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Originally published in United Service Magazine, 1879.


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Training Ships

By Captain Stephen B. Luce, USN

An Article written by Captain Stephen B. Luce, USN, in 1879 as published in the United Service Magazine.

Image from cover - showing sailors manning a gun.
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A Message from the President

In keeping with the Foundation's policy of publishing items of historical interest from time to time as funds permit, we have selected this article on "Training Ships", as an article which we hope might be of interest to its members.

While the material advances toward atomic propulsion, electronic controls and scientific "gadgets" in our ships has made the problem of training personnel to man, maintain and fight them more intense and difficult, it is not a new one. Training personnel, especially in peacetime, has always had the careful attention of those in command.

The article, written by Commodore Stephen B. Luce, then a Captain, first appeared in the monthly magazine United Service in July, 1879. The requirements to train a man-of wars-man in today's Navy are certainly diffierent than in the old Navy. Even in those days, however, the necessity for such training was recognized.

The officers of the Foundation hope you will enjoy this article.

Vice-Admiral, U.S. Navy(RET)


Ici on parle Anglais.--This notice, so frequently seen in the shop-windows of Paris, was not very long ago placarded in the starboard gangway of one of the ships of our Mediterranean squadron: "English spoken here!" The few American sailors who belonged to that ship had good reason to give such a notice a conspicuous place, for in walking along her decks one might hear French, German, Spanish, Italian, the mongrel Mahonese, the native Irish, and occasionally Chinese, all spoken with equal fluency by some one or more of the ship's company.

The jest had at least the merit of a good point, and that point was a severe commentary on the character of the crews we have been for years employing to maintain the honor and integrity of the American flag on the ocean. A careful count of all the sailors of the Mediterranean squadron, made about the time of the above notice, showed that thirty-five countries were represented by them, and that considerably less than one-half were American born.

These facts being pressed upon the attention of the United States government, steps were taken to enlist boys with a view to training them up for the navy, so that we might have our petty officers and leading seamen, at least, native-born. There were other considerations which doubtless had their full weight in inducing the government to adopt this measure.

The many and altogether novel devices of modern naval warfare require for their manipulation a higher order of seamen than in former times. To load and fire the old 18-pounder, or at most a 24-pounder, mounted on a four-truck wooden carriage, was the highest achievement as a gunner that the sailor of 1812 was required to reach. He was not so foolish as to depend on a lock-string merely; he had besides a trustworthy match, which he used according to the following formula: "Handle your match and lock-string! Cock your lock! Blow your match! Watch the weather-roll! Stand by--fire!" And if he hit anywhere about the broadside of a lofty frigate, or cut away any of her spars or rigging, he was lucky indeed! He was withal a good topman; for, did his own masts or rigging suffer, he left his gun for the nonce, repaired damages, and resumed his fighting with increased ardor.


Of the modern man-of-war's-man a far more extensive range of duties is required. Machinery now forms such an important element in nearly all implements of naval warfare, that the sailor of to-day must be something of a mechanic. The revolving turret of the monitor; the method of working the 15-inch gun; the heavy breechloading rifle-guns; the Gatling boat-guns and magazine-guns, all require carefully-trained men for their proper handling. With these and similar "arms of precision," it is expected that the vulnerable parts of an enemy's ship will be speedily reached and the battle proportionately shortened.

Modern man-of-war's-men, moreover, are expected to be tolerably fair infantry-men. Armed with breech-loading rifles, they should be able to land, form under cover of their ship, and march to meet an enemy according to the rules laid down in infantry tactics. To pass through the "School of the Soldier," thence, through the company drill, to the "School of the Battalion," requires much patient drilling and frequent opportunities for landing; for, after a certain familiarity with the simpler movements has been attained, such drilling cannot be continued on the deck of a ship.

Nor is this all. The torpedo has become a recognized weapon of warfare, and as our officers are carefully instructed in the use of that terrible agent, it is manifest that the sailors, or at least a certain proportion of them, should also be instructed in their handling; for the officers will often require the aid of intelligent labor in the operations of torpedo warfare. For this reason, and for the reasons that the bottoms of our ships require to be occasionally examined, the propeller cleared of ropes or other obstructions, etc., it becomes necessary that all our large ships, or at least every flag-ship of a squadron, should have one or more expert divers. Hence a corps of divers for the navy has become a necessity of the times, and these divers, besides being trained as seamen, should be trained also for submarine warfare.

