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Chapter 9

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Makers of Naval Tradition

by
Carroll Storrs Alden
and Ralph Earle

published by
Ginn & Company, 1942

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 11

This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

p203 Chapter X

Stephen Bleecker Luce (1827‑1917)

Stephen Bleecker Luce


[image ALT: zzz.]

Few officers have been so intimately connected with the education of officers and enlisted men as Stephen B. Luce, and none has left a deeper impression or accomplished more momentous results. Nor was this owing to favorable circumstances, but rather to the sheer force of personality. His long career on the active list, embracing a period of forty-eight years, had but reached its middle point at the close of the Civil War; during the last half he was to see the navy to decline from a position of high supremacy to one of marked insignificance. Against this decline he exerted all his strength; though the ships were becoming hopelessly antiquated, the personnel must be saved from inaction and discouragement. Under his guidance there was a quickening into new life. Even the dull routine that attended the annual inspection of an old‑time sailing ship he transformed into a game so exciting that the young officers remembered it all their days. He introduced modern strategy and tactics. As Rear Admiral Fiske has well summed it up, "Luce taught the navy to think."

Luce began his naval career in 1841, when, at the age of fourteen, he was appointed midshipman and ordered to report on the receiving ship at New York. Four years later, when attached to the Columbus, he accompanied the first expedition to Japan. The American commissioner p204to China, having negotiated a treaty between the United States and China, in his enthusiasm had written to the President suggesting that the same might be done with Japan.

In response Commodore James Biddle was sent out in 1845 with the Columbus, eighty guns, and the Vincennes, twenty guns, under the following cautious orders: "You will take the utmost care to ascertain if the ports of Japan are accessible, . . . yet not in such a manner as to excite a hostile feeling or a distrust of the government of the United States."

Biddle took his force direct to the Bay of Yedo, where he would be not far from the capital Yedo. Before his ships had come to anchor, a cordon of armed boats surrounded the ships, and a Japanese officer with a Dutch interpreter came on board to inquire into the object of their visit. The Japanese showed great courtesy but, though offering supplies, prohibited any landing or communication with the shore. Meanwhile they referred Biddle's message to Yedo. In seven days came the answer. According to Japanese law there was to be no trade except with the Chinese and Dutch. "Concerning strange lands, all things are fixed at Nagasaki, not here in the bay; therefore you must depart as quickly as possible and not come any more to Japan."

While Luce had been absent in the Far East the Naval Academy was founded, and when on his return he was detached, he was ordered to the "Naval School," as it was then called, to take the senior course. From its founding in 1845 until 1851 the academy was largely influenced by the schools at the navy yards which it had supplanted; though there was a class popularly known as "youngsters," who reported for a year's course immediately after appointment, the chief work p205was with the "oldsters," midshipmen who had been at sea for several years and required instruction in order to pass examinations for promotion. Interesting, since it suggests something of the size and character of the institution, is the superintendent's letter of 12 October, 1848, informing the Department of the reopening of the Naval School on that day:

Twenty‑six midshipmen of the date of 1841 and one of 1846 have reported for duty. Seventeen applicants for admission have also been reported, of whom three have been withdrawn and placed under instruction at St. John's College in this place.

Luce was one the twenty‑six first mentioned. He had originally reported on 1 April, but had been absent on leave during the summer. All together he had a full year of study, supposedly covering algebra, geometry, trigonometry, navigation, astronomy (descriptive and nautical), mechanics, optics, magnetism, electricity, ordnance, gunnery, steam, history, French or Spanish, and English composition. As a matter of fact the examination for which the oldsters were preparing was limited almost entirely to seamanship and navigation; this being known, the elaborate curriculum was commonly not followed with all the thoroughness that might have been desired.

The superintendent of Naval Academy during this year was Commander G. P. Upshur, much more gentle and amiable than most captains and commanders of his time and, as his numerous letters to the Secretary of the Navy revealed, painfully worried by the pranks of his wild midshipmen. In May, 1848 (a month after Luce's reporting), the offense over which Upshur poured out his soul as he wrote to the Secretary was dueling. The fight took place near the battery within p206the walls of the "School Yard," and one of the principals was severely wounded; a probe to the depth of six inches had failed to locate the ball. "This violation of all law, civil, martial, and moral," observed the superintendent, "was committed within the walls of an institution under naval government, and within a few hundred yards of the office and residence of its commanding officer, a fact which, I think, greatly aggravates the offense."

