Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Commodore Arent S. Crowninshield, Chief, Bureau of Navigation, to Secretary of the Navy John D. Long





October 1st, 1898.



     . . . Estimates are submitted for the maintenance of the Office of Naval Intelligence.1 This office has for some years performed duties of great importance. It collects and classifies practically all important authoritative information published in regard to the growth and progress of foreign navies and their materiel and personnel. It also keeps informed of the defense of foreign ports. At the beginning of the war with Spain it furnished the Department with such valuable and accurate information in regard to the defenses of Cuba, Porto Rico, and the Philippines, as well as with accurate information as to the location of all of the strong vessels of the Spanish fleet.2 All information of the character indicated is kept filed in such a manner that information on any required subject can be immediately put at the disposition of any Bureau requiring it. This office, through the naval attaches, also did valuable duty in arranging the purchase of ships of war and war material abroad, just before the outbreak of the war.3

     This office was originally established, without express Congressional authority, much as a Board would be established, simply to meet Departmental necessity.4 This necessity is, however, permanent; and the duties of the office have become so far-reaching, and its operations so extensive, that it seems proper that the office should be authorized and organized by law under the Bureau of Navigation of the Navy Department;---the office having been transferred from the Office of the Assistant Secretary5 to the Bureau6 by the Order of the Secretary, dated April 25, 1898.

     The clerks now employed in the office are simply borrowed from the Bureaus and offices of the Navy Department and from the Washington Navy Yard. The increased volume of business now transacted by all these offices make it desirable to return these clerks to the offices where they properly belong. . .

The Bureau recommends that Congress be requested to authorize the enlistment of 20,000 men for general service and 2500 apprentices. It is not possible to make a close estimate of the number of men that will be necessary to man the fleet during the coming year, but it certain that within a very few years it will reach 20,000. It has always been the policy of the Bureau to stop enlistments when the cruising ships were full and there were a fair number of men on board receiving ships to make up waste and allow for prompt transfers without interfering with the organization of cruising ships. For the last few years, however, the Bureau has been engaged in a constant struggle to make the established quota suffice for the needs of the service. The crews have been cut down to the point where the loss of a very few men will seriously cripple the ship. The reserve on board receiving ships has practically ceased to exist, so that now when a vacancy occurs, it has to be filled by transfer from some other cruising ship, thereby breaking up the organization of the latter and being a serious detriment to her efficiency.

     With authority under direction of the President to enlist 20,000 men for general services and to keep 2500 apprentices under training at the training stations and on board training cruising ships, it would be possible to avoid this great evil. Enough men could be kept aboard receiving ships at all times to enable the Bureau to promptly fill accidental vacancies that might occur on board a cruising ship without making the shifts and changes which are no necessary to fill a single vacancy. This additional quota would also enable the Bureau to make up crews of three-year men for vessels ordered to foreign stations without drawing them from the organized crews of cruising ships on the home station. It would not be the policy of the Bureau to keep all of the 20,000 men under enlistment unless they were actually needed for service in the fleet, but in order to insure efficiency, at least this number should be allowed. . .

     The officers who have served under volunteer appointments during the war have rendered valuable service to the Navy and to the country. It has at all times, however, been necessary, with exceptions in rare cases, to consider the limitations of experience in each particular case, and the volunteer officer has not been and in professional attainments cannot be the equal of his brother of the regular establishment as amply shown by the experience of the war. The Navy can only obtain officers trained in every branch of naval duty and equally well prepared for any service by training them in the service, beginning with the Naval Academy and following the training up through the various grades.

