The Naval Academy was established at Annapolis, Maryland on August 15, 1845, on the former site of Fort Severn. The following article was published in the October, 1935 issue of Proceedings, which was dedicated to celebrating the 90th anniversary of the Naval Academy. It describes the obstacles that had to be overcome to establish the first organized naval school, and the standards that the first midshipmen were held to. After 167 years, the campus has grown, but the basic values instilled in the men and women of the Naval Academy are still the same.
THE FOUNDING OF THE NAVAL ACADEMY BY BANCROFT AND BUCHANAN
By HENRY FRANCIS STURDY
THERE HAD BEEN much opposition in the Navy to any attempt to educate midshipmen ashore. It was felt that only by practical experience aboard ship could the youngster, fresh from home, be properly trained for his work as an officer afloat. Though several suggestions for an organized naval school had been made since the permanent establishment of the Navy in 1794, nothing had been accomplished and the only educational facilities available for the midshipmen up to the War of 1812 had been the instruction of the chaplains who had no special qualifications for such work, except a supposedly liberal education. During the War of 1812 provision had been made for a schoolmaster on each of the 74’s, which were not completed till after the war, but the small pay, cramped quarters, sometimes shared with their pupils, and a very inferior position aboard ship did not draw men of ability. With the increase of pay to $1,200, in 1835, for duty at sea or at a navy yard, some eminent men began to be drawn into the Service as professors of mathematics. They still, up to September, 1842, had to mess with their pupils, however, and continued to suffer constant interruption of their school work aboard ship.
Beginning with the twenties three unorganized governmental schools had come into existence at the navy yards at Norfolk, New York, and Boston, for those midshipmen on waiting orders between cruises. The instruction was very irregular, the midshipmen attending or not as they pleased, and discipline, apparently, did not exist. Such lack of education and restraint helped to give rise among the young officers to both intemperance and financial irresponsibility. The early age at which some of the midshipmen entered the Navy, Farragut entering it when only nine, made them peculiarly susceptible to such adverse conditions. Some private nautical schools had come into existence at an earlier date and some of the younger officers had even attended college, one midshipman, indeed, going to West Point. A fourth school established by the government in 1839, at the Naval Asylum in Philadelphia, was really the forerunner of the Naval Academy, for it was on account of their proficiency of attainments at the Naval Asylum School that Professors Chauvenet and Lockwood, Lieutenant Ward, and Passed Midshipman Marcy were selected to be members of the faculty at the permanent naval school to be organized at Fort Severn, Annapolis, by Secretary Bancroft.
But it is doubtful whether even as astute and clever a man as Bancroft could have achieved the permanent establishment of an organized naval school, if conditions in the Navy had not become so bad. During and immediately after the War of 1812, the Navy had been looked up to and esteemed by the people of the United States. Its work had been the one bright spot in the war. Its officers and men had been toasted and feted. By 1840 it had become the object of censure and reproach. The newspapers contained numerous accounts of alleged misdeeds of officers in command. Dishonesty, low morals, and brutality were charged against them. This state of things, Park Benjamin declares,in his history of the Naval Academy, was the result of “the lowered morale of the whole service incident to the severe discipline of the ‘smart ships’ and the educational neglect of the young officers.” The culminating episode was the hanging at the yardarm on the brig Somers, in 1842, of Midshipman Philip Spencer, an apparent social delinquent, but with great political influence, his uncle being the Secretary of War, John C. Spencer. Midshipman Spencer was convicted of leadership in a conspiracy to mutiny against the officers and the ship. Though this affair gave basis for another attack against the Navy, it clearly disclosed to the public the existing evils in the method of appointing and educating the midshipmen. As Benjamin so aptly says:
It showed the absurdity of taking in youths at the behest of politicians without a proper proof of fitness, and the wretched folly of sending bad boys into the Navy as a reformatory, or even subjecting good ones to the wholly unfamiliar influences of naval life afloat without previous preparation.
Rear Admiral S. F. Franklin, in his Memories of a Rear Admiral, gives a vivid picture of some of the conditions when he entered the Service in 1841. He had been sent first in the spring to the receiving ship North Carolina in New York:
Finally in September, I was ordered to the Frigate United States. … Our trials came on with the night, for, as I have said, our mess-room, which was our bedroom also, was about large enough fairly to accommodate two people, yet twelve of us were huddled together in this apartment like so many pigs in a pen. Our hammocks, instead of hanging loose to the sport of the wind, formed a sort of continuous sheet of canvas, dotted over with mattresses. We could neither turn in or out of them without disturbing our neighbors, causing growling and quarreling which often led to serious consequences. I think there was but one basin for the morning toilet-at the most, two-but we made the best of our inconveniences, and accepted the situation with good grace. Ranged around this luxurious apartment were the lockers for our clothes. They were not ample, but we accommodated ourselves to their capacity, and managed to get on with small wardrobes…. There was something very cruel, as I look back at it, in permitting a lot of boys to be huddled together, with no one to look out for their well-being, most of them only sixteen or under, with no experience, and expected to manage a mess…. There was something very faulty in this regard in those days, and we were sufferers from a bad system…. The whole system of Naval education in those days was rough and crude.
Different secretaries of the Navy had urged the establishment of a permanently organized naval school. President John Quincy Adams, in 1825, in his first annual message, stated to Congress:
The want of a naval school of instruction corresponding with the Military Academy at West Point, for the formation of scientific and accomplished officers, is felt with daily increasing aggravation.
The next year a bill to establish a naval school was introduced in Congress. The Maryland Assembly, sensing ” the superior advantages which the city of Annapolis and its neighborhood possesses as a situation for a naval academy,” requested the Maryland members of Congress to “use their best exertions in favor of the establishment of such an institution.”
In the Navy itself there had been successive pleas for some organized plan of education for the young officer. In 1836 a memorial from some 30 midshipmen and about 25 other commissioned officers prayed Congress to establish such a school. Articles criticizing the lack of proper schooling appeared in the Madisonian and in the Army and Navy Chronicle. Lieutenant Maury, the famous scientist, in articles published in the Southern Literary Messenger, aroused the thinking public by his denunciation of conditions, which he thought could be corrected by the establishment of cruising school ships. After the lamentable happening on the Somers, the officers of the Vincennes, in 1844, urged the abolition of “sea professors” and the organization of naval schools; and Commodore Charles Stewart, who had been president of the court of inquiry investigating the hanging of young Spencer, felt that one national school should be established to instruct the midshipmen in international law, languages, mathematics, and the fundamentals of the steam engine. And, indeed, it was this last subject, the study of the steam engine, which aided the advocates for a naval school ashore in winning their fight. In 1839 the first appropriation for building steam warships had been made. So no longer could it be possible to train afloat the midshipmen in all the methods of ship propulsion, and more and more would it become necessary to acquire ashore the necessary knowledge of ship propulsion.
