Category Archives: The Navy

The only mutiny in the US Navy, which led to the founding of Annapolis

I’d never heard of the USS Somers before I started writing Duty, Honor, Country.  Then again, I went to West Point, not the Naval Academy.  I imagine their first year cadets have to memorize something about the ship and it’s infamy.  As the only mutiny the US Navy ever experienced.  And led to the execution of three men, one the son of the Secretary of War.

The entire scene plays out in my novel and here is an excerpt:

November 1842, USS Somers, Atlantic Ocean

“Are you afraid of death? Do you fear a dead man?  And dare you kill a person?”  The questions came in an excited tumble, hushed but insistent.

George King sat on the foremost boom of the USS Somers and restrained himself from shoving the speaker off the wood and into the ocean below. “I don’t believe I’m particularly anxious to die quite yet, but I do not fear death.”

“And killing a man?” Midshipman Philip Spencer, son of the Secretary of War, pressed him.  It was just after mid-watch, the start of the 25th of November, 1842, and the Somers had been at sea since early September.  Stars sparkled overhead as the ship cut a course west across the Atlantic.

“If honor is involved, I could kill a man,” King assured him.

Spencer appeared disappointed with the answer. “Can you keep a secret?”

Now King was in a bind. First, it was wrong to be out on the boom according to ship’s regulations.  The only reason King had agreed was he sensed that Spencer had something of great importance to say and the situation on the Somers had been deteriorating since the ship had turned around and begun its return cruise from Liberia to St. Thomas.  There were one hundred and twenty souls on board the ship, a hundred of them under the age of 18.  There were dark whispers that Spencer was up to something and King wanted to know what it was.  The boom was one of the few places on board where a whispered conversation could be had and not have a half-dozen over-hear it whether they tried to or not.

“I can keep a secret,” he said.

There were only two men on board who could navigate the ship other than the handful of officers, and King had noted Spencer in the company of those two. King has seen Spencer pay them money and slip them illegal liquor.  King had gone under Cromwell’s verbal lashings several times and other less fortunate trainees had felt the Chief’s cat-of-nine-tails tear their skin.

“Will you take an oath?” Spencer pressed.  He was a tall, thin fellow of nineteen who had seemed amiable enough on the outbound voyage from New York City, but King had seen something in his eyes on first meeting that had never left—a sense of instability in the mind.

“An oath on what?”

That gave Spencer pause. “On your family.”

King smiled coldly in the dark.  “Certainly.”

“I lead a group,” Spencer began, “who will take the ship.”

Mutiny?” King couldn’t believe he had just said the word. It was unthinkable.  There had never been a mutiny in the United States Navy.

Prior to this event, midshipman were trained at sea. On the Somers, the vast majority of crew were under 18 as noted.  After this, a decision was made to form a Naval Academy on land, and my fictional character, George King, becomes one of those involved, although it doesn’t work out quite that smoothly.

Tomorrow: The Honor of the South General Johnston’s Order to the Army of the Mississippi the evening before Shiloh


Duty, Honor, Country

12 April 2011 is the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War.  The official start, when Fort Sumter was fired upon.  It ‘s also the date my first book on the Civil War:  DUTY, HONOR, COUNTRY, will be published.

However, the seeds of the Civil War were planted well before 12 April 1861, with the founding of the country.  Our story, though, starts in 1840, in Benny Havens tavern, just outside post limits of the United States Military Academy.  With William Tecumseh Sherman, a classmate, a plebe, and Benny Havens’ daughter coming together in a crucible of honor and loyalty.   And on post, in the West Point stables, where Ulysses S. Grant and a classmate are preparing to saddle the Hell-Beast, a horse with which Grant would eventually set an academy record, and both make fateful decisions that will change the course of their lives and history.

The key to this series is a simple fact I had to memorize as a plebe at West Point:

Who commanded the major battles of the Civil War? —— There were 60 important battles of the War. In 55 of them, graduates commanded on both sides; in the remaining 5, a graduate commanded one of the opposing sides.

That struck me as utterly fascinating and disturbing on a core level.  After all, how did men who went to the same Academy, who swore the same oath of allegiance, end up fighting each other?  In addition, it made me wonder if perhaps the war lasted so long and was the bloodiest in our history until World War II, because the leaders on both sides had all been trained in the same place?

So I decided to take a handful of fictional character and insert them into history, to rub elbows with those who would become great and those who would become infamous.  And have them live through events, both epic and personal.

The story ranges from West Point; to a plantation in Natchez, the richest city in the United States where cotton was king; to the only mutiny in the United States Navy; to St.  Louis where Kit Carson is preparing to depart on a famous expedition to the west with Fremont that would eventually bring California into the Union; to Mexico, where the United States Army suffered its highest casualty rate to this day and brought most of the western United States into the Union; to the founding of the Naval Academy; to John Brown’s hanging; to the firing on Fort Sumter; through First Bull  Run; the first battle of ironclads, the Monitor and Virginia; and culminating in the epic battle of Shiloh, where the United States had more casualties in one battle than in all previous wars combined and the face of warfare changed forever.

And that’s leaving out many more events that arc the story.  My handful of fictional characters are swept up by the tide of history and their factual contemporaries, and sometimes are more than swept up as they are the significant unknowns, the people who changed history but weren’t recorded by it.

This is history told both epic and personal so we can understand intellectually what happened, but more importantly feel the heart-wrenching struggle of duty, honor, country and loyalty coming into collision.

This first book will be followed by more books, taking our characters through the Civil War and beyond, into the Plains Wars and further.

As they say at West Point:  Much of the history we teach, was made by people we taught.

Coming 12 April 2011.

I hope you enjoy!

Bob Mayer

USMA ‘81

Infantry and U.S. Special Forces

PS:  If you want to read my latest novel, about a modern day West Point graduate, coming out of a covert unit and serving as a Federal liaison to a local police department who gets involved in a murder and counter-terrorist operation, check out Chasing The Ghost in eBook (only. 99) or print.

And, coming on the 4th of July, 185 years to the date after his death, The Jefferson Allegiance, a modern thriller where the pieces of the Jefferson Cipher must be found to found and put together to uncover the the Jefferson Allegiance, a document from the Founding Fathers, that in the wrong hands, could destroy the country.