Short URL for this page:
In 1838 Secretary Paulding reported to Congress that its liberal provisions for teachers and professors aboard ships and at navy yards were not satisfying the educational needs of the young officers of the Navy, and cautiously suggested a naval academy ashore. Six months later Commodore Biddle, commanding the Naval Asylum at Philadelphia and President of the Board of Examiners, recommended to the Secretary that a naval school be established at the Asylum where midshipmen preparing for examinations could be quartered in the building, more effectively controlled, and more efficiently instructed in classrooms at scheduled hours, undisturbed by the activities of a ship or navy yard. The commodore proposed to begin with a single professor to teach the midshipmen mathematics and navigation, but he contemplated the eventual abandonment of all other schools and the concentration of sufficient instructors in one school to provide a comprehensive curriculum.
In November, 1839, Secretary Paulding ordered Professor McClure and fifteen midshipmen to the Naval Asylum. Rooms were provided free, but meals cost the midshipmen $20 per month, which left the young gentlemen less than $10 per month for incidental expenses and such amusement as Philadelphia offered. Night life in a city cost money even then; the middies had little, and the stories of their escapades have probably grown with telling. There p49 were a few duels: hotspurs of that era could not settle disputes with anything less deadly than a sword or a pistol. The routine prescribed by the commodore included recitations from 9 A.M. to 2 P.M. Curfew was at 9 P.M., when all lights were extinguished. Accustomed to overnight liberty in all parts of the world, midshipmen did not understand why they should suddenly be treated as children, and dubbed the school "Biddle's Nursery."
The midshipmen grumbled, but they knew that the commodore was President of the Board before which they must soon appear for promotion. Final examination was a dread ordeal and no midshipman in his senses would jeopardize his future by neglecting recitations of which records were furnished the commodore by Professor McClure. They snatched all the amusement they could afford, but the majority kept within bounds. Consequently, the first session was a success, which encouraged the Secretary and the commodore to enlarge the school. In 1842 Professor William Chauvenet, brilliant, young, and enthusiastic, succeeded Professor McClure and, encouraged by Commodore Biddle and his successor, Commodore Samuel Barron, expanded the school along the lines anticipated by Biddle. In 1843 the course was extended to nine months. Additional professors were obtained, and the curriculum was improved. With the success of this innovation, Professor Chauvenet and Commodore Barron proposed, and Secretary Henshaw approved, a two‑year course embracing algebra, geometry, plane and spherical trigonometry, nautical astronomy and surveying, mechanics and the steam engine, drawing, gunnery, and naval tactics. During their time at the naval school, midshipmen would cruise in the summer on ships detailed solely for training. Secretary Henshaw placed the plan in operation early in 1844, but his successor, Secretary Mason, abandoned it the following p50 September, stating that midshipmen could not be spared two years from their duties at sea. Secretary Mason increased the number of professors at the school, and in April, 1845, the staff included Lieutenant J. H. Ward, instructor in ordnance and steam; Professor William Chauvenet, instructor in mathematics and moving spirit of the institution; Julius Meire, modern languages; J. H. Belcher, international law; H. H. Lockwood, pyrotechnics; Assistant Engineer W. F. Mercier, assistant to Ward.
Courtesy U. S. Navy Recruiting Bureau
As Secretary of the Navy in 1845, he took the lead in founding the Naval Academy.
Some opposition to the school resulted from rivalries for its location in particular places. The Military Academy was in the north, and in Congress there had developed a feeling that the Naval Academy should be located in a southern state. The Maryland legislature had previously petitioned Congress to establish the Academy at Annapolis. By June 1st Bancroft had decided upon Annapolis, and a week later, probably with the assistance of Passed Midshipman Marcy, he obtained the transfer of Fort Severn from Secretary of War Marcy to the Navy.
p51 Bancroft now had a suitable site promised and a clear idea of what the school should be. The action of Secretary Henshaw constituted a precedent for the concentration of midshipmen and professors at one school for a period up to two years, and in the official files was a memorandum from Chaplain George Jones to Secretary Upshur citing the necessary legal authority. Bancroft, as Secretary, could have established a school forthwith, but he was too sagacious to risk offending the Navy and Congress by precipitate action.
