Saturday, September 20, 2014

Baseball in World War II

I'm a Baltimore Orioles fan, so those of you who follow baseball will know that I'm pretty excited this year. As my fellow Orioles fans and I prepare ourselves for what we hope will be a great postseason, I will be writing several posts about the Norfolk Navy's World War II baseball teams, and I'll also be sharing some images that many people haven't seen before.

After the United States entered the Second World War, baseball fans across the country worried that their sport would end, much like it had in World War I in 1918. President Franklin Roosevelt thought differently. On January 15, 1942, Roosevelt wrote a letter to the head of baseball, saying, "I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going." He added that he would like to see more night games for people to attend, and that, though the quality of the teams might be lowered by the greater use of older players replacing young men going into military service, this would not dampen the popularity of the sport.

While major league baseball continued throughout the war, more than 500 major league baseball players swapped their baseball uniforms for military uniforms. Players such as Bob Feller, Stan Musial, Joe DiMaggio, "Pee Wee" Reese, "Ace" ParkerPhil Rizzuto, and Fred Hutchinson joined the military, and several of these famous players came right here to Norfolk for their military service. Some of those players played the game at the athletic field shown below, at present-day Naval Station Norfolk. This athletic field is the second-oldest brick baseball stadium in the country, beat only by Chicago's Wrigley Field.
Present-day photograph of McClure Field's main entrance.
In 1944, the athletic field was named "McClure Field" in honor of Navy Cross-recipient Captain Henry McClure, the commanding officer of Naval Training Station Norfolk from 1941 to 1944. McClure had little knowledge of the game itself, but he loved it and knew baseball's value in raising his sailors' morale. In 1943, McClure sent a message to the field, telling the players to start the game but "not to score until he got there"!

This 1944 photograph of Captain McClure shows him watching Dom DiMaggio during batting practice at McClure Field. Hall of Famer Phil Rizzuto and Eddie Robinson stand next to McClure. (Norfolk Public Library image)

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Navy at Inchon

Today marks the 64th anniversary of the Inchon landings, which helped turn the tide of the Korean War. By late August 1950, the allied forces were pushed back towards the city of Pusan (now Busan) near the southeastern tip of the peninsula. The situation was desperate as U.N. and Republic of Korea forces tried to hold back the communist NKPA's assault. Gen. MacArthur's bold yet risky plan was set in motion, and a huge naval armada headed toward the city of Inchon, near Seoul, on the west coast. Inchon was notorious for its extreme tides and expansive mudflats. Any amphibious operation there had to be planned very carefully.
A Navy F-4U "Corsair" from USS Philippine Sea (CV 47)  flies over part of the armada assembled for the Inchon landing. USS Missouri (BB 63) is visible directly below.  
On the morning of September 15, 1950, Navy ships headed up the channel at Inchon and shelled targets on Wolmi-do and in Inchon as landing craft full of Marines headed ashore. The operation was a huge success and soon the US forces were heading toward Seoul to cut off the supply route of the NKPA troops attacking the Pusan Perimeter. 


In addition to the importance of the Navy fleet's role in this amphibious operation, one particular individual is worth noting. Prior to the invasion, Lt. Eugene Clark and two ROK officers were sent to a small island near Inchon to gather intelligence. With the help of some locals, Clark's team pinpointed gun emplacements, noted troop concentrations, swept for mines, checked tidal patterns, measured sea walls, and evaluated possible landing sites. His intelligence was invaluable to making the landings a success.  
Lt. Clark at right with part of his team.

Friday, September 12, 2014

A Thirteen-Star Flag from the Civil War

The museum always tries to highlight a unique artifact during the annual CPO Heritage Days event in August. This year we displayed one of the highlights of the collection, recently transferred to HRNM from the (now closed) Supply Corps Museum.

The artifact is a 13-star American flag, made during the Civil War. Gunner’s Mate James Smith made this flag while on board USS Hartford, Admiral Farragut’s flagship. Of course, the American flag carried 33 stars at the beginning of the war, and later more as Kansas and West Virginia joined the Union. But the impulse to celebrate the Revolutionary generation was strong during the crisis years of the Civil War. Both North and South looked to America’s eighteenth century for intellectual and emotional justification for the actions of the 1860s.

