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Postscripts To History

February 2024
6min read

Much as we strive for accuracy, we must report a considerable error in our October, 1972, issue. A number of readers wrote to call attention to faults in our caption for Fred Pansing’s splendid painting of the naval parade in the Hudson River, which we said was held in 1899 in honor of Admiral George Dewey’s victory at Manila Bay. Probably the most authoritative correction came from the noted submarine skipper of World War it, Edward L. Beach, author of Run Silent, Run Deep and the new and exciting novel Dust on the Sea . Writes Captain Beach: The overall quality of the magazine is so high, and I have so much enjoyed it, that I cannot forbear squaring you away just this once.… The ship in the foreground is clearly not the Olympia , which had only two stacks, but is instead the cruiser New York , bearing the flag of Admiral Sampson. I know the ship well, for my father served in her in the 1890’s. She was the Navy’s favorite ship for many years, a 21-knot cruiser mounting 8-inch guns in two turrets. When the battleship New York was built, which my father later commanded during World War I, the old New York was changed to Saratoga , and later Rochester . Finally, sad to say, she was converted into razor blades.

The Olympia was a smaller cruiser with only two stacks, and is thus easily distinguishable from the New York . She is still in Philadelphia, having been restored externally as nearly as possible to her appearance at the Battle of Manila Bay.


The second ship in column is the battleship Iowa , Battleship #4 (very tall stacks, two rows of portholes, and higher freeboard than the battleships following).

The third ship in column is one of the three identical sisters, Battleships #1, 2, and 3, the Indiana, Massachusetts , and Oregon (shorter stacks than Iowa , lower freeboard, single row of ports).

The fourth ship has got to be the cruiser Brooklyn , famous for her three extraordinarily high stacks, which were 1OO feet from furnace to cap.

The fifth and sixth ships are of the Oregon class again. (You’ll note that the artist was pretty careful with his masts, stacks, and cranes,'all very distinguishing features of these ships.)

The seventh and last ship in column I could not identify but am told by the Navy historical museum here in Washington that it is supposed to be the old battleship Texas , a ship somewhat similar to the Maine , which was blown up in Havana Harbor.

Thus you have named most of the ships correctly, but have gone hopelessly off the track with the first two.

The picture, according to the Navy museum, is titled Sampson and Schley Leading the Fleet into New York Harbor , and the date of the occasion is given as August 20, 1898.… The New York was Admiral Sampson’s flagship, and he clearly is on board, for a two-star admiral’s flag is flying at the mainmast head (which must be slightly in error because the flag would not be put on the same hoist as the national colors, which the picture seems to show). The Brooklyn was Admiral Schley’s flagship, but no admiral’s flag can be seen flying from her, and so there is a question as to whether he was there. There was a great controversy between his supporters and Admiral Sampson’s as to who was in actual command at the Battle of Santiago.… Thus, it is possible that Admiral Schley found it necessary to be absent when Sampson’s triumph took place.

Another point of interest is the positions of the speed cones at the ends of the yardarms of all the ships. Being point up and “two-blocked” all the way up, they indicate that all the ships are making standard speed ahead, which would probably be 12-15 knots. Clearly, the ships are not going anything like 12 knots, nor would they have been allowed to do so in the Hudson River with all those other boats around—and for that matter the fleet of tugs, yachts, and ferryboats would have been unable to keep up if they were. As a guess, the artist made his preliminary sketches as the fleet steamed in and later completed his drawings after it had anchored, probably with the help of official photographs of the ships themselves, for his details are extremely accurate.

I am puzzled with the display of the union jack on the bow of each of the ships, for the standard naval custom is to display it in this position only when the ship is at anchor. But, of course, it could have been directed by Sampson at the same time as he ordered the national ensign flown from the top of each mast throughout his fleet.…

The oil painting, now hanging in the Harvard Club of New York, is on loan there from the owner, the Museum of the City of New York, which provided the label for it. Our mistake here was in accepting without question that label, which read: “The Naval Parade in Honor of Admiral George Dewey, 1889.” Obviously, 1889 was wrong, which we simply attributed to carelessness; it should have been the tip-off. We have since looked up the account of the Sampson-Schley parade in Harper’s Weekly for September 3, 1898. On page 864 there is the New York , Admiral Sampson’s flagship, as it leads the way.

