Short URL for this page:
Ensign Pratt was detached from Petrel on 5 June 1895 with orders to report to the United States Naval Academy for further assignment. After six years of almost continuous sea duty, the class of 1889 now came ashore. Returning to Annapolis with Pratt were his classmates Arthur Hoff, Benjamin Hutchison, and George Marvell. He considered Hoff a good friend. They had served together as cadets in Chicago and both had gone to the Asiatic Station where again they were shipmates during Pratt's short tour in Lancaster. Coming from an old Maryland family, and the great-grandson of the legendary Commodore William Bainbridge, Hoff was a person that Pratt admired. Hutchison had served in Petrel also and had travelled with Pratt and Hoff on their return to the United States. After reporting to the Academy on 30 July, Pratt was given leave for the month of August and spent it in Belfast. There he was attracted to Louise Johnson, the daughter of the city's leading banker.
Returning to the Naval Academy at the termination of his leave, the ensign settled down to two years of service as an instructor in the mathematics department. He had done well in mathematics as a midshipman, averaging 3.29 for seven terms. Therefore, his seniors expected him to be able to handle teaching in this area. Because he was unmarried, Pratt was assigned to bachelor officers quarters within "the yard" — a term used to designate the Academy's grounds.1 In his correspondence, he complained of the extra hours devoted to daily preparations: "I know I make hard work of this but if I do a thing at all I want to do it well, so I put in all my time at work." On the other hand, he also wrote of daily golfing, sailing, ice skating, and plenty of parties plus the various "hops" held in the winter and spring. Unlike the present day Academy, the bachelor officers were regular members of the midshipman hop committees and joined in most of the social activities held in the yard.
The Naval Academy Officers' Baseball Team, 1895‑1896. Left to right: First row, Philip B. Cooper, Ensigns William V. Pratt and George R. Marvell; Second row, Professor Paul J. Dashiell, Ensign Ashley H. Robertson, and Dr. Charles F. Stokes; Third row, Walter B. Izard, Dr. Stephen S. White, Ensign Frederick B. Bassett, Jr., Lieutenant John E. Craven, and Frank W. Bartlett.
Bill Pratt also had a new interest besides teaching, and that was Louise Johnson. He had known the three Johnson brothers since childhood, and had been a good friend of Alfred Johnson, the oldest. Their family had been prominent in Belfast history almost from the city's founding in the 1770s. Edward Johnson, the current head of the family, had earned a fortune in railroad financing and construction and then turned to banking in Belfast.2 Though the family home was "The Homestead," on Primrose Hill in Belfast, the Johnsons lived most of the year in the Back Bay section of Boston (178 Marlborough Street) and spent only the summers on Penobscot Bay. In August 1895 they were in Belfast and at their summer cottage in Camden, a few miles p29 to the south. Upon renewing his friendship with Alfred, Pratt discovered that Louise had grown up and become a dazzling young woman. After returning to Annapolis, he began an epistolary campaign to win her. Little did he know that he was commencing a seven-year siege.
During this tour on the Severn, the badly smitten ensign tried his best to lure Louise and her family to Annapolis for the winter or spring hops. The daughter, quite obviously, could not come alone and the Johnsons could imagine nothing worth seeing on the Chesapeake Bay. On the contrary, in 1895 and 1896, Louise was whirling madly through the social season of Boston. Alfred was attending Harvard and her twin, Edward, was studying at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; both provided her with a steady stream of "swooning swains." A tiny woman, she danced well, was a good conversationalist, and possessed a sense of humor. She had been well enough educated in private schools to know how to interest a wide range of men. She carried on a very proper correspondence ("My dear Miss Johnson;" "Dear Ensign Pratt") with this naval person eight years her senior, teased him about his seriousness, and occasionally sent clippings from the Boston Sunday Herald which described the parties she attended in Cambridge and Boston. It took a year before she became "My dear Miss Louise" and graced her suitor with a photograph. But after two months leave in Belfast in the summer of 1896 and another year of correspondence, Pratt was no closer to winning Louise than he had been the first day he met her. In one letter of self-analysis, he did give a hint of his ambitions and the type of patience he possessed:
I am more or less a philosophical mortal and I have found that in order to get along we must adapt ourselves to existing conditions, if they can't be made to adapt themselves to us, and consequently I content myself with crumbs, and never grumble, although personally I much prefer the whole loaf. I only hope that I may be able to keep this frame of mind throughout my whole career, for I can see that it will be of great advantage to me. It prevents one from wasting his energies on small things, worrying over things that can't be helped, and at the same time leaves him cool and calm enough to seize any opportunity that may be offered. I have two aims in life now, one is my profession which I hope to be at the top of some day, and the other is, well I guess that will keep for a while. I daresay you might guess if you tried.3
Ensign Pratt and his fiancee, Louise Johnson, about 1896.
p31 Time passes quickly for a busy person, and Pratt left the Naval Academy in July 1897 for duty in a new gunboat, Annapolis. Commanded by Commander John J. Hunker, Annapolis was an apprentice training vessel as well as a part of the North Atlantic Squadron. Pratt served as a watch and division officer and also participated in the instruction of the apprentices. He took only one cruise in the ship, to the West Indies and north coast of South America, and then returned to New York just before the outbreak of the Spanish-American War. As was true at the Naval Academy, his fitness reports were outstanding. Commander Hunker marked him "excellent" in all sections where evaluation was expected.4
When Annapolis returned to the naval base at Tompkinsville (Staten Island), Pratt visited his former skipper, Commander M. R. S. MacKenzie. He was busy outfitting Mayflower, a converted yacht, for duty against Spain in the war that was momentarily expected. Unknown to his young friend, MacKenzie had asked the Bureau of Navigation to transfer Pratt to his vessel. Pratt suspected as much and was flattered — he wrote to Louise: "I really think the skipper would like to have me come as I know his ways. I am very fond of him, with all of his abrupt ways, for he brought me up as a young midshipman on the Chicago and afterwards on the Petrel." Orders soon came and Pratt had a new home. He described Mayflower:
She is a beauty, staterooms fitted in white and gold with large clothes lockers with doors of plate glass. We have a smoking room on deck with an open fireplace and writing desk. The first lieutenant's room alone is nearly as large as our whole wardroom on the Annapolis, and has lounges and electric lights. The bathrooms are beautiful, marble tubs with a shower over each and hot and cold, fresh and salt taps.
Though built as a pleasure craft, she was converted to a torpedo-boat destroyer by adding two 5‑inch guns, a dozen six‑pounders, and a pair of torpedo tubes.
Pratt had reported to Mayflower on 9 April 1898, and two days later, began his watch-standing duties.5 That same day, 11 April, President McKinley sent his war message to Congress. On 19 April Congress passed a joint resolution directing the President to use all means possible to free Cuba from Spain's rule; on 25 April McKinley signed the resolution and declared that a state of war had existed p32 since 21 April. By the 19th Mayflower was in Key West. On the 23rd of April her log showed her on station blockading the port of Havana.
Commander MacKenzie tried every means possible to bring his command into action, but luck was against him. After a brief period in the blockade outside Santiago, waiting for Admiral Cervera to emerge, Mayflower was ordered to Key West, then back to the Havana blockade. MacKenzie occasionally lobbed shells at the Morro Castle fortress, or exchanged 5‑inch shells with Spanish gunboats who ventured close to the harbor entrance, but mostly it was control of shipping on Cuba's north coast. On 19 June Mayflower did capture an English vessel out of Halifax trying to run the blockade. Pratt was given command of the prize, and with eight of his crewmen took the Newfoundland to the U. S. District Court in Charleston. By the time he returned to Mayflower, on 14 August, fighting in the Spanish-American War had ended two days previously. Pratt had enjoyed a pleasant six weeks in Charleston, but in the end the ship was returned to its owners and Mayflower's crew did not receive the prize money that otherwise would have been paid.6 The closest the ensign came to the Spaniards was during a visit to the wrecks of Cervera's fleet. While inspecting the Maria Teresa, Pratt and his shipmates found two dead sailors who had been overlooked. MacKenzie gave them a proper burial at sea.7
With the conclusion of hostilities in August 1898, Mayflower and Ensign Pratt returned to peacetime routine on the North Atlantic Station. He had completed a year of sea duty, but at least two more would be required before he could come ashore again. He wanted desperately to marry Louise and expected to be able to do so soon, for he was due for promotion to lieutenant (junior grade) and lieutenant. Because he had already served more than seven years in grade as ensign, he could expect two promotions within a year, since only six years of commissioned service were then required to advance to lieutenant. During the long watches on blockade, the lovesick ensign had computed many times the expenses of supporting a wife. He felt they would be able to marry without Louise suffering a severe decline in her standard of living. Unfortunately, for him, the Navy Department had other plans.
