Tuesday, November 24, 2015

What Ship Did Grandpa Serve On? How to Find Your Loved One's Military Records.

By Joseph Miechle 
Hampton Roads Naval Museum Educator

Your family military records may yield interesting results.
One of the most commonly asked questions at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum is, "How do I find out what ship my family member served on?" This is a wonderful question and one we would be happy to help you with. Since literally millions of U.S. Navy veterans are alive in the United States and millions more have passed away, this is generally a question we cannot quickly answer for you. But fear not! We can point you in the right direction.

If your family member is still alive they should be your first point of contact. Many parents and grandparents that served in the armed forces would be more than happy to share their treasured stories with you, and would likely have much more to tell than a written record could ever provide you. The search gets a bit trickier if your family member has passed away, but it is not unobtainable. Your first action should be to locate some proof of death since in order to request a loved one’s records you must prove they are no longer living. Good examples are an obituary in your local newspaper or a death certificate from a funeral home (if available).

USN Signal School, Norfolk, Virginia, 1918
Your next step is to request the records from the National Archives in St. Louis. They have a well written set of instructions for you to follow at the following web address:


You should generally be able to find your family member's records from the link above if they left the service between 1912 and 1953. For earlier records there is a separate link here:


You may be able to find your family member's records back to the Revolutionary War based on pension requests. Be forewarned though, there was a fire at the National Archives building in 1973 that destroyed a great number of service records. You may hit a dead end, but again fear not, as we offer another avenue of approach.
Basic Training photograph of author's grandfather, Ft. Lewis, Washington, circa 1950.
You may want to check the records of some of the National Veterans Service Organizations such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), American Legion, and Disabled American Veterans. You may even try the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) for Civil War records. These Veteran Service Organizations (VSOs), usually keep a record of membership at the post or local level. You may have to check with several posts in both your family member’s hometown as well as the town or city they resided in when they passed away. Phone numbers and contact information for these VSOs can be found online with a quick Google search. You might also try a local historical society. They often have genealogists on staff or a genealogy club with members who can assist you in your search among the town archives, library and newspapers.

Once you have obtained your family member's service records and know what ship they served on, you can use the internet to your advantage. The U.S. Navy has uploaded brief records of many ships to Wikipedia and also has the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships online at the Naval History and Heritage Command’s website (www.history.navy.mil). You may also try sites such as NavSource (www.navsource.org) for photographs of the ship and links to organizations that represent them. Feel free to visit the Hampton Roads Naval Museum with your new information and we would be pleased to assist you in obtaining additional information. Happy hunting!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Before Social Media: Naval Recruiting One Hundred Years Ago

By Diana Gordon
Hampton Roads Naval Museum Educator

This WWI poster, "U.S. Navy- Help your country! Enlist in the Navy" was created for the Navy Recruiting Station in New York City and is part of the museum’s collection. The artist, Henry Reuterdahl, was a Swedish-American painter who knew the traditions of the Navy. He served as a Lieutenant Commander in the Naval Reserves, and had been handpicked by President Roosevelt to accompany the Great White Fleet to artistically document the journey. As an editor for Jane’s Fighting Ships, Reuterdahl created several posters for recruiting stations across the United States. One of these posters, the famous “The Navy Put ‘em Across,” is on display in the museum’s World War I gallery. 

In this poster, more specifically a lithograph, Reuterdahl created an inspiring view of the U.S. Navy by positioning gigantic ships cutting through the chaotic waves at the top of the poster. The artist used strong vibrant colors, which immediately catch one’s eye and draw the viewer in. The swirling blue and white ocean dwarfs the extra details of the seagull in the left hand corner, but it leads the viewer to the powerful battleships steaming ahead.

The imagery purposely echoes the mighty voyage of the Great White Fleet in 1907-1909. The Great White Fleet was a battle group consisting of sixteen battleships, painted white, which traveled the globe to demonstrate American naval power.The artist positions the WWI battleships with the exact angle of the vessels from some photographs of the Great White Fleet. Both works of art form a battle line, steaming full ahead, almost as though the ships will sail right out of the picture. Both photograph and poster feature the iconic designs of the battleships from this era. The Great White Fleet, painted white as a sign of peace, with steam stacks and masts, were reflected in the cage-masts and turrets of the gray WWI battleships.  The energy of the steel ships, as they approach with waves crashing and steam billowing, portrays a sense of strength and mightiness.  This energy would have appealed to a young man’s sense of adventure and desire to be a part of something greater than himself, such as the U.S. Navy.  

Reuterdahl’s time in the Navy, especially the Great White Fleet, heavily influenced his recruiting posters during World War I. His ability to create a sense of power and adventure was influential in U.S. Navy recruiting efforts in WWI. 

