Friday, May 6, 2011

Annapolis Comes to Newport

---John Pentangelo

During the Civil War, the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis was relocated to Newport, Rhode Island. Though the move was temporary, four years of operation in Narragansett Bay convinced the U.S. Navy that the site was ideal for permanent naval training facilities. The next twenty years saw the Naval Torpedo Station, Naval Training Station, and Naval War College founded at the “City by the Sea.” These blog posts, based on exhibitions at the Naval War College Museum will look back at the people, places, and ships of the Academy's days in Newport.

USS Constitution off Goat Island, c. 1861
Fearing attack by Confederate forces and seeking to prevent capture of USS Constitution (a USNA practice ship), Superintendent of the Naval Academy Captain George S. Blake facilitated the relocation of the school to Newport, Rhode Island.
On 8 May 1861, the famous frigate known as “Old Ironsides,” sailed into Newport Harbor carrying the members of the classes of 1861 to 1864. Initially, Constitution housed the plebes (first years) and their classes took place below decks.
The Atlantic Hotel in Newport during the Civil War
After it became clear that the war would not be over quickly, the Navy ordered Blake to prepare for a longer stay and lease one of the city’s hotels. They leased the Atlantic House, a hotel at the corner of Bellevue Avenue and Pelham Street opposite Touro Park, as the main location of the Naval Academy while in Newport. The building provided a mess facility, administrative offices, classrooms, and quarters for upperclassmen. Underclassmen referred to the Atlantic as “Paradise,” and called their classrooms and berths aboard USS Constitution and other school ships, “Purgatory."
Park Benjamin, a member of the class of 1867, remembered, “Nothing could be more desolate than the outlook to the ‘plebe’ whose first experience brought him to these school-ships. During the day he sat and studied at one of the desks, long rows of which extended up and down the gun-deck, and occasionally marched ashore to the windy recitation rooms, where he contracted bad colds along with knowledge of arithmetic. The commissary department was always more or less out of gear, and the meals eaten in the blackness of the berth-deck by the light of a few ill-smelling oil lamps were wretched.”
Sketch of a class aboard Constitution by C.G. Bush, class of 1862

More profiles on the people, places, and ships in Newport to come!
1, 2: Naval War College Museum; 3. Special Collections, United States Naval Academy Library

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