The day he obtained Fort Severn he formally solicited the advice and assistance of the Board of Examiners at the Naval Asylum in "maturing a more efficient system of instructions for the young naval officers." Bancroft's persuasive letter is prima facie evidence that he was familiar with the objections urged against a naval school ashore. He met the charge that practice in naval gunnery could not be given young officers ashore by stating that Fort Severn had been recommended as a suitable site especially because "a vessel could be stationed [there] to serve as a school in gunnery." That statement was also an argument for the site he had chosen. Beyond stating that the course of instruction was too short, Bancroft made no criticism of it, offered no plan for the proposed school, only asked: "Might it not be well to have permanent instruction, and to send all midshipmen on shore [author's italics] to school?" If only midshipmen ashore were sent to school, the training of midshipmen actually at sea would not be interrupted; this met the stock objection of officers who insisted that midshipmen could be properly trained and instructed only at sea. Of four hundred fifty midshipmen in 1834, approximately one hundred were on shore. The annual average did not vary much; there were enough midshipmen habitually p52 ashore to justify a school. Bancroft asked the Board, "What plan of studies is most advisable?" and appealed to its members to help him.
After consulting with Lieutenant Ward, Professor Chauvenet, and Professor Lockwood, the Board recommended that the Secretary:
1. Establish a new grade, naval cadets, junior to midshipmen. The primary classes at the naval school would be composed of naval cadets, and future appointments of midshipmen would be limited to those naval cadets who had successfully completed the course at the naval school.
2. Appoint naval cadets to the naval school in the same manner as military cadets were appointed to the Military Academy at West Point.
3. Assign to the naval school one captain in command, one commander as executive officer, three lieutenants, one surgeon, one assistant surgeon, one chaplain, and an officer's guard of marines whose commanding officer would give instruction in infantry tactics and the sword exercise.
4. Establish a board of instruction with one professor and one assistant professor of the English language who would also instruct in constitutional and international law, one professor and one assistant professor of mathematics who would also instruct in marine surveying, one professor of the French language, one professor of natural philosophy and chemistry, one instructor in drawing and mapping.
The Board contemplated transferring Ward, Lockwood, and Chauvenet, who had conducted the naval school at Philadelphia, to the new school. They added the commander and three lieutenants to supervise the drills and practical instruction, which they were convinced should reinforce the theoretical instruction in the classrooms. The Board further recommended that a practice p53 frigate and a small steamer be attached to the school for instruction in naval gunnery, tactics, and the operation of the steam engine.
During the first two years at the school, naval cadets would take the course given during the corresponding period to military cadets at West Point, except calculus. The subjects thus recommended for the naval school included algebra, plane, solid, and descriptive geometry, spherical projections and warped surfaces, shades, shadows, and perspectives, French, English, grammar, geography, and history. Naval cadets who successfully completed the course would be given warrants as midshipmen and ordered to sea; those who failed would be dropped. Only graduates from naval school could "find their way into the Navy." After two years at school, midshipmen would spend their third, fourth, and fifth years constantly at sea in men-of‑war. They would then serve a year on a practice ship "to pursue a course of practical studies before taking their examination for lieutenant. Even after six years' preparation, midshipmen would not be commissioned unless they were required in the Navy.
The Board recommended that naval cadets be not less than thirteen or more than sixteen when appointed, reported that there was ample accommodation at Fort Severn for officers, instructors, and cadets, and reminded the Secretary that the Government possessed "all the necessary means for commencing at once a naval school, which may be enlarged and perfected at some future time." Obviously the Board regarded their proposal as only the first step in creating a proper school for the Navy.