As for James Smith, little is known about the sailor who decided to celebrate American history during America’s greatest crisis. A US Navy gunner’s mate named James Smith was at the Battle of Mobile Bay – but aboard USS Richmond, where he won the Medal of Honor. The citation reads (in part): “As captain of a gun on board the U.S.S. Richmond … Despite damage to his ship and the loss of several men on board as enemy fire raked her decks, Smith fought his gun with skill and courage throughout the prolonged battle which resulted in the surrender of the rebel ram Tennessee and in the successful attacks carried out on Fort Morgan.”

It would be tempting, but unfortunately unjustified, to claim that the USS Richmond’s James Smith is the maker of the USS Hartford 13-star flag. A future, and very thorough, archival search will be required to establish a real connection, if one exists.

We do know how the flag came into the Navy’s collection. It was donated in 1991 by the former Chief of the Navy’s Supply Corps, Rear Admiral Daniel McKinnon, Jr. Admiral McKinnon was described by “The Supply Line,” a Navy newsletter of the day, as “a history buff” who “had been holding on to some treasures.” 

(This blog post was written by HRNM Curator Joe Judge.)

Monday, September 8, 2014

USS Yankton & Rum Running: A Black Mark on an Illustrious Career


USS Yankton at Hampton Roads, December 10, 1916.

Built as a luxury yacht in 1893, the Navy acquired USS Yankton in May 1898. Commissioned at Norfolk, it was prepared for operations in the Spanish-American War. As part of blockading duties off Cuba, it participated in shelling Spanish gunboats and land batteries. After the war, Yankton was converted to a fleet tender. In December 1907, it sailed out of Hampton Roads as part of the Great White Fleet for that around-the-world cruise, returning in 1909.

After the cruise, the converted yacht continued as a fleet tender until America's entrance into WWI. In 1914 it participated in Navy operations off Mexico during the Vera Cruz Crisis. During the war Yankton performed convoy escort duty off of Gibraltar, rescuing a damaged Italian merchant ship from a U-boat at one point. By September 1918, the yacht was summoned back to the United States to operate with the Atlantic Fleet.

Shortly after the Armistice, Yankton was sent back overseas, this time to the Barents Sea off of northern Russia. From February to July 1919, the yacht and a handful of other American ships (including subchasers) supported operations against the Bolsheviks in Murmansk and Archangel. For the remainder of the year it was stationed off England before returning stateside in January 1920.

Decommissioned soon after returning, the vessel was sold in 1921. Two years later the ship sprang into national news. Operated as part of a rum running ring, the yacht was captured in New York by customs officials. It was registered as a British ship and according to reports, had come to “Rum Row” (a group of smuggling ships anchored outside of the maritime limit) from the West Indies with a valuable cargo of illegal rum worth $500,000. The ship was eventually returned to civilian maritime service but was scrapped in 1930. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The 40mm Bofors Gun

A quad 40mm Bofors gun crew in action.
One of the most effective anti-aircraft guns of World War II, the 40mm Bofors gun played a vital role in defending Navy ships. Originally of Swedish design, but obtained from the British, at the outset of the war the Bofors gun was not standard on U.S. Navy ships. This changed by 1942, when American designers updated the gun and improved the ammunition. The 40mm guns replaced previous ineffective guns and provided an upgrade by becoming one of the prime anti-aircraft batteries for the Navy, alongside the larger twin dual-purpose 5-inch guns and smaller 20mm guns.      

The Bofors guns were usually arranged in either dual or quad positions, and less commonly as a single barrel. The arrangement generally depended on the size or layout of a ship. For instance, USS Wisconsin (BB 64) had twenty quad 40mm mounts (80 gun barrels), whereas a destroyer escort might only have several  dual 40mm mounts. 

