BOOK REVIEW – Crisis in the Mediterranean: Naval Competition and Great Power Politics, 1904-1914

Crisis in the MediterraneanBy Jon K. Hendrickson, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD (2014)

Reviewed by Richard P. Hallion Ph.D.

Author Jon K. Hendrickson’s book Crisis in the Mediterranean is most timely, as its publication happily coincided with the beginning of commemorations of the centenary of the Great War.

If, to the public mind, naval power in that war is too often neglected in favor of the mud and misery of the Western Front, military professionals and students of military and diplomatic history will recognize the influence that maritime strategy and naval developments played in the war. Churchill’s famously remarked that Grand Fleet commander Admiral Sir John Jellicoe was the only commander who could “lose the war in an afternoon.” Although he was arguably overbroad, Churchill nevertheless captured the centrality of naval power to the war.

As with the war on land and the emergence of war in the air, the war at sea witnessed the introduction of new technologies that dramatically increased the capabilities of surface combatants. In the case of the submarine, new technologies transformed the face of naval warfare itself.

The role of naval power was an accelerant to war, as exemplified by the great Anglo-German naval rivalry prior to conflict. It has been extensively studied by a wide range of historians, and is bounded, in effect, from the late Arthur Marder’s The Road to War, 1904-1914, the first of his epochal multivolume study From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow (London: Oxford University Press, 1961) to Jan Rüger’s The Great Naval Game: Britain and Germany in the Age of Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).

The focus on Britain and Germany has so illuminated their rival naval thinking and strategies so bright that it darkened naval thought, planning, and strategies of the “others:” those lesser naval powers that confronted the challenge of adjusting to the Anglo-German naval rivalry and their own rivalries, played out in the Mediterranean and Adriatic. While Marder and Rüger mention these nations in passing, their discussion understandably treats them as effectively a sideshow to the more dramatic naval theaters of the North Sea.

Hendrickson (the first Class of 1957 Fellow in Naval History at the United States Naval Academy) has brought into light the naval competition and maneuvering of these lesser powers. In so doing, he has added greatly to our appreciation for the complex naval environment existing at the beginning of August 1914.

Hendrickson begins by examining what he calls “The Mediterranean Equilibrium,” as the “Century of British Dominance in the Mediterranean” (p.16). It was the decline of British maritime supremacy in the Mediterranean (which, as author Hendrickson notes, it was won only after a century of conflict culminating at Trafalgar) that led to the destabilization of this equilibrium, and encouraged naval rivalries among these lesser powers that “would have ushered in a new Mediterranean equilibrium,” save for the “unexpected outbreak of World War I” (p. 1).

A chief feature of these lesser rivalries were the maritime arms races to take advantage of the naval developments of the late steel-and-steam era. This was coupled with technologies such as centralized fire control, torpedoes, steam turbines, etc. France, Italy, and Austria-Hungary—the last became an unpleasant surprise for Britain—embarked on costly force restructuring and build-up.

Italy’s position among these powers made a stable alignment of rival states into two camps an effective impossibility. Italy was nominally part of the Triple Alliance, with being Germany and Austria-Hungary, making them a rival to Great Britain and France. Their position within this alliance afforded significant security against what might otherwise have been its two great regional “threats,” France and Austria-Hungary. At the outbreak of the Great War, Italy remained briefly neutral before casting its lot in with the Allies. This led to the unexpected result that, rather than being a foe of the British-French alliance, they became an ally and a foe of its previous partners, Germany and Austria-Hungary. Stranger partnerships have rarely existed, illuminating what might be termed the “Greater Lesser Power Politics” of the time.

Between 1904 and 1914, naval spending by Mediterranean powers like Italy roughly doubled. Austrian naval investment in that time nearly tripled. Italy’s doubled. France, always spending approximately twice that of Italy and over three times that of Austria, rose by approximately sixty percent. That money bought new classes of warships that overthrew the previous “equilibrium.” By 1912, the fleets were surprisingly balanced in capabilities. Battle-line tonnage of the Austrian and Italian fleets, for example, was roughly equal (though Austria was on an accelerated growth rate that would take it past that of Italy given time), and more significantly, the broadside throw-weight of the two fleets was roughly equivalent as well (this reflects a precipitous decline in Italy’s throw-weight between 1908-09, and Austria overall doubling of its throw-weight between 1907 and 1911). (For more information, see his Tables 1.1, 3.1, and 3.2)

Thus, at least to this reviewer, a stage was set for what could have been a much-wider-ranging Mediterranean naval war more resembling more of the Second World War than the First, one that if not having, perhaps, its own “Jutland,” might well have had its own “Matapan.” [Since Hendrickson’s is largely a policy study, readers may wish to consult Siegfried Breyer’s classic Battleships and Battle Cruisers, 1905-1970 (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1973) to examine the technical characteristics of the various vessels involved, many of which were surprisingly powerful, robust, and fleet-worthy ships].

Hendrickson provocatively depicts this growing naval rivalry in terms of a counterfactual “what might have been” had the Great War not occurred. Instead, as he notes:

“The stage was set for a naval race that, for a chance meeting in Sarajevo, never happened. World War I ultimately allowed Britain to reassert its place as the dominant Mediterranean power, as Italy swapped sides, the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires fell apart, and France drew down military expenditures after the war.” (p. 187)

Hendrickson’s work adds both to our understanding of Mediterranean naval affairs and the Mediterranean cockpit of potential-and-actual conflict. In recent years, a number of historians have devoted increasing attention to the Balkans, and (in particular) to Italy’s short, sharp war with Turkey in 1911-12. The author commendably moors this work to such milestones and influences, and it makes his history all the more convincing. Overall, he has done impressive research in primary sources in the national archives of the various countries, and it shows. Despite such an academic pedigree, his book is remarkably free of the kind of pedantic, formulaic writing often found among “Academy” products turned into books.

Readers will its implied lessons for our own times, on what happens when a dominant power loses its position of relative supremacy and thereby opens up an opportunity for others to attempt to fill the vacuum—and the terrible price that is typically paid by sailors, airmen, and soldiers when such occurs.

This is a most welcome, provocative, insightful, and highly recommended work, one that is, indeed, an essential reference for any student of Great War naval history and policy.


Dr. Hallion is a former Air Force historian with extensive service to various agencies.

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BOOK REVIEW – The Yankee Expedition to Sebastopol: John Gowen and the Raising of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, 1857-1862

Veit_Yankee Expedition to SebastapolBy Chuck Veit, published through (2014)

Reviewed by Robert P. Largess

Forty years ago, I picked Commander Edward Ellsberg’s On the Bottom off the bookshelf of an elderly friend, a favorite from his own boyhood. The story of the raising of the submarine S-51 from 132 feet of seawater off Block Island in 1925 was my first introduction to the world of the salvor and the bitterly punishing and dangerous trade of the traditional “hard hat” deep sea diver. I hadn’t been back there until I read Chuck Veit’s The Yankee Expedition to Sebastopol: John Gowen and the Raising of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, 1857-1862.

Most Americans know the Crimean War only through The Charge of the Light Brigade, Florence Nightingale, Tolstoy’s Sebastopol Sketches – and perhaps the armored floating batteries that provided the inspiration for the ironclad warship. However, the war crippled Russia’s naval power in the Black Sea and frustrated its designs on Constantinople for a generation. It also left the fortress city of Sebastopol in ruins and its fine harbor blocked and littered with perhaps 90 wrecks, including fifteen sailing ships-of-line and nine very valuable iron-hulled steamers. In 1856, the Russian Imperial government approached Boston entrepreneur and self-taught engineer John Gowen to undertake the task of raising this fleet – still the largest salvage operation in history and one of the first to contemplate raising large ships intact from considerable depths of 60 feet.

Who was he? John Gowen was a briefly celebrated private citizen. The author had to piece together his portrait of the man and his achievements from his speeches, contemporary newspaper reports, and letters. The story begins with his first experiments with metal helmet diving gear – invented by the English Dean brothers in the 1820’s to enable firefighters to enter a burning building without being overcome by smoke. Its potential for diving was soon recognized and was successfully used to salvage guns from a wrecked warship in 1836. Gowen and his partner Wells used it for salvage, improved it, and marketed their own version of “Submarine Armor,” basically the same design used for all diving for more than 100 years, until the invention of SCUBA gear. Its use was incredibly hazardous. “Death could come from the slightest of mistakes: the failure of the pump, a break of the supply hose, or a careless stepping on the air tube as it lay along the deck.”

