Skip to main content

Roy Campbell Smith papers

Identifier: MSC-005

Content Description

The papers of Captain Roy Campbell Smith, USN, were presented to the Naval War College in two separate lots: the first accession, composed primarily of U.S. Navy Department official orders, was given in 1941 by Commander Roy C. Smith Jr., his son, and the second accession, comprising the bulk of the collection, was donated through the Naval War College Foundation in 1983 by Mrs. William T. Sampson Smith, his youngest son's widow and second wife.

The papers focus on Roy Campbell Smith's naval career, which spanned the last two decades of the nineteenth century and the first quarter of the twentieth century. The collection contains documents relating to his early service with the Naval Torpedo Station in Newport, R.I., his association with the Naval War College as a staff member over the years, his experiences as a naval attache in F ranee and pre-revolutionary Russia, his participation in the occupation of Vera Cruz in 1914, and his governorship of Guam. In addition, the papers shed light on navy personnel and promotion policies and efforts to reorganize the Navy Department after the turn of the century.

The twenty-four box manuscript collection measures ten linear feet and is divided into four distinct series and is further divided into subseries. Series I, Correspondence, consists of letters both sent and received. It is composed of four subseries: personal, family, official, and miscellaneous correspondence.

Subseries I, personal correspondence, consists mainly of Smith's letters to his wife Margaret, covering a forty year period from 1888 to 1928. His letters reveal the daily routine, assignments, and concerns of a naval officer who spent most of his career away from his family. Since Smith's service spanned an era of technological change and increasing professionalism in the U.S. Navy, his correspondence is important for the insights it brings regarding these developments. Impressions and descriptions of exotic ports gleaned from his many cruises to Europe, the Far East, and South America as well as by gone events: the Spanish-American War and the Battle of Santiago Bay, the 1912 Presidential Naval Review, the cruise of President William Howard Taft to the Canal Zone to inspect the unfinished canal, and the turmoil in revolutionary Mexco come to light from a thorough reading of his missives. In addition, this subseries reveals Smith's interest in civic affairs and family history and genealogy, the latter a life long preoccupation.

Subseries II, family correpondence, contains letters sent to Mrs. Roy C. Smith regarding the presentation of an honorary degree to her father, Rear Admiral William T. Sampson, by Harvard University in 1899 and correspondence between the Smiths and their son, Sampson Smith.

Official correspondence, subseries III, treats mainly with career related matters. It contains Smith's official naval orders dating from 1876 to 1929, along with letters of commendation. Other correspondence deals with various navy promotion and personnel bills, medals, the U.S. Naval Academy, and his numerous publications.

Finally, miscellaneous correspondence, subseries IV, contains material regarding the commission of Smith's father, Dr. Charles H. Smith, as an army surgeon in 1847-1848 and the settlement of the estate of Pliny Sexton, an uncle, in 1927-1928.

Series II, Speeches and Writings, is divided into two subseries: Smith's speeches and writings and those of others. The first sub-series contains speeches on naval tactics and naval attacks on mine fields and coastal fortifications given at the Naval War College and other military institutions. Along with these are a collection of addresses given by Smith on national holidays during his governorship of Guam. For the most part, the bulk of this series contains his articles on such military, naval, and political topics as torpedo boat policy and design, the naval personnel question, battleships, the instantaneous position plotter and course indicator, and Guam. Many of the articles dealing with naval topics appeared in the U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, while others were published in The North American Review, The Trident, The Independent, and Asia. An account of blockade running during the Civil War by his mother, Maria M. Campbell Smith, and a narrative on the capture of Nanking, China, by Chinese Nationalist unification forces in March 1917 by his son, Lieutenant Commander Roy C. Smith, Jr., are found in subseries II.

