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"Being in a ship is like being in a jail, with the chance of being drowned" – Samuel Johnson
For hundreds of years, the keeping of order and discipline aboard naval vessels was based around a delicate balance of privileges and punishment. Privileges included the daily distribution of alcoholic beverages such as grog (a mix of rum and water), while punishment included confinement (in prison barges or shackles aboard ship) and/or flogging. Given that life aboard a sailing ship was itself a form of confinement and imprisonment, the traditional means of maintaining discipline proved adequate during the Age of Fighting Sail. But the coming of the 19th century, and with it the revolutionary power of steam engines, completely change the character and demographic of enlisted sailors in the navies worldwide. Aboard the fighting ships of the U.S. Navy there were still rough men who performed primarily physical skills, but added to this were the first of a wave of technicians and mechanics. Nevertheless, these sailors still drank too much, fought and brawled, and periodically deserted their posts. It was for these men, the naval discipline afloat continued to be enforced.
And as the U.S. Navy expanded and contracted between 1850 in the 1930s, discipline afloat and punishment ashore also evolved. The first large U.S. Navy prisons were constructed, including the facility at the Portsmouth Naval Yard in New Hampshire, the largest such facility of its time. To learn more about the evolution and enforcement of discipline and punishment in the U.S. Navy between 1850 in the 1930s, join military historian, author and journalist John D. Gresham (@greshamj01) for Military Monday (#MilitaryMonday on @Writeswtream) at 1 p.m. Eastern. His guest this week is U.S. Naval Institute Press (USNIBooks) writer Rodney Watterson, author of the book Whips to Walls.
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