Monday, November 9, 2015

Unexpected Enemies in the Civil War: The Japanese (Part Two)

Shortly after USS Wyoming's attack on Shimonoseki, the French also launched a punitive strike with two ships and some marines against the anti-foreign Choshu clan holding the straits. However, this was only a minor setback for the rebel Japanese and the important trading passage remained closed to foreign ships. For the time being, negotiations replaced military action in trying to resolve the issue.
USS Jamestown (from Official Records)
The situation in Japan remained uncertain for many months in late 1863 and early 1864. The Choshu and other anti-foreign factions were opposing the Japanese government in many places. The situation was dangerous for non-Japanese, as they were attacked in many instances (the American minister to Japan had to be protected by troops). Various foreign governments attempted to negotiate with the Prince of Nagato (Choshu), but met with little success. By May 1864, the American minister to Japan requested Captain Cicero Price to bring the Gosport-built USS Jamestown to Yokohama as soon as possible "in view of the probability of a combined movement against the Prince of Nagato."* It seemed at this point that the Europeans and Americans were getting tired of fruitless negotiations as the Shimonoseki Straits remained closed. In July, Price reported that war was being threatened, as the British and Dutch were massing ships and troops. The next month, an American steamer was attacked near the Choshu lands, which did not surprise Price: "[He] is the most rebellious of the daimios, and it is he whom the combined treaty powers propose to attack."
The international fleet at Yokohama in 1864. Photograph by famed photographer Felice Beato, who would accompany the U.S. Navy's expedition to Korea in 1871 (from ocw.mit.edu)
Deeming that the straits could "only be opened by force," the treaty powers planned their attack. The British had nine ships, the Dutch had four and the French had three, but Jamestown was the only available American ship. However, the strong currents at Shimonoseki meant that the sailing sloop, lacking steam engines, would be nearly worthless in fleet maneuvers in those tight quarters. Yet the other foreign governments "wished...that the American flag should appear in the strait on the occasion of the attack...to show that we were in accord with the movement."

After thinking over the situation, Price and the American minister chartered a merchant vessel, the Ta-Kiang for the purpose of "carry[ing] a landing party, and in any and every way to assist in the common object," all while staying out of range of the enemy cannons (the owners of the Ta-Kiang had to protect their investment). Price sent a crew of 18 under the command of Lieutenant Fredrick Pearson, along with a 30-pound Parrott rifle, to the merchant ship. Pearson was ordered to defer to the British admiral in charge of the expedition and to do whatever was necessary in supporting the attack, with the caveat that Ta-Kiang was "not a man-of war, or prepared to attack the forts."
A 30-pound Parrott Rifle on a naval carriage (from Cincinnati Museum Center)
On September 4, 1864, the international fleet arrived at the entrance to the Shimonoseki Straits. The next afternoon, the fleet moved closer to the Japanese shore batteries and both sides opened fire. The battle lasted for over an hour, until the batteries were silenced. A British night landing took care of some of the guns as well. The battle was resumed early on the morning of September 6, with more cannon fire. At 8:30 a.m., Ta-Kiang towed two boats close to shore as part of a general landing. Pearson later reported that the crew fired eighteen shells from the Parrott rifle, so it is likely that these shots were fired in support of the landing. British, French and Dutch troops captured the Japanese batteries by noon, although they were contested throughout the day. Some of the wounded European troops were transported aboard Ta-Kiang as well.  
A Japanese depiction of the battle
European troops with a captured Japanese battery
The "gunboat diplomacy" of the treaty powers worked, as the rebellious Prince of Nagato agreed to open the straits to "all ships of all countries." In addition, he was forced to promise that the destroyed batteries would not be rebuilt. To ensure compliance of this new agreement, the Europeans left three warships to patrol the area. While not playing a terribly major role in this engagement, the American sailors "[performed their] part to the satisfaction of all concerned." They were able to contribute to the mission, and more importantly "show the flag," which the Navy has often done across the globe. 

*All quotations taken from The Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies, Series 1, Vol. 3.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Pine Beach Hotel

By Katherine A. Renfrew
Hampton Roads Naval Museum Registrar

The late 19th century and advent of the 20th century saw a surge in the construction of seaside resorts.  With the expansion of the railroad, per capita income grew considerably and a predominately agrarian society transformed into a growing urban one creating an ever-increasing demand for summer resorts.  

One such resort was the Pine Beach Hotel located on the present site of Building W-143 on Naval Station Norfolk.  Built in 1902, this grand building can be considered the beginning of the development of the naval facilities in the Sewell’s Point area. The three-story shingle style building boasted several cupolas and verandas; and was made completely of wood. During the 1907 Jamestown Exposition it accommodated thousands of visitors, and was considered “one of the most popular of Norfolk’s many watering places.”

