Book Review: The Long Road to Annapolis: The Founding of the Naval Academy and the Emerging American Republic


by William P. Leeman

Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2010. Pp. xvi, 292. Illus., tables, append., notes, biblio., index. $46.00. ISBN: 0807833835

The Professionalization of American Naval Officer Education

Prof. Leeman (USMA) gives us a very readable account of the painful evolution of professional naval officer education in the U.S. Navy. Extensively researched and wide ranging, he opens the book by taking a look at the officering of the Continental Navy and follows with the debate over the need for a Navy in the Early Republic. 

Leeman then follows the fortunes of America’s Navy as it evolved with the growth of commerce, leading to wars with the Barbary states, Republican France, and Britain, as well as anti-piracy patrol in the Caribbean and Eastern Mediterranean. Through the entire period officer education remained based on the very traditional rather slip-shod process of on-the-job training . This produced officers of uneven skill, usually excellent seamen, but not always capable administrators or adept diplomats. Many serious thinkers, some of the Founders among them,  George Washington in particular, proposed a more formal academic process of officer training. But while the Army acquired a Military Academy by 1802, proposals for formal naval officer training languished. 

Leeman explores the arguments over establishing a formal naval officer training program, ranging from concerns over government growth through fear of “aristocracy” to worries over cost. He makes a case that the still very confusing the Somers mutiny of 1842, during which a politically connected midshipman may or may not have attempted to take the ship, played a critical role prompting Secretary of the Navy George Bancroft to establishment an unofficial of the Naval Academy in 1845 by departmental orders, subsequently confirmed by Congress.

As Leeman tell s this tale, he not only gives us an account of how the Naval Academy came to be, but also surveys the early history of the Navy . This gives us a peek at the politics of the emerging republic, some obscure naval events, and a look at some very interesting people, from well-known political figures to rather obscure naval officers.

Winner of the 2011 George Pendleton Prize awarded by the Society for History in the Federal Government, The Long Road to Annapolis is important reading for anyone interested in the history of the Naval Academy or in the Navy in the nineteenth century.


Note: The Long Road to Annapolis is also available in paperback, $36.95, ISBN 978-1-4696-1487-8, and as an e-Book, $29.99, from several distributors.

Reviewer: A.A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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