Thus the time seemed ripe for Bancroft to carry to a successful issue his ideas for a single permanent national naval school. Before he had been in office two months, he had asked for suggestions, from four professors there, to improve the Naval Asylum School. And by June 6 he had come to the conclusion that Annapolis would be a more suitable place. He had to achieve, however, the seemingly impossible task not only of gaining approval of the Navy itself for such a school, but also of establishing it without recourse to additional appropriations, to avoid the danger of Congressional opposition. Part of this task he successfully accomplished through the co-operation of the Secretary of War, William L. Marcy, who was undoubtedly influenced by his son, Passed Midshipman Samuel Marcy, an assistant in navigation to Professor Chauvenet at the Naval Asylum School. Secretary Marcy, in August, 1845, with the approval of President Polk, had transferred to the Navy, for use as a naval school, Fort Severn, which had been built in Annapolis, in 1808, as a defense against an invading enemy penetrating the waters of the Chesapeake. This site had been approved in June, 1845, by the Naval Asylum School Examining Board, apparently through the influence of Commodore Isaac Mayo, who owned a farm about 8 miles from Annapolis and who, in the words of Professor Lockwood, as quoted by Benjamin, “believed that the world revolved around that place” (Annapolis). Thus Secretary Bancroft gained the approval of the high-ranking older officers to organize a permanent naval school. He had presented the problem to them in such a way that it became a question of not whether a school should be organized but where it should be located. A second board of younger officers, Commanders McKean, Buchanan, and Dupont was appointed by Secretary Bancroft, shortly after, to consider again the subject. It also approved of Annapolis and recommended Chauvenet, Lockwood, Ward, and Marcy to be transferred from the Naval Asylum School to Annapolis. Bancroft had now gained the approval of the Navy for his revolutionary change in American naval education.
Though he had surmounted a part of the financial difficulty of his task by acquiring from the Army, without cost, the site and buildings at Fort Severn, he still had to find the necessary means to maintain the school without recourse to Congress. Fortunately for him the $28,200 used annually for the pay of the naval professors and the teachers of languages was designated merely for “instruction.” Bancroft, therefore, during the year 184546 by gradually placing on waiting orders, without pay, half of the instructors, most of whom were attached to various ships, obtained, without recourse to Congress, the necessary funds for establishing the naval school at Annapolis. The obstacles had been surmounted. The Navy was agreeable to his plan and the place and the necessary means were now at his disposal. He next turned to the question of school organization and administration and of the repairs and improvements to the buildings at Fort Severn. In studying the problem of organization and administration the most natural thing was to turn to the Military Academy at West Point, which had its experience of over forty years to offer in the way of organization and administration. This had been pointed out to him by the report of the Board of Examiners. So Professor Lockwood was sent back to his Alma Mater, in July, 1845, by Bancroft, to study West Point’s improvements in methods and organization.
Commander Franklin Buchanan, well known in the Navy for his discipline and determination, as well as for his ability to organize, was selected by Secretary Bancroft to be the Superintendent of the Naval School. Upon him devolved the problem not only of organizing and administering the School effectively but also of seeing that the buildings at Fort Severn were put into sufficiently fair shape for their respective uses by the School. Mechanics and laborers had to be employed and necessary material purchased. As the inadequacy of the buildings early became one of the problems of Buchanan, their uses, locations, and arrangements have an even greater significance in the early development of the School.
The house that, during the occupancy of the Army, had been the Commandant’s quarters, a brick Colonial residence of the Dulany’s, which was on the site when the reservation had been acquired, was assigned to the Superintendent. Beyond this, but forming a row with it, were four brick houses, built in 1834, as quarters for the officers of the post. “Tho’ small” they were “quite elegant-with flower garden in front and yard and garden back.” These were now to be occupied by Lieutenant Ward, Professor Chauvenet, Surgeon John A. Lockwood, and Professor Henry H. Lockwood, with whom Passed Midshipman Marcy was to live. But Chaplain Jones, who arrived late, and Professor Girault had to find quarters in town. This row of faculty quarters which were raised a story and a half in 1846, faced almost west, along the diagonal of the present third-battalion wing of Bancroft Hall. Against the western wall of the reservation, just about in front of the present thirdbattalion terrace steps was a little structure with two rooms and an entrance hall. This was used as quarters for some of the midshipmen, who later dubbed it “The Abbey,” called such, said Rear Admiral Franklin, who was a midshipman at the Academy in the year 1847-48, “by some elegant fellow who wished to have a highsounding title to his temporary home.” About midway of what now is the front terrace of Bancroft Hall stood the unmarried enlisted men’s barracks. The two second-floor rooms of this building were assigned by Commander Buchanan for recitation rooms and the two first-floor rooms, separated by a hall, were used as the midshipmen’s kitchen and mess. It was in this building that the grand ball of January, 1846, was given.
Between this recitation hall and mess and the Fort itself, which stood at the center of the east “L” of the present second battalion wing, there were several buildings which were converted into more midshipmen’s quarters. The position of these today would follow, in general, a diagonal line across the first-and the second-battalion wings of Bancroft Hall. The first of these quarters was a “wretched ramshackle” structure with four apartments, which the Army had used as the married men’s quarters. These became known as “Apollo Row.” During the first year one of its occupants, Midshipman Edward Simpson, said that rain which beat through the warped doors and windows was more objectionable than snow for the “temperature” of the “one grate fire was not sufficiently high to melt the snow.” Nearer to the Fort was what had formerly been the post hospital, a “rather more pretentious two-story building,” in which were housed numerous midshipmen. As “the noisy and boisterous element always congregated there,” says Franklin in his Memories, it became known as “Rowdy Row.” Incongruous as it may seem, it must have been in this building that Surgeon Lockwood, after Midshipman Mitchell had to be sent to a hospital in Philadelphia, set up a dispensary and adjoining rooms for a sick bay. Between Rowdy Row and the Fort was a bakehouse built of brick. This also was converted into midshipmen’s quarters, which, in consequence of being occupied by those midshipmen, who in the frigate Brandywine had just completed a cruise around Cape Horn, became known as “Brandywine Cottage.” East of this, on Windmill Point, was Fort Severn.
Beyond the quarters assigned to the faculty was a small brick structure, formerly used as the quartermaster’s office, one end of which formed a part of the southern wall. This was used by the Superintendent for his and for the professors’ offices, the loft above them being used to house several of the midshipmen. Beyond this against the wall was “an old Shed occupied as a Carpenter’s and Blacksmith’s Shop.” By January, 1846, the congestion of midshipmen had become so great that Buchanan was forced to convert this old shed into “more comfortable rooms,” which would hold 8 midshipmen. These quarters became known as the “Gas House” on account of the garrulity of their inmates. During this first year, there was also erected a dummy ship’s battery, mounting four 24-pounders, on “a section of a ship built on the shore.” This battery, covered with a small awning, was for the great gun target practice.