In November Ensign Pratt was ordered to report to the Washington Navy Yard for the examinations that were prerequisite for promotion. p33 On 15 November he appeared before the Naval Examining Board, then headed by his old skipper from Atlanta, Rear Admiral John Howell. After two days of written examinations, a thorough scrutinizing of his medical record, and an interview with the Board, Admiral Howell advised President McKinley that the Board had concluded:
. . . that the mental, moral, and professional fitness of the candidate to perform the duties of a naval officer, at sea, in the next higher grade, has been established to its satisfaction . . . and recommended him for promotion.
A month later he was commissioned a lieutenant (junior grade), to date from 10 August 1898.8
Within two weeks of his return from Washington, Mayflower began a leisurely cruise to Cuba and the West Indies. Again separated from Louise, Pratt exploded in frustration when writing to her: "I wish I was anything but a naval officer. Damn the Navy anyway. . . ." His situation was understandable; he wanted to marry and neither his intended nor the Navy Department seemed to be too interested. Louise was again enjoying the social season, both in Boston and Washington, and thinking of a "Grand Tour" in Europe. The Navy was preparing for expanded operations in the Philippines should the Filipino nationalists refuse to accept American sovereignty over their territory.
When Mayflower returned to Tompkinsville in January 1899, Pratt found orders there for him to report to the cruiser Newark. He logged in on 2 February and two days later fighting broke out between American and Filipino troops around Manila. The new lieutenant (junior grade) was again to go to war. Completed in 1891, Newark was a 4,000‑ton "unprotected cruiser" that was fairly heavily armed with a dozen 6‑inch rifles. She had a complement of 260 sailors, 36 Marines, and 21 officers and naval cadets. Like most of her contemporaries, she was barkentine-rigged and carried a full suit of sails for auxiliary power.9 Captain Caspar Goodrich, the commanding officer, was an oldtimer who had seen service in the Civil War, after graduating at the top of his class in November 1864 (Class of 1865), and in 1897 had p34 finally reached captain's rank. Pratt had met him in 1894 when Petrel had served in company with Goodrich's Concord in Aleutian waters. He was a fine seaman, a stern disciplinarian, and would become a rear admiral before retirement in 1909. It was understood by all that he would take Newark to San Francisco and then would be relieved.
The cruiser Newark, in which Lieutenant Pratt served during the Philippine Insurrection.
Newark's itinerary to San Francisco included a short period of drills in Caribbean, visits to Rio de Janeiro and Montevideo, passage through the Straits of Magellan, and several stops in South and Central American ports before arrival in San Francisco Bay. The first part went well after departure from Tompkinsville on 23 March 1899.
Following his initial irritation at receiving orders to the Asiatic Station, Pratt's good humor, perhaps abetted by salt air and a good ship, returned to normal. Arrival in Guantanamo brought the additionally cheering news that the Naval Examining Board had met on 24 March and recommended him for promotion to lieutenant. He was so commissioned on 10 June, to date from 3 March.10 He might be a long way from home, but his pay had now risen to $1,800 per year, plus allowances. Also changing the attitude of many officers was the evident fact that promotions would come more quickly than in the past. The number of new ships in commission, many of them now displacing more than 10,000 tons with complements exceeding 500 men, required more officers in the ranks of lieutenant commander and commander than had been the situation since the Civil War.
Before containing her passage to the Straits of Magellan, Newark engaged in three weeks of fleet maneuvers with other vessels of the North Atlantic Station. Tactical maneuvers and annual target practice were carried out. In a letter to Louise, Pratt commented that the noise and heat were terrible, but he obviously was enjoying the work:
So far we have been doing nothing but fleet tactics all day long. It is a splendid drill for the officers but wearing on the flesh for it is trying to the nerves to see these big clumsy ships twist in and out in various formations when a single ship might send one of them crashing into the other and then there would be another "Victoria" affair [British ship rammed and sunk in the Mediterranean on 22 June 1893]. Still it is bully practice and I like it. The captain is usually on the bridge, but he lets the officer of the deck do all the handling of the ship. . . . It is even more fun than handling a horse for you only have to look out for yourself, but here you have millions of dollars of property and hundreds of lives that go through some bad mistakes. Still it is p35 our business to know how to do these things and it is only by practice we can learn.11
At the completion of the Caribbean exercises, Newark steamed for Rio de Janeiro and points south. On 28 April the log read:
At 1.15 ship was hailed by Neptune who came aboard with staff and went aft to interview the Commanding Officer. He was received by crew at quarters and ship dressed with the National Colors at each masthead and gaff. Those in crew who had never met Neptune were informally introduced to him. He left at 3.00.
Pratt, of course, had crossed the Equator in 1890 and was now a "shellback;" he did, however, receive a certificate from Neptunus Rex noting that "Lt. W. V. Pratt has this day visited our Royal Domain, and partaken of ancient and honored forms required. . . ."12
[map below] After coaling ship in 1 Rio and a visit to 2 Montevideo, Newark stood south for the 3 Straits of Magellan and on to 4 Valparaiso. Goodrich ordered the ship hove to in a few bays for liberty parties, but no coal was taken on board at 5 Punta Arenas. It was quite expensive there and the captain believed sufficient fuel was on board to make his destination. While lying in 6 Possession Bay, Goodrich did remark to Pratt that he felt the ship was riding rather high in the water. During passage in the Straits on 29 May, the captain ordered Lieutenant H. F. Bryan to inventory the coal bunkers and give him a report. The entry in the ship's log for the previous noon showed 323 tons on board, but Bryan could now find only 73 tons in the bunkers. With almost four days steaming ahead, and burning 30 to 40 tons per day under the best conditions, Captain Goodrich quickly realized that his chief engineer had been derelict. Consumption was reduced to 30 tons per day, but with only 174 miles advance at 7.3 knots for the next day, new tactics were needed. Newark's log entry for the forenoon watch on 30 May reads:
. . . at turn to called all hands to bend sail, and bent the fore topmast staysail, fore storm staysail, mizzen topmast staysail, mizzen storm staysail, and storm mizzen, and set all except the mizzen topmast staysail . . . steam on boilers C and D. Average steam 94 pounds. Average revolutions 56.3.
