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Chapter 8

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Admiral Franklin Buchanan

by
Charles Lee Lewis


published by
The Norman, Remington Company
Baltimore
1929

The text is in the public domain.

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and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Chapter 10
This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

 p92 

Chapter IX

This is the Middies' School

After the founding of the Military Academy at West Point in 1802, many attempts were made to induce Congress to establish a similar institution for the navy. Party opposition, false economy, the feeling that naval officers could not be properly trained on shore, and the difficulty in agreeing on a suitable location for the school defeated the proposition from time to time; however, through the urgent recommendation of President John Quincy Adams, the measure failed of becoming law in 1827 by only one vote in the Senate. The supporters of the idea of a naval school continued to keep the question alive; and ten years later, particularly helpful in crystallizing public sentiment in its favor were the articles by Matthew Fontaine Maury in the Richmond Whig and Public Advertiser in 1838 and his "Scraps from the Lucky Bag" which appeared in the Southern Literary Messenger during the years 1840 and 1841.​a

When George Bancroft, a profound scholar and cultured gentleman, became Secretary of the Navy in 1845 during the administration of President James K. Polk, he took steps toward the establishment of a naval school without troubling Congress with the problem. His plan was to have Fort Severn at Annapolis transferred from  p93 the War Department to the Navy, and to assemble there the midshipmen and a corps of instructors. The latter were to be selected from the officers of the navy and the score or more of professors available either at sea or at the four important naval stations in Boston, New York, Norfolk, and Philadelphia. Bancroft gained the cooperation of the navy by asking the advice of the board of officers which had convened June 2, 1845 to examine midshipmen entitled to promotion. This board was composed of Commanders George C. Read, Thomas ap Catesby Jones, and Matthew C. Perry, and Captains E. A. F. Lavallette and Isaac Mayo. They reported favorably for Annapolis as a site, and committed themselves to the support of such a school. Commanders Buchanan, McKean, and Du Pont were then chosen as a special board, representing the younger element in the navy, to recommend a site for the school; and they also chose Fort Severn at Annapolis.

On August 7, the Secretary wrote Buchanan a letter, which has sometimes been referred to as "the charter of the Naval Academy", putting on record his views as to the ways and means of founding the institution. He had by this time chosen Buchanan as the first Superintendent, though he was not officially appointed until August 14. The letter closed with the following:

Having thus expressed to you some general views, I leave you, with such assistance as you may require, to prepare and lay before this Department, for its approbation, a plan for the organization of the Naval School at Fort Severn, Annapolis. The posts to which you and those associated with you will be called are intended to be posts of labor, but they will also be posts of the highest usefulness and consideration. To yourself, to whose diligence and care  p94 the organization of the school is intrusted, will belong in a good degree the responsibility of a wise arrangement. Do not be discouraged by the many inconveniences and difficulties which you will certainly encounter, and rely implicitly on this Department as disposed to second and sustain you under the law in every effort to improve the character of the younger branch of the service."

Just one week later Buchanan submitted to the Secretary his plan. In the letter accompanying it he wrote, "Feeling sensibly the importance of the trust confided to me, after mature reflection, a close examination of the reports in relation to this subject from officers of high rank in the navy, professors, and others, placed in my hands by the Department, and with the aid of Commanders McKean and Du Pont, the former of whom was so successful in his government of the Naval Asylum while the school was there held, I respectfully present for your consideration the inclosed plan, embracing, I believe, generally, the views expressed in your letter of the 7th instant".

Accompanying the letter was the following plan, as first devised by Buchanan:

The Superintendent is to be appointed by Secretary of the Navy from the list of captains and commanders. The Superintendent will have the immediate government of the institution, will be responsible for its management, direct all academic duties, and command all professors and others connected with the school. He will frame a code of rules and regulations for the internal government of the school, to be submitted to the Secretary of the Navy for his approval.

