William S. Sims papers
Personal letters sent to his parents, siblings, friend Jones and his wife, Anne Hitchcock Sims, 1882–1925; Letters received from Navy Department regarding assignment; Letters comment on travels, places visited, family matters, politics and rebellions in the Caribbean, ship’s movements, health, social life in port, shipboard life, Hawaiian politics, life in Paris, France, French lessons, Sino-Japanese War, position as Naval Attaché in Paris and St. Petersburg, travels through Europe, criticism of U.S. Navy, World War I assignment as CO, Naval Forces, European Waters, London, England, 1917–1978, including daily routine and social life; Assignments on the China Station. Letters sent by Anne Sims to William S. Sims, 1906, 1909–1912, 1915–1917, regarding family matters.
The twenty-five box collection measures twelve and one-half linear feet and is divided into five series. Series I contains typescript copies of personal letters sent by Sims to his parents, his sister Louisa and brothers, Harry and Alfred, his friend Jones, and to his wife, Anne Hitchcock Sims. They date from 1881 to 1925. Several personal letters Sims received are located here. The letters focus on his daily shipboard routine, family matters, health, social life, financial matters, and friends as well as his duties as a naval officer and naval attaché. He described the geography, politics, economics, people, and customs of the countries he visited in Europe, Asia, South America, and the Caribbean. Sims also exposed the Navy’s deficiencies in gunnery and construction and made proposals to correct them in his correspondence.
Series II consists of personal letters of Anne Hitchcock Sims to William S. Sims, along with diaries of their children’s activities. This series contains both holographic letters and typescript copies of the same, dating from 1906 to 1921. Her daily letters discussed family matters; the children’s health, behavior, and activities; her parents; her sister Peg; her own health, social life, travel, and vacation plans; visitors, friends and neighbors. They include comments on politics, especially President Theodore Roosevelt’s administration, as well as naval affairs.
Series III houses Anne’s letters to her sisters, Sarah Hitchcock Shepley and Margaret Hitchcock of St. Louis, Missouri, dating from 1899 to 1905. Several letters received are included in this series.
Series IV contains Sims family photographs, and Series V, miscellany, has newspaper clippings and a poem.
- 1876-1925 and undated
- Sims, William Sowden, 1858-1936 (Person)
Conditions Governing Access
Access is open to all researchers, unless otherwise specified.
Conditions Governing Use
Material in this collection is in the public domain, unless otherwise noted.
William Sowden Sims was born on October 15, 1858, in Port Hope, Ontario Province, Canada, to Alfred William and Adelaide Sowden Sims. His father was a civil engineer involved in constructing harbor facilities on Lake Ontario. The Sims family, consisting of five siblings, lived in Canada until 1872 and then moved to Orbisonia, Pennsylvania.
Sims was appointed to the U.S. Naval Academy from Pennsylvania in 1876. He was not particularly well prepared for academic life and was an average student. After graduating in 1880, he served in USS Tennessee and later in USS Swatara, where he was promoted to ensign. Between 1882 and 1897, he served in USS Yantic, the schoolship, Saratoga, USS Philadelphia, USS Charleston, and the receiving ships Colorado and Richmond. In 1887, he received permission from the Navy Department to live in Paris for a year, where he perfected his French and absorbed French culture. This experience qualified him for an appointment as naval attaché to Paris, France; St. Petersburg, Russia; and Madrid, Spain in 1897, a position he held until 1900. During this time, he collected intelligence on Spain’s preparation for war and studied the gunfire systems of foreign navies, which, he averred, were superior to those of the U.S. Navy.
In 1900, Sims was assigned to the China Station in USS In 1900, Sims was assigned to the China Station in USS Kentucky, the Navy’s newest battleship. For the next two years, he continued to observe and report on the superiority of a new system of British naval gunnery that used the continuous aim method of firing developed by Royal Navy Captain Percy Scott of HMS Terrible. Sims felt that the U.S. Navy’s gunfire systems had deficiencies that imperiled the service’s effectiveness as a fighting force. After his pleas to the Bureau Chiefs and the Secretary of the Navy were ignored, Sims wrote directly to President Theodore Roosevelt about this matter in November 1901.Kentucky, the Navy’s newest battleship. For the next two years, he continued to observe and report on the superiority of a new system of British naval gunnery that used the continuous aim method of firing developed by Royal Navy Captain Percy Scott of HMS Terrible. Sims felt that the U.S. Navy’s gunfire systems had deficiencies that imperiled the service’s effectiveness as a fighting force. After his pleas to the Bureau Chiefs and the Secretary of the Navy were ignored, Sims wrote directly to President Theodore Roosevelt about this matter in November 1901.
In 1902, after the Atlantic Fleet scored poorly in target practice, President Roosevelt recalled Sims from China and appointed him Inspector of Target Practice. Sims held this position for six and one-half years, while serving as a naval aide to the president during the last two years of this assignment. He was successful in improving the effectiveness of naval gunfire using the continuous aim system, and eventually it was introduced throughout the fleet. An outspoken critic of the Navy’s bureaucratic system, he urged reform but made little headway. He did, however, succeed in getting the Navy to build the new heavy dreadnaughts.
