Battleship USS Virginia

USS Virginia (Battleship No. 13) was a pre-dreadnought battleship. Laid down in May 1902 at Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company, and commissioned on May 7, 1906, Virginia was the lead ship of its class. Most of Virginia‘s career serving the Atlantic Fleet was focused on maintaining fleet readiness by conducting peacetime training exercises. While not particularly remembered for its role operating as a battleship, Virginia was part of several landmark events in US Naval history.

In August 1906, revolution had broken out in Cuba against the government of President T. Estrada Palma. Following its shakedown cruise off the coasts of Virginia and Rhode Island, Virginia was sent to the island to help protect Havana. The following year, the vessel participated in the Jamestown Tercentennial Exposition in Hampton Roads. In December 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt ordered Virginia to join the “Great White Fleet” a 14-month long voyage of sixteen new battleships of the Atlantic Fleet, manned by 14,000 sailors. The ships, painted white save for their golden decorated bows, were seen as a show of American sea power and prowess, particularly meant to impress the Japanese.

Between 1909 and 1913, Virginia spent a significant amount of time in Hampton Roads and at the Norfolk Navy Yard for repairs and restoration. The ship also performed drills and exercises along the east coast and around Cuba. In November 1913, amidst the Mexican Revolution, Virginia traveled to Mexico for the remainder of the year, and was stationed at the Port of Vera Cruz during the United States’ occupation of Vera Cruz.1

USS Virginia at an unknown port.
USS Virginia at an unknown port. Sailors can be seen along the deck of the ship. (MS0632.01)

When America entered World War I, Virginia was undergoing an extensive overhaul in the Boston Navy Yard. In August 1917, the ship began its wartime service in the 3rd Division, Battleship Force, Atlantic Fleet, as a gunnery training ship. At the end of 1917, Virginia became a flagship for Rear Admiral John A. Hoogewerff, Commander, Battleship Division 1, and later for Rear Admiral Thomas Snowden, Commander, Battleship Division 3. Overhauled again in the fall of 1918, Virginia was assigned to convoy duty in the Atlantic. Virginia completed only one escort during the war; it was supposed to perform escort duties a second time, but the armistice was signed before the ship left Norfolk.2

Virginia’s most impactful duty occurred after the war ended when it served as a troopship, transporting more than 6,000 American Expeditionary Force members from France back to the United States in six months. In order to accommodate the amount of soldiers returning home, the ship underwent a major conversion with more messing and berthing facilities being installed. Beginning on January 2, 1919, Virginia performed four of its five round-trip voyages from Brest, France, to Newport News, Virginia. The final voyage arrived in Boston on July 4, 1919.

Following the completion of its last voyage, Virginia was placed at the Boston Navy Yard. The Navy decommissioned the ship in August 1920. Subsequently transferred to the War Department in August 1927, Virginia was to be a used as a bombing target. The ship was sent three miles off the Diamond Shoals Lightship, off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, where it was bombed on September 5, 1923, by Army Air Service Martin bombers, under the supervision of General Billy Mitchell. Within thirty minutes, the battered ship sank in the Atlantic. The end of Battleship No. 13 provided “far-sighted naval officers with a dramatic demonstration of air power and impressed upon them the ‘urgent need of developing naval aviation within the fleet.’ As such, the service performed by the old pre-dreadnought may have been her most valuable.”3


Roy Irving MacConnell Collection

The Museum’s Roy Irving MacConnell Collection contains leaflets and pamphlets documenting Virginia’s transatlantic voyages. The pamphlets list the dates and destinations of the voyages along with names and ranks of the officers and crew of USS Virginia. Some pamphlets list the ship’s menu and entertainment. These were most likely handed out as soldiers boarded the vessel bound for home.

Booklet, To the Homeward-Bound Americans
The booklet, To the Homeward-Bound Americans, recognizes America’s contributions to France during the war and the role of the Americans and French in the war effort. It also summarizes several battles in which American soldiers aided the French, including the Second Battle of the Marne. (MS0632-01-01-05)
Pamphlet printed for Virginia's second transport from Brest, France, to Newport News, Virginia.
Pamphlet printed for Virginia‘s second transport from Brest, France, to Newport News, Virginia. It commemorates George Washington’s Birthday, February 22nd, and includes a passenger list and menu. The voyage took place February 12-27, 1919. (MS0632.01.01.02)

Among Virginia‘s 812-member crew of officers and enlisted men was Seaman Roy Irving MacConnell. He enlisted in the US Navy on May 15, 1917, at the age of twenty-four; he attained the rank of chief yeoman, performing administrative duties. MacConnell was honorably discharged on June 10, 1919; he returned to work with the Boston and Marine Railroad.

Undated staged photograph is of Roy Irving MacConnell dressed in his Navy uniform.
This undated staged photograph is of Roy Irving MacConnell dressed in his Navy uniform. (MS0632.01.02.01)
Roy MacConnell in 1914 at the Boston and Maine Railroad, before enlisting in the US Navy.
Roy MacConnell in 1914 at the Boston and Maine Railroad, before enlisting in the US Navy.
(MS0632-01-02-02).

Notes
  1. “Virginia IV (Battleship No.13),” Naval History and Heritage Command website, February 17, 2016, https://www.history.navy.mil/research/histories/ship-histories/danfs/v/virginia-iv.html.
  2. 2. Ibid.
  3. 3. Ibid.