During the afternoon and into the evening, both steam and sails continued to be used, but revolutions were reduced to 37.5. By morning the ship made Low Bay, on 7 Guaitecas Island in the northern Chonos Archipelago. With only 16 tons of coal on board, Goodrich p36 ordered the anchor let go. The ship lay •about 250 miles from 8 Ancud, the closest port where coal could be obtained.13
For a week the captain ordered wood-cutting parties ashore, and cords of green wood were brought on board. In all the crew cut about 90 cords and several sailors suffered injuries from falling logs or inexperience at lumberjack activities. On 8 June four boilers were lit off, but the green wood would raise at best only 25 pounds steam, and Newark needed 100 pounds to move. Finally, on 11 June, the navigator and two other officers departed for Ancud in the ship's steam cutter. For another week Newark lay alone in Low Bay while the officers tried to keep the thoroughly dispirited crew busy. Small arms practice, fishing, hunting, and even target practice with the 6‑inch rifles filled the day's routine. On 19 June the Chilean collier Pisagua arrived from Ancud and delivered 210 tons of coal on board. At 3:04 P.M. the next day Newark weighed anchor and bade farewell to Guaitecas Island. The ship again coaled at Ancud on the 21st and Goodrich left the same day, at full speed, for Valparaiso. While coaling there on 29 and 30 June, the log reported 46 absentees one day and 58 the next. One could hardly blame the men, but the captain still filled the log with "punishments awarded at mast." As a final irony in the incident, when Newark reached 9 Callao, Peru, a regular lieutenant's commission was awaiting Passed Assistant Engineer Albert Moritz. With Lieutenant Pratt, he would date from 3 March 1899.14
[map below] The rest of the trip north to San Francisco was fairly leisurely and quite uneventful. One would hardly know that the Navy was again at war in the Philippines. Leaving 1 Valparaiso on 6 July, Newark called on 2 Coquimbo, 3 Iquique, 4 Mollendo, 5 Callao, 6 San Jose de Guatemala, and 7 Acapulco. On 29 August the wayward cruiser stood into 8 San Francisco Bay and Goodrich reported to Rear Admiral Albert Kautz, Commander in Chief, Pacific Station. Goodrich's relief, Captain Bowman H. McCalla, was already in San Francisco and on 1 September he relieved Goodrich and assumed command of Newark. As had been the case with Commander MacKenzie in Mayflower, Pratt received outstanding fitness reports from Captain Goodrich. His detachment report on Pratt concluded: "A capable and exemplary officer — a delightful shipmate."15
p37 Captain McCalla was anxious to get underway for the Philippines, but the fates would not have it. Because of an engine casualty, Newark required six weeks of overhaul at the 9 Mare Island Navy Yard. During this period the captain ordered daily landing practice and infantry drill for the ship's company. Pratt and the other line officers were carefully schooled by the Marines in the use of small arms and handling a 3‑inch artillery piece. By the time Newark sailed on 17 October, Pratt was capable of acting as an infantry platoon leader or company commander in operations ashore. Such careful preparations were expected of Captain McCalla, a man with a service reputation for boldness, aggressiveness, efficiency, and strict attention to discipline.16
Captain Bowman H. McCalla.
p38 Newark stood into Manila Bay on 25 November 1899, anchored off Cavite, and Captain McCalla reported to Rear Admiral John C. Watson, Commander in Chief of U. S. Naval Forces on the Asiatic Station. It was a slightly solemn occasion in that all ships were displaying the national colors at half-mast in mourning for Vice President Garret A. Hobart who had died four days before. Newark's crew quickly learned that fighting had been continuous in the islands since 5 February and the naval forces had grown to about 50 ships by the time Newark arrived. There were 20 regularly commissioned naval vessels ranging in size from the battleship Oregon to the gunboat Petrel and included the armored cruiser Brooklyn, the monitors Monterey and Monadnock, 3 unprotected cruisers, 11 gunboats, and several supply ships. Also in the force were approximately 30 smaller Spanish craft, lightly armed, and usually carrying a crew of two officers and 24 enlisted men. This latter group had become quite useful for patrol duties throughout the archipelago, to suppress any arms smuggling to the insurrectionists, but they had drawn their crews from the complements of the larger vessels and thus reduced their operational capabilities.17
During the period from 3 December 1899 till 16 April 1900, when Pratt was detached from Newark, Captain McCalla's operations in northern Luzon typified the Navy's work in the Philippines. Though led by General Emilio Aguinaldo from the interior regions of northern Luzon, the "insurrectos" were active from Aparri in north to Zamboanga in southern Mindanao. Because it was a country of over 7,000 islands and islets, the Navy was particularly vital to suppress the rebellion. Once the Army was dispersed throughout the main islands to crush major groupings, mop up guerrilla bands, and maintain the peace in pacified areas, the Navy then worked to prevent resupplying of the rebel bands. For this duty the ubiquitous small gunboats, succored by larger "parent vessels," such as Concord, Yorktown, or Wheeling, proved quite successful. Larger units like Baltimore, Princeton, Helena, and monitors, operated constantly in support of Army operations ashore. During the opening months of the insurrection, Monadnock provided gunfire support to Army troops along the shores of Manila Bay in the so‑called battles of Malate, p39 Parañaque, and Caloocan.18 By the first of March 1899, primarily because of Navy firepower demonstrations before Cebu, Iloilo, and Bacolod, naval landing parties were able to control the Visayan Region in the central Philippines.19
Eight days after arriving in Manila Bay, Captain McCalla took Newark north to support Army operations in the Ilocos provinces and the Cagayan Valley. On 5 December, while anchored offshore from Vigan, Newark landed 116 men and 5 officers to join 50 from Princeton for operations as an infantry battalion. Their mission was to reinforce Army units attempting to hold Vigan, the capital of Ilocos Sur. Pratt commanded the 3‑inch field piece and had several opportunities to use it during the next two days. The naval force came under heavy fire in the evening of 5 December; but, it managed to hold the central plaza of Vigan. By the 8th, the landing party could return on board Newark and the Army and Navy had a secure base at Vigan.20 While most of Newark's landing party had performed creditably, Captain McCalla did find it necessary to punish seven men at mast for being "drunk in the presence of the enemy." The sentences were the same: "Five days solitary confinement on bread and water. Not to bear arms while serving in Newark."21
From operations against Vigan, McCalla was ordered to the most northern coast of Luzon to capture Aparri, the seaport for the Cagayan River Valley. He was senior officer for a force that included the gunboats Princeton, Helena, and Wheeling. Expecting to fight for his objective, Newark's captain was pleased to discover that General Daniel Tirona was willing to surrender all Filipino troops in Cagayan Province. In return for his cooperation, McCalla appointed the general as acting governor of the province.22 He won the confidence and goodwill of the inhabitants by allowing them to ship large quantities of tobacco to Manila, so that economic recovery in Cagayan and Isabela Provinces could begin. He justified his action in a letter to Admiral Watson: "I will add for your information, that the more p41 quickly trade begins here in Cagayan Valley, the sooner the war will be over, and the greater the effect of our occupation upon the other Provinces of this Island." He concluded that he wanted nothing personally, "but I am interested in this people whose confidence is essential to gain completely at the earliest moment, in order to reduce the cost of the occupation to our Government, if for no other reason."23
Newark continued to support Army operations in northern Luzon during the rest of December. Lieutenant Bryan took a landing party into the mountains west of Aparri, to Pamplona, to assist the Army in its attempts to cut a key pass that was being used by insurgents. A week later McCalla had Lieutenant G. C. Day, commanding the small gunboat Zafiro, take General Tirona to the Batanes Islands in order to secure the surrender of arms there. Again the inhabitants gave up their weapons without a fight.24
After the first of the year guerrilla activities in northern Luzon moderated, and Newark spent most of its time near Vigan or in Manila Bay. Pratt and the crew became restive as the "hot season" began. There was little to do. The ship's log began to reflect the problems of crew morale. Charges such as "finding fault with orders frivolously," "shirking work," "continued disrespect and disobedience," were met with double-irons confinement, bread and water, and many hours of extra duty. Pratt was grieved because the captain would not release him in order that he could command a small gunboat. He suspected that McCalla allowed those he disliked to have commands so he would be rid of them. A bit of relief came in March when Newark escorted the monitor Monadnock to Hong Kong, but by the first week in April, Pratt was back in Manila sweating out the most miserable period of the Philippine year. He was appalled that McCalla still insisted on gun and boat drills even though most of the other vessels had their crews resting under awnings.25
Adding to Pratt's restiveness in April 1900 was his new set of orders. He had expected to be returned to the United States in April and instead had received orders to the gunboat Bennington, which he boarded in Japan and rode back to the Philippines. On 31 May, after six weeks in the gunboat, he was detached to the monitor Monadnock. Following two weeks in this vessel, Pratt finally received orders to a p42 vessel flying a "homeward bound" pennant, ambulance ship Solace.26 He reported on board, resentful at the Asiatic Station Commander, Rear Admiral George C. Remey, who had held him beyond his detachment date, and upset that Louise showed no interest in marriage, despite the fact that he would be reporting to the Naval Academy for duty.
Pratt's return to Mare Island in Solace turned out to be a bitter voyage. The skipper could not command, the executive officer drank excessively, and discipline was unknown. To his horror, after the experience in Newark, Solace almost emptied her coal bunkers between Guam and Honolulu. Pratt summed up his experience: "It was a pleasure to leave such a ship, the sloppiest I have ever seen in the Navy, quite different from any of the others on which I ever served and no credit to the Service. A spade is a spade and might as well be called one."27
Though Lieutenant Pratt concluded his second Far East cruise full of rancor toward his seniors, he must have held his feelings carefully in check. His fitness reports from Captain McCalla, after a tepid start, were outstanding. The commanding officer of Bennington marked him "excellent" in all categories. Solace's skipper, undoubtedly grateful for having a first-class watch officer on board, likewise rated him "excellent" in every item. Only Monadnock's commander gave Pratt a marginal report, actually the worst he was to receive in his naval career. He was "good" or "very good" in the various categories and "excellent" in none.28 But this is understandable. Pratt felt that he was being "Shanghaied" in Monadnock; he was on board just two weeks and it normally took a captain a couple of months to discover his abilities. More than anything else, this mediocre report reveals that Lieutenant Pratt was as human as any officer working under similar circumstances.