"Professors and instructors are to be selected from the list of lieutenants, chaplain,º professors, passed midshipmen, and teachers in the navy.

 p95  "Professors, under the orders of the Superintendent, will constitute a board for the transaction of business, will conduct the examinations during the course, decide on the merits of the midshipmen, report on the system of instruction, and suggest any improvements or alterations which experience may dictate.

"Every applicant for admission to the school must be of good moral character, not less than thirteen nor more than sixteen years of age; be examined by the surgeon of the institution to ascertain if he be free from all deformity, deafness, nearness or other disease of sight, disease or infirmity of any kind which would disqualify him from performing the active arduous duties of a sea‑life. He must be able to read and write well, and be familiar with geography and arithmetic. The academic board will examine him on these branches and certify to his capacity for admission into the school.

"When an acting midshipman receives his appointment, he is to be attached to the naval school, subject to exigencies of the service. At the expiration of one year, should his conduct and proficiency meet the approbation of the Superintendent and Academic Board, he will be retained in service and sent to sea. After performing sea‑duty for six months, and receiving a favorable report of his conduct during that time from his commander, he will be entitled to a warrant bearing the date of his acting appointment. Otherwise he will be dropped from the lists and returned to his friends.

"A midshipman after serving three years at sea, as now required, and having received a short leave of absence, at the discretion of the Department, to visit his friends, will report, at its expiration, to the Naval School to pursue his course of studies preparatory to  p96 his final examination. All midshipmen on shore, not on leave, will be ordered to the Naval School.

"The course of studies will include English grammar and composition, arithmetic, geography, and history, gunnery and the use of steam, Spanish and French languages, and such other branches desirable in the accomplishment of a naval officer as circumstances may render practicable.

"The professors will be required to keep records of all the recitations, and report weekly to the Superintendent the progress and relative merit of the students. From these weekly reports the Superintendent will make quarterly reports to the Secretary of the Navy. Classes will be arranged according to the acquirements and capacity of the midshipmen. The final examinations for promotion will embrace all the branches taught at the school.

"All midshipmen at the Naval School must provide themselves with such books as are necessary to pursue their studies, a quadrant, their uniform, and bedding.

"A sloop of war or brig may be connected with the institution as a school of practice in seamanship, evolutions, and gunnery.

"The board annually appointed under the regulations of the navy for the examination of midshipmen for promotion are to inspect generally the management of the institution, and report to the Secretary of the Navy on its condition and the means of improving it."

Any one familiar with the organization and routine of the Naval Academy at the present day will note how closely the fundamental principles of Buchanan's original plan are still followed in this great institution of  p97 learning. This plan, with slight revisions​1 by the Secretary, was approved by him on August 28, and put into operation at once. Meanwhile, on August 15, Fort Severn had been officially transferred from the War Department to that of the Navy, and Buchanan was authorized by Bancroft to make all arrangements necessary for taking possession of the station.

An interesting description of Fort Severn and its adaptability as a naval school is given in Niles' National Register of January 31, 1846, as follows:

"Fort Severn is situated on the Chesapeake Bay, at the junction of the river Severn with the harbor of Annapolis, and commands a view of the commerce of Baltimore which passes this point, also of a roadstead much frequented in heavy weather by vessels of all classes. This circumstance is important as tending to keep alive nautical associations and the lessons of experience. The inclosure of the post is by a brick wall, and comprises an area of about ten acres. In an angle of the water front stands the battery, which is a small circular rampart, mounting en barbette ten heavy guns, and is provided with a magazine and a furnace for heating shot. The houses formerly occupied by the commandant and subalterns of the post afford ample accommodations for the Superintendent, and most of the other officers of the institution. The midshipmen are made very comfortable in frame buildings which were in use for various purposes of the post, and are put in good repair for the accommodation of the present occupants. Each room contains from three to eight midshipmen, according to its size. Two large barrack-rooms serve excellently well for recitation halls, and the two  p98 rooms of equal size below are used, one for a kitchen, the other for a mess hall. In this hall meals are served in the best naval style by the steward well known in the service — Darius King. "​2

