Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

Apr 23

#PeopleMatter: Admiral of the Navy George Dewey

Wednesday, April 23, 2014 8:30 AM

From Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

Today marks 116 years since Spain’s declaration of war against the United States. Congress in turn declared war on Spain two days later, but as the Navy had already blockaded Cuba, backdated the declaration to the 21st.

By the time war was declared on the 25th, the U.S. Navy had pretty much secured the western hemisphere, and prepared to confront the Spanish Navy in the Pacific. Just over 9,000 miles on the other side of the globe in Hong Kong, a man who had distinguished himself during the Civil War, was doing just that.


In fact, Commodore George Dewey had been prepping his fleet since February, so when war was declared, he made a beeline for the Spanish Navy at Manila Bay in the Philippines. Who was this man who would lead the U.S. Navy to its first major, strategic victories overseas? Known for his quick temper, Dewey had no problem making quick decisions. Nothing went unobserved from his wicker chair on the quarterdeck of his flagship, USS Olympia. From his “throne” many noted his legendary walrus mustache, the crisp white uniform standard for officers then, and his dog named “Bob.” He had no patience for lengthy meetings and even stormed out of one with Army Maj. Gen. Elwell Otis, who would become the 2nd Military Governor of the Philippines.




On May 1, 1898, he delivered to America the first Navy victory against a foreign enemy since the War of 1812 – the Battle of Manila in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War. In recognition of his exemplary leadership, on March 2, 1899, Congress handed President McKinley the act that made Dewey the first and last Admiral of the Navy, a rank never before held by any officer. When Dewey died on Jan. 16, 1917, the Secretary of the Navy noted in General Order No. 258, “Vermont was his mother State and there was always in his character something of the granite of his native hills.”

The Making of An Officer
Dewey graduated in 1858 from the U.S. Naval Academy. Less than three years later he found himself at the center of the action in the Civil War while serving under Admiral Farragut during the Battle of New Orleans. On April 24, 1862, Dewey, executive lieutenant of the steam paddle ship USS Mississippi, skillfully navigated shallow waters to wage a successful attack against Confederate fortifications at New Orleans. Because Dewey had survived and battled sharpshooters, Farragut later asked him by name to command his personal dispatch gun boat, USS Agawam, which was frequently attacked by Confederate snipers. Later, in 1864, Lt. Dewey was made executive officer of the wooden man-of-war USS Colorado stationed on the North Atlantic blockading squadron under Commodore Henry Knox Thatcher. Dewey again rose to the occasion during the Battles of Fort Fisher. Even The New York Times spoke admiringly of the Union victory as “the most beautiful duel of the war.” Commodore Thatcher wouldn’t take the credit and remarked to his superiors, “You must thank Lieutenant Dewey, sir. It was his move.”




After the war, he returned to the Naval Academy as an instructor and was then later granted rest ashore status in Washington, D.C. He found the assignment listless and believed the environment in D.C. was “harmful to his health.” He could not resist the call of the sea.

Over the course of the next thirty years, he commanded USS Narragansett, USS Supply, USS Juniata, USS Dolphin, and USS Pensacola. He also served as a Lighthouse Inspector, a member of the Lighthouse Board, and Secretary of the Lighthouse Board. Additionally he served as the Chief of the Bureau of Equipment as President of the Board of Inspection and Survey. On Nov. 30, 1897, he was ordered to Asiatic Station and, proceeding by steamer, he assumed command on Jan. 3, 1898, his flag in the protected cruiser, USS Olympia, Captain Charles V. Gridley, commanding.




Victory for the United States
Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt had urged him to prepare for the possibility of war with Spain and telegraphed him on Feb. 25, 1898, just ten days after USS Maine mysteriously blew up in Cuba, to immediately prepare the Asiatic Station at Hong Kong. Less than a week after the declaration of war, on May 1, 1898, Dewey sunk or captured the entire Spanish Pacific fleet in a battle lasting just over six hours (including a three-hour lunch break). In that short amount of time, he also defeated the shore batteries. The Battle of Manila Bay was one of the Navy’s greatest success stories against an imperial European empire.


Mess on board USS Olympia Courtesy NHHC


On May 10, 1898, Dewey was given a vote of thanks by the U.S. Congress and was commissioned Rear Adm. That promotion was an advancement of one grade for “highly distinguished conduct in conflict with the enemy as displayed by him in the destruction of the Spanish Fleet and batteries in the harbor of Manila, Philippine Islands, May 1, 1898.”

After defeating the Spanish fleet at Manila Bay, Dewey met with the Army to work out the preliminaries for the occupation of the Philippines. Most of the meetings went well, except on one occasion, Dewey practically leapt to stand and bolted back to his barge, Cristina, to board USS Olympia. He found meetings detestable, and his frustration grew with the Army’s decisions on how to govern the Philippines. Dewey later let the Army know his personal opinion of its style of management, especially with the Army’s barges that policed the Passig River. In no subtle form or fashion, Dewey delivered tirades complaining to the Army on the condition of the barges being far from “ship shape and Bristol fashion,” and went as far as to issue a direct order to General Otis warning if any of them were seen outside of the river and in open water in Manila Bay, the Navy would sink them. The barges never appeared outside of the confines of the river.


Photo NH 50574


On Jan. 17, 1917 President Woodrow Wilson delivering Dewey’s eulogy, offered an apt description of Adm. Dewey’s personality and legacy: “It is pleasant to recall what qualities gave him his well-deserved fame: His practical directness, his courage without self-consciousness, his efficient capacity in matters of administration, the readiness to fight without asking questions or hesitating about any detail. It was by such qualities that he continued and added luster to the best traditions of the Navy. He had the stuff in him which all true men admire and upon which all statesmen must depend in hours of peril. The people and the Government of the United States will always rejoice to perpetuate his name in all honor and affection.”




Apr 22

#Presence, #Platforms, #Power: Spanish-American War Shaped U.S.’s Strategy into 20th Century

Tuesday, April 22, 2014 3:26 PM
The Battle of Manila Bay is shown in this colored print of a painting by J.G. Tyler, copyright 1898 by P.F. Collier. Ships depicted in left side of print are (l-r): Spanish Warships Don Juan de Ulloa, Castilla, and Reina Cristina. Those in right side are (l-r): USS Boston, USS Baltimore and USS Olympia. Collections of the Navy Department, purchased from Lawrence Lane, 1970. U.S. Naval History & Heritage Command Photograph

The Battle of Manila Bay is shown in this colored print of a painting by J.G. Tyler, copyright 1898 by P.F. Collier. Ships depicted in left side of print are (l-r): Spanish Warships Don Juan de Ulloa, Castilla, and Reina Cristina. Those in right side are (l-r): USS Boston, USS Baltimore and USS Olympia.
Collections of the Navy Department, purchased from Lawrence Lane, 1970.
U.S. Naval History & Heritage Command Photograph

By Naval History and Heritage Command

Yesterday, the first of our week-long spotlights on the Spanish-American War ended after the two big naval victories at the Battle of Manila Bay and Battle of Cuba de Santiago. Ground troops batting clean-up finished the less-than-four-month conflict.

But the impact of this “splendid little war” reached well beyond the duration of the war. It was the strategic shift that started the tsunami of fleet modernization and base acquisition that would carry the United States Navy well into the 20th Century through World War II.

 Becoming a world power

As mentioned, having no U.S. ship capable of stopping a Spanish ironclad sitting in a New York port during the 1873 Virginius Affair led to President Chester Arthur calling for a rehabilitation of the fleet. While President Benjamin Harrison urged a continuation of constructing modern ships during his 1889 inaugural address, he also asked for the acquisition of bases to maintain the U.S. fleet in foreign seas, according to Naval History and Heritage Command historian Mark L. Evans.

Harrison worked with Secretary of the Navy Benjamin Tracy and Navy Capt. Alfred Thayer Mahan, who believed the countries with the greatest sea power would have the most impact worldwide. He had written a book touting that concept, The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660-1783 that would be released a year later. His ideas would be embraced by many of the major world powers and set into motion the United States Navy as we know it today.