Our picture, alas, shows the 1898 parade, which makes all of Captain Beach ‘s observations correct; they are further substantiated in the diagrams and pictures accompanying the Harper’s Weekly article just mentioned—although no explanation is offered for the speed cones. Harper’s does not show a union jack at the bow of the New York .

Strangely enough, there was another Hudson River naval parade very much like the one in 1898 one year later, and this 1899 parade did honor Admiral Dewey. That too was covered in depth by Harper’s Weekly (September 30, 1899), and it was there that we got what we assumed was the right order of ships in the Pansing painting.

The long delay before Dewey’s return must be accounted for by the fact that his fleet remained for a long period in the Philippines and then made a triumphal progress homeward across the Indian Ocean, Mediterranean, etc., with frequent stops for adulation.


While on the uncomfortable subject of mistakes in our magazine, we must mention one that occurred in the gallery of stars of the 1920*5 that graced our December, 1972, issue. It has been called to our attention by no less an authority than Miss Lillian Gish that the lovely young girl peering tragically into the floodlights on the bottom of page 47 is not Dorothy Gish, as we claimed, but rather Lillian herself. (That is Dorothy above, keeping up with the news in showbiz.) Photographer James Abbe, who took both pictures, has this to say about the confusion: As for the Lillian-Dorothy mix-up: as they both derived from the same womb, equally talented, equally lovable, I don’t see why Lillian ever brought up the subject. She immediately wrote me an oldtimes letter, and I don’t mind taking the blame. I was an old and good friend of their mother. I recall such incidents as when their age-old parrot, who knew us all by our given names, raised as a BOY parrot, startled us each and all (including George Jean Nathan) by dropping an egg on the floor of his cage. Miracles like that should never be questioned.



So much of history is a catalogue of wars and disasters that we are sometimes tempted to agree with Hegel’s bitter statement that “peoples and government have never learned anything from history, or acted on principles deducible from it.” If this is true, then there seems to be little reason for reading history or, in fact, for doing anything at all save waiting gloomily for a wave of inevitable events to overtake and crush us. But we are in the business of publishing a magazine devoted to history and feel that there’s more to be gained from it than a sense of general hopelessness. Part of what the past can teach us was touched on by Henry B. Veatch, a professor of philosophy at Northwestern University, in his article entitled “The What and the Why of the Humanities,” which appeared in a recent issue of The Key Reporter , the bulletin of the Phi Beta Kappa Society. Professor Veatch writes: With respect to history, my view is that one does not study history to acquire any mere parcel of names and dates, or even of economic forces and cultural changes, but rather, as Sir Henry Savile wrote in the preface to his translation of Tacitus in 1591, because “there is no learning so proper for the direction of the life of man as Historié.” It is no less than in and through the study of history that we are able to learn what it is to be human and what the true values in life are, what we are to live for and how we must need conduct ourselves, if we are to achieve that distinctive excellence that befits us as human beings. In short, what is here being suggested is that the humanistic and, if you will, the humanizing, knowledge that comes from history is a moral or ethical knowledge. For as Bolingbroke once remarked—admittedly not an authority distinguished for his own morality, but still one worth listening to—“History is philosophy teaching by examples how to conduct ourselves in all the situations of private and public life.”

… What is further implicit in what is here being claimed for that humanistic and moral knowledge that comes from history is that it is indeed a knowledge. The judgments upon human folly and human wisdom which, as historians, or even as mere students of history, we pass on the characters and events of history…these judgments are not just our own arbitrary personal assessments which we bring to the facts, as it were from the outside, and which are but our way of adorning or dressing up the facts. No, they are judgments that are determined by the facts themselves.

And finally, to turn fully away from Hegel’s theory of the hopelessness of history, here is a moving statement on the subject from Robert E. Lee, a man who made a good deal of history in his own right : The march of Providence is so slow and our desires so impatient; the work of progress is so immense and our means of aiding it so feeble; the life of humanity is so long, that of the individual so brief, that we often see only the ebb of the advancing ways, and are thus discouraged. It is history that teaches us to hope.

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