A month later his tale of woe dealt with another duel, this one being fought at Bladensburg, just outside of Washington. In the January following his letters dwelt on two cases of midshipmen who, taking advantage of the long Christmas leave, had drunk so heavily as to be suffering from a severe attack of delirium tremens. As Park Benjamin remarks of the Naval Academy in the forties, it "was not a military institution at all." Discipline was lax, midshipmen did not regularly wear uniforms, and there were no formations or cadet officers. At the outset it was simply a place that afforded facilities to cram for examinations.

In the superintendent's letter book the only times Luce's name appeared were when he reported and when he was detached. He evidently did not rise to fame through escapades.

The first year of the Civil War found Luce a lieutenant in charge of a gun division on the steam frigate Wabash, the flagship of Captain Du Pont in the battle of Port Royal, the best naval engagement of 1861. At the entrance to the deep inlet at this point (twenty‑two miles from Savannah) the Confederates had erected two forts; and to crush them the government had fitted out an imposing expedition of fifty ships, including the transports, with thirteen thousand troops. The odds p207were heavily in favor of the Union fleet, because it struck early before the land works were fully completed. Du Pont's force had been scattered by a storm on the way south, and the means for disembarking the troops having been lost, they were not ready to coöperate; but Du Pont, realizing that each day of delay would enable the Confederates to strengthen their resistance, proceeded to attack the forts with the ships even before some of his number had arrived.

Dividing his fleet into two squadrons, he took the main squadron, consisting of the nine heaviest ships, led by the Wabash, between the forts and into Port Royal Sound; the lighter vessels, designated as the "flanking squadron," accompanied them to the farthest point within the sound and then remained behind to prevent the Confederate gunboat flotilla, which issued from a hiding place in one of the creeks, from delivering an attack as the main squadron turned. Du Pont's plan was to bombard the forts as he slowly steamed past and then, making an ellipse, to return again to the attack. The ships had laid their course near to Fort Walker on the southwest, and, well-nigh smothering by their rapid fire the men who were serving the guns with scant or no protection, in short time had silenced all the pieces. It remained to take possession of the works and then proceed to do the same to Fort Beauregard on the northeast.

The Union losses were slight, but that was because of the strength of the fire delivered by their guns. Luce was in the thick of the fighting and was mentioned with commendation in the report of the commanding officer of the Wabash:

The three gun‑deck divisions of 9‑inch guns, under Lieutenants Upshur, Luce, and Barnes, were commanded by p208those officers in a manner which illustrated the highest power, both of men and guns, and exhibited the greatest effect of manhood and training. I beg leave to commend these officers in terms of the warmest praise, both for skill and conduct. . . .

During more than three fourths of the war Luce was at sea, and for the larger part of this duty he was on this section of the coast, within easy distance of both Savannah and Charleston. Quickly acquiring an accurate knowledge of the waters, he was active in various reconnoitering expeditions. Later, following his promotion to lieutenant commander, he commanded the ironclad Nantucket and the Pontiac. With these he joined in the blockade of Charleston and Savannah, where there was an occasional flash of excitement when a blockade runner attempted to slip past.

Excellent as was Luce's war service, still more important were the three tours of duty he had at the Naval Academy during the sixties. No other officer saw that institution from so many angles during his life as did Luce. This will be seen from the following:

1848‑1849: midshipman student.

1860‑1861: assistant to the commandant and instructor in gunnery.

1862‑1863: head of Department of Seamanship.

1865‑1868: commandant of midshipmen.

1873: member of Board of Examiners.

1901: member of Board of Visitors.

