When writing biography of nineteenth century New Englanders, the temptation is great to begin with the local burying ground. One of these, Grove Cemetery of Belfast tells us much today about the pattern of life on the Maine coast during the past 150 years. In clusters throughout the shaded grounds can be found headstones tying five or more generations together. Through their sparse data the historian can trace the many marriage alliances among the p2 leading families. Here and there a misalliance, or a "blacksheep," is evidenced by burial outside the family plot. Epidemics, hard times, wars, affluence, and even social climbing can be documented by the sensitive searcher, especially when family genealogies and city histories are at hand for assistance.
There are not too many family vaults in the Grove Cemetery, but one does stand out. The Johnson-Pratt vault is above ground, well-constructed, and large. It reflects the status of its principal residents, the family of Edward Johnson (1840‑1905). A few hundred feet from this mausoleum lies a large granite slab covering the chambered vault which holds the urns of the Nichols Pratt (1840‑1908) family. The two families, though separated physically, are tied together by the remains of Admiral William Veazie Pratt (1869‑1957) and Louise Johnson Pratt (1876‑1963) inurned in the Johnson-Pratt vault. By chance, earlier generations of these two families lie in close proximity. It is just a few steps from the Veazie-Pratt plot to that of Edward Johnson's ancestors.
William Veazie Pratt was born in Belfast, Maine, on 28 February 1869.1 His mother, Abbie Jane (Veazie) Pratt, was staying at her mother's home, a fine two story brick residence on Church Street. His father, Nichols Pratt, had left recently for China to become a Chief Officer and Pilot for the Shanghai Steam Navigation Line. In time, his family would join him. He named his first child for its maternal grandfather, Captain William Gilman Veazie, a merchant skipper who had died just a year before.
The birthplace of William Veazie Pratt on Church Street, Belfast, Maine.
Though he had established his family in Belfast, Nichols Pratt was not a Maine man. Born in Cohasset, Massachusetts in 1840, he "ran away to sea" as a boy and never really came ashore to live during the p3 remainder of his life. During the Civil War he entered the Navy, in August 1862, as an acting master's mate and served his first duty on the bark Midnight, soon to be attached to the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron. A year later, he was appointed acting ensign and in August 1864 was transferred to U. S. Steamer Rhode Island. During the second attack on Fort Fisher, in January 1865, Ensign Pratt distinguished himself under fire and received an official commendation from the Navy Department. In April 1865, while still in Rhode Island, he was promoted to acting master.
Master's Mate Nichols Pratt,
p4 At the close of the Civil War, Nichols Pratt remained in the Navy, still attached to the Rhode Island. With the new year, 1866, he reported to the receiving ship Ohio, then in Boston. While serving in Ohio, Ensign Pratt deepened his friendship with Abbie Jane Veazie whom he had met when Rhode Island visited Penobscot Bay. After extracting a promise from him that he would leave the Navy, Captain Veazie gave Nichols permission to marry Abbie Jane. They wed in Belfast on 8 November 1866. On 8 December, Pratt was detached from Ohio to begin four months of leave before discharge from the service.
After marriage, accompanied by his new bride, Nichols Pratt shipped out as first mate for a China cruise aboard the Vesta Veazie. His father-in‑law was captain. A typhoon in the China Sea drove the bark ashore near the mouth of the Yangtze River. Here, the crew not only had to fight for its life, but it also had to beat off a pirate gang which had come to pick the vessel's bones. To risk a pun, it was a stormy beginning for the marital life of the Nichols Pratts. After returning to Belfast, and following the death of Captain Veazie in March 1868, Pratt accepted a position with the Shanghai Steam Navigation Line. Running out of Ningpo, he mastered the waters of the China Coast and the Yangtze River. In June 1871, the company gave him command of the steamer Kiangsi, and from then, until he left the service of the China Merchants Steam Navigation Company in late 1907, he continued to command company ships in China waters.
In 1871, when young William was scarcely two years old, Abbie Pratt took a train to San Francisco and there booked passage on a side-wheel steamer to Shanghai. The transcontinental trip was a fresh experience for this Maine lady, but the voyage to China was almost routine for her. Because of her father's commands and her mother's unwillingness to remain behind in Belfast, Abbie had rounded Cape Horn four times before she married. In her lifetime, she was to cross the Pacific Ocean seventeen times.
Upon the arrival of Abbie and their son in Shanghai, the Pratts enjoyed family life for six years. During that time, two more sons were born — Ralph Nichols in August 1872 and Edgar Gilman in May 1874. In 1877, the couple decided that it was time for their eldest son to be schooled in America, so Abbie and the three boys, plus a Chinese servant, returned to Belfast. The children were entrusted to the care of their grandmother, Charlotte Hutchings Veazie, and Abbie returned to China. Until he entered the Naval Academy in 1885, William Pratt was responsible to his grandmother, and she p5 signed as his legal guardian when such actions were necessary. She raised him within the precepts of the Congregational Church and instilled in him the New England respect for hard work. In her attempts to get him to cards, dancing, and alcoholic beverages, she was less successful. While neither excessively harsh, nor permissive, she did believe that sparing the rod could spoil the child.
Young William's formal education began at a private elementary school next door to his grandmother's house, the Wiggins School. Two years later he was bundled off to Farmington, Maine to attend the renowned (locally) Little Blue School whose headmaster was Alexander Hamilton Abbott. Here he lived and studied for four years trying to master the intricacies of a classical education. Sixty years later, Pratt recalled his curriculum: "At Little Blue I learned to appreciate Greek, much Latin, and the Rollo books. There Caesar, Sallust, Cicero and Virgil became quite pals, but mathematics was an unknown quantity."2 During a visit to Belfast in 1883, Nichols Pratt inventoried his son's education. When he discovered his son was reasonably proficient in Latin but did not know the dimensions of a cord of wood, he decided it was time for the public schools to take over.
