by James C. Rentfrow
Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2014. Pp. xii, 220.
Illus., diagr., notes, biblio., index. $54.95. ISBN: 1612514472
The Beginnings of the “New Navy”
CDR Rentfrow, a professor of history at the Naval Academy, at the emergence of the “New Navy” and the development of American fleet tactics in the final quarter of the nineteenth century.
Naturaly, he begins with the waning years of the “Old Navy,” the obsolete force that the United States possessed when, in 1874, the “Virginius Affair” with Spain threatened war. Even as the Navy began struggling to promote the modernization of the fleet, it began regular squadron exercises with the serviceable vessels it had. Although these exercises have been largely neglected in the literature, Rentfrow argues convincingly that they were an important help in modernizing the fleet, establishing the Naval War College in 1884, the formation of the new modern vessels into the “Squadron of Evolution”, and even the writing Mahan’s Influence of Sea Power Upon History.
Rentfrow throws fresh light on the many senior officers, most today obscure, who helped shape the fleet’s evolution in the period, such as Stephen B. Luce, Bancroft Gherardi, or John G. Walker. Particularly interesting is how these exercises fitted into the work of the fleet, and of the North Atlantic Squadron in particular. In the process, Rentfrow touches upon a surprising number of long-forgotten crises, from the “Virginius Affair” through interventions in Panama, Haiti, and elsewhere, to policing fisheries, and on to the eve of the Spanish-American War, by which time the North Atlantic Squadron had become a capable combat force with a coherent doctrine.
A volume in the series “New Perspectives in Maritime History and Naval Archaeology, Home Squadron is an excellent addition to the literature on the history of the U.S. Navy.