Thursday, October 27, 2016

Lord Dunmore's Navy in Hampton Roads, 1775-1776, Part I: The Battle of Hampton

By Matthew Krogh
Contributing Writer 
Reenactors portraying Royal Navy sailors from HMS Otter maneuver into position on the Hampton River before staging a simulated attack upon Virginia Militia reenactors during a Battle of Hampton commemoration held in October 2015. (Photograph by M.C. Farrington)

Although the Royal Navy reigned supreme throughout the eighteenth century, its effectiveness in Hampton Roads under John Murray, Earl of Dunmore (known as Lord Dunmore), was altered when Virginians proved they had a strong desire to defend themselves in the burgeoning American struggle for independence.

Throughout the Revolution, the Royal Navy pillaged, attacked, or blockaded Chesapeake Bay, brushing aside state navies and American ships. The Royal Navy consistently outnumbered the Continental Navy in number of ships, men, cannon, and munitions. Why then did the navy under Lord Dunmore suffer defeat when it struck Hampton during the first major skirmish in Virginia in October 1775?  This is the story of the first amphibious campaign in the South during the American Revolution and the tale of the last royal governor of Virginia’s leadership on land and sea.
John Murray, Fourth Earl of Dunmore, by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 
circa 1764. (Google Art Project)

Lord Dunmore precipitated the assault on Hampton Roads in an attempt to quell the growing rebellion in his midst. After four years as governor, a war against the Indians, and several diplomatic fiascos, belligerent patriots chased him from his York County home, Porto Bello, in June 1775. Taking refuge aboard HMS Fowey, Dunmore sailed down the James River to Hampton Roads. Just as Governor Josiah Martin of North Carolina had done the year before, Dunmore began operating from sea from behind England’s “wooden walls.” However, Dunmore had a trump card to play that had been unavailable to Governor Martin. Andrew Sprowle, a fellow Scotsman, owned the Gosport shipyard (present day Norfolk Naval Shipyard) in Portsmouth on the Elizabeth River, which could provide aid to Dunmore’s forces. Therefore, Lord Dunmore set up a de facto capital in the shipyard where, according to the Virginia Gazette, he issued “out his decrees, as Darius did of old.” The shipyard’s munitions, supplies and dry docks provided the governor with a significant advantage over Virginians who sought to banish his vessels from Hampton Roads. Control of this roadstead, the northernmost harbor in America that did not freeze in the winter, gave the Royal Navy a safe haven from which it would be able to plan operations in the North Atlantic.

From Gosport, Dunmore conducted governmental affairs and assembled ships and troops to fight the disgruntled colonials in the lower Chesapeake region. When the opportunity arose, he intended to attack Virginia’s forces and destroy them. Dunmore’s chance to fully engage the patriots came after a hurricane struck Hampton Roads in early September. The hurricane put HMS Mercury under Captain John MacCartney on its broadside in front of Norfolk, where an article in Pinkney’s Virginia Gazette urged Virginians to seize the opportunity and burn the ship, calling her “the terror of Norfolk and a refuge to our slaves.” A British ship’s tender (dinghy) named the Liberty also blew ashore during the storm, forcing the captain of the HMS Otter, Matthew Squire, and a runaway slave to leave the dingy in Hampton and make their way via canoe to the Otter. When colonials found the Liberty, they seized its supplies and burned it to the waterline in retaliation for British seizures of food, supplies, and livestock.

Conditions were right for confrontation, and a furious Captain Squire demanded restitution. Hampton’s town fathers responded that they would gladly return the captured goods if Squire returned all runaway slaves. Dunmore wrote of the situation, stating, “[T]heir Port is now blocked up and we have taken two of their Boats and shall not permit a Vessel to pass or repass till they return the Stores.” Meanwhile, Colonel William Woodford issued orders on October 24 for the 2nd Virginia Regiment to march from Williamsburg to stop the expected British attack. Captain Squire determined to thump the cheeky Americans and sailed up the Hampton River with six vessels on October 25.

Based upon Dunmore’s previous sorties in the Elizabeth River, this promised to be yet another feather in his cap. Throughout autumn, his shore parties had taken numerous cannon and munitions, captured soldiers, and pillaged settlements. He had met little resistance thus far and expected more of the same as his designs became more ambitions. On October 5, he wrote to Lord Dartmouth, secretary of state for the colonies, requesting the chance to act decisively. “My Lord do I see every hour His Majesty's Enemies puting [sic] themselves in the best posture of defence [sic] possible, without having it in my power to give them the least interruption, and I give your Lordship leave to judge if this is not to the greatest degree gauling [sic], when certain too that a very small force well applied now would not only effectually frustrate all their Schemes for the present, but soon reduce the whole of his Southern part of His Majesty's Continent to a proper State of Submission.”