In August 1883 young Pratt entered Belfast High School as a junior. His proficiency in Latin allowed him to enter the third year, but he required special tutoring to catch up on the mathematics he lacked. In high school he was considered to be athletic and was quite proficient at sailing, ice skating, and baseball. In the summer of 1885 he gained experience as an outfielder by catching fly balls when the Belfast Baseball Club had its practice sessions. This activity gave him enough skill later to play baseball with the varsity squad, though still in his first year at the Naval Academy. At graduation from Belfast High School, it fell to Pratt to read his class's history and prophecy — "Glimpses at the Past and Future of the Class of '85." We do not know what he wrote then, but sixty-eight years later he was saluted by the surviving members of the class, when Charlotte thorndike Sibley wrote of his studiousness, skill at skating, and gentlemanly qualities.3
p6 Abbie Pratt was in Belfast that spring to oversee her son's next educational step. By then Ralph had died of diphtheria, in March 1881, while in the care of his Aunt Mary Pratt Burr in Hingham, Massachusetts, and another son, Harold Boswell Pratt, had been born in Shanghai in May 1881. She and Nichols had considered sending William to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It was well understood in the family that she did not want her three sons roaming the seas. Despite this resolve, a chance suggestion from a visiting naval officer led to inquiries about an appointment to the United States Naval Academy. The local congressman, Seth L. Milliken, had already promised the principal appointment to another, but he was willing to name young Pratt as first alternate.
In 1885 those principals and alternates who wished to enter the Naval Academy had to travel to Annapolis at their own expense, later reimbursable, and present themselves for the academic and medical examinations. The examinations were held in May and September and those who passed and were accepted were sworn in immediately and began their lives as midshipmen of the fourth class.4 It was customary for appointees to come to Annapolis a month or more early in order to receive special entrance examination tutoring at private schools in the city. Pratt's nomination as alternate came too late for him to consider this assistance, but he probably would not have spent the money, since he was unsure of receiving the appointment. The principal failed in spelling and Pratt was notified to report for the tests. He passed the academic examinations after taking a second test in arithmetic. On 9 September the Medical Board reported him "free from deformity and disease and imperfections of the senses and otherwise physically qualified according to the Regulations. . . ."5 That same day he was sworn into the Navy for eight years, including his years of instruction, unless sooner discharged at the convenience of the service. Of the 169 who reported for examination in May and September, 86 were finally admitted as midshipmen. Of those rejected, p7 15 were refused on medical grounds and 68 were turned down by the Academic Board.6
The records concerning Pratt's time at the Naval Academy are reasonably complete, with respect to his formal education and training, but there is little of his personal life during the years 1885‑1889. He did write an "Autobiography" in 1939, which was never published and this contains the only account of his midshipman years, although one that needs to be discounted due to the frailties of memory. Others, however, did publish memoirs that contain accounts of life at the Naval Academy during the years 1880‑1890. The reader might wish to consult these books by Admirals Robert E. Coontz (USNA-1885), Henry A. Wiley (USNA-1888), Yates Stirling, Jr. (USNA-1892), Holden A. Evans (USNA-1892), and General John A. Lejeune (USNA-1888).7
Because he entered the Naval Academy as a "September Plebe," Pratt berthed only briefly on board the barracks ship Santee and did not take a summer cruise in 1885. Unlike his new classmates from inland states, he was reasonably familiar with a ship's rigging and had sailed his own small boats. But except for that small advantage, he had the very same treatment and educational experience as the rest of his class. During their first month at the Academy, the September group received some "running" from the "May Plebes," who remained behind when the third, second, and first classes went on leave after their summer cruises. Pratt learned to address his "seniors" (May Plebes!) as "Sir" and to be addressed by less exalted terms. When the upper classmen returned, he discovered that all fourth classmen, May and September plebes alike, were treated as inferior types scarcely worthy of notice by those senior to them.
Classes began the first of October and the curriculum was fairly simple for a fourth classman. In the first term he studied mathematics, English, and French; during the second half of the year Spanish was added. Pratt did quite well academically in his first year and accumulated only a modest number of demerits for discipline infractions. p8 His highest marks were in French, as was true in his second year.8 Memorization and recitation were stressed in most classes. Even in the foreign language courses, the midshipmen devoted enormous quantities of mental energy to learning the nomenclature of a ship in French and Spanish.
As a plebe Bill Pratt learned about hazing and received his share of it. He took it good naturedly and did not resent the system. Years later he remembered: ". . . I rather enjoyed it [hazing], preferring to be noticed as a part of the organization, rather than to be treated with contempt and left strictly alone. Perhaps for this reason I got very little. . . . The hazing was not vicious on the whole. In fact it helped to make men of the youngsters who came there green as grass, some of them 'Mother's Pets,' . . . I disliked the hazing less than I did the routine discipline, which I detested. . . ."9 Pratt was correct about how "green" some midshipmen were; the admission age was 14 to 18 in the 1880s, and some of his classmates were still young boys. At sixteen and a half years of age, when he entered, he was about average for his group.