Rear Adm. Alfred Thayer Mahan, whose views on sea power shaped the U.S. Navy of the 20th Century.

Rear Adm. Alfred Thayer Mahan, whose views on sea power shaped the U.S. Navy of the 20th Century.

“Their work bore fruit with the Navy Bill of June 30, 1890, authorizing construction of three battleships later named Indiana, Oregon and Massachusetts. Along with the battleship Iowa, authorized in 1892, this force formed the core of the new fleet willing to challenge European navies for control of the waters in the Western Hemisphere,” Evans wrote in a paper on the Spanish-American War.

It was the birth of navalism in a young country on the precipice of emerging into a world power.

“The United States decided if it was going to be a ‘big boy,’ it needed a strong navy. So the country went from a fifth-rate sea service to the third largest in the world during this period of time,” said Dennis Conrad, another NHHC historian.

But along with building up its naval forces, the United States was also beginning to flex its muscles beyond its borders. By the time the previously Euro-centric world began the 20th century, the power had tilted toward the United States during the start of the American Century, Conrad said.

The Navy’s transference from wood and sail to steam and steel had already proven itself in the defeat of the Spanish Navy.

But the over-arching changes that affected the country after winning the war was ending up with the Philippines.

“The Spanish-American War got us involved with Asia,” Conrad said. “We did not go into the war with the idea of taking over the Philippines. But it was an example of the importance of mission forward, presence and protecting the sea lanes.”

After crushing the Spanish navy, the United States could have become a major colonial power. But Americans did not follow the European model of imperialism.

“We didn’t pick up colonies like other countries after World War I, we just wanted access and trade, not to run colonies,” Conrad said. “So the aftermath of the Spanish-American War and our opting for independence for the Philippines on the heels of having subdued it, really defined the United States approach in the 20th century.”

Despite the victory, post-war wasn’t an easy time for the United States. The 1823 Monroe Doctrine decreed that the Western Hemisphere would forever be free from European expansion. Anti-imperialists called the U.S. hypocritical for condemning European empires while pursuing one of their own.

And just as the Cuban resistance fought against their landlords, so did the Philippines against the United States. Few Sailors, Soldiers or Marines were killed during the four-month Spanish-American War, while 4,000 American lives were lost fighting in the Philippine Insurrection.

But by the time Theodore Roosevelt, old Rough Rider himself, was elected president in 1901, America was just beginning to flex its might. The 1901 Platt Amendment forbade Cuba from incurring debt to keep foreign gunboats away from its shores. And if any conditions were violated, the United States would send the necessary force to restore order, thanks to the lease of a naval base at Guantanamo Bay — still in existence today.

Then-Col. Theodore Roosevelt in Cuba- 1898, as one of the famed Rough Riders

Then-Col. Theodore Roosevelt in Cuba- 1898, as one of the famed Rough Riders. National Park Service photo

America then entered its “protectorate” status with Cuba and even other nations over the next few years. The Roosevelt Corollary specified if any Latin American country engaged in “chronic wrongdoing,” the United States would step in and restore order, as evidenced by its intervention with the Dominican Republic when it came under U.S. protection in 1905. And the year before, President Theodore Roosevelt earned a Nobel Peace Prize for his mediation of the Russo-Japan conflict.

By 1907, Roosevelt sent off his Great White Fleet for an around-the-world show of strength, otherwise known as the “big stick” in his “speak softly, but carry a big stick,” mantra.

In order to get his naval fleet from the Atlantic to the Pacific faster if necessary, Roosevelt began his biggest achievement: the Panama Canal. The United States’ emerging power caused Great Britain to nullify the 1850 Clayton-Bulwer Treaty that had both countries agreeing neither side would build such a canal.

After negotiating a six-mile wide strip of land for the United States to lease to build the canal, Colombia held out for more. Roosevelt wielded his “big stick” by sending in a Navy gunboat and supporting revolutionaries fighting to free the Panama territory from Colombia. The United States was the first nation to recognize the new country of Panama and the Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty gave the U.S. a 10-mile strip for the canal. Begun in 1907, the Panama Canal was completed in 1914 at the cost of $345 million. And American doctors, such as Walter Reed — the namesake of the military’s largest hospital – did their part in combatting malaria and yellow fever.

The United States had shed its isolationist past, but in doing so, began to hear rumblings of discontent from her South American neighbors, Japan and Russia.

Be prepared

While the United States was ramping up its steel navy, the Navy was investing in its leadership. Founded in 1884, the Naval War College was instrumental in getting its officers to adapt to constantly changing technology and also plan for operations in the event of war. The Naval War Board was formed in March 1898. But four years earlier, an 1894 paper by Lt. Cmdr. Charles J. Train addressed the “strategy in the Event of War with Spain,” Evans said. Train’s suggestion was for the U.S. Navy to destroy the Spanish fleet as early as possible and blockade Cuba’s principal ports. If Spain sent a fleet to stop it, the United States would be ready.

In 1895, a “special plan” was sent to Naval College War students to secure Cuba’s independence.

By the time USS Maine was destroyed in Havana Harbor on Feb. 15, 1898, the Navy Department already had a number of plans honed by four years of debate by its leading officers, Evans pointed out. Although the realities of war forced modifications to the plans, it allowed for quick decisions prior to the declaration of war.

America’s victory in the Battle of Manila could be attributed to Commodore George Dewey’s decision to plan strategies among his leadership and then train, train and train some more the crew until the day of the battle. After seven hours, with a 3-hour meal break, Dewey’s fleet blew apart the Spanish flotilla in Manila, without a single loss of life.

The Navy Department then ordered Commodore Winfield Scott Schley’s Flying Squadron to protect the east coast of the United States from the Spanish fleet led by Adm. Pascual Cervera, and sent Adm. William Sampson’s North Atlantic squadron to blockade Havana Harbor. After being hemmed in for six weeks, Cervera’s ships attempted to run the blockade during Sunday morning services on July 3. Chased down by the American armored ships, the rest of the Spanish ships were destroyed within 90 minutes.

“The overall success of U.S. naval operations during the Spanish-American War demonstrated the value of extensive peace-time preparations,” Evans wrote. “In the technological warfare of the last one hundred years, the most important preparations have not always been the construction of major warships, but also planning for adequate logistical support and vigorous intellectual debate.”

Tomorrow will feature a profile on Commodore George Dewey, the Civil War-era admiral who led the Battle of Manila Bay.

On Thursday, NHHC historian Dennis Conrad will discuss plans for NHHC’s newest documentary on the Spanish-American War “that will capture the drama and heroism that catapulted the United States Navy to world prominence.”

Apr 21

#PresenceMatters: The Path to Conflict and Victory in the Spanish-American War

Monday, April 21, 2014 5:08 PM

By Naval History and Heritage Command

It lasted less than four months. Yet the Spanish-American War is among the top three key naval conflicts that defined the modern U.S. Navy, along with the War of 1812 and World War II.

“The Navy’s performance in those wars resonated with the public, and established the reputation the U.S. Navy enjoys today,” said Dennis Conrad, an historian for the Naval History and Heritage Command.

Called a “splendid little war,” by Secretary of State John Hays, it began “with the highest motives, carried on with magnificent intelligence and spirit, favored by that Fortune which loves the brave.”

The war, which was actually declared April 25, 1898, was backdated to 116 years ago today to coincide with the blockade of Cuba’s Havana Harbor on April 21.

American Interests in Cuba

Twenty-five years earlier, Cuba was a colony to Spain with the rumblings of independence beginning to rupture peace. The U.S. had business interests in Cuba, so American ships were often poking around in the harbor to protect those interests.

It was a repurposed Civil War ship that would fan the flames of anger toward the Spanish government. An American with ties to the Cuban rebellion bought the old Civil War ship for the rebel leader, Jose Marti. For three years, the Virginius ran men, ammunition and supplies from the United States to Cuba. But since the ship was flying the American flag (illegally), it fell under the protection of the U.S. Navy.