In 1917 the U.S. Navy purchased the building along with the 100.8 acres attached to the Pine Beach Estate, 367 acres of the former Jamestown Exposition Grounds and 6 acres by Maryland Avenue. The hotel served as a temporary hospital, BOQ, Marine Barracks and finally as the Marine Corps Supply Depot. The hotel was deemed a fire hazard; and its location, in the heart of the Supply Depot area, was too valuable a piece of property for it to remain.  By June 1942, the building was razed.  In its place, Building 143 had begun construction.  

Pine Beach Hotel, Pine Beach, VA - View of West Front, 1907. This photograph depicts a portion of the then future property of the Naval Operating Base.  The Secretary of the Navy approved the site and plan in the early part of June 1917.  Construction began on July 4, 1917. National Archives and Records Administration, NS-Norfolk-1907-04 (RG 71-CA, Box 324, Folder C)

Pine Beach Hotel Postcard, Norfolk, VA – The Pine Beach Hotel was located just outside the Jamestown Exposition grounds and was convenient for guests visiting the fair.  (Collection of the Hampton Roads Naval Museum)
Pine Beach Hotel, located on block west of Virginia Avenue and north of 102nd Street, 1907. National Archives and Records Administration NS-Norfolk-1907-03 (RG 71-CA, Box 324, Folder C)

Naval Operating Base, Norfolk, VA – Looking N.W. to Western Bulkhead from hospital, July 22, 1918. National Archives and Records Administration NS-Norfolk-1918-16b (RG 71-CA, Box 327, Folder D)

Naval Operating Base, Norfolk, VA – Officer’s Quarters, (Formerly Pine Beach Hotel) looking at west side, Bldg. #96, Unit W, May, 4, 1922. National Archives and Records Administration NS-Norfolk-1922-55 (RG 71-CA, Box 326, Folder A)

Naval Operating Base, Norfolk, VA – Aerial view of the former Pine Beach Hotel and Main Gate, August 17, 1925. National Archives and Records Administration NS-Norfolk-1925-01 (RG 71-CA, Box 322, Folder A)

Aerial view of Naval Operating Base, Norfolk, VA - Arrow points to Building W-143, the Fleet Industrial and Supply Center, where the Pine Beach Hotel once stood, June 19, 1953. National Archives and Records Administration NS-Norfolk-1953-22 (RG 71-CP, Box 81, Folder 2258)

This brief history of the Pine Beach Hotel is the first in a series of blogs illustrating the development of Naval Station Norfolk. Unless otherwise noted, the photographs in this series represent the results of a research project seeking images of Hampton Roads naval installations at the National Archives and Records Administration. This research, performed by the Southeastern Archaeological Research, was funded by Commander Navy Region Mid-Atlantic as part of an ongoing effort to provide information on historic architectural resources at navy bases in Hampton Roads. The museum is pleased to present these images for the benefit of the general public and interested historians. As far as we know, all of these images are in the public domain and none of them have been published before.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Unexpected Enemies in the Civil War: The Japanese (Part One)