Pushing steadily ahead after securing the endorsement of the Board of Examiners, the Secretary convened a younger board composed of Commanders McKean, Dupont, and Buchanan to recommend the location and personnel p54 of the school, cautioning them to keep within the means at the disposal of the Department. The second board could find no authority for the preliminary school recommended by the first board and did not believe that the existing five-year probationary period should be extended. Accordingly, it recommended only one year's preliminary instruction for acting midshipmen. The Board recommended Annapolis as the site for the school and nominated Lieutenant Ward and Professors Chauvenet and Lockwood as professors. On August 7th Secretary Bancroft appointed Commander Buchanan Superintendent and directed him to prepare a plan of operation for the new school.
The Secretary bestowed upon the Superintendent "all the powers for discipline conferred by the laws of the United States," and assured him that the Department "will recommend no one for promotion who is unworthy of it from idleness or ill conduct, or continuing ignorance, and who can not bear the test of a rigid examination." He directed the first Superintendent of the Naval School to "begin with the principle that a warrant in the Navy, far from being an excuse for licentious freedom, is to be held a pledge for subordination, industry and regularity, for sobriety and assiduous attention to duty. . . . The President [Polk] expects such supervision and arrangement as shall make of them [midshipmen] an exemplary body of which the country may be proud."1
The Secretary left to the new Superintendent the preparation of a plan for the school at Annapolis, with a promise, faithfully kept, to sustain the Superintendent in his every "effort to improve the character of the younger branch of the service." Within a week Buchanan forwarded his plan, which, with slight modifications, was approved August 28th, 1845, and became the first charter of the naval p55 school. Bancroft confided the new school to the younger element of the Navy by ordering that "no officer of higher rank than of Commander shall be ordered on duty at the Naval School," except that two captains at least shall serve on the annual board of examiners. Bancroft directed that professors and instructors be selected as far as practicable from officers of the Navy, which continued the responsibility, voluntarily assumed by the first generation of naval officers, of training their successors.
Commander Buchanan was forty-five years old when he became Superintendent. The son of a Baltimore physician, reared in a cultured home, he entered the Navy in January, 1815. His first midshipman cruise was in the crack Mediterranean Squadron on the frigate Java, Oliver H. Perry commanding. During thirty years' service, Commander Buchanan had cruised in every ocean, on every type of ship, and had earned the reputation of being a strict disciplinarian, an educated, efficient officer. He attributed all breaches of naval discipline to overindulgence in alcohol. His avowed antipathy toward drunkards was one of the reasons Bancroft made him Superintendent. Buchanan had sailed with Oliver and Matthew Perry, Decatur, Bainbridge, and David Porter when they were in the prime of life; he was familiar with the latest developments in gunnery and had been executive officer of the first steam frigate, Mississippi; he understood and loved the navy of masts and spars, and sympathized with the changes necessary for the steam navy. Finally, he was a frugal administrator of government funds, which enabled him to establish a naval school without additional appropriations.
Three of the heads of departments, Lieutenant James H. Ward, Professor William Chauvenet, and Professor Henry H. Lockwood, had served happily together in Philadelphia and were animated by the single purpose of establishing p56 a proper system of education for junior officers of the Navy. They coöperated cordially throughout their service at Annapolis, and spared the Superintendent any internal bickering.
Lieutenant Ward, born in 1806, graduated from the Military Academy at Norwich, Vermont, before he was seventeen, served as a midshipman on the Constitution in the Mediterranean Squadron, spent one year at Trinity College, Hartford, in postgraduate work, and during almost fifteen years at sea continued his studies of naval tactics, gunnery, naval history, and scientific subjects. He believed that his generation needed to educate themselves in those subjects if they wished to preserve "the glorious reputation" built by the officers of the War of 1812. He undertook his duties as Executive Officer (subsequently designated Commandant of Midshipmen), as well as instructor in ordnance and steam, with enthusiasm.
