Pentagon may rename USS Antietam, USS Chancellorsville, USNS Maury

The Defense Department might rename at least three ships that were given names to commemorate battles or people related to Confederate forces from the Civil War.

Last year, Congress passed legislation to create a “Commission on the Naming of Items of the Department of Defense that Commemorates the Confederate States of America or Any Person Who Served Voluntarily with the Confederate States of America,” also known as the Naming Commission. President Trump opposed this commission and vetoed the legislation, but Congress overrode that veto.

According to the Military Times, three ships that might have to be renamed are the USS Antietam, the USS Chancellorsville and the USNS Maury.

“Some of these changes might make sense, but some are clearly an overreaction,” said AUSN Executive Director Jason Beardsley. “The Antietam and the Maury are especially puzzling choices – Antietam was a critical tactical victory for Union forces in the Civil War, and the U.S. Navy’s own historians wrote a glowing 10,000-word piece about Matthew Fontaine Maury that hails him as a ‘benefactor of mankind.’ We hope the Pentagon finds time to learn more about these events before wiping the slate clean of all memories of the Civil War.”

Retired Adm. Michelle Howard chairs the Pentagon commission and was the first black woman to command a U.S. Navy ship. On Friday, Howard told reporters that hundreds of military assets may ultimately have to be renamed, and said the Antietam is a possibility given the role this battle played in the Civil War.

“It depends on whether or not you see Antietam as a Union victory,” she said. “So that needs more exploration behind what the ship was named.”

The Battle of Antietam took place in 1862 at Antietam Creek in Maryland. The battle was the result of a plan by Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee to push into Union territory in the hopes of destabilizing Union forces and ruining the upcoming elections for President Lincoln’s Republican Party.

Lee was forced to withdraw, and Union troops launched an attack that was the bloodiest day ever for American troops. More than 15,000 died in just eight hours.

The battle is widely seen as a Union victory, as Lincoln released the Emancipation Proclamation days later. But casualties were high on both sides.

The Naming Commission was already known to be looking at renaming the USS Chancellorsville, which was named after Gen. Lee’s greatest military victory during the Civil War. Lee had almost half the number of men as his opponent, Gen. Joseph Hooker, who was marching south in the hopes of capturing the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia.

Hooker hoped to squeeze Lee’s troops between two sets of Union forces, but Lee split his own forces and sent Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson to outflank Hooker’s forces. Jackson took out half of Hooker’s army, but died days later after taking friendly fire and succumbing to pneumonia.

With Hooker’s men routed, Lee’s army would continue to march north for the Battle of Gettysburg.

The Naming Commission is also looking at a new name for the oceanographic ship Maury, which was named after Matthew Fontaine Maury.

The U.S. Navy lists Maury as “father of world meteorology.” He was officer-in-charge of the Navy’s Department of Charts and Instruments, which later became the Naval Observatory and Hydrographic Office.

When he was 30, his textbook on navigation was published and was later taught at the U.S. Naval Academy. He was first superintendent of the Naval Observatory, pushed for a comprehensive weather service and oversaw soundings of the ocean floor to lay the first transatlantic cable.

Maury was opposed to slavery and urged his home state of Virginia to side with the Union. When war broke out, he fought with his home state and resigned from the U.S. Navy to serve in Virginia’s Navy. He later surrendered and entered self-imposed exile in Mexico and returned to America in 1868 when amnesty was offered.

The Naming Commission is expected to submit an initial report to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in the fall and then make final recommendations in fall 2022.

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