Secretary of the Navy John D. Long to Captain William T. Sampson, Commander, North Atlantic Station
645P 3/26 1898
Sampson Key West
Paint all vessels except torpedo boats lead color1
Source Note: C, DNA, RG 313, Entry 47. Cable sent via “The International Telegraph Co.” The “645P” before the year indicates the time received, 6:45 PM.
Footnote 1: On 7 March, RAdm. Montgomery Sicard requested Secretary Long’s permission to repaint the ships of the fleet in advance of possible hostilities with Spain. He wrote:
“the present white color in times of peace is well enough, but its easy detection with the electric light in war times, renders it valueless then as a color. . . My opinion, and that of several Captains of the Fleet, appears to be that we cannot adopt a better color for ships in war time than the lead color which was used during the war of the rebellion. . . .For torpedo boats I consider dark green, which is now used on those boats, as well adapted for their service, but to use such a color for the ships, which have much more free board, it makes too great an outline against the sky, but probably the Department has already taken this subject into consideration and I should be glad to hear its views at its early convenience.” Sicard to Long, 7 March 1898, DNA, RG313, Entry 32, Vol. 9, 199.
Long cabled Sicard’s replacement, Capt. Sampson, an order to paint all ships black. The next day Long changed his mind and asked Sampson for a color suggestion. Sampson’s response has not been found, but presumably he favored the same “lead” color as Sicard. Sampson ordered all torpedo boats to be painted a similar lead color on 27 March.
According to Flying Squadron Circular Letter No. 1, dated 29 March, the lead paint was made from the combination of:
100 lbs White lead.
2 gals’ Raw linseed oil.
1 “ Turpentine.
1 pt Japan dryer.
1 1/4 lbs Lampblack in oil.
In mid-April, Sampson ordered all ships to paint a black band at the top of their smokestacks after learning that the Flying Squadron had been issued a similar order. The black bands were to range in width from four feet for larger vessels to two feet for “tugs, torpedo boats, etc,” and would distinguish American war vessels. Sampson ordered that the reasoning behind this choice was to be kept confidential. See, Sicard to Long, 7 March 1898, DNA, RG313, Entry 32, Vol. 9, 199; Long to Sampson, 25 March 1898, DNA, RG313, Entry 47, Box 1; and Long to Sampson, 26 March 1898, DNA, RG313, Entry 47, Box 1.