Hampton Roads History – Hilton Village’s Colony Inn

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Newport News Shipbuilding, ca. 1919.  The Mariners’ Museum.

The Washington Naval Treaty’s impact on the Newport News Shipyard was devastating. Several major naval construction contracts were canceled, and the yard’s workforce dropped from 14,000 to 2,200. This had a significant impact on the new Garden City movement community Hilton Village. Newport News Shipyard Chairman of the Board Henry Edwards Huntington had a particular interest in Hilton Village. He purchased the entire village from the US Shipping Board and offered individual houses for sale by single buyers. He completed a variety of improvements; yet, only 240 homes were occupied in 1924.

Eddie Steps In

Henry “‘Eddie”’ Huntington decided to use his Newport News Realty Company to revitalize Hilton and construct the Colony Inn. The inn was built at the intersection of Warwick Road and Main Street. It replaced a 1918 officers’ club serving Camp Hill and Camp Morrison and incorporated 10 existing Hilton houses, five on each side of the road. J. Philip Keisecker, manager of the shipyard’s real estate office, had suggested to Eddie Huntington that an inn be established in Hilton Village. Kiesecker believed an inn would offer a quaint and inviting respite for travelers “that would also establish good public relations between the Shipyard and the community.”   Read more

Spirits on the USS Monitor: A Daily Dose of Grog

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Commander Catesby ap Roger Jones, ca. 1863-64, Courtesy of the Naval History and Heritage Command, NH 48723.

Drinking and fighting always seem to have some type of connection. On the early morning of  March 9, 1862, the CSS Virginia prepared to destroy the remaining Union fleet in Hampton Roads. Its success the day before gave the crew confidence that they would secure a complete victory over the wooden federal fleet. Catesby ap Roger Jones, the Confederate ironclad’s acting commander, thought to give the men even greater encouragement. “We began the day with two jiggers of whiskey,” an elated William Cline wrote, “and a hearty breakfast.” [1] The crew was now truly ready for combat!

Grog was first introduced in the 18th century, eventually a mix of rum, gin, or whiskey with water, sugar, and lime or lemon. It was a boost to sailors fighting the doldrums suffered on long sea voyages or to give a surge of instant courage when preparing for battle. Enlisted men could only drink when their grog ration was issued or when they were on liberty. Officers, however, drank without care and were only punished when their intoxication got in the way of performing their duties. USS Monitor’s paymaster William Keeler fought to do away with the grog ration stating that drinking was the “curse of the navy.”[2] It was true: many Civil War sailors and soldiers were all too often plagued by whiskey, whiskey, and more whiskey.   Read more

African American US Medal Of Honor Recipients During The Civil War – Part I: US Navy

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U.S. Navy poster featuring Medal of Honor recipient Aaron Anderson. Courtesy of the Naval History and Heritage Command # NH 103775.

The Medal of Honor was established in 1862 to honor soldiers and sailors who served beyond the call of duty. It is the United States’ highest military decoration. Battle flags were such significant fixtures on Civil War battlefields for both Union and Confederate armies, and many recipients were awarded their medals for defending or capturing a flag. Twenty-six  Medal of Honor awards were conferred upon African American service members during the Civil War. Eight were presented to naval personnel, the rest to soldiers. 

Landsman Aaron Anderson

Landsman Anderson served aboard the stores ship USS Wyandank with the Potomac Squadron. Anderson, who is also referred to as Sanderson, received his Medal of Honor for a small boat action on Mattox Creek, Virginia. Wyandank was a sidewheeler built in 1847 and was armed with one 20-pounder rifle and one 12-pounder smoothbore. While on blockading duty on the Potomac River on March 17, 1865, a cutter with one boat howitzer was launched from the USS Don. Ensign Summers commanded the boat, and Anderson was detailed to be among several men rowing the vessel. While clearing the creek’s left branch, the cutter came under heavy fire from about 400 Confederates. The launch continued to move forward to burn three schooners successfully.   Read more

Capture Of Forts Henry And Donelson

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Map of Kentucky and Tennessee. Illustration from Battles & Leaders of the Civil War, vol. 1, 1887. Courtesy of Library of Congress.

General Albert Sidney Johnston, commander of Confederate forces in Kentucky and Tennessee, planned to defend eastern, middle, and western Tennessee using a series of forts to protect Union access to the Mississippi, Tennessee, and Cumberland rivers. Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant and Flag Officer Andrew Hull Foote attacked and captured Fort Henry on the Tennessee River and Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River in a bold move. This forced the Confederates to abandon Kentucky and much of Tennessee and opened the door into the Deep South. This campaign began the Civil War career of ‘Unconditional Surrender’ Grant. 

Confederate Defenses

Confederate president Jefferson Davis believed General Johnston to be the most outstanding soldier in America. They had studied at West Point, and fought during the Mexican War. together. Johnston realized that he did not have enough troops to block any Union advance effectively.    Read more

Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation During World War I

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The Chesapeake & Ohio Railway Systems, Newport News, VA, ca. 1913. The Mariners’ Museum P0001.008/01-424#PH804

The Virginia Peninsula was already engaged in wartime work when President Woodrow Wilson asked Congress to declare war against Germany on April 6, 1917. Local military bases, shipyards, air fields, ports, and people turned their faces toward the nation’s crusade to make the world safe for democracy.

Headquarters, Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation

The US Army, in anticipation of America’s entry into the war, surveyed the Hampton Roads area in early 1917 to ascertain where to establish a port of embarkation. Newport News was selected over Norfolk as headquarters for the Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation. Several geographical reasons influenced that decision. Norfolk was a congested port and already the center for many naval activities. Newport News offered good port facilities, a large harbor, excellent railroad connections, ship repair opportunities, and an abundance of available land.   Read more