The next day, Congress passed a resolution to seize anyone presenting a threat or danger to America’s liberties. Dunmore was singled out by Samuel Chase of Maryland, who stated, “I don’t think the Resolution goes far enough. Ld. Dunmore has been many Months committing Hostilities vs. Virginia, and has extended his Piracies [sic] to Maryland. I wish he had been seized, by the Colony months ago. Have they ships or men?” Virginian Richard Henry Lee wrote, “I wish Congress would advise Virginia and Maryland to raise a force by sea to destroy Lord Dunmore's power. He is fond of his bottle, and may be taken by land, but ought to be taken at all events.”
This portion of a French map from 1781 shows the general locations of Hampton, officially established in 1610, and the remains of Fort George, which started construction in 1728 on the site of Fort Algernon, which had been established in 1609 to protect the approaches to Jamestown. (Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division)
In 1775, Hampton was a small settlement at the tip of the Virginia Peninsula down the Elizabeth River and across the James River from Norfolk.  It was comprised of a few hundred souls, three windmills, some dwellings and wharves, and several creeks leading to the James River.  Beyond the town on Old Point Comfort stood Fort George, an undefended masonry structure built in 1728. A 1749 hurricane laid waste to it, leaving only a few buildings. The Royal Navy would not have directed its energies towards Hampton had it not been for the chain of events that unfolded.  Indeed, British ships were generally moored in Norfolk or Portsmouth, both of which were more significant due to their large populations, shipyards, and deep harbors.
Reenactors representing Virginia militia members defending Hampton, Virginia, fire a volley at the invading British during commemorations held in October 2015. (Photograph by M.C. Farrington)
As Captain Squire’s small flotilla approached the Hampton River, a barricade of sunken ships at the river’s mouth stopped it from closing with the town. The British exchanged fire with local militia under Captain George Nicholas and Captain George Lyne. Unable to land under the hail of fire during the day, the British succeeded in landing a shore party and burning a dwelling on Cooper’s plantation at the mouth of the river as darkness set in. Later, Squire managed to land some men to raid homes on Mill Creek. That evening, Squire's men dismantled the colonial barricade, allowing his vessels to enter. 

The next morning dawned brightly as sporadic gunfire erupted. By then Colonel Woodford had arrived with his riflemen. The landing party expected a frontal assault on its position and prepared to meet it with cold steel and hot lead. In previous engagements, Virginia forces had fled into the woods when faced with superior troops. Instead, Woodford’s riflemen took cover behind buildings and on wharves and began picking off targets. The outnumbered Virginians poured a steady fire on HMS Otter and the rest of the befuddled fleet. They pushed back the marines, and silenced the ships’ gun crews. The humiliating defeat was too much for Captain Squire and he ordered a full withdrawal by day’s end. In the chaos that ensued, two British transports ran aground. The rebels captured ten crewmen from Otter’s tender, the Hawk, and killed its coxswain. The Virginians suffered no deaths and Hampton was saved from Dunmore’s assault.

The skirmish in Hampton, however trivial, served as a harsh realization for the British who rarely expected such a lopsided loss. Strategically, Lord Dunmore failed to realize that he was attacking an entire town over a burned out jolly boat, and some sailcloth. Dunmore could easily have sent additional vessels and supplies from Gosport, thereby avoiding conflict. Moreover, these goods were worth far less than the devotion of the population, many of whom were still loyalists. Would all those loyalists remain sympathetic after Dunmore indiscriminately attacked their homes and hearths?

Tactically, the Royal Navy floundered at Hampton. Dunmore’s vessels struggled to navigate the Hampton River and Mill Creek, despite the fact that the royal governor actively recruited slaves and loyalists to serve as pilots through the waterways. Unlike the Elizabeth River, the Hampton River was also narrow enough to block with a few sunken vessels. This intelligence failure could easily have been averted had Captain Squire sent a ship’s tender to investigate prior to the attack. This roadblock led to the lack of a greater naval presence at the beginning of the skirmish. At that time, British ships remained at the river’s mouth, depriving advancing land forces of much needed artillery support. 

Furthermore, the Royal Navy did not serve in the same support role as at the Battle of Bunker Hill, Massachusetts on June 17, 1775. At Hampton, the navy was the only force involved and its firepower was severely limited. For example, Kingfisher and Otter both had 14 cannons and their crews were wary of exposing themselves to the riflemen’s withering fire. The gun crews were also bested because their vessels had already sent marines ashore thereby nullifying the protection they could have provided as sharpshooters. This decision resulted in only a few wayward shots being fired at the town’s defenders. Squire also did not take note of the tides, which resulted in the loss of two vessels, along with their pilots and crews.

