USS Quincy (CA-39) photographed from a Japanese cruiser during the Battle of Savo Island, off Guadalcanal, 9 August 1942. Quincy, seen here burning and illuminated by Japanese searchlights, was sunk in this action (NH 50346).
Known today as the Battle of Savo Island British RADM Victor Crutchley’s Task group 62.6 cruiser and destroyer covering force, subordinated under U.S. ADM Richmond K. Turner for the amphibious landings at Guadalcanal, seemed mighty on paper: three Australian and five American cruisers, 15 destroyers, and some minesweepers.
The thing is, most were huddled around the beach and those that weren’t were separated into a number of smaller groups including:
Two tin cans on radar picket (USS Blue and USS Ralph Talbot)
A Southern cruiser group with the heavy cruisers HMAS Canberra and USS Chicago along with the destroyers USS Bagley and USS Patterson; and…
A Northern cruiser group with the heavy cruisers USS Vincennes, USS Quincy, and USS Astoria along with the destroyers USS Helm and USS Wilson.
Running a barricade to defend the landing beaches and ‘phibs, this immediate force of five Allied heavy cruisers and six destroyers– equipped with radar!– seemed a good match for Japanese VADM Gunichi Mikawa’s incoming striking group from Rabaul and Kavieng of five heavy cruisers (Chokai, Aoba, Furutaka, Kako, and Kinugasa) two light cruisers (Tenryu and Yubari) and the destroyer Yunagi.
However, ineffectively deployed into three separate and spread-out forces against Mikawa’s unified squadron, the Australian-American task group was sleepwalking with fatigued crews in the dark without properly using their radar (which was so new that tactics were still being developed for its use) and largely ignoring aerial spotting reports that should have warned the force while the Japanese, skilled in night fighting and armed with formidable Long Lance torpedos, took the Allies out with almost spooky ease, pounded to the seabed while fixed under the gaze of enemy searchlights.
Battle of Savo Island, 9 August 1942. cruisers USS Astoria (CA-34), USS Vincennes (CA-44), USS Quincy (CA 39) shown torpedo attack and shellfire from the Japanese cruisers. by John Hamilton NHHC
Japanese cruiser Yūbari shines searchlights toward the northern force of Allied warships during the battle of Savo island
Heavy cruiser Furutaka during the Battle of Savo Island.
“Night Battle of Savo Island by an unknown Japanese artist.”
In the short pre-dawn hour between 01:31 of 9 August 1942, when Mikawa ordered “Every ship attack” and 02:20 when he ordered them to retire, Vincennes, Quincy, Astoria, and Canberra were all mortally wounded while Chicago and two destroyers were very seriously damaged. Only two Japanese cruisers were damaged but could still make it back to base.
It was a mauling, an execution by large caliber shells at point blank range.
Canberra was hit at least 24 times. Astoria took 65 hits. Vincennes was struck an estimated 74 times. They were the first ships to be sunk in what today is named “Ironbottom Sound.”
HMAS Canberra’s last moments off Savo Island, 9th August 1942
Hits sustained by Astoria at the Battle of Savo Island off Guadalcanal on August 9, 1942
The Allies suffered at least 1,077 killed and missing while the Japanese a mere 58.
Some 500 no doubt traumatized survivors of the lost American cruisers would be held under Marine guard at Treasure Island for weeks with orders not to talk about the defeat– something that only hit the papers back home nearly three months later. After all, nothing stays secret forever.
James D. Hornfischer’s Neptune’s Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal, covers this sad tale in great detail. See chapter “The Martyring of Task Group 62.6” in particular.
An interesting conversation on the battle from the Australian point of view– Canberra was the RAN’s largest warship loss in any conflict– the Naval Studies Group at the University of Canberra held a panel of Dr. Greg Gilbert, Vice Admiral Peter Jones, and Dr. Kathryn Spurling to discuss the engagement a few years ago.
Warship Wednesday, July 6, 2022: Dispatches from the New Navy
Naval History and Heritage Command photo NH 69187
Above we see the one-of-a-kind steel-hulled dispatch boat USS Dolphin (later PG-24) off New York City, about 1890. Note the Statue of Liberty in the right background. A controversial warship when she first appeared, she later proved to have a long and star-studded career.