There is evidence, however, that this account somewhat exaggerates the comforts of the buildings of the new school. Iron camp-bedsteads, deal chairs, and pine tables constituted the furniture for the midshipmen, — bureaus being supplied only at the expense of those wishing them to that extent. The rooms, at night, were but dimly lighted by tallow candles, and in winter the poorly fitted doors and windows of the rickety buildings let in entirely too much cold air for comfort. Even "Apollo Row," the frame barracks with four compartments, which received its name from its supposedly superior excellence,​b was a ramshackle building whose doors and windows allowed rain, snow, and wintry winds to enter freely. Midshipman Edward Simpson declared that the rain was more objectionable than the snow "as the temperature we are able to sustain in winter with one grate fire was not sufficiently high to melt the snow".​3

The other quarters for the midshipmen also had fanciful names. The frame two‑story barracks was  p99 called "Rowdy Row" on the first floor, because of the hilarious occupants; while the second story went by the name of "Poplar Row", derived from a Lombardy poplar tree which shaded the building in summer. A small brick building of one story was dubbed "Brandywine Cottage" because its occupants had recently made a cruise around the Horn in the frigate Brandywine.​c The room nearest the river, in this cottage, went by the name of "Buzzard's Roost". Eight midshipmen occupied the former gun‑shed, standing against the north wall, which came to be known as "The Abbey" to indicate the quiet studious nature of its inmates; but it came to be known eventually that the quietness of the place was due to a hole which had been made in the wall to allow easy access to the city of Annapolis. In another shed, formerly the blacksmith shop, dwelt some of the most fluent of speech, who caused their quarters to be called the "Gas House".

The other buildings were used as a mess hall and kitchen, and as quarters for the Superintendent and his teaching staff. The "Commandant's Quarters" became the residence of Commander Buchanan and his family. This was a beautiful colonial mansion, built not later than the year 1751; it remained the official home of the Superintendent of the Naval Academy until the present day buildings were erected early in the twentieth century.​d The other buildings, however, in a few years either underwent extensive alterations or were replaced by more commodious buildings.​4

The Naval School was formally opened on October 10, 1845. According to the National Intelligencer, "At  p100 eleven o'clock, A.M. the officers, professors, and midshipmen assembled in one of the recitation houses, and were impressively and feelingly addressed by the Superintendent, Commander Franklin Buchanan, who also read and illustrated, with proper commentary, the Rules and Regulations he had prescribed for the government of the school; and he concluded the ceremony by reading a letter from the Secretary of the Navy to him, disclosing distinctly and lucidly his views and purposes in regard to the organization and conduct of the school."

Buchanan as a "man of inflexible will and a stern disciplinarian"​5 is clearly indicated in his short address delivered on this occasion, from which the following extract will serve as an illustration:

"Your morals and general character are strictly inquired into; it is therefore expected that you will improve every leisure moment in the acquirement of a knowledge of your profession, and you will recollect that a good moral character is essential to your high standing in the navy. By carefully avoiding the first step towards intemperance, shunning the society of the dissolute and idle, and by cherishing the wish to deserve and the hope of receiving the approbation of your country, you can alone render yourself able to occupy with honor the high standing in the navy to which many of you are destined."

One of the midshipmen, who were present, afterwards declared that address, delivered in the sharp vigorous tones peculiar to Buchanan, had the ring of a general order read on the quarter-deck of a frigate just before going into battle. It was understood at once that the stern will of a disciplinarian, well known in the service for this reason, was to carry the day, and that  p101 the duty of receiving instruction was to be fulfilled with the same scrupulous care as any other duty in the service.

The "Rules and Regulations for the Internal Government of the Naval School", read to the midshipmen at this formal opening of the school, are also of particular interest in showing how far Buchanan went in formulating a policy that has continued to be followed in the administration of the Naval Academy down to the present time. Though extremely interesting, these rules have not, it seems, heretofore been published.​6 They were eighteen in number, as follows:

"Article 1st. All laws and regulations for the government of the navy are to be strictly observed by every person attached to the school.