The Spanish were suspicious of the blockade runner and by October 1873, were in full pursuit of the ship. By the time Virginius fell to the Spanish, her crew was made up of mostly young and inexperienced British and American citizens, some as young as 9 to 13.

The Spanish government in Cuba was swift in its retribution, accusing all 144 crew members of being pirates. Attempts by the United States to give aid to American citizens were ignored. Four members of the Virginius crew were immediately executed. The rest were tried and found guilty. The British vice-consul at Santiago requested assistance from the British navy to stop further executions. But upon hearing the British were sending the sloop HMS Niobe to do so, Cuban commander Juan Burriel ordered the shooting of 37 more crew members, who were then decapitated and their bodies trampled with horses. Among the dead were boys as young as nine and the Virginius captain, Commodore Joseph Frye, a former U.S. naval officer before joining the Confederates. Another 12 were later killed for a total of 53 before Niobe arrived, threatening to bombard Santiago if the executions didn’t stop.

The American public was outraged by the executions and support rose in favor of the U.S. recognizing the Cuban rebellion. Negotiations by Secretary of State Hamilton Fish reigned in the rhetoric to go to war, and within a few weeks, the Virginius and the remaining 91 crew members were handed back over to the U.S. Spain would later pay the United States $80,000 in reparations for the deaths of Americans. The ship itself, with the American flag now removed, sank while it was being towed. Burriel died before he was tried and sentenced for his crime in executing the 53 crew members.

Modernizing a Tired Fleet

During the flurry of furor over the Virginius executions, it was noted a Spanish ironclad was anchored in New York Harbor. With the government still recovering from the Civil War, the Navy had no ship capable of stopping it. U.S. Secretary of War George M. Robeson determined it was time the United States upgraded its fleet and Congress agreed to contracts for the overhaul of five partially-completed Civil War-era ironclads USS Puritan (BM 1), USS Amphitrite (BM 2), USS Monadnock (BM 3), USS Terror (BM 4) and USS Miantonomoh (BM 5).

Modernization began during the administration of President Chester Arthur in the early 1880s, according to Mark L. Hayes, another NHHC historian. It was during Arthur’s first annual message to Congress when he concluded: “I cannot too strongly urge upon you my conviction, that every consideration of national safety, economy, and honor imperatively demands a thorough rehabilitation of the Navy.”

Two years later would be the Navy Act of 1883, authorizing the construction of the steel cruisers Atlanta, Boston and Chicago and the dispatch vessel Dolphin, followed by armored battleships USS Texas and USS Maine.

Simmering hostilities

The eventual settlement of the 1873 Virginius Affair might have stemmed the public outcry for Cuban independence, but that distrust just simmered under the surface for years. It was now 1898, the Spanish government had changed several times, and the U.S. continued to send American warships to protect their interests in Cuba.

Just two months into the year, supporters of an independent Cuba got their hands on a letter written by the Spanish minister in Washington that was critical of American President William McKinley. Once published, it began to resurrect resentment toward the Spanish government.

Photograph by A. Loeffler, with inset portrait of Commanding Officer, Captain Charles D. Sigsbee.

Photograph by A. Loeffler, with inset portrait of Commanding Officer, Captain Charles D. Sigsbee.

Then the unthinkable happened. The battleship USS Maine, which was sent to Havana as part of a naval contingent, blew up while it was in harbor, killing 266 Sailors. A Spanish inquiry determined it had been an internal explosion, but on March 25 an American inquiry blamed the loss of USS Maine and most of her crew on a mine.

“Remember the Maine” was a unifying cry that brought together a nation that just a few years earlier had been split by war and seethed during reconstruction afterward.

McKinley demanded Spain provide reparations for the loss of life and the ship, as well as giving Cuba its independence. Praxedes Mateo Sagasta, the leader of the Liberal Party in Spain, instead offered autonomy to Cuba and Puerto Rico, rather than independence. The Cuban leadership turned down the offer, determined their armed resistance would gain their freedom.

Sagasta sought support from European nations that also wielded power over their colonies. But despite sympathetic leanings, none came to Spain’s aid, thanks to the Spanish country’s long-standing isolationism and the emerging power of the United States.

Preparing for the possibility of war, Adm. William Sampson ordered a blockade from Havana to the south side of Cuba on April 21. By the time Spain realized they were at war with the United States, Havana Harbor was already buttoned up.

Admiral George Dewey N.M. Miller (20th C.), painted 1911. Courtesy NHHC

Admiral George Dewey
N.M. Miller (20th C.), painted 1911.
Courtesy NHHC

Out in the Pacific, Commodore George Dewey, on his flagship USS Olympia, and the rest of his fleet were poised to strike from Hong Kong. Given a heads-up about the possibility of war by Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt on Feb. 25, Dewey and his officers spent the next month developing plans, working scenarios, and then training their crews.

On April 22, the Secretary of the Navy sent Dewey a telegram that the U.S. had begun the blockade of Havana Harbor. Britain, already hearing about the possibility of war between Spain and the United States, ordered the Americans to leave Hong Kong.

By the time Dewey’s fleet sailed into the Bay of Manila on May 1, following a well-prepared and trained operation, it was too late for the Spanish fleet caught there. At 5:40 a.m., Dewey called out “You may fire when ready, Gridley!” The United States steel navy blew away the Spanish wooden ships, killing 381 Spaniards with no Americans killed in action and only eight wounded. The Battle of Manila Bay was over by 12:30 p.m., which included a three-hour meal break by the Americans.

USS Olympia Courtesy NHHC

USS Olympia
Courtesy NHHC

Back in Europe, Spanish Adm. Pascual Cervera was ordered to sail for the West Indies to support Spanish forces in Cuba. Leaving April 29, his squadron sailed into Santiago de Cuba at the end of May. His squadron was immediately blockaded by the United States on May 29. Six weeks later, Cervera decided to make a break for it on July 3 during Sunday morning services. Giving chase, the American ships wiped out the rest of the Spanish Atlantic fleet within 90 minutes. American troops on the ground, led by Rough Riders, bottled up Spanish forces in Santiago harbor. A month later, the war was over.

The Treaty of Paris gave Cuba its independence, but also the Philippines to the United States, along with Guam and Puerto Rico. Spain got $20 million for the loss of its former colonies.


Apr 15

On This Date in History, Operation El Dorado Canyon, Navy Aircraft from USS America (CV 66) and USS Coral Sea (CV 43) attack Libya

Tuesday, April 15, 2014 3:00 AM

By Naval History and Heritage Command

Twenty-eight years ago on April 5, 1986, two women, Verena Chanaa, and her sister, Andrea Haeusler, departed a nightclub called La Belle, frequented by American servicemen. They left behind a travel bag containing a two-kilogram bomb packed with plastic explosives and shrapnel. It exploded at 1:45 a.m. inflicting horrific casualties.

The bag was left beneath the disc jockey’s table, near the dance floor which was ripped to shreds by the explosion. Army Sgt. Kenneth T. Ford, who was 21, was instantly killed. Two months later, Army Sgt. James E. Goins, 25, died from his wounds in the hospital. The attack also claimed the life of a Turkish woman. Out of the 230 injured that night, 79 were American servicemen. Some suffered ruptured ear drums and were permanently disabled, with the loss of limbs from the explosion.


An intense investigation followed and ten days later, President Reagan authorized Operation El Dorado Canyon to bomb Libya’s capitol, Tripoli, as well as Benghazi in retaliation for the attack. The mission began April 15, 1986 at two in the morning, almost at the same time the bomb exploded at the West Berlin night club.

It was the latest escalation in tensions between the U.S. and Libya. In the month prior to the bombing, U.S. Navy planes operating in international waters were attacked by six surface-to-air missiles from Libya. The Navy destroyed the Libyan missile site, sank a patrol boat, and disabled another. No U.S. Sailors were hurt. The White House called the attack “entirely unprovoked and beyond the bounds of normal international conduct.”

