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William P. McCann Papers, 1848-1906: Finding Aid

Published in January 2010

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 350
  • Location: Special Collections & Archives Department - Manuscripts
  • Title: William P. McCann Papers
  • Dates: 1848-1906
  • Size: 0.63 linear feet
  • Container Summary: 1 manuscript box, 1 half-manuscript box, 2 oversize folders
  • Creator: McCann, William Penn, 1830-1906
  • Language(s) of material: English
  • Abstract: Commodore William Penn McCann was a graduate of the United States Naval Academy Class of 1853 and a career U.S. Navy officer who served during the Civil War, and as a lighthouse inspector and Navy Yard commander. The papers, consisting primarily of handwritten journals and correspondence, cover all but the last two years of McCann's career in the U.S. Navy.

Biographical Chronology of William Penn McCann

  • Born May 4, in Paris, Kentucky.
  • In October, arrives in Annapolis, Maryland for Naval School entrance examinations.
  • On November 1, enters the United States Navy as a midshipman.
  • In December, sails aboard the recently recommissioned U.S.S. Raritan (Frigate), which was serving as flagship of the Home Squadron.
  • In June, sails aboard the U.S.S. Raritan for a second cruise, now serving as flagship of the Pacific Squadron.
  • On May 5, transfers to U.S.S. Columbia (Frigate), which was serving as flagship of the Home Squadron.
  • On October 28, reports to the United States Naval Academy for examination.
  • Graduates from the United States Naval Academy.
  • On June 14, is warranted as a passed midshipman.
  • In June, is ordered to U.S.S. Cyane (Sloop-of-war).
  • In July, is transferred to U.S.S. Vixen (Gunboat) while she was under repair at the New York Navy Yard.
  • In September, reports for duty aboard U.S.S. Independence (Ship-of-the-line), which was recommissioned to serve as flagship of the Pacific Squadron.
  • On September 15, is warranted as a Master.
  • On September 16, is commissioned as a Lieutenant.
  • In January, is ordered to the receiving ship U.S.S. Allegheny (Gunboat).
  • In August, reports aboard U.S.S. Sabine (Frigate).
  • In April, transfers to U.S.S. Maratanza (Gunboat).
  • On August 5, is promoted to Lieutenant Commander.
  • In October, receives command of U.S.S. Hunchback (Gunboat) of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron.
  • On September 26, is detached from Hunchback in order to take command of U.S.S. Kennebec (Gunboat) of the West Gulf Blockading Squadron.
  • On October 31, is detached from U.S.S. Kennebec.
  • On February 6, receives command of U.S.S. Tahoma (Gunboat).
  • On July 25, is promoted to Commander.
  • Serves as captain of U.S. Ships Tallapoosa (Gunboat) and Nipsic (Gunboat); at the Naval Academy as Assistant to Commandant of Midshipmen; in Executive Duty; at the Philadelphia and Norfolk Navy Yards; and as inspector of the Eighth and Eleventh lighthouse districts.
  • On September 21, is promoted to Captain.
  • Serves as captain of Lackawanna (Sloop-of-war), Independence, and Pensacola (Screw sloop-of-war).
  • Serves as Light-house Board member, Naval Advisory Board President, and on court-martial duty.
  • On January 26, is promoted to Commodore.
  • Receives command of Boston Navy Yard.
  • In August, receives command of the South Atlantic Station.
  • In August, is relieved as commander of the South Atlantic Station, and subsequently serves as president of the Naval Examining and Retiring Board.
  • On May 4, is transferred to the retired list.
  • Serves as prize commissioner for the southern district of New York.
  • On January 15, dies in New Rochelle, New York.
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Description of Contents

The Commodore William P. McCann Papers, comprising 0.63 linear feet of documentation, span from 1848 until 1906. The papers, consisting primarily of handwritten journals and correspondence, cover all but the last two years of McCann's career in the U.S. Navy.

Included in the collection are copies of outgoing letters, journals, press clippings, a map, a plan for a naval vessel, a certificate, a photograph, and several clippings.

The McCann Papers are arranged alphabetically by document type into a single series with no subdivisions. The correspondence consists of ten letters from McCann to his father, brother (John), Garret Thompson, and Secretary of the Navy John Mason. The letters, most likely copies from a larger letterbook, pertain largely to McCann's efforts to enter the Naval School, including his examinations and a meeting with the Secretary of the Navy. The letters also describe various historical and physical aspects of the Naval School, Annapolis, the Maryland State House, the Norfolk Navy Yard, and U.S.S. Raritan.

The journals, written in several hands and most likely produced in retrospect, span from 1848 to 1890. The journals discuss, in varying levels of detail, McCann's numerous posts and tours of duty. In addition to providing such standard information as courses traveled, weather, itineraries, duties, and recreation, the journals also detail McCann's experiences during the American Civil War, including the siege of Yorktown and the Battle of Mobile Bay; the War of the Pacific between Chile, Bolivia, and Peru; and his experiences as lighthouse inspector and member of the Lighthouse Board. The journals also feature McCann's views on topics such as American politics, foreign policy, and diplomacy. Interspersed throughout the journals are press clippings.