"Article 2. All regulations for the internal government and discipline of the school, issued from time to time by the Superintendent, must be strictly observed and obeyed.

"Article 3. All officers are required to observe towards each other a polite respectful deportment.

"Article 4. Officers having cause of complaint against any person connected with the school will make known such cause to the Superintendent.

"Article 5. No person will be excused from the performance of his duties on the plea of sickness unless so excused by the surgeon.

"Article 6. A midshipman will be detailed daily as 'Officer of the Day' whose duty it will be to carry into effect any orders he may receive from the Superintendent;  p102 his duties will commence at 8 A.M. and continue until 10:30 P.M.; he will occupy Office No. 1 at the gate, and not absent himself from there longer than his duties render it necessary; he will, when applied to visitors by and strangers, give any information required respecting the institution or persons connected with it. The watchman will be under his orders and will assist him in executing the orders of the Superintendent. He will occasionally walk through the yard and see that no improprieties are committed by any one; he is not to visit any of the midshipmen's rooms during the day while on duty as 'Officer of the Day'; he will at 10:30 P.M. see all lights and fires extinguished in the recitation halls, mess room, kitchen, and midshipmen's rooms and report same; the watchman will accompany him to extinguish the fires and lights; he will keep a record of the weather, and note the thermometer at the hours of 8 A.M., Meridian, and 8 P.M.; he will also mention on the 'Record Book' the number of mechanics and others employed from day to day, and insert the names of all visitors to the institution in the 'Visitors' Register'. A watchman will remain at the gate during the meal hours of the 'Officer of the Day'.

"Article 7. As obedience and subordination are essential to the purposes of the school, all midshipmen are required to obey the commands of the Professors. The strictest attention to order and study is required in the recitation halls, and no midshipman is allowed to absent himself from the room without permission from a Professor, and then only for a few minutes.

"Article 8. The Professors are not permitted to exercise any discretionary power in excusing the students  p103 for absence from recitation or tardiness, but will report all such cases to the Superintendent.

"Article 9. The Professors are required to keep records of all recitations and report weekly to the Superintendent the progress and relative merit of the students, and the absences and all other delinquencies of which they are guilty. From these weekly reports the Superintendent will make a quarterly report to the Secretary of the Navy.

"Article 10. The Professors are held responsible for the regularity and good order of their respective classes while under their immediate instruction.

"Article 11. No midshipman shall bring or cause to be brought within the limits of the school any wine, porter, or other intoxicating or spirituous liquors.

"Article 12. Smoking cigars is prohibited in any of the midshipmen's rooms, recitation halls, or mess rooms.

"Article 13. No midshipman shall cook or prepare food in his room, or give any entertainment without permission of the Superintendent.

"Article 14. No meals are to be furnished to midshipmen in their rooms except in cases of sickness, and then only by the surgeon's order.

"Article 15. No midshipman is permitted to go beyond the limits of the Institution without permission from the Superintendent, or officer in charge during his absence. A violation of this order will not go unpunished.

"Article 16. It is the duty of all officers, professors, and midshipmen attached to the Institution, who are knowing to any violation of the internal rules and regulations, or to any crime, irregularity, neglect, or other improper conduct committed by any person connected  p104 with the Institution to report the same to the Superintendent.

"Article 17. The midshipmen attached to the Naval School are not only required to abstain from all vicious, immoral, or irregular conduct, but they are enjoined to conduct themselves with the propriety and decorum of gentlemen.

"Article 18. The students are cautioned and desired not to mark, cut or in any manner deface or injure the public buildings or property of any kind. "​7

In commenting on the opening of the Naval School, an Annapolis paper​8 reported, "We learn that the school is being organized with all the rapidity consistent with methodical arrangement. The various buildings have been repaired and surprisingly improved, considering the small expenditures and the brief time allowed, especially the quarters allotted to the midshipmen; and the professors are busily employed in classifying the sailor-students agreeably to grade, merit, and the nature of the prescribed studies. About forty 'young gentlemen' have already reported themselves, whose handsome appearance and gentlemanly deportment give a cheerful aspect to the streets of our quiet city, and elicit universal admiration."