Such, during the first year, were the physical conditions at the Naval School, whose brick boundary walls would have roughly followed a line beginning at a point just northeast of Tecumseh on the river shore, which was then at the foot of the terrace beyond the site of the present figurehead and running along what is now Buchanan Road as far as the line of the old ivy-clad maple trees planted by Buchanan in 1847. From that point, near which was the gate of the School, the boundary wall turned east, running to the harbor shore, along a line which now would be the southwest face of the third-battalion wing. The harbor shore was then only about as far out as the southeast end of the fourth-battalion wing.
The various buildings, within the walls of the Fort, not only had to be put into condition for the occupancy of both faculty and midshipmen, as well as for recitations and drills, but also had to be equipped and furnished. This was done by gradual degrees. Furniture for the Superintendent’s office and for most of the houses of the faculty; a new cooking range for the mess; and matting for the recitation rooms were purchased in Baltimore. Eighty iron bedsteads, at a little over $8.00 apiece, were bought in George Town. Commander Buchanan personally supervised this work, sending his Secretary, Howison, at times, to make actual purchases. All the preparations, however, were not completed until some weeks after the school had opened. The midshipmen’s rooms were furnished from an expense account of $10,000 allowed the Superintendent for necessary alterations, repairs, and furnishings. This amount was available from the $28,200 “instruction” allotment, as unneeded professors of mathematics were placed on waiting orders. The expenditure of $5,500 needed to furnish, exclusive of “bed and bedding and table furniture,” the faculty’s quarters was authorized through the Navy Department orderof October 20, 1842. For the furnishing of each professor’s house, “according to the taste of the occupant,” $900 was allotted.
Equipment and apparatus for the various other needs of the School were gradually acquired from different sources. What equipment there was at the Naval Asylum School, Philadelphia, was sent to Annapolis in a sloop. The chronometers, “requiring special care,” were brought in person by Professor Chauvenet in a “preparatory visit to the Fort” in September. In 1846 a telescope and six sextants, to replace the three brought from the Naval Asylum School, were requisitioned from the Naval Observatory, A bell, four gun carriages, and the framework, in the form of part of a ship’s deck, for the battery, were sent from the Washington Navy Yard. Thirty muskets for infantry drill and the four 24-pounder guns for the battery were sent by the Bureau of Ordnance. Secretary Bancroft had asked the Army, before Fort Severn was turned over: “Be pleased to leave the powder behind.” So as the Fort had just recently been repaired and refitted, it seemed best, when the 4th Artillery left for Fortress Monroe, to leave behind for the use of the Naval School the armament and the battery appurtenances.
The importance of an adequate Library for the use of the School was early realized. Upon the request of Lieutenant Ward, who had been selected as the Executive Officer, as well as the instructor in ordnance and gunnery, Secretary Bancroft authorized the purchase for the Library of certain selected books that would “add much to the value of his (Ward’s) course of instruction in gunnery.” The total amount to be expended was not to exceed $100. Commander Buchanan’s approval of Ward’s request furnishes an illuminating commentary upon the character of the work expected to be done at the new School. The Library was to be used by the midshipmen in their studies, which apparently were not to be mere textbook courses. “Some of the works I have seen,” he wrote, ” and consider them very important in the Library of the institution that the students and others may have frequent access to them.” In his report in July, 1846, to the Board of Examiners, who had also been constituted as the Board of Visitors to inspect the school, he said:
A small fund of $200 or $300 per annum to be applied to the purchase of standard works and apparatus for the use of the professors in their various lectures is very desirable.
The library of the school comprises about 350 volumes; it is very important that the number should be increased.
The use of the reference works of the Library by the midshipmen in their studies, he again refers to in his quarterly report of January, 1847. “Many standard works much needed by the Professors and Midn” would be added by the $300 just authorized by Bancroft’s successor, John Y. Mason. On January 30, 1847, Buchanan wrote to Senator Alfred Pearce, asking that one of the “large copies” of Captain Charles Wilkes’ Expedition be sent to the Naval School, even suggesting a Senate resolution if necessary. These books with those brought by order of the Navy Department from the collections of books in the navy yards and on men-of-war constituted the School’s first Library of which Chauvenet became the first librarian.
Early in August at the Secretary of the Navy’s request, Commander Buchanan drew up the plan of the Naval School. Section 4 of the plan as approved by the Secretary, provided that the “Professors and instructors will be selected, so far as practicable, from officers of the Navy.” The selected faculty were ordered to report on October first for the opening of the School on the tenth. Besides the four transferred from the Naval Asylum School, the teaching staff consisted of Arsene Girault, appointed in September as”Agent of the Navy for teaching French,” but later made professor; Chaplain Jones, who was to teach English; and Surgeon John A. Lockwood, Professor Henry H. Lockwood’s brother, who was to be both medical officer and instructor of chemistry. The students who were sent to the school comprised two main groups: (1) Acting midshipmen. They had had no sea service, having merely a letter of authorization from the Secretary of the Navy to become midshipmen. (2) Midshipmen. They had had several years’ sea service. The latter group consisted of those who had had five years’ sea service and who would be eligible for promotion after their year’s work at the Naval School; and those who had had less than five years’ sea service, but who, happening to be on shore, were sent to Annapolis for study until they should be ordered to sea again.
An applicant for admission to the School as acting midshipman had to be of “good moral character,” from 13 to 17 years of age, and accepted by the “Surgeon of the Institution” as free from any physical defects or disease or infirmity that “would disqualify him from performing the active and arduous duties of a sea life.” The first mental entrance examinations at the Naval School were conducted by Professors Lockwood and Chauvenet in October, 1845, when five candidates were reported to the Secretary of the Navy, on the sixteenth, as qualified in “Reading, Orthography, and the elements of Geography, English Grammar, and Arithmetic.” The five successful candidates, John Adams, R. Chandler, J. R. Hamilton, T. T. Houston, and F. B. McKean, were the first to become midshipmen at Annapolis. Only three of these had arrived by October tenth. Eleven candidates, in all, were admitted as acting midshipmen before July tenth, the end of the first academic year. J. S. Goodloe, W. H. Smith, W. B. Hayes, and Felix Grundy,entered in November, 1845, and W. McGunnigle and B. Gherardi, in June and July, 1846, respectively.
Commander Buchanan, in his address to the “Professors and Students” at the opening of the School on Friday, the tenth of October, established what since have been the fundamental objectives of the midshipmen’s training at Annapolis: obedience, moral character, and temperance. These he declared to be essential for success in the Navy. Buchanan fortunately showed the intuitive wisdom of the successful director of youth by limiting the rules and regulations of the Naval School merely to those things “absolutely necessary for the preservation of discipline and harmony in an institution yet in its infancy.” These rules and regulations he read to the assembled group. He urged upon them “application, zeal, intelligence, and correct deportment,” in order to make the best use of this “incalculable benefit” bestowed by the government. For “few if any now in the Service have had the advantages you are about to receive;” and he pertinently pointed out that “every leisure moment must be used for acquiring professional proficiency.”