Congress had already passed a law, that "boys between the ages of sixteen and eighteen years might be enlisted to serve in the navy until twenty-one years of age," etc.1 So that, under sanction of law, the Navy Department issued a circular (April 8, 1875) stating that a limited number of boys would be enlisted with a view to training them for the naval service. Eighteen--the higher legal limit of age--was thought to be too old, save in exceptional cases where the applicant had already been to sea or exhibited a special aptitude for the service; hence the limits of age fixed upon by the Department are sixteen and seventeen years. To secure admission each boy is required, by the circular,


to be able to read and write. He must also be of robust frame, intelligent, of perfectly sound and healthy constitution, free from any physical defects or malformation, and not subject to fits. The applicant for admission must be developed in proportion to his age; that is to say, a boy of sixteen should stand five feet and one inch in his bare feet, and measure thirty inches around his chest. The regulations are quite stringent in regard to boys having the consent of their parents or guardians, the latter being obliged to sign a paper, under oath, that they are the parents or legally appointed guardians, and that they give their consent to the enlistment of their son or ward to serve during minority. Boys enlisted under the provisions of this circular are entered as "second-class boys,"2 and paid at the rate of ten dollars and a half per month, and one ration,--a ration being the daily allowance of food. They are furnished with an outfit of clothing, the cost of which is charged to their accounts. The academic part of their instruction is confined to the elements of an English education, but great stress is laid upon all the technical branches, such as seamanship, gunnery, etc. Object-teaching is included in the methods of instruction, and physical training occupies a more prominent place than in any other system of education, probably, in the country. The brain culture furnished by the Naval Academy is here supplemented by trained muscle. Under a wise system the two schools should together form the most thorough personnel in the maritime world.

The circular once issued, the Department lost no time in inaugurating a training system on board one of our largest and finest frigates, and such regulations were framed as would best carry out the objects of the system.

The department of seamanship embraces practical seamanship, such as knotting and splicing, reefing, loosing, furling, making, shortening, bending and unbending sails; steering; heaving the lead, etc.; sailmaking, signaling by the army code, as well as the naval and international codes; the handling of boats, swimming, the use of the diving apparatus, etc.

The gunnery department embraces the theory and practice of gunnery, exercise of the howitzer ashore and afloat, the Gatling gun, infantry drill, pistol, broadsword exercise, boxing, etc., and eventually the practical use of torpedoes.

The department of studies includes reading, writing, spelling, arithmetic (through decimal fractions), grammar, geography, naval history and the history of the United States, moral and religious instruction, and singing.

In the department of machinery, which embraces instruction in the coaling and working of fires, the construction and operation of boilers,


steam and water-gauges, etc., a special class is formed of boys having aptitude for that calling. In a complement of three hundred and fifty this class has been limited to eighteen. A certain amount of instruction in other departments is also afforded them.

A volunteer class in practical navigation has been formed on board one of the ships designated for training purposes, with the view of teaching the elements of that science to the future boatswains and gunners of our service, who may, in some possible contingency, be detailed as officers to carry prizes to an American or neutral port. When it was found that out of a crew of three hundred only ten boys availed themselves of this privilege, those who hold conservative views on this system will no longer fear that the majority of the apprentices are being educated above their sphere.

Called at early daylight,--at 5.30 during winter and 4.30 during summer,--the boys are required to turn out promptly, lash up their hammocks neatly, carry them on deck, and stow them in the hammock-nettings. Twelve minutes is the time generally allowed for this. Staying the stomach with a ship's biscuit and a pot of coffee, they are then required to scrub the decks or their spare hammock or clothing, as the ship's routine of work may call for, and put the decks to rights. At seven bells,--half-past seven,--having previously washed their faces, hands, and feet, they are drawn up in line and carefully inspected by a petty officer, known as the master-at-arms, assisted by one or more ship's corporals. The hair of the boys is required to be closely cropped. At the morning inspection, if the weather is mild, each boy must have his collar thrown back, his sleeves rolled up to the elbows, and the pantaloons to the knee. These inspections ought to be, and generally are, very searching; and as every boy is required to take a bath at least once a week, summer and winter, habits of personal cleanliness are instilled at the very outset of their career.