By Elijah Palmer
Hampton Roads Naval Museum Educator

While the majority of the US Navy in the Civil War was involved in blockade operations along the Southern seaboard, a few ships were needed to patrol the high seas because of the success of Confederate commerce raiders. In July 1863, USS Wyoming was finishing its cruise spent searching for CSS Alabama in the Pacific. Commander David McDougal, captain of Wyoming, received orders to head  back to the United States. However, just before the crew was to leave from Yokohama, they heard of a nearby attack on the American merchant steamer, Pembroke. Perhaps contrary to expectations, the aggressor was not Raphael Semmes and the Alabama, but Japanese forces flying their national flag. This was alarming, as the United States and Japan were not at war, having signed a treaty only a few years before. 
USS Wyoming (from Official Records)
Commander McDougal
Deciding that such an affront could not go unpunished, Commander McDougal postponed his return to the United States, instead taking his ship to what he termed "the scene of the outrage."* Pembroke had been attacked near the heavily transited Shimonoseki Straits (known now as the Kanmon Straits), a key waterway between two of the main Japanese islands, Kyushu and Honshu. 
(image from http://www.shimonoseki-fc.jp/)
 USS Wyoming arrived at the straits on the morning of July 16, 1863. Near the town of Shimonoseki on the north side of the channel, the crew spotted three Japanese vessels which were identified as those that had attacked the Pembroke. Remarkably, these ships were originally American and British-built merchant vessels which had been outfitted for combat. McDougal noticed that while these ships flew the Japanese flag, they were also flying the colors of the powerful Prince of Nagato (a feudal domain also known as Choshu), who was "bitterly opposed to foreigners." This fact explained the antagonism previously displayed by these forces, who were acting independently from the Japanese government. When USS Wyoming approached these ships, previously unknown shore batteries opened fire upon it. A Japanese eyewitness onboard the American frigate reported that the fire intensified when the American flag was hoisted. The American ship was faced with fire from three ships as well as six shore batteries, yet McDougal did not back down even as most of his inexperienced crew had become "quite pale." Even though afraid, these green sailors would prove themselves this day. 
McDougal's map of the battle (From Official Records)
While the shore artillery included modern Dahlgren guns (given to the Japanese by the US), most of their shells were aimed at the center of the channel, which Wyoming dodged by hugging close to shore. For sheer number of cannon involved, the American ship was outnumbered, but was able to take advantage of better gunnery skill as the Japanese shore gunners' "aim was wild" and "their shot mostly went ten to fifteen feet overhead." Wyoming's crew returned fire with "XI-inch shell from pivot guns and solid shot from broadside guns" as it headed towards the Chosu vessels. The American ship first passed between two of the ships, a brig and a bark, exchanging broadsides at pistol range,** receiving damage and casualties, but crippling the Japanese vessels. Commander McDougal then targeted the Japanese steamer Koshin (formerly known as Lancefield), which the Wyoming's 11-inch Dahlgren cannon crews put out of action when "two well-directed shells exploded [Koshin's] boilers...proved by the vessel being immediately enveloped in steam and smoke." 
USS Wyoming (center) attacks between the Japanese ships
Koshin's (Lancefield) boiler exploding, causing an estimated 40 casualties. Wyoming to the right.
The battle was over in about an hour, with the Pembroke's attackers crippled or destroyed, and with punishment meted out to the artillery on shore as well. Wyoming suffered heavy damage, being "hulled 11 times, and with considerable damage to smokestack and rigging aloft." In addition, around a dozen sailors and marines were killed or wounded. McDougal praised his men, stating that "the conduct of the officers and crew was all I could desire." 

Due to the continued threat of CSS Alabama, USS Wyoming put off returning to the United States for another year, only arriving in Philadelphia in July 1864, in dire need of repair. However, the threat of another Confederate raider, CSS Florida, forced McDougal and his crew to return to sea. For all their likely grumbling, this endeavor proved to be short-lived as a faulty boiler prompted its return to the navy yard for repairs, likely to the crew's great appreciation. 

Commander McDougal believed that his actions against the Choshu had taught them "a lesson that will not soon be forgotten," but he was being too optimistic. European ships would continue to be harassed at the Shimonseki Straits, causing international ire and resulting in action the following year. (to be continued)

*All quotations taken from The Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies, Series 1, Vol. 2 and The Narrative of a Japanese, Vol. 1 by James Heco.
** Sailors and marines shot "100 rounds of musket-ball cartridges, 50 of Sharps rifle ball cartridges, 50 pistol-ball cartridges, 50 revolver cartridges."

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Artifact of the Month: Divine Military Gear

In 1951, Lieutenant James E. Norton, CHC, is hoisted onto an awaiting H-03C after holding Sunday morning Catholic services aboard the cruiser USS Newport News (CA-148), a ship designed before rotary-wing aircraft came into common use.  From the very beginning, U.S. Navy Chaplains have had to find a way to serve Sailors and Marines wherever they serve. (National Archives photo via Naval History and Heritage Command/ Flickr)   
The second article of Navy regulations as adopted by the Continental Congress on November 28, 1775, specifies that:

"The Commanders of the ships of the thirteen United Colonies, are to take care that divine service be performed twice a day on board, and a sermon preached on Sundays, unless bad weather or other extraordinary accidents prevent."

The regulation did not specify just who would conduct the services, and during those years ordained clergy would simply accompany ships at sea whenever possible.  A professionalized chaplaincy would not come into being until after "An Act to Provide a Naval Armament" was passed by Congress on March 27, 1794, which specified that "there should be employed on board each of the said ships of 44 guns... one chaplain."

Although uniform regulations and other details about the roles of chaplains would not come about for another generation, no amount of regulations could encompass what logistical constraints members of the Navy Chaplain Corps have had to overcome in the almost 240 years since their founding. As in every other category of military mission, however, American industry has met the challenge of providing gear that is tough enough to withstand the arduous duties its users perform in times of war and peace, and that includes the duties of Chaplains.  For your enlightenment this month we proudly display two Korean War-era field kits for performing divine services wherever the need arises.  