Subject files, the third series, is the largest in the collection and reveals Smith's intense patriotism and service loyalty. It contains correspondence, memoranda, addresses, rosters, minutes of meetings, pamphlets, directories, annual circulars, copies of Senate and House resolutions, proposed U.S. bills, notes and reports regarding the Aztec Club of 1847, a society open to descendents of veterans of the Mexican War, and the Society of Cincinnati, open to descendents of Revolutionary War veterans, United States Navy personnel and promotion policies, the flag code of the United States, the Harvard Military and Naval Science course, and the naval station at Guam.

Miscellany, the fourth and last series, is divided into three subseries: Smith family miscellany, naval miscellany, and general interest miscellany. These subseries contain passports, memberships, family wills and estate papers, calling cards, reports, pamphlets, diplomatic and crew lists, journals, books, newspaper clippings, tourist literature, and photographs.


  • 1847-1940


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.

Biographical Note

Roy Campbell Smith was born on July 16, 1858, at Fort Mason, Texas, the son of Charles Henry Smith, an assistant surgeon general of the United States and later of the Confederate States of America, and Maria McGregor Campbell Smith. He was appointed to the U.S. Naval Academy from the third district of Virginia in 1874 and graduated as a cadet-midshipman with the class of 1878. He was appointed a midshipman two years later.

Smith's first post graduation cruise was to the west coast of South America in USS PENSACOLA in 1879-1880, where he witnessed events of the War of the Pacific between Chile and Peru and Bolivia. During the next twenty years Smith was assigned to the Naval Torpedo Station in Newport, Rhode Island, as a student; to the Naval Academy as an instructor in mathematics and physics; to the Bureau of Navigation as an inspector of electric lighting; and to a number of ships, including the USS CONSTELLATION, one of the Navy's first frigates. Several of his ship assignments proved exciting, especially service in 1882 in USS QUINNEBAUG with the European Squadron, where he witnessed the bombardment of Alexandria, Egypt, by the British. The QUINNEBAUG also served as a haven for European and American refugees fleeing Egypt. Later, in 1889, he served with the Squadron of Evolution in USS YORKTOWN and cruised in South American waters in USS BOSTON and USS BENNINGTON in the early eighteen nineties.

Lieutenant Smith returned to the Newport Torpedo Station in 1892 to take command of the USS STILETTO and then the USS CUSHING, the Navy's first torpedo boats. As a consequence of his four years there, he developed an interest in Navy torpedo boat policy and wrote the 1897 U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings prize winning essay on this subject. This launched his career as an author, and he continued writing on naval topics and issues until retirement.

During the Spanish American War Smith served in the battleship INDIANA, part of Rear Admiral William T. Sampson's North Atlantic Squadron. He participated in the bombardment of San Juan, Puerto Rico, and commanded a gun crew in the forward turret of the INDIANA during the battle of Santiago Bay, which destroyed Admiral Pascual Cervera's fleet. Following the war, from 1898 to 1900, he was assigned to the Bureau of Equipment as an assistant inspector of equipment in the New England region. In addition to his regular duties there, he held a lectureship in military and naval science at Harvard University.

For the next three years he was a navigator in USS AMPHITRITE aud USS MASSACHUSETTS, before being named naval attache to both Paris, France, and St. Petersburg, Russia. His tour of duty in Imperial Russia was marked by several important events, including the birth of the Tsarevich Alexis in August 1904 and the short Russo-Japanese War, 1904-1905, which exposed Russia's military and naval unpreparedness. As United States Naval Attache, Smith was presented to the Royal Family and attended many social functions that brought him in contact with members of the international diplomatic corps. Given his official status, he also visited Russian naval installations and shipyards.

In 1906, he was promoted to commander and subsequently named commanding officer of the newly commissioned USS CHA TT ANOOGA on the Asiatic Station. For the next two years the CHA TT ANOOGA joined the Asiatic Fleet in its winter operations in the Philippines and in its summer cruises to China, showing the flag and representing United States interests there.