President Ronald Reagan meeting with bipartisan members of the U.S. Congress to discuss the air strike on Libya Apr. 14, 1986

President Ronald Reagan meeting with bipartisan members of the U.S. Congress to discuss the air strike on Libya
Apr. 14, 1986

On April 15, the aircraft carriers USS Saratoga (CV 60), USS America (CV 66) and USS Coral Sea (CV 43) operating in the U.S. Sixth Fleet were already on station in the Gulf of Sidra north of Libya. The three aircraft carriers together launched 24 A-6 Intruders and F/A-18 Hornets and dropped 60 tons of munitions. They bombed radar and antiaircraft sites in Benghazi before bombing the Benina and Jamahiriya barracks. The joint operation involved the Navy, the Marine Corps and the Air Force. They were so quick, the attack only lasted 12 minutes with only two American casualties when an F-111 was shot down by a Libyan surface-to-air missile (SAM) over the Gulf of Sidra. In fact, some Libyan soldiers abandoned their positions, and Libyan officers failed to give orders. Libya lost 45 soldiers and government officials, as well as multiple transport aircraft 14 MiG-23s, two helicopters and five major ground radars.


A ground crew prepares a 48th Tactical Fighter Wing F-111F aircraft for a retaliatory air strike on Libya.

A ground crew prepares a 48th Tactical Fighter Wing F-111F aircraft for a retaliatory air strike on Libya.

Never one to publicly embrace reality, Gaddafi claimed he had “won a spectacular military victory over the United States.” In fact, Libya responded by firing two Scud missiles missing the U.S. Coast Guard station on the Italian island of Lampedusa. The Scuds passed over the island and landed in the sea.

Although the evidence linking Libya to the bombing of the nightclub was quickly established, finding the perpetrators of the attack proved more difficult. However, as East and West Germany were reunited, newly opened files of STASI, the East German intelligence agency, led to several arrests and convictions. Verena Chanaa was the German wife of a Palestinian, Ali Chanaa, who had placed the bomb in her bag and was working for STASI. The material that made the bomb had been brought into East Berlin in a Libyan diplomat’s bag. No one would have suspected the two women were terrorists; they were both German and blended seamlessly with the crowd and appeared to be there to dance and have fun with American soldiers.


The German government later placed a plaque on the building now called Roxy-Palast where the club existed. In German the plaque reads, “In diesem haus wurden, AM 5 April 1986, junge menschen durch einen, verbrecherischen, bomenanschlag emordet.” The translation couldn’t be more appropriate as well as more heartbreaking: “On April 5, 1986, young people were killed inside this building by a criminal bombing.”

Apr 13

WARFIGHTING FIRST – The Civil War fighting innovations of John Dahlgren

Sunday, April 13, 2014 3:00 AM

By Naval History and Heritage Command

When most people think about the Civil War, they think about a few common things: The people involved such as Army General Robert E. Lee and President Abraham Lincoln, where the battles took place and how many died there, as well as the end of slavery with the Emancipation Proclamation.

Few may consider the types of weapons used during the Civil War and the inventors who created them.


Rear Adm. John Adolphus Bernard Dahlgren, the “father of American naval ordnance,” was the savior the United States Navy needed during the Civil War and thereafter. His intelligence, persistence, and dedication to his duties were so well known that President Abraham Lincoln, a close friend, frequently sought his counsel and friendship.

Dahlgren began his Navy journey in 1826 when he was trained in advanced mathematics and scientific theory while serving on the U.S. Coast Survey for three years beginning in 1834.

In 1847, Dahlgren was assigned to ordnance duty at the Washington Navy Yard and within a year, was responsible for all ordnance matters at the yard which included developing rockets, inspecting locks, shells, and powder tanks among other things.

Before these weapons could be put into production, they needed to be tested first. Dahlgren accomplished this by using a firing range on the yard’s waterfront. By measuring the splashes in the water from the ammunition, Dahlgren could figure out the power and range of each type of gun and make adjustments accordingly.

As with all weapons testing and manufacturing, sometimes people got hurt from either personal negligence or unsafe weapons, and when testing large cannons, the results could be horrific. Dahlgren recognized this and decided that in order to make safer, larger-caliber guns for the Navy, he needed to have stronger and thicker metal around the breeches; giving them a pop bottle shape. These types of guns and cannons became known as “Dahlgren Guns.”


Not everyone was impressed with Dahlgren’s ideas and innovations, so he enlisted the support of politicians and high ranking naval officers so he could continue with his designs and manufacturing. His most well-known supporter and friend, President Lincoln, enjoyed the hustle and bustle of the Navy Yard and seeing firsthand the testing of new weapons and gadgets to help take his mind off of the stressors of his office.

Dahlgren’s ordnance capabilities, innovations, and advancements attracted the attention of ordnance experts from all over the world. Countries such as Great Britain, France, and Russia sent officials to the Washington Navy Yard so they could see and learn from Dahlgren’s designs and concepts.

As the Navy implemented Dahlgren’s ordnance designs and processes, the Navy Yard was rapidly expanding with new buildings to handle designs, testing, and the manufacturing process. Dahlgren also made sure that an adequate work force with skilled and talented labor was at the yard.

It wasn’t long before Dahlgren’s 9-inch and 11-inch guns were mainstays of the fleet and were on almost every Union ship in service during the Civil War, like the USS Monitor and the Kearsarge. Of note is that not one of his 9- or 11-inch guns failed in operations at sea.

Dahlgren became Commandant of the Washington Navy Yard at the beginning of the Civil War and it seemed, just in time. The Norfolk Navy Yard, at the time the Navy’s largest facility, had been destroyed along with its large reserves of naval ordnance thereby making the Washington Navy Yard the most important asset for munitions and ordnance for the Union Navy. Dahlgren worked around the clock producing 200 shells, 25,000 percussion caps, and 35,000 musket balls, and making sure ships’ guns were ready for distribution.

President Lincoln, so impressed with the victorious USS Monitor at Hampton Roads, was convinced that the Navy should develop a fleet of ironclad vessels that were able to withstand the punishment of heavy shot and shell. Dahlgren was dismayed when Congress did not agree with the President and therefore disapproved the proposal.

Many would be surprised to learn that Dahlgren, a brilliant engineer and presidential advisor, was not entirely happy with testing and producing guns for warships. He wanted to be a leader on the battlefield and have a combat command to do his part for the war effort. Unfortunately, his skills and talents were needed elsewhere and he was appointed as head of the Bureau of Ordnance which allowed him to continue his tests and experiments at the Navy Yard. Command at sea would have to wait just a little longer.

After Dahlgren was promoted to Rear Adm., he was finally given a combat assignment which failed to give him the glory he so desperately sought. Unfortunately, being in command of the naval forces at Charleston, SC., failed to have a gratifying impact on him and coupled with the loss of his son, Ulric, who was killed leading a cavalry raid near Richmond, his despair became deeper.

Dahlgren returned to the Washington Navy Yard in 1869 and was commandant there until 1870 when he died of a heart attack.

Rear Adm. Dahlgren left behind a legacy of engineering marvels that turned the tide in the Civil War and thereafter. His research and design facilities at the Navy Yard were still used as blueprints for later projects after the war ended.


Apr 11

#PeopleMatter: Volunteering 101 Centenarian Continues Naval Service at Puget Sound Museum

Friday, April 11, 2014 1:51 PM
Fred Lewis of Bremerton, Wash., has served as a volunteer for the Naval History and Heritage Command’s Puget Sound Naval Museum (PSNM), where he has logged more than 1,150 hours since 2006.

Fred Lewis of Bremerton, Wash., has served as a volunteer for the Naval History and Heritage Command’s Puget Sound Naval Museum (PSNM), where he has logged more than 1,150 hours since 2006.


By Lt. Cmdr. Heidi Lenzini, Naval History and Heritage Command, 

Communication and Outreach Division

WASHINGTON – In the past century America has witnessed tremendous turmoil, technological and medical advances, and the indomitable spirit and dedication of the American Sailor. 