At eight o'clock, on the breakfast call being sounded, the boys "fall in" on the main deck by mess crews, are mustered by their respective captains, and, when the usual reports are made, the order is given, "Parade--rest!" At this command the boys uncover and stand at a "rest," while the chaplain offers a short prayer. It is a noticeable and very gratifying fact that, at the end of the invocation, the majority of the boys join in audibly repeating the Lord's Prayer. At the close of this brief service the order "Attention!" is given, followed by "March to breakfast!" when each captain faces his own crew and marches it to its proper mess-table. The same routine, save the prayer, is observed at dinner formation; and at supper an appropriate evening prayer is offered. It is at these mess formations that all general orders, details for duty, etc., are published.

Forty-five minutes are allowed for breakfast, when the hands are "turned to," and at nine o'clock the drum beats to "quarters." At this


signal the entire ship's company "fall in" at their proper stations at the guns. The gun's crews are mustered, and, at a call on the bugle, form for inspection; then the boys, their clothing and arms, and the guns and implements, are carefully inspected by the officers commanding the several divisions. The inspection over, and the divisions reported, the drum sounds the "retreat," when, if there is to be no exercise, the crews leave their guns and prepare for the next step in the daily routine.

The work is so arranged as to give to each department its fair share of instruction and lend variety to the whole.

It has been found by experience that the best results are obtained by dividing the year into two parts: first, for the winter routine, when the ship is moored at some naval station where there are facilities for work in the rigging and sail lofts, and for drilling on shore and under cover. The boys can then be instructed in company movements and the "School of the Battalion." It is found, also, that in the light and airy rooms such as are available at almost every navy-yard, the instruction in broadsword and boxing can be carried on much better than on the decks of the ship. The occasional change from the ship to places on shore is often very grateful to boys naturally restive under the confinement of ship-life. Experience shows, too, that it is better to accustom young lads to this radical change of life gradually. Hence it has been found very desirable to give at least one hour each day to the playground, whenever the weather and other circumstances permit, and encourage the boys to engage in pastimes and field-sports generally. Even if they only "skylark" and make a noise, it is better that they should be turned adrift on the playground frequently, as the open-air exercise has been found to be an important factor in the maintenance of discipline.

The long evenings of winter are generally devoted to amusement and popular lectures, and philanthropic gentlemen are often invited to address the boys. Two evenings in the week are given to singing. Under the leadership of a thoroughly practical instructor in vocal music, the apprentices soon acquire a readiness and precision in singing which, while it affords entertainment to their shipmates, is a source of endless amusement to themselves. Sacred melodies, naval and sea songs, and songs sentimental, humorous, and patriotic, all find a place in their repertoire.

If the exercises in singing afforded an innocent recreation simply, the practice might well be encouraged; but they do more. They exert a refining and elevating influence over even the roughest natures, and it has been observed that, after boys have been for some time in the singing-class, they drop altogether the coarse songs picked up in the lower resorts of city life, and adopt those better suited to ears polite.

Saturday evening is given up to dancing. A few musicians are allowed for this purpose, and it is interesting to observe how readily


these young sailors acquire a certain grace and abandon in treading the measures of the "mazy dance."

On the afternoons of Wednesdays and the forenoons of Saturdays the boys are required to muster at their guns, each with his bag of clothing. The bags are then opened, and the wearing apparel arranged on the deck for inspection. The divisional officers carefully examine every article of clothing, and see that it is in good repair, clean, and properly marked with the owner's name. On these occasions one gun's crew is sent to the ship's tailor, who instructs each member in the manner of measuring, cutting out, and making clothes. Besides this, there are two experienced seamen stationed at each gun, whose duty it is to instruct the boys in making, mending, and keeping in order every article of clothing worn by them. The seamen teach the boys of their squads also to wash their clothing, to "stop" them on the clothes-lines, to scrub their hammocks, and, in general, to take care of their persons and belongings. They embrace every occasion to instruct them in all the minor details of a seaman's duties. Once a month, at least, the bedding is aired and inspected. Each mattress is provided with two covers, one of which is scrubbed at the same time as the hammock.

