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Correspondence Between Naval Commander & Secretary of the Navy

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Your Price: $ 50.00
Item Number: Mem6450
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Regarding an incident that happened at the U.S. Naval Academy in 1841

5 pages, 8 x 12 1/2, in ink. These are contemporary handwritten copies of a correspondence that took place between Andrew W. Johnson, Commander, U.S. Navy, and George M. Robeson, U.S. Secretary of the Navy, concerning an incident that occurred when Johnson was a Midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy in 1841. There are two letters from A.W. Johnson to Secretary Robeson, and one from Robeson to Johnson. Based on examples of Commander Johnson's signature, those on his two letters appear to be in his own hand. Johnson was on active duty as Lieutenant Commander during the Civil War.

The letters are as follows:

Washington City, D.C.
January 21, 1873
To the Hon. Geo. M. Robeson
Secretary of the Navy


While at the Naval Academy from October 1848 to August 1849- preparing for final examination, certain mischievous acts of a few of the Midshipmen of the date of 1841- of whom I was one- were punished by order of the Secretary of the Navy- Mr. Preston- with reduction of their general average on the final merit roll, thus affecting for life their advancement and rank in the service. My average on that roll stood 83.70 and the reduction made was 20.75, leaving it at 62.96 to be considered in assigning me position in my date.

At the commencement of the Rebellion there were but two officers in the Navy who had been thus reduced in rank- Lieutenant, now Commander Luce, and myself.

After the capture of Port Royal, S.C. in which Lieutenant Luce participated, Secretary Welles, at the instance of friends of Lieutenant Luce reversed the decision of Ex-Secretary Preston and recommended the nomination of that officer to his proper number on the Navy list, accompanying this recommendation with a communication setting forth the injustice of the proceeding. This was favorably acted upon and Lieutenant Luce was assigned to his rightful position.

Shortly after the commission of the offenses referred to by the midshipmen, promises of the future good behavior of the class were accepted by the Superintendent of the school, and the matter was presumed to have been satisfactorily concluded, but at a later date, the Secretary of the Navy disapproved the arrangement, and immediately before the final examination, a Court of Inquiry was convened by his order to investigate the circumstances. No specific charges were brought against any Midshipman, but all were suspected, and the questions put to each separately, obliged those concerned to implicate themselves indirectly by refusal to answer. Neither counsel, nor the right of defense, were permitted, but the degree of guilt was predicated upon the obstinacy of their declining replies to interrogation intended to criminate.

The Court, after the conclusion of its inquiries became examined, and, with an accession to its number, decided the relative merit of the entire class.

In view of the facts above stated, I respectfully solicit from the Department the same consideration which was shown Lieutenant Luce.

I have the honor to be,
Very respectfully,
Your Obed. Svt.,
A.W. Johnson,
Commander, U.S. Navy

Washington City, D.C.
January 22, 1873
Hon. Geo. M. Robeson
Secretary of the Navy


With the view of answering your verbal interrogation of the 21st instant- referring to an application for restoration to my academic position on the Navy list- based upon a precedent established by one of your predecessors in the case of Lieutenant, now Commander Luce- I respectfully submit the following:

The lengthy interval which has elapsed since my reduction in rank by Ex-Secretary Preston and my written application to the Department for redress, is due to the fact that immediately after his decision, I was ordered on active service afloat for two years. On my return to the United States, Secretary Wm. A. Graham declined to reverse the acts of Mr. Preston. After the completion of this duty the entire reorganization of the Navy under Secretary Dobbin, engaged Congress and the Department; and for the greater part of Secretary Toucey’s term I was at sea. The existing and busy period of Secretary Welles administration of the Department was not the time for such an application- moreover. I was absent on active duty.

Lieutenant Luce, who had frequently made the effort, succeeded after a lapse of thirteen or fourteen years in securing his proper number. Lieutenant Luce was not awarded his original place for any conspicuous act of gallantry, although he was so fortunate as to participate in one of the earlier naval engagements- the capture of Port Royal, S.C.- and no other advancements by number on the Navy Register were made on that occasion.

By reference to the letter of Secretary Welles- now on file in the Department- it will be seen that he reversed the action of Ex-Secretary Preston, principally on the ground of its injustice.

In 1866, Special promotions were made by Act of Congress for services in the Rebellion, in which I was not included; and until I could establish my claim to consideration for the same, I could not consistently approach the Department with the application now submitted.

I have the honor to be Sir,
Very Respectfully,
Your Obed. Svt.,
A.W. Johnson
Commander U.S. Navy

Navy Department
Washington, 25th February 1873


Your letters of the 21st ultimo, reciting the circumstances under which you were reduced in your relative standing in your class at the Naval Academy in 1848-49, and asking the consideration of the Department in your case have been received.

Although the Department has full appreciation of your character and services, it does not feel justified in attempting the investigation and remedying of a wrong said to have been some more than twenty years ago, to a student at the Naval Academy, particularly when action in this behalf would affect rights of other officers long considered settled.

Geo. M. Robeson
Secretary of the Navy

[to] Commander
Andrew W. Johnson
U.S. Navy
Washington, D.C.

Light age toning and wear. Very fine.

Naval Record of Andrew W. Johnson: Midshipman, October 19, 1841; Passed Midshipmen, August 10, 1847; Master, September 14, 1855; Lieutenant, September 15, 1855; Lieutenant Commander, July 16, 1862; Commander, July 25, 1866; and Captain, April 5, 1874; Retired List, February 8, 1884. Source: List of Officers of the U.S. Navy, and of the Marine Corps, 1775-1900.

WBTS Trivia: William B. Preston, who was U.S. Secretary of the Navy, during the time Andrew W. Johnson was a Midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy, was from Virginia, and served as a Confederate Senator during the War Between The States.
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