It also brought great rewards. Success led to an exploit that brought Gowen to the attention of the Russian Grand Duke Constantine and the removal of the wreck of the steam paddle frigate USS Missouri from Gibraltar harbor in 1852 after she had lain there defeating all efforts of British salvors for nine years. Gowen signed a contract with Russia in 1856 to clear Sebastopol by 1862. In return, he would receive half the value of all the ships and material brought up – an estimate worth 65 million dollars – and began assembling his men and equipment in Philadelphia.

There are three basic methods for raising a sunken ship: by crane, by making it buoyant by filling its hull with air, and by attaching external flotation devices. Gowen intended to use the last, much like Ellsberg did when he raised the S-51 with pairs of metal pontoon floats. Each pair was connected by a chain slung under the keel of the sub, which supported and lifted the vessel between them. Gowen built four huge wooden “caissons” in Philadelphia, with each one 50 x 50 x 13 ft., displacing 1,040 tons, and built two more even bigger at Sebastopol, both 100 x 65 x 64 ft., displacing 4,576 tons. But it was the attachment of the chains which posed one of Gowen’s most difficult problems. All of the exposed wood of the hulls was honeycombed by the tunnels of the “teredo navalis,” or shipworm, reducing it to a state of paper like fragility. The chains could not be passed through the hulls, which was Gowen’s original plan. Only the fact that the lower sides of many hulls were covered in many feet of soft mud protected them from the shipworm and left them strong enough to be lifted. But how did they get the chains under their keels? It was necessary to devise novel ways for the divers to tunnel under their hulls so a line could be passed through to pull the chain sling out the other side of the ship.

Gowen went to work in 1857 demolishing wrecks and removing them piecemeal. It was only in 1858 that he began to bring up completely intact ships. At this point, it would be most interesting to know if he was truly the inventor of the caissons, or the first to use this technique of raising ships with such rigid external floats. This is suggested by the fact that both at Gibraltar and Sebastopol another man’s earlier invention was tried without success: “camels,” or inflatable canvas, and rubber floats. These all burst at only partial inflation pressures; plainly the materials of the time were inadequate to justify the concept. But more to the point, Gowen was the master of finding solutions that worked, adopting whatever came to hand and surmounting all unexpected technical glitches. He was a man of many parts – the epitome of the brash, self-confident, but big-hearted stereotypical American. When asked by the governor of Gibraltar if he knew that the Missouri had defeated the best of the world’s engineers, he replied “May I enquire of Your Excellency if any of these engineers were Yankees?”

He was undaunted in the face of setbacks, not the least of which were some very dirty tricks played on him by the Russian government. His can-do generosity was revealed by his personal crusade to restore and protect the graves of the English, French, and Turkish soldiers who died at Sebastopol, which he found in a state of total neglect. Chuck Veit has single-handedly rescued Gowen from oblivion and given this impressive and attractive character his place in history. As a self-taught natural engineer, Gowen’s story is inherently interesting, like that of the Wright brothers, John Holland, or Barnes Wallis. Mr. Veit does not appear to be an academic, but he writes fine history based on meticulous, imaginative research. This book will provide a rewarding read for anyone fascinated with the long story of man and the sea – but it is definitely required reading for those interested in the history of the art of the salvor or nineteenth century technology.

This book is self-published by the author, and it’s worth noting how the computer has made this type of work so much more accessible to its intended audience. In days gone by, I could only have encountered such a work by chance, browsing booksellers’ shelves or catalogs. Today they are readily available online. This goes far to make such research into the neglected corners of history far more rewarding to those of us who are addicted to it.


Robert P. Largess is the author of USS Albacore: Forerunner of the Future and articles on USS Triton, SS United States, the invention of the towed sonar array, and the history of Lighter-Than-Air.    

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Holloway_HMS WASPBy Peter J. Holloway, Book Guild Publishing, Sussex, England (2014)

Reviewed by Ed Calouro

HMS Wasp is a work of historical fiction which largely mirrors the author’s own life experiences, especially his own time in the Royal Navy. The novel’s first chapter opens in the 1950s with Edward “Ted” Harris as a probationary teacher at Blackhawk Junior, a school for disadvantaged students in the East End of London. It then goes back to tell the story of the rather circuitous journey that led him there.

The reader quickly learns Ted was not a serious student in secondary school. He did make a point to stay after school on a regular basis for instruction in English, but that was because he was enamored with Miss Joy Fielding, his beautiful, blonde, blue-eyed English teacher. Upon reflection, Ted acknowledges he did not really apply himself nor fully value his education. His lack of ambition led him to a dead-end job at a bookkeeping firm. It took something extraordinary to shake him out of his lethargy. National Service, the British equivalent of the draft, opened Ted’s eyes.

Ted was fortunate to land in the Royal Navy. After an intensive six-month training period at the RN Electrical School in Chatham, Ted was posted to the HMS Wasp, a sloop, built in the 1930s and showing her age. He, along with four other electrical mechanics second class, a leading electrical mechanic, and, most importantly, chief petty officer “RIP” Henderson, make up the Green Empire, the electrical division on HMS Wasp. It is Ted’s good fortune to serve under CPO Henderson. He is a father figure who doles out good advice to his charges. It was the chief who encouraged Harris to sit for his General Certificate of Education (GCE) exams. His passing them opened the possibility of a college education and his future teaching career.

The other major benefit of National Service was Ted’s yearlong service on the America and West Indies station. This took him to places he would not otherwise have seen, such as Jamaica; St. Lucia; Savannah, GA; Bermuda; and Nassau. A product of the 1950s, Ted was influenced by Sister Muriel at the Baptist School. She considered almost everything a sin and would have been shocked by what took place when the Wasp pulled into port. In Jamaica, Ted meets Paula, a woman of the world, who correctly pegs him as a “cherry boy.” “Having his feet under the table,” as the local expression had it, Ted quickly lost his innocence.

While he appreciates going to places he would not normally se, Ted laments that he no sooner got the feel of the place when the Navy ranked him away. He quickly concluded the navy was no place for a married man because of the long separations from family.

At the end of the year-long exotic cruise, Ted has to decide if he should sign-on for an additional five-year hitch or return to civilian life. Wisely taking the advice of CPO Henderson, he decides to further his education and heed his grandfather’s advice, “if you want to be taken seriously in England, never take a job where you get your hands dirty.” When the Wasp returns to England, Harris still has about five months shore duty to fulfill his two-year National Service. Along the way, he meets the mysterious Jean Fraser. She initially refuses to say much about herself, and there’s a very good reason, but you’ll have to read the book to find this out and what happens to CPO Henderson and the HMS Wasp.

Holloway has written an engaging first novel. The reader quickly becomes involved with the characters. Holloway’s descriptions of events are not graphic and leave much to the imagination, as befits a story set in the 1950s. The author has set the stage for one or two more novels which continue Harris’ life. The first volume is reminiscent of Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes. There is room here for a sequel that takes us through Harris’ college and university years. Then, Holloway might write a book similar to McCourt’s Teacher Man, to take us through Harris’ subsequent life as a teacher in a school for students at risk. Based upon his enjoyable first novel, one hopes Holloway cranks out two more volumes – soon.


Ed Calouro is an Adjunct Instructor at Rhode Island College.

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BOOK REVIEW – MAN & THE SEA – Shipwrecks of Southwest Washington and Northwest Oregon 1792 – 1949

Man and the SeaBy Wayne O’Neil, Midway Printery, Long Beach, WA (2013)

Reviewed by Charles Bogart

The author uses a broad-brush definition of what constitutes a shipwreck vessel. The book covers not only ships lost from grounding, touching bottom, effects of weather, fire, and collision, but also ships that suffered non fatal hull damage from grounding and touching bottom, or were salvaged after running ashore. The history and fate of over 200 ships are chronicled in Man & the Sea. Each ship receives anywhere from a third of a page to three pages of text. The book thus can be read at random, as the only connection between the stories of the individual ships detailed in the book is that they were involved in an incident on the Columbia River or along the nearby Pacific Ocean coast.

Most of the ship stories told are supported by drawings or pictures, and a map locating the incident. The front of the book has a wonderful map of the lower Columbia River and of the Pacific Ocean coast to either side of the river. The author has annotated this map with the location of the various physical features central to the ship loses covered in the book’s text.

As one might expect, the majority of ships discussed within this book are sailing ships that voyaged over the waters off of Oregon’s and Washington’s Pacific Ocean coast between the years 1845 and 1920. Most of the sailing ship incidents recorded by the author occur as the result of weather, generally in the form of fog or storms. Steam powered ships are also covered with most of those recorded being engaged in the coastal lumber trade in the years before 1940.