During the summer of 1862 the midshipmen's practice cruise was called upon for double duty. The sloop of war Marion, of which Luce was in command, carrying half the midshipmen, was, with the John Adams, not only to afford the customary drills to the midshipmen but to patrol the North Atlantic waters, stopping to p209examine every ship that might in the least suggest a Confederate privateer. The midshipmen took great delight in firing blank cartridges or an occasional shot across a ship's bow, but they made no captures. In the usummer of 1863 Luce, on his patrol on the sloop of war Macedonian, sailed to England. In Plymouth he was at once notified by the American minister, who was alarmed for the safety of the midshipmen, of a report that a Confederate cruiser was in the vicinity. Luce realized that his old sailing ship was not a match for a fast steam cruiser; nevertheless he viewed the situation not at all as did the representative of the State Department. Sailing at the first opportunity, he disguised the Macedonian by lowering her lofty masts, painting her spars a bright yellow as well as giving her a black hull by eliminating the characteristic broad white stripe on the hull, and finally flying a Spanish flag. He loaded all his guns and, placing sandbags in the muzzles to conceal the absence of tampions, he proceeded to the Bay of Biscay, hoping to lure the unsuspecting Florida or Alabama under his guns. He thought to disable his enemy by a heavy broadside, and had thorough confidence that his young, enthusiastic crew of midshipmen would carry the day; but the practice ship was spared the supreme test of battle.

From his early tours of duty at the Naval Academy as well as at sea Luce had seen the need of a proper textbook on seamanship. Since the forties midshipmen and officers had used Brady's "Kedge-Anchor," but as this was inadequate every intelligent sea dog felt it necessary to supplement it by elaborate notes. No sooner had Luce returned to the Naval Academy for duty in 1862 than he began the much-needed work. The result did not satisfy him; but before the midshipmen p210left on the summer cruise they had a book published in two parts, entitled, "Seamanship: Compiled from Various Authorities for the Use of the United States Naval Academy, Newport, R. I." In the preface Luce commented on its imperfections, owing to haste, and with characteristic modesty he omitted his name from the title-page. Later editions he perfected and enlarged, and he thus gave what for a generation and more was the recognized textbook in its field throughout the navy.

It came to be implicitly followed, saving old and young alike many an awkward blunder. In his history of the Naval Academy Benjamin tells of a midshipman who in his blind confidence went a little too far. He was sailing on a sloop of war and, knowing that he should be on duty as a deck officer, was worried over the possibility of being required to tack ship. However, tearing out the pages in the book that described the operations, he felt he was ready for such an emergency.

Sure enough it came, and boldly he thundered forth his commands, squinting sideways, meanwhile, at the pages concealed in his cloak. The ship with her helm down came well up into the wind.

"Main topsail haul!" he roared, and the after yards flew round.

The next order would bring over the head yards on the new tack and his troubles would be ended. He turned the page, got the wrong one, glanced down, read what he saw instinctively, and to the astonishment of the crew and the fury of his captain shouted, "Let go the starboard anchor!"

Easy-going officers and lazy midshipmen were not overfond of Luce, for there was always something to be done when he was on duty. Not content with doing work required by ship or station routine, in the spirit p211of a game he invented emergencies and called upon junior officers or midshipmen to take charge and save the day. Thus, Rear Admiral F. H. Delano of the class of '67 has related to the author that on a practice cruise their ship ran aground. The consternation of those not in the secret was increased by Luce's turning over to the midshipmen the entire responsibility of getting her off. To them the emergency was a very real one, and they may not have shared the commander's absence of worry; for he knew the character of the soft mud bank that held her and, further, had made sure that the accident should happen during low tide, when a few hours would be sure to release them.

Another of the tasks he imposed was the dismounting of one of the large guns and taking it ashore — a piece of work that required some practical engineering.

The same rear admiral also relates a story showing Luce's handling of discipline in quarters.

Turner was a little fellow, and because he was mischievous he frequently got into trouble. One of the offenses for which he was reported was "Late at formation."

The regulations required that for every report the midshipman must put in a statement. Turner, who always had some excuse, explained that he "hurried but was a little bit lame."

Luce called the midshipman to his office, but instead of making it a grave matter, as some of his younger assistants might have done, dismissed it with, "If you should have any such serious trouble again, I'll send a man with a wheelbarrow for you."

A few days later there was another report made against Turner for the same offense. This time the statement read, "The man with the wheelbarrow who was to have assisted me failed to appear."

p212 Luce probably assigned demerits, but instead of being angry he laughed over Turner's statement.