The gun crew consisted of eleven men for the quad guns, with two loaders needed for each barrel. The sailors worked as one unit under the gun captain, who was able to direct the gun quickly on a fast moving turret. The gun was improved when it was combined with the new Mk 51 gun director which enabled greater accuracy. Between October 1, 1944, and February 1, 1945, the Bofors/Mk 51 combination was credited with 50% of all Japanese aircraft shot down by U.S. Navy ships.
A painting showing a dual 40mm mount on an aircraft carrier from Task Force 58 in the Pacific. All the main carriers in this Task Force were built in Hampton Roads. Note the Mk 51 director in the foreground.

Quad mounts firing on an Iowa-class battleship
The Bofors gun enjoyed wide popularity during World War II as it was not only used by the Navy, but was utilized by other branches as well. Of course, the British also used it, but it is worth noting that both the Japanese and Germans used captured guns or tried to replicate their own when they could do so. They remained popular long after the war, and a few militaries still employ variations of the 40mm gun to this day.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Lone Desert Sailor

Which person in the image above is a Sailor? If you guessed "all of them," then you would be correct. 

The Lone Sailor in Norfolk
Many people recognize the Lone Sailor, an icon in Navy heritage. Symbolic of the honor, courage, and commitment of Sailors to serve their country at sea, the lone Sailor is easily recognized--but "Lone Sailor" can, in some ways, also refer to an Individual Augmentee (IA). Beginning with Navy Reserve mobilizations in response to the events of 9/11, IAs have been serving around the world, providing augmentation to other services, as well as joint and combined commands in support of the Global War on Terrorism and later, in Overseas Contingency Operations. Individual Augmentees are exactly what the title says - individuals who deploy by themselves, without a unit, as additional personnel for another command. Alternately, IAs come from commands throughout the Navy or other services to form an ad hoc unit comprised of all IAs. 

Why does the Navy have IAs? 

All IAs start as requirements tasked in accordance with the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s Global Force Management Allocation Program (GFMAP). The GFMAP is the master plan that tasks all missions throughout the world to all services via their capabilities. So, at a greater level, Navy ships and squadrons and units deploy as a sea service for the Joint GFMAP, and IAs are needed to fill requirements at the individual level across all services.

Since 2008, United States Fleet Forces in Norfolk has been the Executive Agent for all things IA – which means finding the personnel to fill the IA requirements; manning, training, and equipping the IAs for the specific mission; and the R3 experience (Return, Reunion, & Reintegration) when they come back to their command and home.
Individual Augmentee (IA) Sailors, assigned to Navy Provisional Detainee Battalion 2,
are greeted by family and friends as they arrive at Naval Station Norfolk.

IAs have non-traditional assignments in two ways. First, traditionally all services fit and train units as a team to perform a mission. For the Navy, operational units are usually ships (aircraft carrier, etc.), squadrons (fighter jets, etc.), or any of several unique capabilities – like SEAL teams or Seabees. The units have a defined structure that varies little but always trains together to perform the mission safely and effectively. Their mission reflects the Navy’s capability and their direction to execute in accordance with the Joint Chiefs’ of Staff (JCS). Individual Augmentees do not have this unit structure and, more critically, the cohesion that develops within a team. IAs will sometimes join a command and mission that is ongoing, such as numerous Joint (multi-service) or Combined (multi-nation) task forces that support US and coalition forces through out the world. Other IAs will fill emergent requirements that are a one-time fill or established to support for a limited, but seldom defined, period of time. Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) and detainee operations (Iraq, Afghanistan, & Guantanamo Bay) are just a couple of the many missions that have lasted several years but are now complete.

(This post was written by Commander Colette Grail.)

Monday, August 25, 2014

The "Mighty Mo" is Free at Last: Part 2 of 2

By mid-morning on January 17, 1950, the battleship USS Missouri (BB-63) was now hard aground on Thimble Shoal near the entrance to Hampton Roads. A number of tugs were summoned, their numbers swelling to sixteen by the end of the day. Yet even with their concerted effort, Missouri remained stuck.

This created an extremely embarrassing situation for the Navy. The grounding was widely reported across the nation. Jokes were quickly forthcoming, not just from other branches of the military, but also from the public and even the Soviet Atlantic Fleet. With a highly visible situation, the Pentagon debated on using civilian or Navy resources for the recovery. In the end, Rear Admiral Allan Smith volunteered to take responsibility of the operation. He asked Rear Admiral Homer Wallin, a noted salvage expert, to assist him. Wallin was most famous for running the salvage at Pearl Harbor after the Japanese attack there. By 1950, he was in command at Norfolk Naval Shipyard.