The "Protestant/Catholic Chaplain Kit" includes the case, Ciborium, bottle for wine, communion stand with cups, bread plate, Bible/missive holder, a set of two bottles/cruets for water/oil, a cross/crucifix, candles with holders, followers and stands, a paten, an intinction cup/chalice paten, a chalice, three corporals and three altar cloths.
Newly-commissioned Chaplains of the early-1950s would be issued kits such as these, specific to their religious affiliations, as much as was practicable at the time.  For example, the Protestant kit shown was designed also to be usable for Catholic services.
In the "Jewish Chaplain Kit," the case acts as the Ark, with two covers and a detachable bottom; a Torah with cover; two prayer shawls, Yarmulkes; a Yad; a Bimah (velvet cover); several sets of candles with holders and stands; and a Kiddush cup with cap.
On May 7, 1952, Lieutenant August F. Mendonsa, CHC, USNR, assisted by Corporal Alvin J. McGee, USMC, sets up an altar on sand bags in preparation for mass at the front lines in Korea. (U.S. Navy Photo by Aviation Photographer's Mate 3rd Class H.W.H. Aring/ NHHC Photo via Flickr)
Lieutenant August F. Mendonsa, CHC, USNR, conducts a Communion Service for a company of Marines posted on the front lines in Korea.  It is likely that Mendonsa's field altar case is at the lower left of the frame. (U.S. Navy Photo by Aviation Photographer's Mate 3rd Class H.W.H. Aring/ NHHC Photo via Flickr)
Known alternately as portable altars, field altars, or field kits, by the end of the Second World War, these indispensable implements of the chaplaincy were designed and built with such a high degree of combat readiness that many were designed to float and also be attached to a pistol belt or rucksack so that chaplains could even carry them during parachute jumps and amphibious landings.

Our current Artifact of the Month display at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum (Photo by HRNM Public Information Officer Susanne Greene)
During the over 60 years since these two kits were made, our military has become much more diverse.  Today's chaplains might carry kits not only made to provide Catholic, Jewish and Protestant services, but also to serve Muslim and Orthodox Christian service members as well, enabling them to provide worship opportunities regardless of faith or denomination.

Wherever called upon, regardless of the difficulties or dangers, U.S. Navy Chaplains have been right with the Sailors and Marines they serve, from the calm of peacetime patrols to the thick of combat, right from the beginning.  These artifacts are a testament to their ability to serve a higher calling anywhere, any time, with the tools they are given.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Last Civil War Monitor

By Elijah Palmer
Hampton Roads Naval Museum Educator

The Jamestown Exposition in 1907 was filled with many sights to see. From the vendors selling souvenirs along the "War Path" to the Baby Incubator Exhibit to the popular "Merrimac-Monitor" building, guests had many options to fill their visit. But a significant focus of the exposition was on the modern fleet that had been built up under the guidance of Teddy Roosevelt. Indeed, it was from Hampton Roads that the Great White Fleet would begin their grand round-the-world tour. Several of these ships were anchored off Sewells Point, showcasing the Navy's modernity. Yet one Navy vessel was in stark contrast to the new white ships surrounding it. The odd one out was the last remaining Civil War monitor, USS Canonicus
USS Canonicus at the Jamestown Exposition in 1907. Note the many naval vessels in the background (Library of Congress photo)
Over 40 years old by that point, USS Canonicus had seen better days, but was an approximate example of Ericsson's invention that had made history on March 9, 1862 in the waters of Hampton Roads. In fact, some souvenir photographs claimed that this was one in the same craft, both forgetting history and pointedly ignoring the bold white letters displayed on Canonicus' side (perhaps this was simply for profit as the pictures were from an angle that hides the lettering). But to confuse this monitor with the original one was shortchanging Canonicus' own exploits. 

Built in Boston as the first in her class, USS Canonicus was sent to join the James River Flotilla in the spring of 1864. The crew of the ironclad spent over six months patrolling and engaging Confederate defenses with their dual 15-inch Dahlgren guns, often coordinating with sister ships such as the ill-fated USS Tecumseh. In December 1864, Canonicus was sent to join the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron as it prepared to assault Fort Fisher in North Carolina. 