The author takes time to pause in his text to cover the construction of the Columbia River’s North and South jetties and the efforts of the local Lifesaving Service. There is also an extensive glossary of nautical terms included at the end of the book. The book contains a few minor errors of fact; the most noticeable is in reference to USAT Arrow, which wrecked off the Columbia River in 1947, as USS Arrow.

The book is well written and illustrated and great for a bedtime read. It would make a great Christmas or birthday gift for the person just getting interested in the lore of the sea. As an aside, the book is printed on paper salvaged from part of the deck cargo Hawaiian Planter lost overboard on 24 January 1965 while crossing the Columbia River bar.


Charles H. Bogart is a frequent contributor to Naval History Book Reviews.

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Miller_Raven OneBy Captain Kevin P. Miller, U.S. Navy (Retired), Pelican Press, Pensacola, FL (2014)

Reviewed by Jan Churchill

The author, a 24-year veteran of the U.S. Navy, is a former tactical naval aviator who flew the A-7E Corsair II and FA-18C Hornet operationally, logging over 1,000 carrier-arrested landings. Miller commanded a carrier-based strike-fighter squadron. Raven One is his first novel. In the acknowledgments, Captain Miller said that, “For anyone who is interested in carrier aviation, this action novel will hold the reader’s interest.” Although this novel is compelling and entertaining for those familiar with the world of carrier aviation, it is written primarily for those who are not.

Historical fiction takes the reader beyond facts as it delves into the personalities of the men and women who lived through it. Readers of Raven One experience a deployment as part of a strike-fighter squadron. Miller’s memories of extended deployments to the Middle East bring to life the flight decks, the ready rooms, the bunkrooms, the wardrooms, and the training hops.

Miller puts the reader in the cockpit of the FA-18 Hornet strike-fighter aircraft, telling what it’s like to control a warplane, feeling the smells and excitement. There are detailed descriptions of fighting maneuvers, carrier landings, refueling, and the pilots as well as other personnel. Fascinating “dog fights” with a weird looking airplane, give a hint of the enemy’s new technology which the author says is believable even though the airplane is fiction.

The story begins with FA-18C Hornet pilot and operations officer Lieutenant Commander Jim “Flip” Wilson having a dream about a flight penetrating Iraqi airspace even though the day before his mission was over the Gulf of Aden. Because his dream had him ejecting into space, when he woke up Wilson worried about surviving the remaining five months of his tour. More interesting people are introduced to the story. Second in command is the Executive Officer (XO), a martinet named Commander William “Saint” Patrick. Later in the book, the XO causes an unnecessary wave-off on a dark, stormy night with the deck pitching for Hornet pilot Lieutenant (JG) Bob “Sponge” Jasper.

The book becomes a page-turner as the reader learns about the personalities of the people involved. The story delves into the ethos of a fighter squadron where life is competition amongst young adults working together. The conflicts between officers become evident. The problems of both men and women on board a carrier bring human interest to the story. Hornet pilots include Lieutenants Kristen “Olive” Teel and Melanie “Psycho” Hinton – a daughter of an admiral.

About two-thirds into the story, “Flip” Wilson’s attitude changes. Human factors are described with candor, weaving the story of flying with crew interactions. The book portrays the way men and women prepare for battle. There are details of everything in a pilot’s life…dreams, eating, even putting on flight gear. Political observations surface towards the end of the novel.

At the beginning of the book there five pages of a “ Glossary of Jargon and Acronyms” followed by a page of CVW-4 “Tomahawk” call letters AH “Alpha Hotel” and a list of “Strike-Fighter Squadron SIX FOUR (VFA-64) Officers.   There is also a map of the area of the carrier’s deployment.

This reviewer talked to Kevin Miller who said, “The book is for anyone, male or female, who wants to see the inside of this world, from the tip of the spear. Two of the F-18 pilots are women, ‘Psycho’ and ‘Olive.’ The aircraft doesn’t care who the pilot is, as long as that person does the job and is not a danger to others.”

Raven One makes a major contribution to aircraft carrier history during difficult deployments. The author has skillfully woven the intense combat maneuvers with a fascinating human interest story. This reviewer recommends this book in which the author’s personal experience in the sky and in the wardroom tell it like it is. Even though this book was written for readers with no naval background, those who have served in military aviation will enjoy the story. Miller said, “the scenes in Raven One are not necessarily autobiographical nor are the characters based on real people.”


Jan Churchill is a retired Coast Guard aviator (who almost had a press ride in the FA-18. It was canceled due to a FA-18 crash about that same time).

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BOOK REVIEW – Edge of Valor

Gobbell_Edge of ValorBy John J Gobbell, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD (2014)

Reviewed by Commander George Wallace, U.S. Navy (Retired)

If you have read the first four books in the Todd Ingram series, you will have followed Commander Ingram’s World War II exploits from the siege of Corregidor, through Guadalcanal and the Solomons to the Indian Ocean onboard a Japanese submarine. The Edge of Valor finds Ingram off the Japanese home islands as the war was in its last days. Atomic bombs have devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japan is threatening to come apart as behind-the-doors negotiations determine surrender terms and the shape of post-war Japan. As the United States and Russia jockey for position in the post-war world and the Navy is planning a triumphant entry into Tokyo Wan, mysterious orders directly from MacArthur himself shove Ingram into the center of a deadly vortex.

Author Jack Gobbell is painstaking in his effort to get his facts accurate. Good research is absolutely vital to developing an air of authenticity and believability to wrap around an historical novel. This attention to technical and historic detail is all too rare, even in today’s “Google Age.” Yet Gobbell gets it right. He deftly weaves a complex tale around Stalin’s last minute declaration of war against Japan and invasion of Karafuto, or Sakhalin to the Russians, as a stepping stone to Stalin’s plan to occupy northern Hokkaido. Mix in the discovery of the Kwantung Army’s Unit 731 and their horrific biological experiments; add MacArthur’s role in hiding the facts behind Unit 731 so the U.S. could use data from the experiments, and let simmer. Your stew is a fact-based account of a treacherous and little-known part of history.

Now, layer the storyline into this mix. Todd Ingram is unexpectedly dropped into a maelstrom. Having caught the attention of senior brass with his previous exploits, Ingram is ordered on a special mission to rescue an International Red Cross representative and evidence that he gathered about Unit 731. An unexpected hostile encounter with the invading Russian force sets the premise for much of the rest of the tale.

Character development is a challenge for any author, and even more so when some of your characters are well known historic figures. Appearances by Halsey, Spruance, McCain, Sutherland, and even Auturo Toscanini conform well with their real-life historic persona. But Gobbell really shines when he is building the characters for his key players. No cardboard figures or stilted conversations here. The characters are well-rounded, sympathetic, and believable people straight out of 1945. Many of the key figures have appeared in earlier stories. You don’t need to read the earlier ones to enjoy this one, but it helps in understanding some of the subtler motivations and interplay. I think that Gobbell’s rather frequent mention of previous encounters between the various protagonists was a clever marketing ploy to go buy his earlier works.

Edge of Valor is eminently readable and a fast-paced, fun story. The plot is complex enough to keep you on your toes as the story plays out. Just when you get complacent, Jack will throw in an unexpected plot twist. He will have you thumbing through your WW II history collection or doing a Google search for more information about some little known and long forgotten historic tidbit that he has woven into his tale. This story is recommended reading for an enjoyable evening or two with a log on the fire, your feet up, and a slow sipping drink.


Commander George Wallace is a retired submarine officer and the author of the submarine thrillers Hunter Killer, Firing Point, and Operation Golden Dawn.

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BOOK REVIEW – The Admiral and the Ambassador: One Man’s Obsessive Search for the Body of John Paul Jones

Martelle_The Admiral and AmbassadorBy Scott Martelle, Chicago Review Press, Chicago, IL (2014)

Reviewed by John R. Satterfield, DBA

The Continental Navy had negligible impact on the American Revolution’s outcome. Its handful of little ships served almost entirely as commerce raiders, attacking and capturing defenseless merchantmen and occasionally engaging with small British warships of comparable or lesser capability. The Revolution was a training ground for many leaders of the early United States Navy, re-established in 1794 to counter the threat of Mediterranean pirates to American maritime commerce. The most notable Continental Navy commander during the Revolution was not, however, among the men who founded the new nation’s naval culture and ethos. Captain John Paul Jones was buried in a small Protestant cemetery on the outskirts of 18th-century Paris, dead from kidney disease at age 45 in 1792.

Although Jones’ life is well documented and needs no recounting, this volume deals extensively with his remarkable wartime achievements and his memorably irascible and arrogant personality that led in major part to his slide into obscurity after the Revolutionary War. According to author Martelle, a writer for the Los Angeles Times, Jones might never have become the “Father of the American Navy” with a celebrated tomb and shrine at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis had it not been for an improbable confluence of events at the turn of the 20th century and the guiding hand of the U.S. Ambassador to France, Horace Porter.