With the end of classes in June 1886, Pratt took his first of two midshipman cruises. He was assigned to Constellation, the Naval Academy's practice ship, under command of Commander Charles L. Huntington. This was, of course, the Constellation launched in 1797, that fought in the Quasi and Barbary Wars and the War of 1812.a Because of its size, the ship carried the "May Plebes" of the class of 1890, plus portions of Pratt's class (1889) and the first class (1887). As a third classman, Pratt was assigned stations on the flying jib and as a topman on the fore royal yard. His class learned to handle all of the duties of the enlisted crew, and he was graded on "attention to duty" and "notebooks, signals, and activity aloft." Commander Huntington summed up the training given the third class when he wrote to the Naval Academy Superintendent: "The cadets of the 3rd and 4th classes were watched and stationed with the crew and did duty as sailors, with the exception of cleaning ship. They were exercised aloft every forenoon and afternoon at sea in handling sails and spars."10
The Naval Academy class of 1889 on board USS Constellation for the summer cruise of 1886. Pratt is the third midshipman standing on the far left.
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The cruise had two incidents which taught Pratt lessons. On the first night under way, while beating down Chesapeake Bay, Constellation p9 ran hard aground. The ship was hauled off by carrying out a •750‑pound kedge anchor and pulling against it. Commander Huntington reported no damage except to his pride — he was Commandant of Cadets when ashore. The other incident was tragic. When maneuvering off Cape Cod, one of Pratt's classmates fell from the fore topmast crosstree and was killed. Three enlisted men drowned as a boat fouled while being lowered away before the ship had come about. Cadet Schley's death was grim evidence that duty aloft was very dangerous; but Pratt attributed the loss of the crewmen to poor judgment from the quarterdeck.11
During the rest of his years at the Naval Academy, Pratt continued to stand high in his class academically. In no subject was he particularly weak and only in "P & C" (physics and chemistry) did he dip slightly below 3.00 on the Navy's grading scale which had 4.00 as p10 the top score. On the other hand, he accumulated heavy numbers of demerits in his third and second class years. He disliked drill, was not tidy in appearance, and apparently was impatient with those who tried to get him "to shape up." He enjoyed after-lights poker games and "skylarking" and probably attracted demerits from these non‑military activities. Baseball was a strong interest of his and he played varsity ball during his plebe year and later. He also tried to make the football squad, but here his small size was against him. He did scrimmage with the varsity, but he was never assigned to even a second-team berth. This deep interest in sports was to continue throughout his naval career. Perhaps reflecting his youthfulness, or social immaturity, Pratt showed little interest in the opposite sex and attended none of the midshipmen "hops" except the one his class gave at graduation in June 1889.12
Pratt's first class cruise, in the summer of 1888, was strikingly p11 different from that of 1886. His training aboard Constellation focused on learning the duties of a ship's officer. He was graded on how he stood watches, handled boats, conducted drills, or maneuvered the ship as officer of the deck under instruction. Instead of recitations, each midshipman had to keep his own notebook of study questions and observations about the duties of an officer.
The cruise was almost a disaster because of troubles Commander P. F. ("Spuds") Harrington had in suppressing hazing. The new third class (1891) had been exceptionally aggressive in its treatment of the "May Plebes" (class of 1892) and after seventeen days of turbulence, Harrington had had enough. He issued three orders forbidding hazing, denying the address of "Sir" for any midshipman, and forbidding any midshipman from interfering with the use of all ladders and spaces by fourth classmen. He called for the third class to give a pledge that it would refrain from hazing. The class refused this request. Following its refusal, the Commander called for a full investigation. As a result thirteen cadets were tried by courts-martial for the offense of hazing and nine were convicted.13 Because hazing had been forbidden by act of Congress, the sentence could only be dismissal without possibility of reinstatement. Fortunately for the class, which was to produce 10 admirals and 3 Marine Corps generals, Secretary of the Navy William C. Whitney convinced President Cleveland that the dismissals should be reduced to 30 days confinement on board Santee and the loss of one half of their home leave in September 1888.14 Saved from dismissal was R. H. Leigh, a future Commander in Chief, United States Fleet and one of Pratt's few close friends.
Pratt's last year at the Naval Academy passed as smoothly as the previous ones. He was made a cadet ensign in October, which was recognition of his solid scholastic record and reasonably satisfactory military record. His class standing was high enough that he did not worry whether there would be room for him in the Navy. It varied from class to class, but at times less than half the graduating class could be commissioned after the two years at sea following graduation. When this occurred, the individual was paid off with one year's p12 salary ($1,000) and discharged. He had a free education and the country gained a trained citizen.
The class of 1889 at the Naval Academy. Pratt is in the center of the back row looking away from the camera.
Years later, Pratt summed up the value of his years at the Naval Academy:
On the whole, I respected the Academy training for its value, and appreciated it as being one of the most essential things needed in character building for the youth that enters its portals, . . . To me, it was more of a business school — if I may make use of this expression — where we started to learn the elements of our profession, and where play formed but a small part of the activities.15
Like most of his class, Pratt's major concern in the spring of 1889 was what ship he would be assigned to for his two years at sea as a naval cadet or "passed midshipman." Many hoped for a Pacific Station vessel because it could mean an interesting transcontinental trip or a visit home. Others, like Pratt, wanted to serve in the Navy's most modern ships and therefore sought service in the North Atlantic Squadron which contained the Navy's newest steel cruisers. He recognized that those at the top of the class would probably be detailed to Chicago, flagship of the squadron, but he actually preferred Atlanta because of its reputation as a "happy ship."16 When orders were finally posted, he had drawn Atlanta along with classmates Lewis C. Lucas, Louis R. de Steiguer, George B. Bradshaw, and William K. Harrison.
Protected cruiser USS Atlanta in which Pratt served following graduation.
