern exploration was reached, and the American flag was unfurled at the North Pole.b The attainment of this point revealed the fact that the supposed Polar continent did p419not exist, and that the pole was only a point in the ice‑covered Arctic sea.
Peary's success was the logical outcome of his years of preparation. Every expedition heretofore had been defective in important details of planning and equipment. Peary made the most of the experience of each voyage. He established the most practicable route to the Pole, he invented his own sledge to meet the local conditions, and, in short, reduced, detail by detail, the whole problem of Arctic exploration to a science.
The exploit of Commodore Matthew C. Perry, in 1854, in opening the trade of Japan to the world, thus inducing the "Hermit Nation" to take her rightful place in the family of nations, is probably the greatest feat of the kind in the history of the world. But it is by no means the only instance of the navy's being called on to act in a diplomatic capacity.
In the famous letter of Paul Jones to the Marine Committee (September, 1775), defining the duties of the naval officer, occurs this passage: "The naval officer should be familiar with the principles of international law. . . . He should also be conversant with the usages of diplomacy and capable of maintaining, if called upon, a dignified and judicious diplomatic correspondence; because it often happens that sudden emergencies in foreign waters make him the diplomatic as well as military representative of his country, and in such cases he may have to act without opportunity of consulting civic or ministerial superiors at home, and such action may easily involve the portentous issue of peace or war between great powers." The introduction of cables and wireless plants has in nowise lessened this service, for, seemingly, p420instructions that leave the conduct of affairs, often of the most delicate and important nature, to the "discretion and sound judgment" of the senior naval officer present, are issued as frequently as in the earlier period of our history. A reading between the lines of some of the paragraphs of the navy blue book is enough to show the extent and nature of the mental equipment required for the successful performance of the trying duties that so often confront the officer in times of peace. For instance, the commander-in‑chief of a naval force, in the absence of a diplomatic or consular officer of the United States at a foreign port has authority —
(a) To exercise the powers of a consul in relation to mariners of the United States;
(b) To communicate or remonstrate with foreign civil authorities as may be necessary;
(c) To urge upon citizens of the United States the necessity of abstaining from participation in political controversies or violations of the laws of neutrality.
"On occasions where injury to the United States or to citizens thereof is committed or threatened, in violation of the principles of international law or treaty rights, he shall . . . take such steps as the gravity of the case demands. . . . The responsibility of any action taken by a naval force, however, rests wholly upon the commanding officer thereof."
"Although due weight should be given to the opinions and advice of the consular and diplomatic representatives of the United States, a commanding officer is solely and entirely responsible to his own immediate superior for all official acts in the administration of his command."
"The use of force against a foreign and friendly state, or against anyone within the territories thereof, is illegal. The right to self-preservation, however, is a right which belongs to states as well as to individuals, and in the case p421of states it includes the protection of the state, its honor, and its possessions, and the lives and property of its citizens against arbitrary violence, actual or impending, whereby the state or its citizens may suffer irreparable injury. The conditions calling for the application of the right of self-preservation can not be defined beforehand, but must be left to the sound judgment of responsible officers, who are to perform their duties in this respect with all possible care and forbearance."
"He shall exercise great care that all under his command scrupulously respect the territorial authority of foreign civilized nations in amity with the United States.
"So far as lies within their power, commanders-in‑chief and captains of ships shall protect all merchant vessels of the United States in lawful occupations, and advance the commercial interests of this country, always acting in accordance with international law and treaty obligations."
Two prominent things are noted in the above: first, the requirement of a thorough knowledge of international law and various treaty provisions; second, the insistence upon the responsibility remaining, in all circumstances, with the naval officer — a responsibility not lessened by advice from diplomats, nor removed by general instructions from the Government. The officer must decide, and quickly, grave questions that may involve peace or war.
That the confidence reposed in the abilities of officers by both the Navy and State departments has not been misplaced, is shown by many instances of fine work done by naval officers in various ports of the world.
President Cleveland, in one of his annual messages, wrote: "It appearing at an early state of the Brazilian insurrection that its course would call for unusual watchfulness on the part of the Government, our naval force in the harbor of Rio de Janeiro was strengthened. Our p422firm attitude of neutrality was maintained to the end. The insurgents received no encouragement of eventual asylum from our commanders." Again, in the same message it is reported that "our naval commanders at the scene of disturbances in Bluefields, Nicaragua, by their constant exhibition of firmness and good judgment, contributed largely to the prevention of more serious consequences and to the restoration of quiet and order. . . . Although the practice of asylum is not favored by this Government, yet in view of the imminent peril which threatened the fugitives, and solely from considerations of humanity, they were afforded shelter by our naval commander."
An event in which readiness in dealing with a critical situation was strikingly shown, occurred in the Brazilian insurrection of 1894. The Brazilian Navy was in possession of the revolutionists, who held the bay of Rio de Janeiro, where much interference was made with the movements of peaceful merchantmen. Saldanha da Gama, the rebel leader, threatened to fire on any ship that should go to the piers to discharge its cargo; and merchantmen, despite the fact that yellow fever was decimating their own crews, were obliged to lie out in the bay and await the end of the war.
