Thursday, January 24, 2013

Artifact Spotlight: Aztec Club Medal, c. 1880

Reverse of Medal
(ribbon was secured backwards)
The Aztec Club was founded on October 13, 1847 by the officers of the United States Army fighting in the U.S.-Mexican War (1846-1848). The purpose of the club was to remember the service and traditions of the officers who served in Mexico.  At first, membership in the society included only the original 160 members from 1847. After the Civil War, the club, now called "the Aztec Club of 1847,"extended membership to officers in the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps who served in Mexico, the descendants of those killed before it was formed, and the descendants of those deceased officers who were eligible for membership while living. 

Members included U.S. Presidents Franklin Pearce and Ulysses S. Grant, and Civil War generals George B. McClellan, Robert E. Lee, and William Tecumseh Sherman. Naval War College founder Rear Admiral Stephen B. Luce became a member in 1894. While planning a display of the insignia of various veterans' organizations, we stumbled on this treasure in the museum collection.

Obverse of Medal
Those admitted were entitled to wear the insignia of the club: a medal in the form of a Maltese cross. The medal's obverse featured an enameled image of an eagle fighting a serpent surrounded by the words "CITY OF MEXICO/ARMY OF OCCUPATION." The reverse side bore an enameled image of an eagle perched above a shield with the words "AZTEC CLUB/U.S. ARMY 1847." The ribbon, a modern replacement secured backwards, has two blue stripes flanking a broad green stripe with white edges.  The medals, first made by the firm of Bailey, Banks and Biddle of Philadelphia, were issued in 1869.

This particular medal is attributed to Silas Casey (1807-1882) who was admitted in 1880 as the 172nd member. A native of East Greenwich, Rhode Island, Casey graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1826 and served as an officer in the United States Army for over forty years. He served with distinction as a captain in the 2nd Infantry and was wounded at the Battle of Chapultepec. During the Civil War he led a division at the Battle of Seven Pines and wrote a widely-used manual of infantry tactics published in 1862. Another treatise, Infantry Tactics for Colored Troops, was published the following year. A colonel in the Regular Army, he received a brevet promotion to major general in 1865 and retired three years later. After his death in 1882, the old officer was buried on his family farm in North Kingstown, Rhode Island. His son Silas Casey III (1841-1913), also a veteran of the Civil War, rose to the rank of rear admiral in the U.S. Navy.

Gift of Captain F.W. Pennoyer, USN (Ret.)                                                                              78.10.03

Monday, January 21, 2013

Education Update: 8 Bells Lecture on Middletown History

Dr. Christine Haverington /U.S. Navy Photo
The museum's most recent 8 Bells Lecture focused on the history of Middletown, the town north of Newport in Rhode Island.   Dr. Christine Haverington, presented an overview of her book Middletown, a very informative piece about the “middle town on Aquidneck Island," published this year as part of the Images of America series. Prior to 1743, Middletown was the northern portion of Newport, a town founded in 1639 that joined the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations in 1663.

Dr. Haverington, a recent transplant to the Narragansett Bay region, offered fresh eyes to this project and was able to create a wonderful pictorial overview of Middletown. The tone of the book follows the philosophy of Images of America which chronicles the history of towns across the country through the eyes of its inhabitants.   She discussed the  families that opened old photo albums to tell their histories, the various historical societies that opened their files, and the military archives - all resources that she was able to mine and stitch together to inform the research for the book. 

Since the book essentially tells the story up to the 1950s, Dr. Haverington hopes to write a larger work that is more encompassing.  As can be imagined, there was a lively discussion following the presentation. Many in the audience added their own stories and provided more fodder for the next effort.

Upcoming lectures in the 8 Bells Series include Dr. David Skaggs presenting Oliver Hazard Perry: Honor, Courage, and Patriotism in the Early U.S. Navy on February 14, followed on March 14 by Terri Arthur presenting her book Fatal Decision: The Story of Edith Cavell.  For more information, please contact the Naval War College Museum at 841-2101/4052. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Artifact Spotlight: Duc de Bourgogne Ship Model, 2012

The museum recently commissioned and acquired a stunning scratch-built model of the 80-gun French ship of the line, Duc de Bourgogne. The model is now on display in the museum's current temporary exhibit Navies in Miniature: Ship Models from the Naval War College Museum Collection.  Important for it's role in supporting the cause of American independence, this detailed replica will eventually be integrated into the Early Naval History of Narragansett Bay exhibit's Revolutionary War section located on the first floor.