The academic departments and members of the teaching staff were as follows: Lieutenant James H. Ward, executive officer and instructor in gunnery and steam; Professor William Chauvenet, instructor in mathematics and navigation; Professor Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Henry H. Lockwood, instructor in natural philosophy; Chaplain George  p105 Jones, instructor in English studies which comprised geography and history as well as English; Professor Arsene N. Girault,​9 instructor in French; Surgeon John A. Lockwood, instructor in chemistry; and Passed Midshipman Samuel Marcy, assistant instructor in mathematics.

The following textbooks were adopted for the use of the midshipmen: Davies' "Arithmetic", Bourdon's "Algebra", Legendre's "Geometry", Pierce's "Trigonometry", Maury's "Navigation", Bowditch's "Navigator", Ward's "Ordnance and Steam Manual", Peschel's "Elements of Physic" (superseded in 1846 by Olmstead's "Compendium of Natural Philosophy"), Fownes' "Chemistry", R. C. Smith's "English Grammar on the Productive System", R. G. Parker's "Aids to English Composition", Tytler's "Elements of History: Ancient and Modern", Girault's "French Guide" and "Colloquial Exercises", Picot's "Narrations", Bodmar's "French Tables", and Meadow's "French Dictionary".​10

The midshipmen were divided into two classes, Junior and Senior.​e The daily routine of recitations began at nine o'clock in the morning and lasted until five in the afternoon, with an intermission of one hour and a half at midday for dinner and recreation. Another similar period for recreation and supper extended from five to half past six, and this was followed by three hours and a half of evening study. In the Junior Class, the time was devoted particularly to mathematics, English, and French, with only one hour a week to gunnery;  p106 while the Senior Class laid more stress upon mathematics, physics, and French, with an hour each per week given to English, chemistry, and gunnery. The unusual feature of this program, as compared to the present day routine at the Naval Academy, was the absence in the beginning of military drill, and the unusually large amount of time given by both classes to French which was specifically allotted three hours for study and recitation every afternoon except Saturday.

By the first of January, there were at the Naval School fifty‑six midshipmen, of whom thirty‑six were of the "1840 Date" (the year they received their warrants), thirteen of the "1841 Date", and seven newly appointed. The latter had to pass entrance examinations, the first of which was held on October 16, 1845 by a committee composed of Lieutenant Henry H. Lockwood and Professor William Chauvenet. The candidates were examined in reading, writing, orthography, and the elements of geography, English grammar, and arithmetic. The number of midshipmen varied constantly, as the demands of the service made it necessary for some to leave the school and others to replace them, from time to time; consequently, according to Buchanan's first quarterly report of January 30, 1846, he declared that eighty-five midshipmen had been ordered to the school since its opening. In this report, which was on the whole favorable, he asked that a sloop of war be attached as a practice vessel in seamanship and gunnery; but it was not until late in the summer of 1851 that such a vessel, the Preble, was assigned to the school for this purpose.

The following estimate of expenses for the Naval School, made out by Buchanan for the month of June,  p107 1846, is of interest when compared with the large sums necessary at present to keep the institution going: "One commander at $2500 per annum — $212.12; one lieutenant and one surgeon — $254.38; four professors at $1200 each — $406.84; one passed midshipman at $750 — $63.49; one secretary at $900 — $76.23; one carpenter at $700 — $59.25; sixty-five midshipmen for fifteen days (vacation began the middle of the month) — $921.70; total, $1994.01. Contingent expenses, laborers, and four watchmen — total $518.99 plus $77.25 (for materials)".

