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Reviewed by:
  • The Long Road to Annapolis: The Founding of the Naval Academy and the Emerging American Republic, and: A Society of Gentlemen: Midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy 1845-1861
  • Harold D. Langley (bio)

Naval history, American Navy, U.S. Naval Academy

The Long Road to Annapolis: The Founding of the Naval Academy and the Emerging American Republic. By William P. Leeman. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010. Pp. 292. Cloth, $39.95.)
A Society of Gentlemen: Midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy 1845-1861. By Mark C. Hunter. (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2010. Pp. 233. Cloth, $34.95.)

William P. Leeman has a longstanding interest in the establishment of the U.S. Naval Academy in 1845 by Secretary of the Navy George [End Page 717] Bancroft. This led to research on Bancroft and to a doctoral dissertation on the subject. The book is a revision of his dissertation. Along the way Leeman has become familiar with a wide range of secondary literature, and he has consulted some pertinent manuscript sources. The result is a new examination of the sixty-eight-year effort to establish an institution for the professional education of American naval officers. Unlike earlier studies, the author places the concept of a naval academy and the debate over it in the context of the emerging American nationalism. He hopes that readers may better understand "the evolution of the American naval profession as it relates to the political, social and intellectual development of the early republic" (2). Also noted is the influence of West Point on the debate over the professional education of midshipmen. A review of the secondary literature and the exploration of some relevant official and private manuscript material have generally resulted in a broader examination of the history of the origin of the Naval Academy.

But along the way the author occasionally loses sight of some of the naval dimensions of the story. One example of this is the author's statement that Secretary of the Navy James K. Paulding was content to make recommendations to Congress for the establishment of a naval academy. Yet Paulding established schools for midshipmen at three navy yards and at the Naval Asylum, a home for aged seamen in Philadelphia. By 1841 the success of the school at the Asylum led to the closing of those in the navy yards. Paulding's action established a useful precedent that Bancroft later used in ordering midshipmen to a shore-based institution.

Given the author's interest in Bancroft, and his use of private and public manuscript material, it is surprising that he has no sense of the pressures on the secretary of the navy not only in regard to the education of midshipmen but other issues as well. Also the book contains an illustration of a painting depicting the visit of the secretary of war, an army officer, Bancroft, and Commodore Lewis Warrington to Fort Severn in Annapolis prior to its transfer to the navy. The role of Commodore Warrington in the decision-making process is not addressed by the author.

The book contains a bibliography of mainly appropriate works and is useful for that purpose. Readers may also profit by reading the author's interpretative material on American society and the rise of professionalism as well as on the influence of West Point. Apparently Leeman assumed that all official aspects of the story of the founding of the Naval [End Page 718] Academy were already available in publications, but he did not test that hypothesis. As a result this study is a disappointment.

Mark C. Hunter expands our knowledge of the training of midshipmen at the Naval School and later the Naval Academy between 1845 and 1861. The range of ages the levels of education and sea experience made it necessary for officials to design different course structures for the older students than for the young teenagers entering Annapolis at the beginning of their naval careers. Courses for midshipmen on the junior and senior level were to bridge the gap between the old style of education and the new. On the junior level midshipmen took introductory courses in geography, English, Spanish, French, and...


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