Chenango on the Seas, Part I: The Navy starting line

We, as citizens of the greatest nation on this earth, pause again this forthcoming Memorial Day to honor, not only the veterans of World War II, but all veterans of all wars who have served their county, many sacrificed their lives, so that we may main free. There will be the traditional parades throughout this nation, many speeches will be given, wreaths will be laid, and many will attend these solemn ceremonies. The crowds will disperse returning to their homes and enjoy the companionship of family and friends at either dinners or picnics.

However, while pausing to enjoy what we so take for granted, it is time to look back at events of history that have had such an important role with the freedom of the United States. The following articles will document a long forgotten segment of history that was brought to my attention earlier this year. Earlier this year, this writer was approached and asked would I consider doing an article, prior to Memorial Day, relevant to the history of the USS Chenango. Little did I realize how extensive this subject would be of interest! First it is important that it be written that all the armed forces have had important roles, each different, with the ongoing fight for freedom. And it is equally important that naval history of this country is summarized (a difficult task) briefly.



The United States Navy was first formally authorized as a Navy on June 12,1775 by the Rhode Island General Assembly. Let us state at this time, the Navy is basically divided in two periods, the “Old Navy” and the “New Navy.” This first formal movement of a Continental Navy came from the state of Rhode Island due to the widespread smuggling activities and the harassment by the British Frigates. The resolution had been passed by the Rhode Island Assembly and was introduced to the Continental Congress Oct. 3, 1775, but was tabled. The United States Navy recognizes Oct. 13, 1775 as the official establishment of the Navy as this was the date the formal resolution was passed that created the Continental Navy.

With this establishment, the early years of naval involvement span from the American Revolution when Benedict Arnold order construction of twelve vessels to used to slow the British fleet that was invading New York from Canada. Those vessels proved to be successful in the two days Battle of Valcour Island and with this success by mid 1776 construction of additional naval vessels which their effectiveness was extremely limited as they were outmatched by the Royal Navy.

A note of interest, a naval hero of the Revolution, John Paul Jones in the Battle of Flamborough Head, the captain of the Serapis asked Jones whose ship Bonhomme Richard had several guns out of action and the riggings was entangled if Jones had struck his colors. Jones replied “I have not yet begun to fight.” This statement has proven to be true many times over across the two hundred plus years of this nation. With the end of the American Revolution with the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783, by 1785 the Continental Navy was disbanded and remaining vessels were sold.

The Navy would again be called upon for action with the War of 1812 and with the passage of the Naval Act of 1794 construction was begun on six frigates, one of which was the USS Constitution (launched in 1797) and whose nickname would be “Old Ironsides.” This vessel remains today anchored in Boston harbor. The history relevant to the participation of the Navy in the War of 1812 is extensive and cannot be included with this documentation. However, in brief, the concerns that the War Department did not have the ability of manage a Navy led to the eventual creation of the Department of the Navy on April 30, 1798.

With the ending of the War of 1812, the importance of the Navy resulted in better financial funding and the construction of many new ships, many of which were half-completed and were kept in shipyards until the Age of Sail had almost completely passed. By the 1840s the Navy was adopting steam power and shell guns, but history is written they lagged behind in the British and French in the adoption of new technology.

With the establishment of the United States Military Academy in 1802, this institution provided the necessary military training for cadets as future officers in the Army. The United States Naval Academy would not be established until the year 1851, which again provided much necessary formal training for future Naval officers.

The United States Navy has been engaged in assorted major operations throughout its history, and to name them would prove to be lengthy. However, the opening of the American Civil War would prove to hasten the final end of the sailing Navy. Naval operations during the Civil War consisted mainly of blockades of Southern ports and assorted assaults on forts with a number of operations conducted on the Mississippi River.

With the beginning of the Civil War in 1861, the participation of the first USS Chenango will be continued in the second segment of this series of “Chenango on the Seas.”

Editor’s Note: This five-part series begins today and concludes in our Memorial Day edition.

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