Bill Pratt's second tour of shore duty began most inauspiciously. He had applied for assignment to the Naval Academy in anticipation of marrying Louise Johnson as soon as they could make the arrangements. Unfortunately for him, she had other plans. Instead of meeting him in San Francisco and enjoying a transcontinental honeymoon, she took a long trip through Europe that lasted most of the year 1900. p43 In place of married housing in "Oklahoma," the area bordering the south and west sides of the Academy's parade grounds today, the lieutenant again would be in bachelor's quarters on Stribling Row. He struck a warm friendship with young Professor of Mathematics Paul Dashiell and enjoyed the parties and sports available to him, but he was ready for marriage.
Lieutenant Pratt about 1900.
Upon reporting, in September 1900, to Commander Richard , the Superintendent of the Naval Academy, Pratt requested assignment to the Mathematics Department. Perhaps because he was so low in spirits, he asked to work with the "wooden sections" in the fourth class (Plebe) mathematics. These sections consisted of fourth classmen who were expected to fail the course and who faced probable discharge from the Navy. It was a challenge and he threw himself into his work. Years later he reminisced:
When I look back at the names of some in that wooden section, I recognize the names of heroes, and men of ability. You cannot always judge the p44 character in a lad by his rating in the classroom. Brilliant minds are always in demand, but sound judgment and strength of character are also necessary in the service. This is the important reason why I am somewhat skeptical of drastic selection in the lower commissioned grades.29
Again the two years sped by. Pratt did spend the summer of 1901 as a watch officer and instructor of midshipmen aboard the battleship Indiana. As in the case of his regular teaching duties ashore, Commander C. E. Colahan rated him "excellent" throughout his fitness reports. At the end of the cruise he took a month's leave in Belfast for a final effort to win Louise. The family was on his side, particularly the two older brothers, Alfred and Ralph. At leave's end, Bill Pratt returned to Annapolis with a singing heart — he would marry Louise in the spring.
On 11 April 1902 the lieutenant departed for two weeks leave to the New England area. He went immediately to Boston and there, on Tuesday, 15 April, he married Louise in Boston's Mission Church of St. John the Evangelist. It was a private wedding and banquet attended only by close friends of both families.30 In his "Autobiography" Pratt described the honeymoon:
My first acquaintance and experience with horses occurred at the end of my second tour of duty at the Naval Academy. About this time I was married and the honeymoon trip, arranged by my wife, was a little riding excursion from Boston to Belfast. My wife was an excellent horse woman while I didn't know one end of a horse from the other. I was game of course, but when we arrived in Belfast I was no longer in the saddle and it took me a week to recuperate. . . .31
Louise J. Pratt on her horse "Joan" at Annapolis.
The "little riding excursion" was •about 200 miles!
With the graduation of the Class of 1902 in June, Lieutenant Pratt was detached from the Naval Academy and ordered to Kearsarge, the flagship for the North Atlantic Fleet. Anticipating that a portion of her husband's time would be spent in New England waters, Louise elected to stay in Belfast during this tour of duty. She could visit Boston or Newport easily enough, were Kearsarge to be there for a couple of days. And it would not be too difficult to stay in New York when the ship was at Tompkinsville or the New York Navy Yard in Brooklyn. Her uncle, Ralph Cross Johnson, lived in New York and she was a favorite niece. Her family still had its Marlborough Street home in p45 Boston's Back Bay, so she could continue to have the comforts of a Maine summer and the city social life when the bad weather came. The newly married lieutenant might have preferred that she take an apartment in Brooklyn; but if he did, he kept it to himself.
Battleship Kearsarge, flagship of the North Atlantic Fleet.
Pratt's years in the North Atlantic Fleet coincided with three years of intensive growth for the Navy which resulted from President Theodore Roosevelt's determination that the United States should possess a fleet equal to its enhanced international stature. New battleships, such as Maine, Missouri, and Ohio, were commissioned annually, and a steady stream of even larger vessels would follow as Congressional authorizations filled the building ways. Four new monitors and six second class cruisers, accompanied by a handful of destroyers and submarines, also entered service between 1902 and 1905. The new battleships and monitors, with large-caliber main batteries housed in turrets, plus an even larger number of 5, 6, and 8‑inch guns in secondary batteries, required much larger officer complements than Pratt had seen in Chicago or Newark. This new demand for officers spelled opportunity for his generation. His two commanding officers in Kearsarge, Captains Joseph Hemphill and Raymond Rodgers, had spent 17 and 22 years, respectively, in grade as lieutenants; he would serve only 6 years before moving up to lieutenant commander.
Kearsarge was the largest warship Pratt had served in so far. In the antique language of her log book, she was described as a "first rate of 22 guns." Translated, that meant that Kearsarge was a battleship, first class, displacing 11,540 tons and mounting four 13‑inch rifles in two twin‑gun turrets, four 8‑inch rifles in two twin‑gun turrets, each superimposed on the main turrets, and fourteen 5‑inch quick-firing guns in casemates on the broadsides. She had been commissioned in 1900 and carried a complement of 42 officers and 591 enlisted in June of 1902. Pratt came on board on 25 June and took his first turn on the watch list the next afternoon.32 Having served a summer cruise in a battleship the previous year, it was assumed he could step in immediately as a watch and division officer. Because she was a flagship, Kearsarge carried Rear Admiral Francis J. Higginson, Commander in Chief of the North Atlantic Station, and his staff. A graduate of the class of 1861 at the Naval Academy, Admiral Higginson was nearing the end of a long and distinguished career. He was a difficult, fussy officer who insisted on constant drill and smart responses in all he p46 ordered. Lieutenants on the "top watch," ensigns managing divisions, or the greenest bluejacket heard from the admiral when untidy or working sloppily. A messenger reporting in dirty whites normally was dismissed from the bridge with a tart reprimand to his division officer. And God help the officer of the deck who adjusted the flagship's course without permission of the admiral. Pratt did it once — but only once!33
Rear Admiral Francis J. Higginson,
By June 1902 the Navy was hard at work preparing for the much publicized maneuvers to be held the following winter. Official orders had already been released calling the European and South Atlantic Squadrons to assemble at Culebra or Guantanamo the first of the year and there to be joined by Higginson's command. The combined squadrons p47 would be commanded by Admiral of the Navy George Dewey.34 In August Admiral Higginson brought to Newport the battleships Kearsarge, Alabama, Indiana, and Massachusetts, plus the cruisers Brooklyn, Olympia, Montgomery, and monitors Puritan and Amphitrite, and some other smaller vessels and tenders. After tactical maneuvers off the New England coast for a month, the vessels then engaged in joint exercises with the Army to test the defenses of Narragansett Bay.35 It was all interesting to Pratt and afforded him a few opportunities to visit his new bride at several summer resorts in New England. These maneuvers also provided a reasonable excursion for the members of several Congressional committees to enjoy a trip to Newport at the height of "the season."