Admiral Porter was superintendent of the Naval Academy while Commander Luce was commandant of midshipmen. The former heartily approved of sports, and it is not strange that with the encouragement of two such officers modern organized athletics had their beginning at the academy. Benjamin mentions rival baseball clubs formed in the different classes: the "Nautical" of '67, the "Severn" of '68, the "Monitor" of '69, and the "Santee" of '70. Forthwith the drill ground was the scene of hard-fought battles occurring on Saturday afternoons; and some rowing-shells having been secured, the first crews were organized. Further, old Fort Severn was transformed into a gymnasium, weekly hops were held, and before the year was over the first ancestor of the present midshipmen's "Masqueraders" had appeared and had produced two shows. As Benjamin observes, this was a decided change for midshipmen, certain of whom had been disciplined only a year before by a former superintendent when they asked permission to play cricket in Touro Park, Newport, an open square upon which their quarters looked.

Luce was unusually successful with midshipmen and enlisted men because of his warm sympathy and unfailing humor. The following incidents show something of his happy relations.

When Luce was captain, Rear Admiral Archibald H. Scales relates, there was great freedom or carelessness throughout the service in the matter of uniform, and thus it happened that Luce, who had been off on a jaunt in the country and was in somewhat nonregulation dress, overtook one of his young ensigns who was out of uniform. Luce intended at least to get the p213advantage of initiative and at once remarked, "Young man, you're out of uniform."

The ensign, seeing that the captain had a twinkle in his eyes, attempted to give him as good as he had received: "I beg your pardon, captain. I thought I had on the same uniform as you, sir."

"Ah, but there's a difference between us," was the rejoinder. "I have the captain's permission."

The following story is told of one of our younger rear admirals who, on a practice cruise in the eighties, was made aid to Luce, commanding the squadron.

The billet was as new and strange to the midshipman as were most things connected with the navy, and early in the cruise, when the ships came to anchor off Fort Preble, Maine, he inquired what his duties were. Luce, always kindly, referred him to the executive officer, Lieutenant Meigs, who, of course, had charge of all such routine. Meigs, inclined to be a bit stiff, resented the question, answering sarcastically, "Oh, you are here to have a good time, to go ashore and roam about as you please."

The innocent midshipman, not noticing the ridicule, went ashore at the first opportunity and, in his enthusiasm at seeing Portland and New England for the first time, stayed away two days.

On his return he was promptly hauled before Meigs, who sternly inquired into his prolonged absence without leave.

"Oh, sir," answered the midshipman most unaffectedly, "you told me to go ashore as I pleased, and I had a very good time, sir."

This must have reached the ear of Luce. Certainly nothing was done in the punishment of his aid, though Meigs became more explicit in regard to duties. It p214happened that the general commanding the army post not only was an officer of unusual personality himself but had a most attractive home. In consequence there sprang up a warm friendship between army and navy; and as the ships were in the vicinity for some time, Luce visited there frequently and on more than one occasion took his aid with him. The aid, a Southerner by birth, at once discovered that the general had three charming daughters, and though they proved very shy he devoted himself to them with the traditional gallantry of his ancestors. A few days after the aid's visit to Portland, Luce saw him strolling toward the fields with the general's eldest daughter. Calling the young lady to him, Luce, with all seriousness but for a suspicion of a twinkle in his blue-gray eye, gave the warning: "Miss Mary, don't take him where there are any cows. It wouldn't be safe. They'd eat him up."

Fourteen years after the midshipman aid, still persevering in his attentions, succeeded in winning one of the general's daughters. His faith in the training and leading of his admiral proved well founded.

It was not merely during the period of his duty at the Naval Academy, but long after it, as well, that the Luce was regarded as the great teacher of seamanship. The fact that he was the author of the recognized textbook on the subject had, of course, considerable weight, but still more significant was the fact that he was such a surpassingly good seaman himself. He knew exactly what could be expected of a ship; often in entering a harbor he would sail under a full spread of canvas and make a flying mooring, or on leaving he would come about so close as almost to graze another ship at anchor, giving thrills to all who looked on. Knowing the ship, he was merely playing the seaman's game, giving expression p215to the exuberance of his spirits. Others doing the same would have been guilty of wild recklessness.

What the enlisted men thought of Luce was suggested by what Commodore E. B. Underwood related to the author:

As sailors were talking at the gangway an officer caught a fragment spoken by William Pepper, an old‑time quartermaster: "There are three men who know how to sail a ship — there is me, Stephen B. Lewis [as the quartermaster pronounced don't name], and John Lee Davis [later rear admiral] — three of the best seamen the United States has ever produced."

