Tuesday, October 29, 2013

1876-The Fleet Mobilizes at Norfolk Navy Yard

This is a Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper engraving from February 1876, showing the North Atlantic Squadron deploying from the Norfolk Navy Yard for Winter exercises in Port Royal, South Carolina. Ships in the engraving include the historic steam sloop USS Hartford, the rebuilt steam sloop-of-war USS Marion, and the new iron-hulled steam gunboat USS Huron. There are two monitor-type warships and they are believed to be USS Passaic and Lehigh. In the written portion of the paper, the editors were more interested in the historic ships that the Navy laid up at the Yard, then the active ships. This included the sail frigates Savannah, St. Lawrence, and Macedonian. The colorized engraving is currently on display in the museum's 1907 exhibit.

The year Frank Leslie's produced this image was the lowest of low points in the history of the Navy. Even with the embarrassment of not being able to mobilize a squadron to respond to the Virginius incident in Cuba, Congress advised the Navy to cut its personnel by ten percent and continued to cut funding in new ship construction and technologies. It was also the year that Navy inspectors found several irregularities with the Navy Yard's contracts and the way it conduct business with the private sector.

Nonetheless, the Navy still had a job to do and Hampton Roads and Norfolk Naval Yard were the center of most of the Navy's activities in the Atlantic Ocean. Until the construction of NOB Hampton Roads, the Navy Yards served as ad hoc naval stations and all ships of the North Atlantic Squadron spent at least two months in the region, before heading out to a foreign station. The squadron of ships depicted in this image provide proof of this. En route to Port Royal, the Navy ordered most of the ships to skip Port Royal and steam to trouble spots in Haiti and Mexico.

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