On Sunday the boys are dressed in their mustering clothes,--their best,--and, after being carefully inspected by the officers at 9.30 A.M., they are marched to church on the "half-deck." From this attendance no boy is excused, except at the written request of his parents or guardian. In the afternoon there is a Bible-class led by the chaplain, assisted, perhaps, by a schoolmaster, and in the evening a "service of song," which consists of reading selections from the Bible, with brief explanations, singing hymns, in which the "Gospel Songs" form a large share, and prayer. In naval training-schools, as in every school in the land, there are found good, bad, and indifferent boys; but we venture to affirm that there are few secular schools where more time and care are given to moral culture.

Every boy takes his turn as cook of his mess. To teach him to prepare in the most palatable manner, and with the least waste, such food as the government ration provides, an experienced cook is detailed. A mess consists of seventeen boys (a gun's crew). Out of this number three rations may be commuted. The money value of a ration is thirty cents a day. If three rations are stopped, one is given to the cook of the mess as his perquisite, and the other two may be applied for the purchase of fresh potatoes, canned milk, raisins for "plum duff" or pudding, etc.

The government ration is regulated by act of Congress, and, though furnishing plain food, is yet abundant and wholesome. Every enlisted person in the navy is allowed per day 14 ounces of biscuit (hard-tack), 1 pound of salt beef (or 1 pound of pork, or 3/4 of a pound of preserved meat), 4 ounces of sugar, and 2 ounces of coffee. In addition to this,


on Sunday, 1/2 a pound of rice, 2 ounces of butter, and 2 ounces of dried potatoes; Monday, 1/2 a pint of beans; Tuesday, 1/2 a pound of flour, 2 ounces dried fruit ; Wednesday, 4 ounces of pickles, 1/2 a pint of beans; Thursday, 2 ounces of butter, 2 ounces dried potatoes, 1/2 pint molasses; Friday, 1/2 a pound of flour, 2 ounces dried fruit; Saturday, 4 ounces of pickles, 1/2 a pint of beans, and 1/2 a pint of vinegar. This is the regular issue at sea. In port it is varied by the issue, two or three times per week, of fresh beef, vegetables, and fresh bread (soft tommy). With a little care in the preparation of the food, and a judicious expenditure of the money drawn for commuted rations ($18 per month), the boys of the training-ships manage to fare pretty well. [The Department has recently recommended to Congress the following addition to the ration of naval apprentices: 4 ounces of oatmeal and 4 ounces of hominy on alternate days, and half a gill of molasses.]

Once a month there is a full-dress muster, at which the Articles of War are read, general orders published, etc. On these occasions the crew are required to be dressed in their mustering suits, and the officers in their full-dress uniform.

The winter routine, which lasts about six months, has been devoted to careful instruction in the rigging-loft, in the details of the great-gun drill, small-arms, "marline spike" seamanship, and the duties of topmen, as far as the latter can be taught by models, the free use of which is encouraged. But the winter routine is now over, and the leading boys are detailed as a crew for the tender, an old-fashioned sailing-ship. This they rig, prepare for sea, and, when ready, bid adieu to their comfortable winter retreat and seek their proper element, the broad ocean. Shoving out boldly from the coast, the practice-ship soon gets into the troubled waters of the Gulf Stream, and not a few of the young tars become sea-sick. This soon passes off, when they get their "sea-legs aboard," and, what is equally important, their sea-stomachs. They are now ready to emulate the example of the reckless Mr. Fid of the song, and

"Laugh at the force of the gale"

Now is the time for practical work, and to test the thoroughness of the instruction of the past winter. Clearing ship for action; general quarters, as preparing for actual battle; calling the crew to their guns in the dead of night, as if suddenly surprised by an enemy; night alarms of fires; sudden alarms of a "man overboard,"--all find their place in the sea routine.