During the first attack on Fort Fisher (December 24-25, 1864), Canonicus fired nearly 150 shots, receiving only a handful in return from the Confederate defenders. The attempt to capture this formidable fort failed, largely due to poor coordination between the Army and naval forces, as well as overconfidence in the effectiveness and accuracy of the shore bombardment. 
The second assault on the fort started on January 13, 1865. The naval part of this attack was a massive armada of over 40 ships on the firing line, with over a dozen more in reserve. While all ships were moved in closer to achieve better accuracy, Canonicus and three other monitors were positioned nearest to the fort. The gun crews on Canonicus fired nearly 300 shells during the three days of battle, with most being expended on the 13th. However, due to its proximity to the Confederate batteries, the monitor was hit nearly 40 times. While no significant damage or casualties occurred, the ship's flag was shot down twice. Both times, Quartermaster Daniel Stevens replaced the colors under the heavy fire from Fort Fisher's guns. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for these actions. 
An illustration from 1907 showing Stevens' actions. The caption is a bit confusing, but perhaps should read "For the third time the flag was raised" as Stevens only replaced it twice, but it was originally raised for battle. 
Near the end of the war, Canonicus and a handful of other ships were sent to Cuba in search of the feared oceangoing Confederate ironclad ram CSS Stonewall. However by the time the ships arrived, the Confederate vessel had been surrendered to the Cuban government as the war had ended. Serving off and on until the late 1870s, the monitor was put into reserve until its last moment to shine at the Jamestown Exposition came in 1907. Canonicus, the last remaining Civil War monitor, was scrapped in 1908, finally closing that chapter of naval history.
The monitor shown sandwiched between the "ABCD ship" Dolphin and Admiral Dewey's flagship Olympia in this 1898 poster hanging in the museum's gallery. (photo by HRNM educator Joseph Miechle)

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Who Was Samuel Boush?

By Joseph Miechle
Hampton Roads Naval Museum Educator 

As you make your way to the Hampton Roads Naval Museum in Downtown Norfolk, you are likely to cross Boush Street at some point.  As you take in some of the city's other attractions and sights along the way, you might ask yourself, “Why is this street named Boush Street and who was that guy anyway?"

McCullough's Docks, 1902.  At the end of City Hall Avenue, present-day Boush Street is located approximately where the bridge in the center of the photograph crosses the water. (Image from the Chrysler Museum of Art exhibit Crossroads: Transportation in Norfolk)
Much of what we now know as Norfolk was deliberately planned out from the very beginning. Originally “Old Norfolk” consisted of eight distinct parts, one of which was purchased by Mr. Samuel Boush, a prominent citizen of Norfolk who contributed significantly to the city's early development.

Norfolk's historic 1739 Borough Church as it appeared after it was renovated, equipped with a wooden cupola and renamed St. Paul's Episcopal Church in 1832.  To the left are the Cumberland Street Methodist and Baptist churches. The spire over the latter is that of the Old Christ Church on Freemason Street. (Print by John Childs after a drawing by J.L. Meyer.  St. Paul’s Church of Norfolk by The Altar Guild of St. Paul’s Church. Norfolk, Virginia, 1934)
Boush donated land in the southeast portion of his tract for the use of St. Paul’s Church. He was appointed Norfolk’s first mayor by King George II in 1736. He also contributed the bricks for St. Paul’s construction.  He would not make an impact as mayor or see the church construction finished, however, as he died only months after becoming mayor in November 1736. The westernmost street, as laid out in his parcel of land, still bears his family name.

Originally, Boush Street ran roughly north to south ending at Bute Street to the north and Town Back Creek to the south. Town Back Creek (or just Back Creek) originally ran west to east along roughly what is now City Hall Avenue. The photograph from the early 1900s shows the Boush Street bridge crossing what would later become City Hall Avenue.  Boush Street currently extends south to Town Point Park and the Hampton Roads Naval Museum.  From there it turns east and its name changes to Waterside Drive.  It also extends north to Virginia Beach Boulevard, where the road continues north but changes names to Llewellyn Avenue.

Prior to expanding to its current boundaries, the City of Norfolk  was surrounded by other smaller boroughs. Samuel Boush also owned land north and east of the 1700’s Norfolk city boundaries. This area also bore a street with the Boush name, however it was renamed after the annex, so as to not be confused with the current Boush Street.

The unpublished Nimmo Map, appx. 1800 copy of 1762 map. (Courtesy of Slover Library SMC Collection, Norfolk Public Library)
The map shown above is an early copy of an original drawn by Gershom Nimmo in 1762. When Samuel Boush died in 1736, his will gave the land to his grandson, also named Samuel Boush.  The grandson had the map commissioned with detailed measurements and lot numbers.  St. Paul’s churchyard is seen in the southeast corner.  It may be difficult to place the map into modern context but currently MacArthur Mall occupies the majority of the land on the Nimmo map between Brewer Street to Cumberland Street and Freemason Street to Sycamore Street.
Photo of assumed Samuel Boush burial site at St. Paul’s Church, Norfolk, VA. by HRNM Educator Elijah Palmer.
While it is known that the first Samuel Boush is buried in the church yard at St. Paul's church, the exact location is currently not known. What is known is was summed up by Bishop Meade in his 1857 book, Old Churches of Virginia, which refers to the “[Samuel Boush] tombstone at the door of the church."  Could the photograph above be the final resting place of Samuel Boush? The church hopes to find definitive proof through archaeological research in the future.
Special thanks to City Historian Peggy Haile McPhillips and archivist Troy Valos of the Norfolk Public Library. 

