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Civil War Admirals

Discussion in 'Civil War History - The Naval War' started by Mark F. Jenkins, Jul 24, 2014.

  1. Mark F. Jenkins

    Mark F. Jenkins Lt. Colonel

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    Spurred on by a thought about the Battle of Mobile Bay (where for the first and only time, two American admirals were pitted against each other, Farragut and Buchanan), my mind turned to Civil War admirals as a group.

    Before the Civil War, the American navy's highest formal rank was Captain. Senior captains, those in charge of more than one vessel or commanders of large shore installations like navy yards were frequently accorded the title of "Commodore," but it was a courtesy title with no formal standing. Reformers had pressed for years for the creation of higher ranks for a number of reasons, but Congress had consistently refused; an oft-cited reason was the association of admirals with the British Royal Navy and aristocracy.

    In truth, the small antebellum U.S. Navy had comparatively little operational need for admirals, as it seldom operated in formations larger than a handful of ships, but this changed decisively and rapidly with the advent of the Civil War. An initial half-measure (from just before the war) was to name senior captains to the generic-sounding rank of "Flag Officer," but it was far from settled as to whether this was a formal rank or merely a position held for a period of time by a captain. But with the war came the permanent establishment of admirals, and "flag officer" was rapidly discarded (other than as a generic term for commodores and admirals).
     

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  3. Mark F. Jenkins

    Mark F. Jenkins Lt. Colonel

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    On the Confederate side, nine admirals and six commodores were authorized... but only two men were ever named as admirals, and none as commodores. The two were Admiral Franklin Buchanan and Rear Admiral Raphael Semmes.

    A number of "Flag Officers" existed, as in the antebellum U.S. Navy; among them were Josiah Tattnall, French Forrest, Victor M. Randolph, George N. Hollins, Duncan N. Ingraham, Samuel Barron, and William Lynch, all of whom had been senior captains in the U.S. Navy before 'going South.' Other officers named as "Flag Officers" included William W. Hunter, Ebeneezer Farrand, John Randolph Tucker, John K. Mitchell, and Robert F. Pinkney. There may have been others. (Some of these were addressed occasionally by the term 'commodore,' but this was a survival of the older tradition of calling a senior captain by that title; no Confederate naval officers were formally promoted to the rank of Commodore.)

    (Reference: Thompson, Kenneth E., Jr. Civil War Commodores and Admirals. Portland, Me.: The Thompson Group, 2001.)
     
    Last edited: Jul 24, 2014
  4. Mark F. Jenkins

    Mark F. Jenkins Lt. Colonel

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    The U.S. Navy contained the following admirals on the Active List by war's end, in order of seniority:

    Vice Admiral David G. Farragut (as of December 1864; Rear Admiral 1862-1864)
    Rear Admiral Louis M. Goldsborough
    Rear Admiral Samuel F. Du Pont (died 1865)
    Rear Admiral Andrew H. Foote (died 1863)
    Rear Admiral Charles H. Davis
    Rear Admiral John A. B. Dahlgren
    Rear Admiral David D. Porter*

    There were also a number of admirals named on the Retired List. They were promoted principally to avoid violation of seniority traditions (as all of them were senior to Farragut on the captains' list at the beginning of the war), though a number of them did actively serve in the war, mostly in administrative capacities.

    Rear Admiral Charles Stewart (One of the captains of USS Constitution in the War of 1812; he did not serve actively in the Civil War)
    Rear Admiral George C. Read (died 1862)
    Rear Admiral William B. Shubrick
    Rear Admiral Joseph Smith
    Rear Admiral George W. Storer
    Rear Admiral Francis H. Gregory
    Rear Admiral Elie A. H. Lavallette (died 1862)
    Rear Admiral Silas H. Stringham
    Rear Admiral Samuel L. Breese
    Rear Admiral Hiram Paulding


    *(Porter was unique insofar as he was jumped directly from Commander to Rear Admiral, skipping the ranks of Captain and Commodore. He was the only man to make the 'Admirals' Club' who had been a Lieutenant at the beginning of the war.)
     
    Last edited: Jul 24, 2014
  5. Mark F. Jenkins

    Mark F. Jenkins Lt. Colonel

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    There are no Commodores in the modern Navy, by the way. The rank was eliminated, revived in the early 20th Century, and then eliminated again; a one-star U.S. admiral is a "Rear Admiral (Lower Half)," and a two-star is a "Rear Admiral (Upper Half)."

    As for why "Rear" Admiral-- it was a functional designation, in a similar vein to "Brigadier"... in the old sailing Royal Navy, large battle fleets were commonly divided into three elements, with an advance guard (the "vanguard"), the main force, and a rear guard. The overall commanding officer was usually with the main force, his second in command (his "vice") had command of the vanguard, and the rear guard had its rear admiral. The U.S. Navy has never actually sailed into battle in this way, but it does have its Admirals, Vice Admirals, and Rear Admirals.
     
    Last edited: Jul 24, 2014
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  6. AndyHall

    AndyHall Colonel Forum Host

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    I believe the rank of Commodore was revived again, then discontinued again, during the 1980s -- barely a blip on the BuPers org chart.