The most valuable practice, however, is in firing at a target with the great guns, the ship being under canvas. Boys though they be, they find no difficulty in handling the IX-inch gun (the working gun of the service). The gun itself weighs in round numbers 9000 pounds, the


cartridge 13 pounds, the loaded shell 73 pounds, and the iron carriage 1200 pounds, making for the loaded gun a total (not counting the sight and side-tackle blocks) of 10,286 pounds; this total weight divided among sixteen boys, the crew of a IX-inch gun (not including the powder-boy), makes 643 pounds per boy. Constant drill produces concert of action, which, with the élan of youthful spirits, enables them to work these guns with remarkable rapidity.

For example, at a competitive drill at sea (the guns being properly secured for heavy weather), on the drum beating to general quarters, a IX-inch gun was cast loose, run in, loaded, run out, and fired,--the shell exploding,--all in one minute and thirty-seven seconds! In a competitive exercise to test the accuracy, combined with rapidity, of fire, a IX-inch gun was fired four times at a regulation target. The time of first fire being marked, the gun was loaded and fired three more times, and time called at the fourth fire,--in one minute and forty-eight seconds! The first shot struck and completely demolished the target (between 800 and 1000 yards distant), the remaining three shots being fired without much regard to accuracy. The time from the first to the fourth shot was, as stated, one minute and forty-eight seconds, giving thirty-six seconds as the time for loading and firing a IX-inch gun. On the third day of this series of exercises, the guns being secured for sea, the crews, without previous warning, were called to quarters a little after midnight, when a IX-inch gun, handled by enlisted boys, was cast loose, run in, loaded, run out, and fired (the shell exploding) in two minutes and eight seconds from the first tap of the drum! This would be called smart work anywhere. The superabundance of life and spirits with which the great majority of these boys are blessed needs only judicious direction in order to attain the highest results. The exercises aloft are conducted with the same spirit as the gunnery drills. Pulling in their boats, while it tends to great muscular development, is really a recreation. The ordinary routine of the ship is occasionally varied by boat expeditions, landing parties, etc. hauling the seine is a source of great amusement.

When two or more of these practice-ships join company, the value of the exercises is wonderfully increased. A generous rivalry springs up among the several crews. Each ship, knowing that she is constantly watched and criticised by her consorts, is forever on the alert to keep everything "ship-shape and Bristol fashion." This spirit diffuses itself throughout the entire ship's company, from the captain to the youngest boy on board.

It may be remarked, in passing, that the above system of both winter and summer routine, with their appropriate instruction, has been found, in the experience of foreign navies as well as our own, to be the most judicious and practical combination for thorough and successful training.


It will be seen that American youths thus trained for the naval service are not only taught all the duties incident to man-of-war life, and attain a high degree of physical culture, but their moral nature is brought out and developed. The fact that a boy who, while on shore, was addicted to swearing will not swear in the presence of an officer is a pregnant truth. It demonstrates the possibilities of self-restraint. Since it is possible for the most hardened boy to exercise that amount of self-restraint, it is certainly possible to cultivate that virtue in the average boy. This is the great aim of discipline; and just so far as we succeed in that cultivation do we succeed in improving the moral nature of the boys, and preparing them to be better men. This is the true method of elevating the moral tone of our seamen.

Besides exacting prompt and cheerful obedience of orders, the school regulations require the boys to abstain from profane or obscene language, and from the use of tobacco. This necessitates a complete subordination of their will to the will of those legally placed over them; and, secondly, such rigid self-government as will not expose them to the penalties which inevitably follow the infraction of the rules. Willful boys, and such as have been habitually neglected by their parents, are naturally very restive under a system so radically different from that which they were indulged in at home. But, finding that the rules are inflexible, and that they must either yield or go under, the great majority of the boys prefer the former. If the boy refrains from the violation of the regulations, he can, by judicious treatment, be brought to refrain in secret,--in fine, to refrain altogether; and when we have done this we have arrived at a point in his education which is as important and worthy as any of the branches of learning laid down in the curriculum of our public schools. The boy feels now that he has gained a certain mastery over himself and his appetites: his training has given him a strength of will which enables him to offer a certain amount of resistance to temptation in any form. He cannot now be betrayed by his more reckless shipmates into mutinous conduct. In times of danger he is self-contained, and he finds an inward strength to withstand the vicious allurements of social life. This is Education; this is the leading out, the developing, of the God-given qualities in man, as the word itself implies.