Dolphin was part of the famed “ABCD” ships, the first modern steel-hulled warships of the “New Navy” ordered in the early 1880s along with the protected cruisers USS Atlanta, Boston, and Chicago. While the ABC part of this quartet was built to fight, running 3,200 tons in the case of Atlanta and Boston and 4,500 tons for Chicago, with as much as 4-inches of armor plate and a total of eight 8-inch, 20 6-inch, and two 5-inch guns between them, Dolphin was, well, a lot less of a bruiser.
Laid down on 11 October 1883 as an unarmored cruiser by John Roach and Sons, Chester, PA, Dolphin hit the scales at just 1,485 tons with a length of 256 feet (240 between perpendiculars). Her armament was also slight, with a single 6″/30 Mark 1 (serial no. 1), three 6-pounders, four 3-pounders, and two Colt Gatling guns.
6″/30 (15.2 cm) Mark I gun on the protected cruiser USS Atlanta circa 1895. Note three-motion breech mechanism and Mark 2, Muzzle Pivot Mount inclined mounting. Dolphin was to carry one of these, but it wasn’t to be. Detroit Publishing Company Collection Photograph Library of Congress Photograph ID LC-USZ62-60234
However, although all the ABC cruisers would successfully carry 6″/30s along with their other wild mix of armament, it was soon seen that Dolphin was too light for the piece and she transitioned to two 4″/40 (10.2 cm) Mark 1 pieces as her main armament.
Equipped with four (two double-ended and two single-ended) boilers trunked through a centerline stack pushing a single 2,253ihp vertical compound direct-acting engine on a centerline shaft, she also had a three-mast auxiliary sail rig, a hermaphrodite pattern carried by all the ABCD ships. With everything lit and a clean hull, it was thought she could make 17 knots on a flat sea, something that was thought to equal 15 knots in rough conditions.
Brooklyn, NY. Dock No 2 with USS Dolphin (dispatch boat) showing her hull shape, masts, stack, and screw. USN 902198
Unofficial plans, USS Dolphin, published in the Transactions of the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers, 1893. By Deutsch Lith and Ptg Co., Photo-Lith, Balto. NH 70119
However, in the spring and summer of 1885, the ship was the subject of much controversy. The first of the ABCD ships nearing completion, she could not make her target speed under any condition, barely hitting 14 knots, and incapable of sustaining that for over six hours. Meanwhile, the Herreshoff-built steam yacht Stilettowas hitting 24.8 knots and the Cunard steamship Etruria was logging over 19 sustained across a 72-hour period.
That, coupled with the issue of armament, led to a special board directed by President Chester A. Arthur’s SECNAV Bill Chandler to inspect and evaluate Dolphin, which was accordingly reclassified as a dispatch boat rather than a cruiser.
A subsequent board formed by President Cleveland’s incoming SECNAV William C. Whitney, consisting of Capt. George E. Belknap, Commanders Robley D. Evans, William T. Sampson, and Caspar F. Goodrich (all of which became famed admirals); Naval Constructor Francis Bowles, and one Mr. Herman Winters, was formed to criticize the first board later that fall, and by early 1886 it was deemed Dolphin had caulking and planking issues, a few defective steel trusses, and her plant was never able to make the designed 2,300 hp on her original boilers. Further, it was thought her powerplant and battery were too exposed to any sort of fire to be effective in combat.
The papers were filled with drama, with the New York Times archives holding dozens of stories filed on the subject that year.
“Cruelty” Dolphin: “What! go to sea, Secretary Whitney! Why, that might make me seasick!'”– says the caption of this Thomas Nast cartoon published in Harper’s weekly, satirizing the mediocre performance during sea trials of the USS Dolphin, one of four vessels ordered by Congress in 1883 to rebuild a United States Navy that was in disrepair. Secretary of the Navy William Whitney refused to accept the new ship, setting off a well-publicized political controversy and eventually driving the shipbuilder into bankruptcy. Via the NYPL collection.
“John Roach’s little miscalculation” Illustration shows Secretary of the Navy, William C. Whitney, handing a boat labeled “Dolphin” to James G. Blaine who shies away, refusing to accept it; in the background, John Roach, a contractor, who built the ship “Dolphin”, is crying because the Cleveland administration has voided his contract. Published in Puck, May 20, 1885, cover. Art by Joseph Ferdinand Keppler. Via LOC
Completed on 23 July 1884, Dolphin was only commissioned on 8 December 1885, while the Navy would work out her issues and pass on her lessons learned to the other new steel warships being built.