Porter was an unlikely candidate for Jones’ resurrection. A West Point graduate, Civil War hero and protégé of Ulysses S. Grant, Porter won appointment as the U.S. ambassador to France after William McKinley’s election as president. Significantly, Porter had led a successful campaign to raise funds for Grant’s Tomb in New York City in 1897. He left for Paris within days of the monument’s dedication and remained there until 1905.

During Porter’s long tenure in Paris, overwhelming American naval victories in the Spanish-American War awakened broad public interest in the nation’s naval and military heritage. Questions arose in Congress and elsewhere about John Paul Jones’ seemingly inappropriate burial in foreign soil. Inquiries, however, found no evidence of his final resting place. In fact, the cemetery where he was interred had been abandoned and covered over within a decade or so of his death. Many historians believed that his remains were gone, dug up and discarded when new development in the expanding city led to removal of many ancient graveyards.

Porter brought far more to the search for Jones than others, however, including the authority of the U.S. government and its friendship with France, personal wealth that funded the research and effort to locate the grave, and careful, meticulous management of competent assistants.

Archival research finally revealed St. Louis Cemetery, long since buried deep under a block of commercial buildings in a lower-class area of northeast Paris. Porter arranged for vertical shafts to be sunk on the property and in adjacent streets. Nearly 20 feet below the surface, excavators dug out tunnels, supporting them with timbers to prevent cave-ins. Workers undoubtedly thought they had entered the gates of hell, unearthing layers of skeletons human and animal and enormous red earthworms that had thrived underground.

Fortunately, records indicated that friends had placed Jones in a lead coffin filled with alcohol to preserve his body for eventual exhumation. This forethought focused Porter’s search. Several lead coffins were unearthed, but only one was promising. When it was opened, the body inside was remarkably preserved, and all the elements noted in contemporary accounts of Jones’ burial matched. An autopsy of the corpse confirmed the cause of death diagnosed by Jones’ physician, and precise measurements of his body and head matched the famous bust of Jones by French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon, considered by everyone to be a remarkably accurate likeness.

Jones came back to America amid pomp and circumstance. President Theodore Roosevelt presided over a ceremony at Annapolis in the spring of 1906, but the Naval Academy Chapel and the crypt for Jones were not completed until 1913. With little fanfare, Jones’ body was transferred from under the main staircase in Bancroft Hall, the Academy’s dormitory, into the Grand Antique de Pyrenees marble sarcophagus supported by dolphins cresting the waves where he rests today.

Porter, obviously a remarkable man in his own right, lived until 1921 and lies buried in obscurity in West Long Branch, New Jersey, once the site of his summer home. (He is currently resting at Arlington National Cemetery)

Martelle tells a worthwhile tale, but his book, although brief, would have benefitted from more stringent editing. It’s hard at times to tell exactly where the story leads, as it contains numerous forays into history that have little or nothing to do with the primary topic, the search for Jones. These tangents can be interesting and add texture to the era covered in the book, but they also divert attention from and offer little explanation for the odd connection between an old Civil War artilleryman and the rough, even older sea captain he dug out of the ground.


Dr. Satterfield has written two books on World War II naval history, many of articles on naval weapon systems and teaches military and naval history.

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Ditty Bag: Japanese Navy Minister Flag

Ditty Bag: Collections of the Naval Historical Foundation An Artifact and Collections Blog Series

Imperial Japanese Navy Minister Flag

The Meiji Restoration saw an end to the Tokugawa shogunate rule of the Edo period in favor of imperial rule in Japan. The implementation of new political structures drastically changed the methods of military decisions and wartime preparation. The Navy Ministry was created in 1872 as a means of bureaucratic control over the navy during times of military conflict. The ministry was in charge of everything from budget management and ship construction to political relations and navy policy implementation. All affairs of the Navy Ministry were ultimately under the control of the Minister of the Navy.

Flag image taken inside the National Museum of the United States Navy (Photo by Matthew Eng/Released)

Flag image taken inside the National Museum of the United States Navy (Photo by Matthew Eng/Released)

The Navy Minister held much political power. Similar to the United States Secretary of the Navy, Imperial Japan’s Navy Minister controlled recruiting, vessel construction and repair, and all other affairs immediately related to the navy. He was both a member of the Cabinet and a direct report of the Emperor rather than the Prime Minister. The Navy Minister’s close relation with the Emperor is uniquely reflected on his flag of rank.

The Imperial Japanese Navy rank flags were initially based off of the national flag, the hinomaru or sun-disk flag. In 1897, new flags and command pennants were created to reflect the Rising Sun Flag with sixteen red rays of the Imperial Japanese Army and Imperial Japanese Navy. The Rising Sun Flag became the typical Japanese naval ensign, visible on almost every flag of rank and commissioning pennant. The Navy Minister’s flag is the only Flag of the Japanese Imperial Navy without the mark of the Rising Sun.

3The flag of the Navy Minister bears a crimson anchor on a field of white with two red, horizontal zig-zag stripes. Above the anchor is the mon of Japan, a stylized cherry blossom, the national flower of Japan. The placement of the anchor beneath the cherry blossom may be indicative of the Minister of the Navy’s direct contact with the Emperor, a likewise unique attribute of his rank.

Lady Henry Moore donated the World War II-era flag to the Naval Historical Foundation in 1964 on behalf of her first husband, Admiral Theodore Stark Wilkinson, a veteran of both World Wars. Then Rear Admiral Wilkinson served as Director of Naval Intelligence during the early months of U.S. entry into WWII. By 1942, he reported as Commander Battleship Division TWO, Pacific Fleet and became Deputy Commander, South Pacific Area and South Pacific Force by January 1943. He was redesignated Commander THIRD Amphibious Force, Pacific Fleet with rank of Vice Admiral in 1944 and retained that rank through the completion of World War II. Admiral Wilkinson would go on to serve temporary duty in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations in 1945, concluding his naval career as a member of the Joint Strategic Survey Committee of the Join Staff, Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Due to the specifics of Admiral Wilkinson’s service record, the original owner of this flag most likely was one of three Ministers of the Navy of the Japanese Imperial Navy: Admiral Shigetarō Shimada, Admiral Naokuni Nomura, or Admiral Mitsumasa Yonai.

This flag is indicative of both the shift in Japanese political structure from a shogunate into an empire as well as Imperial Japan’s quick advancement in naval technologies and bureaucracies. In the Naval Historical Foundation’s collection, it represents the valor and commitment of U.S. service men and women who sail around the globe for the purpose of protecting their family, friends, and country.

Asada, Sadao (2006). From Mahan to Pearl Harbor: The Imperial Japanese Navy and the United States. US Naval Institute Press.

Jansen, Marius B. (2000). The Making of Modern Japan. Cambridge: Harvard University.

“Japanese Symbols”. Japan Visitor/Japan Tourist Info. Retrieved October 9, 2014.

Nussbaum, Louis-Frédéric and Käthe Roth. (2005). Japan encyclopedia. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Schencking, J. Charles (2005). Making Waves: Politics, Propaganda, And The Emergence Of The Imperial Japanese Navy, 1868–1922. Stanford University Press.

05d807eDitty Bag: Collections of the Naval Historical Foundation is a new artifact blog written by Emily Pearce, NHF Middendorf Curator. She will periodically write posts about various artifacts and accessioned items in the Naval Historical Foundation collection and their impact on naval history. You can view all of the collections highlighted in Ditty Bag on our Flickr page HERE. To contact Emily or to inquire about NHF collections, please email Emily Pearce at

For previous releases of Ditty Bag, Please go HERE.

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Ditty Bag: Vanguard Shoulder Boards

Ditty Bag: Collections of the Naval Historical Foundation An Artifact and Collections Blog Series

From Dock to Deck: Vanguard Shoulder Boards

Bernard Gershen, a Polish tailor, immigrated to the United States in 1903. Settling in New York City, the tailor stayed in southern Manhattan as he sought work in his trade. Gershen furthered his stitching profession by joining a firm located in South Street Seaport, New York. He frequently interacted with members of various shipping and military vessels. It was there that he gained a reputation for quality craftsmanship, specializing in sewing gold lace onto the jackets of ship captains and crewmembers.

