On The Yard


    This is Monumental: The Mexican War Midshipmen’s Monument

    By Bill the Goat on January 27, 2023

    This is Monumental: The Mexican War Midshipmen’s Monument

    This monument is one of the most well known here. It is the monument that has stood the longest on the Yard—and currently presides over the Quadrangle, silently witnessing the hundreds of thousands of visitors that traverse the Yard each year on U.S. Naval Academy tours and their own explorations, as well as the midshipmen who make it their home. This iconic monument recognizes the bravery of four men who died defending our country. It’s called the Mexican War Midshipmen’s Monument, yet it honors four midshipmen who never got to set foot inside the U.S. Naval Academy that we know today. These four men helped ensure the future of USNA. Here is the story behind this monumental monument—an intriguing piece of Annapolis history that forever memorializes our nation’s heroes


    The Men Behind the Monument

    The Mexican-American War, also known as the Mexican War, pitted Mexico against the United States from April 1846 to February 1848. It was a struggle that arose from the United States’ 1845 annexation of Texas as well as a disagreement over whether the Texan border ran to the Nueces River as Mexico believed, or the Rio Grande, as the U.S. claimed.


    ​​For the bulk of the war, the U.S. Navy’s main responsibility was to blockade Mexico’s Gulf coasts and bombard any Mexican fortifications there, especially at the Port of Vera Cruz. The Navy also pursued blockade runners, eventually helping the U.S. gain control of California. This was a dangerous mission, and it ultimately claimed the lives of two midshipmen, Henry A. Clemson and John R. Hynson. Called a “promising officer,” Hynson helped spearhead a night raid on the Vera Cruz coast, where they burned a Mexican merchant ship; Clemson was the Acting Sailing-Master of their ship. 


    Then on December 8, 1846, their ship, the USS Somers, was in hot pursuit of a blockade runner when it ran into a squall and sank in under ten minutes. The crew sent out a rescue boat for men who couldn’t swim. Since Hynson sustained a burn from his earlier raid, he was offered a spot; he refused it and later drowned. Clemson was able to grab a piece of the ships’ boom with five other men but decided it wouldn’t hold them—so he let them use it and swam out alone; he also drowned in the waters. Of the entire crew, only half survived the tumultuous sinking. 


    Previous to this, on July 24, 1846, Midshipman John W. Pillsbury, who served aboard the flagship of Commodore Matthew C. Perry in the Mexican War, the USS Mississippi, drowned near Vera Cruz. Not long after on March 25, 1847, a fourth midshipman and fellow seaman on the USS Mississippi, Midshipman Thomas Branford Shubrick, died while manning a large naval gun at the Siege of Veracruz. All four young men fought bravely for the United States.


    The Meaning of the Monument


    In 1848, the midshipmen at the fledgling Naval School (established in Annapolis in 1845 and called the Naval Academy in 1850 after the war), decided to honor these four midshipmen. They raised money and commissioned a large marble obelisk to commemorate their lives and bravery. 


    Known as the Mexican War Midshipmen’s Monument, or the Midshipmen’s Monument, this iconic structure features each one of their names prominently on its four sides. Four bronze leaf wreaths also adorn each of the obelisks four sides. Four cannons are positioned vertically to hold up the monument’s shaft. Also below the Hynson and Shubrick names are stylized fouled anchors. Four piles of shot cover the four corners of the pedestal. For years, cannon balls were positioned on top of these piles, but they mysteriously disappeared—until in 1986 they were completely gone. Over time too, the monument fell into disrepair. In 2016, it received a full restoration.


    In addition to the marble piece, the monument includes four impressive Spanish bronze 12-pounder long guns that were added after the monument was dedicated. They were captured during the war’s California campaign in 1847, and represent a fascinating span of history. “San Damien” hails from 1686 and “San Joseph” is from 1687. “El Neptuno” was created in 1781, and “El Faetonte” was also cast that same year. Together with the obelisk, they complete the scene.


    The inscriptions on the monument are as follows.

    The base below Clemson:

    To passed Midshipmen

    H. A. CLEMSON.


    R. HYNSON.

    lost with U.S. Brig. Somers

    off Vera Cruz

    Dec. 8th, 1846

    This monument is Erected


    passed and other Midshipmen

    of the U.S. Navy

    as a tribute of respect



    The base below Pillsbury: To Midshipmen





    the former drowned off Vera Cruz

    July 24th, 1846

    the latter killed at the Naval Battery

    near Vera Cruz

    March 25th, 1847

    while in charge of their duties

    This monument is Erected


    passed and other Midshipmen

    as a tribute of respect



    Pointing Toward the Sea


    Currently overlooking the middle of Stribling Walk at its intersection with Chapel Walk in the path between the Chapel and Radford Terrace, the Mexican War Monument has a special and well-trafficked spot on the Yard. In fact, the monument forms a focal point between Michelson and Chauvenet Halls and acts like a guide that’s pointing towards the Severn River, out towards the seas whose story it recounts. It has been in this location since 1909 after being moved twice.


    As the earliest monument to the midshipmen, the Mexican War Midshipmen’s Monument represents a special commemoration. This eighteen foot structure with a girth of 6.5 by 6.5 feet was not a monument to an admiral, or even a captain. The fact that it honors four men who had just begun their Navy careers is a testament to the young men that first erected it, and the young women and men who currently walk by it on their way to classes. It stands as a reminder to all of the dangers of the sea, and the enduring bravery and selflessness by which these protectors live. 


    Experience the History


    Come see this awe-inspiring monument and take time to study the details that pay homage to its legacy. When you visit the Yard, you’re also supporting the women and men who give 100 percent to the service of our country. Every USNA tour, dining experience and shopping trip on the Yard gives 100 percent to the Brigade. Your visit gives to the midshipmen who serve our country today and in the future.


    Support The Midshipmen


    Bill the Goat
    Written by Bill the Goat | January 27, 2023


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