Because the Navy Department failed to ease a glut of post-Civil War officers and new officer candidates in the 1880s, Congress took the issue for action. A decade passed before the Navy could repair the career ladder.
At the peak of Union supremacy in 1865, the U.S. Navy stood as the mightiest afloat. By 1880, however, the number of vessels retained had dwindled significantly, and an unmanageable surplus of officers remained on the muster rolls. The graduates among the 858 cadets who entered the U.S. Naval Academy between 1861 and 1865 blocked the promotion ladder for more than two decades; the top 12 graduates of the class of 1865 were lieutenants for 21 years.