Sims was rewarded for his loyalty and service by being named commanding officer of the Navy’s premier battleship, USS Minnesota, an assignment he held for two years before being detached for instruction at the Naval War College as a member of the 1911 Summer Conference. He continued at the college as a student in the 1911–1912 Long Course and remained on the staff through June 1913, when he assumed command of the Destroyer Flotilla, Atlantic Fleet. As commander of the Flotilla, he devised new tactical maneuver doctrines for destroyers.
After a year as commanding officer of USS Nevada, Sims was selected as president of the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, in February 1917, and promoted to rear admiral. Two months later, the college was closed when the United States entered the First World War, and he was sent to London to act as a liaison with the Royal Navy. Soon after he was appointed Commanding Officer, U.S. Naval Forces in European waters as a vice admiral. In order to combat the heavy losses of merchant shipping from U-boat attacks, he devised a plan to use destroyers as escorts. The convoy system worked remarkably well and cut shipping losses in half. He directed the operations of nine admirals under his command and worked harmoniously with the other allied powers while sanctioning the laying of the North Sea Mine Barrage.
When the war was over, Sims returned to Newport and the presidency of the Naval War College, where he remained until he retired at age sixty-four in 1922. He increased the number of faculty and students and defended the college as a citadel of naval thought and intellectual training in warfare. He spent the last fourteen years of his life in Boston, where he wrote, lectured, and testified before Congress regarding what he considered deficiencies in the Navy. In 1921, Sims won the Pulitzer Prize for Victory at Sea, a factual and reasoned account of World War I. He died on September 28, 1936, and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. His survivors included his wife, Anne Hitchcock Sims, two sons, William and Ethan, and three daughters, Adelaide (Mrs. Robert Fiske), Margaret (Mrs. Robert H. Hopkins), and Anne (Mrs. Elting Morison).
Sims received the following medals during the course of his career: the Spanish Campaign Medal, the Philippine Campaign Medal, the Mexican Service Medal, the Victory Medal, the Grand Cross of the Order of St. Michael and St. George (Great Britain), Grand Officer of the Legion of Honor (France), Grand Cordon, Order of the Rising Sun (Japan), Grand Cordon, Order of Leopold (Belgium), and Grand Officer of the Crown of Italy. He refused to accept the Distinguished Service Medal because he objected to the Navy’s policy of awarding medals to undeserving officers.
Sims received honorary degrees from the following universities: Yale, Harvard, Tufts, Columbia, Pennsylvania, Cambridge (England), McGill (Montreal), Queens (Kingston, Canada), and from Williams, Union, and Juniata Colleges, and Stephens Institute.
Three U.S. ships bore his name. The destroyer USS Sims (DD-409) was launched in 1939 and sunk during the Battle of the Coral Sea in 1942. The destroyer escort USS Sims (DE-154, then APD-50) was commissioned in 1943 and served during World War II. The third USS Sims (DE-1059) was commissioned in 1970 and served with the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean.
Chronology of Naval Service
- Born, October 15
- Graduated, U.S. Naval Academy
- USS Tennessee (Screw Frigate)
- Promoted to Midshipman
- Promoted to Ensign
- Saratoga (Schoolship)
- USS Philadelphia (C-4)
- USS Charleston (C-2)
- Naval Attaché, Paris, St. Petersburg, and Madrid
- USS Kentucky (BB-6)
- USS Monterey (BM-6)
- Staff, CINC, Asiatic Fleet, USS Brooklyn (CA-3)
- Promoted to Lieutenant Commander
- Inspector of Target Practice
- Married, November 21 to Anne Hitchcock
- Promoted to Commander
- Naval Aide to President of the United States
- CO, USS Minnesota (BB-22)
- Promoted to Captain
- Student, Staff, Naval War College, Newport, RI
- CO, Destroyer Flotilla, Atlantic Fleet
- CO, USS Nevada (BM-8)
- Promoted to Rear Admiral
- President, Naval War College and Commandant, Second Naval District
- CO, U.S. Naval Forces, European Waters
- Returned to rank of Rear Admiral
- President, Naval War College
- Retired from the U.S. Navy
- Temporary duty with BUNAV and Aircraft Board
- Commissioned Admiral on the retired list
- Died, September 28
10.4 Linear Feet (25 archival boxes)
Language of Materials
Immediate Source of Acquisition
The late Anne Sims Morison of Cambridge, Massachusetts, daughter of Admiral William S. Sims, presented his papers to the Naval War College Foundation in Newport, RI. Deposits began in 1996, and the last one was made in 2001.
Existence and Location of Originals
A larger and more complete collection of Sims’ papers is located in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress.
- Dacs Finding Aid
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Language of description note
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