Thursday, February 16, 2012

Artifact Spotlight: Rear Admiral William S. Sims Uniform Coat

---Amy King, Curatorial Volunteer

Captain W.S. Sims in special full dress uniform
On 16 February 1917 Rear Admiral William Sowden Sims became the fifteenth president of the Naval War College. Sims, a United States Naval Academy graduate (1880), attended the Naval War College's long course of 1911-1912.  Prior to his appointment as president, Sims served as an aide to President Theodore Roosevelt, Inspector of Naval Ordnance, and was a vocal advocate of improved naval gunnery.

Two months into his  presidency, Sims was sent to London to work with the British Royal Navy prior to the entry of the United States in World War I. He stayed in Europe after the United States declared war in April 1917. The college suspended operations for the duration of the war. Sims was subsequently promoted to admiral and appointed Commander in Chief, United Naval Forces, Europe.

Although it meant a reduction in rank, after the war Sims requested that he resume his responsibilities as President of the Naval War College.  Ordered to resume his previous position on 11 April 1919, Sims remained president until his retirement from the Navy on 14 October 1922. During his presidency, the college was reorganized into four major departments: command, strategy, tactics, and correspondence. Sims was also responsible for establishing civilian positions within the college staff that would facilitate more continuity in shaping courses at the college. A vocal critic of the Navy's conduct of the war, Sims also wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir, Victory at Sea.

The coat shown here is part of the special full dress uniform. This coat was worn by Sims during his presidency at the Naval War College. The special full dress uniform was worn by naval officers from 1802 until 1922, making it one of the longest worn garments in naval history. The coat, short in the front with longer tails in the back, has collar and cuff braiding of gold lace. Both the braiding and the two-star epaulets signify the rank as rear admiral.
Sims may have purchased the coat (made in London) and the epaulets (made in Paris), shortly after he arrived for special duty in England in 1917. Six months later, the Navy issued General Order 328 suspending the use of the special full dress uniform. On 13 October 1922, just one day prior to Admiral Sims’s retirement, the Navy discontinued the special full dress uniform. It was replaced by a new dress uniform which included a frock coat rather than the tail coat.

Artifacts on loan from the Naval Heritage and History Command

Images courtesy of the Naval War College Museum

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Artifact Spotlight: USS MAINE Model

---Amy King, Curatorial Volunteer

 On the evening of 15 February 1898, an explosion destroyed and subsequently sunk the USS Maine, an American ship sent to Cuba by President McKinley to protect American citizens from potential violence should war break out between Spanish forces and Cuban revolutionaries. “Remember the Maine!” became a rallying cry for Americans during the Spanish-American War.

The armored cruiser was originally launched in New York City in 1889, but was not commissioned until September 1895. Two months later she visited Newport, Rhode Island on her maiden voyage. Arriving in Havana Harbor on 25 January 1898, Maine spent three uneventful weeks before an explosion destroyed the entire front of the ship. The areas containing coal storage, the forward magazine, and enlisted men’s bunks were destroyed and 250 men were killed. An inquiry at the time concluded that a mine or external explosive charge had caused the explosion. Despite subsequent investigations, the cause of the explosion has never been conclusively determined.

This week’s artifact is a model of the USS Maine, shown here. The model is a replica of the vessel as she appeared prior to the explosion. It was built in 2005 by ShipCrafters, Inc. of Searsport, Maine; the oldest ship modeling company in the United States. The primary builder of the model was Dr. Al Ross.  Dr. Ross, a veteran ship model builder with fifty years experience, used laminated basswood for the hull of the ship. Assorted laser cut woods were used for superstructure components in addition to over 500 etched and machined brass fittings. The bottom of the ship is painted green since documentation revealed that McGinnis’ “green antifouling paint” was applied to the bottom during Maine's last dry docking in November 1897. According to a journalist, the bottom paint was still visible when the ship was salvaged in 1911-1912.

Gift of Harold Finn

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Artifact Spotlight: Naval Training Station Football Photo Album, 1918


Long before the dominance of the National Football League, Americans embraced college football with open arms. After the United States entered World War I in April 1917, many of the nation’s universities and colleges lost their students and athletes to the armed services. Though college football suffered, the football teams of the Army and Navy kept the sport alive. In fact, many of the student athletes joined their new unit's football squad. At Newport, athletes from Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, Cornell, Brown, Princeton, the Naval Academy, and Williams College were selected for the Reservists Regiment of the Second Naval District’s winning football team in 1917. Among them was Clinton H. “Cupid” Black, an All-American from Yale who was chosen as captain.

During the 1918 season, the Newport Naval Training Staion football team, coached by Fred Walker, continued to draw crowds despite suffering two resounding losses to the Naval Academy and the Harvard Radio School Team.  The squad had great affection for Mrs. Edward Hale Campbell, the wife of the station's commanding officer. They presented her with a personalized leather photographic scrapbook on December 14, 1918. This wonderful record of life at the training station, features unique photographs of the players, practices, games, favorite officers, and even a visit from former President Theodore Roosevelt. Of the two team photographs included, one was taken in front of Luce Hall and the other in front of the Administration Building (now the Naval War College Museum).

The slideshow is a complete reproduction of the album and can be viewed full screen by clicking on the icon to the right.

Gift of Professor Donald Chisolm of the Naval War College                                                         2001.15.01