Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Commander Willard H. Brownson to Secretary of the Navy John D. Long

U. S. S. “Yankee”, (50).         

Off Tompkinsville,N. Y.

August 28th,1898.

S I R:-

1.   Thinking it may be a matter of interest, and possibly of some use in the future, I desire to place on file in the Department my views regarding, and the result of my experience with, the Naval Militia of the State of New York, while in command of the U.S.S. “Yankee”, a converted cruiser of between eight thousand and nine thousand tons displacement.

2.   In April,1898,I was ordered to command the U.S.S. “Yankee”, and was informed that she would be manned and officered, with the exception of the Commanding Officer,1 the Executive2 and the Navigator,3 by the Naval Militia of the State of New York.

3.   The Officers and crew came on board early in May, and served, with very few changes in the latter and none in the former, until the cessation of hostilities.

4.   I desire to express, before reporting on their deficiencies due to their want of sea experience, my high appreciation of their zeal and intelligence, and the interest they exhibited in their work generally, and especially in all that related to the battery and to preparation for battle.

5.   Of the sea officers detailed from the Naval Militia the three seniors were graduates of the Naval Academy, two of them officers of marked professional ability, and fitted to fill any place on board of a modern man of war, notwithstanding the fact that they had been out of service for some years.4 The other two officers were men of intelligence and zeal, anxious to do their part well, efficient as Division Officers, in which duty they evinced the greatest interest; but without any experience at sea, which justified the belief that in case of emergency they would, if in charge of the deck, act with promptness and discretion.5 To place them in this position was unjust to them, unjust to the Commanding Officer, throwing on him greater responsibilities, and still more unjust to the service, as their want of sea knowledge might lead at any time to disaster. It is unreasonable to think that a class of people, whatever may be their interest in, and natural aptitude for, things pertaining to the sea, whose occupations are entirely those of landsmen, can by a few days training yearly on a man of war, and considerable time spent in drills on board of a hulk, be fitted to perform the duties of a watch officer at sea. The necessary experience for Division Officers they can, and do, get; but the sea habit; and the knowledge of the sea necessary to take charge of a deck under ordinary conditions, can only be acquired at sea, and this experience they did not have.

6.   The Medical Officer,6 detailed by the Naval Militia, was a man of standing in his profession in New York, and most admirably fitted in all ways for his duties. With most excellent ideas of discipline, extended professional knowledge, and very watchful of the health of the crew, his duties were naturally well performed. The Chief Engineer and his Assistant had both served in the Morgan Line and both were thoroughly competent.7 The manner in which they performed their duties left nothing to be desired. The engines and boilers were always ready for use. The Naval Militia did not send a Pay officer and the duty was performed by an Officer from the regular service.8

7.   As to the crew. The Officers in command of the Naval Militia of the State of New York, many of whom were Graduates of the Naval Academy, and some of whom had served, with distinction in the service for a number of years, seeing the necessity when the “Yankee’s” crew was detailed of sending experienced Petty Officers with them, did their utmost to obtain them, but were successful in obtaining only a small number who had served in a ship of war. The result was that there were not a sufficient number of men among the crew acquainted with the life and customs of a ship of war to act as examples, and there was naturally for sometime considerable confusion, and much unnecessary work was thrown upon the Executive and other Officers. Their deficiencies were entirely the result of want of experience. In caring for their messes, their bags and hammocks, scrubbing their clothes, and in many of the minor details of a man of war, they were almost entirely ignorant; but this would have disappeared at an early day had there been among them a sprinkling of man of war’s men whose examples they could have followed. As signal men they had been well instructed, and as look-outs they were very alert. In performing the ship’s duties they were willing, and after some weeks, became fairly efficient. The manner in which they turned to in coaling ship, at times in the tropics, and under very disagreeable and trying conditions, a kind of work to which they were entirely unaccustomed, with perfect cheerfulness, and no word of complaint, commanded my unqualified admiration. They were not seamen - they were not men-of-war’s men - but they were far better than a crew of inexperienced men picked up at our rendezvous.They had been instructed in the use of small arms and secondary battery guns,and in signalling,and in all these they were fairly expert.They had fair ideas of discipline - the Punishment Record of the ship showing that no harsh disciplinary methods had to be resorted to during the cruise.

     8.   In conclusion my views based on an experience over four months with the Naval Militia of the State of New York are:-

     1st. They are by far the best organization of the kind in the country. This is due almost entirely to the fact that the leading officers in the organization were seaman - graduates of the Naval Academy. The latter, while desirable, is not absolutely necessary; but it is essential that the officers should be seamen.

     2nd. The crew detailed for Yankee was in all respects better than a crew enlisted at our rendezvous, after the supply of old men-of-war’s men, apprentice boys, and sailors had been exhausted.

     3rd. That they were well drilled in small arms, and in signals evinced great interest in their work, especially such parts of it as related to the battery.

     4th. That they were as a body without any experience at sea, and were for a long time entirely unable to look out for themselves, for their messes and for their clothing.

9.   To remedy the above defects as far as possible no one should be permitted to hold an appointment as a sea officer in the Militia who is not a seaman by education or training either in the Navy or Merchant Service, or by extended experience in seagoing yachts.

10.  A small vessel, Capable of berthing a crew of 40 to 60 men, not including engine room force and servants, should be provided for the Militia; and each man should be required to cruise for at least fifteen days each summer, and in addition to live on board from 5 P.M. to 8.30 A.M. for at least twenty days. The latter would no interfere with the ordinary occupation of a man of business in New York. This during the long days of June and July would give time for target practice and accustom the men to living on board ship. None of this time should be taken up in small arms or other drill that could be equally well taught on board of a vessel like the “New Hampshire”.

11.  When called into service in case of war they should be sent to a vessel with a skeleton crew of experienced petty officers, who have served as such in the Navy, from their own organization if possible; and, in addition to these petty officers there should be at least one or two old man of war’s men in each part of the ship. This I regard as absolutely essential.

12.  With such and organization I am satisfied that the Naval Militia could be made most efficient; but on no account should line officers, unaccustomed to the sea, be sent; and under no circumstances should a crew of Naval Militia “en bloc” be sent to man a ship, as they were in the case of the “Yankee”. That any success attended this experiment was in spite of - and not the result of - their previous training.

Very respectfully,          



Source Note: TDS, DNA, RG 45, Entry 464. Addressed below close: “The Secretary of the Navy,/Washington, D.C.” Docketed: “U.S.S. “Yankee”/Sept. 1898/W.H.Brownson/Commander/Commanding/Report on Naval/Militia - Serving/on board ‘Yankee.’” Document features a “BUREAU OF NAVIGATION” stamp numbered “139930,” and another stamp indicating it was forwarded by the Commandant’s Office at Mare Island Navy Yard on 19 September 1898.

Footnote 1: Brownson was commanding officer of Yankee, which was crewed almost entirely with Naval Militia.

Footnote 2: Lt. William G. Cutler.

Footnote 3: Lt. John Hubbard.

Footnote 4: Lt. William B. Duncan, Lt. John H. Bernard, and Lt. Samuel D. Greene.

Footnote 5: En. Charles L. Andrews and Ens. William De W. Dimock.

Footnote 6: Passed Asst. Surgeon John P. McGowan.

Footnote 7: Passed Asst. Engineer Joseph L. Gilbert and Asst. Engineer Edward S. VanWart.

Footnote 8: Paymaster Clerk John G. Muir.

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