Professor Chauvenet, only twenty-five years old, had been largely responsible for the success and enlargement of the school at Philadelphia, had proposed the extension of the one‑year course to two, and in 1849 was instrumental in getting the course at the naval school enlarged from two to four years. He remained at Annapolis until 1859 and did much to establish the high standard of the mathematics and navigation departments.
Professor H. H. Lockwood, graduated from West Point in 1836, served in the Second Seminole War in Florida, subsequently resigned from the Army, and later entered the Navy as a professor. His military experience led to his selection as Naval Adjutant of the landing party from the frigate United States which captured Monterey, California, prematurely in 1842.a Two years later he was assistant to Professor Chauvenet at Philadelphia and was selected to accompany him to Annapolis. Lockwood was a soldier as p57 well as a teacher, always ready to drill a battalion of unwilling midshipmen in infantry or field artillery.
Chaplain George Jones had been a stanch advocate of a naval school ashore. In October he became head of the Department of English Studies, including history and geography. Professor Arsène N. Girault reported in October as head of the Department of Foreign Languages. His "energy, zeal and talent for teaching French" soon gained him the respect of the Superintendent and his colleagues on the Academic Board.
Four members of the first Academic Board, 1845‑46
Above: Lieutenant James Harmon Ward, executive and instructor in gunnery and steam; Professor William Chauvenet, instructor in mathematics and navigation. Below: Professor Henry Hayes Lockwood, instructor in natural philosophy; Chaplain George Jones, instructor in English.
Commander Buchanan took possession of Fort Severn on August 15, 1845, and began alterations in the buildings to accommodate the midshipmen, officers, and instructors. In addition to Fort Severn, which stood at the east point of the rectangular enclosure of •about nine acres, the Navy obtained nine buildings, and a Gate House opening on Scott Street, which ran parallel to and just outside of the south wall. The south wall began at Chesapeake Bay and continued a short distance beyond the Gate House, where it met the west wall which ran in a northerly direction until it reached the Severn. Nearest the fort stood a small brick bakehouse, which was converted into quarters for midshipmen and was subsequently christened Brandywine Cottage by a group of youngsters who had sailed around Cape Horn in the Brandywine prior to arriving at Annapolis. Next stood an Army hospital, also made into midshipman quarters; from the conviviality of its occupants it earned the name of "Rowdy Row." Beyond the hospital was the barracks for married enlisted men, which was made another midshipman dormitory, dubbed "Apollo Row" after the statuesque figures of some of the first occupants who strutted in its doorways. Next in line and abreast of the Commandant's House was the two‑story barracks for unmarried soldiers. Two rooms on the lower floor were converted p58 into the midshipmen's messroom and kitchen; two corresponding rooms on the second floor were converted into recitation rooms. The need for midshipman quarters was acute, and a small structure of two rooms and a hall on the wall, known as the Abbey, and another on the south wall near the bay, known as the Gas House, were also utilized.
The officers fared better. The Superintendent inherited the Commandant's quarters, and the first four members of the Academic Board fitted exactly into four sets of subaltern's quarters adjacent to the Superintendent's house. When Chaplain Jones reported, he was assigned the renovated quartermaster's office, built into the south wall. In retrospect, to retired admirals writing memoirs in modern houses with numerous bathrooms, the midshipmen's quarters were "bare and uncomfortable," very cold and bleak in winter. Actually, their quarters were comparable to the average frame buildings of the time and place. Three to eight midshipmen were assigned to a room, depending upon its size, but their quarters were spacious compared with those they enjoyed in the cockpit of a sloop-of‑war or the steerage of a ship of the line. A contemporary account in the Nautical Magazine states: "The Midshipmen are made very comfortable in frame buildings . . . put in good repair" for their accommodation.2
The Department faced two problems at its new school — the completion of the education of midshipmen who had entered in 1840, 1841, and 1842 (none entered in 1843 or 1844), and the provision of increased facilities for those entering in the future. Midshipmen who had entered in 1840 were practically all ordered to the school to prepare p59 for their final examination due in 1846. Those who had entered in 1841 or 1842 and who were not needed at sea were also ordered to Annapolis, but were subject to recall when their services were needed. Acting midshipmen entering in 1845 were given a preliminary examination for physical defects that might disqualify them for the arduous duties of sea life, and a mental examination in reading, writing, arithmetic, and geography. They were also required to present evidence that they were of good moral character and also between the ages of thirteen and sixteen years. Those qualifying to enter the school remained on probation for one year. If their conduct was satisfactory, they were sent to sea for three years. At the end of six months at sea those whose conduct met the approbation of their captains were warranted midshipmen. At the end of three years at sea they were ordered back to the naval school for one year to prepare for their examination for lieutenant.
