US Naval History (Part 1)

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This is a guide to the history of the United States Navy based on the information in the July 2009 revision of the Navy Recruit Trainee Guide. This guide will be divided into multiple parts. This part covers important people, ships, missions, innovations and events from the Revolutionary War to the transitional period after the Spanish-American War.


For World War I to the Vietnam War, see US Naval History (Part 2).
For the Persian Gulf War to the War on Terrorism, see US Naval History (Part 3)
For the relationship between the Navy Core Values and U.S. Naval history, the mission of the U.S. Navy, the mission of the U.S. Navy in the future, according to the Sea Power 21 plan and the mission and components of the U.S. Navy Reserve, see US Naval History (Part 4)

Revolutionary War (1775-1783)

The war in which Great Britain's thirteen North American colonies achieved their independence as the United States of America. Great Britain had one of the largest and most powerful navies in the world.


Question Answer
When was the Continental Navy created?October 13, 1775
What did the Continental Navy do?Made numerous raids on British Blockades. Captured supplies intended for the British Army
What did the Continental Navy consist of?Bonhomme Richard, a frigate loaned from France. "Citizen-sailors" from state naval militias who predated the Naval Reserves.
What was the first Submarine used in combat and when was it usedthe Turtle, 1776
Describe the Turtle and how it was usedOne-man subsurface craft used to in an unsuccessful attack on the HMS Eagle in New York Harbor.
When did the Bonhomme Richard engage the HMS Serapis?1779
Who was in command of the Bonhomme Richard?Captain John Paul Jones
What did Captain John Paul Jones say when the Commanding Officer of the Serapis asked for surrender?"I have not yet begun to fight!"
Who surrendered in the engagement between the Bonhomme Richard and the Serapis?The Serapis

After the Revolutionary War (1784-1811)


Question Answer
When was the Constitution of the United States drafted?September 17, 1787
What powers did the Constitution give Congress in regards to the Navy?Provide and maintain a Navy. Make rules for the government and regulation of land and naval forces.
When was the Navy Department established?April 30,1798

War of 1812 (1812-1815)

There was an ongoing war was between Great Britain and France. The U.S. was conducting trades with France in spite of a British blockade.


Question Answer
Why did the U.S. declare war on Britain?British interference with U.S. foreign trade. The British Navy was boarding U.S. Merchant ships, removing Sailors and forcing them to serve in the British Navy (impressment).
Who did the USS Constitution battle in 1812?HMS Guerriere
How did the USS Constitution earn the nickname "Old Ironsides?”Some references say because enemy cannonballs bounced harmlessly off Constitution's hull. Other references say it was earned because the hull received so little damage.
What is the status of the USS Constitution today?The Constitution is the oldest commissioned ship in the U.S. Navy and is still afloat in Boston harbor, Massachusetts.

The Civil War (1861-1865)

The Civil War of the United States was a result of the southern states seceding from the Union to form the Confederate States of America.


Question Answer
What was the role of the Union Navy?Blockade the southern coastline to prevent the export of cotton and the import of ammunition. Conduct operations on the Mississippi River and its tributaries. Transport army personnel for amphibious assaults.
What was the role of the Confederate Navy?Disrupt the Union blockade. Mine harbors to protect them from Union forces.
What is an ironclad? A ship armored with metal.
When was the first battle of the Ironclad ships?1862
Which ships participated in the first Ironclad battle?CSS Virginia and the USS Monitor
Describe the start of the Ironclad battleThe CSS Virginia attacked the Union and sunk several warships. The USS monitor to halt the destruction of the Union blockade.
What are the results of the battle?The battle ended in a draw after each ship sustained minor damage after four hours. The Monitor preserved the blockade but the Virginia prevented a Union amphibious assault on the area.
The CSS H.L. Hunley was the first submarine to do what?It was the first submarine to sink a warship.
Describe the engagement between the USS Housatonic and the CSS H.L. HunleyIn February 1864, the USS Housatonic was sunk by an explosive charge of gunpowder driven in its side by the Hunley. Both sunk in the explosion.
When was the Battle of Mobile Bay and what was the result?August 1864. The battle gave the Union control of Mobile, AL, the last major Confederate Seaport on the Gulf Coast.
Who was the fleet commander in Mobile Bay?Admiral David G. Farragut
What order was made by Admiral Farragut in the middle of a minefield?"Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead."

The Spanish-American War (1898)

The United States declared war with Spain because of disputes between the U.S. and Spain about Cuban independence, concerns about the safety of U.S. citizens living in Cuba, the USS Maine explosion which killed 250 Sailors.


Question Answer
Where did the USS Maine sink?Havana Harbor, Cuba
Who was blamed for the USS Maine catastrophe?Spain
What was the battle cry for the Spanish-American War?"Remember the Maine!"
What was the role of the Navy in the Spanish-American War?Blockaded Cuba. Battled enemy ships in Cuba and the Philippines. Transported U.S. troops.
When was the peace treaty signed with Spain?December 1898

After the Spanish-American War (1899-1914)


Question Answer
What was the first operational submarine and when was it commissioned?the USS Holland, 1900
How was the USS Holland powered?It was powered by a gasoline engine on the surface and battery-powered electric motors submerged.
Who made The Great White Fleet and whenPresident Theodore Roosevelt, 1907
Explain the purpose of The Great White FleetTo show the world the U.S. Naval strength. The ships were painted white which was the Navy's peacetime color.
How many ships and what type of ships made The Great White Fleet?16 battleships and four destroyers.
What did Eugene Ely do?Eugene Ely was a civilian pilot that made the first ship to shore flight. He flew off the cruiser Birmingham on Hampton Roads, Virginia.