The Navy of this era was going through changes that were scarcely understood by those in the ships. A period of technological development had been underway since steam had been introduced into naval vessels, but more rapid changes had been occurring since steel for the armor, hulls, and improved ordnance had been accepted. Commencing in 1889, an even more fundamental change had begun. Now the purpose of the Navy was being examined and new missions for it were being projected. Led by officers like Admirals David D. Porter, Stephen B. Luce, John G. Walker, and Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan, the Navy Department was slowly recognizing that such missions as defending the coast, attacking enemy commerce, showing the flag, and protecting American interests abroad were insufficient for the existing fleet. Mahan's researches had convinced him, and those who studied p13 with him and Admiral Luce at the new Naval War College, that only a concentrated fleet, purposefully directed and capable of meeting a similarly constituted enemy, could truly defend the nation. Driving the enemy's commerce from the sea would be a natural consequence of defeating his main fleet in battle. Similarly there need be no fear of bombardment of America's coastal cities, or invasion of her soil, if the enemy's fleet was decimated. To sustain the ideas of Porter, Luce, and Mahan, the Navy needed armored cruisers and battleships, and it had to learn to fight these ships in squadrons and fleets.17 As a start in this direction, Secretary of the Navy Benjamin F. Tracy directed Rear Admiral John G. Walker, the new North Atlantic Station Commander, to organize and command a "Squadron of Evolution" which was to study the problems of maneuvering the new steel cruisers as a fighting force. His squadron consisted of Chicago (flag), Atlanta, Boston, and the new gunboat Yorktown.18
If naval operational policy had lagged behind technological change, personnel policy was even further in arrears. Appropriate to the relatively small number of ships at sea, the Navy in 1889 consisted of only 1,529 officers and 8,147 enlisted men. As a group, the officers were a dispirited lot. Promotion was chained in the lock-step of seniority, and advancement depended on good health and not being convicted by court-martial. As we have noted, entrance into the commissioned ranks required vacancies, and each year the number of naval cadets commissioned as ensigns depended on the number of retirements, dismissals, or deaths in the previous year. Officers could expect to spend long years in the lower ranks and then suddenly advance to commander, captain and rear admiral in the last ten years before mandatory retirement at age 62.19 It takes little imagination to understand why some officers, though a very small group, found relief in drunkenness, and others became neurotics who made life in the smaller ships' messes almost intolerable.
The Navy's enlisted men had their problems too. The low national opinion of the service resulted in the popular attitude that the bluejacket p14 was an inferior social being. A large percentage was foreign born, difficult to discipline on board ship, and given to desertion or long absences without leave. Because too many ships spent too much time in navy yards or tied to a foreign quay, the temptation for over-indulgence in alcohol was great. A reading of ships' logs from the 1890s reveals a good deal about punishments and the offenses that drew them. Monday musters, or morning reports after visiting a foreign port, normally found long lists of those who had not returned to the ship. Five days confinement, often in irons on bread and water, was common punishment for first offenders, reductions in rate were given to more seasoned offenders, and a summary court-martial followed long absences or was awarded to steady repeaters. Newark's log for 19 May 1899 (Pratt was a lieutenant) had 34 punishments awarded after shore leave in Montevideo. Among them were:
"Returning from liberty tight" — Chief Electrician reduced to 2/c
"Returning from liberty dead drunk" — Fireman 2/c reduced to 3/c
"Returning from liberty drunk" — Artificer 2/c reduced to 3/c
"Attempting to leave ship without permission" — 10 days single irons
Pratt commented on these enlisted men of his early years:
In the early days of our Navy, as I knew it then, let a youngster wear the uniform of the enlisted men, as he was obliged to do when on shore, and the doors of so called self-respecting households were closed to him. Mothers and fathers would not let their daughters associate with a common sailor. At heart there was, I think, less fear of contamination, than a feeling of snobbishness, which had crept into our land, following in the wake of our increasing business prosperity. We had lost that old New England tradition where a lad who followed the sea was on a par with the best. Little tradesmen and counter-jumpers stood higher in the social scale than did the sailor. . . .20
Pratt's first duty assignment was to one of the newest cruisers in the Navy of 1889. Atlanta had been completed in 1886 and was described as a 3,000‑ton protected cruiser (or steam corvette), second rate, of eight guns. She carried two 8‑inch and six 6‑inch rifles plus an assortment of smaller guns. Her mission, when designed, was to raid enemy commerce and provide protection for American flag carriers. Compared with life in Constellation, Cadet Pratt was living in a new world, though the cruiser's sail rigging, which was in regular use, reminded him that there had been a reason for having been trained in the "wooden walls." If Atlanta was a "happy ship," it was probably due to her easygoing commanding officer, Captain John A. p15 Howell. A graduate of the Naval Academy in 1858, he was fortunate to be a junior captain after thirty‑one years service. He would serve four years as a rear admiral before retirement in 1902. The executive officer was Lieutenant Commander Albert R. Couden, class of 1867 at the Naval Academy. He was a specialist in electricity, which was particularly useful since Atlanta had a variety of electric-driven machinery, including her ammunition hoists. Couden's career typified the personnel problems of his generation. He served less than two years as a rear admiral before retirement in 1908.
Once the Squadron of Evolution was organized in September 1889, Admiral Walker began operations designed to meld Chicago, Atlanta, Boston, and Yorktown into a single fighting unit. On September 23 and 24, Atlanta underwent trials to determine her speed capability, coal consumption, and maneuvering qualities. Turning, backing, and stopping tests were made so that Captain Howell, and Admiral Walker as well, would know how she responded to the helm.21 Without such knowledge, it would have been extremely dangerous to operate the vessels in close proximity to one another. The admiral soon discovered that his squadron was short of bridge personnel who could read blinker or wig‑wag signals; he ordered each ship to train six apprentices for this type of service.22 Finally, in October, the word was passed that he intended to take the squadron for a cruise to the Mediterranean.