The 1/8": 1' scale model was completed in 2012 by model builder Richard S. Glanville at the American Marine Model Gallery in Gloucester, Massachusetts.  The builder used original eighteenth century plans of the vessel from Danish archives to construct the model. The detail to the rigging, weather deck, and ornamental decorations, as well as the materials used in the construction (the hull is actually sheathed in miniature copper sheathing plates) are all examples of the standard of excellence set forth by the Ship Model Classification Guidelines. The guidelines were written in 1980 by R. Michael Wall, the director of the American Marine Model Gallery. Wall consulted with the model builders, the staff at Mystic Seaport, the Smithsonian Institute, and the Mariners Museum to encourage excellence and quality craftsmanship in model building. 
Why a model of a French ship?  Duc de Bourgogne, was the flagship of the squadron that brought the Comte de Rochambeau and his French troops to America to fight for American independence in July 1780.  She was based in Newport, Rhode Island for more than a year, from her first arrival on 11 July 1780 until her departure  for Chesapeake Bay on 23 August 1781 to support the Yorktown campaign. 
On 29 August, 1780, while anchored off Rose Island in Newport Harbor, a delegation of 18 Native Americans from upstate New York paid their respects to the French naval commanders.   On 6 March 1781, General George Washington boarded the ship to meet with all of the senior French military and naval commanders. The event marked one of the very few occasions that Washington is known to have visited a warship.

Laid down in 1751 and launched in 1752, Duc de Bourgogne first served during the Seven Years War.  Refitted in 1761 and coppered in 1779, she took part in the battle of the Saints between 9 and 12 April1782, when a British fleet under Admiral Sir George Rodney prevented a Franco-Spanish invasion of Jamaica. During that battle, Duc de Bourgogne collided with the similarly named 74-gun ship La Bourgogne.  During the French revolution, she was renamed Peuple in 1792, then Cato in 1794, before being destroyed in 1800.

The model was commissioned with generous funding
 from the Alletta Morris McBean Charitable Trust
to the Naval War College Foundation.                                                                                                              2012.18.01
Images courtesy of the American Marine Model Gallery, Inc.

Monday, January 14, 2013

New Ship Model Exhibit Opens at the Museum

Stern detail of USF Constellation. Model built by Thomas Todd

Waterline models
built by Ted Carter
The Naval War College Museum is pleased to announce the opening of Navies in Miniature: Ship Models from the Naval War College Museum Collection, a new exhibit showcasing over one hundred models collected by the museum over the last sixty years. The exhibit includes models previously displayed in permanent exhibitions such as a brass model of HMS Holland, one of  earliest torpedo-firing submarines, and the United States Frigate Constellation (1797), one of the first six frigates built by the U.S. Navy. Never-before publicly exhibited models representing the world’s navies include miniature balsa wood ships carved by Fletcher Pratt for his famous war games and an exquisite scratch-built model of Duc de Bourgogne, the French ship of the line visited by General George Washington and Comte de Rochambeau in Newport during the American Revolution.
Continental Frigate Hancock
by Jim E. Plante
Though late nineteenth century vessels such as the protected cruiser USS Chicago and armored cruiser USS Maine are included, the all-sail men of war are the stars of the show. Accordingly, an 8-foot long model of the Continental Frigate Hancock built by Jim E. Plante is the centerpiece of the exhibit. The captain's cabin and gun deck of this model are lit from the inside! A rare early nineteenth century bone ship model of HMS Confiance is also on display.
We will feature at least one model from Navies in Miniature on the blog for the next four months, but the best way to experience the fine craftsmanship and detail of these models is to visit! The museum, located on the campus of the Naval War College, Naval Station Newport, is free and open to the public. Call 401-842-2101/4052 to make a reservation.

The exhibit is open from January 2 to May 3, 2013

For more information, please visit:

Hancock Image: U.S. Navy Photo/Joseph Quinn Jr.
Other Images: U.S. Navy Photo/Kelly Forst