The essential difference between the two schools at Philadelphia and Annapolis was that the latter had a provision requiring candidates for a naval commission to spend their first year of training at the school ashore. As the plan was executed, are practical difference was the closer supervision of the students at Annapolis, which arose from concentration of all midshipmen within the walls of Fort Severn, and, in addition, the strict disciplinary methods of Commander Buchanan. The senior midshipmen of the 1840 date gave little trouble; they were too busy preparing for their final examination. The acting midshipmen were too young and overawed to make trouble, but the intermediate dates, whose promotion was distant, looked upon the school as an abridgment of their usual shore-going privileges and resented the new system. Commander Buchanan secured the coöperation of most of the senior midshipmen p60 and did not hesitate to take effectual steps to control the unruly.
There were only two classes at the school, Senior and Junior. All midshipmen of the 1840 date were in the Senior class; all acting midshipmen of the 1845 date were in the junior Class. Midshipmen of the 1841 and 1842 dates were assigned to the Senior or Junior classes, according to their previous education; sometimes the Intermediates were assigned to subjects with both classes. It was the intermediate dates which caused the complications, for they were ordered to the school only when not needed at sea and were liable to be detached at any moment when their services were required. The ages of the students ranged from thirteen among the acting midshipmen, to around twenty-eight, among the Seniors. The Senior Class averaged forty-five members and was divided into two sections for recitations; the Junior Class rarely exceeded a dozen and recited in one section. Recitations began at 8 A.M. and lasted until noon. Midshipmen were allowed from noon to 1:30 for dinner and recreation. Afternoon recitations continued from 1:30 to 4:30 P.M. Recreation and supper were from 4:30 to 6, and study from 6 to 10 P.M.
The Senior Class had daily recitations in mathematics, natural philosophy, and modern languages, three recitations a week in history and composition, two recitations a week in ordnance, gunnery, and steam, and one a week in chemistry. Mathematics included navigation, algebra, plane and spherical geometry,º nautical astronomy, and descriptive geometry — sixteen hours a week according to present‑day college measurements, with four hours home work per night. In addition, midshipmen were exercised with the sextant and other astronomical instruments at any favourable hour, provided such exercise did not interfere with recitations or preparations for recitations in other branches. p61 The Junior Class had daily recitations in mathematics, including arithmetic, elements of geometry and algebra, and elementary navigation. With the exception of Saturday, there were daily classes in English, which included geography, history, grammar, and composition, and in the modern languages. They were taught the use of the quadrant. Both classes attended lectures in natural philosophy, ordnance, and chemistry, and were drilled in fencing and infantry when the indefatigable Professor Lockwood introduced those exercises.
