Thursday, May 29, 2008
Last fall I wrote a blog entry remarking on the fact that with the passage of time, the U.S. Navy eventually began to honor certain leaders of erstwhile enemy forces from the Civil War era.
The U.S.S. Robert E. Lee was the main case in point.
More recently I had occasion to ponder another celebrated enemy of the United States who was subsequently honored by the U.S. Navy. The great Shawnee chief Tecumseh allied himself with the British in the War of 1812, and was killed in combat against American forces in 1813.
It would be nearly a century before the Navy would put a Confederate officer’s name on a U.S. warship. But interestingly, it was only half that time—about 50 years—from the death of Tecumseh to the launching of the U.S.S. Tecumseh, a single-turret monitor that fell victim to a Confederate mine and sank in Mobile Bay. Robert E. Lee would have been about six-years-old when Tecumseh was fighting American expansion, perhaps old enough to remember talk of the legendary enemy warrior.
There was something about Tecumseh that inspired white Americans in a way that other fierce warriors and tribal leaders did not. There appears to have been something of a Tecumseh baby-naming boom beginning around 1820, which makes me wonder if some popular history of the man was circulating about that time. Seven years after Tecumseh’s death, future Civil War general William Tecumseh Sherman was born. Two years later, in 1822, another child, and another future Civi War general, was given the ultimate warrior name of Napoleon Jackson Tecumseh Dana. The following year, in 1823, William Tecumseh Wilson was born, a future brevet brigadier general in the last days of the Civil War.
That’s at least three babies given the name Tecumseh seven-to-ten years after the death of the Shawnee leader. These three were easy to identify because they were all general officers in the Civil War and so show up in reference works, but almost certainly there were many other babies during that time frame who were given Tecumseh’s name. I suppose this is something a good biographer of Tecumseh may already have shed light upon. I’ll have to check, now that my interest is piqued.
One hundred years after the monitor Tecumseh sank in Mobile Bay, the U.S. Navy launched a nuclear sub christened with the same name, keeping that noble moniker alive in the annals of American military history.