The importance that Buchanan attached to these threefold requirements of success was confirmed by the character of his disciplinary action at the School; and the value to the School of his insistence that the midshipmen conform to his ideal of conduct has, indeed, been “incalculable.” About six weeks after the school was opened, Midshipman Ochiltree was reported by Professor Girault. Commander Buchanan acted immediately. As it was the first act of insubordination towards a professor, he felt an example should be made of it. Four days after it had been reported, a letter of reprimand from the Secretary of the Navy was read before the assembled faculty and the students. On February 1, 1846, two months later, Midshipman Nones was recommended to Secretary Bancroft for a court-martial in consequence of a direct violation of orders given to him personally by the Superintendent, to remain within yard limits for inattention to studies. As it was the first instance of “so flagrant an offence,” Commander Buchanan felt it was necessary that a serious example should be made to preserve the discipline of the institution. Three days later the offender was dismissed. Midshipman McLaughlin, who had been noted for idleness and who had also been ill through dissipation, was reported by the Superintendent, himself, about two weeks later, for drunkenness, breaking a pledge, direct disobedience of a twice-repeated command of Buchanan, and desertion. The next day his dismissal was sent from Washington by the Secretary. Before the letter of dismissal forwarded by the Superintendent had reached McLaughlin, he returned to school. The day following a petition for his restoration was presented from the midshipmen to the Superintendent who forwarded it with his disapproval to Washington. On the evening of McLaughlin’s dismissal, Midshipman Wheelock was too much intoxicated to walk or to talk normally when he reported his return to the Yard to Commander Buchanan. And about the same time Midshipman Blake was reported for drinking, by Surgeon Lockwood, who had been called professionally to treat young Blake for a fit which had been induced by too much imbibing.
Commander Buchanan in his report to Secretary Bancroft about Blake permanently placed the unconditional ban of the Naval Academy against drinking:
As dissipation is the cause of all insubordination and misconduct in the Navy, and will if countenanced by me under any circumstances at this School, ruin its usefulness to the Service, and seriously injure its character with the country, I submit the report for your action.
On the nineteenth, Commander Buchanan requested a court-martial for Wheelock. In his letter to the Secretary, he wrote that he wished to show the midshipmen his determination to enforce the regulations of the Navy and at the same time to satisfy the midshipmen that he would let each be heard. Wheelock was reprimanded. The only other cases of intoxication during the Buchanan administration were that of Midshipman Henderson, reported by Lieutenant Ward early in April, 1846, and that of Midshipman J. Maury in the following December. Maury, who had to be assisted to his room by the officer of the day, was found much “under the weather” near the gateway again by the Superintendent himself. Henderson’s habits of occasional intemperance “are such,” the Superintendent reported, “as to satisfy me he can never be an ornament to the service.” Though his studies were “highly creditable,” he was allowed to resign. Early in May, 1846, the Superintendent recommended Goodloe, an acting midshipman, to be dismissed, as he had been reported by the professors ” respecting aptitude for the service, habits of study, and deportment at recitations and frequent disobedience of school regulations.” Later in May, Midshipman Warley, who had been censured some weeks earlier for “his improper conduct towards Professor Lockwood” at musket drill, was reported to the Superintendent by Professor Lockwood for “insubordination and disrespect.” On account of Warley’s uncontrolled high temper and independent attitude, Commander Buchanan wrote to the Secretary that the “example is very injurious to the young midshipmen.” Warley got a reprimand five days later.
A marked spirit of fairness led Commander Buchanan to make in these cases thorough investigation of the circumstances involved. This trait disclosed an amusing episode which eventually brought reprimands to the two midshipmen concerned. Midshipman Wiley reported Midshipman Blake “for calling him a liar, coward and using towards him other abusive language.” After an apparently exhaustive investigation, the Superintendent wrote to the Secretary that” Midn Wiley accused Mr. Blake very unjustly of withholding a Sugar dish from him at the mess table and [Wiley] Said his conduct was ‘impudent’.” The subsequent “disgraceful language used to each other” and their conduct “deserves the severest censure of the Department.” Both were reprimanded.
The tone of the midshipmen, however, was being improved. Obedience, moral character, and temperance were thus permanently set at the very beginning as the standard of the Naval School. When it is remembered that the midshipmen, ranging in age from 18 to 27, as Soley points out in his history of the Naval Academy, had been accustomed before to unrestrained liberty when ashore even at the four so-called naval schools and that they had seen four years or more of sea service, Buchanan’s success in maintaining a firm, restraining hand over their conduct and in keeping them at their studies, must be recognized as the outstanding achievement in the development of American naval education. For during the School’s 5-year struggle for permanency of existence and for a system of continuous preliminary education for the naval officer, it was these initial efforts of Commander Buchanan, so ably supported by his uniquely effective faculty, that gave the needed stability and tone so necessary to carry the Naval School through the critical formative years from 1845 to 1850. If the foundation for discipline had not been so soundly and firmly laid by Buchanan, whose spirit was continued and exemplified by Chauvenet and Lockwood in the administrations of the subsequent superintendents before the Civil War, there is certainly a possibility of grave doubt as to whether the School would have survived. This was especially true during the last three of the first five critical years. Buchanan’s successor, Commander Upshur, apparently did not possess the essential qualities for the firm disciplining of students, and the morale of the School had been seemingly badly shattered by the effects of the Mexican War. Thus it was that the School survived these three years, until the reorganization in 1850 established two continuous periods of two years each, with a 3-year cruise in between. The beginning of a summer practice cruise in 1851, however, enabled the adoption in November of that year of the present continuous 4-year course.
In his educational ideals for the midshipmen, Commander Buchanan set his standard just as high as he did in his ideals of conduct. This, too, in spite of the difficulties facing the School. Secretary Bancroft had pointed out in his letter of August 7, 1845, that the students would be
liable at all times to be called from their studies and sent on public duty. Midshipmen, too, on their return from sea, at whatever season of the year, will be sent to the School.
This state of affairs had, unfortunately, to continue as long as there was no provision by Congress for a period of probationary training and education before the midshipmen just entering the service could assume their duties afloat. Though this difficulty continued throughout the first five critical years (1845-50), it was under Buchanan’s academic leadership that a working plan to surmount this vitally serious obstacle to organized instruction was achieved by the professors of the School. It was an achievement, indeed, that provided a system which, though recognized by its devisers as most unsatisfactory from the standpoint of effective teaching, furnished a workable way of meeting the varying needs of the ever arriving and departing students, until the necessity for a regular prescribed course of continuous, uninterrupted instruction was met by Congress in 1850, when the name of the School was changed to Naval Academy. Fortunate it was, too, that three of the first professors (Chauvenet, Girault, and Henry H. Lockwood) were members of the faculty of the School for the first fourteen years of its existence. Two of these, Chauvenet and Lockwood, were the leaders in the Academic Board from the first and it was largely in consequence of the continuity of their constructive leadership that conditions gradually became better until the present system of four continuous years, with summer practice cruises, was put into effect in 1851.