Notably, her skipper during this period was Capt., George Dewey (USNA 1858), later to become the hero of Manila Bay.
The first of the vessels of the “New Navy” to be completed, Dolphin was assigned to the North Atlantic Station, cruising along the eastern seaboard until February 1886 when it was deemed, she was ready to undertake longer runs, embarking in a stately three-year, 58,000-mile deployment and circumnavigation of the globe under CDR George Francis Faxon Wilde (USNA 1865). America had to show off her new warship via foreign service.
Accordingly, as noted by DANFS, “she then sailed around South America on her way to the Pacific Station for duty. She visited ports in Japan, Korea, China, Ceylon, India, Arabia, Egypt, Italy, Spain, and England, and the islands of Madeira and Bermuda, before arriving at New York on 27 September 1889 to complete her round-the-world cruise.”
USS Dolphin, some of the ship’s officers, with a monkey mascot, circa 1889, likely picked up on the way round the globe. Odds are the officer holding him is CDR George Francis Faxon Wilde. Decorated as a midshipman at the Battle of Mobile Bay, Wilde would go on to command the monitor USS Katahdin, the cruiser USS Boston during the Span Am War, and the battleship USS Oregon then retire in 1905 as head of the Boston Navy Yard. NH 54538
This trip, with the ship proving her worth, led to her appearing in the periodicals of the day in a much more impressive take.
Dispatch-vessel Dolphin from The Illustrated London News 1891
Harpers Weekly cover USS Dolphin
Harper’s Weekly January 1886 USS Dolphin in sails
By the time she arrived back home, the Navy’s other steel ships were reaching the fleet and they all became part of the new “Squadron of Evolution.”
USS Dolphin (1885-1922); USS Atlanta (1886-1912); and USS Chicago (1889-1935) off New York City, about 1890. NH 69190
As with most Naval vessels of the era, Dolphin would spend her career in and out of commission, being laid up in ordinary and reserve on no less than three times between 1891 and 1911, typically for about a year or so. Today the Navy still conducts the same lengthy yard periods but keeps the vessels in commission.
In April 1891, Dolphin was detached from the Squadron of Evolution and the Navy made $40,000 available for her cabins to be refitted to assume the task of Presidential yacht from the older USS Despatch, a much smaller (560 ton) vessel that was in poor condition.
She would continue this tasking off and on mixed with yearly fleet exercises and experiments for the rest of her career.
Speaking to the latter, in April 1893, she embarked pigeons from the Naval Academy lofts, the Washington Navy Yard’s loft in Richmond, and of Philadelphia Navy Yard then released them while steaming off Hampton Roads. The birds all made it back to their nests, covering 98 miles, 212, and 214 miles, respectively, delivering short messages penned by the daughter of SECNAV Hilary A. Herbert.
The same year, she took part in the bash that was the Columbian Naval Review in New York, where Edward H. Hart of the Detriot Post Card Co. captured several striking views of her with her glad rags flying.
In 1895, she carried out a survey mission to Guatemala
She carried President William McKinley and his party to New York for the ceremonies at Grant’s Tomb on 23 April 1897.
Grant Tomb dedication, 1897: View of Grant’s tomb, Claremont Heights, New York City, in the background, and the USS Dolphin and tugboats in the foreground. J.S. Johnston, view & marine photo, N.Y. LOC LC-USZ62-110717
Then came war.
In ordinary when the USS Maine blew up in Havanna, Dolphin recommissioned on 24 March 1898 just prior to the outbreak of the Spanish-American War. She then rushed south to serve on blockade duty off Havana, Cuba, a mission she slogged away on during April and May.
It was during this period she captured the Spanish vessel Lola (31 tons) with a cargo of fish and salt.
She covered her white and buff scheme with a more warlike dark grey.