At the conclusion of these exercises, fate dealt Pratt an unusual opportunity. The navigator of Kearsarge, apparently ill from overwork during the maneuvers, committed suicide. Because the ship had an unsavory reputation, in fact was known as a "hell ship," Admiral Higginson found it hard to get a volunteer from another vessel to serve as navigator. After a week or so, he ordered Captain Hemphill to move Lieutenant Pratt up to the job, even though the billet called for a more senior lieutenant or a lieutenant commander.36 On 17 October Pratt signed the log book for the first time as ship's navigator; though he did not realize it at the time, his days of regular watch-standing were now behind him. Louise and the rest of Pratt's family were quite proud of his new assignment; but it was his father, writing from his command in Shanghai, who probably gave him the best advice. "I do hope you will have success and not run her on the rocks. Don't lose your head and do not put too much confidence in your dead reckoning."37
The winter maneuvers of 1902‑03 were carried out as planneda and Kearsarge's new navigator was busier than he ever dreamed he would be. From the moment he took over, Pratt immersed himself completely in his duties. Deeply disappointing his wife, he gave up a leave to Belfast because he felt pressed for time to master his job. When the ship was at sea, he seldom left the chart house and, in time, of course, he almost became a piece of the battleship's navigating equipage. In p48 four fitness reports, Captain Hemphill rated him "excellent" in every professional area and commented under the remarks section: "He is an officer of unusually good judgment and professional ability." Captain Raymond Rodgers, who relieved Hemphill in April 1904, evaluated Pratt similarly in three reports. Under "remarks" he wrote in two of them:
Is an excellent officer; one who accomplishes results successfully and promptly. As a navigator, he is superior, showing good judgment, accuracy, and resource — I commend him as a most valuable officer.
I commend him as an officer of superior merit — capable of accepting any duty on board ship, and of doing it efficiently and completely.38
The lieutenant received an indirect measure of Admiral Higginson's esteem during February 1903. Pratt swallowed a fishbone, which eventually required an operation at the army hospital in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The admiral gave him leave after his hospitalization and requested him to report back aboard Kearsarge, before notifying the Bureau of Navigation of his return. He was taking no chances with having the Bureau detail his navigator to a new command.
Following the Caribbean maneuvers in 1903, the Navy Department reorganized the North Atlantic Station and created in its place a North Atlantic Fleet. Finally accepting Captain Mahan's admonitions against scattering its major units among a number of stations, the Department called home the battleships from the European, South Atlantic, and Asiatic Stations and concentrated them in the Battleship Squadron of the North Atlantic Fleet. As commander in chief of the Fleet, Rear Admiral Higginson would also command the battleships. A Caribbean Squadron was organized, to consist of five cruisers and gunboats, and in early 1902 was commanded by Rear Admiral J. B. Coghlan.39 While accepting Mahan's premise that a massed fleet attacking the enemy far at sea was the proper way to defend the nation, the Department did mollify Congressional and public concern by organizing a Coast Squadron as a part of the North Atlantic Fleet. Commanded by Rear Admiral J. H. Sands, in the old battleship Texas, the squadron was composed of the seven monitors on the East Coast plus an assortment of destroyers and submarines. In p49 the summer a portion of the Coast Squadron would embark the Naval Academy's classes and become the Training Squadron.40 Within three years all battleships would be in the North Atlantic Fleet, and the Pacific Fleet and Asiatic Fleet would only consist of armored cruisers, protected cruisers, and gunboats.41
By the time Pratt left Kearsarge in August 1905, the North Atlantic Fleet had become a much more complex organization. The flood of new construction, plus anticipated additions, made it possible for Rear Admiral Robley D. ("Fighting Bob") Evans to distribute his vessels among three fleet squadrons and the Coast Squadron, all further p50 divided into six divisions. A simplified table of organization would appear as such:42
North Atlantic Fleet
RADM R. D. Evans
RADM C. D. Sigsbee
RADM R. B. Bradford
RADM R. D. Evans
RADM C. D. Sigsbee
RADM R. B. Bradford
Maine (flagship, Commander in Chief)
RADM C. H. Davis
(vessels to be assigned)
RADM F. W. Dickins
Despite the Navy's growth in numbers of major combatant units and the creation of a modern fleet organization, it was beset with problems traceable to the shortage of officer and enlisted personnel. In July 1901 there were 994 line officers on active duty, and four years later this number was only 1,099, including passed midshipmen.43 Congress had been more generous in providing for enlisted personnel; the total rose from 25,500 to 37,000, but this was far below the number needed. The consequences traceable to these shortages were undermanned firerooms and an inability to operate certain vessels at p51 full power for extended periods of time; the necessity to use ensigns as turret officers where previously lieutenants had been in charge; reduction of steaming time for reserve destroyers, to as little as four hours a month, because there were too few rated men to make up a crew; a delay in commissioning a new battleship due to the lack of engineering officers; and the retention on sea duty of officers eligible for tours ashore.44 Kearsarge's crew, like most in the Navy, was heavily overworked and given insufficient liberty and recreation. It was not Admiral Higginson's fault, or Captain Hemphill's. The trouble lay with a Congress unwilling to provide adequate manpower for ships it had authorized. President Roosevelt did not help matters by insisting that the maximum number of vessels be kept at the highest condition of readiness. The North Atlantic Fleet presented a stirring picture when the President reviewed it off Oyster Bay in August 1903, but there was ample evidence that a true condition of readiness for war would only be reached after several more years.
During his three years in Kearsarge, Pratt sailed twice to European waters. In the summer of 1903 Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany invited the United States to send a battleship to the international fleet review celebrating the opening of the Kiel Canal. Kearsarge was selected for the trip and spent part of June and July visiting German and English ports. While the visit to Germany was exciting, most in Kearsarge enjoyed more fully the call at Portsmouth. The officers were invited to the first formal reception and ball held by King Edward VII at Buckingham Palace. All of this was a heady experience for Pratt, and he filled letters to his family with accounts of the activities in Kiel, London, and Lisbon. While few complained, the officers of the squadron paid for all expenses of American entertainment out of their own pockets. On the return voyage Kearsarge set a new speed record for battleships and received great publicity for the fact that the ship did not suffer a breakdown during the crossings.45 As navigator, Pratt received special commendation from Captain Hemphill for the accuracy of his work. The following summer Admiral A. S. Barker ordered a division of battleships to the Mediterranean and p53 Pratt had the opportunity to revisit many ports he had seen fourteen years before as a naval cadet. Because he and Louise were now buying a farm outside Belfast, he did little sightseeing or spending. He thought he had seen most of it before, so he allowed the executive officer and others junior to him to have a maximum time ashore.46 Only a thrifty "downeaster" would so view the world!
During July 1905 Lieutenant Pratt was ordered to the Navy Department to undergo examination for advancement to lieutenant commander. For three days he wrote seventy‑one pages of test answers, underwent a physical examination, and was questioned orally by the Examining Board. In the end he was found fully qualified for advancement and was promoted effective 1 May 1905.47 During these final months in Kearsarge, he received orders to the Naval Academy for a third tour of duty. Should he have wanted them, he could have had quarters in "the yard," but he and Louise decided to live in town. His salary and allowances, now above $3,200, would permit them to live comfortably. Louise did not particularly care to live in Annapolis, so her husband tried to make the stay as pleasant as possible.
Lieutenant Pratt's last Fitness Report before promotion
Upon reporting to the Superintendent at the end of September, Pratt was assigned to the Department of Navigation with additional duty in the Department of Mechanics. As usual he found classmates, now ashore, also spending second or third tours on the Severn. T. P. Magruder was an aide to the superintendent and Louis Nulton, George Marvell, and Warren Terhune were serving in an academic assignments. To his surprise, and delight, his brother Harold, recently commissioned a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps, had been detailed to the Marine Barracks at the Naval Academy. Though he would be among old friends, change everywhere was evident.
The school itself was considerably different from his previous tours there. Bancroft Hall, the new midshipmen quarters, had been opened and many recently constructed granite academic buildings now replaced the familiar structures he had known as a midshipman and junior officer. The new chapel, in the spring of 1906, would become a focus of naval tradition with the arrival of the remains of John Paul Jones.48 The brigade of midshipmen itself, in 1905, was much p54 larger than that he had taught previously. Finally accepting the fact that the Navy must have a larger supply of officers for the great fleet now at hand, Congress in 1901 had authorized an increase in the number of midshipmen. Where previously 200 to 300 young men had filled the classes, now the number stood at over 600 and would rise above 800. Pratt could see the day rapidly approaching when the senior officers would no longer know every lieutenant in the service and be able to form a personal judgment about his fitness for advancement. Yet he was not the type to lament change; one suspects that he had been too busy really to appreciate the enormous developments that were taking place. He had served very little time below decks, or in the gun houses and turrets. A division and watch officer and then a navigator, his view of a large ship, whether it be Newark, Monadnock, Indiana, or Kearsarge, was from the pilot house or navigating bridge. At this level in a ship, the equipment had changed little, the tasks remained constant, and the orders to be given differed little from those he had learned in Atlanta during his naval cadet cruise.