As a Naval Cadet in Atlanta, Pratt's job was to observe and learn by doing. Because the ship was relatively small, all officers messed together, except the captain, and the cadets had the opportunity to learn the folkways and mores of the wardroom. In Chicago, a larger vessel, the warrants, naval cadets, and ensigns messed separately from the rest of the officers. Though not allowed to stand officer of the deck watches when underway, Pratt and his classmates worked as junior watch officers. Gradually, all were permitted to stand a top watch in port. On 9 April 1890, while Atlanta was anchored in harbor at Corfu, Pratt stood his first watch as officer of the deck. It was a mid‑watch (0000‑0400), there were no incidents, and Pratt signed the log. His next independent watch would be 18 months later when he was an ensign in Petrel.
The seven-month cruise of Admiral Walker's squadron was a splendid beginning for Pratt's professional career. Atlantic and Mediterranean p16 port visits included Fayal, Lisbon, Tangier, Gibraltar, Cartagena, Port Mahon, Toulon, Villefranche, Genoa, Naples, Corfu, , and Algiers. During the second half of the cruise, after Pratt had transferred to Chicago, the squadron sailed to the Madeira and Cape Verde Islands, then on to Bahia and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil and returned to New York by way of the West Indies.23 The vessels spent much of their time under sail, although steam was and mostly used when entering and departing ports. Careful records were kept of coal consumption, and Atlanta's captain received a stiff bracing from the admiral when he concluded Howell was using too much fuel. When the captain later explained that his reports of heavy consumption on a certain day were the result of not measuring bunkers on other days, Walker called him down for using an unauthorized procedure.24
p17 In his effort to create a smoothly operating tactical unit of his squadron, Admiral Walker pressed the individual ship captains to adopt uniform administrative and operating procedures. He wanted pay and liberty and uniform policies to be common to all ships. No searchlight could be used without flagship permission. All extraordinary purchases for individual ships had to be authorized by the admiral. When in overseas ports, he divided the gathering of intelligence of foreign navies among his charges: one would report on ordnance, another on construction, another on engineering, etc. Because he was trying to develop tactical maneuvering skill in his squadron, Walker was exceptionally critical of captains who were slow to respond to the flag hoist. Finally, on 11 February 1890, while departing Toulon, the admiral summarily suspended Captain Howell from his command of Atlanta. He felt the captain had been consistently negligent in responding to signals. Because of this, he had ruined the admiral's plan to have the squadron turn and sortie on signal. Walker was a proud man, and he had been embarrassed, but five days later, after acceptable explanations and apologies, Captain Howell was restored to his command.25 Probably the most fascinating example of controlling policy for liberty came when the squadron visited Port Mahon in Minorca. Admiral Walker insisted that all personnel infected with venereal disease be kept on board ship. The prostitutes of Ports Mahon were medically inspected and the local authorities were concerned about contamination from the American squadron.26
Naval Cadet Pratt enjoyed his duty in Atlanta, though he was ill for several weeks with the "Spanish influenza." He served in a variety of topside positions, which interested him, and he found his wardroom messmates congenial. He visited everything he could ashore, looked at old ruins, gambled in the casino — here he was unusually lucky — and received a full education about the poverty that existed in the world outside the America he knew. In later years, when visiting the Mediterranean, he took very little shore leave. He felt he had seen it all on his "middle cruise."
The second half of Pratt's naval cadet cruise, served in Chicago, began auspiciously enough. He reported on board in Gibraltar to the crash of a twenty‑one-gun salute, since it was Queen Victoria's birthday. Chicago was a larger (4,500 tons) and professionally colder p18 vessel than Atlanta. Her captain, Henry B. Robeson, graduated in the class of 1860 and would retire as a rear admiral immediately after the Spanish-American War. She was described as an unprotected cruiser second rate, with four 8‑inch guns, eight 6‑inch guns, and two 5‑inchers, plus a dozen smaller guns. Among the senior officers were two who would deeply influence Pratt's career in the years ahead. The executive officer was Lieutenant Commander M. R. S. MacKenzie (USNA, 1866) who would be Pratt's commanding officer twice in the next ten years. The navigator was Lieutenant Raymond P. Rodgers (USNA, 1868), a member of one of the oldest and most important families in the Navy. Pratt later felt he had learned an enormous amount of seamanship from this fine officer. It would be Rodgers, who, as President of the Naval War College, had him ordered to the War College in 1911. Among the naval cadets in Atlanta were those who stood at the top of Pratt's class: Richmond P. Hobson, George H. Rock, Arthur B. Hoff, and Nathan C. Twining.
On 27 May 1890 the Squadron of Evolution stood out of Tangier and turned south into the Atlantic. When departing Funchal, in the Madeiras, seven stowaways from Gibraltar were discovered. These were assigned to messes and put to work until they could be landed at Porto Grande in the Cape Verde Islands.27 While en route to Bahia, Chicago crossed the Equator and paid the usual homage to Neptunus Rex. The cadets, including Pratt, received a full initiation into the order of "shellbacks." Upon arrival in Rio de Janeiro, the squadron was given a rousing reception. Lieutenant Austin Knight described the scene in the log of 23 June:
4 to 8 P.M. . . . At 7:15 Fort Villigagnonº fired a salute of 17 guns, and immediately a procession of boats, illuminated with colored lights, passed around the ships of this squadron, firing rockets and cheering, while bands in several boats played our national air, followed by other airs. In many of the boats the United States and Brazilian ensigns were displayed. The Brazilian men-of‑war at the same time displayed their searchlights. This ship and the Atlanta turned on searchlights, manned rigging and cheered as the boats passed.