From a pier in downtown Hampton, Virginia, a reenactor portraying a 
Virginia militiaman takes a shot at an approaching vessel representing 
one of Lord Dunmore's ships during commemorations held in October 
2015. (Photograph by M.C. Farrington)

The Battle of Hampton marked the first time riflemen had been on hand to stop Dunmore’s continual marauding. Woodford’s riflemen, who had not yet seen action, put up strong resistance against the British marines and sailors who expected the colonists to flee or fight in the open, neither of which occurred. Captain Squire received a written message soon after the battle from Woodford’s riflemen. It read “The . . . soldiers of Hampton desire their compliments to captain Squire and his squadron, and wish to know how they approve the reception they met with . . .” Meanwhile, Pinkney’s Virginia Gazette claimed, “Lord Dunmore may now see he has not cowards to deal with.”

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Building the USS Electrician: New Photos from the National Archives

By Katherine A. Renfrew
Hampton Roads Naval Museum Registrar

This aerial photograph of USS Electrician, a landmark building once located near the headquarters buildings of Naval Operating Base Hampton Roads (now Naval Station Norfolk), gives a sense of the scale of the wooden training mock-up. (Hampton Roads Naval Museum Collection) 
What might seem archaic today was actually cutting edge in the early 1900s. USS Electrician, a building designed to have the appearance and all the electrical features of a modern battleship, represented a very modern method for training sailors nearly a century ago. Offering classroom and hands-on training, the students were able to simulate the same routine they would have on a real ship. Measuring 235 feet long with a 38-foot “beam,” the ship was a ¾-scale model of a Pennsylvania-class battleship; and became an iconic feature of Naval Operating Base Hampton Roads (now Naval Station Norfolk).
Although appearing at first glance like the plans for a seagoing warship, the unusual number of portholes and exterior hatches called for on these blueprints for USS Electrician, as well as the absence of anything below the waterline, are an indicator that these are not the plans for a ship at all.  (Hampton Roads Naval Museum Collection) 
USS Electrician is highlighted in red on this 1920 map of Naval Operating Base Hampton Roads (now Naval Station Norfolk), where it once loomed over the northeast corner of the base parade ground, which is now a parking lot. (Hampton Roads Naval Museum Collection)
This interior photo of USS Electrician shows the immersive classroom environment prospective Electrician's Mates (after the rating name was changed from "Electrician" in 1921) encountered inside the simulated battleship. (Hampton Roads Naval Museum collection)
The ship was furnished with all the intricate equipment of a modern battleship, with the exception of radio apparatus and live ordnance. It contained three decks with lecture and reading rooms; and living accommodations for 160 men. Some of the features of the ship included an electrically operated three-gun turret, gun rammers and ammunition hoist; an operating boat crane, deck winch and electrical anchor; and a completely equipped fire control system with conning tower, substations and spotters’ positions.

The following images of USS Electrician reveal the many phases of its construction from 1918 to 1922: 

(National Archives and Records Administration, NSNorfolk-1918_20)
(National Archives and Records Administration, NSNorfolk-1918_21)
(National Archives and Records Administration, NSNorfolk-1918_22)
(National Archives and Records Administration, NSNorfolk-1918_14)

(National Archives and Records Administration, NSNorfolk-1918_24)
(National Archives and Records Administration, NSNorfolk-1918_28)
(National Archives and Records Administration, NSNorfolk-1918_15)
(National Archives and Records Administration, NSNorfolk-1918_29)
(National Archives and Records Administration, NSNorfolk-1918_63)
This brief history of USS Electrician is the eighth in a series of blogs illustrating the development of Naval Station Norfolk. Unless otherwise noted, the photographs in this series represent the results of a research project seeking images of Hampton Roads naval installations at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). This research, performed by the Southeastern Archaeological Research, Incorporated (SEARCH) was funded by Commander Navy Region Mid-Atlantic as part of an ongoing effort to provide information on historic architectural resources at navy bases in Hampton Roads. The museum is pleased to present these images for the benefit of the general public and interested historians. As far as we know, all of these images are in the public domain and none of the NARA images have been published before. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

In Memorium: The Navy Tiara

Each new Navy birthday brings with it a sense of accomplishment and pride in that this great institution has stood the watch and fulfilled its duty around the world for another year.  To commemorate this accomplishment, thousands of current and former members of the naval service, as well as their friends and loved ones, will adorn themselves in their finest for the annual Navy Ball.  Most members of the armed services who attend will wear their respective services' mess dress uniform, usually worn only for "black tie" events.