South Street Seaport, NYC (LOC Image)

South Street Seaport, NYC (LOC Image)

Gershen quickly became the go-to tailor for seamen looking to repair their jacket’s gold lacing. After World War I ended, Gershen teamed up with local button merchant Sam Weisberg to form a new company. Weisberg contributed the metals and Gershen contributed the lace and stitching to create insignia and adornment for U.S. Navy sailors in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The name of their new business, Vanguard, depicts someone on the forefront of new developments. Perhaps the most charming part of the company’s inception is the arbitrary method of its naming. In 1918, Gershen and Weisberg opened a dictionary and choose a word at random, choosing the word “Vanguard” as their new company name. “If they both knew what the word meant, that would be their company name,” noted current Vanguard president Bill Gershen, the grandson of Bernard Gershen. From its humble beginnings, Vanguard grew into one of the main insignia producers for all branches of the United States Military.

Vanguard Shoulder Boards, Rear Admiral (Lower Half). Photo by Emily Pearce.

Vanguard Shoulder Boards, Rear Admiral (Lower Half). Photo by Emily Pearce.

Vanguard Shoulder Boards, Rear Admiral (Lower Half). Photo by Emily Pearce.

Vanguard Shoulder Boards, Rear Admiral (Lower Half). Photo by Emily Pearce.

Pictured above are shoulder boards made by Vanguard that were in the NHF Collection. The shoulder boards are for a Rear Admiral (Lower Half) uniform. The craftsmanship is solid and well made. Mild wear and tear/fading exist on the front and back of the piece. You can see much of the quality lace work on the shoulder board, a defining quality of Vanguard products and Bernard Gershen’s legacy. The United-Carr Company of Cambridge, Massachusetts, made the brass snap buttons shown above. Other Vanguard shoulder boards used buttons by Scoville Waterbury, a company who has made brass buttons in the United States since 1812. The back of the shoulder boards have the signature Vanguard “V” and scroll lettering, which was typical in their manufacturing during the time period. Vanguard continues to make quality military insignia and accouterments for the U.S. Navy today.

05d807eDitty Bag: Collections of the Naval Historical Foundation is a new artifact blog written by Emily Pearce, NHF Middendorf Curator. She will periodically write posts about various artifacts and accessioned items in the Naval Historical Foundation collection and their impact on naval history. You can view all of the collections highlighted in Ditty Bag on our Flickr page HERE. To contact Emily or to inquire about NHF collections, please email Emily Pearce at

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Defending the Flag at the Fourteenth Latitude: American Samoa, Fitafita, and the United States Navy

Image of Fitafita Guard courtesy American Samoa Historic Preservation Office (ASHPO)

Image of Fitafita Guard courtesy American Samoa Historic Preservation Office (ASHPO)

“I go along with somebody who says that when Samoa heard that the US government was at war with Japan, the call came around and they offered their hands to help.”
Tuala Sevaaetasi, Former Fitafita Guardsman

By Matthew T. Eng

The proud history of the American Samoan people traces back over 3,000 years, long before any islander saw their first naval vessel or merchant ship. The native population had a long held history of seafaring and pottery making along the archipelago, living undisturbed off the sea and land under the leadership of the Fa’amatai, the chiefly governing authority of the Samoan islands.

European contact with Samoan islanders came in the eighteenth century. The Dutch and French were the first to vie for a foothold in the tropical paradise. This eventually led to a series of violent backlashes between European explorers and Samoans. Tensions calmed in the nineteenth century with the introduction of Christian missionaries. This stability led to a growth in settlers and military personnel on the islands. Trade and education began to prosper. The United States soon came to know the islands well. American whalers hunting in the sperm whale hunting grounds stopped at the island chain for foodstuffs and provisions during the height of offshore whaling in the Pacific. Commodore Charles Wilkes and the United States Exploring Expedition stopped off in the Samoan Islands in 1839 to survey the region. Two vessels of the same expedition, USS Flying Fish and USS Peacock, were involved in a brief bombardment of Upolu in 1841 following the murder of an American sailor.

Samoan Dance, Charles Wilkes, Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition during the years 1838, 1839, 1840, 1841, 1842. Volume 3, 1845 (Image via Smithsonian)

Samoan Dance, Charles Wilkes, Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition during the years 1838, 1839, 1840, 1841, 1842. Volume 3, 1845 (Image via Smithsonian)

The island chain was not immune to the myriad international rivalries that would eventually carve out large swaths of territory in the name of empire near the beginning of the twentieth century. Disputes and disagreements between unified Germany and the United States eventually came to a head. Officials in Washington, eager for a slice of territory in the South Pacific to show the flag under the Mahanian-like notion of sea power, purchased the chain of islands known today as American Samoa in the 1899 Tripartite Convention with Germany. The eastern set of territories (Germany partitioned the western half of the island chain now the Independent State of Western Samoa) included five main islands and two coral atolls.

The island itself occupies a tiny piece of the South Pacific. As one naval officer pointed out in his assessment of American Samoa, the 290 mile-long island chain is easily fond by drawing a line on a map from Hawaii to New Zealand.

Naval Administration
The United States Navy began to manage the affairs of American Samoa in 1900. Commander Benjamin F. Tilley arrived at Pago Pago harbor to establish the territory’s new naval administration. A new naval station was established at the harbor, known as Naval Station Tutuila.

Under the direction of the U.S. Navy, Tilley took on the role of Governor of American Samoa. Other administrative posts within the “Island Government” were given to Navy officers and enlisted men. Governors were appointed directly by the President, and were directed to preside over all legislative, executive, and judicial matters on the islands. Military Governors like Tilley worked closely with the matai, Samoan tribal chiefs, to ensure the everyday niceties of the “Stars and Stripes” did not personally interfere with their own long-held rituals and traditions.

Commander Benjamin F. Tilley, USN

Commander Benjamin F. Tilley, USN

Commander Tilley, a career officer with combat experience during the Spanish-American War, created an island control with two central governing institutions, a judicial system and the Fitafita Guard. In the native Samoan language, the word fita translates to “courage.” Others within the indigenous population translate the term to “soldier.” When placed together, the casual observer of Samoan culture gets a good sense of the unit’s importance. According to Dr. Robert W. Franco, an expert on Samoan/Pacific affairs at Kapi’Olani Community College, the Fitafita guard was set up by the U.S. Navy to “enforce court decisions and generally maintain order.” Members of the Fitafita guard were placed in the naval reserve.

In the early years, the Navy handpicked the Fitafita Guard. Young natives and elites were attracted to the prospect of service. Others came to join the ranks of the Fitafita band for their love of music. The guard soon carved out their own military enclave in the South Pacific, serving both the U.S. Navy and their own people under a banner of mutual respect and admiration. The men of the Fitafita proudly served “with a full heart,” according to former Guardsman Tuala Sevaatasi. The Fitafita Guard had many of the same rights and responsibilities of regular enlisted personnel. Fitafita were given regular Navy pay as well as 20% overseas pay. They were not, however, permitted to serve outside of the home islands at sea, which made them more of an honor guard and ceremonial band than fighting unit. One source stated that some Fitafita guardsmen were given sea duty on an ocean-going tug during the beginning of the outfit’s operation.

The prestige of becoming a well-respected member of Samoan society drew many indigenous men to service, especially their musicians. The impressive seventeen-piece Fitafita band developed musical expertise, becoming a large influencer on the importance of blending Samoan and American culture together. Navy musicians from the United States were sent to Pago Pago to teach and train the Fitafita how to organize a band. They quickly caught on. Seen in several surviving photographs today, their military drill discipline resembled the world-renowned Marine Corps band. Many Fitafita were also highly proficient with the rifle, often besting competitive teams from visiting militaries. This short excerpt in Modern Samoa: It’s Changing Government and Changing Life discusses the impact and importance of the Samoan-born unit:

“These performed duties as seamen and bandsmen, and the example of their life has been a major shaping force upon the local native youth.” (Modern Samoa: It’s Government and Changing Life, 133)

The Fitafita uniform is a distinctive piece of U.S. Navy and Samoan history. Unlike those who served in the 1st Samoan Marine Battalion during the Second World War, the Fitafita uniform had features of both Samoan culture and common U.S. Navy enlisted personnel. Most Fitafita wore a uniform that consisted of a red cap, white skivvy shirt, red sash, and white lava lava (a type of long dress kilt) with blue chevrons. The Fitafita occasionally wore an alternate blue lava lava dress uniform with red chevrons. The stripes sewn on the bottom of the lava lava kilt denoted rank. Personnel did not wear shoes.

"One of the Navy's most unusual units is the Fita Fita Band, at U.S. Naval Station, Pago Pago, tutuila, American Samoa (All Hands Magazine, April 1949)

“One of the Navy’s most unusual units is the Fita Fita Band, at U.S. Naval Station, Pago Pago, tutuila, American Samoa (All Hands Magazine, April 1949)

Service in the Fitafita guard brought a welcome source of cash flow for family members. Fitafita service remained a unique avenue of employment for men in American Samoa throughout the 1920s and 1930s. Pago Pago became a center for economic activity in American Samoa, with the American naval base in Tutuila at its core. Wage labor opportunities also increased during these years, augmented by a rapid population growth. Island life improved, and a new generation of Samoans received valuable technological skillsets that would benefit them later in life.