The remainder of the collection consists of several oversize documents, including McCann's commission as a Commander in the U.S. Navy, a hand-drawn map of Mobile Bay, and hand-drawn sketches of the U.S.S. Merrimack (Frigate) depicting her conversion to the ironclad C.S.S. Virginia. Also included are several obituaries, a Senate document, and a portrait of McCann.

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The William P. McCann Papers are arranged alphabetically by document type into a single series with no subdivisions.

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Access and Use


Access is unrestricted.

Copyright and Permission

The William P. McCann Papers 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 Lily May Olson in October 1994 and purchase in April 1995. Accession Nos. 94-62 and 95-23.

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Related Materials

Related Archival Material

There are no other known collections of papers of Commodore William P. McCann.

Materials Cataloged Separately

No materials have been removed from this collection.

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Processing and Other Information

Preferred Citation

William P. McCann Papers, MS 350

Special Collections & Archives Department

Nimitz Library

United States Naval Academy

Processing Information

This collection was originally processed by Mary R. Catalfamo and reprocessed by David D'Onofrio in January 2010. Finding aid written by David D'Onofrio in January 2010.

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Subject Headings

Name and Subject Terms

  • McCann, William Penn, 1830-1906
  • Navy-yards and naval stations -- United States
  • United States -- Foreign relations -- Latin America
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Naval operations
  • United States Naval Academy -- Students -- Correspondence
  • War of the Pacific, 1879-1884

Genre Terms

  • Clippings (information artifacts)
  • Correspondence
  • Diaries
  • Manuscripts
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Contents List

Drawer MSOS Folder 1

Commission - Commander (effective December 8, 1867), 1868 June 6

Box 1 Folder 1

Correspondence, 1848 October 18-November 1

From Annapolis, MD. Descriptions of voyage to Annapolis for examination (October 18); meeting with Secretary of the Navy (October 21; 27); passing examination; Naval School professors as entirely impartial; and anticipated course of study (November 1).

Box 1 Folder 2

Correspondence, 1848 November 4-14

From Annapolis, MD and Norfolk, VA. Descriptions of Annapolis and Maryland State House (November 4); the Naval School, and "brotherhood" of midshipmen (November 6); the Norfolk Navy Yard (November 13); and Raritan as the "most pleasant" ship (November 13).

Box 1 Folder 3

Journal No.1, 1848 October-1861 February

Includes descriptions of McCann's naval education, including his time at the U.S. Naval Academy and aboard U.S. Ships Raritan, Columbia, Vixen, Independence, Allegheny and Sabine.

Box 1 Folder 4

Journal No. 2, 1861 December-1864 March

Includes descriptions of McCann's service aboard U.S.S. Sabine before and during the Civil War; service aboard U.S.S. Maratanza as temporary commander and participation in the siege of Yorktown; service aboard U.S.S. Hunchback, including engagements at New Bern, Washington, and other North Carolina sites; and transfer to Kennebec as commander. Also includes excerpts of a 'logbook relating to the foundering of the Governor, November 2, 1861.'

Box 1 Folder 5

Journal No. 3, 1864 February-1867 January

Includes descriptions of service aboard U.S.S. Kennebec, including the Battle of Mobile Bay; command of U.S.S. Tahoma; unsatisfactory tour of duty at U.S. Naval Academy; and command of U.S.S. Tallapoosa.

Box 1 Folder 6

Journal No. 4, 1867 January-1872 November

Includes descriptions of a shipboard cholera outbreak in Philadelphia in 1867; service at the Navy Yard, Philadelphia; tour of duty as Inspector of Lights, Eighth District; and command of U.S.S. Nipsic, including the protection of American interests in Cuba, Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Box 1 Folder 7

Journal No. 5, 1872 November-1881 June

Includes descriptions of duties as Equipment Officer at the Navy Yard, Norfolk; Inspector, Eleventh Lighthouse District; command of U.S.S. Lackawanna, including safeguarding national interests in Mexico and the Washington Territory; and command of the receiving ship U.S.S. Independence, Mare Island, CA.

Box 2 Folder 1

Journal No. 6, 1881 June-1884 September

Includes descriptions of command of the flagship of the Pacific Squadron, U.S.S. Pensacola, including peacekeeping mission in the Chilean-Peruvian area during the War of the Pacific (1881-1882), and critique of American diplomatic efforts during the war; court-martial duty in the U.S. and abroad; and membership on the Lighthouse Board.

Box 2 Folder 2

Journal No. 7, 1884 September-1890 June

Includes descriptions of service on, or as president of, various boards and courts-martial including the Lighthouse Board and the Naval Advisory Board; command of the Boston Navy Yard; and McCann’s opinions on contemporary political and naval conditions.

Drawer MSOS Folder 2

Maps and Plans (Hand-drawn), 1862 (approximate), undated

Includes an undated map of Mobile Bay and a plan of the new Merrimack, circa 1862.

Box 2 Folder 3

Obituaries and Biographical Material, 1892-1906

Includes Senate committee prints regarding McCann's application to retire with the rank of Rear Admiral.

Box 2 Folder 4

Photograph, undated

Portrait of McCann as a Rear Admiral.

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