After returning to New York at the end of July, Chicago spent the balance of 1890 re‑fitting and sailing in New England waters. In January 1891 Admiral Walker took the Squadron of Evolution to the Gulf of Mexico for visits in that area. Sailing in company with Yorktown and Dolphin to Galveston and New Orleans, and later p19 joined by Boston and Atlanta in Pensacola, the admiral had ample opportunity again to practice squadron maneuvers. The highlight of this cruise, for Pratt and the other cadets, was taking Chicago upriver to New Orleans. Her log reports on 9 February: "At 2.30 dressed ship full, manned yards and fired a salute of 21 guns to Rex, the King of the Carnival, as he passed the squadron in the steamer Oliver Burne to make a landing at New Orleans." After the carnival, the squadron sailed to Pensacola, then Tampa. At the latter city Captain Robeson had the misfortune to find an unmarked shoal in the approach to the harbor. Adding to Admiral Walker's embarrassment was having on board Senator J. D. Cameron of Pennsylvania and Representative H. A. Herbert of Alabama.28 The Alabamian, in two years, would become Secretary of the Navy. But there was no damage, structurally at least, and Chicago floated free on the next tide.
On 2 May 1891, Naval Cadet Pratt and his classmates were detached from Chicago and ordered to the Naval Academy to take their final examinations before commissioning. Pratt had no troubles with his tests and his first reports of professional fitness for duty would have cheered him had he seen them:
General conduct while at Academy — Good
Professional ability while on cruise — Excellent
General conduct while on cruise — Excellent29
He was commissioned on 1 July 1891 and, after home leave, was ordered to sea in the new cruiser Philadelphia, then commanded by Captain Frederick Rodgers. After a month, Pratt was allowed to exchange duty with an ensign in Petrel, a gunboat ordered to the Asiatic Station.30 He was anxious to visit his father and knew he had to spend three years at sea, so why not in China?
After duty in Chicago and Philadelphia, Petrel was a bit of a step down for the new ensign. A gunboat, fourth rate, Petrel displaced 892 tons and carried four 6‑inch guns in her main battery. Her complement, when Pratt reported on board, on 18 August 1891, was 15 officers and 100 enlisted. The commanding officer was Pratt's former executive officer in Chicago, Lieutenant Commander M. R. S. MacKenzie. Pratt had not enjoyed service in Chicago and he undoubtedly p20 was jarred a bit when his new skipper greeted him tersely with the comment: "Well, I didn't ask for you." If he wondered about the rate of advancement of officers in 1891, his spirits must have sagged once he discovered that the executive officer, Lieutenant N. T. Houston, had 22 years service and the navigator, Lieutenant H. H. Barroll, had completed 20 years since graduation from the Naval Academy. On the other hand, with only five watch officers, and so much to learn about his profession, Pratt knew that duty in a gunboat would provide the maximum in opportunities.
Lieutenant Commander (later Rear Admiral) M. R. S. MacKenzie.
p21 From the moment he came on board Petrel in August 1891, Ensign Pratt set about learning the duties of a watch and division officer. For collateral duty the commanding officer assigned him to work as the captain's clerk. In time, his shipmates would elect him to monthly stints as caterer for the officers mess; but his peculiar New England taste for cod and tripe saved him from too many tours. In all of his duties the new ensign worked exceptionally hard to master them. While popular among the younger officers, he was considered cold and at time diffident by his seniors. His approach was to stay closely within the letter of regulations or instructions given in all he did. This was his protection while learning his profession, but it left the impression that he was dull or unimaginative. In his "Autobiography" he described how he irritated Lieutenant Commander MacKenzie when Petrel was due to make a landfall at Port Said:
I had the morning watch the day we were to make port. We were supposed to sight a light in that watch, but evidently the course had been laid too far out. Looking aft I saw the old man up and on the quarter deck, so I said nothing. Presently he came on the bridge, mad I could see, but probably with the navigator. However, he had to have someone to take it out on, so turning to me he said, "Young man, I suppose you would have let her go hell whooping to the eastward without reporting to me." Replying politely I said, "Yes sir, seeing you were on deck, I would have let her go hell whooping to the eastward unless you ordered me to change course." With that he sent me aloft, pea jacket and all, to the topmost head to keep a lookout for a light. I was a disagreeable lad in those days, always keeping within the law, but with a manner extremely irritating. In reality it was self-defense as I had no service connections or friends amongst the older officers, and felt left out.31
Once Petrel departed from New York harbor, Pratt quickly began watch standing as officer of the deck. Because of her small coal capacity (200 tons maximum) and daily consumption of seven tons at 60 to 70 revolutions (7 to 9 knots), Petrel wore sails almost constantly. When steaming, provided the wind was right, the foretopmast staysail, the main trysail, and the jib normally were used. Occasionally, a breakdown at sea forced unfurling all sails. Pratt had the evening watch on New Year's Day and wrote into the log: "Under sail alone, all plain sail except main trysail and spanker set, until 11.40 when air pump valves being repaired went ahead with engines. Took in foretopmast staysail. . . ."32
p22 Petrel arrived finally at Shanghai on 30 March 1892 after visits to such ports as Gibraltar, Port Said, Colombo, Singapore, Saigon, and Hong Kong. She was now a part of the Asiatic Station under the command of Rear Admiral George E. Belknap who flew his two‑starred flag in Marion. It was fitting that Admiral Belknap's collection of ships, six in all, should not be designated the Asiatic Fleet. Normally consisting of four or five maritime antiquities, plus one or two newer vessels, the Asiatic Station vessels were distributed throughout the Far East and the Bering Sea. They seldom sailed together and certainly were not trained to fight together as a division, squadron, or fleet. During Pratt's four years on the station, he served under five rear admirals and three commanding officers in Petrel.