Commodore Underwood years later repeated this to Admiral Luce. The admiral smiled quizzically and remarked: "I remember William Pepper. He was a good seaman."

All, young and old, respect not only the man who can teach but the man who can do. Luce, surpassing in both, raised the tradition of seamanship even higher than ever before.

The seventies and eighties mark the period when the fortunes of the American Navy were at their very lowest ebb. An English writer comments on the sad state of affairs. A service which at the end of the Civil War showed extraordinary strength, with 674 ships (sixty of them ironclads), within a brief fifteen years had declined to the point that when two of the best ships had been sold to France, two to Peru, one burned, and the rest fallen into neglect and decay, it could be said that the United States had not a single efficient battleship. The condition of the navy was not secret, and finally the pleadings of the officers and of the Navy Department prevailed: in 1883 Congress p216authorized a building program, beginning with three modern cruisers. In 1891 three battleships, such as could be compared favorably with any of their time, were laid down — the Indiana, the Oregon, and the Massachusetts. They were to be the strength of the navy in the Spanish-American War.

The same years that saw the navy at its lowest ebb were those that witnessed the highest service of Admiral Luce. He had joined with others in the general movement for modern ships. But what are ships without men? The personnel was weak as well as the matériel. Almost single-handedly Luce began his great work of raising the standard of efficiency of both officers and enlisted men.

His plan for improving enlisted men looked especially to the period of their first training. This he had opportunity to shape, for from 1877 to 1881 he had command of the training ship Minnesota and from 1881 to 1884 command of all apprentice ships. Fortunately at this time and to almost the end of his life Luce used the Service magazine and other periodicals to communicate his ideas, and as he wrote unusually well we have a clear exposition of his theory on the education of the seaman.

The first article of the first number of the Naval Institute Proceedings, published in 1874, was contributed by Captain Luce and was entitled "The Manning of Our Navy and Mercantile Marine." In this he sounds the keynote of much of his later work:

We need for our ships the thorough seaman, with his characteristic devotion to the flag of his country, his contempt for danger, his love of adventure, combined with the carefully trained naval gunner. And, the prejudices of many of our officers to the contrary, we may look to our p217seaman of the future for yet higher qualities, but such as are sure to come by that very course of education which is to give us the best type of a modern man-of‑warsman.

In later articles he outlined with detail the schooling and training the sailor should have. Generalizing, he remarked that the sailor should be educated to be a "complete creature after his kind." He should have schooling in ordinary branches and also technical instruction. To make the latter concrete Luce added the following warning (the italics are his): "Our uneducated seamen will stand no chance against the trained gunners of England and France."

His plan was to train seamen not only for the navy but also for that most essential naval service, the merchant marine; this he felt was necessary at a time when the native American seaman was rapidly disappearing.

In conclusion he urged that Congress should give an allowance for at least a thousand boys over and above the present complement of seamen in the navy, these to be trained for the purpose of becoming seamen and petty officers, and further, that at least three vessels should be commissioned for the carrying out of such an act.

The article bore fruit. About a year later provision was made so that boys might be enlisted and given some of the training Luce had suggested; and in 1881 he very properly was given command of the Training Practice Squadron. Only three of the five ships included in this were "cruising vessels," and they were the honored but ancient sailing craft Constitution, Saratoga, and Portsmouth. But Luce did wonders with them. He made no apology for the obsolete ships, which many officers thought afforded no preparation for duty on steam cruisers. As a matter of fact the p218United States had at that time no modern cruisers; but even when they had come into our navy, Luce regarded the handling of a sailing ship at sea in all weathers as the very best training. The broadsword and the rapier are obsolete as weapons, he remarked by way of analogy, yet constant practice with them and with gloves trains a lad into better command of temper and limbs. He thought the hard physical toil and peril connected with the sailing ship stimulated every faculty.

Luce planned that on enlistment the apprentices should at once get to sea, first on station ships, then on cruising ships. He preferred to have the cruise made to foreign ports, both for the increased interest and for the long voyage required. Speaking of the latter he remarked, "We want blue-water sailors."