Regardless of their length of time in the Navy, Sailors frequently display a spirit of service long after they have hung up their uniforms. One former Sailor turns 101 years old, Sunday, April 13 and there’s very little that Bremerton resident Fred Lewis hasn’t seen. Still, he feels most at home serving as a volunteer for the Naval History and Heritage Command’s Puget Sound Naval Museum (PSNM), where he has logged more than 1,150 hours since 2006. 

Fred Lewis, longtime volunteer at the Puget Sound Naval Museum, was attending a monthly volunteer training breakfast held at the Family Pancake House in Bremerton, Wash., on March 25, 2013, when the restaurant staff surprised him with a birthday pancake prior to his 100th birthday. Photo courtesy of Puget Sound Naval Museum

Fred Lewis, longtime volunteer at the Puget Sound Naval Museum, was attending a monthly volunteer training breakfast held at the Family Pancake House in Bremerton, Wash., on March 25, 2013, when the restaurant staff surprised him with a birthday pancake prior to his 100th birthday. Photo courtesy of Puget Sound Naval Museum


Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert, who now holds an office that did not even exist when Lewis was born, thanked Lewis for his service in a letter delivered last year on his 100th birthday. In the letter, Greenert said he was most impressed with Lewis’ “selfless devotion to others.” Lewis was also presented with a key to the city by Bremerton’s mayor.

As a young man, originally hailing from Kansas, Lewis was looking for adventure in 1942 and he found it in ample amounts on the destroyer USS Niblack (DD 424). Drafted in his late twenties, Lewis spent the rest of World War II hard at work in the engine room on the destroyer as it raced around Europe and North African waters, protecting convoys, escorting troop ships, and hunting down German submarines.

According to the Naval History and Heritage Command’s Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, Niblack supported the bombardment of Italy during the Salerno campaign, clearing a path for Allied troops from Sept.-Oct. 1943. In early December, the ship rescued 90 survivors – approximately half the crew – of British destroyer escort HMS Holcombe (L 56) that sank in less than five minutes after being torpedoed by a German submarine.

A month later, the ship was sent to support the Anzio landings, where the ship “fought off simultaneous attacks by dive and torpedo bombers, E-boats, and human torpedoes” and “repulsed repeated attacks by enemy aircraft. “ Outlasting many of her sister ships, Niblack completed many missions during 1944 as part of Task Force 86, and earned five battle stars for her WWII service.

After the war, Lewis traded in his uniform for the life of a carpenter for nearly 40 years. He has spent almost half his life in Bremerton, Wash.

Fred Lewis Head Start 027

Fred Lewis Head Start 027

Although it had been decades since he had served in the U.S. Navy, Lewis found the call to serve impossible to ignore. He first volunteered at the Naval Undersea Museum in Keyport, Wash. and is now the most senior of 50 volunteers at PSNM. No threat seemed insurmountable after his WWII experiences – even as he recovered from lung cancer, a broken hip, or a recent hospital visit.

 Carolyn Lane, the volunteer coordinator for PSNM, says Lewis inspires both the museum’s visitors and staff.

 “He always has a smile, kind word, and fun anecdote for our visitors,” Lane said. “He doesn’t let his age or health challenges slow him down…there’s no stopping him!”




Note to Media: Interested in learning more about the Naval History and Heritage Command? Call the NHHC Public Affairs Office at 202-433-7880 or via e-mail at


Apr 6

On This Date in History, U.S. Enters World War I

Sunday, April 6, 2014 3:00 AM

By Naval History and Heritage Command


Nearly a century ago President Woodrow Wilson stood before Congress to ask for a declaration of war on Germany. They voted to do just that on April 6, 1917. Getting to that point was not a simple task for Wilson who faced opposition from both his own party and isolationists. However, he had learned well as a Princeton professor and the son a Presbyterian pastor, how to slowly guide an audience to see his side of an argument. In front of the joint session of Congress, he was just as methodical and as patient as he had been for the past two years canvassing America, convincing the U.S. to prepare for an inevitable war.

In an almost monotone voice with a simple raise and lower of the arm, Wilson showed himself as calm and collected. He had to present the U.S. composed with “hands unstained and passions not aroused.” Even his opening sentence appeared more of a request than a declaration of war: “I have called the Congress into extraordinary session because there are serious, very serious, choices of policy to be made, and made immediately, which it was neither right nor constitutionally permissible that I should assume the responsibility of making.”

He started out almost bland then slowly making his points one by one using increasingly stronger language. Even the Cornell Daily Sun noted that his call for war was, “… a dispassionate but unmeasured denunciation of the course of the Imperial German Government.”

Woodrow Wilson 28th President of the United States

Woodrow Wilson
28th President of the United States

Laying the Groundwork
The year before, Wilson had painstakingly pulled the U.S. from her self-imposed isolation to build a formidable naval presence with the passage of the Naval Act of 1916. That might sound odd given Teddy Roosevelt previously justified a prominent navy and just five years earlier sent the Great White Fleet to circumnavigate the globe. But Germany had changed the game with its U-boat submarines which had all but decimated the European navies, vividly demonstrating the outdated state of the day’s navies. In the face of German submarine warfare, it seemed everything was outdated.

If not to prepare for war, Wilson had to get America on board with the idea of at least supporting a stronger navy, which he initially believed would give America more clout to encourage an end to the war. However, House Majority Leader Claude Kitchin, argued that “true neutrality necessitated a commitment to remaining demilitarized.” According to historian Alex Arnett, a professor at Furman University, in his book, Claude Kitchin and The Wilson War Politics, Wilson’s challenge was to tone down the inflammatory accusations of those aligned against him by turning words like “militarization” to “preparedness.”

In Pittsburgh on Jan. 29, 1916, Wilson stood before an audience and claimed, “I would not be a true American if I did not love peace.” The Great War was well into its second year, and Americans were fearful of losing another generation of men. Wilson was only four when the Civil War broke out. He had grown up with his father in Columbia, S.C., which was charred and still in ruins. His own party’s platform since then had been “keep us out at all costs,” and his 1916 reelection campaign’s motto was “He [Wilson] kept us out of war!” To some it wasn’t good enough. His own Secretary of State resigned once Wilson placed demands on Germany after one of its U-boats sank RMS Lusitania killing 128 Americans.


Wilson did his best to placate such die hard pacifists. He altered his delivery and began by merely asking for an “adequate” and “efficient” Navy. Then out came his punch line, “in all honesty, it [the U.S. Navy] ranks no more than fourth in size and strength.” Once, he let it slip in St. Louis what he really wanted. On Feb. 2, 1916 he stated he wanted the U.S. Navy “to be incomparably the greatest navy in the world.” In the official text, he struck “greatest” to “most adequate.” Then, he back tracked pleading with Americans to be “neutral in action… in spirit and in feeling,” but warned the U.S. can’t be “an ostrich with its head in the sand.” Using the back and forth language, Wilson incrementally made the point: love peace, but hate cowardice.

US president Woodrow Wilson waves from his car in 1916, the year of his re-election. Photograph: Museum of the City of New York/Archive Photos

US president Woodrow Wilson waves from his car in 1916, the year of his re-election. Photograph: Museum of the City of New York/Archive Photos

Then came the Battle of Jutland on the evening of May 31, 1916 while Congress debated the Navy Act. Although Britain claimed the best navy and outgunned the German fleet, Britain lost a staggering 6,100 sailors compared to 2,500 German casualties. There are those who believe the British Navy’s stunning loss helped make it possible for Wilson to eventually sign the Naval Appropriations Act of 1916 on Aug. 20, 1916.

A few weeks earlier, at the Biltmore Hotel in New York, the new Secretary of State, Robert Lansing, expedited the purchase from Denmark for twenty-five million dollars what is now the U.S. Virgin Islands for a very good reason: Denmark bordered Germany and although neutral, Wilson didn’t want to risk Germany potentially angling into the Western Hemisphere, especially so close to Puerto Rico. Wilson was working the chess board on a global scale.