As in the case of his previous tour at the Academy, Pratt was ordered to sea for one training cruise with the midshipmen. By chance he drew duty in Newark as navigator. Her skipper, Captain George P. Colvocoresses, gave him the highest marks possible on the fitness reports he filed. He stated that Pratt could "have performed any of the duties of a naval officer with credit." As a navigator he was "particularly careful and attentive." In his final report, the captain, then a rear admiral, summed up his views: "I considered Lieut. Commander Pratt a very reliable and efficient officer."49 On the day he was to be detached from Newark, in fact his sea chest had already been sent ashore, Pratt's orders were canceled. Colvocoresses had been relieved by Captain Washington Irving Chambers, and the Bureau of Navigation now ordered the new commanding officer to take his ship to Cuba after embarking several companies of Marines. Because of bad boilers, Newark was hardly equal to the task; but, by avoiding the Gulf Stream and steaming fairly close to the coast, she made it to the revolution-torn island. Pratt was finally detached on 9 November 1906 to return to his regular duties. Again his ability was recognized by his commanding officer, Captain Chambers, in Pratt's detachment fitness report, rated him "Excellent" in every criterion. Under "professional ability," the captain wrote "Excellent — (One of the Best)." p55 The ninth question on the report asked if the captain would object to having the officer serve under him again. Chambers was brief, but to the point: "No. Would be fortunate to have him."50
During his second summer at the Naval Academy, Pratt had an experience unique in his naval career. When the regular commanding officer departed on emergency leave, the superintendent ordered Pratt to command the training ship Severn. Half proudly, and half fearfully, he described his duty to Louise: "She is a big squarerigger, full ship rig; as you know I never in my life had any experience on a sailing ship much less command one, and it sort of looks as though I were up against it, but I don't intend letting that bother me if I can help it. I think in time I can manage to worry it out. . . ." Fortunately for him, Pratt's command lasted only a week in July 1907, and he apparently carried his duties well. At least there is no record of any court of inquiry concerning a grounding or maritime disaster. Had he written his memoirs in 1908, the lieutenant commander could have taken a turn on the title from Mahan's autobiography, perhaps calling it "From Steam to Sail."51
These three years in Annapolis gave the Pratts an opportunity to deepen their pleasure in riding. They joined a newly formed hunt club and purchased a pair of horses. "Bob" and "Joan" would remain a part of their family for almost fifteen years. Bill took up riding seriously and became quite skilled at riding to the hounds. It did cost him a lot of spills in his first months, including a broken shoulder, but he was determined to master the sport. Louise, of course, had ridden for years and now could have regular exercise and the companionship of her husband. During their next shore duty, in Newport, Rhode Island, they continued riding, and Bill even found the skill useful when assigned to the Army War College in Washington.
Though there was much that was satisfying in his tour at the Naval Academy, there was also a great deal of sorrow. Louise's father, Edward Johnson, died in Boston during January 1906. Eighteen months later, during Louise's summer stay at "The Farm" (the Pratt's p56 property in Northport) in Belfast, her mother died of a heart attack. Finally, in early March 1908, Nichols Pratt returned to America after almost 40 years of service on the China coast. His wife and son Edgar were then settled in Redlands, California. Two weeks after arriving in Redlands, Nichols Pratt was dead. Writing to Bill, Edgar broke the news: "Well, Bill, the dear good old father has found his port. . . ."52 The Johnsons were inurned in a family vault in the Grove Cemetery of Belfast. Nichols Pratt was buried in Redlands. Later, with Abbie Pratt's death in 1923, the remains of both of the elder Pratts were returned to the Veazie-Pratt plot in the Grove Cemetery. The Pratts and the Johnsons were New Englanders, Belfast people, and they wanted their final resting place to be among family and friends in familiar soil. Most of the next generation of these families p57 would likewise feel those same attachments, but times were changing, and some would break the bonds that meant so much for so many decades.
With the conclusion of June Week festivities in 1908, Pratt took leave to Belfast before departing for his next duty. There he received orders to report as executive officer of the protected cruiser St. Louis, which was then undergoing overhaul at the Puget Sound Navy Yard.53 Whether by design or luck, Pratt would be serving in the Pacific Fleet after previous tours in the North Atlantic Fleet and the Asiatic Station. Besides service on a variety of stations, he was moving up the ladder in terms of shipboard duties. He had filled in as an executive officer from time to time in Kearsarge and Newark, but now he would be formally occupying that key position.
Commissioned in 1906, St. Louis displaced 9,700 tons and carried fourteen 6‑inch rifles and eighteen 3‑inch quick-firers in casemates. When Pratt reported aboard on 15 August 1908, she was in the Third Division, Second Squadron, of the Pacific Fleet. This meant St. Louis was in commission but in reserve; there was no flag officer for the Second Squadron. The commanding officer was Commander Albert Gleaves, a graduate of the Academy's class of 1877, and described by Pratt as "an exceedingly able and smart officer, but a bit of a martinet."54 Rigorous in discipline, insistent on smartness in uniforms and performance of duties, Gleaves was in the "sundowner" tradition of Morris MacKenzie and Bowman McCalla. By now his new executive had learned to manage with almost any officer, and in time Pratt would come to enjoy working for him.
Protected cruiser St. Louis anchored in San Francisco Bay.
For ten months, assignment to St. Louis bore a greater resemblance to duty ashore than afloat. Most of this period was spent in dry dock, moored to pier 6, or anchored off the Navy Yard at Bremerton. Under these conditions, maintenance of discipline and morale in the crew became a constant concern for Gleaves and his executive officer. The large number of punishments, recorded daily in the ship's log book, quickly describes the dimension of this problem. Petty thievery, p59 drunkenness, absence over leaves, "shirking," and "disrespect toward petty officers," brought a steady stream of summary courts martial meetings. Because there were so few commissioned officers on board, the executive officer sat almost constantly as a member of a summary court board. On one glorious day in October 1908, he presided over eight consecutive trials between 1015 and 1755.55 Occasionally, perhaps for a change of pace, he went to the Navy Yard for General Court Martial duty. He tried to improve the situation in St. Louis by some organized athletic activity, but the Puget Sound's weather, even in the fall months, tended to inhibit success. Years later his memory of duty in this cruiser still returned to tedium and the intemperance problem:
It got to the crew too. Once in a while they would hold a shellac party, which means straining the shellac out, leaving only the alcohol which mixed with condensed milk and sugar made a punch. This was effective, and enough p60 of it would drive any man crazy. One wood alcohol party cost the lives of five men. I informed the quartermasters that arsenic had been placed in the alcohol floating the compass cards to prevent the compass from being tampered with. It was a lie but served the purpose.56
Lieutenant Commander Pratt and bluejackets, USS St. Louis.
In June 1909 Commander Gleaves finally received permission to take St. Louis on a "shakedown" cruise to the Fiji Islands. Having lost his navigator through resignation, the captain tried using the next senior watch officer. En route to San Francisco and completely lost in a dense fog off Cape Flattery, the skipper asked Pratt to take over navigation. With lead line and good luck, he got a fix on Tatoosh Light and set the cruiser on a safe course south. He convinced Gleaves to be lenient with the junior officer and, after a few weeks of instruction from Pratt, the lieutenant had both the confidence and competence to manage the navigator's billet.57 While the voyage to Honolulu, Suva, Hilo, and back to San Francisco was important for operational reasons, the trail of punishments seemed endless. On departing Suva, the log reported two men awaiting a general martial, two awaiting bad conduct discharges after summary courts martial convictions for possession of cocaine, and enough men awaiting summaries to fill every day to Mare Island. It was little wonder that Pratt had an easy time passing his promotion examination in military law a year later.
One other byproduct of the cruise, aside from a log book full of punishments awarded, was a remarkable statement praising the materiel condition of St. Louis. Following an inspection in San Francisco, the Commander, Special Service Squadron, wrote:
I have seen a great many ships during my career, but never have I seen a ship so clean, and in such absolute perfection condition as I have found this ship, reflecting the greatest credit not only on her Commanding Officer but on all of his subordinates without whose aid such an absolute state of perfection could never have prevailed.58
Pratt, of course, because he was executive officer, was primarily responsible for this record. Commander Gleaves recorded his appreciation in his final fitness report for his executive. It was an exceptionally strong one in every respect.