Monday, September 21, 2015

USS Nashville (PG 7) and the Building of the Panama Canal

Five weeks before USS Maine (ACR-1) exploded in Havana Harbor, USS Nashville (PG-7) is seen in her peacetime color scheme at the Norfolk Navy Yard in Portsmouth, Virginia.  (Naval History and Heritage Command image)

By Elijah Palmer 
Hampton Roads Naval Museum Educator

A small model of USS Nashville (PG-7) resides in the museum's Steel Navy exhibit.  Sharp eyed visitors might pick out some of the ship's crew on deck, as well as the ship's mascots.  However, many might not know about the important role it played in the building of the Panama Canal.

The desire to build a canal in Central America was not new by 1903, but by that year the United States viewed the need as urgent. An example of the convenience and military advantage that might be had with a canal was evident in the high speed run of USS Oregon (BB-3) from California to Cuba (14,000 nautical miles) in 66 days during the Spanish-American War.  A canal would have significantly shortened that trip, and others like it. 

USS Nashville (PG 7) painted in gray, somewhere on the Great Lakes between the Spanish-American War and its supporting role in the Panamanian "revolt," as American ships of this era were typically painted white during peacetime. (Chuk Munson Collection via NavSource Online)

The United States had guaranteed joint sovereignty over any canal going through Central America in treaties with both Columbia and Great Britain regarding potential canals in Panama (controlled by Columbia) and Nicaragua respectively. The treaty with Columbia originated in 1846, evincing that this concept was not a new one. As one of the terms of this treaty, the United States had helped Columbia put down the numerous revolts and revolutions that occurred nearly yearly in Panama during the latter half of the 19th century. 

A French company had first undertaken a canal project in Panama during the 1880s, but it failed due to the high costs, both monetarily and in lives, particularly deaths from yellow fever.  Once Theodore Roosevelt (a huge proponent of naval seapower) became president, the United States he bought the French property and pushed heavily for a treaty allowing for construction, offering to pay a large down payment as well as annual fees.  Columbia, however, wanted more money from the United States as well as from the French, and refused. 

Quickly following these discussions, Panama seized the moment and revolted again.  Unlike previous times, the United States supported their revolution.  USS Nashville was sent to block Colombian troops at Colon, Panama, arriving on November 2, 1903.  At stake was preventing troops on either side from utilizing the Panama Railroad, but as largely there were not many armed Panamanian rebels yet, keeping the railroad neutral was really meant to keep the Colombian soldiers at bay.  On November 4, 1903 the Colombian commander demanded use of a train or Americans would be killed.  The Americans were heavily outnumbered, but were fortified in a stone shed as well as being supported by the guns of the shallow-draft Nashville, which was able to come very close to shore.  After several tense hours, the Colombians backed down and decided to negotiate. 
Nashville's shallow draft is visible from these plans. The ship was ideally suited for traversing rivers and shallow bays on gunboat duty (Transactions of the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers, Vol. 2, 1894 via NavSource Online)
Within the next two days, the American naval presence was increased with the arrival of the Newport News-built auxiliary cruiser USS Dixie and the protected cruiser USS Atlanta (of ABCD fame), both of which brought hundreds of Marines.  Colombia quickly came to realize that the United States was serious about their support for the newly formed Republic of Panama as the American government recognized the country on November 6, 1903.  The rights to the canal zone were quickly ceded to the United States, in exchange for American support of Panamanian independence from Colombia. 

Nashville played a key role in this instance of "gunboat diplomacy" which gave the U.S. Navy a central role in international affairs for years to come.  .

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Announcing our First Artifact of the Month: "Admiral Byrd's Bird"

NORFOLK, VIRGINIA-- The new Artifact of the Month display debuts this week at the front of the Hampton Roads Naval Museum (HRNM) gallery in an initiative to give visitors the chance to discover rarely-seen items from the museum's collection that for various reasons are not part of the permanent exhibit.  This inaugural display commemorates the little-known role played by a veteran U.S. Navy explorer in countering Nazi rivals as they attempted to claim territory for the Third Reich at the bottom of the world during the prelude to World War II.  