At the very beginning of their training he had the apprentices given infantry drill with the constant practice of getting into boats as they went ashore for this purpose. On ship they were taught English grammar, arithmetic, and geography. He wanted the apprentice, however, to be absorbing sea atmosphere at once and accordingly he preferred that the station ship should not even be moored to a wharf:

Thus he [the apprentice] acquires from the very beginning something of the ways of sailors, their mode of expression, habits of thought, manners, customs — the first insight into the technique of his calling. He also learns their stories, their songs, and their traditions.

As would be expected, Luce introduced into the system also the spirit of the game. As he explained:

Mental stimulus is necessary to complete muscular development. . . . A boy gladly expands in a game of baseball p219as much heat and energy as would be required to saw a cord of wood; the latter would disgust him. Men whose sole object is the increase of muscle tissue soon turn with loathing from the treadmill system of the gymnasium; adequate mental stimulus is wanting.

The game was afforded by eager competition. He had the ships cruise singly and then meet for squadron organization with competitive exercises preceding the annual examination. His later plan carried the rivalry farther and proved that the training squadron would act with the North Atlantic Fleet — the whole joining with the War College in a war game that was so vivid as to appeal to the dullest imagination. Enlisted men could grow just as excited as officers in outwitting their opponents and saving New York from attack through Long Island Sound.

Admiral Luce was constantly directing attention to the welfare of the men. One thing to which he gave special thought was mass singing. The ship's band was stimulated by his interest to do its best; and, in addition, he regularly had a singing-master on board ship. The whole had very much of the character of the singing on shipboard and in camp thirty‑six years later in the World War. Luce made the singing bright and jolly, yet it was also serious business with him. He believed, as he later wrote: "Lyric poetry is the most ancient and enduring method of instructing the young and of keeping alive the history and traditions of a nation. It is a great moral force." He gathered together the old songs commemorating our naval victories, obtaining the music in many cases only by diligent and repeated search. Thus the apprentices were taught "The Constitution and the Guerrière," "Paul Jones's Victory," "The Yankee Man of War," etc., "in the hope p220that they would serve in no small degree to cultivate in our young sailors not only a love for their vocation as seamen but also that devotion to their flag which distinguished those who laid the foundation of our naval renown." Also they were taught "Nancy Lee," the brightest, sweetest, and most musical song ever sung at sea. The effort to educate them by drilling them in singing right songs was not altogether successful. Luce was terribly disappointed in coming upon groups of men on liberty who were singing cheap stuff from the dance halls, and not "The Constitution and the Guerrière." But education is a matter of slow growth; and a good plant in the garden is not to be despised, even though a weed, taking root beside it, in a few days has overtopped it.

While Luce was in command of the training squadron his vigorous personality kept every officer and man thoroughly alive. When he was transferred to other duty, he saw this service decline. In 1910 he remarked, probably with a touch of sadness: "The training service culminated in the training squadron of 1883. Notwithstanding years of labor devoted to bringing it to the point of high efficiency, that service has now melted into thin air." Luce held to it that his ideas were sound; and the proof was to follow only a few years later when, as the cloud of the World War grew upon the horizon, prodigious efforts were made to enlarge and improve our personnel, and what was then adopted was very much like the apprentice system which has been described.

Admiral Luce's second notable service to the cause of naval education was the founding of the War College. This is commonly regarded as the great achievement of his life.

p221 In a remarkable paper presented on 4 April, 1883, to the Naval Institute, Newport Branch, Luce pointed out that although the army had the United States Artillery School, established in 1823, followed by two similar schools in other branches, the navy had nothing corresponding. He asserted that the naval officers should possess a knowledge of the science and practice of war.

There were two things he considered quite as important as that we should have strong fighting ships. First, an officer should know how to fight with his own ship and to carry several ships into action — that is, know tactics; secondly, having a certain force he should know how to place it so that it would do the greatest good — that is, know strategy. The latter he made clear by suggesting the futility of a fleet decoyed into the pursuit of a hostile force through the West Indies, and, after taking a few prizes, returning to find Key West in the possession of the enemy. In conclusion he urged the establishment of the Naval War College on Coasters Harbor Island, Newport, Rhode Island, where all accessories were ready without the expenditure of a single penny. It was here that the institution was founded in 1885. Of the way in which it was accomplished Admiral C. F. Goodrich has given this record:

