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One tank trip: U.S. Navy Museum at the Washington Navy Yard

During the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln frequently was a guest in this house, which served as the headquarters for Admiral John A. Dahlgren, the commandant of the Washington Navy Yard. Lincoln spent a fair amount of time at the Navy Yard awaiting telegraphed reports from the battlefield, which came in to the Navy’s telegraph station. The commandant’s house is still in use and is among the oldest continuously occupied buildings on any U.S. Navy installation.
One of my sons recently took me on a day trip to Washington D.C. for my birthday. We spent a rain-soaked afternoon touring the grounds of the Washington Navy Yard, which features FREE admission to the very nice Navy Museum as well as to the USS Barry, a Vietnam-era U.S. Navy destroyer that has been preserved as a floating museum. The Navy Yard’s attractions are open until 5 PM most days and are well worth a lengthy visit. After the game, Tom and I took in the Washington Nationals – Milwaukee Brewers baseball game before hitting the Metro for the trip back to the Greenbelt parking lot and the subsequent drive back to our home in north-central York County, Pennsylvania.
The Navy Museum and grounds of the Washington Navy Yard are filled with relics and artifacts of interest to the Civil War buff, including naval artillery pieces from both the Union and Confederate navies, personal property of famed sailors such as Admiral David G. Farragut of Mobile Bay fame, models of Civil War ships, dioramas, ship’s bells, paintings, and other interesting things to see, view, or read.
Obviously the Civil War is only one small part of the Navy’s collection. There are displays from nearly every major war (and some minor ones such as Tripoli). The original mast and sniper’s nest from the USS Constitution (“Old Ironsides”) is a major highlight of the museum’s displays.
Here are a few more photos of Civil War-related material from the collection of the U.S. Navy Museum.

The entrance to the Navy Museum. This old brick structure once housed a naval gun tube manufacturing facility before being converted to a warehouse and finally into the very nice museum. The foundry cast significant quantities of artillery for the Union Navy during the Civil War. A generation later, it made huge railway guns for use in World War I.

This was my first visit to the Washington Navy Yard, but this old diorama brought back a ton of memories. A similar photo of it appeared in one of my old American Heritage Civil War books that I had as a kid growing up in rural southeastern Ohio, and for a school project I tried to make a copy as a 3D model diorama in a shoebox.

This brass bell once was mounted on the USS Merrimack, which gained fame after being converted into the Confederate ironclad CSS Virginia. The battle between the Monitor and the Merrimack at Hampton Roads, Virginia, was something that fascinated me as a kid and I made plastic models of both boats that I proudly displayed on my shelf in my bedroom through high school. Hmmmm… I wonder whatever happened to those old Revell models?

David Glasgow Farragut (1801 – 1870) gained international fame for his running the gauntlet of Rebel defenses at the Battle of Mobile Bay, as well as for several other important victories in the Western Theater. The Navy Museum houses his collection of service medals, his uniform, his swords, and other artifacts of his life. Farragut remained on active duty for his entire lifetime past the mandatory retirement age, an honor bestowed to only five other USN officers. The phrase “D__n the topedoes! Full speed!” while a paraphrase of his actual order has come down in navy lore as emblematic of the dash and daring of the sailors and their commanders.

Another of the dioramas in the Navy Museum… this model also appeared in the old American Heritage Civil War book from my youth.

Anchors away, commodore Scott!

Author and tour guide Scott L. Mingus Sr. stands by the massive anchor from the USS Hartford, which was Admiral Farragut’s flagship at Mobile Bay.

President Abraham Lincoln often used this very chair while he sat in the telegrapher’s office awaiting the latest war news from the battlefront.

I would encourage all Cannonball readers to visit the Navy Museum at least once in your lifetime. It’s quite fascinating, no what what period of warfare that most interests you. For the Civil War buff, there is so much to see, including the Brooke guns from the CSS Tennessee and much, much more!