With each new birthday, however, some old things pass away, and the fanciest Navy uniform has not escaped unscathed.  Amidst the truly historic Navy personnel news of late we have this item concerning the demise of a relatively obscure uniform item.  As of October 1, 2016, in accordance with Article 3501.86 of Navy Uniform Regulations, the Navy Tiara is no longer authorized for uniform wear.
The Navy tiara of Captain Ruth Moeller, USN (Ret), part of the Hampton Roads Naval Museum collection. (HRNM-2015.008.003. Photograph by M.C. Farrington
This H. Charles McBarron Jr. illustration of the service dress mess (also called dinner dress blue jacket) uniforms of 1967 shows the Navy tiara as it would have been worn by a female Navy lieutenant, junior grade. (Hampton Roads Naval Museum Collection)
The uniform change was mandated last year, along with the elimination of boat cloaks for male officers and chief petty officers and navy blue capes for females.  Both were worn for most of the twentieth century, although the navy blue cape, like the tiara, was part of the dress mess ensemble. 

Friday, October 7, 2016

The Navy Specialty Mark, 1866-2016

As we move toward a Navy where Sailors may hold multiple occupations, rating titles will no longer be applicable. 


Two-thousand-sixteen has been a year of dramatic change with regards to the naval uniform.  Not a single seabag of any current member of the United States Navy will emerge untouched by the profound changes that have been mandated this year through the Navy Uniform Matters Office.  

Although the decade-long saga of the controversial blue-and-gray camouflage Navy Working Uniform has entered its final chapter and the same Navy headgear is now worn by both male and female personnel, the latest change might prove to be the most profound.  A tiny part of the standard enlisted dress uniform is to be eliminated after almost 150 years, and this will literally change the way Sailors view their occupations.     
Detail of an illustration by H. Charles McBarron, Jr., from the collections of the Hampton Roads Naval Museum, showing a Boatswain's Mate 1st Class dress uniform, behind typical officer uniforms of 1898. Aside from the elimination of port (left sleeve) and starboard (right sleeve) positioning of rating badges in 1949, the appearance of the rating badge itself remained fairly constant from 1886 until 2016.  By comparison, nothing resembling officers' service and full dress uniforms such as those shown here is worn by today's naval officers.   
In contrast to the rather ostentatious gold trimmings symbolizing prestige or power on officers' uniforms that have come and gone over the last 241 years, the more modest specialty mark of the enlisted uniform has been an ubiquitous symbol of Navy professionalism since the first eight types were authorized in December 1866.  

Emerging with the "New Navy" of the 1880s, the positioning of the roughly one square-inch occupational symbols between the eagle (commonly called a "crow") and the chevrons of the petty officer rating badges first authorized in 1886 has remained essentially unchanged since America's emergence as a world-class naval power. 
This rating badge of a Boatswain's Mate 3rd Class, circa-1898, the oldest one of its kind in the Hampton Roads Naval Museum, can be seen in the museum's Steel Navy gallery.  The specialty mark is the crossed-anchors symbol at the center of the badge.  The image has not been "flipped." The eagle atop the rating badge faced either right or left depending upon which sleeve it was worn.  (Photograph by M.C. Farrington)
Long before the advent of the Steel Navy, Sailors in certain specialized shipboard occupations began embroidering their own specialty marks to distinguish themselves from the rest of the crew.  A woodcut in the Naval Magazine of November 1836, for example, shows a Boatswain's Mate with crossed anchors on his jacket sleeve. 
Nestled within another illustration by H. Charles McBarron, Jr. from 1966, we can see roughly what the enlisted specialty mark of a Boatswain's Mate looked like during the 1830s.  Although no regulations specified the wearing of such occupational symbols at the time, the specialty marks Sailors had been putting on their own uniforms for years were ultimately incorporated into regulations drafted in 1866.  
Although a general sleeve insignia for petty officers was authorized in 1841, the uniform regulations of December 1, 1866 introduced eight specialty marks for petty officers.  The ever more sophisticated naval vessels coming into the fleet over first few decades that followed, particularly during the 1880s, necessitated further division of labor.  With it came more specialty marks, including those for the rank of Chief Petty Officer, established in 1893.  Five years later, there were 15 specialty marks for enlisted personnel.  A century later, there were 71.

A World War I-era Chief Storekeeper rating badge.  The job specialty itself, along with its specialty mark, was merged into the Logistics Specialist rate in 2010. (Jim Leuci Collection)
Over the twentieth century, hundreds of different ratings emerged with new technologies and missions, then disappeared or merged into other rates as those technologies and missions receded.  At the time the decision was made in September 2016 to replace Navy ratings with an alphanumeric Navy Occupational Specialty code (with no corresponding specialty mark), 57 distinct specialty marks remained.
A closeup of a Master Chief Boatswain's Mate rating badge from the late-1950s. (Jim Leuci Collection)
Although specialty marks might not completely disappear, it appears that they will never symbolize the jobs that U.S. Navy Sailors do in the same way that they have for the last 150 years.  Nevertheless, you can trust that the Hampton Roads Naval Museum and the other museums under the Naval History and Heritage Command will preserve these small yet profound symbols of professionalism in our collections as long as the Sailors of today  have a job to accomplish.