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Navy traditionalists who yearn lor the order of bygone days would find little comfort in the early years °f the Naval Academy when rambunctious midship- took full advantage of an indulgent superintendent, Commander George P. Upshur. The midshipmen under Upshur’s command—ranging in age from ^ to 28—included "oldsters” with several years of experience at sea and “youngsters” just embarking on their naval careers. Upshur once pleaded, “I cannot govern you young gentlemen; so if you will only govern yourselves I should be delighted.”
Upshur’s leniency was legend as midshipmen vandalized Annapolis, robbed the Academy’s kitchen, ar>d showered abusive language upon officers and instructors. "Over the wall” forays into town were a n,ghtly occurrence. When questioned by Upshur on these subjects, midshipmen often refused to respond. They considered themselves to be officers and gentlemen and the prerogatives of gentlemen often superseded those of rank. Enraged and exasperated, Upshur described the situation in a letter to the Sectary of the Navy as “a serious evil and disgrace to the school.” And indeed it was, for the Naval School, as the Academy was then called, still found many enemies among Jacksonian democrats and “old salts” who feared that classroom education would produce aristocratic and effeminate officers.
It was an extraordinary state of affairs and culminated in the famous “Lockwood incident.” A 1836 graduate ot West Point, Professor Henry Lockwood had seen action in the Seminole Wars in Florida before entering the Navy as a professor. Lockwood became Professor of Natural Philosophy at the new Naval School in Annapolis in 1845 and assumed additional duties as gunnery instructor in 1847. The bespectacled professor’s artillery drills aroused the ire of his young charges who resented this “Army stuff.” The midshipmen disassembled their field guns, hid the various components throughout the yard, and threw the linchpins into the Severn River. They then hanged Lockwood in effigy from the flagstaff, in full view of both the school and the town.
Commander Upshur wrote to Secretary of the Navy John Mason as follows:
United States Naval School Annapolis, Maryland 24th March 1848 Sir,
I am greatly pained and deeply mortified by the necessity of reporting to the Department a most reprehensible act which occurred at this School on the afternoon of the 21st and which was followed at a late hour of the succeeding night, or at a very early hour on the morning of the 22nd by a disgraceful outrage and gross violation of Naval law and discipline admitting of no apology.
On the afternoon of the 21st during my absence on duty, at the Department, Lieutenant Lee, the Executive (and then the Commanding Officer) of the School, was startled by a sudden and unusual noise in the lower part of the yard. He repaired instantly to the spot, and found a large number of the Midshipmen there assembled cheering and shouting “down with gunnery,” “Textbook,” “Textbook,” etc. He demanded of an Officer, the cause of such rude and boisterous proceedings, who replied that he believed the Midshipmen were displeased with the course of instruction in gunnery, or words to that effect. Silence being restored, he administered a suitable rebuke, with such remarks as the occasion demanded, and the bell, ringing at the time, the Officers repaired quietly and in good order to their duties in the recitation hall.
On my return that evening, Mr. Lee promptly reported the occurrence, and the various circumstances attending it, expressing at the same time, a hope, and the belief, that he had done all that was necessary, and that no further misconduct was to be apprehended. I approved entirely of the course he had pursued, and like himself indulged the hope that no further proceedings would be necessary. In this reasonable hope, we were unfortunately disappointed.
About daylight on the morning of the 22nd Midshipman Langhorne (the Officer of the day) and the watchman on guard, discovered the effigy of a man in Naval uniform and wearing thin spectacles suspended by the Ensign halliards to the Flag Staff, some forty feet above the surface, and plainly visible over the walls to those in the city. To the arm of the effigy a neat model gun (ordnance of war, prepared for purposes of instruction) was attached. The [illegible] was broken off and the model otherwise injured. For the purpose, (as I suppose) of gaining access to this model, the key of the room in which it was deposited, was abstracted from the lock the evening before, while
Mr. Copeland was engaged within in packing UP his steam apparatus. Showing evidently that this unparalleled assault upon the law and discipline this gross and insulting indignity to the professor of Gunnery, was prior dictated, deliberate y planned, and as deliberately executed, at a late hour of the night, when all Officers not on duty, ought to have been, and were supposed to be m
Upon discovering the suspended figure Mr. Langhorne promptly summoned such force aS could be collected at that early hour, proceeded to the spot, and after considerable effort, succeede in reaching and removing it, by means of ladders lashed together, but not I fear, until after it hac become a publick spectacle to the citizens without the walls. The Mast rope had been previously cut. to prevent a ready access to it. Offensive and in suiting placards were also hung or nailed about tlu yard, one of which, the first Lieutenant secure and delivered to me. The figure is also in my PoS' session. With the exception of open mutiny, consider this the greatest outrage I have ever known committed under Naval or Military rule. The whole forenoon 1 spent in investigation, and shortly after Meridian, assembled the entire class, when 1 announced to them the object of the meeting, and characterized the act of which sonic members of their body had been guilty, in a strong language of reprehension, as I could command to rise with propriety on such an occasion.
