Wednesday, November 25, 2015

New Artifact: Model of L'Hermione

Hermione entering Newport harbor on July 8, 2015

Last summer, Newport was fortunate to host a visit from Hermione, a replica of the French frigate that carried the Marquis de Lafayette to the United States during the American Revolution. She arrived on July 8 and was here to celebrate the 235th anniversary of the arrival of French troops under Rochambeau. The Friends of Hermione-Lafayette in America presented this beautiful model to the Naval War College Museum, and we are delighted to add it to our permanent collection. The model is thirty-five inches long and is the only one in our collection that is shown under sail.

Model of Hermione presented by
the Friends of Hermione-Lafayette in America
Shipwright Henri Chevillard oversaw construction of the original Hermione in Rochefort from 1778 to 1779. The Marquis de Lafayette traveled to Boston aboard Hermione in 1780 to deliver the good news that French reinforcements were on their way and to serve under General Washington. Hermione hosted more famous visitors in May 1781 when Washington and Lafayette invited the Continental Congress to dine with them on board her. She was first and foremost a warship, however, and participated in several battles including an attack on a convoy near Louisbourg. Hermione returned to France after the surrender at Yorktown, but she wasn’t through fighting the British. The frigate saw action again during the early years of the French Revolution. She was lost on September 20, 1793, after running aground off Le Croisic near St. Nazaire.

Construction of the replica began in 1997 and utilized traditional building methods and materials whenever possible. Hermione left Port de Barques on April 18 and arrived at Yorktown, Virginia on June 5. She then sailed up the east coast visiting eleven other ports in the United States and Canada. Her stay in Newport from July 8-9 was timed to coincide with the 235th anniversary of the arrival of Rochambeau’s troops during the war.

Rob Doane
Curator, Naval War College Museum

Friday, November 20, 2015

An Incidental Superpower

        Two of the three authors of U.S. Foreign Policy and Defense Strategy: The Evolution of an Incidental Superpower spoke at the Eight Bells Lecture held on October 29 in the Brett Hall Lounge.  One of the presenters was Derek Reveron, Professor of National Security Affairs and the EMC Informationist Chair at the U.S. Naval War College.  The other was Nikolas K. Gvosdev, a professor of national security studies at the U.S. Naval War College.
         The rise of U.S. dominance on the world stage since World War II found its basis in the decisions made conducting foreign policy, a defense strategy, and commercial activities with partners around the world.  Following the war, the US promoted de-colonization and was generous to allies and the vanquished alike.  Unlike in previous wars when victors extracted compensation from the defeated in the form of resources or territory, the United States sought to rebuild infrastructures and supply foodstuffs.  Economically, this was good business and there was a direct benefit to the businessmen and farmers in the U.S.   
          The U.S. economy, unlike those of Europe and Asia, was in high gear after the war and largely unscathed.  As a result, the post-war systems that were put in place were heavily influenced by the U.S. and, as described in the lecture, (the systems) spoke with an American accent.  To this day, the U.S. dollar is the global reserve currency. 
          But, are the systems and alliances put in place over sixty-five years ago becoming sclerotic?  Most definitely, some are becoming bloated and are no longer as responsive as when first implemented.  Additionally, the reasons for having some of the systems no longer exist and Americans are beginning to question their value, especially when the beneficiaries of the efforts by the United States are military and economic competitors.  Some commentators cite the changing nature of war and conflict as a reason for a re-evaluation of present policies, strategies, and military philosophy.  Others foresee a neo-isolationism evolving.
            This book and others are for sale in the Naval War College Foundation Store located in Brett Hall, first floor.

John W. Kennedy
Director of Education and Community Outreach

Let the Tours Begin

          The long anticipated opening of the Naval War College Museum is set for January 4, 2016.  Closed for the last six months for renovations and a major update to the environmental management system, there will also be a new look  Built in 1820, Founders Hall was never intended to house museum artifacts and art.  Humidity during the summer months resulted in moisture and mold.  Trying to correct one problem often led to another challenge to health and safety.  Leaks, asbestos, and obsolete equipment had to be fixed or removed.  But now, the journey is almost over as the contractors have met each challenge and kept to their timeline. 
            During the time the museum was closed, the staff has been busy preparing for the re-opening.  Previous exhibits have been updated to better tell the story of the Navy in Narragansett Bay.  This has entailed putting up new panels and arranging artifacts to offer a better understanding of the developmental timeline involved. 
            The temporary gallery will open with DEEP FREEZE! The Seabees in Antarctica, 1955-1956.  Beginning in 1955, Operation Deep Freeze was the codename of a series of missions to Antarctica.  The exhibit will feature twenty-eight works of art by two Navy artists as well as uniforms and other artifacts and memorabilia on loan from other naval museums. There is a strong connection between Narragansett Bay and Operation Deep Freeze as, following the return of the first mission, VX-6 was relocated to Naval Air Station Quonset Point and co-located with Naval Construction Battalion 200 which had the responsibility for the construction of any facilities required in Antarctica.
            The most exciting piece that we will have on display once we open will be the “Life Mask” of Admiral Lord Nelson.  Cast from Nelson’s face in 1798, it is one of only four known to exist.  The year 1798 is significant for Nelson as he fights the Battle of the Nile where he suffers a near-fatal head wound.  While recovering from his wound, he is entertained in Naples by Sir William and Lady Hamilton.  Additionally, in that year, he is created Baron of the Nile and Burnham Thorpe.  The “Life Mask” was made during this time as a way for a painter to have a “snapshot” of the features of his subject. 
            So, all in all, we have a lot to show you when you visit the Naval War College Museum in January.  For more information or to schedule group tours, please contact the museum at 841-4052/2101.

John W. Kennedy
Director of Education and Community Outreach

Thursday, November 19, 2015

New Arrival: The Face of Nelson

Earlier this year, we were thrilled to be chosen as one of the venues to display the 1798 Nelson life mask, an artifact on loan from the National Museum of the Royal Navy. It is currently on a multi-year tour of the United States, and after months of anticipation, the mask recently arrived in Newport.

One of only four known to exist, the life mask of Vice Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson is believed to have been made in late 1798 when he was in Naples following his victory over the French at the Battle of the Nile. Sculptors of that era often made plaster masks of their subjects as a way to study their facial features. The creator of this mask is believed to be the Honorable Anne Seymour Damer (1749-1828). She and Nelson lived in the same building in Naples while the admiral recuperated from wounds suffered in battle. In 1827, she produced a celebrated bronze bust of the admiral. It is likely that this mask was a study piece for that bust.

We do not know exactly when the Damer mask first came to the United States. The writing on the back reads, “‘MASK OF ADMARAL [sic] LORD NELSON taken from life, at NAPLES 1798 shortly before he was killed in the battle of Trafalgar. Presented to Mr W.A. Coukiler by Haden Patrick Smith January 23 1867”.

Nelson enjoyed a thirty-four year career in the Royal Navy and fought in dozens of battles along the way. He is most well-known for his victories at the Nile, Copenhagen, and Trafalgar. His defeat of the combined Franco-Spanish fleet at Trafalgar ensured that Great Britain’s enemies would never again mount a serious challenge for control of the seas during the Napoleonic Wars. Nelson’s greatest victory also cost him his life, as he succumbed after being shot by a French musketeer at the height of the battle. His performance of his duties earned high praise from Alfred Thayer Mahan who called him “the embodiment of the Sea Power of Great Britain.”

Rob Doane
Curator, Naval War College Museum