More opportunities came to native Samoans as the threat of war loomed over the Pacific. The Imperial Japanese co-prosperity sphere directly threatened the island’s stability. The importance of American Samoa grew critical in the early 1940s. Navy leadership accelerated the rapid growth of industrialization felt in the 1920s and 1930s. Plans for expansion of Naval Station Tutuila began in late 1940. In the event of war, Pago Pago would become a forward facility for the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps. American Samoa and the Fitafita were ready.

World War II
The attack at Pearl Harbor in December 1941 put all islands in the area on full alert, including American Samoa. The sleepy naval station soon became a major base of operation. Tutuila was the only armed base in the South Pacific at the outset of hostilities. It was also deemed important for its strategic location near the important sea-lanes between Hawaii and New Zealand. Several ships were directly diverted to Pago Pago after the attack. Confrontation with the Japanese at Tutuila seemed eminent. One month after Pearl Harbor, a Japanese submarine surfaced off Fagasa and fired rounds onto the island. The submarine attempted to strike the valuable fuel tanks in the village of Utulei. Only a U.S. Navy radioman and Fitafita guardsman were injured in the attacks. It would be the last hostile shots fired at the island.

Fitafita in uniform, c. 1942

Fitafita in uniform, c. 1942

The naval buildup in Pago Pago continued to increase during the war. According to one eyewitness account during the war, ships increased from “three in December, 1941 to fifty-six in December, 1942.” By October 1942, there were nearly 15,000 American servicemen on Tutuila and nearby Upolo. The Fitafita became an essential part of home defense and were instructed to “take the enemy forces under fire” in the event that another Japanese incursion.

Other Samoans put to work for food production, a vital component in fueling the war effort against Japan. The continuous flow of sailors and Marines made the island’s rich natural resources a necessity. Many Samoans worked long and restless hours to fulfill the needs of the fleet.

Plans to invade Samoa by the Japanese tapered off by the end of 1942. The pivotal battle of Midway in June erased any hope for a concerted Japanese offensive in the region. The Fitafita continued to drill and perform their duties, always ready to defend their South Pacific hamlet. By 1944, the base at Pago Pago was downgraded back to a naval station. Activities remained quiet until the end of the war.

The importance of the islands as a base of military operations waned after 1945. The U.S. naval base in Samoa officially closed in 1951. The last naval transport, General R. L. Howe, left the island on 25 June carrying many of the disbanded Fitafita guard to Hawaii. The territory was transferred to the Department of the Interior that year, as it remains today.

Samoans looked for economic opportunities both on and off the island chain. Recognizing the rapid growth of wage-labor opportunities brought on by war, many migrated to Pago Pago, its territorial capital. Others went to Hawaii and mainland United States. Yet the heart and soul of the Samoan people remains in Tuitula. It was there that a small and elite group of Pacific Islanders proudly served in defense of American freedoms and ideals.

As of 23 March 2009, twelve American Samoans have given their lives in defense of the United States. Many more proudly risk their own lives in the U.S. Navy. Today, the Navy estimates that sailors of Asian and Pacific Islander heritage comprise approximately 6.5 percent of the active duty naval force. That number includes over 20,000 active duty sailors, 4,000 reservists, and 18,900 civilian employees.

Preserving a Legacy
The Naval Historical Foundation seeks to preserve the history and heritage of the Fitafita warriors for future generations to learn and enjoy.

The Fitafita Uniform at NMUSN

The Fitafita Uniform at NMUSN

The National Museum of the United States Navy (NMUSN) is now in possession of a WWII-era Fitafita guard uniform. The Naval Historical Foundation, working closely with NMUSN, is seeking funding from generous donors to display the uniform in their “Japan Advances” section of the “In Harms Way: The U.S. Navy in World War II” exhibit inside the museum. The uniform would be displayed in a five-sided Frank Case. The case would house a mannequin wearing the historic and rare uniform. The figure will have, in addition to the lava lava/loincloth, turban uniform parts, and white undershirt, a model 1903 Springfield rifle and cartridge belt. A graphic element on the back with interpretive text will accompany the model case.

We hope that the uniform and exhibit will help to preserve the unique cultural bond between American Samoa and the United States Navy.

For information regarding the Fitafita uniform case and donation opportunities, please contact the author at or by calling (202) 678-4333 ext. 6.

Bibliographic Information:
Collingham, Lizzie. Taste of War: World War II and the Battle for Food. New York: Penguin Books, 2011.
Enright, John. “Tutuila in WWII: In the Cross-hairs of History – Part 1.” Samoan News. Last modified March 15, 2011. Accessed January 22, 2015.—part-1.
Franco, Robert W. “Samoans, World War II, and Military Work.” Study done for the Center for Pacific Islander Studies, 1988.
Gray, J.A.C. Amerika Samoa: A History of American Samoa and Its United States Naval Administration. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1960.
Keesing, Felix Maxwell. Modern Samoa: It’s Government and Changing Life. Unwin Brothers: Originally Published in Great Britain, 1934.
Navy Office of Diversity and Inclusion Pubic Affairs. 2013 Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Navy.Mil. Last modified April 29, 2013. Accessed January 23, 2015.
White, Geoffrey M. and Tuala Sevaaetasi. “The Fitafita Guard and Samoan Military Experience.” Remembering the Pacific War. Honolulu: Center for Pacific Islands Studies, School of Hawaiian, Asian & Pacific Studies, University of Hawaii at Manoa, 1991.

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Cracking Gibraltar: The Union Takes Fort Fisher (PART III)

Cracking Gibraltar is a blog series from the Naval Historical Foundation that will discuss the Army-Navy relationship involved in taking Fort Fisher, the last remaining Confederate stronghold in the Atlantic. READ PART I and PARTII.

Cracking Gibraltar

PART III: Cracking Gibraltar

Following the embarrassing show of force at Fort Fisher in December, General Grant and other wartime leaders wanted to make sure the next effort against the vital coastal fortification would be the last. General Butler’s replacement for the Expeditionary Corps was Major General Alfred H. Terry, a career man who saw action at Bull Run and Petersburg. Grant and Porter wanted an officer who was not afraid to fight. General Terry more than earned that reputation in January 1865. It is that reputation that helped him later in life battling Indians and Custer’s ego during the Great Sioux War.

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The New York Times (19 January 1865)

General Terry knew the profound importance of joint Army/Navy operations, having fought alongside Admiral Dahlgren’s forces at Charleston Harbor in 1863. General Grant wanted as little mistakes as possible so late in the war. He advised both expedition leaders to consult “freely” with one another in the days leading up to the attack. He hoped the open lines of communication between the two might right the wrongs of Porter and Butler’s toxic relationship. If they hoped to crack Gibraltar, they needed a plan as solid as its execution.

The total Union force heading back to Fort Fisher was comprised of 59 ships from Porter’s squadron and approximately 8,000 of Terry’s soldiers in four divisions.

Colonel Lamb and his Confederates guarding Fort Fisher were not at all surprised by the upcoming attack. As early as the evening of 12 January, the small number of soldiers guarding the garrison could see the mass of ships and transports near the beach to their north.

Terry landed his troops north of the Fort as planned on 13 January 1865. Behind the strength of Terry’s force was over six hundred of Porters guns pointed straight at Fort Fisher. If the Civil War is to be condensed into a numbers game, Fort Fisher ranks near the top for its show of force.

The Union Navy began to bombard Fort Fisher that day. The shelling acted as a screen for Terry, who began to offload and prepare to assault from the north. The paralleled firing position allowed for the close-in fire needed to shell the fort to not interfere with the landings. Army transports landed in two separate groups, with one landing several miles to the north in case the need came to repel any Confederate reinforcements from nearby Wilmington. To say that the execution was textbook might be an understatement.

Another day of shelling rocked the Fort on 14 January. The rigorous shelling lasted the entire day and inflicted some 300 Confederate casualties from inside the fort. With less than 2,000 Confederates inside before the battle began, Colonel Lamb was at a severe disadvantage. Most important, the barrage took out some of the heavy guns. Everything was set for an assault the following day.

Union vessels began shelling the fort once again around 9:00am on 15 January. Confederate General Hoke was able to get several hundred soldiers into the fort during the three-hour bombardment.