Boys who are hopelessly bad, and set themselves persistently against the discipline of the ship, are summarily dismissed.

We do not say that all this is actually accomplished in the training-ship. Two years being the utmost limit of time in that school, little more than a beginning can be made. Hence the necessity of the cruising-ship, to which he is transferred, keeping up and carrying on the system commenced in the training-ship. Hence, too, the necessity of taking these boys at an early age. If we took boys at twelve years


of age we would find them comparatively free from the vices commonly contracted on shore; more impressionable, more readily imbued with the spirit of the service, and far more likely to remain in the navy after becoming of age, which is, after all, the great desideratum. But the increased expense consequent upon the longer course of training is thought to be an insuperable objection to that early age. Experience shows that fifteen is a better average age; therefore the limits of the age of admission should be fixed at fourteen and sixteen, as giving the best results.

It has been suggested that the discipline and daily routine of a man-of-war ought to be dispensed with on board the training-ship, as it interferes too much with school hours. "You cannot," it has been sententiously remarked, "keep up a man-of-war and a school-ship at the same time." There is just enough vraisemblance in the statement to carry conviction to the mind of the superficial observer; and, had the training system some other object in view than its own obvious and legitimate end, it would be altogether true. If the government desired, for example, to add to our public-school system a nautical branch where youths could, besides acquiring a good English education, learn from books the duties of a seaman, we might dispense entirely with the ship's routine of duties. It would be better in that case to have the ship divested of her masts and boats, and housed over, like the old "Vermont"; or, better still, to put the apprentice boys in barracks on shore, so that they would not have their studies interfered with by ship's work of any description. They would then enjoy well-ventilated recitation-rooms, and have desks to sit at, and, better than all, ample blackboards wherewith, by the aid of diagrams, they could the better make their recitations. This entire change of base would be the natural and inevitable result of any attempt to eliminate from the training-school the duties common to every ship of war; but such a system would not make sailors.

The captain of a ship fitting out for a foreign station will, on receiving a draft of boys from the training-school, expect them to fall into their places at once, and aid in the work of fitting out. One boy out of every twelve or sixteen must commence at once as cook of a mess; he should therefore be familiar with the duties. Not even a knowledge of conic sections would compensate his messmates for bad meals. The divisional officer will expect the boys assigned to his guns to be perfectly familiar not only with the details of the drill, but with the method of keeping the guns and their implements in the very best order. The executive officer will expect them to be fair topmen, and, according to their experience, much that that term implies; to know how to keep their boats in order, and generally to perform, intelligently and promptly, the great majority of the various duties of the ship. If these reasonable expectations are not fulfilled, the training-ship has


failed in its mission. Now, a knowledge of these duties can be acquired only by keeping up, on board the training-ship, the regular routine of a man-or-war in active service; and not only this, but the apprentice , should be broken in, at the very outset, to a conscientious performance of his duties and to a thorough state of discipline. The exercises and drills of the training-ship should be the standard of excellence throughout the service,--the ship itself a model of good order and efficiency. If it be a question then between ship's routine and recitations, we unhesitatingly say, "Let the latter be dispensed with!" The school-ship, to succeed, must be a school of practice. But experience has shown that a judicious blending of ship's duties and studies is possible, so that neither need be thrown out. It is well known that on board of a well-disciplined ship exercises are carried on, and everything is kept in beautiful order, while the crew have plenty of spare time on their hands. It is this "spare time" that, on board the school-ship, is devoted to studies.

Captain U.S. Navy.



1. Since the above was written, Congress passed an act authorizing the enlistment of 750 boys over and above the complement of the navy, making a total of 8250, and limiting the age of admission to fifteen years.

2. It is contemplated under the new order to enlist minors hereafter as "third-class boys," at nine dollars and fifty cents per month.

A Naval Historical Foundation Publication

2 January, 1964


Published: Tue May 26 14:53:27 EDT 2020