Commander Buchanan formally opened the school on Friday, October 10th, with a brief address outlining the purpose and requesting the aid of the senior midshipmen in maintaining the dignity and discipline of the institution. Those familiar with the Naval Academy to‑day will have difficulty in imagining the naval school in 1845‑46. There was no suggestion of militarism; midshipmen were not in uniform and did not march to recitations. A bell rang, and students reported within five minutes or were marked tardy. There were between fifty and sixty midshipmen, divided in two classes and three sections, taught by four to six instructors. There were no athletics, organized or unorganized; midshipmen could spend their recreation periods in the town of Annapolis by writing their names in books and reporting their return to the officer in charge. The midshipman officer of the day was stationed at the Gate House and was given one watchman to patrol the grounds, extinguish the lights and fires at 10:30 P.M., and maintain order by occasionally walking through the yard to prevent any improprieties. The institution was governed by the regulations of the Navy and by special orders issued by the Superintendent. Officers were required to observe toward each other a polite, respectful deportment, and midshipmen were enjoined to conduct themselves with the p62 propriety and decorum of gentlemen. More than one officer who entered the naval school in its earlier days has testified that midshipmen were treated as gentlemen and were expected to behave as such. That custom, begun in the early days of the Navy, crystallized into a law, and to‑day an officer can be court-martialed for conduct unbecoming a gentleman.
The schedule of study and recitations was heavy for midshipmen unaccustomed to regular study hours, and heavier for the professors who prepared the courses, examined and classified incoming students, taught, lectured, examined, and graded their pupils. Only devoted professors, determined to establish a naval school, could have established that variegated curriculum, especially fitted to the needs of naval officers. Commander Buchanan supervised the alterations and construction of buildings which continued throughout his tenure. He maintained friendly but not intimate relations with his staff, and gave special attention to the conduct of the midshipmen.
Commander Buchanan fixed the tone of the school and established the same discipline there as he had helped to maintain upon the United States Ship Delaware. Annapolis was a small town, he was an active officer, and his letter book shows that he knew what his midshipmen were doing. He was determined to suppress overindulgence in liquor when two rations of grog, given each day to the men, was regularly exceeded by many officers. Buchanan recommended that a certain midshipman, whose marks were highly creditable, be dropped because his occasional intemperance would prevent his becoming an "ornament to the service."
Commander Franklin Buchanan, first Superintendent of the Naval Academy
He dropped another midshipman whose studies were creditable but who was hot‑tempered and insubordinate; he wrote that another "has not the capacity to acquire p63 knowledge of the branches taught at the school, and the time devoted to him is thrown away." The reasons for these three dismissals outline Buchanan's policy: he would not tolerate midshipmen who were insubordinate, who could not control their tempers and their appetites, or who did not have the mental ability to become naval officers. He formally denied false accounts of the behavior of midshipmen made by a Baltimore clergyman and, knowing the severity of the examination in seamanship, he recommended that midshipmen be given a two months' refresher cruise before their examination for promotion. He regarded himself as the guardian of their good name and interests.
The appointment of Acting Midshipman Cyrus H. Oakley of New York was revoked October 13th. In the official language, he was "returned to his friends"; in the vernacular of Annapolis, he was a "bilger," the first of a long line of disappointed youths who could not meet the Navy's requirements. John Adams, J. R. Hamilton, Frank B. McKean, Ralph Chandler, and Thomas Truxtun Houston passed highly creditable examinations and were the first acting midshipmen to enter the naval school. The first three graduates were Houston, Chandler, and Hamilton, in the order named, in 1851‑52. Houston died a lieutenant on the Iroquois in 1860; Chandler died in 1889, after becoming a rear admiral; and Hamilton resigned to enter the Confederate Navy in December, 1860, and died in his native state, South Carolina, in 1907.
Commander Buchanan made his first quarterly report January 30, 1846. Eighty-seven midshipmen had been ordered to the school. Their generally correct conduct indicated their appreciation of the new school, and their gentlemanly bearing had been favourably commented upon by strangers, but several were so far behind in their studies that they had little hope of passing their examinations. p64 Buchanan stated that the midshipmen were comfortably accommodated in their converted quarters, the hospital was completed and well supplied with medicine, and target practice would commence as soon as work on the batteries was completed. He requested from two to three hundred dollars for text-books for the instructors and reminded the Secretary of the advantages of having a lightly equipped sloop-of‑war stationed at the school "to afford the midshipmen healthful and useful exercise in their leisure hours [author's italics] in performing the practical duties of seamen; in rigging and unrigging ships, sending up and down yards, etc., all of which it is very important and they should understand practically."
