If you’ve ever wandered about the grounds of the New Capitol, you might have spotted an odd sort of concrete planter on the northeast corner of the block (opposite from the much more grant Monument to the Women of the Confederacy). Look a little closer, or if you prefer, read the little marker beside the planter, and you’ll find that you’re examining the figurehead of the second USS Mississippi, a battleship in the US Navy from 1905-1914, then sold to Greece where it met its demise in WWII.
The marker’s explanation is a bit too succinct for my tastes, but here it is:
Figurehead of the second Battleship Mississippi
Presented to the State of Mississippi
By the U.S. Navy Department,
So to get a little more information and maybe a picture of this second USS Mississippi, I did an internet search and came up with a conveniently organized wikipedia page, which lists out the five USS Mississippi’s:
- USS Mississippi (1841) was a sidewheel frigate that saw action in the Mexican–American War and was lost during the American Civil War.
- USS Mississippi (BB-23) was the lead ship of her class of battleships, saw action before World War I and was eventually sold to Greece.
- USS Mississippi (BB-41) was a New Mexico-class battleship and saw action during World War II.
- USS Mississippi (CGN-40) was a Virginia-class nuclear-powered guided missile cruiser.
- USS Mississippi (SSN-782) will be a Virginia-class submarine and is currently under construction.
I click on the second entry, BB-23, the one whose picture clearly shows our figurehead on the bow of the ship:
But as I read along, a mystery emerges: according to the longer article on that ship, it was commissioned in 1905 and decommissioned in 1914. So . . . how did this figurehead come to Mississippi in 1909? Presuming our historic marker is correct (and they’re never wrong, right?), there might be a clue within the wikipedia article:
In early 1909 she attended the inauguration of the President of Cuba, met the Great White Fleet upon its return, and was reviewed by the President. For the remainder of the year and into 1910 she traveled the waters off New England, the Caribbean, and the Gulf of Mexico, took a voyage up the Mississippi River, and participated in war games out of Guantanamo Bay.
Maybe the Navy, as a gesture of goodwill, having used the first USS Mississippi to destroy the Confederate Manassas and to bombard various sites in Louisiana, including Port Hudson, in the Civil War, decided to give the state the figurehead of the second ship on their return up the Mississippi River in 1909.
Or possibly, the US Navy just didn’t like the figurehead all that much.
Someone needs to do a little more digging into the backstory on this one.
At any rate, this whole research journey started a few weeks ago for me when the Chief of the Boat of the up-and-coming USS Mississippi e-mailed me to let me know that this 5th Navy vessel to bear our state’s name, a Virginia-class submarine, is under construction in Groton, CT. The keel was laid down on June 9, 2010, and it will be commissioned sometime next year. Check out pictures of the progress and find more detailed specifications at the Naval History website. There’s even a picture of Secretary of State Delbert Hoseman presenting a flag that flew over the New Capitol to the Officer in Charge.
(I’m trying to decide if I would rather have the title “Chief of the Boat” or “Officer in Charge” and I think I’m leaning toward “Chief of the Boat.”)
Thanks to Chief of the Boat Stoiber for sharing this information and for helping carry on our state’s naval tradition. And next time you’re at the Capitol, spend a little time with the figurehead of USS Mississippi #2. There’s a lot of story in that concrete planter!
Categories: Architectural Research
What a cool post! and a mystery to boot. I’m sure I won’t be the only one doing some sleuthing. Malvaney what do you think of “Chief of Blog”?
I think that submarine rendering might be the coolest featured picture we’ve ever had on the blog!
And Chief of Blog does suit me, I think :-)
I hope this helps explain the why the Navy gave us the figurehead. By 1909, the Navy had begun a modernization program for the fleet. Figureheads had become expensive nonfunctional decorative pieces that added tremendous weight to the ship. The new ship designs did not include these ornamental
elements . In addition, the older ships were being upgraded, thus their figure heads were being removed. The Navy gave many of these ship’s figureheads to various States and Cities where they were displayed in parks and public spaces.
Regarding the Chief of the Boat : In the Navy, submarines are referred to as “boats” rather than ships. The highest ranking enlisted personnel ( Chief Petty Officer ) on a sub is referred to as Chief of the Boat. He assists the Commanding Officer in the operation of the sub.
That’s fascinating, Gary–thanks for sharing that explanation about the figureheads. It doesn’t seem like this would have weighed that much, but I guess with the military once it becomes a policy, it’s a policy and I’m glad Mississippi got it back, especially given that the ship met a bad end.
Thanks. I’m glad I found this blog.
Yeah, the old steam & sail transitional Navy was on the way out.
After 1909 , it was all about speed and maneuverability for the ships.
The ship’s silver service was on permanent display at the Old Capitol for many years.
I remember seeing a silver service from one of the USS Mississippi’s about 15 years ago. I think it was on display in the Petrified Forest Museum in Jackson. As a silver lover I remember gazing it for quite a while, it was lovely!
Wow, that’s a strange place for the silver service to end up! I’ll have to try to run that down. Are you sure it wasn’t the Old Capitol Museum? That seems like the logical place for it to have ended up, but you never know with these things!
I don’t think it was at the Old Capitol, although it has been a few years and (ahem) I may have forgotten where it was displayed. I seem to remember it being in an out of the ordinary place and as I admired it I remember wondering why it was displayed there. But it was impressive and I hope it is being lovingly cared for now.
I suspect the silver you are refering to is being cared for by the D.A.R. in their Rosalie mansion in Natchez.. The ships bell is also there in the garden
Here’s an odd coincidence! I came across a reference to the fund-raising for the silver service while looking in the October 31, 1905 Vicksburg Evening Post for something entirely different. The headline is “SILVER SERVICE FUND GROWING” and it states: “Cash subscription for the silver service for the battleship Mississippi continue to come in to the Governor, and he does not have any doubt that in due course of time he will have an abundance of funds for that purpose, and made up from small sums donated by the patriotic citizens of the State. In his mail this morning the Governor received the following from Col. C. C. Wyatt of Meridian: First National Bank $25, Citizens National Bank $25, Union Bank and Trust Company, $25, Southern Bank $15, Peoples Bank $10, H.G. Meyer $25, Myer & Schamber $15, Threefoot Bros $25, Meyer Bros $5, Cash $5. Colonel Wyatt also reports that he has fifty dollars more subscribed but not yet collected, and which he will get down to Jackson in a few days.”
That was back in the days when a few dollars went a long way and you could feel like you were making a real contribution to something tangible!
Again I must tell you, E. L., that this is the most wonderful blog! Love all the interesting things you bring to us from the Great Sovereign State of Mississippi – every day. It makes me so happy to see my phone alert letting me know I have mail and then see it is from MissPres! :)
For more information see the web slite for the commissioning of the new USS Mississippi. http://www.ussmississippi.org
Thanks, Gstone! And it’s an encouragement to all the authors too when readers take the time to comment and add to the discussion!
For several years the Silver Service, and a model of the battleship Mississippi were on display at the Memorial Building to the north of the Old Capitol. A native of Brandon, Mississippi, then Capt, later Rear Admiral Joseph L. Jayne was one of the commanding officers of the Mississippi. I do not know whether it is still there.
What about this one? I was at the commissioning. http://www.navsource.org/archives/04/1140/040140.htm