On October 4, the Superintendent had directed the “professors,” as all the members of the faculty, both civil and naval, were officially addressed, to meet as the Academic Board under the presidency of Lieutenant Ward and to formulate a report on the courses, hours, and methods of instruction, and general academic routine. The academic work was organized on the basis of the report submitted two days later. The studies were divided into two main groups. The studies for the junior class, consisting of those students just entering the Navy, the acting midshipmen, were “arithmetic, elements of algebra and geometry, navigation as far as the sailings and the use of the quadrant, geography, English grammar and composition, and the French or Spanish language.” The studies for the senior class, consisting of those midshipmen whose sea service entitled them, “at the end of the academic year,” to take the examination for passed midshipman, were “algebra, geometry, plane and spherical trigonometry, nautical astronomy, navigation, descriptive astronomy, mechanics, optics, magnetism, electricity, ordnance, gunnery, the use of steam, history, composition, the French and Spanish language.” Lectures to the senior class were given on natural philosophy, chemistry, ordnance, gunnery, and steam. These lectures which, apparently, were extensively given in some of the courses, were to be attended also by the junior class, who, too, were “to be exercised” with the senior class in “infantry drill and fencing,” if these exercises, which the Board recommended, were introduced. Midshipmen who had had some sea service but not sufficient to rate the examination for passed midshipman would be assigned to whatever classes they were most fitted to enter.
Measured in terms of the subjects required to be studied by the midshipmen today, the subjects required to be studied in 1845 seem most elementary. Buchanan, however, in a most interesting letter, written in December, 1845, to Professor Henry Lockwood on the question of the difficulty of the text used in the course in physics, against which the midshipmen had protested, set up what he felt should be the educational ideal of the Naval School. Princeton should, at least, be equalled.
I cannot discover any good reason why “Peshels [Peschel's] elements of physics” should not be retained as the text book of this School. The want of time to study the work analytically appears to be the only reason assigned by the Midn for wishing a more elementary substitute. … Professor Henry of Princton College has adopted this work for his classes, and I know not why the standard of education at Princeton should be superior to that at the Naval School.
In this same letter (letters were the regular means of communication between Buchanan and the members of the faculty), Commander Buchanan presented his views on the methods of teaching. Professors were really to teach, not merely to hear; and the principles were to be learned, not just a particular text:
I feel well assured that by adopting the plan you suggest for the advancement of the students (that of assembling them at an early hour to study the subject with you instead of in their rooms) all obstacles will be overcome through your assistance and explanations. As it is my desire to render the midn every assistance for the advancement of their studies, and not retard them, I have no objection to furnish them with Lardners Mechanics as they desire, if you think it will assist them in comprehending more clearly the abler treatise on that subject.
Buchanan felt that such problems must occur but that the development of the School must be gradual. At “the commencement of all new institutions trifling difficulties will unavoidably arise until a proper system is fully established; this system requires time to perfect it.” Then, too, the necessary time for the mastery of a subject, he realized, was essential, for he pointed out that “those who enter … hereafter will have ample time to master it.”
The mastery of the subject by the student was, indeed, a cardinal principle in his educational ideal. The requirement that all the students attend jointly the lectures in the new fields of American naval education: natural philosophy, chemistry, ordnance, gunnery, and steam, shows that he appreciated the vital importance, in teaching, of driving home the fundamentals of a subject. His repeated request for a fund with which to purchase the apparatus necessary to illustrate the principles involved, and thus to fix in the minds of the students their actual operation confirms this evidence, as does his request for an assistant to Professor Girault who found it most difficult to arrange in three classes 60 or more midshipmen
so as to do justice to each individual. … Those who are apt and tolerably well advanced are kept back by the slow progress of those who are inferior to themselves in mind and studious habits.
And again this same desire for mastery is found in his request in May, 1846, to the Chief of the Bureau of Construction and Equipment for all the regulations and other available information “on the subject of rigging and sparing ships and on the outfit of ships.” Frequent discussions on these subjects occurred among the midshipmen. Buchanan wrote that he was “desirous of aiding them in all such matters,” but wished when doing so to conform as much as possible to the regulations.
In his desire to attain his educational standard, Commander Buchanan did not lose sight of what he felt to be the first objective of the School “to make useful practical officers.” Thus it was that he directed the Academic Board just before the opening of the second year, in October, 1846, to consider needed changes. “The experience of the past years instruction convinces me that the programme of studies can be changed advantageously to the midn and the Service.” He had watched and studied the effectiveness of the courses for his recommendations were most specific:
Natural Philosophy is a highly important branch of education to make an accomplished officer, but as the School was established with a view to make useful practical officers first, I wish that branch confined principally to Mechanics; to study should be made pleasant as well as useful to the midn and illustrated as far as possible by experiments.
His desire undoubtedly was not to amuse by developing the proverbial “popular” college course but to have the students’ interest maintained for achieving a mastery of the subject. Other changes he felt to be desirable:
Professor Lockwood [Hehry H.] will take charge of one or more sections in Mathematics, and in the course of the year will deliver lectures on astronomy. Practical Navigation and the use of Nautical instruments, I wish taught the acting midn at the commencement of the course. The principles can be taught them subsequently.
This was, without doubt, to prepare for their shipboard duties those midshipmen who might be detached before the year’s course had been completed. His emphasis upon the practical, however, did not cause him to lose sight of the fundamental necessity of developing the students’ power of expression, for his last suggestion was: “It is very important that the English branch should receive due consideration from the Board.”
From the very opening of the School it was realized that drills and practical exercises would contribute to the development of the students into both capable and disciplined young officers with a higher ability for leadership. In its very first meeting, as the Academic Board, on October 4, 1845, to arrange the courses of instruction, the faculty recommended that “infantry drill” be introduced. It would be not only a “healthy exercise” but “would tend to elevate the military character of the school.” Professor Lockwood, the West Pointer, and veteran of the second Seminole War campaign of 1836-37, offered to direct the drill. And on November 20 the Superintendent wrote to the Secretary of the Navy, asking that the thirty “muskets” for the “infantry drill” be sent as soon as practicable. In the first quarterly report dated January 30, 1846, Buchanan wrote:
The excercises at target firing with the great guns and small arms, and the musket drill will commence as soon as the battery is complete and the weather sufficiently mild to expose the officers.
It was not, however, till April, 1846, that the Officer of the Day’s Journal records the first “great gun” target drill. Governor Pratt of Maryland and the members of the Maryland Senate and the House of Delegates were invited in 1847 to “witness the target firing with ‘great guns’ by young officers [midshipmen] attached to the school.” Upon his arrival the Governor was given a salute of 17 guns.
