The Naval Academy Cemetery on "Strawberry Hill"

By Ruby R. Duval

Soon George Calvert, scion of the Fifth Lord Baltimore, who was serving his second year in the legislature of Maryland, became a frequent visitor at "Strawberry Hill" and doubtless viewed the charming country seat as one long to be remembered. He had fallen in love with the beautiful Rosalie Eugenia Stier and he succeeded in winning her for his bride. This young statesman was the son of Benedict Calvert of Mt. Airy on the Patuxent; his sister Eleanor Calvert had become the wife of John Parke Custis, stepson of George Washington, in February, 1774. As the months passed and George Calvert with the fair Belgian girl explored each nook and cranny of the Sprigg estate they could not have imagined how within the next century and a half the charming garden and surrounding fields would become the gathering place of such a company as the early occupants neither saw nor dreamed of. Early in the nineteenth century the property changed hands several times, and for a number of years it was used as the Alms House of Anne Arundel County. The farm was sold by the trustees of the poor in 1823 for $6,000 and nearly fifty years later it became the place of rest for a most distinguished assembly.

The United States Naval School (Academy) was established at Annapolis on the site of old Fort Severn in 1845. Need for expansion of the Naval School arose from time to time and purchases of parcels of adjoining land for inclusion in the Government Reservation were made. Finally, funds were appropriated for the acquisition of the tract of land known as "Strawberry Hill," and a portion of this tract—the verdant bluff overlooking the Naval Academy—was laid off in 1868 for use as the Naval Academy Cemetery.

Sheltered by tall oaks and massive evergreens, this is one of the most beautiful small cemeteries in our country. In a setting of mountain laurel and rhododendron, English boxwood and azalea, dogwood, flowering cherries and hydrangea, graceful forsythia and spiraea, and other shrubs of equal beauty, here are gathered army officers and naval officers together with members of their families; and here are professors, midshipmen, sailors, and marines. The lovely spot represents journey's end for many heroic men, for men who met death in the performance of duty, and it is the place of final repose for many who have lived to ripe old age after long and successful careers. With the exception of Arlington, the historic Custis-Lee estate on the Potomac, no other old homeplace has received such a varied and so important a gathering.

Families from far and near have reason to regard the Naval Academy Cemetery as a significant memorial and a shrine. They regard it as a shrine not only because of the names of famous men recorded there but on account of some quiet man, some modest woman, some father, some mother, some youthful son or daughter, some tiny boy or girl, who left a store of memories cherished by their own small circle.

Simple headstones and imposing monuments, monoliths and ledgers—some moss-covered and worn by the ravages of time—reveal the identity of this assembly. But to evaluate all that this hallowed spot means to those whose dear ones have come to rest here is beyond the ability of mere computation. Widely different in physical aspect from the large National Cemetery at Arlington, the Naval Academy Cemetery is small and unpretentious but lovely and peaceful. It seems somewhat akin to the quaint family burial grounds of many of our forebears—the country seat burial grounds where generation after generation were laid to rest.

Markers bearing inscriptions as early as 1852 indicate that after "Strawberry Hill" was acquired for a naval cemetery a number of bodies were removed from other burial grounds and reinterred here. Headstones at the graves of Thomas Taylor and Joseph Whippard, members of the crew of the U. S. sloop Preble, reveal that they died in 1852; the monument at the grave of Commodore Henry E. Ballard, who died in 1855, recalls an officer who served aboard the frigate Constitution in her famous action with the British cruisers Cyane and Levant in 1815; and a small stone marks the grave of Lieutenant Isaac G. Strain who died in Aspinwall, Colombia, in 1857, following undue exposure while serving with a surveying expedition on the Isthmus of Darien. A tall shaft bearing the name of Commodore Isaac Mayo, who died in 1861, is in memory of one of the officers who comprised the Naval Board appointed in June, 1845, to select an appropriate site for a Naval School. Mayo knew the advantages of the location of old Fort Severn at Annapolis and he was largely influential in the board's final choice.

Lieutenant Commander Charles W. Flusser of the Class of 1853, who fell in battle aboard the U.S.S. Miami in 1864, is buried here, and not far distant rests Lieutenant Samuel W. Preston, who met death in battle at Fort Fisher in 1865. The remains of Commander William B. Cushing, whose daring exploits won him distinction during the Civil War, were brought here for interment in 1874.

When the U.S.S. Huron was wrecked north of Cape Hatteras in November, 1877, the bodies of sixty enlisted men were recovered and brought to this cemetery for burial. Sixty headstones mark their graves and a small monument records the names of men whose bodies were unidentified or not recovered.

The most imposing monument in the Naval Academy Cemetery is the huge mound of granite surmounted by a large marble cross. This was erected in memory of the heroic officers and men of the United States Navy who perished in the Jeannette Arctic Exploring Expedition of 1877. A symbolic gravestone bearing the name of a young army officer who died at Cape Sabine in 1884 recalls the ill-fated Greely Expedition and the untimely deaths of most of its members from starvation and cold before relief could reach them. Close by a monument bearing the name of a Navy Paymaster recalls the heavy toll of a typhoon at Apia, Samoa, when the U. S. ships Vandalia and Trenton were wrecked in 1889.

Epitaphs and legends down to the present day reveal that death has claimed many in the performance of duty either in war or peace, while others have died peacefully after a lifetime long and useful. Officers and men who served in the War of 1812, the Seminole War, the Mexican War, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World War I, and World War II are among those recorded in this important assembly.

To attempt to list all who have come to rest on "Strawberry Hill" in the past three-quarters of a century would be virtually to write a history of the naval service including interesting personalities from the lowest ranking seaman to some of our most distinguished officers of flag rank. All branches of the service are here represented-surface ships, submarines, heavier-than-air, lighter-than-air, Marine Corps, and staff corps.

This is the Naval Academy Cemetery, quiet and peaceful, gathering within its fold a long and eventful history. This is the old farm, widely different from the country seat of pre-Revolutionary days but still the lovely green bluff overlooking the Severn, proud of the past and confident of the greatness of the generations to follow.

Miss Ruby R. Duval , the author of several previous articles in the Proceedings, is a native of Annapolis and is connected with the Naval Academy, by vocation, in the capacity of secretary to the Head of the Department of English, History, and Government.

 

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