While serving in the gunboat,33 the new ensign shared in all of the experiences common to duty on the Asiatic Station. The summer of 1892 was spent largely on the Yangtze River as far upriver as Hankow. Because of her light draught and firepower, Petrel was an ideal vessel to protect American nationals and property in the interior of China. Service on the great river did allow Pratt to visit his father regularly. Nichols Pratt was then employed by Russell and Company, commanding the steamer Kiang-teen, based on Ningpo. He allowed his son to handle the ship on several occasions and taught him a fair amount about navigating the lower reaches of the Yangtze.34 With the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War in February 1894, Petrel spent a good deal of time in North China waters ready to assist American and other foreigners caught in the war zone. In the late fall of 1894, after a four-month cruise in Aleutian and Alaskan waters, Lieutenant Commander William H. Emory brought Petrel to the port of Newchwang (Yingkow). Here, close to the Manchurian theater of operations in the war, Americans could find refuge under friendly guns were the situation to become dangerous the aliens. Because the waters froze solidly in the winter, Petrel and a smaller British gunboat, Firebrand, were driven into "mud docks" where they remained between early November 1894 and 10 April 1895. The masts were sent down and the ship decked over to reduce the loss of heat, but the guns were clear should they be needed. The ship's company was formed p24 into an infantry battalion and trained for ground operations in case military assistance was needed in the vicinity of the ship.35
During this cruise on the Asiatic Station, Ensign Pratt learned a great deal of professional value and learned it well. With Morris MacKenzie, he found that scrupulous attention to detail and a taut ship might not mean the happiest vessel, but the crew would work well because it knew the rules. Under MacKenzie, but particularly under Emory, he had practical instruction in seamanship without parallel. He admired the style and "swank" of Emory who came to Petrel from a tour as naval attaché in London. Though the gunboat might be a "gilt edged ship" in terms of cleanliness and fittings, Emory sailed it boldly in some of the most difficult waters in the world in the area of the Aleutian Islands and the Bering Sea. With compass and deep sea lead line, and a kedge anchor ready to drop, Emory groped his way through the islands and taught all hands the meaning, and value, of a well-trained "seaman's eye."
In many ways Ensign Pratt "found himself" during his China cruise. He came on board Petrel callow and defensive; he left a very different person. His fitness reports for these years tell the story very briefly. The report form for the early 1890s had ten entries, the first six usually required only a single phrase or word (excellent, very good, good, etc.) to describe the person's: 1) "professional ability," 2) "attention to duty," 3) "general conduct," 4) "sobriety," 5) "health," and 6) "efficiency of men under his control." In his first report (31 December 1891), Lieutenant Commander MacKenzie described Pratt's professional ability as "tolerable." In his final evaluation of the ensign, MacKenzie wrote "excellent" into all of the blanks except number six, this was simply "good." After his six months in Lancaster, Captain A. H. McCormick marked Pratt's fitness report "excellent" in the first four questions and "good" in numbers five and six. He also noted in the "remarks" (no. 10) section: "This officer has excellent aptitudes, is careful and extremely reliable." When Lieutenant Commander Emory reported on Pratt, the form had changed a bit. The first three entries 1) "Professional ability," 2) "Attention to duty," 3) "Manner of performing duties" and number 12), "Remarks," can give us some clues to Pratt's development. On 1 July 1894, Emory marked the first three entries "good" and remarked: "A good officer and p25 perfectly trustworthy." Upon Pratt's detachment, Emory rated him "excellent" in every category.36 Looking back with the hindsight of forty-eight years, Pratt commented on his early skippers:
. . . in my earlier Naval career, I sailed with almost every hardboiled senior officer in the service, save one, and I mean hardboiled, stern, just, efficient, with little tolerance for laziness or inefficiency. They were not the good fellows in the service; the ones easy to get along with; the kind most officers wanted to sail with. I thought at the time I was unlucky, but have come to realize that it was the best of fortune that my early training was under this type of men, and I was well trained. Deliver me from the skipper who tries to be the good fellow.37
1 Information about Nichols Pratt, Abbie Jane Veazie and William Veazie Pratt during the years 1840‑1885 came mostly from the Admiral William Veazie Pratt manuscript collections at the Naval History Division's Operational Archives in the Washington Navy Yard (hereafter NHD), and the smaller collection at the Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island. Papers and diaries concerning Pratt's wife, Louise Miller Johnson Pratt, are also in the War College collection. Other manuscripts, concerning Mrs. Pratt and her family, are in the custody of Miss Elena Shute of Belfast, Maine. Most important for knowledge of Admiral Pratt's early years is a manuscript "Autobiography" which he wrote with the assistance of Felicia Hyde during 1939. It consists of 361 pages of typescript and copies exist in both collections of his papers. The Pratt "Autobiography" has certain limitations in accuracy, due to the conditions under which it was written (see Chapter 11), but it represents the only reasonably accurate account of the admiral's early years. While recognizing these limitations, the author has used the information in the manuscript with caution and where possible a cross-check was made of the facts stated. Where verification was not possible, the author has proceeded on the assumption that the information given by the admiral was probably correct.