Count Johann Heinrich von Bernstorff, German ambassador to the United States (1908-1917) Library of Congress

Count Johann Heinrich von Bernstorff, German ambassador to the United States (1908-1917)
Library of Congress

On Jan. 31, 1917, Count Johann von Bernstorff, the German Ambassador to the U.S., presented to Wilson Germany’s formal declaration to commence unrestricted submarine warfare … effective the following day. Stunned, Wilson notified Congress on Feb. 3 that he had severed diplomatic relations with Germany. Then, two weeks later British Naval Intelligence gave Wilson a telegram they had intercepted from German Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmerman to the German Ambassador in Mexico City. This is known as the infamous “Zimmerman Telegram.” In it, Germany promised to help the Mexican government recover California, New Mexico, Texas and Arizona if Mexico supported Germany if it went to war against America.

Telegram, written by German Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmermann and received by the German Ambassador to Mexico on January 19, 1917, is a coded message sent to Mexico, proposing a military alliance against the United States National Archives

Telegram, written by German Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmermann and received by the German Ambassador to Mexico on January 19, 1917, is a coded message sent to Mexico, proposing a military alliance against the United States
National Archives

Wilson immediately asked Congress to authorize arming American merchant ships with Navy personnel and equipment. Anti-war senators filibustered the measure for nearly a month. Wilson needed a “final and last straw” which happened April 1, 1917. A German U-boat torpedoed the private steamer Aztec off of France, killing 28 American crewmen. The French government informed the American Ambassador William Graves Sharp the next day. On April 2, Wilson carefully crafted his response to Congress with an appeal to their honorable nature and protection of future generations.

“It is a distressing and oppressive duty, gentlemen of the Congress, which I have performed in thus addressing you. There are, it may be, many months of fiery trial and sacrifice ahead of us. It is a fearful thing to lead this great peaceful people into war, into the most terrible and disastrous of all wars, civilization itself seeming to be in the balance.” On April 4, 1917, the Senate voted in for war by 82 to 6. Two days later, the House seconded the Senate’s approval by a vote of 373 to 50. After two arduous years, Wilson had motivated the American people and the Congress to approve a powerful navy and to go to war. Now he needed the Navy to cripple Germany’s destructive submarines.


Navy Victorious
Rear Adm. William S. Sims then met with British First Sea Lord, Sir John Jellicoe, in London. He reported, “The submarine issue is very much more serious than the people realize in America. It is therefore, urgently necessary that the maximum number of destroyers and other antisubmarine craft be sent abroad immediately.” Sims also reported that there was only enough food for the civilian population to survive no more than two months.

Rear Adm. William S. Sims NHHC

Rear Adm. William S. Sims

He immediately approved the use of destroyers to patrol and protect American and Allied ships delivering supplies. In three months, the Navy had convoyed 10,000 ships. The Navy had 34 destroyers prowling U-boat operating areas, thereby forcing submarines to remain submerged. Navy destroyers practically rendered useless the German submarine, which many thought to be the future of naval warfare.

By Bernard Gribble U.S. Naval Academy Museum. Arrival of the first division of American destroyers Queenstown, Ireland.

By Bernard Gribble
U.S. Naval Academy Museum.
Arrival of the first division of American destroyers
Queenstown, Ireland.

While World War I was primarily a land conflict, the U.S. Navy played a central role in the victory. The Navy successfully fended off 183 attacks and safely escorted a total of 18,653 ships that carried large freight quantities to armies in France and to Allied civilian populations. To the pride of the Navy and the nation, the Navy safely delivered for the Army 2,000,000 soldiers. Wilson’s keen vision and foresight combined with a tenacious persistence was key to unleashing the full force of naval power to support the people of Europe and allied forces ashore bringing World War I to a victorious end.

Recruiting Poster 1917 - NHHC

Recruiting Poster 1917 – NHHC


Wilson’s War Message to Congress

World War I Era Type Transports

The U.S. Navy and World War I


Mar 28

The Story Continues: Capt. David Porter, USS Essex and the War of 1812 in the Pacific

Friday, March 28, 2014 3:52 PM
Sailing frigate USS Essex (1799), from port side view, as a stylized illustration of the ship, with cannon ports visible, in configuration at the Galapagos Islands. Artist: Joseph Howard (1789 - 1857) U.S. Naval Academy Museum Collection

Sailing frigate USS Essex (1799), from port side view, as a stylized illustration of the ship, with cannon ports visible, in configuration at the Galapagos Islands.
Artist: Joseph Howard (1789 – 1857)
U.S. Naval Academy Museum Collection

From Naval History and Heritage Command

 When we last checked in with legendary Capt. David Porter, he had successfully sailed on USS Essex around Cape Horn Feb. 14, 1814, in shorter time, in worst weather, and with less support than any of his naval heroes had done before him.

 Porter and his crew spent the next year whupping up on the British whaling and merchant industry in the Pacific. At least that was how Porter himself described his success in his Journal of a Cruise Made to the Pacific Ocean.

Map of USS Essex's cruise where she rounded Cape Horn Feb. 14, 1813, the first American warship to sail into the Pacific Ocean.

Map of USS Essex’s cruise where she rounded Cape Horn Feb. 14, 1813, the first American warship to sail into the Pacific Ocean. It also shows all of the ports where Porter and Essex sailed for the next year.

 “I had completely broken up the British navigation in the Pacific; the vessels that had not been captured by me were laid up and dare not venture out. The valuable whale fishery there is entirely destroyed and the actual injury we have done them may be estimated at 2 ½ millions of dollars, independent of the expenses of the vessels in search of me.”

Capt. David Porter

Capt. David Porter


 Porter gleefully goes on to say how the provisions coming from the ships taken by Essex and her entourage had provided his crew with “sails, cordage, cables, anchors, provisions, medicines, and stores of every description – and the slops on board them have furnished clothing for the seamen. We had, in fact, lived on the enemy since I had been in that sea; every prize having provided a well-found store ship for me.”

 Porter wasn’t stingy with the largess, paying “considerable” advances to his officers and crew, among them a midshipman who was his 12-year-old adopted son, David Glasgow Farragut, who would become the first admiral of the U.S. Navy.

 But Porter longed for more glory. “I had done all the injury that could be done to the British commerce in the Pacific, and still hoped to signalize my cruise by something more splendid before leaving that sea.”

 In early February 1814, Porter heard the British sloop of war Phoebe and an escort ship Cherub were being sent to stop Essex’s harassment of the British whaling industry. Porter was familiar with Phoebe’s captain, Commodore James Hillyar, from when they both served in the Mediterranean. He has even at times shared dinner with his British counterpart.

 So Porter decided to sail for Valparaiso, Chile to meet up with his frenemy Hillyar. “I therefore determined to cruise about that place, and should I fail of meeting him, hoped to be compensated by the capture of some merchant ships, said to be expected from England.”

 Phoebe and Cherub were formidable opponents. Phoebe was loaded with 30 long 18-pounders, 16 32-pound carronades, one howitzer and six 3-pounders for a total of 53 guns with a crew of 320 men, along with Cherub’s 28 guns and 180 men.

 Based on armament, Essex was inferior to Phoebe. The frigate’s original long-range 12-pounder cannons had been replaced with short-range 32-pounder carronades, leaving only six “long twelves.”

 When accepting Essex as his command, Porter wrote to the Secretary of the Navy to have the frigate returned to her original armament, pointing out “a ship much inferior to her in sailing, armed with long guns, could take a position out of reach of our carronades and cut us to pieces.”

 And Porter loved nothing more than to be right.

 Polite and Honorable Warfare

 Porter only had to wait a few days before Phoebe and Hillyar arrived Feb. 8 at Valparaiso’s harbor, traveling a bit fast for Porter’s liking. Phoebe was “approaching nearer than prudence or a strict neutrality would justify me in permitting,” he wrote. As Phoebe’s jib-boom came across Essex’s forecastle, Porter noted Essex could have taken the more powerful ship in 15 minutes.

 But that didn’t happen. The two captains exchanged pleasantries by letter, with Porter warning Hillyar there would be “much bloodshed” if Phoebe attempted to board Essex in the neutral harbor. Wisely, Hillyar protested that was not his intention. Porter admitted to being “disarmed” by Hillyar’s assurances, and ordered his men to stand down, and later commented: “No one, to have judged from appearances, would have supposed us to have been at war, our conduct towards each other bore so much the appearance of a friendly alliance.”

