Midshipman Fitch at the U.S. Naval Academy
The Naval Academy transformed it self from an upper-crust finishing school, into a serious international military academy in the early 1850’s. The United States Marine Corp would take step further with training of their Naval Aviation Officer Candidates in the 20th century.
“many Midshipmen objected to a rule which required that they clean their rooms and make up their beds”
The following excerpt is from Le Roy Fitch: The Civil War Career of a Union River Gunboat Commander
– Myron J. Smith, Jr. 2007
During 1851-1853, several midshipman dormitories were completed on the grounds of the naval academy, These held a total of 98 two-person rooms, each 15 feet square. These quarters were outfitted with a pair of iron beds, one table, two chairs, and several other hygiene-connected items. Despite the fact that African American attendants, who were mostly likely slaves, did much of the work (including bringing in water and brushing clothes and shoes), many Midshipmen objected to a rule which required that they clean their rooms and make up their beds. Some went so far as to petition the superintendent in November 1853 requesting “that we may have servants to make up our beds and sweep out our rooms.” Others objected that “during the past month, we have been compelled from time to time not only to light our lamps, bring up our wood and make our fires, but also to black our boots and in some cases to bring our water from the pump.” The superintendent did not reply.
In his excellent study of the antebellum naval academy, Charles Todorich discusses a point about midshipmen in the early 1850s which, when reviewed together with Fitch’s USNA discipline record, displays the free-spirited nature of the future naval hero better than most available contemporary sources. There were present on the Severn in those years a number of mid-shipmen (known as Oldsters) still following the seven year curriculum, which valued practical application over theoretical study. Many of these young gentlemen thought the academy’s new order, with its attention to codes of strict discipline, scholarship, and other “theoretical truck,” was derogatory. These Oldsters went out of their way to bend or break academy rules as it suited them…
His appointment secured by his half brother, Congressman Graham Newell Fitch, 16-year-old Le Roy Fitch entered the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland with 37 others on October 1, 1851. Graduating No. 10 in his class on June 20, 1856, the new junior officer was 21 years old and would know no other life than that of a seaman for the next 17 years. This is one of only two photographs of Fitch known to exist; the other was taken in 1870 just five years before his death (Captain Robert F. Bradford Collection, Naval Historical Center).