Such was the condition of affairs when Rear-Admiral A. E. K. Benham, U. S. N., arrived. He at once told the American captains to go to the piers and trust him to protect them from harm. Inspirited by this promise, Captain Blackford, of the bark Amy, and two other captains, gave notice on Sunday, January 29, 1894, that they would take their ships in to the wharves on the following morning. Da Gama, hearing of this, made proclamation that he would fire on any vessel that ventured to do so, and a conflict seemed impending. The commanders of the war‑vessels of other nations looked p423anxiously to see if the American admiral would hold fast to his position. Day had hardly dawned before active preparations were visible on the small American squadron, which was soon cleared for action, the cruiser Detroit taking a station from which she could command two of Da Gama's vessels, the Guanabara and the Trajano.
When the Detroit reached her station, the Amy began to warp in towards her pier. From the Guanabara came a warning musket shot. In an instant more a ball from the Detroit hurtled across the bow of the Brazilian, followed by another that struck her side. These were in the way of admonition. Seeing a couple of tugs maneuvering as if with purpose to ram his vessel, Commander Brownson took the Detroit in between the two Brazilian warships, and occupied a position that would have enabled him to sink them and their tugs at the same time.
This decisive action ended the affair. No further shot came from a Brazilian gun, and the Amy, followed by other two vessels, made her way unharmed to the wharves.
President McKinley's message of December, 1898, contained the following: "A menacing rupture between Costa Rica and Nicaragua was happily composed by the signature of a convention between the parties, the act being negotiated and signed on board the United States steamer Alert, then lying in Central American waters. It is believed that the good offices of the commander of that vessel contributed largely toward this gratifying outcome." Another incident involving the navy is referred to in the same message: "Pending the consideration of the treaty providing for the annexation of the Hawaiian Islands, I directed the U. S. S. Philadelphia to convey Rear-Admiral Miller to Honolulu, and intrusted to his hands an important legislative act, to be delivered to the President of the Hawaiian Republic, with whom the p424admiral and the minister were authorized to make appropriate arrangements for transferring Hawaiian sovereignty of the islands to the United States."
That Admiral Dewey's valuable services did not end with the battle of Manila Bay is shown by the words of the Secretary of the Navy on the occasion of the presentation of a sword, the nation's gift, October 3, 1899: "Later [after the battle], by your display of large powers of administration, by your poise and prudence, and by your great discretion, not only in act but also in word, you proved yourself a great representative citizen of the United States, as well as already its great naval hero."
Finally, President McKinley, in 1899, wrote: "The habitual readiness of the navy for every emergency has won the confidence and admiration of the country. This officers have shown peculiar adaptation for the performance of new and delicate duties which our recent war has imposed."
Thus ministers, secretaries, and presidents acknowledge the indebtedness of the country to the services of naval officers in the preservation of order, the settlement of difficult problems, and the upholding of the country's honor.
A survey of the general work of officers other than that directly connected with the preparation and conduct of war is arrested at once by the name of Rear-Admiral A. T. Mahan. Uniting as he does the professional knowledge of the naval officer with the endowment of the scholar and historian, he stands unique, and enjoys a reputation as an expert in naval matters even higher in Germany and England than in the United States. "It is a mere truism," writes a British naval authority, "to say that Captain Mahan has taught all serious students of naval warfare in two worlds how to think rightly on the problems p425it presents. The phrase 'sea power,' as applied, though not invented, by him, is one of those happy inspirations of genius which flash the light of philosophy on a whole department of human action."4
In the field of science, no other officer in the nineteenth century rendered to the world a service equal to that of Commander Matthew Fontaine Maury, "Pathfinder of the Seas." Maury in the 40's, being in charge of the Depot of Charts and Instruments (the predecessor of the United States Naval Observatory), conceived the idea of collating the data available in the numberless old log books stored in the Navy Department. These he supplemented with observations made at his request several times each day by ships in the navy and by merchant ships, American and foreign. From such materials he drew definite conclusions in regard to winds and currents, the paths of storms (showing the season when they might be expected and the locality), the shortest routes between the great shipping ports, etc. The results were published and distributed, commonly without charge. In 1853 at his prompting an international congress met at Brussels, attended by representatives of ten great nations, and he secured a world-wide coöperation in his work. Maury's charts, with modifications that bring them up to date, continue to the present time, and for making ocean travel safe and expeditious they are indispensable.
1 Greely, Handbook of Arctic Discoveries, p289.
2 One of his vessels was lost with all on board.
3 Till then the farthest north had been a point reached by Lieutenant Lockwood, U. S. A., a member of the Greely expedition.
4 Thursfield, Nelson and Other Naval Studies, p82.
a Of the twenty-five men in Lt. Greely's expedition, eighteen died; cannibalism and mutiny were part of the story, immediately covered up by the government. The ultimate blame for the tragedy is now usually placed on Secretary of War Robert Lincoln, who gave priority to American expansion and security in the Far West — fair enough — but therefore basically ignored the Arctic expedition, all the more so that the Administration viewed it as a pet project of certain movers in Congress. Greely himself, though capable in the rest of his career, seems also to have been no match for the Arctic. The unpleasant story is presented in Leonard F. Guttridge's Ghosts of Cape Sabine: The Harrowing True Story of The Greely Expedition (2006); an idea of it can be got from reviews online by Lorrie Beaver Levesque and by Roland Huntford. A 52‑minute video covers the expedition in detail at PBS.
b That Peary actually reached the precise point of the geographical North Pole was immediately in doubt, and will have to remain so: the quality of his instruments, the lack of independent corroboration, and other factors all enter into account. The uncertainty, however, is something of a quibble: recent investigations confirm that he must at least have been within 8 km of the pole, and it seems that Peary himself believed he had reached it.
Images with borders lead to more information.
A Short History
of the U. S. Navy
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY
Page updated: 18 Mar 13