The discipline at the school presented no serious problem until the latter part of November, 1845, when a midshipman was reported to the Secretary of the Navy for disrespect and insubordination to one of the professors, who was fully sustained by Buchanan and Secretary Bancroft, the latter administering a severe rebuke to the offender. That Buchanan's sternness was often tempered with proper consideration appears from the following sentence in the Secretary's letter to the offending midshipman: ". . . It is to his (Buchanan's) lenity in suggesting a more indulgent course that you are indebted for a punishment milder in degree, but sufficiently severe when inflicted on any one possessing a proper sense of self-respect".

Early in the following year, however, Buchanan began to have considerable trouble with drunkenness among the midshipmen. Between February 17 and April 4, it was necessary to court-martial five midshipmen for this offense, which Buchanan treated with the same severity at the Naval School as he had previously on shipboard. He was fully supported by Secretary Bancroft, who wrote to the first midshipman dismissed  p108 for drunkenness: "No drunkard should be tolerated in the navy. The School is not to be a hospital for incurables, but a school for selected young men."

The midshipmen found various ways of amusing themselves without violating the rules and regulations. One of these avenues to boisterous fun and frolic was afforded by the organization of clubs. The most noteworthy of these was the "Spirit Club", which went to town every Saturday night to eat terrapin and oysters and drink whiskey punch at a tavern on Main Street, kept by a colored man named Harry Matthews. There were only nine members of the club, of which there was a Grand Master whose particular duty it was, at each meeting, to sing the Spirit Song and then mix the punch, the ingredients of which were known only to the members. The last part of their song went as follows:

"Still, still, let every heart

Beat as now with merry glee,

E'en when Time shall bid us part

To wander o'er the stormy sea.

And as fleeting years pass by

And we meet perchance as now,

Still may gladness light each eye,

And beam on every brow.

Chorus:

Then fill, fill yet once again,

And as we pass the merry jest,

Be each sparkling cup we drain

To her we love the best!"

The members​11 of this club enjoyed a very good reputation,  p109 and it is claimed that the Superintendent never had to omit one of them when granting the usual weekly permissions for visiting Annapolis.

There was another club known as the "Ballsegurs", who were much more rowdy. They were supposed to be the ones who whitewashed the government horse, put tar on the clapper of the school bell, fired the signal gun at midnight, and performed other pranks as ingenious as they were exasperating. Such exploits always brought forth a "war speech" from Superintendent Buchanan and swift punishment too when the offenders could be identified. Duels are reported to have been fought between the members of this club, at old Ft. Madison across the Severn River from the school, Fortunately, they always returned to breakfast unhurt after those early morning excursions; but a steadier hand might have done great harm to the reputation of the infant institution.

Buchanan and his wife being so well known and so highly esteemed by the people of Annapolis, the social relations between the school and the town were most pleasant from the beginning. The best families of Annapolis received the midshipmen freely into their homes, and in January, 1846, those of the '40 Date returned these courtesies by giving a ball in the recitation building and serving refreshments in the mess hall. It was considered a notable success, and became an annual event of great social importance.

In the early spring of the same year a theatrical performance was given by this class in the old theatre on Duke of Gloucester Street. The play selected for presentation was Bulwer-Lytton's "Lady of Lyons". Careful preparations were made and every precaution  p110 taken to insure the success of the performances; for example, resolutions were passed strictly forbidding the bringing of intoxicants behind the scenes. On the eventful evening, the house was crowded to its fullest capacity; and the midshipmen did full justice to the play and the occasion. The hero, the fop, the villain, the beau sabreur, the charming widow Melnotte frequently elicited tremendous applause. But the bright particular star was the heroine, played by Bainbridge Hays,​12 whose fair complexion, sparkling eyes, small hands and feet, and grace of person enabled him to play his part with rare perfection. They were so successful that the company were easily persuaded to repeat the performance. But the former restriction regarding the use of stimulants in the green room was not renewed, and as the play progressed there was the sound of a cork being extracted from a bottle from behind the scenes and not long afterwards the actors appeared to become entirely too animated both in speech and gesture. Perhaps, only the timely exhaustion of the supply of stimulants saved this second performance from turning into a farce in more ways than one.