Smith and Wallin quickly got to work, forming a basic plan to lighten the ship, dredge a channel, and wait for the next highest tide. A look at the charts indicated that the next tide that was as high as that on the 17th would be on February 2nd; the men had much work to do before that day. Before long, a small flotilla surrounded Missouri. These included dredgers, tug boats, barges, the large fleet oiler USS Chemung (AO-30), and the submarine rescue ship USS Kittiwake (ASR-13), which supported divers working on the site.
Orders were given to remove excess weight in order to lighten the ship. This was a tall order, given the size of the ship and the necessary requirements for providing for the crew. Missouri’s sailors were kept busy for the next few days. All of the ship’s ammunition had to be removed, with the giant 16-inch shells slowing the process due to their bulk and weight (nearly a ton each). Over 2.25 million gallons of fuel was pumped out to Chemung and other smaller oilers, plus water and other liquids. Food stores were limited to only what was needed for one week; over 280 tons were sent off-ship. In addition, sailors removed the anchor chains (each weighing nearly 100,000 pounds).
Moving a 16-inch shell

Unloading 5-inch ammo
In addition to removing surplus weight, work continued underwater to free the ship. Divers and dredging vessels worked to refloat Missouri. This in itself was a herculean task, but the problem of getting the battleship safely to deeper water once freed also existed. Here the dredging operations were paramount. A channel needed to be cleared from the site back to the main waterway, a distance of 2,500 feet. Work continued over the next week until favorable conditions could be had for a refloating attempt. Although ultimately not needed, additional plans included possibly running destroyers by to move more water under the ship. 
A diver prepares to go below. Over 650 man hours of diving went into the operation. 
This event was a national phenomenon, helped in part by the time that it was taking to free Missouri. Of course Virginia newspapers were reporting, but others further afield, such as the Daily Iowan, had coverage as well. With each passing day, the naysayers seemed to increase, some thinking that the famous Iowa-class battleship was now a permanent monument out on the shoal. The salvage work steadily continued until January 31, when the Navy attempted a major refloating operation. This “rehearsal” failed, largely due to the discovery that something was holding the vessel in place on the shoal. Due to this failure, it was decided to remove more weight from the battleship, including one of the 30,000-pound anchors.

The next day, February 1, another operation was undertaken. Twenty-one tugboats, along with the salvage lifting vessels USS Salvager (ARS(D)-3) and USS Windlass (ARS(D)-4) were involved in the process. The operation commenced at 0545. Within an hour, the battleship was afloat and soon after was taken away from its shoal prison and back to the channel. Signal flags were hoisted showing “Reporting for duty” and music floats across the water. The salvage operation had taken fifteen days, but Missouri was free and had been refloated a full day ahead of predictions. The battleship was taken back to Norfolk Naval Shipyard for inspection and repairs. 
Missouri coming into Norfolk Naval Shipyard a few hours after being refloated.
The dry dock inspection showed damage to the hull, with fuel tanks ruptured. A twelve-foot gash is visible, caused by a six-foot steel bar, likely part of a shipwreck on Thimble Shoal. 
An investigation began soon after the grounding, but it was only after the ship was freed that a formal Court of Inquiry was held. At first the only primary suspects in the incident were Captain Brown (CO) and Lieutenant Commander Morris (Navigator). Commander Peckham (XO) was the primary witness. As the court proceeded, Commander Millet (Operations officer), and Lieutenant Carr (Combat Operations Officer) were also named as defendants. The court was heated at times, with Brown’s counsel often on the offensive. But in the end, Brown took full responsibility, saying, “As captain of the ship, it was my duty to keep her safe and secure. And I didn't do it.”

