Archive for October, 2017

The Navy’s 242nd Birthday!

On October 13, 2017, we will be celebrating the 242nd birthday of the United States Navy. Here at the museum, we will be hosting a food truck festival and Meet the Navy day in order to celebrate. However, what exactly happened on October 13th that makes it the Navy’s birthday?

On April 1775, the Revolutionary War began with the battles of Lexington and Concord. With these battles, a colonial uprising became a war that would last eight years. In the beginning, the war consisted mainly of land battles and by June of 1775, the Continental Army was created and lead by George Washington. Quickly, settlements on the coast began to fear for their safety. America was still a fledgling nation, with most settlements hugging the coastline. The colonies had been dependent on port cities such as Boston and New York to provide material goods coming from Britain. Once the war began, it became clear that Britain would use their Navy, the largest Navy in the world at the time, to their advantage. On June 12, 1775, the Rhode Island Navy was created with two vessels that fended off British Forces in Narraganset Bay. As the war raged on, it was apparent that two vessels were not nearly enough. During an 11-day period in October of 1775, Congress debated whether building its own Navy was worth the cost. Samuel Chase, a congressman from Maryland believed that such a venture would bankrupt the colonies. Edward Rutledge of South Carolina believed that “it would ruin the character, and corrupt the morals of all-out Seamen -[making] them selfish, piratical, mercenary, [and] bent wholly on plunder.” [1] Others such as John Adams argued that by establishing a Navy, they would be creating a system of maritime operations to protect the colonies during the war and after. On October 13, 1775, Congress voted to build two more vessels with 10 carriage guns and manned by crews of 80. The ships would be sent out on a three-month trip to intercept British vessels carrying supplies for its troops. This three-month deployment was the beginning of the Continental Navy that would become the U.S. Navy as we know it today.

Before the end of 1775, the Continental Navy had purchased six additional ships and ordered the construction of 12 frigates. There was a commander (Esek Hopkins)


, eighteen Naval officers, two Marine battalions, established service pay, prize money for captured enemy ships and an administrative body that would give guidance and direction. Four captains were also named – Dudley Saltonstall, Abraham Whipple, Nicholas Biddle, and John Burrows Hopkins. Their respective ships were the Alfred, Columbus, Andrew Doria, and Cabot.

Continental Ship Alfred (1775-1778) Painting in oils by W. Nowland Van Powell, depicting Lieutenant John Paul Jones raising the Grand Union flag as Alfred was placed in commission at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 3 December 1775. Commanded by Captain Dudley Saltonstall, Alfred was flagship of Commodore Esek Hopkins’ Continental Navy flotilla during the remainder of 1775 and the first four months of 1776. Courtesy of the U.S. Navy Art Collection, Washington, D.C. Donation of the Memphis Council, U.S. Navy League, 1776. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.

By February of 1776, the fleet was ready for sea and within two months, they returned home with a store of munitions taken at New Providence Island in the Bahamas and two captured British warships. While the British Navy was too formidable for the Continental Navy to contend with, Britain’s commercial vessels were a prime target. Slowing down incoming provisions would seriously hurt mounting land attacks. Ships patrolled trade routes in search of British vessels to capture as prizes. Many of the missions were conducted in the North Atlantic; many times, in French ports or British waters. It was in one of these commercial attacks that one of the more famous quotes of the Revolution was spoken. At the Battle of Flamborough Head (1779), Commander of the Bonhomme Richard, John Paul Jones found himself tangled up with the warship HMS Serapis. Jones found that his cannons were faulty, so his crew had to rely on a close-range battle that lasted into the night. When asked if he wanted to surrender, Jones is believed to have replied, “I have not yet begun to fight.”

John Paul Jones

The Bonhomme Richard won the battle despite the ship being completely battered. Jones was forced to abandon his ship and would sail into a Dutch Port on the captured HMS Serapis flying the American Flag. Jones competes for the moniker of “Father of the American Navy” with Commander John Berry. Raids such as these, along the English coast, brought the war home for British citizens. It was no longer a dispute in the colonies that would never affect them. These highly publicized actions would turn the tide of British support for the war. By 1781, the land conflicts were in America’s favor. The British citizens’ displeasure at the war due to the coastal attacks and the surrender of Cornwallis troops in Yorktown lead to the King George’s move toward peace.

Despite the efforts made by the Continental Navy, it did not reach the heights of greatness that Congress had hoped for. During the war, the Navy had sent out more than 50 armed vessels. They took 200 British vessels as prizes. It was also because of the Navy that France would join the war on America’s side. Until its official entrance into the war in 1778, France turned a blind eye to the Naval attacks on British vessels in its ports from American privateers and the Continental Navy. In some respects, the fears of Congressmen such as Edward Rutledge did come to pass. Hopkins and the Navy had to compete with privateers for supplies and men. Privateers offered sailors high wages and a greater share of captured goods. Privateers were private merchant ships that would receive a “license” to be armed and attack foreign vessels during the war. Unlike the ships of the Continental Navy, privateers could keep and sell the prizes they captured. By January 2, 1778, Congress was displeased with Hopkins’ meager efforts and dismissed him. He was the only Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Navy. Hopkins’ legacy with the Navy is ever present in the Gadsdsen Flag. Christopher Gadsden of South Carolina created Hopkins’ personal standard which flew over the first Navy fleet. The yellow flag bore a coiled snake and the patriot motto, “Don’t Tread on Me.”