Upon completion of the Pacific cruise, Pratt took leave and brought p61 Louise back to Bremerton. On 5 November 1909 Gleaves was detached, St. Louis went into reserve, and Pratt became interim commanding officer. With only twelve officers on board, nine of whom were ensigns or lower in rank, the ship would be going nowhere. His executive officer was Lieutenant John Rodgers, son of Rear Admiral John A. Rodgers, the Navy Yard Commandant.59 Young Rodgers had been a student of Pratt's at the Naval Academy and in time would become famous for his exploits as a naval aviator. Following this service together, they remained close friends until the younger man's death in a plane crash in 1926.b
After five months of "swinging on the hook" off the Puget Sound Navy Yard, Pratt was detached from St. Louis on 2 April 1910 and ordered to California, again as executive officer. His new home had been commissioned in 1907 and was one of the Navy's most powerful armored cruisers. Commanded by Captain Henry T. Mayo, she displaced 13,680 tons and carried four 8‑inch rifles in two twin‑gun turrets, fourteen 6‑inch quick-firers, and eighteen 3‑inch guns. When fully manned she would have more than 800 men on board, but in 1910 the captain would be lucky to have 370 enlisted, including the flag complement and Marines. The cruiser flew the flag of Rear Admiral Giles B. Harber, Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet.60
Armored cruiser California (later San Diego), in which Lieutenant Commander Pratt served as executive officer.
In late June the Bureau of Navigation ordered Pratt, then at the Navy Yard, Mare Island, to report to the Naval Examining Board "for examination preliminary to promotion." To avoid a transcontinental trip for those officers in the Pacific, the Department had established an Examining Board at Mare Island. Commodore E. B. Underwood was the presiding officer for the 1910 examinations. On 11 and 12 July Pratt underwent medical examination, followed by six hours of written exams in seamanship (1000‑1120), military law (1120‑1135), international law (1135‑1320), strategy and tactics (1320‑1435), language (1435‑1455), navigation (1455‑1535), and ordnance (1535‑1630). The record does not seem to indicate a lunch "break," as he wrote thirty‑six pages of answers. At the conclusion of its deliberations, the Examining Board found that Pratt had "the mental, moral, and professional qualifications to perform efficiently all the duties, both at sea and on shore, of the grade to which he is to be promoted, and recommend him for promotion." On 28 July 1910, p62 President William H. Taft approved the recommendation of promotion to commander to be effective 1 July 1910.61
During Pratt's duty in California, Admiral Harber took a division of cruisers to Valparaiso as part of Chile's celebration of its independence. Before the division departed San Francisco Bay, the California Wine Growers Association gave Admiral Harber 100 cases of native wines to be used for entertainment purposes. Having heard that California's executive officer had an educated wine palate, the admiral asked Pratt and the ship's paymaster, also a wine aficionado, to sample his collection and select the best for official banquets. The commander described the results:
The day set for the sampling was a hot Sunday, and the place where the wines were stored was a hot and stifling room below decks. The Paymaster and I approached our work bravely. It was done thoroughly, and selections were made for the Admiral's table. I had lost all zest for my meals, and it was some time before I could look a bottle of wine squarely in the face.62
In Valparaiso the officers of California did their part to help improve United States-Chilean relations, which had been badly strained since 1891. There had been a serious riot involving visiting U. S. sailors from cruiser Baltimore.c Lieutenant Commander William D. Leahy, the navigator, summed up the visit in a diary he kept in those years:
We in the wardroom gave very large dinner parties in honor of the officers of the Chilian cruiser "O'Higgins," the Brazilian "Bahia," the Argentine "San Martin," and on the day before our departure held a grand squadron reception on board that was attended by hundreds of people. . . . Great quantities of food and drink were consumed, the ship was too crowded, and having fulfilled the social requirements of international usage our officers of the ship are a little less opulent than when we started south.63
California returned to San Francisco in early October and for two months conducted squadron and division exercises between San Diego and San Francisco. Though the vessels were not battleships, the drills were as complicated as those Pratt had experienced in the North Atlantic Fleet. Division maneuvers, director drills, target firing, and night attacks by torpedo boat flotillas were all carried out under p64 Admiral Harber.64 Captain Mayo, who was to become Commander in Chief of the Atlantic Fleet in 1917, was an officer that Pratt admired. In the traditional way, the reflected his own satisfaction in the strong fitness reports he wrote concerning his subordinate. Just before Pratt's promotion examination, Mayo wrote:
Lieutenant Commander Pratt is a thoroughly reliable, capable, and efficient officer. His knowledge of his profession, his tact in handling officers and men, and his solid good sense makes him a very valuable man as an executive or commanding officer.
In his final report, upon his executive officer's detachment, the captain remarked:
This officer merits the most favorable endorsement possible. His detachment is much regretted by all, as he had the confidence of both officers and men.65
Upon detachment from California, the Department ordered Pratt to home leave in Belfast to await orders. In early January he was directed to report by 25 January 1911 to the President of the Naval War College for assignment to the teaching staff. He had not sought this duty; but he was flattered to know that Rear Admiral Raymond P. Rodgers, his former commanding officer in Kearsarge, had asked for him. He had enjoyed serving under Rodgers, and this augured well for his coming duty.
At the time he was promoted to commander, Pratt had been in the Navy for twenty-five years. He was forty‑one years old, still a trim •146 pounds, and except for a shoulder dislocation which restricted his right arm a bit, he was in excellent physical condition. Eight years of marriage had not produced the son he so deeply desired, but he and Louise had not given up hope. They owned a home ("The Farm") on the outskirts of Belfast, and Louise had inherited a house in Belfast from her family. At the advice of Louise's brother Ralph, and her father before his death, Bill had invested regularly in good stocks and bonds and had risked a small amount in some speculative mining certificates. The latter had been wasted, but the experience and education in money management was not. In the best New England tradition, the Pratts left their capital intact and mostly lived on Bill's income.
Because of assignments to large vessels, Pratt was yet to experience p65 the satisfaction of command at sea. His service reputation was firmly established as a first-class seaman and a smooth manager of officers and men. He was not a "flashy" officer, but he was competent and thoroughly reliable. With a growing naval establishment, and a foundation of seagoing experience second to none, this able officer could look forward to continued success in his naval career.
1 Pratt, "Autobiography," pp82‑85; U. S., Department of the Navy, Register . . . to January 1, 1896, p27.
2 Alfred Johnson, ed., Marriages and Deaths, Vol. II of Vital Records of Belfast, Maine to the year 1892 (Boston: Maine Historical Society, 1919); Joseph Williamson, 1875‑1900, Vol. II of History of the City of Belfast in the State of Maine ed. Alfred Johnson (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1913).
3 WVP to Louise Johnson, Annapolis, Md., 4 February 1896, Pratt MSS/NHD, Louise Johnson (Pratt) was normally called and referred to within the family as "Louisa." In later years that name was normally used by her friends and those of her husband. In this biography I will refer to her by her formal name, "Louise." William Veazie Pratt was normally called "Will" by his family and "Bill" by Louise Pratt and his service friends.
4 Pratt, "Autobiography," pp102‑105; "Report of Fitness," 31 December 1897, 10 April 1898, NHD.
5 U. S. S. Mayflower, Log, 9 April 1898, RG24/NA.
6 Pratt, "Autobiography," pp106‑10.
7 U. S. S. Mayflower, Log, 19 August 1898, RG24/NA.
8 "Record of Proceedings of the Naval Examining Board Convened at the Navy Yard, Washington, in the case of Ensign William V. Pratt, U. S. Navy, November 15, 1898," File of Examining Board Records, NHD.
9 U. S., Navy, Records of Officers, Vol. 12, RG24/NA; Newark, Log, 2 February 1899, RG24/NA. At the front of the ships' logs for this period can be found descriptive data, complements, and lists of officers who served on board during the time period covered by the log.
10 "Record of Proceedings of the Naval Examining Board . . . March 24, 1899." File for W. V. Pratt/NHD.
