Two Navy ships with names tied to the Confederacy could be affected by new legislation from the Senate that seeks to purge those names from U.S. military bases and installations.
Prompted by the ongoing national unrest following the death of George Floyd, the Pentagon and Congress have launched new efforts to curb Confederate iconography in the military.
The bipartisan language in the Senate’s version of the National Defense Authorization Act, outlined on Thursday by the Senate Armed Services Committee, seeks to create a committee that within three years “would remove all names, symbols, displays, monuments, and paraphernalia that honor or commemorate the Confederacy and anyone who voluntarily served it from bases and other property of the U.S. military.”
The focus nationally has been on U.S. Army bases named for Confederate military leaders, but there are also two active Navy ships connected to the Confederacy – guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville (CG-62) and oceanographic survey ship USNS Maury (T-AGS-66).
Maury, delivered in 2016, was named for Matthew Fontaine Maury. While in the U.S. Navy, Maury oversaw the Naval Observatory and was instrumental in laying the foundation of modern oceanography. Murray resigned from the U.S. Navy and served in the Confederate Navy. He spent the majority of the Civil War in Europe attempting to drum up support for the Confederacy.
Chancellorsville, commissioned in 1989, is named for the Confederate victory in 1863 by the Army of Northern Virginia led by Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.
The Ticonderoga-class of cruisers are named for American battles – including several Civil War conflicts. Unlike USS Vicksburg (CG-69) or USS Mobile Bay (CG-53), Chancellorsville is named for a clear Confederate victory that paved the way for the Army of Northern Virginia’s invasion of Pennsylvania and the Battle of Gettysburg.
The hull of the cruiser contains minié balls and shell fragments from the battle, USA Today reported in 1988. As of at least 2016, the ship’s wardroom held a painting of Lee and Jackson.
“You couldn’t pick a more exciting battle,” the first commander of the cruiser and Civil War enthusiast Gordon Rheinstrom told the Associated Press in 1988. “Lee and Jackson may never have been better than at Chancellorsville. They were brilliant. It was one of their finest engagements.”
The description of the ship’s crest makes several references to the Confederate victory and death of Jackson.
“The predominant gray refers to General Robert E. Lee’s spectacular military strategies and his dominance in this battle. Lee’s victory came at heavy cost, however, because General Thomas J. ‘Stonewall’ Jackson was mortally wounded. The inverted wreath commemorates General Jackson’s death,” read the description of the crest before it was removed from the ship’s web page. The ship’s motto is “Press on,” what Jackson allegedly told his troops during a pursuit of Union troops.
In 2016, the ship’s wardroom had a painting of Lee and Jackson, according to a photo posted by naval journalist Christopher Cavas.
In comments to USNI News on Wednesday, Secretary of the Navy Kenneth Braithwaite said the Chancellorsville name keeps in line with other ships that bear the name of battles Americans have lost.
“The Navy also has ships named after battles we lost during the Second World War as well. So not so much a reflection on that as it is the history of our country. We can’t rewrite the history per se, but those things that divide us are things that we need to revisit and rethink,” he told USNI News.
“I think we need to look at those things that separate us – whether it’s some sticker that somebody puts on a car, or some saying that somebody emblazons on a shirt. I supported the commandant’s initiative (to ban Confederate flags in the Marine Corps). … It isn’t necessarily the imagery, it’s the connotation behind the imagery and how that may have been misdirected in a way that has now identified with something that it was never originally intended to identify. That’s a sad chapter in our history, so we’re going to look at all those things, and we’re going to assess them appropriately, and we’re going to make those right decisions that, again, that unite the Navy and bring us together.”
The Senate bill follows orders from the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marines to remove Confederate imagery from barracks and bumper stickers of sailors and Marines.
“The Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Mike Gilday, has directed his staff to begin crafting an order that would prohibit the Confederate battle flag from all public spaces and work areas aboard Navy installations, ships, aircraft and submarines,” reads a statement on June 9.
“The order is meant to ensure unit cohesion, preserve good order and discipline, and uphold the Navy’s core values of honor, courage and commitment.”