During the American Revolution, the Continental Navy made only minimal advancements in the war. Despite this, the victories made created a symbol of national resolve to the rest of the world. A show of unity at home and abroad.  It became the legacy on which today’s Navy was built upon. The Continental Navy was mainly comprised of citizen sailors, which is the basis for today’s Navy reserve. With the Treaty of Paris in 1783, the war was officially over and the Navy was disbanded. By 1794, piracy and the need for a stronger national defense lead to the construction of six new ships including USS Constitution (Old Ironsides). Concern over the management of these ships during battle lead to the creation of the Department of the Navy in 1798. While there are many dates that could be linked to the beginning of our Navy, October 13th was the beginning of the national resolve to protect our shores with a fleet that would one day become stronger than any other.


National Hispanic Heritage Month

September 15th through October 15th is National Hispanic Heritage month. Around the museum are panels explaining some of the contributions that Hispanics have made to the Navy throughout the years. Here are just two of the stories.

Do you know the phrase “Damn the Torpedoes?” Used in countless submarine movies, the origin of the phrase cannot be found at a writer’s table. It dates back to the Civil War and the Battle of Mobile Bay. David G. Farragut

Figure 1 Admiral Farragut

was born in 1801 to a Spanish merchant captain who had served in the American Revolution and War of 1812. At a young age he was sent to live with Captain David Porter in order to learn a trade. By the time he was 9, Farragut joined the Navy, and by 12 served in the War of 1812. During the war he served under Porter aboard the frigate Essex. The Essex captured so many British vessels that Farragut was put in charge of one the captured ships. Despite growing up in the South, David chose to side with the Union once the Civil War broke out. In 1862, as commander of the West Gulf Blockading Squadron, he took the city and port of New Orleans. The Union would create the new rank of Rear Admiral for Farragut as a reward for these actions. Farragut’s greatest contribution during the Civil War came during the Battle of Mobile Bay. Mobile Bay became a major Confederate port on the Gulf of Mexico after the fall of New Orleans, thus making it of special significance to Farragut. While Farragut’s force consisted of 18 warships and the Confederacy only had four, those four included the CSS Tennessee which was said to be the most powerful ironclad afloat. Not only was the Tennessee a concern, but the Union forces were also up against two powerful Confederate batteries inside of forts Morgan and Gaines.

Figure 2 Admiral Farragut and Captain Drayton on deck of U.S. frigate Hartford

On the morning of August 5, 1964, Union forces headed into the mouth of Mobile Bay and faced heavy fire. Within minutes, the USS Tecumseh was sunk by torpedoes placed in the water by the Confederacy and the fleet fell into confusion. It was during this confusion that Farragut rallied his men by saying, “Damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead!.” While the authenticity of the quote has been questioned over the years, it has become one of the most famous quotes in U.S. military history. The smaller Confederate ships were quickly taken out and the Tennessee was eventually overwhelmed and surrendered after facing heavy damage. Union troops laid siege to the forts within several weeks. While Confederate forces would remain in control of the city of Mobile, the port was no longer able to receive the needed supplies the South would need to help maintain the war. The capture of the Bay was a morale booster and was the first in a line of victories for the Union that culminated with the successful reelection of Abraham Lincoln that fall. In December 1864, Farragut was promoted to Vice Admiral and in 1866, promoted to Admiral. He stayed in active duty until his death in 1870. He is buried in Brooklyn, New York.

Figure 3 Statue of Farragut in New York City


Captain Marion F. Ramirez de Arellano was the Navy’s first Hispanic submarine commanding officer and commanded the USS Balao in three war patrols. During his service he was awarded two Silver Stars, the Legion of Merit and a bronze star. Ramirez de Arellano was born in Puerto Rico in 1913, where he would spend most of his childhood with the exception of a brief period when his family lived in Georgia. Theodore Roosevelt Jr, would appoint Ramirez de Arellano to the U.S. Naval Academy in 1931 during his term as Governor on the Island. Upon his graduation, Ramirez de Arellano was assigned to the USS Ranger, the first ship to be designed and built as an aircraft carrier. During his time on The Ranger, he served as a Gunnery Officer. In 1937 he made the decision to join the submarine force and headed to Groton for Submarine School. In 1938, he was assigned as a Division officer on the USS Pickerel. The Pickerel was training near the Philippines when on December 8, 1941, Japanese ordered an attack. Pearl Harbor was not the only surprise attack initiated by Japanese forces during WWII. Nine hours later and over the international date line, Japanese forces began an air strike in the Philippines that would wipe out air support at Clark Field and nearby fighter base Iba Field. With the exception of the few aircrafts that had been deployed, the entire Far East Air Unit was destroyed. After the attack, The Pickerel was ordered to patrol the coast of the islands. It was during her second war patrol that she sank the Japanese vessel Kanko Maru in the Gulf of Davao off Mindanao. Ramirez de Arellano would participate in five war patrols on the Pickerel, which led the effort to rescue five Navy pilots and one enlisted gunner off Wake Island. He was then reassigned to the USS Skate where he would serve on three war patrols and contributed to the sinking of the Japanese light cruiser Agano. In April of 1944, Ramirez de Arellano was named Commanding Officer of the USS Balao, becoming the first Hispanic submarine commanding officer. He would participate in the boat’s fifth, sixth, and seventh war patrols.

Figure 4 Receiving his Silver Star in 1942

On July 5, 1944, he lead the rescue of three downed Navy pilots in the Palau area, and in January 1945 sunk the Japanese cargo ship Daigo Maru. In 1946, Ramirez de Arellano was named Commanding Officer of Submarine Base Saint Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. Except for two ship commands from 1952-1954 and 1954-1955, Marion held various administrative and teaching positions for the rest of his Navy carrier. He retired from the Navy on July 1, 1961. Captain Marion F. Ramirez de Arellano died in 1980 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

These are only two of the many stories of Hispanic Contributions to the Navy over the years. The panels in honor of these men and many others will be on display at the museum till October 15, 2017.