After nearly a month, the inquiry finished and a court martial was ordered for Brown, Millet, and Morris. Carr was reprimanded, but was not brought to court martial. Brown was found guilty of neglect of duty and other negligence at his court martial and the captain was reduced 250 spots on the promotion list. He never held a command at sea again. Millet and Morris were also both found guilty of neglect of duty and were reduced on their respective promotion lists.

There are always the “what if” questions surrounding an incident like this, and hindsight often shows problems that should have been fixed or other courses that could have been taken. In the case of the Missouri grounding, it seems that a series of blunders, miscommunication, personality clashes, organizational confusion, poor leadership, and a lack of recent sea command on the part of the captain seem to have formed a perfect storm leading to a disaster.

*Readers can find the original salvage report online

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The "Mighty Mo" Gets Stuck: Part 1 of 2


By January 1950, USS Missouri (BB-63) was the last of the Iowa-class ships still in service. Her fame as the site of the Japanese surrender and her patronage from President Harry Truman surely helped in this regard, as the other battleships had been decommissioned. Events would soon unfold that brought fame of a different sort to the “Mighty Mo.”
USS Missouri (BB-63)
After four months of overhaul at Norfolk Naval Shipyard, Missouri was set to sail to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for exercises. Her commanding officer (CO) was Captain William D. Brown, who had only recently taken over command. A few weeks before sailing, the Navy requested that Missouri participate in some tests regarding underwater acoustic cables. To do so, the ship would sail between some buoys near Thimble Shoal, just outside the mouth of Hampton Roads. Captain Brown agreed to this request but apparently did not inform most of his officers, which would prove to be a grave oversight. In addition, the charts that the Navy had were marked with five buoys showing the acoustic channel, but a few had been removed, leaving only two in the water. Only the navigator was aware of this fact and did not effectively communicate this to the CO or to anyone else.
Map of Hampton Roads, with Missouri's path marked
On the morning of January 17, 1950, Missouri began to leave Hampton Roads. It was only near Fort Wool (Rip Raps) that Brown told his officers about the acoustic test. The officers appeared confused at this news. The captain then told them, “Go get yourselves informed!” The ocean current was strong that morning, so the ship’s speed was increased to 15 knots. A buoy was soon spotted and was identified as one of the acoustic range markers, but was incorrectly thought to be for the right side of the range. Captain Brown ordered the Missouri to steer to the left of this marker. As the acoustic range was close to the danger zone for the shallows near Thimble Shoal, this was a hazardous decision. 

As the ship plunged ahead, the officers sighted two more buoys. These indicated a fishing channel, but Brown thought they were the end of the acoustic range. Several officers and quartermasters disagreed and tried to inform the CO of the approaching danger. Both the navigational officer and executive officer suggested that the ship be steered to the right, but Brown ignored them. Missouri came aground hard on the shoal. Her momentum pushed the ship 2,500 feet, finally resting several feet out of the water. As this event happened during a very high tide, the ship was soon high and dry to a considerable degree. The weight of the ship would lead to structural damage on the hull.
A combination of arrogance, miscommunication, and poor leadership led to this debacle. Even worse yet, this incident occurred within view of both Naval Station Norfolk and the Army brass at Fort Monroe. It took only 15 minutes to leave the entrance of Hampton Roads and ground upon the shoal. Getting Missouri free would take much longer.

Check back next week for part two of this story: the salvage and re-floating of Missouri.

(This blog post was written by HRNM Educator Elijah Palmer.)

Monday, August 18, 2014

Preserving our Past: HRNM's Anchor, Part 2 of 2

The modern-day journey for one of HRNM’s largest artifacts, a 200-year-old anchor, began in 1993 (read part 1 about the anchor here). In order to treat the anchor and preserve it for the future, Dr. Brad Rodgers of East Carolina University constructed a preservation tank in November 1993. His team built the tank by digging a hole, lining it with cinder blocks, and then pouring concrete to create the tank’s walls. They built an I-beam superstructure over the tank that would allow them to raise and lower the anchor as well as turn it over. The tank held 4,000 gallons of water and was fourteen feet long, nine feet wide, and four-and-a-half feet deep.
The anchor being delivered to HRNM after preservation was completed.
Throughout the process the conservation tank was filled with either distilled water or rainwater. Once the anchor was submerged in this water, conservationists added sodium carbonate and placed steel anodes over the shank and arms of the anchor. The anodes did not make contact with the anchor, but formed a tent-like structure over it instead. An electrical current then ran through the anodes. This complicated procedure allowed the corrosion on the anchor to change from its original state into magnetite or hematite, which reduced the thickness of the corrosion and allowed chlorides to rinse out of the anchor. Conservationists emptied the tank halfway and refilled it with fresh rain or distilled water several times throughout the process. This was continued until all of the salt was removed from the anchor.