 Porter’s failure to take down an enemy ship when he had the opportunity was justified by him as being the more honorable person for respecting the neutrality of the port at Valparaiso and he would “scrupulously continue to do so,” even though “Captain Hillyar was incapable of a similar forbearance.” And despite the outcome, Porter still felt his decision was correct, that “at no time during the engagement that took place afterwards, or since, would I have changed situations or feelings with that officer.”

SS Essex versus HMS Pheobe and HMS Cherub off Valparaiso, Chile, 28 March 1814. . Artwork by Captain William Bainbridge Hoff. NHHC Photograph Collection, NH 2254.

USS Essex versus HMS Pheobe and HMS Cherub off Valparaiso, Chile, 28 March 1814. . Artwork by Captain William Bainbridge Hoff. NHHC Photograph Collection, NH 2254.


Six Weeks of Sassy Songs and Flippant Flags

 So while Porter was patting himself on the back for his honorable manners, Hillyar was back out into international waters. And then just as quickly, Porter was the one trapped. With Phoebe and Cherub stalking outside the harbor, Porter had to be content to wage a war by song and fabric.

 Essex was flying a flag that stated the ship’s motto: “Free trade and sailors’ rights,” to which Phoebe responded with the motto “God and country; British sailors’ best rights; traitors offend both.”

 “Whenever I hoisted that (Essex’s) flag, he should not fail to hoist the other. I told him my flag was intended solely for the purpose of pleasing ourselves, and not to insult the feelings of others; that his, on the contrary, was considered as highly insulting in the light of an offset against ours; and that, if he continued to hoist it, I should not fail to retort on him,” a peevish Porter wrote in his journal.

 So when Phoebe raised its flag the following day, Porter’s flag responded with a new motto: “God, our country and liberty – tyrants offend them.”

 At times, the sailors aboard Cherub could be heard singing songs as they worked, appropriate to their situation, of their own composition and almost always a dig at the Americans. And Essex’s Sailors would loudly sing Yankee Doodle Dandy.

 The ever-fair Porter admitted “the songs from the Cherub were better sung, but those from the Essex were more witty and more to the point.”

 While the sailors sang, Porter and Hillyar battled with hilariously polite letters, mostly over the nefarious comments made by a British prisoner of war who escaped Essex and sought safe refuge on Cherub. The POW spoke of being chained and treated miserably, and so Hillyar requested Porter to liberate the rest of the British prisoners. Porter defended his actions stating the Brit and his mates tried to poison members of the crew.

 “I have not perhaps, had as long a servitude as Captain Hillyar; nor was it necessary I should, to learn honor and humanity,” Porter sniffed in his reply to Hillyar’s letter accusing Porter of chaining his prisoners. Pointer added of the many prisoners, British and otherwise, none were confined or punished except when “they deserved it.”

 Concerned about how the public might perceive a captain who would mistreat prisoners of war, Porter did “the honor” of sending over letters from the Department of the Navy and British Adm. Sir John Duckworth that made note about prisoners of war who had spoken of Porter’s humane treatment of them.

 “I have been induced to do this, from a wish to remove certain impressions that have been made on the public mind, highly prejudicial to the character of an American officer; and I assure you, although I have endeavored to perform, and shall continue to do, my duty to my country, to the utmost of my abilities, I disdain a mean and dishonorable act, whatever advances may result from it.”

 Hillyar was having none of it. “The letters from your prisoners must be highly gratifying to your personal feelings – and I hope the individuals who have benefited by your humane attentions will feel themselves bound in honour to rescue your character from every unjust and illiberal aspersion.”

 On Feb. 25, Porter sent a note to Hillyar that he had “immediately liberated on parole, the British prisoners” under his command. “My feelings have been greatly roused by the scandalous reports that have been circulated respecting my conduct. Yet I hope I shall always have sufficient control over myself, to prevent any change in my conduct towards those whom the fortune of war may place in my power; for, though such a change might be just, it would not be generous.”

 When he wasn’t trying to salvage his reputation, Porter was plotting his escape and possible battle with Phoebe. On a day with a calm sea, Essex towed the prize Hector out to sea and set fire to her within reach of Phoebe’s guns. Essex managed to get back to the neutral harbor, despite the British ships’ attempts to cut them off.

 Then came a series of flags-up-man-ship between the British ships and Essex, with each raising, lowering and raising another flag in response to each other like three demented cheerleaders trying to do the wave across a football stadium.

 The war of words and prose continued, with Porter complaining to Valparaiso’s citizens on how Hillyar’s crew were writing nasty notes about Essex’s crew, and even more shocking, those nasty-grams appeared not only to have the approval of their captain, but were written by Hillyar.

 Incensed, Porter wrote to Hillyar, pointing out the style of the papers, which were encouraging Essex’s crew to abandon ship, proved they were not written by a “common sailor.” Despite credible sources confirming the deed was done by Hillyar, Porter wrote “my knowledge of the character of Captain Hillyar will not permit me to believe him capable of so base an expedient to effect the object of his cruise…”

 Porter assured Hillyar that his letter-writing campaign would not shake his men from their mission: “They have given me innumerable proofs of their readiness at all times, to die in support of their country’s cause: They have my unlimited confidence – I have theirs.”

 On Feb. 27, the stalemate between the two captains escalated from snippy missives. Phoebe sailed toward Essex in the harbor, hoisting her “God and our country” flag and then fired a gun. Taking the challenge, Essex immediately chased after Phoebe, raising her “God, our country and liberty” flag and fired her gun. As she closed in on the British sloop of war, Essex fired two shots across her bow to bring her to for the one-on-one battle Porter so desperately wanted, but Phoebe continued sailing.

 After chasing her as far as was prudent, Porter returned to the harbor, and observed to all who were within earshot, both on and off the ship, that he deemed Hillyar’s conduct “cowardly and dishonorable.”

 Incensed, Hillyar sent on March 16 an emissary to confirm the scandalous words were coming from Porter. Hillyar’s lieutenant assured Porter that the hoisting of Phoebe’s flag and firing her gun was not a challenge to Essex.

 Unrepentant, Porter said his use of the word “cowardly” was justified given Hillyar’s actions, but if his British cohort said it wasn’t a challenge, then Porter “was bound to believe” the captain. He then warned the emissary that if Phoebe or Cherub ever committed a similar maneuver, Porter would consider it a challenge.

 After that, Phoebe and Cherub stayed close together to avoid a confrontation with Essex unless they could both engage the American frigate. They didn’t have long to wait.


USS Essex battles HMS Pheobe and HMS Cherub off Valparaiso, Chile, March 28, 1814. . Artwork by Captain William Bainbridge Hoff. NHHC Photograph Collection, NH 2254.

USS Essex battles HMS Pheobe and HMS Cherub off Valparaiso, Chile, March 28, 1814. . Artwork by Captain William Bainbridge Hoff. NHHC Photograph Collection, NH 2254.

Fickle are the Winds of War

 “To reach a port we must sail, sometimes with the wind, and sometimes against it. But we must not drift or lie at anchor.” Sir Oliver Wendell Homes Sr.

 For a frigate like Essex, the wind was often a blessing or a curse. But after six weeks of being cooped up in Valparaiso’s harbor, Porter had waited long enough. With Phoebe and Cherub blockading him, Porter knew of at least four other ships in pursuit of his frigate.

 On March 28, Porter noted a southward wind had blown in, giving his ship the necessary speed to get past the blockade. He ordered sails up, but while rounding the point, those winds turned deadly as a heavy squall carried away the ship’s main top-mast, along with the men setting the sails.

 Prudently, Porter gave up on his plan and sailed to the east side of the harbor for repairs, but Phoebe and Cherub closed in, despite the neutrality of the harbor.

 “The caution observed in their approach to the attack of the crippled Essex was truly ridiculous, as was their display of their motto flags, and the number of jacks at their mast heads,” Porter said.