When Congress convened in December, 1845, Secretary Bancroft explained exactly what had been done: "Congress . . . had permitted the Department . . . to employ professors and instructors at an annual cost of $28,000.00." Migratory teachers had proved inadequate aboard ships which were not suitable places for schools. It was decided to improve the time midshipmen were ashore by collecting them in one school for instruction; this same institution could give "some preliminary instruction" to midshipmen recently appointed "before their first cruise." He then reported that a school had been organized on a "frugal plan" at Fort Severn, where Commander Buchanan had successfully adapted "simple and moderate means to a great and noble purpose.' The Secretary did not need additional appropriations; he improved the method of instruction by a wiser application of money already appropriated. His straightforward report averted all congressional opposition, and the following year Congress formally approved his action by altering the phraseology of the appropriation bill to cover "repairs, improvements and instructions at Fort Severn, Annapolis, Maryland."
p65 The war with Mexico began about six months after the school opened. Naturally the Superintendent and midshipmen desired to go to sea. Secretary Bancroft considered the successful establishment of the school so important that he refused Commander Buchanan's request, explaining, "Were it not for the important business you are now on, you would be one of the first sent." By March, 1847, Secretary Mason, who had succeeded Bancroft, felt that Buchanan's services could be spared and ordered him to sea in time to participate in the capture of Tuxpan and , Mexico.
Secretary Bancroft also dealt wisely with the midshipmen; he advanced the examinations from November to July, 1846, and ordered the successful candidates to sea at once, which gave them all an opportunity for active service. In October, 1846, he assembled at the school about one‑third of the 1841 date, who were graduated in July, 1847, and were sent to sea again, while the war was still in progress. The second group of 1841, which reported in October, 1847, had already seen active war service. All midshipmen of the 1840, 1841, and 1842 dates were given an opportunity to serve at sea during the war without interrupting their courses at Annapolis. Midshipmen grumbled about being kept ashore at all during wartime, but the Department was very considerate of them and established the precedent followed in all subsequent wars of graduating midshipmen early and maintaining the Naval Academy to prepare others. This scheme added to the burden of an already overworked staff, but its faithful members did not complain.
About fifty‑six midshipmen were at Annapolis in 1846‑47. They raised a fund for the first monument erected in the grounds in honor of the midshipmen lost during the p66 Mexican War; this is now known as the Mexican Monument. Midshipmen of the Mexican War were in their late twenties, only a few years younger than many of the captains of 1812, and they displayed the spirit and enterprise of their predecessors. All midshipmen volunteered for duty with the naval battery which breached the wall of Vera Cruz; it was the most exposed position. They cast lots for the privilege. Among the winners assigned the coveted post was Midshipman T. B. Shubrick, who was killed at his post.3 It required ten days to land this battery and only four days to make the first and largest breach in the forts attacked and to silence every Mexican gun within range. Those continuous drills at the batteries during thirty years of peace kept American gunners efficient. Three midshipmen were drowned — Clemson and Hynson when the brig Somers was lost, and, when a boat from the Mississippi capsized, Wingate Pillsbury, who was assisting a sailor to a more secure position on the overturned boat.
The landing operations up the rivers of Tuxpan and Panuco appealed to the genius of midshipmen. Foxhall Parker landed a 32‑pound gun from the Potomac by running a boat ashore and cutting the bottom out of it. Midshipman Young, acting as a mounted courier liaison officer between the Army and Navy, inadvertently led a charge when his horse answered the bugle call. His messmates in the steerage asserted that Young led all the Army officers.