At the close of my remarks, I said in substance, that according to the code in which I had been instructed, the active agents in the proceeding 0 honorable men) had no alternative but to come forward, assume their own proper responsibilities and relieve their unoffending brethren from the odium and other serious consequences which would attach to the whole class, unless the real offenders could be identified. After the lapse of a few minutes, Midshipman John M. Murphy came forward and told me that he was one. I repeated the remark twice, when Messers E. H. Scovell and John Gale also came forward and announced themselves as actors in the scene.
1 have deemed it proper to suspend Messers Murphy, Scovell and Gale from the ordinary privileges and indulgences of the School, with orders to attend as usual to their Academick duties, and respectfully await your orders in regard to them.
1 do not know that either of those gentlemen was concerned in the occurrence of the 21st or in preparing and putting up the placards on the
22nd. I have reason to believe that not more than ten or twelve of the class were engaged in, or even cognizant of, the outrage on the morning of the 22nd and all now seem fully aware of its enormity.
Sincerely desirous of imposing as few restrictions as possible, and of governing by moral, rather than by legal force, I have hitherto endeavored so to rule, as to maintain good order and obedience at as small a cost of personal freedom as practicable. With this view 1 have endeavored to temper a wholesome system of disCIpline with as much of amity and forbearance as the nature of the institution under my charge would admit of. Possibly I have carried the system too far; at least it has not in every instance produced the desired result.
I have counselled, advised, persuaded, lectured, rebuked, suspended and reported, and you have reprimanded and finally ordered offenders to sea. This last expedient has had an excellent effect upon a large majority, but the desired object has not yet been fully attained. A few cases of prompt dismissal from the service would, I doubt not Exercise a most salutary and permanent influence °ver the future government of this School, and should it be the pleasure of the Department to order the trial of the Officers herein named, I would most respectfully, but earnestly recommend, that the Sentence of the Court, whatsoever ‘t may be, should be promptly carried into effect and never reversed.
I have the honor to be Sir,
Your: Obedient: Servant:
G. P. Upshur
Commander and Superintendent
Honorable J. Y. Mason Secretary of the Navy Washington D. C.
The three ringleaders were charged with insulting a superior officer and were arrested. But Lockwood Was not an officer and, to undercut the trio’s belated defense on these grounds, the Secretary of the Navy acted through Congress and made civilian professors officers in the Navy with a $400 increase in pay. This prompted the midshipmen to remark "that for such an increase in pay Lockwood could afford to be hanged in effigy every year,” and they turned his horse loose in Annapolis—painted like a frigate and with a lantern hanging from its head.
NAVAL INSTITUTE COLLECTION
Seen in this view of the Naval School in 1848 are the Lyceum (Mess Hall), the Recitation Hal! (Barracks), and the flagpole from which “a gross and insulting indignity to the professor of Gunnery was . . , deliberately planned, and as deliberately executed. ..."
A naval court-martial that included the Academy’s first Superintendent, Commander Franklin Buchanan, and Commander David Glasgow Farragut convened on 17 April and deliberated for several weeks before rendering a guilty verdict. On 13 May 1848, and in the presence of the assembled midshipmen and staff, Commander Upshur carried out the orders of the Secretary of the Navy and dismissed Murphy, Gale, and Scovell from the service.
Upshur continued to govern with strong words and a soft heart, with predictable results. Fistfights, threatened duels, drunkenness, and nocturnal shenanigans such as breaking into the Superintendent s office were but a few of the activities of these early men of Annapolis. Midshipman Scovell, readmitted to the school, was again kicked out—this time for rude treatment of Upshur who had recommended his reinstatement in the first place. Only Midshipman Murphy, also given a second chance by Upshur, graduated. He resigned from the Navy in 1864 and died in New York City in 1884.
The Lockwood incident was one of several gross breaches of discipline that figured in the school’s reorganization in 1850, after which it was referred to as the Naval Academy. Midshipmen were limited to the ages ot 14 to 18, thus eliminating the problem of “oldsters.” Discipline was tightened by the new Superintendent, Commander C. K. Stribling, although regulations continued to be honored more in the breach than in the observance.
And what of Henry Lockwood? His Naval Academy service continued until well after the Civil War—with an interlude of Army duty. As General Lockwood, he commanded a brigade at the Battle of Gettysburg. The redoubtable professor, it may be presumed, had finally found willing students of gunnery.