 As the Essex crew worked feverishly to repair the ship and prepare for battle, at 3:54 p.m., the two British ships hemmed Essex in under her stern and starboard bow, raking her with fire.

 Porter’s men responded with the three long 12-pound cannons they were able to secure on deck, forcing Phoebe and Cherub to pull back.

 With a deck-filled with wounded and dead crew from the first British assault, Porter’s worse nightmare was about to come true. Phoebe and Cherub placed themselves on the starboard side out of range of Essex’s carronades and where the ship’s three stern-side 12-pounders were useless.

 As the British ships shot away Essex’ sails, sheets and jib, the “decks were now strewed with dead, and our cock-pit filled with wounded, although our ship had been several times on fire, and was rendered a perfect wreck, we were still encouraged to hope to save her,” Porter believed, after Cherub pulled away from the battle.

 But that might have been a strategic move to give Phoebe the honor of sinking Essex. The British sloop of war “kept a tremendous fire on us, which mowed down my brave companions by the dozen. Many of my guns had been rendered useless by the enemy’s shot and many of them had their whole crews destroyed.”

 One gun in particular, Porter noted in his journal, had been manned by three crews – 15 men killed in action – yet the captain of the gun was only slightly wounded.

 With winds picking up again, Porter still hoped to avoid capture by running his crippled ship the short distance to shore and destroying her. But yet again, as they limped to within “a musket-shot” of land, the fickle winds shifted, pulling Essex back to within range of Phoebe’s cannons.

 Briefly, Porter entertained the thought of just pulling Essex close enough to Phoebe to board her, but she stalled in the water.

 With “flames bursting up each hatchway” and no hopes left of saving the ship just three-quarters of a mile from shore, Porter ordered his crew to save themselves before the ship blew. Some did get away, while others were either captured or drowned. Of those who stayed with Porter, they “entreated me to surrender my ship to save the wounded, as all further attempt at opposition must prove ineffectual.” At 6:20 p.m., Porter “gave the painful order to strike the colors.”

 Yet Phoebe continued firing. With his “brave, though unfortunate companions” were still falling about me,” Porter ordered an opposite gun to be fired to show they would offer no further resistance.

 “But they did not desist; four men were killed at my side, and others in different parts of the ship. I now believed he (Hillyar) intended to show us no quarter, and that it would be as well to die with my flag flying as struck…”

 Porter was about to hoist the flag again when Phoebe finally ceased firing, 10 minutes after the flag had been lowered.

 Porter was understandably furious.

 “We have been unfortunate, but not disgraced – the defence <sic> of the Essex has not been less honourable to her officers and crew, than the capture of an equal force.”

 And even though defeated, Porter considered “my situation less unpleasant than that of Commodore Hillyar, who, in violation of every principle of honor and generosity, and regardless of the rights of nations, attacked the Essex in her crippled state, within pistol shot of a neutral shore. The blood of the slain must be on his head, and he has yet to reconcile his conduct to heaven, to his conscience, and to the world.”

 Essex lost 58 crew members, another 39 were severely wounded, 27 injured and 31 missing for a total of 154 casualties. The British suffered five killed and 10 wounded between both ships.

View of Valpariso Harbor, Chile, after the capture of USS Essex by HMS Phoebe and Cherub, 1814. Unknown artist. NHHC Photograph Collection, NH 55431.

View of Valpariso Harbor, Chile, after the capture of USS Essex by HMS Phoebe and Cherub, 1814. Unknown artist. NHHC Photograph Collection, NH 55431.

 Porter took issue that Hillyar “thought proper to state to his government” that Phoebe’s victory over Essex took only 45 minutes, but the “thousands of disinterested witnesses, who covered the surrounding hills, can testify that we fought his ships near two hours and a half; except the few minutes they were repairing damages, the firing was incessant.” He credited “nothing but the smoothness of the water saved both the Phoebe and Essex.”

 Well, that and because Essex was held to the use of only the six long 12-pound cannons, “our carronades being almost useless.”

 Porter’s desire for “something more splendid before leaving that sea” proved fruitful for Hillyar and Great Britain, with the capture of Essex and Essex Junior, plus the British recaptured three of Porter’s prizes before they reached safe haven in the United States.

 Porter grudgingly admitted Hillyar had “shown the greatest humanity to my wounded and had endeavored as much as lay in his power to alleviate the distresses of war by the most generous and delicate deportment towards myself, my officers and crew.”

 That deportment would be another craw for the proud Porter to chew: Hillyar ordered Porter’s prize Essex Junior to be disarmed, offering the ship to Porter and his surviving crew to return to the United States with a “passport” to prevent her recapture. Although in true “gift-horse-in-the-mouth” fashion, Porter pointed out Essex Junior was “small and we knew we had much to suffer.”

 In his report to the Department of Navy about the affair, Porter noted it cost the British nearly six million dollars in their pursuit of Essex, and yet, “her capture was owing entirely to accident; and if we consider the expedition with which naval contests are now decided, the action is a dishonor to them.” He also got another dig at his adversary, adding if Hillyar had been bold with a force so superior, they should have captured Essex and Essex Junior in “one-fourth of the time they were about it.”

 Before Porter and his crew sailed back to the United States, the American captain took one more shot of telling Hillyar that he had cheated.

 “I seized the opportunity to tell him, that though I should take every occasion to do him free justice in that respect, I should nevertheless be equally plain making known his conduct in attacking me in the manner he had done.“

 “My dear Porter, you know not the responsibility that hung over me, with respect to your ship. Perhaps my life depended on my taking her,” Hillyar responded with tears in his eyes, Porter recalled in his journal.

 Porter said Hillyar still had it in his power to clear up the affair to the world, “…and if he can show that the responsibility rests on his government, I shall do him justice, with more pleasure than I now impeach his conduct. Until then, the stigma rests with him.”

 Despite his defeat and capture, Porter hoped “our conduct may prove satisfactory to our country, and that it will testify it by obtaining our speedy exchange, that we may again have it in our power to prove our zeal.” Porter achieved that goal. He and his crew were hailed as heroes upon their return to the United States.

USS Essex versus HMS Phoebe and HMS Cherub off Valparaiso, Chile, 28 March 1814. Drawn by Captain David Porter, USN. Engraved by W. Strickland. From journal of a cruise made to the Pacific Ocean in the frigate Essex 1812-14, Vol. 2. NHHC Photograph Collection, NH 2047.

USS Essex versus HMS Phoebe and HMS Cherub off Valparaiso, Chile, March 28, 1814. Drawn by USS Essex Capt. David Porter, USN. Engraved by W. Strickland. From journal of a cruise made to the Pacific Ocean in the frigate Essex 1812-14, Vol. 2. NHHC Photograph Collection, NH 2047.

 Careers After the Surrender

Porter’s sense of justice and vengeance continued later into his career. He gave up his post on the Board of Navy Commissioners in 1822 to fight piracy. While commanding an expedition in the West Indies in 1825, Porter approved the invasion of a small Puerto Rico community after an officer from his fleet was jailed. But the United States did not sanction such an action, so Porter was court-martialed upon his return. He resigned from the U.S. Navy, but became the commander-in-chief for the Mexican Navy from 1826-29.

 Following his return from Mexico, Porter was appointed U.S. Minister to the Barbary States. While ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Porter died at the age of 63 on March 3, 1843.

 The “stigma” that Porter believed would follow Hillyar ended when he got to England. After service on HMS Revenge and HMS Caledonia during the Napoleonic Wars, Hillyar was knighted the first time in 1834 and promoted to rear admiral in 1837. In 1840, he was made a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath. He died at age 73, on July 10, 1843, four months after his old foe, Porter.

 After Essex’s capture, the British commodore sent the frigate to England, where she

was repaired as a 42-gun ship and renamed HMS Essex. By 1819, she served as a troopship, then turned into a prison ship at Cork in 1823 and 1824-34 at Kingston, Ireland. Essex was sold for 1,230 pounds at public auction in 1837, 23 years after her surrender.

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