To avoid congressional and naval opposition, Secretary p67 Bancroft had accepted practically impossible conditions for the naval school. His real preoccupation was his unfinished history of the United States, and after serving as Secretary zealously and intelligently for eighteen months he sailed for England, leaving his successor, Secretary Mason, struggling with the almost insuperable difficulties arising from the irregular admission, attendance, and graduation at the naval school, which differed little from the one at Philadelphia except in the stricter discipline enforced by Buchanan. In justice to some who preceded Secretary Bancroft and to those who came after him and completed his unfinished work, definite limitations should be placed on any claim of George Bancroft to be considered the sole founder of the Naval Academy.
It was a physical impossibility to classify some of the incoming students without creating special classes for individuals. Commander George P. Upshur, who succeeded Commander Buchanan, did not enforce the strict discipline of his predecessor but, assisted by a devoted staff, he held the school together, meeting each situation as best he could until 1849, fearing that proposals for changes might create opposition sufficient to destroy the school. By that time friends of the school felt strong enough to initiate changes, step by step. The course was extended from one year to two years, as originally recommended by the Board of Examiners in 1845. Then came three years at sea, to be followed by two more years at school prior to final examinations for lieutenant. This change provided four years of instruction, which was the goal of Professor Chauvenet and others. Examinations for entrance were held in October, insuring simultaneous entrance of students. The naval school was placed directly under the Chief of Bureau of Ordnance and Hydrography. Its name was changed to Naval Academy in 1850. The Superintendent continued in p68 immediate command, with a Commandant of Midshipmen to act as executive officer and instructor in naval tactics and practical seamanship. An acting midshipman was required to spend two years at the Academy and six months at sea before being warranted a midshipman. A uniform was designed for acting midshipmen, and all midshipmen were required to wear uniforms in the Academy. A sloop-of‑war was promised to the Academy to cruise the midshipmen and practise them at great guns during the summer.
This plan was scarcely agreed upon before the advocates of the Academy felt strong enough to make another change. The Academic Board recommended that the four-year course at the Naval Academy be consecutive with a practice cruise each summer. Graduates would become passed midshipmen and would spend two years continuously at sea, returning to the Academy for examinations for lieutenant. In October the Board of Examiners concurred, and Secretary Graham approved the change on November 15, 1851.
While the Academy was crystallizing into its present form, the method of appointing midshipmen was radically altered. Until 1845 most midshipmen had been appointed from the Middle Atlantic States, usually on the recommendation of some relative or friend in the Navy or with influence in the Navy Department. These naval clans proved distinct assets in the early days of the Navy, but they introduced nepotism, and the preponderance of officers from the central seaboard would in time have created a sectional Navy. In 1845 Congress provided that thereafter all midshipmen should be appointed in proportion to the members of the House of Representatives, and that each appointee must be an actual resident of the state from which he is appointed. In 1852 it further provided that midshipmen could be appointed only on recommendations p69 of their Congressmen. The method of appointment has made the officer personnel representative of the nation, and the Navy a national institution. Every Congressional District, every large city, and many towns in the country have representatives among the officers of the Navy.
1 Superintendents' Office, United States Naval Academy.
2 E. C. Marshall's history of the Academy, written in 1861, corroborates the Nautical Magazine. Park Benjamin's history, written about 1900, and memoirs of rear admirals give a contrary impression.
3 Midshipman Shubrick came from a distinguished naval family. John Templar Shubrick, the eldest of four brothers who served in the Navy, entered in 1806, was on the Constitution when she escaped the British squadron and when she took the Guerrière and the Java; was first lieutenant on the Hornet and on the President with Decatur. All the Shubricks served with credit and most with distinction. They were related to the Draytons and Haynes.
a See the coyly titled Visit to Monterey in 1842 by Dr. R. T. Maxwell, one of the participants, in which Adjutant Lockwood's participation is twice noted.
Images with borders lead to more information.
The thicker the border, the more information. (Details here.)
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY
if its URL has a total of one *asterisk.
If the URL has two **asterisks,
the item is copyright someone else, and used by permission or fair use.
If the URL has none the item is © Bill Thayer.
See my copyright page for details and contact information.
Page updated: 10 Nov 20