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Tom Henderson Wells Letters, 1935-1962 (bulk 1935): Finding Aid

Published in 1996

Summary Information

  • Publisher: United States Naval Academy. Special Collections & Archives.
  • Publisher Address:
    589 McNair Road
    Annapolis, Maryland 21402-5029, USA
    Phone: 410-293-6917
  • Call number: MS 309
  • Location: Special Collections & Archives Department - Manuscripts
  • Title: Tom Henderson Wells Letters
  • Dates: 1935-1962
  • Bulk Dates: 1935
  • Size: 0.25 linear feet
  • Container Summary: 8 folders
  • Creator: Wells, Tom Henderson, 1917-1971
  • Language(s) of material: English
  • Abstract: Tom Henderson Wells was a member of the United States Naval Academy Class of 1940, a naval officer, and a university history professor. The Wells Letters were written by Wells to his family and friends, primarily while a plebe at the United States Naval Academy, with several additional documents regarding Wells' service during World War II.

Biography of Tom Henderson Wells

Tom Henderson Wells was born in Austin, Texas on June 3, 1917 to Peter Boyd and Eleanor Henderson Wells. Wells attended the University of Texas, Creighton University, and Old Dominion College before being admitted to the United States Naval Academy as a member of the Class of 1939. For academic reasons, Wells was turned back to the Class of 1940. In September 1941, Wells was ordered to report to the Supervisor of Shipbuilding at Newport News in connection with the fitting out of U.S.S. Hornet (Aircraft carrier : CV-8), and continued to serve aboard her in the Pacific theater during the early days of World War II, until Hornet was sunk in October 1942 at the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands.

Following his service during the Korean War, Wells was assigned to the Naval ROTC program at the University of Texas as Executive Officer in 1952, where he also served as Associate Professor of Naval Science until 1954. Wells retired from the U.S. Navy in 1960 to pursue a career in academia. He was awarded an M.A. degree in 1961 and a Ph.D. in 1963, both from Emory University, after which he taught at Northwestern State College in Natchitoches, Louisiana as an Associate Professor of history. Wells was the author of Commodore Moore and the Texas Navy (1960), "The Navies" in Civil War Books: a Critical Bibliography (1967), The Texas Navy (Navy pamphlet, 1968), The Slave Ship Wanderer (Master's thesis, 1968), and The Confederate Navy: A Study in Organization (Ph.D. dissertation, 1971).

Tom Henderson Wells died on April 16, 1971 at his home in Natchitoches, Louisiana following an automobile accident.

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Description of Contents

The Tom Henderson Wells Letters, comprising 0.25 linear feet of documentation, were written by Wells to his family and friends, primarily while a plebe at the United States Naval Academy, with several additional documents regarding Wells' service during World War II.

Wells' plebe year letters are addressed primarily to his family and relatives. The letters deal midshipman and plebe life at the Academy, including discussions of tests, studies, extracurricular activities, finances, quarters, food, football games, uniforms, punishments, slang, hazing, and spooning, as well as comments on officers and other midshipmen. The letters also note special occasions, such as a visit by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Naval Academy's ninetieth anniversary. Included among Wells' letters are the "Letter of the Superintendent to Parents and Guardians of Midshipmen," a hand-drawn floor plan of the rooms around Wells' in Bancroft Hall, a railway timetable, and an instruction card used as part of a performance at the Navy-Notre Dame football game.

The correspondence closes with two additional letters. The first is a photocopy of a January 19, 1943 letter by Wells. The eight-page letter serves as a memoir of Wells' experiences as an officer aboard the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Hornet, from the ship's fitting out in September 1941 to her sinking by the Japanese at the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands in October 1942. The second, from 1962, recalls gun repairs aboard U.S.S. Wisconsin (Battleship: BB-64), as well as Wells' thoughts on the battleships U.S.S. North Carolina (Battleship: BB-55), U.S.S. Washington (Battleship: BB-56), U.S.S. South Dakota (Battleship: BB-57), U.S.S. Massachusetts (Battleship: BB-59), and U.S.S. Tennessee (Battleship: BB-43), as well as Vice Admiral Willis A. Lee.

The collection's final document is a transcript of remarks aboard U.S.S. Wisconsin on the eve of the bombardment of the Hitachi Arms Factory and Hitachi Engine Works in Mito.

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The Tom Henderson Wells Letters are arranged chronologically.

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Access and Use


Access is unrestricted.

Copyright and Permission

The Tom Henderson Wells Letters are the physical property of Nimitz Library. Copyright belongs to the authors or creators of the works, or their legal representatives. For further information, consult the Head, Special Collections & Archives.