U.S. Navy gunboat/dispatch vessel USS Dolphin (PG-24), port bow. Photographed by J.S. Johnston, 1898. LOC Lot-3370-8
USS Dolphin overhauling Schooner Kate [Kate S. Flint] with an unknown young woman in white. Dolphin in distance. Santiago de Cuba. 1898 Stevens-Coolidge Place Collection via Digital Commonwealth/Massachusetts libraries system.
A second view of the same centered on Dolphin.
On 6 June she came under fire from the Morro Battery at Santiago and replied in kind. Less than two weeks later, on 14 June, Dolphin bombarded the Spanish positions in the Battle of Cuzco Well, near Guantanamo Bay, carrying casualties back to the American positions there.
Sent back to Norfolk with casualties, she arrived there on 2 July and the war ended before she could make it back to Cuba.
U.S. Navy dispatch vessel, USS Dolphin, port view with flags. Lot 3000-L-5
Good work if you can get it
Her wartime service completed; Dolphin would spend the next two decades heavily involved in shuttling around dignitaries. This would include:
Washington Navy Yard for the Peace Jubilee of 14 May to 30 June 1899.
New York for the Dewey celebration of 26 to 29 September 1899.
Alexandria, Va., for the city’s sesquicentennial on 10 October 1899.
Took the U.S. Minister to Venezuela to La Guaira, arriving in January 1903.
From 1903 through 1905 she carried such dignitaries as the Naval Committee, Secretary of the Navy, Admiral and Mrs. Dewey, the Philippine Commissioners, the Attorney General, Prince Louis of Battenberg and his party, and President T. Roosevelt on various cruises.
Participating in the interment of John Paul Jones at the Naval Academy, and the departure ceremonies for the Great White Fleet, in 1908.
Early in August 1905, she carried the Japanese peace plenipotentiaries from Oyster Bay, N.Y., to Portsmouth, N.H., to negotiate the settlement of the Russo-Japanese War.
Footage exists of her role in the event.
She also was used in survey work during this time, completing expeditions to Venezuela and the southeast coast of Santo Domingo, in addition to carrying inspection boards to survey coaling stations in the West Indies.
She also had a series of updates. For instance, in 1910, she had her original single/double-ended boilers replaced with cylindrical boilers. In 1911, she had her 6-pounder mounts deleted due to obsolescence, and in 1914 her 4″/40s were removed as well. She also had her masts reconfigured from three to two in the early 1900s.
USS Dolphin steaming alongside USS Maine (BB-10), with the Secretary of the Navy on board, circa 1903-1905. Note she still has her figurehead bow crest. Description: Collection of Mr. & Ms. Joe Cahn, 1990. NH 102421
USS Dolphin docked at the western end of the Washington Navy Yard waterfront, District of Columbia, circa 1901. The view looks north. The old experimental battery building is on the right. NH 93333
USS Dolphin (PG-24) photographed following the reduction of her rig to two masts, during the early 1900s. Note her bowcrest figurehead is now gone. NH 54536
Back to haze grey! USS Dolphin (PG 24), which was used as a dispatch ship of the Naval Review for President William Taft in New York City, New York, on October 14, 1912. Note the battleship lattice masts in the distance and the torpedo boat to the right. Published by Bain News Service. LC-DIG-GGBAIN-10794
Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt in the crow’s nest of the dispatch boat USS Dolphin off Old Point Comfort, VA during the Naval review. 10/25/1913. National Archives Identifier: 196066910
ASECNAV Franklin D. Roosevelt on the USS Dolphin in 1913, observing gunnery trials of the fleet
USS Dolphin view looking forward from the bridge, taken while the ship was at sea in February 1916. Note ice accumulated on deck and lifelines. The original image is printed on postal card stock. Donation of Dr. Mark Kulikowski, 2005. NH 103039
Sailing from the Washington Navy Yard on 2 April 1917 to take possession of the recently purchased Danish Virgin Islands, four days later, Dolphin received word of the declaration of war between the United States and Germany. Arriving at St. Croix in the now-USVI on 9 April, she would carry the new American Governor-General James Oliver to and St. John on 15 April for a low-key flag-raising ceremony. The islands had initially been handed over in a ceremony on 31 March between the Danish warship Valkyrien and the American gunboat USS Hancock, but Oliver’s arrival on Dolphin sealed the deal.