Porter sent a small contingent of sailors and marines on shore to aid in the assault. Unlike Terry’s forces, those who comprised the 1,600 man naval landing party had only cutlasses and revolvers to defend themselves with. The approximately 400 Marines going ashore had only rifles. Commander Kidder P. Breese was in overall command of the naval detachment. Breese was a close personal friend of Porter, who had been with him since the beginning of the war. It would take much more than cutlasses and revolvers to protect them as they organized into companies on the morning of 15 January. The Army originally planned for the naval landing party to attack in a series of waves, with the Marines providing covering fire.

Naval Charge at Fort Fisher (USNLP)

Naval Charge at Fort Fisher (USNLP)

Things did not go as planned for Commander Breese. The soldiers planned to attack simultaneously with the landing party were delayed, as they had to attack through the nearby woods. The sailors and Marines lumbered forward together in a mass of confusion and death towards the fort. Admiral Porter wrote about Commander Breese’s difficulties in his official report to Secretary Welles:

“Lieutenant-Commander Breese did all that he could to rally his men, and made two or three unsuccessful attempts to regain the parapet, but the marines hving failed in their duty to support the gallant officers and sailors who took the lead, he had to retire to a place of safety. He did not, however, leave the ground, but remained under the parapet in a rifle pit using a musket until night favored his escape [. . .] Nowhere in the annals of war have officers and sailors undertaken so desperate a service.”

Casualties mounted up as they moved across the open beach. The sailors barely made it to the fort before they had to turn back in panic. Only a handful made it to the outer palisades. Many injured were unfortunately left for dead. One source recorded nearly a fifth of the sailors and Marines that charged that early afternoon became casualties.

Capture of Fort Fisher by Union troops, by Kurz & Allison

Capture of Fort Fisher by Union troops, by Kurz & Allison

Colonel Lamb, seeing the intensity of attack, believed the landing party to be the central attack column. General Terry’s men soon charged at the fort with a ferocity and embattled courage rarely seen in combat. The artillery fire from the defenders was once again fierce and concentrated, this time on Terry’s men. Thanks to Porter’s rolling bombardment from the water, the advancing infantrymen had a protective blanket of cover during their rush. Terry and his men who made it to the fort began the arduous process of fighting through towards the heart of the base through the long parapet. By 9:00pm, Fort Fisher was in the hands of the United States.

The victory came at the loss of over one thousand killed or wounded. Southern casualties totaled half of that number, with nearly 1,500 taken prisoner.

The capture of Fort Fisher closed the South’s last major port. Although there are some who would note that other ports still open until the end of the war (a true statement), the “lifeline of the Confederacy” nonetheless came to a near screeching halt on 15 January. With little opportunity for blockade runners to come into the mid-Atlantic South to aid Lee’s Army, it only was a matter of time before the end. The engagement did not force an end of the war; it merely accelerated its end.

The New York Times ran on 19 January with a series of headlines covering the Union victory at Fort Fisher. The official report to the Secretary of War three days previous was equally positive. Note that both Porter and Terry wrote the report together – as equals:

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 2.59.26 PM
The battle would be the last great victory for the Union Navy during the Civil War. For joint operations, many scholars point to Fort Fisher as a critical benchmark for cooperation and a solid framework for future operations in U.S. military history. In all, Union forces captured 139 guns and the surrounding earthworks and fortifications.

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Cracking Gibraltar: The Union Takes Fort Fisher (PART II)

Cracking Gibraltar is a blog series from the Naval Historical Foundation that will discuss the Army-Navy relationship involved in taking Fort Fisher, the last remaining Confederate stronghold in the Atlantic. READ PART I.

Cracking Gibraltar

PART II: Butler’s “Singular and Interesting Disclosures”

Porter’s distaste for Butler was no secret. Political generals like Butler received regular harassment from career men like Porter. The disdain was clearly evident in Porter’s reports to both Grant and Welles in the weeks that followed the first attempt at Fort Fisher. He went so far as to suggest Butler quit the Army and return to civilian life. Admiral Porter often directed blame on others, when in reality some of the finger pointing should be directed his way.

Despite his own personal distrust in the man, General Grant wanted Butler’s official report published. Butler’s 3 January official report contrasted to Porter’s official correspondence with Gideon Welles. The New York Times published the report on 14 January with this apologetic headline:

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In his statement to General Grant, Butler swore that the naval bombardment did not damage the earthworks, even though his counterpart was “quite sanguine that he had silenced the guns” there. He cited historical precedent from the war about the Navy’s failure to silence the forts in New Orleans. Butler laid credibility to his argument based on the sole fact that he was there to witness both events. If it hadn’t worked before, why would anyone assume it would at Fort Fisher? Hindsight has a place in the annals of history:

“It is to be remarked that Admiral FARRAGUT even had never taken a fort, except by running by and cutting it off from all prospect of reinforcement, as Fort Jackson and Fort Morgan, and that no casemated fort had been silenced by a naval fire during the war; that if the Admiral would put his ships in the river the army could supply him across the beach, as we had proposed to do FARRAGUT at Fort St. Philip; that at least the blockade of Wilmington would be effectual even if we did not capture the fort.” (New York Times, January 14, 1865, 1)

general-butlerThe most damning information to Porter and the Navy was timing. According to Butler, the failure to take Fort Fisher was due in large part to the fleet’s sluggish movement to the rendezvous point off New Inlet prior to the attack. This troubled Butler, as he gave the Navy a “thirty six hours’ start” beginning on 14 December:

“We there waited for the navy, Friday, the 16th, Saturday, the 17th, and Sunday, the 18th, during which days we had the finest possible weather and the smoothest sea.” (New York Times, January 14, 1865, 1)

Towards the end of the report, he reiterated his feelings toward the delay:

“The loss of Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the 16th, 17th and 18th of December, was the immediate cause of the failure of the expedition. It is not my province even to suggest blame to the navy for their delay of four days at Beauford. I know none of the reasons which do or do not justify it. It is presumed they are sufficient.” (New York Times, January 14, 1865, 1)

Neither Butler nor Porter could let it go. Days after the successful capture of Fort Fisher, and over a week after the New York Times published Butler’s report, Porter wrote a final scathing response to Secretary Welles. “Though the late results have completely refuted the assertions of Generals Butler and Weitzel” he wrote, “I deem it true to the naval part of the expedition that General Butler’s report should receive some notice at my hands.” The report is a lengthy five pages long and filled with the same venomous accusations he made in late December. Porter wanted to be clear and concise as to why Butler was (still) the wrong man for the job. He proceeded to go line by line, pointing out the faults in each statement:

“General Butler states that Admiral Porter was quite sanguine that he had -silenced the guns of Fort Fisher [. . .] That is a deliberate misstatement. General Butler does not say who urged me, but I never saw him or his staff after the landing on the beach, nor did I ever have any conversation with him, or see him (except on the deck of his vessel as I passed by in the flagship) from the time I left Fortress Monroe until he left here after his failure. He showed himself by that remark just as ignorant about hydrography as the rebel General Whiting did when he built his fort where he supposed large ships could not get near enough to attack it.”

The End of Butler

grantGeneral Butler was relieved of his command of the Army of the James on 8 January 1865. That action was already in motion by end of 1864. General Grant wrote to Rear Admiral Porter from his headquarters at City Point on 30 December of his intentions to replace Butler with Major General Alfred H. Terry, a career officer both men could stand behind. Grant made every effort to convey the secrecy of the information he gave to Porter in light of the decision to promptly return back to Fort Fisher:

“I will endeavor to be back again with an increased force and without the former commander [. . .] There is not a soul here except my chief of staff, assistant adjutant-general, and myself knows of this intended renewal of our efforts against Wilmington [. . .] The commander of the expedition will probably be Major-General Terry. He will not know of it until he gets out to sea. He will go with sealed orders.” (Grant to Porter, ORN, Series I, Volume II, 394)

Butler went to Washington to answer to the Joint Congressional Committee on the Conduct of War at his request. He once again insisted to the committee that Fort Fisher was heavily armed and guarded by Confederates, proving his decision to abort the mission was justified.

His efforts proved fruitless. His replacement effectively ended Butler’s military career less than one week later. General Butler went to New York after the embarrassing debacle down South until the end of the war. He retired from military life to once again pursue his political endeavors in Massachusetts. He went on to achieve the fame and success he so greatly desired during the war, serving as a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives and the state’s 33rd governor. He died in 1893 in Washington, DC.

Coming Soon: Part III: Preparing for Attack


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The Battle of New Orleans: Commodore Patterson’s Gold Freedom Box


The image above shows a gold freedom box presented to Commodore Daniel T. Patterson by the Common Council of New York City in July 1832 (NHF Accession #1960-043). Commodore Patterson was the senior American naval officer at the Battle of New Orleans, which reached its conclusion 200 years ago today.