     The Naval Militia of the various States were mustered into the service about the time of the beginning of the war. These organizations were of great help to the Department in manning the coast signal stations, which they did promptly and efficiently, in manning the vessels of the Auxiliary Naval Force, and in promptly furnishing material for crews of the auxiliary vessels serving with the regular fleet. For duty on board active ships, however, they could not be considered as more than material. With some individual exceptions the personnel were found to lack [the] experience and training which would have been necessary for performance of the duties of the ratings held. In the ordinary course most of these men would have been enlisted as landsmen and nothing higher. Men holding the ordinary blue-jacket rating were, moreover, of a class entirely unsuited to perform the duties that of necessity fell to the blue-jacket. Men who had been clerks, lawyers, professional men, while they might have been able to camp on shore and look out for themselves and their surroundings, found it a much different matter on board a crowded ship, where only a thorough understanding of how to make the best of everything would make their position bearable. These men were landsmen; they were not seamen in either the general or particular sense of the word. All, as was expected, had to be put through a course of drill; even the officers, with exceptions---principally Naval Academy graduates---were found to be unqualified to act as instructors.

     The Bureau does not wish to be understood to be underrating the zeal of the members of these organizations. The reports made by commanding officers show, almost without exception, that all were zealous and attentive to duty, but they also show that officers and men lacked all of the training and sea experience which would have made them really efficient. The Bureau wishes further to emphasize that the work of the Naval Militia at the signal stations---duty for which they were better adapted---was most satisfactorily performed, and that they likewise were useful in manning the harbor defense vessels of the Auxiliary Naval Force, where they were not subject to the privations which are a matter of course on board a man-of-war when at sea.

     A difficulty was experienced, too, in mustering these men in. The Government has for some years made a liberal appropriation for the support of the Naval Militia in addition to the amounts allowed by the states. This expenditure does not, however, carry with it the right to call upon the Naval Militia unless they volunteer. They are in no way subject to the orders of the Department until they have ceased to be Naval Militia, and have been regularly mustered into the service. This same difficulty has been experienced in peace times. The period of the annual drill has uniformly been a period of vexation re-arrangements of programs for the ships assigned to this duty.

     The foregoing consideration leads the Bureau to recommend that future appropriations shall be made on an entirely different basis. The best plan of all, in the opinion of the Bureau, would be to provide only for a national or federal naval reserves, to be entirely under the control of the Department, and to be recruited from the sea-daring classes. Each member enrolled being subject to a limited enlistment which would compel him to serve in war times under the pains and penalties of desertion, and which would require him to report once each year to the proper authority for instruction in such drills and other matters as the Department might prescribe, each man so enrolled to receive one month’s pay in his rating yearly, provided he renders such service. The House Bill No. 1103, presented at the last session of Congress by the Honorable Amos Cummings, embodies in general terms the views of the Bureau. There are in this bill certain minor points which, in the opinion of the Bureau, should be revised, but the bill as a whole meets with the approval of the Bureau and the Department is advised to urge the passage of a bill drawn up on similar lines. There will probably be objections to this plan from local sources, and it may be of sufficient strength to defeat the objects of the Department. In this even the Bureau urges that at any rate a bill be passed shutting off from Government support all naval militia organizations which do not conform to the uniform set of regulations in regard to enlistments, appointments of petty and other officers, standards for examination, drill and instructions and such other regulations as may be established by the Navy Department. . .

Very respectfully,          

 [Arent S. Crowninshield]   

Chief of Bureau.  


Source Note: TD, DNA, RG 24, Entry 254. Addressed below close: “To the Secretary of the Navy.”

Footnote 1: For information on the Office of Naval Intelligence, see, Jeffry M. Dorwart, The Office of Naval Intelligence: The Birth of America’s First Intelligence Agency, 1865-1918 (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1979).

Footnote 2: For one of the earlier intelligence reports regarding Adm. Pascual Cervera y Topete’s squadron, see: Dyer to Clover, 16 April 1898.

Footnote 3: For more information about the purchase of ships and war materiel, see: Mobilization.

Footnote 4: The ONI was established in 1882. Ibid., ix.

Footnote 5: Assistant Secretary of the Navy.

Footnote 6: The Bureau of Navigation.

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