So went the first year at the Naval School, with fun and frolic mingled with serious study, with success and honor to some and failure and disgrace to a few others. The only considerable intermission was the two weeks' vacation at Christmas time. The school year came to a close with the first annual examination, held in June, 1846 by a Board of Examiners composed of Commodores Lawrence Kearny and Matthew C. Perry, and Captains  p111 McKeever, McCauley, and Mayo. During this examination week Secretary Bancroft also came to Annapolis to inspect the school. The Board assembled on June 20th, and the exercises were opened with prayer by Chaplain Jones, — a rather appropriate preliminary for such an ordinal. Written examinations were given in the presence of the Board in all subjects except seamanship, in which midshipmen were questioned orally. Twelve of the midshipmen were found unworthy of passing. This Board also reported that new buildings and apparatus were needed for the school; and by placing eleven out of the twenty‑two schoolmasters in the navy on waiting orders Secretary Bancroft, with the consent of Congress, was able to use the funds thus secured in making alterations and other necessary arrangements for accommodating one hundred midshipmen. During the summer vacation, extending from July 10 to October 10, Buchanan set to work erecting a new building to be used for a kitchen, dining-hall, and atheneum, laying the foundation for a hospital, enlarging the chaplain's quarters, and making other minor improvements.

On October 12, the Naval School opened for its second year, with a somewhat better equipment. Meanwhile Bancroft had been appointed Minister to Great Britain, and was succeeded as Secretary of the Navy by John V. Mason who continued the policy of his predecessor and fully supported Buchanan in his administration of the affairs of the school. The Superintendent was confronted with all sorts of problems, some of which were amusing like the one set forth in the following letter which thirty-eight midshipmen addressed to Secretary Mason: "Sir, — We the undersigned midshipmen  p112 of the Naval School at Annapolis respectfully request permission to wear our beards, with the exception of that portion of it upon the upper lip". Buchanan gravely forwarded their request with this comment: "The inclosed communication from a number of the midshipmen attached to the school I respectfully forward to you at their request. As I deem the order of the Department​13 regulating whiskers to be a very proper one, I cannot recommend the petition to your favorable consideration". Needless to say, the midshipmen's request was not granted by the Secretary.

The long expected war with Mexico began April 24, 1846, and on May 14 following Buchanan requested orders for "immediate active service at sea". This was refused by Bancroft, who wrote in part, "Were it not for the important business in which you are at present engaged, you would be one of the first on whom the Department would call". At this time, fifty‑six midshipmen made application for active service, and at the close of the term most of them went to sea. On February 2, 1847, Buchanan renewed his application for sea duty in the Gulf of Mexico, and on March 2 he was ordered to command the Germantown, though he was not detached from the Naval School until March 8. Lieutenant Ward became the temporary superintendent, until later in the same month Commodore George P. Upshur was appointed to succeed Buchanan.

Buchanan's service to the country in assisting Bancroft so ably in founding the Naval School, and in  p113 organizing it on sound principles was fully recognized by contemporary public opinion. "All parties of that day, the Secretary of the Navy, the public journalists, and others", writes Marshall,​14 "bear testimony to the skill, ability, and success with which he discharged the difficult duties of his office". The Nautical Magazine, in semi-prophetic vein, stated early in Buchanan's administration, "The police and discipline of the establishment are conducted by the Superintendent in person, with the tone, system, and energy for which he is distinguished. Aided by the zealous efforts of those having charge of the various branches of instruction, he has already given to the institution a consolidated character which would render it difficult for an observer to detect evidences of its recent origin. Under his administration of affairs, its friends may look with confidence for such development of usefulness from year to year as eventually to produce results which will equal the wants and expectations of the navy, and will stand as a monument of honor to the Secretary by whose patriotic, zealous, and judicious efforts it has been founded".​15


The Author's Notes:

1 For the plan in its final form, see James Russell Soley's Historical Sketch of the United States Naval Academy, pp56‑58.