As it was still in the days of the sail, the drills also included the use of those weapons so effective in the romantic days of boarding ships. Commander Buchanan in a letter to the Governor of the Naval Asylum School, Philadelphia, to whom he wrote in September, 1846, for an armorer, disclosed the kinds of weapons at Annapolis:
[Have you] “an old sailor who would like light employment. I have a snug berth at this School for a worthy, sober old tar, and it would afford me pleasure to contribute to the happiness of one such as I have described. His duties will be to take charge of a small armory, containing about 30 muskets, pistols, cutlasses, boarding pikes, &c and a battery consisting of four guns (24-pounders), magazine and all matters connected with it and the battery. The battery stands on a section of a ship built on the shore with an awning over it.
The time for these drills, which were first held in the spring and summer of 1846, and for the drill in the practical use of the “astronomical instrument and pyrotecnic art” was found by taking “most of the hours” assigned to English. This doubtless brought to the Board that warning from Buchanan in October, 1846, about the changes for the second academic year.
The desirability of having attached to the School a “sloop of war, or brig, as a school of practice in seamanship, evolutions, and gunnery” was recognized by Buchanan from the first. The provision for this is found both in his original plan of the Naval School and in its revised form approved by Secretary Bancroft. Buchanan reiterated the desirability for such a vessel in his first quarterly report. A “lightly rigged” sloop of war would afford the midshipmen” healthful and useful exercise in their leisure hours in performing the practical duties of seamen.” A two months’ practice cruise for the senior class just before they were to appear before the Board of Examiners in October would “refresh their memories in the most important branch of their profession [seamanship].” But the finals were held in June instead of October. Again on July 6, 1846, he urged the Secretary to have the “Brig Apprentice” attached to the Naval School. But all he apparently ever succeeded in getting was a sailboat, for which in May, 1846, he asked the Navy Yard at Gosport, Virginia, to send him a “suit of sails and awning.” With the reorganization of the Naval Academy in 1851, Buchanan’s ideas were realized, however, for to the Academy was attached the U.S.S. Preble as a practice ship. And it so happened that one of the Academy’s co-founders, Professor Lockwood, carried the spirit of Buchanan on the first practice cruise in 1851 as gunnery officer of the Preble.
The day’s routine in 1845 began at 7:30 A.M. with breakfast. This was changed, by Buchanan’s order, before the end of October, to 8:00 A.M. The day’s work ended at 4:30 P.M., later changed to 5:00, from which hour to 6:30 P.M. was recreation and supper. Study hours were from 6:30 P.M. to 10:00 P.M. The regulations, drawn up by Commander Buchanan and approved by the Secretary of the Navy for the government of the Naval School, permitted all midshipmen to leave the Yard after the regular recitation and study hours “during the day,” provided their names were entered in the “liberty-book” by 4:00 P.M. of each day and the Superintendent approved the request. Some days, however, drill was held at five o’clock. Each midshipman had to report his return to the officer of the day, before 10:00 P.M., unless “special permission” had been granted. The officer of the day at 10:30 P.M. had to see that all the lights and fires were extinguished in the midshipmen’s quarters, recitation rooms, messroom, and kitchen, by the watchman who accompanied him, and then “report to the Superintendent.”
The first Christmas vacation was for 10 days. At Easter Buchanan wrote to Bancroft that as Good Friday and Holy Saturday were “observed by religious communities as holy days I have dispensed with the duties of the school until Monday next,” and some of the midshipmen were granted “permission to visit their friends in the neighboring cities.”
The first final examination at Annapolis for the midshipmen eligible for promotion was conducted by a Board of Examiners, which also acted as a Board of Visitors to “inspect generally the management of the institution.” The first June week dress parade was held in honor of this Board, June 27, 1846. It consisted of exercises in the manual and in infantry tactics. The Board then went to the “Battery” to witness a drill “at the great guns.” The President of the Board was Commodore Lawrence Kearny; who had as his associate members Commodore M. C. Perry, Captains McKeever, McCauley, and Mayo. Secretary Bancroft instructed Commodore Kearny:
You will direct the Professors to examine the Midshipmen in the several branches of their studies in the presence of the Board. Of the merits of candidates in these branches of their profession, the Board is to judge. But in giving numbers to them the general average on the Professors’ report may be considered. And as this is the commencement of a new system of education in the Navy, a failure in any one branch, other than Seamanship and Navigation, is not to reject an officer, provided he passes high in those branches. Hereafter,the midshipmen will be required to pass in all the branches taught at the school.
The same rules applied to the junior classes of midshipmen who had entered the Navy in 1841, being in consequence ineligible for promotion, not having served five years. Their examination, however, was cursory and seamanship was omitted. In April, the junior class of acting midshipmen had been given an examination by the Academic Board. This examination began on April 13. On April 17, Professor Lockwood wrote to his wife:
We have just finished the Infant Examination, have rejected two. It remains to be seen whether the authorities will maintain the institution by sending them away.
Goodloe, who was one of the two, was dropped.
Prayers by the Chaplain opened each day’s meeting of the Board of Examiners. After the midshipmen were examined by the professors in the presence of the Board, each midshipman was called individually before it. The final examinations began on June 20. Buchanan on the twenty-ninth sent to the President of the Board the “answers to the questions put by professors before you at examination.” Forty-three midshipmen who took this June examination were promoted to be passed midshipmen. R. Aulick and R. Savage tied for first place. The Board decided to draw lots and Aulick became the honor man. Three were recommended by the Board to be dropped and three to be turned back. Of the nine midshipmen of the junior class examined, one was also recommended to be dropped. Three midshipmen were ill and could not appear at the examination.
To encourage “habits of frugality, and strict honor in pecuniary transactions, and consequently to discourage a disposition to incur debts beyond their means of punctual payment,” Secretary Bancroft informed Commander Buchanan on May 4, 1846, that no midshipman would be promoted unless payment for debts “in or near Annapolis” had been “arranged.” Only two cases seem to have arisen under Buchanan. In one case the Superintendent was satisfied the midshipman had property enough to pay his debts; in the other case promises that had been made to the debtors, Mr. Walton, the proprietor of the City Hotel, and Moses Lake, the School barber, had not been fulfilled. This latter case was not discovered till after the midshipman had been given his promotion and had left the Naval School. As the Board of Examiners had been told by him that “his debts were satisfactorily arranged,” Commander Buchanan wrote the father that if he would pay them his son would not have to be reported to the Secretary of the Navy. Buchanan, in answer to the young man’s protest against the injustice he felt had been done him in the letter to his father, suggested a courtmartial if he still felt aggrieved.
In the rules approved by Secretary Bancroft for the second academic year midshipmen were to be given two tries before rejection. From the first, subjects were given different weights. The coefficient for seamanship, whose rating was determined solely by the Examiners, was 5; mathematics and navigation, 3; gunnery, 2; French, 2; natural philosophy, 2; English, 1; and chemistry, 1. The rating thus obtained from the examinations and the recitation records could be modified by the Board of Examiners,
on the ground of the officer-like qualities of the candidate, their moral and general character, the correctness of their journals, and the character of the letters from the commanders under whom they have served.