2 Pratt, "Autobiography," p12.
3 Exercise of the Graduating Class of the Belfast High School, June 24, 1885 (Belfast, Maine: Belfast Historical Society, 1885). See also typescripts of remarks from members of the Class of 1885, read on August 15, 1953, at the Belfast sesquicentennial celebration. They are in the possession of Miss Elena Shute of Belfast, Maine.
4 The term "midshipman," rather than "naval cadet," has been used to describe students at the Naval Academy, though the latter title was in use during the years 1882‑1912. Between 1870 and 1882, the students were called "cadet-midshipmen" and before that "midshipmen." The title "naval cadet" will be used when referring to those serving two years at sea after graduation from the Naval Academy.
5 Report of Medical Board to Superintendent United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, 9 September 1885. Naval Academy Records, Register No. 3818, Record Group 24, U. S. National Archives (hereafter cited as RG24/NA).
6 U. S. Naval Academy, Marks given candidates, etc. . . . Vol. 643, RG405/NA.
7 Robert E. Coontz, From the Mississippi to the Sea (Philadelphia: Dorrance and Company, 1930); Henry A. Wiley, An Admiral From Texas (Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday, Doran and Co., 1934); Yates Stirling, Sea Duty: The Memoirs of a Fighting Admiral (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1939); John A. Lejeune, Reminiscences of a Marine (Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday, Doran and Co., 1930); Holden A. Evans, One Man's Fight for a Better Navy (New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1940).
8 U. S. Naval Academy, Records of Naval Cadets, Vol. 8, RG405/NA.
9 Pratt, "Autobiography," p21.
10 CDR C. L. Huntington to CAPT F. M. Ramsey, Annapolis, 31 August 1886. Letters Received, Superintendent U. S. Naval Academy, box 27, RG405/NA; Daily Log, U. S. S. Constellation, 1886, RG24/NA (hereafter cited as Constellation, Log).
11 Constellation, Log, 3 August 1886, RG24/NA; Pratt, "Autobiography," p32.
12 Pratt, "Autobiography," p34.
13 Constellation, Log, 26 June 1888, RG24/NA.
14 CDR P. F. Harrington to CAPT W. T. Sampson, Annapolis, 31 August 1888. Letters Received, Superintendent U. S. Naval Academy, box 27, RG405/NA. For actions taken by Secretary Whitney and President Cleveland, see correspondence of July and August 1888 in box 28 of the Superintendent's letters received.
15 Pratt, "Autobiography," p25.
16 Ibid., p38; U. S., Department of the Navy, Register of the Commissioned and Warrant Officers of the Navy of the United States and of the Marine Corps to January 1, 1890 (Washington: GPO, 1890), pp34‑35.
17 For a good study of this period, though marred by inaccuracies, consult Walter R. Herrick, Jr., The American Naval Revolution (Baton Rouge, La.: Louisiana State University Press, 1966). Older, but still quite useful works are: Harold and Margaret Sprout, The Rise of American Naval Power, 1776‑1918 (Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 1946), pp165‑222; and George T. Davis, A Navy Second to None: The Development of Modern American Naval Policy (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1940), pp37‑100.
18 Herrick, op. cit., p54.
20 Pratt, "Autobiography," p44.
21 U. S. S. Atlanta, Log, 23 and 24 September 1889, RG24/NA.
22 Squadron of Evolution: Squadron Letters, 17 October 1889–1 April 1891, Entry 30, RG313/NA.
23 U. S. S. Atlanta and U. S. S. Chicago, Logs, 7 December 1889–25 July 1890, RG24/NA.
24 Squadron of Evolution: Squadron Letters, 4 January 1890, RG313/NA.
25 U. S. S. Atlanta, Log, 11 February 1890, RG24/NA; Squadron of Evolution: Squadron Letters, 18 February 1890, RG313/NA.
26 Ibid., 23 January 1890.
27 U. S. S. Chicago, Log, 31 May 1890, RG24/NA.
28 Ibid., 12 March 1891.
29 U. S. Navy, Records of Officers, Vol. 12, RG24/NA.
30 Ibid.; Pratt, "Autobiography," p50.
31 Pratt, "Autobiography," p52.
32 U. S. S. Petrel, Log, 1 January 1892, RG24/NA.
33 During the spring of 1893 ENS Pratt was hospitalized in Yokohama and returned to duty in July 1893 with assignment to Lancaster, flagship of the Asiatic Station. In January 1894 he returned to Petrel when Lancaster left for the United States.
34 Pratt, "Autobiography," p62.
35 Ibid., pp76‑81. Petrel's 1894 cruise in the Bering Sea and duty at Newchwang is fully described in: Albert Gleaves, The Life of an American Sailor: Rear Admiral William Hemsley Emory, United States Navy (New York: George H. Doran Company, 1923), pp164‑214.
36 "Report on the Fitness of Officers," (ENS W. V. Pratt), 31 December 1891, 3 December 1892, 1 January 1894, 1 July 1894, 1 July 1895, Pratt MSS/NHD.
37 Pratt, "Autobiography," p51.
a The Constellation was a late‑18c ship built for and commanded by Commodore Truxtun in several famous engagements. The story of the ship is told in Chapters 23‑25 and 27‑37 of Eugene Ferguson's Truxtun of the Constellation; a complete transcription of the book is onsite.
She can be seen in the background of an 1893 photograph of the Naval Academy crew, in Proceedings of the U. S. Naval Institute, 61:1558, and another atmospheric photo of midshipmen on her deck, taken in 1889, is given in G. E. Wheeler, Admiral William Veazie Pratt, p9.
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