His [Luce's] persistent advocacy of a Naval War College converted the late Rear Admiral John G. Walker, U. S. N., then chief of the Bureau of Navigation, to acceptance and loyal support of Luce's idea. A board was appointed to consider the scheme and to map out a plan for its organization and conduct. Luce was the senior member; Sampson was associated with him, and I brought up the rear as junior and working member. Our report was adopted and the Naval War College, with Luce as its president — the first of its kind in any country in the world — was created.

p222 The idea was not received with favor by most officers. Rear Admiral Delano, who when a lieutenant was a member of the first class, says that his immediate associates "boohooed" it. They had just finished the summer course at the Torpedo Station, Newport; and when they found that instead of having leave they were now scheduled to take a month's course at the War College, they were very unhappy. As they expressed it, they had been "shanghaied" into it. Rear Admiral Fiske, also a lieutenant, says that on being ordered by Luce two years later to attend Mahan's lectures at the College, he did so "with a bad grace," and he remarked on the covert sneers and loud guffaws with which most officers spoke of the new venture; but this feeling was merely the expression of those who had no knowledge of the real character of Luce's inspiration. Thirty years later Admiral Fiske related in "From Midshipman to Rear Admiral" how complete was the change of feeling when progressive officers really understood. Expressing his own intense admiration, akin to reverence, he dedicated the volume just mentioned "To the memory of Rear Admiral Stephen B. Luce, U. S. Navy, who saw the light before others saw it, and led the navies toward it."

Incidental to the founding of the War College and important in Luce's great contributions to the early success of the project was his discovery of Mahan. Mahan had never written a page on naval strategy and had no knowledge of history; yet Luce, with his keen insight, saw that he was the officer to initiate the work in these branches and so impressed him by the progress he outlined that even though Mahan was five thousand miles distant, he drew him to Newport and induced him enthusiastically to begin his study. The result was p223"The Influence of Sea Power upon History," originally given as lectures. These lectures were but the first step in a remarkable career that followed, all in consequence of Luce's suggestion.

As for the War College, for years it had its ups and downs; and when, three years after its founding, the Secretary of the Navy frowned upon it and ordered its consolidation with the Torpedo Station at Newport, friends became despondent. In 1893 Secretary of the Navy Herbert visited Newport with the firm idea of making an end to the College; but as he was a man open to conviction, an examination of what it had accomplished compelled him to change his mind, and instead of blotting it out he gave it back its former independence with a new and more commodious building on Coasters Harbor Island.

If Admiral Luce's idea required any further testing to show its practical value, history afforded it during the two wars since the War College was founded. In the Spanish-American War Captain Mahan, former president of the College, was selected as a member of a board of three in strategy and operations; and in the World War Admiral Sims,a then president of the College, was given the command of American naval forces operating in European waters.

The war game, as played on the huge map at the War College and, in a more practical way, by making the ships of the fleet go through extensive evolutions and simulate real fighting, is now well known, but it had never been tried in our navy till Luce introduced it. The idea, borrowed from some of the European nations, was developed and adapted by Lieutenant William McCarty Little and made a part of the College curriculum.

p224 When it came to fleet evolutions the government could not place in commission the required number of battleships; then Luce proposed that problems in naval tactics should be worked out by steam launches and had twelve sent to the College for that purpose. It was next discovered that the requisite number of machinists and firemen could not be furnished. But Luce would not give up the plan and at one time considered in all seriousness, he says, placing on the parade ground twelve seamen, each supplied with a wheelbarrow, to go through the evolutions of a fleet. Others might have submitted to the inevitable, but Luce held to his idea, and the War College and the North Atlantic Fleet gained a practical knowledge of tactics.

Previously ships had been operating singly; and when Luce attempted squadron maneuvers it was at first hard to get them into station. Later, ships became so much more skillful that they were able to keep their position in a close column. Luce, commenting on it, remarked, "Why, now whenever I stick my head out of my port, I have to look out for a flying‑jib boom."

Admiral Fiske, speaking of the way in which Luce, when commanding the fleet, had the officers going all the time, said that in addition to requiring them to attend lectures he kept them continually steaming out to sea to hold tactical evolutions, then going into port for night exercises, sham attacks, landing parties, and marches. "Luce could never be quiet himself or let anybody else be quiet. We admired him intensely because we realized his extraordinary intelligence, his professional knowledge and skill, and his force of character."

