The Wreck of the USS Tennessee and the Rise of the US Navy
Three intertwined stories highlighting the many challenges the US Navy faced during strategic and material evolution
Hard Aground brings together three intertwined stories documenting the US Navy’s strategic and matériel evolution following the end of the Civil War through the First World War. These incidents had lasting consequences for how the navy would modernize itself throughout the rest of the twentieth century.
The first story focuses on the reconstruction of the US Navy following the swift and near-total dismantling of the Union Navy infrastructure after the Civil War. This reconstruction began with barely enough time for the navy’s campaigns in the Spanish-American War, and for its role in the First World War. Jampoler argues that the federal government discovered that the fleet requested by the navy, and paid for by Congress, was the wrong fleet. Focus was on battleships and cruisers rather than destroyers and other small combat vessels needed to hunt submarines and serve as convoy escorts.
The second story relates the short, tragic life of the USS Tennessee (later renamed Memphis), one of the steel-hulled ships of the new Armored Cruiser Squadron that was a centerpiece of the navy’s modernization effort. The USS Tennessee was ordered on two unusual missions in the early months of World War I, long before the United States formally entered the war. These little know missions and the sudden destruction of the ship by a storm surge in the Caribbean serves as the centerpiece of the story. Threaded through the narrative are biographical sketches of the principal players in the drama that unfolded following the ship’s demise, including two of Tennessee’s commanding officers: Vice Admiral Sims, who commanded the US Navy squadrons deployed to Europe in support of the Royal Navy; Rear Admiral William Caperton, who commanded the Caribbean squadron before the Memphis (formerly the Tennessee) was lost; Charles Pond, squadron commander during the wreck; and the American ambassador to the Ottoman court, President Wilson’s enthusiastic supporter, Henry Morgenthau. Jampoler concludes with an account of how the USS Tennessee’s destruction prompted fierce deliberations about the US Navy’s operations and chains of command for the remainder of the First World War and the high-level political wrangling inside the Department of the Navy immediately after the war, as civilian appointees and senior officers wrestled to reshape the department in their image.
“Glancing at the cover, one might think Captain Andy Jampoler, U.S. Navy (Ret.) had written a book about a single ship, the armored cruiser USS Memphis (originally named the USS Tennessee). But through meticulous research and gifted storytelling, he has delivered much more. Jampoler brilliantly weaves the ship’s plotline together with a fascinating period of U.S. Navy and broader American history that is little known, even among naval officers… I was awed by Captain Jampoler’s ability to tell Memphis’s story—from keel laying in Philadelphia to horrific demise at Santo Domingo—against the backdrop of history spanning from post-Civil War through World War I … Like a vintage wine or scotch, the elements blend together sublimely.”
—Captain Bill Hamblet, US Navy (retired) Editor-in-Chief, U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings
“Captain Jampoler’s vivid writing and eye for telling details capture the excitement of this seminal era in US naval history. Meticulous research underpins his judgements on its personages and events. And his colorful tales within tales make for a most enjoyable read.”
—Peter M. Swartz, CNA strategy analyst and retired U.S. Navy captain
“Andrew Jampoler’s Hard Aground is an extremely enjoyable but deeply researched accounting of the early tumultuous years of 20th century European history, seen through the eyes of a neutral, and later participant, in the conflagration of the Great War… A not-to-be-missed read.”
—Nicholas Jellicoe, author of Jutland: The Unfinished Battle
“Hard Aground takes the reader on a whirlwind tour of global naval strategy from the end of the Civil War to the Washington Naval Treaty; in the process, Captain Jampoler provides a stark and compelling reminder of how both vessels and grand naval strategy become suddenly obsolete.”
—William J. Bernstein, author of A Splendid Exchange: How Trade Shaped the World
“Andrew Jampoler has written a compelling story of a navy in transition, of the power of the sea and politics, both often stormy, and through his meticulous research and prose, again reminded us that history is the story of people.”
—James P. Delgado, author of War At Sea: A Shipwrecked History, and The Curse of the Somers: The Secret History behind the U.S. Navy’s Most Infamous Mutiny