11 WVP to Louise Johnson, in Newark, 1 April 1899, Pratt MSS/NHD.
12 Certificate in Pratt MSS/NHD.
13 Pratt, "Autobiography," pp113‑16; U. S. S. Newark, Log, 24 May 1899–21 June 1899, RG24/NA.
15 "Report on the Fitness of Officers," 31 August 1899, Pratt MSS/NHD.
16 U. S. S. Newark, Log, 4 September-17 October 1899, RG24/NA; Pratt, "Autobiography," pp121‑22.
17 For information about the Navy's activities in Philippine waters, consult the records of Area File 10 during the months October-December 1899, microfilm reels 372‑75, RG45/NA.
18 Gerald E. Wheeler, ed., "The War College Years of Admiral Harris Laning, U. S. Navy," Naval War College Review (March 1969), p70. A full account of Monadnock's operations, and also the work of the gunboat Panay, can be found in Admiral Laning's manuscript autobiography, "An Admiral's Yarn," deposited at the Naval War College Library.
19 Teodoro A. Agoncillo, Malolos: The Crisis of the Republic (Quezon City, Philippines: University of the Philippines, 1960), pp479‑85.
20 U. S. S. Newark, Log, 5‑8 December 1899, RG24/NA; Pratt, "Autobiography," pp124‑27.
21 U. S. S. Newark, Log, 10 December 1899, RG24/NA.
22 CAPT B. H. McCalla to RADM J. C. Watson, Aparri, Philippines, 11 December 1899, reel 374, area file 10, RG45/NA.
23 Ibid., 18 December 1899.
24 LT G. C. Day to CAPT B. H. McCalla, Aparri, Philippines, 24 December 1899, reel 374, Area File 10, RG45/NA.
25 WVP to Louise Johnson, in Newark (Philippines), 5 April 1900, Pratt MSS/NHD.
26 U. S., Navy, Records of Officers, Vol. 12, RG24/NA.
27 Pratt, "Autobiography," pp131‑33.
28 "Report on Fitness of Officers," 31 December 1899, 28 April 1900 (McCalla), 1 June 1900 (Arnold, Bennington), 12 June 1900 (Strong, Monadnock), 30 June 1900, 14 September 1900 (Winslow, Solace), Pratt MSS/NHD.
29 Pratt, "Autobiography," pp82‑85.
30 The Republican Journal (Belfast, Me.), 24 April 1902.
31 Pratt, "Autobiography," p93.
32 U. S. S. Kearsarge, Log, 25‑26 June 1902, RG24/NA.
33 Admiral Higginson's "fussiness" can be traced in the stream of brief letters sent to various commanding officers in the North Atlantic Squadron. For example see: RADM F. J. Higginson to CAPT J. N. Hemphill, Culebra, Puerto Rico, 23 January 1903, North Atlantic Squadron Correspondence, Book #5 RG45/NA. Pratt, "Autobiography," pp134, 149‑50.
34 Secretary of the Navy to the Chief of the Bureau of Supplies and Accounts, Washington, 5 June 1902, reel 157, Area File 7, RG45/NA.
35 "Bulletin, U. S. Flagship Kearsarge, September 6, 1902," reel 157, Area file 7, RG45/NA.
36 U. S. S. Kearsarge, Log, 30 September 1902, RG24/NA; Army and Navy Journal, 4 October 1902; Pratt, "Autobiography," pp134‑35.
37 Nichols Pratt to WVP, Shanghai, 13 January 1903, Pratt MSS/NHD.
38 "Report on the Fitness of Officers," 30 June 1903 (Hemphill), 31 December 1904, 30 June 1905 (Rodgers), Pratt MSS/NHD.
39 Charles H. Darling to Commanding Officer U. S. S. Machias, Washington, 7 October 1902, reel 160, Area File 7, RG45/NA.
40 Army and Navy Journal, 3 January 1903, 31 January 1903.
41 Gordon Carpenter O'Gara, Theodore Roosevelt and the Rise of the Modern Navy (Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 1943), pp70‑75. See also U. S., Department of the Navy, Register of Commissioned and Warrant Officers, for the years 1903‑1905.
42 U. S., Department of the Navy, Register . . . to July 1, 1905, p15.
43 U. S., Department of the Navy, Register of Commissioned and Warrant Officers, for the period from 1 July 1901 to 1 July 1905.
44 Army and Navy Journal, 4 April 1903; LT G. C. Davison to the Chief of the Bureau of Navigation, Norfolk Navy Yard, 2 November 1903; CAPT E. H. Leutze to the Chief of the Bureau of Navigation, League Island Navy Yard, 11 February 1903.
45 CAPT J. N. Hemphill to Secretary of the Navy, Southampton, England, 16 June 1903, reel 163 Area File 7, RG45/NA; Army and Navy Journal, 11 July, 18 July, 1 August, 8 August 1903.
46 Pratt, "Autobiography," pp150‑52.
47 "Record of Proceedings of the Naval Examining Board . . . 26 July 1905," File for W. V. Pratt/NHD.
48 Walter B. Norris, Annapolis and Its Colonial and Naval Story (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co., 1925), p289.
49 "Report on the Fitness of Officers," 20 June 1906, 24 August 1906, Pratt MSS/NHD.
50 Ibid., 9 November 1906; Pratt, "Autobiography," pp97‑99.
51 WVP to Louise Pratt, Annapolis, Md., 20 July 1907, Pratt MSS/NHD; CAPT C. J. Badger to WVP, Annapolis, Md., 20 July 1907, Letters to Instructors and Cadets, United States Naval Academy, Vol. 158, RG405/NA. In his "Autobiography" Pratt mentioned his duty in Severn but called the ship Chesapeake. The name had been changed in 1905 from Chesapeake to Severn. CAPT Seaton Schroeder, then serving on the General Board, convinced Secretary of the Navy Paul Morton and President Theodore Roosevelt that a midshipmen training vessel should not be named for a ship twice captured by the British. Seaton Schroeder, A Half Century of Naval Service (New York and London: D. Appleton and Company, 1922), pp271‑72.
52 Edgar Pratt to WVP, Redlands, Calif., 25 March 1908, Pratt MSS/NHD.
53 Admiral William Veazie Pratt Service Record, Military Personnel Records Center, St. Louis, Mo. Naval officer records for those of Pratt's generation have three basic files: Official orders and miscellaneous entries, fitness reports, and reports of Naval Examining Boards. The records are stored at the St. Louis depository. Admiral Pratt's service record begins with graduation from the Naval Academy, but copies of orders begin in June 1902 with his attachment to Kearsarge. The file of orders in the Pratt manuscript collection at the Operational Archives of the Naval History Division begins with October 1906 and is reasonably complete from that date.
54 U. S., Department of the Navy, Register . . . to January 1, 1909, p8; Pratt, "Autobiography," p154.
55 U. S. S. St. Louis, Log, 14 October 1908, RG24/NA.
56 Pratt, "Autobiography," p155.
57 Ibid., pp158‑60.
58 Notice to St. Louis by RADM T. S. Phelps, San Francisco, Calif., 26 October 1909, Pratt MSS/NHD.
59 U. S. S. St. Louis, Log, 5 November 1909, RG24/NA.
60 W. V. Pratt Service Record; California, Log, April 1910, RG24/NA.
61 "Record of Proceedings of the Naval Examining Board . . . July 11, 1910," File for W. V. Pratt/NHD.
62 Pratt, "Autobiography," pp164‑65.
63 William D. Leahy, Diary, 15 September 1910, William D. Leahy MSS/Library of Congress Manuscript Division (hereafter LCMD).
64 California, Log, November 1910, RG24/NA.
65 "Report on the Fitness of Officers," 11 July 1910, 19 December 1910, Pratt MSS/NHD.
a Although the maneuvers had been planned long in advance, they developed into something more: the fleet was poised to intervene against the allied Anglo-German attack on Venezuela (Forrest Davis, The Atlantic System, pp160 f.)
b For the beginning of Rodgers' aviation career, see Ralph D. Paine, The First Yale Unit, p32; and for his famous flight to Hawaii in 1925, George R. Clark et al., A Short History of the United States Navy, p516, and my further note there.
c For full details, see "The Itata Incident" (HAHR VII.195‑198).
Images with borders lead to more information.
The thicker the border, the more information. (Details here.)
William V. Pratt,
U. S. Navy
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: 26 Oct 21