Remaining in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean region to protect merchant shipping from German raiders and U-boats, Dolphin would pick up a camouflage scheme as she served as flagship for the very motley American Patrol Detachment at Key West, gaining a new 4″/50 gun and depth charges to augment her surviving 6-pounders.
USS Dolphin at Galveston, Texas, 1 March 1919. Photographed by Paul Verkin, Galveston. Note that the ship is still wearing pattern camouflage nearly four months after the World War I Armistice. Donation of Dr. Mark Kulikowski, 2007. NH 104949
She would remain in her quiet backwater into June 1920, when she was finally recalled to the East Coast and a short overhaul at Boston.
USS Dolphin (PG-24) at dock at Boston Navy Yard, MA, September 1920, back to a grey scheme. She had been designated a Patrol Gunboat, PG-24, 17 July 1920. S-553-J
Now 35 years old and with the Navy in possession of many much finer and better-outfitted vessels, Dolphin would have one last cruise. As the flagship of the Special Service Squadron, she joined the gunboat USS Des Moines (PG-29) in October 1920 to represent the U.S. at the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the Straits of Magellan. The next year, she would attend the anniversary of Guatemalan independence.
Dolphin arrived at Boston Navy Yard on 14 October 1921. She was decommissioned on 8 December 1921 and was sold on 25 February 1922 to the Ammunition Products Corp. of Washington, DC. for scrapping. Rumors of her further service in the Mexican navy are incorrect, confusing a former steamer originally named Dolphin for our dispatch ship.
Few relics remain of Dolphin. Like most of the American steel warships, in 1909 she had her ornate bow crest removed and installed ashore. It was photographed in Boston in 1911 and, odds are, is probably still around on display somewhere on the East Coast.
Figurehead, USS Dolphin photographed in the Boston Navy Yard, 15 December 1911. NH 115213.
As for her name, the Navy recycled it at least twice, both for submarines: SS-169 and AGSS-555, the former a V-boat that earned two battlestars in WWII and the latter a well-known research boat that served for 38 years– the longest in history for a US Navy submarine.
Speaking of WWII, importantly, between 1915 and 1917, our USS Dolphin’s 18th skipper was one LCDR William Daniel Leahy (USNA 1897) who, interacting with then ASECNAV Franklin D. Roosevelt, would become close companions. Although retired after service as CNO in 1939, Leahy would be recalled to service as the personal Chief of Staff to FDR in 1942 and served in that pivotal position throughout World War II. It is rightfully the little dispatch ship’s greatest legacy.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt in conference with General Douglas MacArthur, Admiral Chester Nimitz, and Admiral William D. Leahy, while on tour in the Hawaiian Islands., 1944. 80-G-239549
Specs: Displacement 1,485 t. Length 256′ 6″ Length between perpendiculars 240′ Beam 32′ Draft 14′ 3″ Speed 15.5 kts. Complement 117 1910 – 152 1914 – 139 Armament: Two 4″ rapid fires, three 6-pounder rapid-fire guns, four 3-pounder rapid-fire guns, and two Colt machine guns 1911 – Two 4″/40 rapid-fire mounts and five 3-pounder rapid-fire guns 1914 – Six 6-pounder rapid-fire mounts 1921 – One 4″/50 mount and two 6-pounders Propulsion two double-ended and two single-ended boilers (replaced by cylindrical boilers in 1910), one 2,253ihp vertical compound direct-acting engine, one shaft.
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Here we see the early Boston-class protected cruiser USS Atlanta in Boston harbor, 11 August 1890, with bluejackets on her yardarms during the Eastern Yacht Club Regatta.
A member of the so-called “New Navy” of the 1880s, Atlanta, and her sistership Boston were some of the first steel warships of the U.S. Navy and showcased such modern attributes as steel armor plating, rapid-fire breechloading guns, and complex steam engineering plants. Still, as a throwback to the days of sail, they were also equipped with extensive auxiliary sail rigs to increase their cruising range– and provide insurance against powerplant failures.
These new and beautiful warships were assigned to the Squadron of Evolution, also referred to as the “White Squadron” for obvious reasons, which globetrotted the world prior in the decade leading up to the Spanish-American War, after which they were soon obsolete.
Still, they were beautiful in their time in the sun and inspired the artists of the day.
