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Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Great White Fleet Departs Hampton Roads ~ 105 Years Ago Today, December 16, 1907

Blog #23. December 16, 2012 by Marcus W. Robbins

Hampton Roads, the world's greatest natural harbor was the gathering and departure point 105 years ago today and bore witness to President Theodore Roosevelt's vision of the largest naval deployment of steam and steel warships in order to project America's strength as a global naval power.

USS Connecticut leading the Atlantic Fleet's Battleships, 1907
(Naval History & Heritage Command image NH 59537)
Again, the world's eyes are focused upon eastern Virginia and the Norfolk Navy Yard gave full support to final preparations in order to sustain this historic journey.  In this same harbor where wooden warships were rendered obsolete by the Battle of Hampton Roads in 1862 a short forty-five years later, sixteen of the newest type battleships had gathered after months of planning and shipyard drydock and pier side work at four east coast Navy Yards.  With fresh white paint except for ornate gold gilding on each bow they were all fully burdened with initial loads of coal to carry them for what would turn out to be a voyage of near 44,000 nautical miles covering twenty port calls on six continents that spanned over fourteen months of time before returning back to Hampton Roads in 1909.

The shear amount of planning and final preparations for such a venture was monumental.  As extracted from the Naval History and Heritage Command the following summary is offered:

            During September and October 1907 all sixteen of Atlantic Fleet's modern battleships steamed to East Coast Navy Yards for repairs and alterations. Boston worked on four: Vermont, New Jersey, Missouri and Illinois. New York did five: Connecticut, Louisiana, Rhode Island, Ohio and Alabama. Four (Kansas, Georgia, Maine and Kearsarge) received the attentions of the Philadelphia Navy Yard, while the Norfolk Navy Yard performed work on Virginia, Minnesota and Kentucky. The three Norfolk ships had to go north to New York (first two) and Boston (Kentucky) for the drydock phases of their overhauls. This shipyard work was finished by early December and the battleships gathered in Hampton Roads, Virginia, to complete preparations for their forthcoming cruise around South America to the Pacific Coast.

The Norfolk Navy Yard being the home of the Atlantic Squadron well before the modern day Naval Station was established in 1917 no doubt provided untold last minute supplies, coal and various logistical support to the bulk of these sixteen warships in the final days leading up to the Presidential review off of Old Point Comfort on the northern side of Hampton Roads on a bright sunny morning exactly 105 years ago today, December, 16, 1907.

Being the naval collector I am; events such as this mean so much more when you can weave a real person into the very fabric of the story.  My artifacts that once belonged to a sailor off of the USS Georgia; Mr. Forest Edward Frost lend a personal side to what he would experience along with the other 14,000 sailors that made the voyage around the world for what would be later known as – The Great White Fleet.  As stated above, the Georgia was assigned to Philadelphia Navy Yard for preparations.  While there, Forest has his photograph taken in his sailor suit and tally cap proudly displaying: USS GEORGIA at the Lipp Studio.  On the reverse in his own handwriting he personalizes this photo meant for those he is about to leave behind with the following notation: "ON THE GEORGIA IN 1907 – Forest".

1907 Lipp Studios, Philadelphia, Forest Edward Frost (courtesy of Marcus W. Robbins)

It is a fact of Navy life you are issued identification, uniform and for these sailors also a ship to live on for fourteen months.  Two of the most common items that would have held closeness in the everyday life of our featured sailor from the USS Georgia are shown below.  There is no doubt that these items did travel with him around the world and were a part of his life daily.

1907 Forest Edward Frost dog tag and belt buckle (courtesy of Marcus W. Robbins)
USS Georgia (circa 1909 postcard courtesy of Marcus W. Robbins)

Finally shown above is a look at the USS Georgia, as it and the other battleships appeared when they returned to Hampton Roads as part of the largest battle fleet to ever circumnavigate the globe because – “history matters”.

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