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2 He was usually called, by the midshipmen, "King Darius". It is related that, on one occasion, the Superintendent complained at the large amount of eggs which the midshipmen seemed to be consuming. Whereupon Darius swore that Midshipman Ochiltree had eaten twenty eggs one day, and furthermore that almost all the midshipmen wanted them soft when they were hard and vice versa. This caused an order to be promulgated to the effect that only two soft-boiled eggs were to be furnished to each midshipman a day. Darius had great difficulty in calculating the average amount of food needed to supply the boundless appetites of the midshipmen, even at the liberal rate of $12 per month. His alternate fits of economy and extravagance threw his accounts and estimates into wild confusion and finally involved him in financial ruin.

Thayer's Note: Further details on King are given in "The Founding of the Naval Academy by Bancroft and Buchanan", United States Naval Institute Proceedings 61:1381; and David Ochiltree of the bodybuilder's high-protein diet is otherwise notable for having been the first midshipman to have been officially reprimanded for insubordination, ib., p1373: his case is the one mentioned by our author on p107, although without giving his name.
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3 Park Benjamin's "The United States Naval Academy", p161.

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4 For further details regarding the buildings of Fort Severn, see Soley, pp123 et seq.

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5 Ibid., p61.

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6 Those appearing in Soley, p241 et seq. were the revised and enlarged regulations, approved by Secretary Bancroft, August 28, 1846.

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7 Supplemental Volume, Officers' Letters, 1844‑45, p143 (Naval Records and Library, Navy Department.)

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8 The Maryland Republican, as quoted in Niles' National Register, October 18, 1845.

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9 His appointment read "Agent of the Navy to teach French"; he was not commissioned until August, 1848.

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10 Books used a little later were Johnson's "Chemistry", Bartlett's "A Treatise on Optics", Herschel's "Astronomy", and Renwick's "Elements of Mechanics".

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11 They were Edward Simpson (Grand Master), Richmond Aulick, James B. McCauley, Edward C. Stout, Charles W. Aby, John W. Bennett, William Nicholson Jeffers, William D. Austin, and Frederick B. Brand.

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12 The other members of the cast were Edward Simpson, J. P. Wheelock, J. B. McCauley, W. N. Jeffers, J. B. Smith, G. V. Denniston, R. B. Lowry, W. H. Weaver, L. Paulding, and Harry Porter (prompter).

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13 This order was as follows: "The hair of all persons belonging to the navy, when in actual service, is to be kept short. No part of the beard is to be worn long excepting whiskers, which shall not descend more than one inch below the tip of the ear and thence in a line toward the corners of the mouth".

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14 Edward Chauncey Marshall's "History of the United States Naval Academy" (1862), pp87, 88.

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15 Quoted in Niles' National Register, January 31, 1846.


Thayer's Notes:

a Online, we have the full set of Maury's articles in the Southern Literary Messenger, "Scraps from the Lucky Bag": I (Vol. 6, No. 4, Apr. 1840, pp233‑240) II (Vol. 6, No. 5, May 1840, pp306‑320) III (Vol. 6, No. 11, Dec. 1840, pp786‑800) IV (Vol. 7, No. 1, Jan. 1841, pp3‑25) Supplement to IV (Vol. 7, No. 2, Feb. 1841, pp169‑170) "More Scraps from the Lucky-Bag" (Vol. 7, No. 5/6, Feb. 1841, pp345‑379).

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b A different explanation, and to my mind better or at least clearer, is given by Puleston, Annapolis, p57.

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c This was the cruise under the command of Commodore Foxhall Parker that brought the United States' first envoy to China in 1844: Dulles, Old China Trade, pp192194.

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d "Old Government House" had served as the seat of the colonial government of Maryland, and of the state government after the Revolution. Sadly, it was demolished by the Naval Academy in 1902. For a detailed article, with engraving and photographs, see "The Colonial Government House of Maryland", United States Naval Institute Proceedings 61:1404‑1413.

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e Complementary details are given by Puleston, Annapolis, pp60‑61.


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