Monday, November 30, 2015

Washington Irving and the U.S. Navy

Quite a number of years ago the Museum was given a collection of naval papers pertaining to the Newman family. William D. Newman (ca. 1800-1844) and his sons, Langford Howard Newman (1830-1866) and William Bogert Newman (1834-1912) were all U.S. Navy officers. William met a tragic death in 1844, but his sons went on to follow him into naval service. Last year a second gift of papers was given to bolster the collection, adding new information about the family. Additionally, the Museum was able to purchase a letter written by Washington Irving in 1847asking New York Congressman Moses H. Grinnell to arrange an appointment to midshipman for seventeen-year old Langford. Irving had previously attained the same appointment from Grinnell for Langford’s father, William. In a snippet from his letter to Grinnell, Irving points out the specifics of the matter regarding William and his son:

His [William’s] melancholy end you may recollect when in command of the UStates Brig Bainbridge at MonteVideo. It is supposed he drowned himself from a too morbid sensibility to his professional reputation; apprehending he might incur popular reproach for his conduct in a transaction in which his superior officer acquitted him of all blame.  He left a family with, I apprehend, but very moderate means; I heard there were, I believe, three or four boys, who when I visited him some few years since appeared to be in excellent training. I now come to the point of this long story.  It is to interest you in favor of his eldest son, about seventeen years of age, apparently a very fine lad, who had recently finished his studies and is bent upon a sea faring life.  I have applied for a midshipmans appointment for him; but as vacancies are rare and applications many, and as in nine months he will be past the limits as to age (18 years) exacted in such appointments, I fear his chance as to success is but small.

The Museum also owns the letter from Langford to Irving requesting this action from the famous author. Langford did indeed get appointed and served aboard a number of ships before, during and just after the Civil War. Unfortunately, he died at an even younger age than his father while in command of the U.S.S. NYACK while the ship was patrolling the west coast of South America in 1866, protecting the interests of Americans during Spain’s conflict with Peru and Chile over the Chincha Islands. He was not yet 36 years old.

Langford Howard Newman, upper right, shown aboard the U.S.S. MONITOR
during the Civil War. From The Photographic History of the Civil War in Ten Volumes.

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