But for such a change the reasons had to be “specifically given,” and the Department might revise the change. The approved list established the rank for the passed midshipmen.
About the middle of the first academic year, Buchanan felt that the buildings were inadequate for the needs of the School. He informed the Secretary on January 23 that the 80 midshipmen attached to the School were “rather more crowded than is desirable for study” but with the “old shed” he had just converted he would “be able to accommodate” 6 more. In his first quarterly report, dated January 30, he states that 80 midshipmen are “comfortably accommodated in 18 rooms, each containing from 3 to 8 persons.” If more were to come some rooms should be added to the quarters. In the April quarterly report, Buchanan, conscious of the coming warm weather, realized the rooms were too crowded for comfort. An appropriation of $1,000 or $2,000, he told the Secretary, should be made for the construction of additional rooms. By July the inadequacy of the buildings became so pressing that he sent Bancroft a detailed description of the existing needs. Ten additional rooms were needed for the midshipmen, who were living from 3 to 10 in a room. Such crowding, he felt, put studying “under great disadvantages.” More rooms would promote “proper zeal and energy” in studying, as well as greater comfort and better health.
Such thoughtful interest in the welfare of those in his charge made Buchanan admirably fitted for the post. This interest, which he showed throughout his two years at Annapolis, helped, above all else, to promote that “harmony” which he stressed in his opening address as being so essential for the success of the School. Quarters, he felt, should be provided for Chaplain Jones and Professor Girault, who were paying $500 a year rent, apiece, for houses in town. The old quartermaster’s quarters could be converted, he suggested, for one of these two.
The education of the midshipman, he thought, was being retarded by the lack of enough recitation rooms. The only two available being in the building with the midshipmen’s mess made matters worse. The kitchen and the mess hall, with their attendants, had, from the first, been a problem constantly confronting the Superintendent. A leak in the boiler connection of the “cooking range” bought at the opening of the School had necessitated writing to Baltimore for correction. The steward selected by Buchanan for the midshipmen’s mess was a free negro who was forbidden by the laws of Maryland to enter the state, and the site of the Naval School was still under Maryland jurisdiction. Governor Pratt kindly warned the Superintendent that both he and the steward would be subject to a progressive fine for the steward’s continued stay. To solve the problem Commander Buchanan had to send to the Naval Rendezvous Officer in Baltimore the free-negro steward, one Darius King, with the request that he be “shipped” in the Navy “at the nominal pay of one cent per month,” as the midshipmen’s mess would pay for his compensation. But King, says Professor Lewis in his life of Buchanan, finally lost his post by confused accounts. Now in July, 1846, the noise and fumes from the Kitchen during recitation hours” had become a recurrent annoyance. As the “want of two additional recitation rooms causes great inconvenience and delay in the progress of the instruction of the midshipmen,” Buchanan suggested to the Secretary that a new kitchen and mess hall should be constructed at a probable cost of $1,500. The old kitchen and mess hall could then be converted into the needed recitation rooms. The month before he had reported to Bancroft that
The quarters for the Professors and Midn are very much out of repair and it was necessary to employ three Carpenters, Masons, and Painter to make them habitable. The Professors Quarters are now suffering from the want of paint.
So Bancroft, feeling that Buchanan’s administration had thoroughly proved the soundness of the plan for a national naval school, asked again for the same appropriation for naval “instruction,” even though half the teachers who had been in the Navy, were on waiting orders without pay. He would then have sufficient funds to make the improvements suggested by Buchanan. Congress responded to the appeal and approved of this new system of naval education by providing:
Of the money appropriated in this act for pay of the Navy and of contingent expenses, enumerated, an amount not exceeding $28,200 may be expended, under the direction of the Secretary of the Navy, for repairs, improvements, and instruction at Fort Severn, Annapolis, Maryland.
Two days after the approval on August 10, 1846, of this appropriation bill, Commander Buchanan wrote to the Secretary:
In order to observe a judicious economy, and to carry out fully your instructions as expressed to me verbally respecting the improvements to be made at this school, I respectfully request authority to send Carpenter Rainbow to Baltimore and Port Deposit to make the necessary arrangements for furnishing the materials required. The work will be commenced on Monday next.
As more materials were needed, Carpenter Rainbow was again sent to these two places. “Stone sills, lime, bricks,” which were “steam-pressed,” and shingles were thus procured. To Washington he went to hire “mechanics” for the construction of the two new buildings: one of brick to contain “a dining-hall, athenaeum, and kitchen”; the other, of frame to be the school’s hospital. Besides this new construction, the old quartermaster’s quarters were to be enlarged a story and a half, as a house for the chaplain, and the midshipmen’s quarters were to be enlarged and refitted among “other changes and improvements.” On December 19, 1846, Surgeon Lockwood was sent to Baltimore to buy furniture for the “Hospital, lately erected,” as it is “now ready to receive furniture.”
Buchanan, in his quarterly report, dated January 14, 1847, announced that the “large brick building, for a kitchen, messroom, and lyceum” and the “frame building for the accommodation for invalids” were nearly ready. On January 21, a grand ball was held in the new mess hall to celebrate its completion. To this gala affair to which the belles of the neighboring sections were invited, the Secretary of the Navy and the members of both the House and the Senate Naval Affairs Committees came.
This increase in the number of buildings and rooms enabled a much more effective development of the courses. Professor Lockwood wrote to his wife:
Did I tell you that the mess-room and kitchen had been removed into the new building and that the old was being rapidly fixed up for academical purposes? One room will be devoted solely to me, where I may lecture, recite, experiment, study and do what I please. I’ll invite you to take your knitting there sometime.
To what may be ascribed Commander Franklin Buchanan’s success in establishing on such a solid foundation this revolutionary change in American naval education, a permanent naval school? In the first place, he had an unusually welladapted staff of professors. All were men of scholarly attainments and each was above the average in his particular line. Lieutenant Ward, a graduate of the Vermont Military Academy, had taken courses while a midshipman at Trinity College, in Connecticut. His lectures in gunnery at the Naval Asylum School were so successful that he published a manual on ordnance and gunnery to which he added a section on steam. The character of his work in Philadelphia could not have helped but influence Bancroft to select him for Annapolis, where his manual was used as a text.
Professor Chauvenet, who graduated from Yale with honors at 21 and who was only 25 when he came to Annapolis, was an unusually brilliant mathematician and had already written a treatise entitled The Binomial Theorem Theory of Exponents and of Logarithms. He had carried on experimental work at Girard College. Admiral Franklin in his Memories wrote that Professor Chauvenet “had the faculty of imparting what he knew to others in a higher degree than any man I have ever known.” Chauvenet also taught besides mathematics, navigation, and later nautical astronomy. He had shown great power of initiative and organized planning at the Naval Asylum School which he had directed from 1842 to 1845.