Painting of The White Squadron: USS ATLANTA, USS CHICAGO, USS YORKTOWN, and USS BOSTON with USS CHICAGO in the foreground. Watercolor by Fred S. Cozzens, 1892. Lithographed by Armstrong & Co. Copied from “Our Navy- Its Growth and Achievements,” copyright 1897. #: NH 335
“Peace” painting by Walter L. Dean, published in “Harper ‘s Weekly”‘ circa 1893. it shows the “White Squadron” in Boston Harbor, during the early 1890s. Ship in the center is USS Chicago. USS Newark is at left and USS Atlanta is at right. This painting is now in the U.S. Capitol. NH 95137
Balboa Harbor, Panama Canal Zone – Aerial photograph taken 23 April 1934, with the U.S. Fleet’s scouting force on hand for spring maneuvers. The image is remarkable as it is showing four cruisers (including the ill-fated brand-new Portland-class heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis), two fleet support ships, and a whopping 44destroyers moored together. The combined force as shown would have required some 8,000 bluejackets and marines to man them.
It should be noted that all of the destroyers are classic WWI-era four-stacked, flush-decked ships constructed between 1917-20. Pushing obsolescence even in 1934, these 1200-tonish boats had a hard time in World War II (often under British flag) but gave a good account of themselves nonetheless.
The cruisers in the picture, two heavies (Indy and Chicago) and two light (Raleigh and Detroit), also had a hard war ahead of them. Chicago was Sunk during the Battle of Rennell Island, 30 January 1943. Indy was torpedoed and sunk on 30 July 1945 by Japanese submarine I-58, resulting in the loss of nearly 900 of her crew, mainly to shark attack. Raleigh took a torpedo at Pearl Harbor and almost sunk only to survive hard service to be scrapped in 1946. Detroit, also a Pearl survivor who was moored next to the doomed Utah, spirited out 9 short tons of gold and 13 short tons of silver from the Philippines in 1942 and helped with the recapture of the Aleutians before heading the breakers at the end of the conflict.
By and large all of the 50 impressive vessels in this image would be stricken, sunk, or scrapped by 1950.
Ships present include (left to right in lower left): USS Elliot (DD 146); USS Roper (DD 147); USS Hale (DD 133); USS Dorsey (DD 117); USS Lea (DD 118); USS Rathburne (DD 113); An old Wickes-class four-piper destroyer commissioned in 1918, likely the oldest tin can in the picture USS Talbot (DD 114); USS Waters (DD 115); USS Dent (DD 116); USS Aaron Ward (DD 132); USS Buchanan (DD 131); USS Crowninshield (DD 134); USS Preble (DD 345); and USS William B. Preston (DD 344).
(left to right in center): USS Yarnall (DD 143); USS Sands (DD 243); USS Lawrence (DD 250); (unidentified destroyer); USS Detroit (CL 8), Flagship, Destroyers Battle Force; 7000-ton Omaha-class light cruiser USS Fox (DD 234); USS Greer (DD 145); USS Barney (DD 149); USS Tarbell (DD 142); and
USS Chicago (CA 29), Flagship, Cruisers Scouting Force; a 9200-ton Northampton-class heavy cruiser.
(left to right across the top): USS Southard (DD 207); USS Chandler (DD 206); USS Farenholt (DD 332); USS Perry (DD 340); USS Wasmuth (DD 338); USS Trever (DD 339); USS Melville (AD 2); 7200-ton Destroyer Tender, commissioned in 1915 she is the oldest ship in the image but would outlive most. USS Truxtun (DD 229); USS McCormick (DD 223); USS MacLeish (DD 220); USS Simpson (DD 221); USS Hovey (DD 208); USS Long (DD 209); USS Litchfield (DD 336);
USS Tracy (DD 214); USS Dahlgren (DD 187); USS Medusa (AR 1); 10,200-ton Repair Ship USS Raleigh (CL 7), Flagship, Destroyers Scouting Force; another Omaha-class light cruiser USS Pruitt (DD 347); aClemson-class four piper destroyer commissioned in 1920, likely the newest tin can in the image
and USS J. Fred Talbott (DD 156); USS Dallas (DD 199);
(four unidentified destroyers);
and last but not least at top right, USS Indianapolis (CA 35), Flagship, Cruisers Scouting Force.
Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.