5 May 1861 Naval Academy transfers to
Newport, Rhode Island; returns
to Annapolis, Maryland, on 9
11 Sep. 1872 James Henry Conyers, first black
26 Jun. 1884 Congress authorizes commission-
ing of Naval Academy graduates
29 Nov. 1890 Navy beats Army 24-0 in first
Army-Navy football game.
2 Apr. 1898 Naval Academy adopts coat of
3 Jun. 1949 The Naval Academy graduates its
first black, John Wesley Brown.
28 May 1980 Naval Academy graduates its
first women officers.
During the first 50 years of the United States
Navys existence, it had no organized, efficient
Navywide system for training its prospective
officers. Midshipmen received most of their
training aboard ship under the ships chaplain.
They received some training, however, from time
to time at various schools ashore.
Despite growing evidence of the need for a
naval academy, efforts to establish it were
rebuffed until 1845. At that time the Honorable
George Bancroft, distinguished historian and
educator, became Secretary of the Navy in
President Polks cabinet. With the establishment
of a naval academy in mind, Secretary Bancroft
made several adroit moves, including obtaining
Fort Severn from the War Department. Fort
Severn occupied 10 acres on a neck of land called
Windmill Point at Annapolis. There, in late 1845,
he set up a naval school for midshipmen. The
school was officially designated as the United
States Naval Academy some 5 years later.
Under Commander Franklin Buchanan, its
first superintendent, the new school got under way
on 10 October 1845. The original seven-member
faculty consisted of four officers and three
The school opened with a student body of
60, whose members were divided into a junior
and senior class. They were housed in several
small buildings, popularly named Apollo Row,
the Gas House, Brandywine
Cottage, and the Abbey. The names of the
buildings reflected the principal characteristics of
their residents or, in the case of Brandywine
Cottage, the ship from which the residents came.
The subjects studied included gunnery, naval
tactics, engineering, chemistry, mathematics,
astronomy, French, and English.
Some of the students had come to the new
school without any previous sea duty and were
designated acting midshipmen. Most students,
however, had appointments as midshipmen and
had several years of sea duty. (The acting
midshipmen were more comparable to todays
midshipmen than the latter.)
During the first few years, many of the
midshipmen had difficulty taking their studies or
the school discipline seriously. This difficulty
probably resulted because of their previous sea
duty experience, their ages (ranging up to 27
years), and their being used to unrestricted liberty
when ashore. This is reflected by the following
reportedly true stories.
One incident concerned the midshipmen living
at the Abbey, who supposedly led exemplary lives.
One night, however, the officer of the day found
the Abbey deserted. Upon investigation the
officer discovered a tunnel that went under the
yard wall immediately adjacent to and toward
Annapolis. The next day the school ended the use
of the Abbey as a midshipmens residence.
On another occasion, the midshipmen were
reported to have hung Professor Henry H.
Lockwood in effigy from the Academy flagstaff
one St. Patricks Day. For this, the ringleaders
were ordered to appear before a court-martial
board for insulting a superior officer. They
claimed in defense the professor was not
superior to students since he was not an officer.
(Congress eventually remedied this situation by
raising instructors to the equivalent ranks of
Another story about this period deals with the
linguistic prowess shown by one Midshipman
Nelson during the annual examinations. Professor
Arsene Girault, instructor in French, had patiently
tried to teach Nelson to speak something
resembling that language. When time for the
exam arrived, however, Nelson knew he could do
nothing of the kind. Therefore, he memorized a
series of phrases out of the French textbook.
During the examination, with half a dozen
commodores present, the Professor, speaking in
French, asked, Mr. Nelson, what is your native