Last night the U.S. Naval Academy’s ship selection night was held in Mahan Auditorium where the future surface warfare officers from the Class of 2012 picked the ship for their first tour as commissioned officers. Setting the stage were Admiral John Harvey’s inspirational words about leadership and service in the Navy in every part of the world where “there is no place you will go that is quiet.”

Admiral Harvey also commented on the history at the Naval Academy, a place where all midshipmen, wrapped up in getting to the next class or event, will simply walk past some of the most remarkable items in our naval history – the cannons and monuments, the flags taken in battle, the portraits in Memorial Hall and elsewhere. In the course of everyday activities, “we lose the meaning of those faces in paintings, those names on a plaque.”

Last night’s soon-to-be SWOs selected ships named after some of the best known naval figures – Barry, Decatur, Farragut, Porter, Gridley, etc.

But where was Stewart who has one of those portraits in Memorial Hall?

Commissioned as a Lieutenant in 1798, Charles Stewart served as the fourth lieutenant aboard Barry’s USS United States. Twelve days before his twenty-second birthday, he was given command of USS Experiment during the Quasi War; one of his officers was David Porter, father of Civil War Admiral David Dixon Porter. In 1803, he was given command of the brig USS Syren and engaged against Tripolitans during the Barbary War.

At the beginning of the War of 1812, President James Madison’s Cabinet favored sending the small U.S. fleet to the protected harbor of New York. James Fenimore Cooper in his History of the Navy suggests that it was Stewart and Captain William Bainbridge who, confident of the American ships and sailors, made a personal appeal to the Madison to send the fleet to sea.

After briefly commanding USS Argus on a short cruise, Stewart was given USS Constellation and defended Norfolk against Admiral Sir John Warren’s superior British squadron. On 22 June 1813, Stewart relieved Bainbridge as commander of USS Constitution. Perhaps it was an apocryphal story, but shortly after his wedding, his wife asked him to bring her a frigate – he said he’d bring back two. In what was termed the ship’s “finest fight”, Stewart and Constitution defeated HMS Cyane and HMS Levant on 20 February, 1815.

Between 1817 and 1824 he would command the ship of the line USS Franklin and a squadron – first in the Mediterranean and then in the Pacific. Although there were no battles during this period by which to further distinguish his career, Stewart’s role as a leader would have ramifications for two generations. Among his junior officers were names well known in naval history –Charles Wilkes, Uriah Levy, Robert Stockton, Mexican-American squadron Commodores David Conner and John Sloat, and Civil War squadron Commodores Louis Goldsborough, Samuel du Pont, Admiral Farragut and – on the Confederate side – Admiral Franklin Buchanan.

Stewart would hold brief commands of the USS Pennsylvania (from the shipyard to her Norfolk, the only time she sailed) and the USS Independence as the Home Squadron. He retired as Commander of the Philadelphia Navy Yard on 31 December 1860, sixty-two years after he was first commissioned. Two years later, he was promoted to Rear Admiral on the retired list in 1862.

In 1855, he would defend the Navy when he wrote to the House and Senate about “a country I revere, to a Navy I love.” He asked what constituted an officer: “It is not alone the service it implies; nor is it alone the authority or title it bestows; and less than these is it the pay assigned by law. He appreciates his rank, because it is a defined and firm position among brave, honorable, and useful men, voluntarily dedicated to the defence and glory of the country.”

Only been three ships have been named after Stewart: a Bainbridge-class destroyer (DD-13) commissioned in 1902, a Clemson-class destroyer (DD-224) commissioned in 1902, and the Edsall-class destroyer escort (DE-238) commissioned in 1943 and struck in 1972.

It’s been forty years since the name of this naval hero has graced a U.S. warship. It’s time for another USS Stewart.

Lieutenant Commander Claude Berube’s first book was “A Call to the Sea: Captain Charles Stewart of the USS Constitution (Potomac Books Inc., 2005). The views expressed are his own and not those of the Naval Academy or Department of the Navy.

Posted by LCDR Claude Berube, USNR in History, Navy
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  • Byron

    An excellent idea, CDR Berube!

  • Moose

    That third Zumwalt still needs a name.

  • Verily.

  • John Squid

    The Clemson DD named STEWART had a very interesting history as a member of the pre-ww2 Asiatic Fleet, part of the ABDA flotilla in 42′, service in the IJN as PB 102, and finally recommission as DD 224 back at the end of the war.

  • P.S. Wallace

    Jumping on the bandwagon–there’s never been a U.S.S. ROCHEFORT either (to my knowledge, with a quick Wikipedia verification). Considering the fact that we have an annual day celebrating the battle he helped bring about, we might want to rectify that (especially as he took career damage to bring that victory about). So we should name a ship after him.

    That is, assuming there aren’t any politicians we have to name things after. Wouldn’t want to get our priorities messed up, or commit sacrilege against the gods.