As an example of how Admiral Luce could infuse life even into a perfunctory inspection of ship, the following p225was related to the author by Rear Admiral Delano, at the time a lieutenant and the navigating officer of the Ossipee.

The ships of the squadron, which had been at various stations, were now assembled and were on their way north from Key West, some of them under sail.

At eleven o'clock there came a signal from the admiral to the Ossipee, "When will you be ready for inspection?"

Several of the ships had already been inspected in port. Inspection at sea was uncommon. The executive and navigating officers happened to be on the bridge with the captain, and thinking the proposal was a bluff they persuaded him to reply, "Ready today."

The answer came back, "Will be on board at one o'clock."

Shortly before that time the squadron hove to, and the admiral with his staff (who did not particularly like it) rowed a mile and came aboard.

The men entered into the spirit of the inspection and never did better. After a general examination of the ship, following the admiral's orders they "went to battle."

When things had run rather smoothly for a while, Luce exclaimed: "It is going pretty hard with us. Captain and first lieutenant gone! Who's that young man?" pointing to an ensign. "Send for him. Mr. [image ALT: an underscored blank], you're in command. We've had pretty hard luck. Captain, executive officer, navigator, all killed! Wheel shot away! You take charge."

At this point Delano, excited by hearing that their wheel had been smashed by an 11‑inch shot, called out, "Lead out your relieving tackles."

Luce interposed: "You can't give any orders. You're dead."

p226 When the ensign showed he could carry on, the admiral had him in turn killed, and ordered the gun captains to take charge. It was all highly satisfactory, and the admiral, as much pleased as any of the officers and crew, stayed until six o'clock.

Influenced by the soundness of the principles upon which the Naval War College was founded, the United States Army War College was established in 1901. In England, as J. S. Corbett, professor of history at the Royal Naval War College, writes, their beginning was not made until 1900: "It was simply decided to establish experimentally at the Royal Naval War College, Greenwich, a 'War Course' for captains and commanders, designed broadly on the lines of the American War College."

Furthermore, the German War College, Naval War College of Japan, and the French Naval College were established. As Fiske said, Admiral Luce "led the navies."

A full discussion of the work of Luce would include also his studies on "Naval Administration," for he saw that in time of emergency the civilian Secretary of the Navy had eight bureaus, but nothing to guide him in unifying them as might be demanded in preparing for war or in actual hostilities. The idea was not popular at the time; yet before the World War the General Board, the Secretary's Advisory Council, and the Chief of Naval Operations had been created to meet the very need that Luce had pointed out.

He was regularly retired because of age in 1889, but such an officer and man could not rest in inactivity, and the government could not spare him. Again and again he was given special duty at the War College and elsewhere until 1910, when he had sixty-nine years of service in the navy and was eighty-three years old.

p227 Luce may be compared with Macdonough in the beauty and strength of his inner life. Religion with him was carefully followed in its external forms; but it meant vastly more than this, for it supplied the motive power, and he did not hesitate to help others by the same strength. When he had no chaplain on board ship he himself conducted divine service, and it was no repetition of empty forms as he read the prayers. Those who knew him best said that he had the simple trusting faith of a child.

Two buildings at the Naval Academy in turn have been named for him, a double honor paid to no other officer. When the building designed for the Department of Seamanship (containing also the gymnasium) was completed, it was given his name, even though at the time Luce was still living; and when, some years later during the World War, the academy was enlarged for the greatly increased number of midshipmen and seamanship was moved to a new home, there was no other name that could be suggested for the new hall, and so the name Luce was transferred with the department.

Stephen Bleecker Luce stands foremost in our navy as the great seaman and teacher of seamanship. He was the educator of both officers and men. He accomplished much by his unique and inspiring personality. In a time of stagnation, when other officers were pessimistic and inclined to accept conditions as they were, Luce set to work to improve them. By his unfailing activity and hopefulness he induced these qualities in others. He had ideals and inspired those about him with his ideals. He prayed, and his prayers were answered. He lived to be ninety years old, and the influence of his life still goes on.


Thayer's Note:

a William Sims is the subject of Chapter XIV.


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