In 1939, Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd (seen at left as a commander in 1926 wearing a cold-weather mask developed for flying over the arctic), was appointed head of the United States Antarctic Service (USAS) by President Franklin Roosevelt and given orders to halt Nazi exploration in Antarctica and establish permanent bases there.  Among the biological specimens brought back by USAS members in 1941 was the Gentoo Penguin now featured in the museum's "Artifact of the Month" display (Charles Nusbaum Collection/ Hampton Roads Naval Museum)  
Alarmed by reports that Nazi explorers had staked claim over more than 200,000 square miles of Antarctica during the "German Antarctic Expedition of 1938-39," the Third Reich's first conquest of territory outside Europe, President Franklin D. Roosevelt sought a way to stem Hitler’s expansionism by mounting the first official U.S. government expedition to the continent.    

Although other American explorers were preparing for their own private expeditions, retired Navy Rear Admiral Richard Byrd, already world famous for his Arctic and Antarctic exploits, stood out from the rest.  Roosevelt called the admiral for a private White House meeting to inform him of his intention to establish a permanent American presence on the continent, and on July 7, 1939, designated Byrd commanding officer of the United States Antarctic Service (USAS), which was supported by the Navy, Interior, State, and Treasury Departments.  

Original photographs from the expedition, including the bark USS Bear with penguins in the foreground, grace the Artifact of the Month display at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum in downtown Norfolk, Virginia (Charles Nusbaum Collection, HRNM). 
The USAS expedition of 1940-41 would be the first official American mission to establish a permanent presence in Antarctica, but it would be Byrd’s third expedition to the continent.  His first expedition in 1928 and a long-duration stay from 1933 to 1935, five months of it spent alone, had been the largest undertakings of their kind up to that point.  Before President Roosevelt put the might of the Federal Government at his disposal, Byrd had been preparing yet another large privately funded expedition.  Because his private journey of discovery had become a government operation, the native Virginian actually sold his own flagship, the former whaler USS Bear (AG-29), to the Navy for a dollar before sailing from Norfolk.  The cutter USMS North Star, based in Seattle, was the Department of the Interior’s contribution to the mission.  The 59 USAS members wintering over also had three aircraft, two light Army tanks, two light tractors, and 130 dogs for transportation. 

Within the new Artifact of the Month display at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum in downtown Norfolk, Virginia, an optimistically-rendered promotional illustration of the experimental mobile base Snow Cruiser is shown with an actual photograph from the expedition showing the behemoth vehicle being unloaded from USMS North Star upon reaching the Antarctic  (Charles Nusbaum Collection, HRNM). 
The technological marvel of the expedition was supposed to be the 55-foot-long, 33.5-ton multi-wheeled mobile base and laboratory called the Snow Cruiser that had been custom made for the USAS.  Unfortunately, its weight and lack of power proved too much for the vehicle to be of any practical use to the USAS team and the one-of-a-kind vehicle was soon abandoned.    

HRNM Exhibit Specialist Marta Joiner arranges the new Artifact of the Month display on Monday, September 14, 2015, at the front of the Hampton Roads Naval Museum in downtown Norfolk, Virginia, on the second level of Nauticus (Photo by Public Information Officer Susanne Greene, HRNM).
Although the USAS only undertook one season of research and exploration out of the two that were planned (possibly in part because their Nazi rivals never came back to defend their Antarctic “colony”), they established two bases, one of which became the oldest permanent U.S. research station in Antarctica.  Lessons learned during the USAS expedition also laid the groundwork for Operation Deep Freeze, which ensured a year-round Navy presence in Antarctica that lasted from 1955 until 1997.    

Despite the political and even military overtones of the USAS expedition, its chief accomplishments were scientific.  Among the specimens collected by USAS staff biologists were bird eggs and the skeletons of Wedell Seals.  Chief Mess Specialist Charles Nusbaum of Portsmouth, Virginia, accompanied Byrd on his historic mission to deny the Nazis a foothold in Antarctica, bringing back the intriguing artifacts, including the Gentoo Penguin, featured in HRNM's first Artifact of the Month exhibit. 

"Museum staff members are eager to share individual pieces from our collection that can tell a story on their own," said Hampton Roads Naval Museum Director Elizabeth Poulliot.  "We also want visitors to examine our new accessions.  The Artifact of the Month display gives people a chance to go behind the scenes to discover individual treasures not normally on exhibit," continued Poulliot.  "As is the case with most museums, our institution does not have enough space to exhibit everything.  Artifact of the Month ensures visitors see something new every return visit." 

Byrd’s USAS expedition to the Antarctic stands as the largest undertaking of its kind against fascism.  His next expedition in 1946, intended to both counter Soviet designs on Antarctica and train for a possible polar war with this new adversary, was known as Operation Highjump and still holds the record as the largest single expedition to Antarctica ever conducted, with 4,700 personnel and 13 ships involved. 

Indiana Jones, eat your heart out.