It is the responsibility of the researcher to secure written permission to publish, reprint, or reproduce material from Special Collections & Archives. The researcher assumes responsibility for infringement of copyright or literary or publication rights. Please contact the Head, Special Collections & Archives for permission to publish and for further information.

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Acquisition and Appraisal

Provenance and Acquisition

Gift of Mrs. Tom Henderson Wells in March 2000 and January 1996. Accession Nos. 96-04 and 00-27.

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Related Materials

Related Archival Material

Additional papers of Wells', including correspondence from U.S.S. Astoria (Heavy cruiser: CA-34) and U.S.S. Hornet (Aircraft carrier: CV-8), and his command of U.S.S. Theodore E. Chandler (Destroyer: DD-717) during the Korean War, as well as Wells' logbook/scrapbook of the 1946 diplomatic cruise of U.S.S. Wisconsin (Battleship: BB-64) to South America, can be found in the United States Naval Academy Class of 1940 Records, MS 429, Special Collections & Archives, Nimitz Library.

Additional material pertaining to Wells' Navy career and time as a midshipman is available in his Midshipman Personnel Jacket (sealed until 2022) and Alumni Jacket, Special Collections & Archives, Nimitz Library.

Materials Cataloged Separately

No materials have been removed from this collection and cataloged separately.

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Processing and Other Information

Preferred Citation

Tom Henderson Wells Letters, MS 309

Special Collections & Archives Department

Nimitz Library

United States Naval Academy

Selected Bibliography

The following sources were consulted during preparation of the biographical note:

The Handbook of Texas: A Supplement. Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1976.

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Mary R. Catalfamo in 1996. Finding aid written by Mary R. Catalfamo in 1996 and revised by David D'Onofrio in June 2014.

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Subject Headings

Name and Subject Terms

  • Hornet (Aircraft carrier : CV-8)
  • Midshipmen -- United States -- Conduct of life
  • United States Naval Academy -- Social life and customs
  • United States Naval Academy -- Students -- Correspondence
  • United States Naval Academy. Class of 1939
  • Wells, Tom Henderson, 1917-1971
  • Wisconsin (Battleship : BB-64)
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Naval operations, American

Genre Terms

  • Correspondence
  • Manuscripts
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Contents List

Box 1 Folder 1

Tom Henderson Wells Letters, 1935 April 26-July 19 Letters 1-20

Naval Academy plebe life, slang, and spooning (June 29); visit to the Academy by President Franklin D. Roosevelt (July 13); and "raggings" by upper class men (July 13). Also includes correspondence with Senator Tom Connally of Texas regarding Wells' appointment to the Naval Academy and D.F. Sellers' "Letter of the Superintendent to parents and Guardians of Midshipmen."

Box 1 Folder 2

Tom Henderson Wells Letters, 1935 July 20-September 4 Letters 21-40

Praise for Captain Todd (July 29); and description of Wells' tonsillectomy performed at the Naval Academy (August 9). Also includes a hand-drawn floor plan of Wells' floor in Bancroft Hall.

Box 1 Folder 3

Tom Henderson Wells Letters, 1935 September 10-October 27 Letters 41-51

Hazing (September 19); assignment to first class man as an orderly (September 26); Class of 1939 presented to the Regiment, hazing (October 5); Naval Academy 90th Anniversary celebration (October 10); Wells' fossil noted in Science magazine (October 24); and midshipmen's card stunt performance at Notre Dame Game (October 27). Also includes lists of Wells' expenses and a Southern Railway System timetable and map.

Box 1 Folder 4

Tom Henderson Wells Letters, 1935 November 1-December Letters 52-62

Studies and poor academic performance (November 1); Wells punished and quartered aboard Reina Mercedes, fourth class men don't rate use of certain stairways and doors (November 6, 14); Army-Navy football game and related betting (November 21-December 1). Also includes a Western Union holiday telegram stating Wells will not be home for Christmas.

Box 1 Folder 5

Tom Henderson Wells Letters, 1943 January 19 Letter 63

Memoir of Wells' experiences aboard U.S.S. Hornet from September 1941 through October 1942.

Box 1 Folder 6

Tom Henderson Wells Letters, 1962 March 19 Letter 64

Reminiscences of U.S.S. Wisconsin, U.S.S. North Carolina, U.S.S. Washington, U.S.S. South Dakota, U.S.S. Massachusetts, and U.S.S. Tennessee during World War II.

Box 1 Folder 7

Tom Henderson Wells Letters - Envelopes, 1935

Box 1 Folder 8

Remarks of Captain Roper, undated

Remarks aboard U.S.S. Wisconsin on the eve of the bombardment of the Hitachi Arms Factory and Hitachi Engine Works in Mito.

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