Dr. Rodgers estimated that five percent of the anchor’s weight, or sixty pounds, was salt. After the anchor was preserved, it was painted with several protective coatings. On average, the preservation process takes four to six years, but a number of hurricanes delayed the process. In 1999, Hurricane Floyd’s rains contaminated the tank with mud and other debris. After the hurricane Dr. Rodgers and his team decontaminated the tank and re-started the process from the beginning. It was not until December 2005 that the anchor’s preservation was finally completed, and it is now on display at the Naval Museum.


(This blog post was written by HRNM Public Relations Coordinator Susanne Greene.)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

USS Augusta (CA 31) and the Atlantic Charter, 1941


One of the valuable items in the museum’s World War II exhibit is the aft steering wheel from USS Augusta (CA 31), shown above. On August 14, 1941, this cruiser witnessed one of the most famous summits of the 20th century, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill signed the Atlantic Charter at Argentia, Newfoundland.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill at
the Atlantic Conference, where they signed the Atlantic Charter on August
14, 1941. Left to right: General George S. Marshall, USA; President Roosevelt
(seated); Prime Minister Churchill (seated); Admiral Ernest J. King, USN;
Admiral Harold Stark, USN. (National Archives photograph.)
The complexities of the war situation (in which America was still officially neutral) persuaded Churchill and FDR that the time had come to meet.  In August 1941 the two men set out secretly on naval vessels and rendezvoused, along with their staffs, at the new American naval base at Argentia. The President embarked on the Augusta on August 5 in Vineyard Sound, Massachusetts, transferring to the cruiser from the Presidential yacht Potomac at 0617. For security purposes, the President's flag remained on Potomac in New England waters. A Secret Serviceman, approximating the President in size and affecting the Chief Executive's mannerisms when visible from a distance, played a starring role in the drama. Press releases issued daily from Potomac led all who read them to believe that FDR was really embarked in his yacht on a pleasure cruise.

As for the meeting with Churchill, the most important result was the linking of Britain and America in a moral partnership to defeat the Axis powers and seek political freedom for all people in the postwar world. One participant said that the meeting “gave meaning to the conflict between civilization and arrogant, brute challenge.”

USS Augusta (CA 31) and USS McDougall (DD 358) at Argentia, August 1941.
Seen from HMS Prince of Wales. Note the American and British sailors
mustering together. (NHHC photograph collection.)
As for the Augusta, the heavy cruiser (built by Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co. and launched on February 1, 1930) went on to distinguished service during Operation Torch and the Normandy Invasion. The sturdy veteran, a one-time flagship of the Asiatic Fleet, hosted President Roosevelt again after the Yalta Conference in 1945 and President Truman en route to the Potsdam Conference that same year.

(This blog post was written by HRNM Curator Joe Judge.)