Both Chauvenet and Henry H. Lockwood, in the opinion of Admiral Franklin, were “very important factors in the building-up of the Naval Academy, and were largely instrumental in starting it with the high character it has ever since maintained.” Professor Lockwood, who was only 31 when the Academy opened, a graduate of West Point and a veteran of the 1836-37 campaign in the Second Seminole War, with sea service on the frigate United States, as a professor of mathematics from 1841 to 1844, was brought to Annapolis as head of the Department of Natural Philosophy, in consequence of his proficient work both on the United States and at the Naval Asylum School in 1844 and 1845. The versatility of his intellectual attainments, his initiative, and tenacity of purpose, with his keen appreciation of military training and discipline made him an invaluable member of this pioneer teaching staff. His power of grounding his students in fundamentals and his willingness to assist the earnest student made him a most effective teacher to impress upon the older, sophisticated midshipmen the benefit of this educational opportunity. In addition to the work in his own department he taught, at one time, astronomy and mathematics, and initiated infantry drill and later fieldartillery drill. From 1850 to 1860 he was Head of the Department of Gunnery and Infantry Tactics, and on the first practice cruise in 1851 on the Preble, he was highly commended by the commanding officer, Lieutenant Thomas T. Craven for theremarkable work in target practice of his midshipmen gun crews.
Professor Girault, Head of the Department of Languages, was considered an excellent instructor. He was well liked by the midshipmen. Commander Buchanan thought highly of him and Admiral Franklin, who had been a student of his, commented in his Memories about Girault’s good work at the Academy. Girault, too, had written texts which were used at the Naval School. Surgeon Lockwood, Chaplain Jones, and Passed Midshipman Marcy, though not as outstanding in their faculty leadership and attainments as the first three, had, nevertheless, above the average intellectual attainments and educational background. The marked abilities of this faculty, with their co-operative spirit towards Commander Buchanan, and with their apparently unflagging zeal to surmount most trying obstacles to the development of a well-organized course of studies, over a definite period of time for all students, helped him to lay down a firm and lasting foundation for the present Naval Academy.
The spirit of “harmony” emphasized by Buchanan in his opening address as a necessary essential must have been another contributing factor to his success. It was seemingly reflected in the life of the School. Buchanan never failed to be interested in the happiness and welfare of others. He wished, too, not only to be just, but to have the students realize he was just. For major offenses he recommended courts-martial so that it would be known that both sides had been heard. The grievances of the midshipmen were thoroughly investigated. Their petitions, even though he disapproved, were forwarded to the Secretary. Their poor housing conditions he referred to again and again until improved. He asked the Chief of the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery to meet the request of Surgeon Lockwood for a hospital steward to assist in giving “medicines to the sick,” as the woman who was employed had been wholly occupied in looking after Acting Midshipman Grundy.
Buchanan had for the students “grand” balls. To these the belles of nearby places were invited. For the “Grand Naval Ball” given on Thursday, January 15, 1846, he took the trouble to get from Washington “a barrel of flags (all National)” for decorations and the United States Marine Band. It must have been a real party for the Officer of the Day’s Journal has this entry for the next day: “No recitations today-All hands being employed repairing damages after the Ball.” And the midshipmen entertained themselves and the faculty, as well as their town friends, by acting in the Annapolis theater the “Lady of Lyons.” The midshipmen as well as the faculty were cordially received in the town. The citizens spoke “frequently” of the “correct deportment” of the midshipmen. Relations, indeed, were almost too cordial for the good of the midshipmen’s studies, as the first Board of Examiners, in July, 1846, recommended small boats for midshipman diversions and a curtailment of town liberty to lessen distractions.
The gracious southern hospitality of Commander Buchanan and his wife gave a note of helpful charm and refinement to the life within the Yard, bringing it into agreeable harmony with the people of Annapolis. In May, 1846, Professor Lockwood wrote to his wife, who was away on a visit: “I declined an invite for you to Mr. Buchanans yesterday. I believe all the ladies hereabout were there.” The very character of the entertaining done by the families of the faculty promoted harmony. Marked as it was by good taste and culture, it served as an effective example for the midshipmen at the school. A description in another of Lockwood’s letters, written just after Buchanan was detached in March, 1847, shows the character of these faculty entertainments. Mrs. Ward and Mrs. Chauvenet, he said, were still on the sick list. Professor Chauvenet was a very fine musician.
They [the Jones's] with Chauvenet Mrs McLane & Alex [Surgeon Lockwood] spent last evening here by way of a soiree musicale, and expressed themselves highly gratified. Laura Silliman was in raptures with Chauvenet’s performance. C. did not admire Mrs McLane’s at all. I got cakes from Price and had Iced Cherry bounce wine &c with Matilda’s best smile to hand it with; the company came at 8 and went away at 10 1/2. I told them they sh. have another chance at C. when you returned.
The interest of Commander Buchanan, who was utterly devoid of the snobbishness of rank, in the welfare and happiness of those under his command naturally promoted that essential co-operative harmony between the members of the faculty and himself. In February, 1847, he requested Secretary Mason to have a test made of the Ward gun carriage. This, Buchanan said, was only “in justice” to Lieutenant Ward, as from the experience of its frequent practical use in the Naval School gun battery, he considered it superior to the “old gun carriage” then in use in the Navy. This spirit also served to harmonize any conflicts among the professors. Girault’s clashes with Ward, Benjamin says, forced Buchanan to take the place of Ward as the President of the Academic Board, whose sessions he had not hitherto attended. Buchanan urged the purchase for the Library of needed reference works desired by the professors. He called the attention of the Secretary to the needed repairs to the faculty’s quarters and had the paling fence in front of them replaced with box. He successfully urged the Secretary to pay the rent of Girault’s house in town.
Professor Lockwood wrote of Commander Buchanan’s interest in the spring of 1846:
I had the plot laid off yesterday, and Capt. Buchanan & others say the green cross looks quite the thing I sowed flower seed &c but doubt if between Wards dogs and every body’s children they are not non est.
But even with that Buchanan did not permit himself to become too familiar, for Lockwood, in another letter in the spring of 1847, compares him to Commander Upshur, who had lately replaced Buchanan as Superintendent:
We continue to be pleased with Capt. Upshur -I see him often and am already far more intimate than I sh. have been with Capt. Buchanan in fifty years.
But this characteristic of being slow to intimacy, though apparently not detracting from his interest in the welfare and happiness of others, would naturally materially enhance his power of leadership. For by it he could approach problems with a recognized detached position of personal disinterestedness. His inherent desire to be fair and just would thus naturally become, in consequence, a more outstanding virtue.
Buchanan’s success, then, was due not only to his ability to organize an institution revolutionizing naval education and to administer it by wise disciplinary restraints through the first period of its trying infancy; but also to his having an unusually capable faculty and to his creating at the School an effective spirit of harmony. Thus was laid the firm and lasting foundation of the present Naval Academy.