Forty-Five Years under the Flag

p. 4: About the year 1855 a number of comparatively new books, such as Midshipman Easy, Peter Simple, Jacob Faithful and Frank Mildmay, written by that inimitable author of sea fiction, Captain Marryat, came into the writer’s reach and so fas cinated his young mind as to determine an almost unconquerable desire for a sea life. Under this influence, joined to the fact that his great namesake and sponsor, General Winfield Scott—a conspicuous figure in the war of 1812 and that of Mexico in 1847 and 1848—had encouraged the idea of a military life, and had promised his influence to this end when the writer had reached the proper age, a military career with its ambitions and hopes seemed to exclude thoughts of all others. Nothing was known of the limitations to a military life in that time, and no thought of its requirements, its sacrifices, its exposures or its responsibilities could enter a mind filled with dreams and hopes that the time would come in later life when there might be such opportunities as others had had to do some lasting benefit to their home and country.

Toward the end of the year 1855 events took such shape in the political outlook of the Fifth Congressional District of Maryland, where the author’s family resided, that the Hon. H. W. Hoffman was elected to Congress. It so happened that during the contest, which was a spirited one, the author’s relatives became influential in carrying the District by a handsome majority for Mr. Hoffman, who in turn acknowledged their services by nominating the writer for appointment as acting midshipman in the Navy early in the year 1856.

p. 5: After the writer’s appointment, the Navy Department, then under Secretary Dobbin, sent him two pamphlets setting forth the mental and physical requirements of candidates for admission to the Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md. In looking them over attentively, some apprehension was aroused that among the many defects from which the candidate must be free physically in order to secure admission, there might be some of which the candidate was not aware. Although the writer was in robust health from the outdoor life he had led and was fairly well advanced in study, he was unaware of any physical impediment; yet the anxiety in the interval of waiting was only relieved when the Board of Surgeons and the Academic Board of the academy, after careful examination, on the 20th day of September, 1856, pronounced him qualified for admission.

p. 44-45, on problems in reading signal flags.

p. 128-29, in the South Atlantic: A good offing from the land being made, sail was set and steam allowed to die down in the boilers, as the ship’s motion was less disagreeable under sail, though only in small degree, as she worked her way southward to the region of variable winds off the Rio de la Plata, where the prevailing breezes were westerly. Those brave “west winds,” as Maury calls them in his Physical Geography of the Sea, were reached in eight or ten days out of Rio, and before them the Essex scudded like a winged racer for some eight days more, when the high peak of that wind-swept, desolate island of Tristan d’Acunha, away off in the middle of the South Atlantic, was raised ahead in the gray mists of the morning on the eastern horizon, and was reached on the morning of October 10th, the only day in the previous month when it had been possible for the islanders living on its northwest side to communicate safely with passing vessels. The day of the Essex’s arrival was exceptionally beautiful. The sea had calmed down and the winds had lulled for a few hours. During the short stay there full advantage was taken of the occasion by the islanders to visit the ship with vegetables, chickens, eggs and sheep for sale. The governor of this forlorn outpost was an American sailor from New London or Stonington

of the name of Peter Green, who was astonishingly well read and intelligent, being well-informed on topics of the day and what was going on in the great world beyond his horizon. He explained graphically the manner in which the American ship Mabel Clark was lost, and the manner of discovering the fact from wreckage seen the following day drifting past the island.

p. 159: From this time until the Duck Islands were passed, frequent gatherings of the captains of the several vessels were had on board one or the other of the relief ships. These were known in the whaling vernacular as “mollies,” which, interpreted, meant a sort of “smoker” where experiences in the ice regions were related. As the commander’s ice experience was limited to knowledge acquired from reading the literature upon this subject, he was receptive on these occasions rather than communicative. The thrilling adventures, the hairbreadth escapes, the suffering and exposures, when caught and crushed by the ice, were harrowing yet fascinating. But from these descriptions of those veritable old sea vikings much that was valuable afterward was derived. Some among the relief officers were inclined to infer that our lack of these experiences would discount the chances of success. Not so, however, with the commander, who reached the conclusion, during these conferences, that the experiences related were to be considered excellent, if the object was to catch whales; but where the purpose was to relieve Greely, risk, rather than too much caution, was to be the rule of action. The value of experience may be overestimated in this work; it sometimes begets conservatism; and nothing is more true in ice work than that they who know nothing fear nothing. This proved the dominant factor in the expedition’s work.

p. 335: The mail of July 10th brought many newspapers from home to the squadron, and in all of them were fuller details of the battle of July 3d. [in which Spanish force surrendered. Almost without exception those dailies gave the credit of the victory to the commander of the Second Squadron and ignored the New York as a factor in it. In that same spirit of generous fairness to share the honors and glories of that great victory with all who helped to achieve it, no matter how little in degree, the telegram which follows was transmitted the afternoon of that day, through Admiral Sampson, to the Secretary of the Navy.

Flagship Brooklyn,

Off Santiago de Cuba , July 10, 1898.

Feel some mortification that the newspaper accounts of July 6th have attributed victory on July 3d almost entirely to me. Victory was secured by the force under command Commander-in-Chief, North Atlantic Station, and to him the honor is due. The end of line held by the Brooklyn and the Vixen was heavily assailed, and had the honor, with the Oregon, of being in the battle from the beginning to the end. And I do not doubt for a moment full and proper credit will be given to all persons and all ships in the official report of the combat.

W. S. Schley

This telegram was handed in person to Admiral Sampson, who, after reading it carefully, said: “Schley, this is kind and generous; I will transmit it at once.” The admiral and the commander of the Second Squadron had been friends for forty years, and during their official association there had been no break or misunderstanding.


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