United States Navy

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"I wish to have no Connection with any Ship that does not Sail fast for I intend to go in harm's way."
—John Paul Jones, 16 November, 1778

The United States Navy was growing rapidly into a new maturity during the Dreadnought Era. It won its nation a new, vital role in world affairs by its exertions in the Spanish-American War, which in no way prepared it for the challenges of the Great War, which its massive building programs of 1916 and onward did little to address, in practice, as its fruit was ready for action too late to help the naval war.

Early History

The U.S. Navy at the end of the Civil War was numerically one of the largest navies yet seen. However this strength was to a large extent illusory. Many of the ships in commission were converted merchantmen or river craft that were soon to be returned to civilian ownership. Worse, the majority of the warships constructed during the war had been built of unseasoned timber and quickly decayed. Most were unfit for further service before the end of the 1860s. A few advanced designs were under construction at the end of the war, but most were cancelled in the postwar drawdown and the few that were completed were in commission only briefly. By the 1870s the U.S. Navy, apart from a still-substantial monitor force, had reverted very much to its pre-1861 composition.

In his first annual message to Congress in December 1885, President Grover Cleveland deplored the condition the Navy had fallen to:

"All must admit the importance of an effective navy to a nation like ours, having such an extended seacoast to protect. And yet we have not a single vessel of war that could keep the seas against a first-class vessel of any important power. Such a condition ought not longer to continue. The nation that can not resist aggression is constantly exposed to it. Its foreign policy is of necessity weak, and its negotiations are conducted with disadvantage, because it is not in condition to enforce the terms dictated by ts sense of right and justice."[1]

Spanish-American War

America's triumph over Spain in this short war that saw substantial naval action in Philippine and Cuban waters spawned a new generation of naval heroes and ambition, as manifested in Theodore Roosevelt's Great White Fleet.

World War I

America built over 260 "four piper" destroyers as it fell into war, but only a small handful of these saw action in World War I. A few recent coal-burning battleships ventured across the Atlantic to comprise the Sixth Battle Squadron and act in concert with the Royal Navy's Grand Fleet, but the ships that made the greatest contribution were the destroyers that bolstered anti-submarine patrols near Ireland.

Post-World War I

See Also


  1. Richardson. Messages and Papers. p. 351.


  • Richardson, James D., ed. (1907). A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents 1879-1902. Volume VIII. Washington: Bureau of National Literature and Art.