Monday, August 11, 2014

Preserving our Past: HRNM's Anchor, Part 1 of 2

One of the collection objects on display at HRNM is a 200-year-old anchor. Its modern-day journey began back in 1993 while USS Kittiwake (ASR 13), a submarine rescue ship, was on a routine operation in the Elizabeth River. Kittiwake recovered the anchor, which dates back to the early 1800s. For twelve years, it was under the care of the Department of Maritime History and Underwater Research at East Carolina University. While the anchor’s journey began back in the early 1800s, there are no markings or records to enlighten us about the anchor’s past.
The large iron loop at the top of the anchor goes through a smaller loop at the top of the shank. The loop, along with the curvature of the anchor's arms, are two of the design elements that show experts that this anchor is from the early 1800s. In addition, the band that wraps around one of the arms of the anchor and is riveted to the bottom of the fluke was a common repair method used in the early 1800s. Although anchors were made out of wrought iron, many were damaged when lowered quickly and their flukes broke as they hit the ocean floor. Anchors were constructed in the Royal Naval Dockyards and created with pieces of iron welded together. The iron was heated to a “white heat” and beaten into the appropriate shape with sledgehammers. The process was not without problems. When the anchors were welded, the hammering did not remove all of the air and bubbles, which created weaknesses in the final product.
Close-up of the anchor
One feature that was not common among the anchors of the early 1800s was a gravity band. One of these bands is placed in the middle of our anchor’s shank. An expert from ECU believes this to be an addition at a later date, perhaps when the anchor was repaired. The anchor’s dimensions, approximately eleven feet tall with six feet between its flukes, led the experts at ECU to believe it is a bower anchor. The name implies its place is at the bow of a ship. Based on the anchor’s weight of approximately 1200 pounds, it may have belonged to a vessel that weighed between 150 and 200 tons.

Stay tuned for more information about the preservation of this historic anchor!


(This blog post was written by HRNM Public Relations Coordinator Susanne Greene.)

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Sinking of USS Tecumseh- August 5, 1864


One of the gallery pieces illustrating everyday life on Civil War naval ships is a plate from the ironclad monitor USS Tecumseh. The single-turreted Tecumseh was commissioned in April 1864. The war would last for one more year, but for Tecumseh it would only last a number of months. The monitor played a memorable role in two campaigns. 
The USS Tecumseh plate on display at HRNM.
Tecumseh’s first assignment was with the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, tasked to ascend the James River to support General Ulysses S. Grant's operations against Richmond. Grant ordered General Benjamin Butler to move up from Fort Monroe and attack the railroad link between Petersburg and Richmond, with the additional duty of taking City Point. The Union Army and Navy worked to block the channel to prevent Confederate warships from coming down from the James. From June 15-18, 1864, Tecumseh helped by sinking four hulks and a schooner, and by stretching booms across the channel, the flats, and the right bank of the river. Three days after these obstructions were in place, Tecumseh turned back a Confederate threat to Grant's supply line by shelling a line of breastworks at Hewlett's Farm.

On July 5, the monitor got underway to join Admiral David Farragut's squadron in the Gulf of Mexico. Tecumseh arrived off Mobile Bay on the evening of August 4th. Farragut was impatient to attack Mobile Bay, and shortly after 0600 on the 5th—150 years ago today—the 18-ship Union squadron moved into action. On that morning she steamed slowly past Fort Morgan, at the mouth of Mobile Bay, leading a line of four monitors that were to cover the advance of the rest of the squadron. While maneuvering to engage the Confederate ironclad ram Tennessee, Tecumseh struck an enemy mine (or “torpedo”) at 0740, quickly rolled over, and sank, with the loss of 92 of her crew, including her captain.
In February 1967, the Smithsonian Institution Tecumseh Project Team found the wreck. Their goal, to raise the ship for a planned museum in Washington, was never realized. Some artifacts were recovered from the ship, which remains Navy property like all Navy ship and aircraft wrecks. In 1984 the plate came to the Hampton Roads Naval Museum.

The back of the USS Tecumseh plate
The English company Bridgewood & Clarke made the plate. The company manufactured earthenware, including white porcelain for the American market, at Burslem in the midlands of England from 1857-64. White porcelain was inexpensive and durable, qualities attractive to Navy purchasing agents then and now. The 1861 census described one of the partners and his business: "Jesse Bridgewood, age 54, Earthenware manufacturer employing 40 men 15 women 20 boys 13 girls."  Bridgewood & Clarke used the British Royal Arms in their mark on the back of the plate. Normally the use of the Royal Arms is reserved for businesses that hold a Royal Warrant – that is, that did some business for the British crown. However, many potters—both English and non-English—who did not have a Warrant also used the Arms as part of their mark to add prestige to their product. Americans are familiar with this strategy through liberal advertising use of the flag or the Statue of Liberty.

(This blog post was written by HRNM Curator Joe Judge.)