Gold freedom boxes are extremely rare artifacts. Recipients received the box as a high honor on behalf of the city, and are subsequently bestowed the “Freedom of the City” in kind. Patterson received this prestigious gift for his actions during the New Orleans campaign during the War of 1812. According to a short biography included in NHHC’s Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, Patterson began preparations months before Andrew Jackson defended the city. “The victory resulted as much from his foresight and preparations as from Jackson’s able fighting,” even earning the admiration of Jackson himself.

The boxes measures 4 ¼ inches long, 2 ¾ inches wide, and ¾ inches tall. The cover inscription reads:

FREEDOM of the city of NEW YORK

Patterson died in 1839 in Washington, D.C. He is buried in Congressional Cemetery in the district.

Freedom Box on display in the Winterthur Museum, DE

Freedom Box on display in the Winterthur Museum, DE

The freedom box presented to Commodore Patterson is now on display at the Winterthur Museum in Delaware. The item was donated from the Foundation to the museum in 2005.

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Ditty Bag: Around the World on a Battleship

Ditty Bag: Collections of the Naval Historical Foundation
An Artifact and Collections Blog Series

Around the World on a Battleship 

DSC_6211The unique account of Around the World on A Battleship: A Narrative of the Cruise of 1908 depicts a rare perspective of life as a Navy sailor of the Great White Fleet during the early 1900’s. Lieutenant Burton W. Lambert crafted his 21-page book when he served as an enlisted sailor aboard USS Maine. His entries are charismatic and articulate, giving the narrative a literary quality and historic value. The book was generously donated to the Naval Historical Foundation by Lieutenant Lambert’s great, great nephew David Jakubuwski.

DSC_6217Lieutenant Lambert’s account is the only one of its kind. The book discusses his transition from a teenage journalist in Nebraska into a Navy sailor during the turn of the century. Lieutenant Lambert served as an enlisted sailor for sixteen years, attaining the rank of Chief Machinist Mate. He spent his remaining fourteen years as an officer, retiring with the rank of Lieutenant. His service aboard USS Maine including the historic global circumnavigation by the Great White Fleet. His account offers a glimpse into one of the United States Navy’s most important cruises unlike any other.

Around the World on A Battleship: A Narrative of the Cruise of 1908 will be donated to the Navy Library in the Washington Navy Yard in the name of donor David Jakubuwski.

05d807eDitty Bag: Collections of the Naval Historical Foundation is a new artifact blog written by Emily Pearce, NHF Middendorf Curator. She will periodically write posts about various artifacts and accessioned items in the Naval Historical Foundation collection and their impact on naval history.

You can view all of the collections highlighted in Ditty Bag on our Flickr page HERE.

To contact Emily or to inquire about NHF collections, please email Emily Pearce at

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Cracking Gibraltar: The Union Takes Fort Fisher (PART I)

Cracking Gibraltar is a blog series from the Naval Historical Foundation that will discuss the Army-Navy relationship involved in taking Fort Fisher, the last remaining Confederate stronghold in the Atlantic.

Cracking Gibraltar

PART I: The Jonah of the Fleet

President Abraham Lincoln awoke on the morning of December 27th to disheartening news. Less than a week after General Sherman presented him with the city of Savannah, Georgia, Lincoln opened a Richmond newspaper and read about the Army-Navy blunder at Fort Fisher. News traveled fast, and with great effect. The Confederacy seemed somehow resilient in light of recent events. The war was at a critical stalemate in Virginia and much of the southern coastline was clutched in the palm of the Union Army. Yet this crudely made soil and sand fort stood up to the Federal gauntlet. General Ulysses S. Grant called the entire engagement was a “gross and culpable failure.” He was right.

The Expedition Leaving Chesapeake, by Alfred Waud (LOC Image:  LC-DIG-ppmsca-21456)

The Expedition Leaving Chesapeake, by Alfred Waud (LOC Image: LC-DIG-ppmsca-21456)

The offensive proved an embarrassing defeat – one of the worst suffered by the Union during the war. In reality, they beat themselves; the Confederacy was a shadow opponent. The results seemed out of the ordinary given the history of combined operation success in the western theater. Union forces failed to capture the South’s last remaining Atlantic port in a confusing spectacle of misinformation, missed signals, and poor management. Sixty ships and over 10,000 shells could not force the will of the Confederacy. The most unfortunate event during the holiday engagement was the fleet’s unsuccessful detonation of a disguised blockade runner (USS Louisiana) filled with explosives. Although General Grant and Gideon Welles doubted the offense would work, the attack strategy went forward on 23 December. Not unlike the entire attack itself, its explosion detonated without incident nearly a mile away from the fort. Soldiers at Fort Fisher got a fancy firework display as the kickoff to the attack.

Fort Fisher, N.C. Interior view of southeast end, showing site of main magazine (LOC Image:  LC-DIG-cwpb-03673)

Fort Fisher, N.C. Interior view of southeast end, showing site of main magazine (LOC Image: LC-DIG-cwpb-03673)

Given the overwhelming odds and firepower available, many sailors felt the main failure to capture the vital stronghold fell squarely on the Union Army. To them, the Army could not uphold their end of the bargain. Federal forces only had a handful of casualties to show for their efforts. Everyone in the North wanted an explanation.

Brady Portrait of General Butler (LOC Image: LC-BH82- 2988)

Brady Portrait of General Butler (LOC Image: LC-BH82- 2988)

Although Rear Admiral David Dixon Porter Porter felt the fort was all but abandoned and demolished from the bombardment, General Butler had a different feeling from the ground – or so one would assume. Butler did not attend the assault himself. Even so, both leaders failed to communicate with one another. This was especially embarrassing for Porter. The battle smacked against his official role as the commander of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron. Porter was furious. He took to pen and paper with an eagerness and ferocity as matched his fighting spirit in the days following the attack.

On the same day President Lincoln read the disheartening news in the paper, Porter wrote to Secretary Welles from the flagship Malvern about the myriad misgivings of his Army counterpart. “My dispatch [. . .] will scarcely give you an idea of my disappointment at the conduct of the army authorities,” Porter wrote in the opening salvo of his telegram. He was more than certain that the accuracy of Union gunfire silenced the guns at fort Fisher. In reality, there were more Confederates inside the fort than originally believed by Porter, yet far less than Butler imagined. He conveyed the extreme level of Butler’s unprofessionalism and insubordination in a series of weighty passages:

“Had the army made a show of surrounding it (the forts), it would have been ours, but nothing of the kind was done. The men landed, reconnoitered, and hearing that the enemy were massing troops somewhere, the order was given to reembark”

“To show that the rebels have no force here, these men have been on shore two days without being molested [. . .] I can’t conceive what the army expected when they came here; it certainly did not need 7,000 to garrison Fort Fisher; it only required to garrison all these forts.”  (Porter to Welles, ORN, Series I, Volume II, 261-262)

Rear Admiral David Dixon Porter (LOC Image: LC-USZ62-113173)

Rear Admiral David Dixon Porter (LOC Image: LC-USZ62-113173)

Porter suggested that the makeup of the fort essentially “invited soldiers to walk in” and take possession. He ended the note with a few sharp concluding remarks and gave a positive outlook on a second follow-up engagement. He cited the discovery of the forts “weaknesses” from the December bombardment as a major factor in the future assault’s success. Despite the poor outcome initially, Porter believed a second chance under new Army leadership would be smoother. He threw support at General Winfield Scott Hancock, the hero of Gettysburg, as a possible candidate. Surely, he would not back down from the fight like Butler.

The Massachusetts Springfield Republican included several consolidated reports from Navy and government officials in their 2 January edition of the newspaper. Once again, blame pointed directly on Butler for the poor showing in North Carolina:

“In the fleet Gen. Butler is universally blamed, in vehement and emphatic terms,, for continual delays when the expedition was preparing, and for lack of enterprise when the action was in progress [. . .] a bold dash would have effected the capture of the place, almost without resistance.” (Springfield Republic, January 2, 1865, 2) 

The article ended with a small passage summarizing Confederate reports of the engagement. The section’s title clearly indicated the military and public feeling towards Butler and his disappointing show at Wilmington:

Butler the Jonah of the Fleet

Butler fought war like a politician. Porter saw battles with the same scope and breadth of his father. The latter was needed to take Fort Fisher. The upcoming engagement would not be an easy ride for the Union Army and Navy as Porter had suspected. They could not simply “walk right in” the fort. There would be casualties this time.

Coming Soon – Part II: Butler’s “Singular and Interesting Disclosures:” The Rivalry Continues

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