    [​IMG]
    One change I do like is the relatively recent return to khaki uniforms, very reminiscent of the WWII period.
     
  7. Mark F. Jenkins

    Mark F. Jenkins Lt. Colonel

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    I kind of like "Commodore" and don't see any sense to the "upper half/lower half" business... of course, I think the same about "Lieutenant" and "Lieutenant (junior grade)"...
     
  8. Carronade

    Carronade 2nd Lieutenant

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    For a short time, they used the term "commodore admiral" as the Navy equivalent to brigadier general. They have to call an O-7 (pay grade equivalent to BG in the other services) something, but I agree rear admiral (lower half) sounds silly.

    When I served, "commodore" was used as an informal courtesy title for a squadron commander with the substantive rank of captain, although it was sometimes pronounced "commode door" :wink:
     
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  9. GELongstreet

    GELongstreet 1st Lieutenant Trivia Game Winner

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    Yes, necroposting is still a thing in 2017. :wink:
    @AndyHall @Mark F. Jenkins

    As you two are the resident navy experts and I don´t have the regulations at hand; what was the difference, per regulations, in the rank insignias of the CSN Admirals, Commodores and Flag Officers? All with four sleeve stripes? If I remember the shoulder board correctly there were five stars for Admirals and three for Captain ... so accordingly four for both Commodores and Flag Officers?

    I´m asking because I just found this picture of the aforementioned Samuel Barron (on https://ncsquadron.wordpress.com) sporting four stripes. Can´t distinguish the stars on his shoulder, though.

    [​IMG]
     
  10. AndyHall

    AndyHall Colonel Forum Host

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  11. Mark F. Jenkins

    Mark F. Jenkins Lt. Colonel

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    Let's see... July 2014 to March 2017 vs. April 1865 to March 2017... I don't think it's 'necroposting' until it's actually measurably old relative to the topic. :laugh:
     
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  12. WilliamH

    WilliamH Private

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    I was always surprised that both Confederate Admirals were from Maryland, a state that didn’t secede, and the highest ranking Union Admiral came from Tennessee a state which did.

    Question: Before the war if the highest ranking Naval officer was a Captain, was there a senior Captain over the entire Navy? Sort of like today’s Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) who works with/advises the Secretary of the Navy. (I understand that the CNO does not have operational command authority)

    On a side note, the Navy does still use title of Commodore. I used to support two E-6B squadrons, each squadron was commanded by a Captain with a more senior Captain in command of both, who was referred to by the title Commodore.
     
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  13. GELongstreet

    GELongstreet 1st Lieutenant Trivia Game Winner

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  14. AndyHall

    AndyHall Colonel Forum Host

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    "Flag officer" looks to me to be interchangeable with the rank of Commodore. I'm not sure there was any practical distinction between them. There was no rank of admiral in the U.S. Navy until (I think) 1862.The common wisdom is that during the early days of republic, the rank of Admiral was seen to be tainted by association with British aristocracy and nobility, and unfitting for a true republic. It didn't matter much anyway at the time, because the American navy was so small. It wasn't until later that there was a need for a permanent rank above the level of post captain.
     
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  15. Mark F. Jenkins

    Mark F. Jenkins Lt. Colonel

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    In essence, the Captain standing highest on the list (the earliest date of rank) had precedence.

    Immediately before the war, during some of the administrative reforms, Captain Charles Stewart was recognized with some sort of title as senior captain, but it was purely an honorary thing.

    Before and during the Civil War, and for some time afterward, the Secretary of the Navy filled many of the roles filled today by the CNO.
     
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  16. GELongstreet

    GELongstreet 1st Lieutenant Trivia Game Winner

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    A common notion. The French abolished both the rank of Colonel and the term Regiment during their revolution. And the Soviets more or less abolished all ranks in the army ... though of course the quickly learned that it´s not really working and chagned it again.
     
  17. OldReliable1862

    OldReliable1862 Private

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    While I know of Buchanan and Semmes, does anyone who the other seven CSN Admiral appointees and the six for Commodore were?
     
  18. rebelatsea

    rebelatsea 2nd Lieutenant

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    I have seen Barron referred to as "Commodore", he was apparently to have taken charge of the European ships had they been completed. I think he was ineffectual, and a better European Flag officer would have been Bulloch.
     
  19. rebelatsea

    rebelatsea 2nd Lieutenant

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    The rank of "Commodore" was revived in the Battle of the Atlantic for the senior officer of a convoy, usually a retired RN man who had charge of the merchant vessels, and of course the senior Captain of cruise lines is often given the honorary title today.
     
  20. Schwallanscher

    Schwallanscher 1st Lieutenant Trivia Game Winner

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    we use the term flotillienadmiral (flotilla admiral) - (geschwader)kommodore is a job (not a rank) in the airforce
     
  21. Mark F. Jenkins

    Mark F. Jenkins Lt. Colonel

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    If anyone was ever named to the slots, I haven't seen anything on it. I would assume the serving Flag Officers would have comprised the majority of that group.
     

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