In 1908, he was assigned to the staff of the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, where he drafted reports and recommendations regarding navy personnel and promotion policies, a subject on which he had written extensively and about which there was much controversy within the Navy. Smith advocated a promotion system baaed on "selection up" to replace the "selection out" method then currently employed. He believed that the former scheme would better regulate the promotion of officers, allowing the most efficient to reach command and flag rank at an earlier age. His system was adopted by the Navy and enacted into law in 1916. In addition, he was a member of the Swift Board in 1909, which studied and reported on the reorganization of the Navy Department and the administration and organization of navy yards.

Smith was assigned to the Navy Department in 1910 for a two year tour, where he worked on a hill to amalgamate the Naval Constructors and Paymasters Corps with the line of the Navy. This proposal, initiated by Secretary of the Navy George Meyer, would give staff corps additional training as line officers, increasing their flexibility of performance.

Sea duty beckoned again in 1912 as Smith was named commanding officer of the battleship USS ARKANSAS, which he commissioned on September 12, 1912, in Philadelphia. During his command the ARKANSAS set records for short range battle practice, coaling, and for excellence of turret gun number four. In 1912, the ship escorted the Brazilian battleship MINAS GERAIS, with its ambassador aboard, to New York harbor and also took President William Howard Taft and his official party to the Canal Zone to inspect the unfinished Panama Canal. During 1913 the ARKANSAS joined the Atlantic Fleet for maneuvers in the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, and east coast waters, and in 1914 she participated in the occupation of Vera Cruz, Mexico, the latter precipitated by the Tampico incident earlier that month and internal political troubles. Smith spent 1915 as the Navy Department's Director of Target Practice and Engineering Competition. Later in that year he was appointed Supervisor of the harbor of New York, a position he held again just prior to retirement in 1921.

Smith found that his next assignment as Governor of Guam and commanding officer of its naval station from 1916 to 1918 was one of the most professionally rewarding. During his tenure he instituted many reforms which led to improvements in the island's military and economic situation. Among these were the beginning of universal military training, incentives for agriculture, and the inauguration of the Guam Congress. One noteworthy event during this period was the request from Smith on April 7, 1917, that the S.M.S. CORMORAN, a German vessel that had been interned in Guam since 1914, surrender. The ship's captain refused to tum over the vessel to the Americans and it was demolished by a bomb kept on hoard for that very purpose.

On June 30, 1921, Roy Campbell Smith retired from active duty and settled in Summit, New Jersey. In 1924, he was recalled to temporary active duty on the Navy Department's General Board, where he was a member of a special committee established by the secretary of the navy to consider and report on the Line Personnel Bill (also known as the Britten Bill) regarding the promotion and retirement of line officers. Following the committee's recommendations, Congress finally passed the bill in 1931.

From 1925 to 1929 Smith was on the staff of the Naval War College, first with the Policy and Command Department, then with the Policy and Plans and Intelligence Departments. While at the College he also spent time in Washington D. C, continuing his work on navy personnel and promotion legislation. He was relieved of active duty in 1929, returned to New Jersey and several years later moved to South Carolina, spending the winters there and-the summers in Cooperstown, New York. He died at Twellsholm, his home in Summerville, South Carolina, on April IO, 1940, due to complications of age. He was buried in Cooperstown.

Roy Campbell Smith was married to Margaret Aldrich Sampson, daughter of Rear Admiral William T. Sampson, on October 11, 1887, in Annapolis, Maryland. She died on May 21, 1929, in Newport, Rhode Island. The couple had two sons, CDR Roy C. Smith Jr., USN, who retired in Newport, and William T. Sampson Smith of Short Hills, New Jersey, and one daughter, Margaret Sampson Smith (Mrs. Spottswood D. Bowers) of New York. All three children are now deceased, however many direct Smith descendants are still living.

Captain Smith was a member of many clubs and organizations, including the Metropolitan Club of Washington, D.C., the New York Yacht Club, the Chevy Chase Club, the University Club, the Newport Reading Room, the Virginia chapter of the Society of Cincinnati, the Aztec Club of 184 7, the U.S. Naval Institute, the Navy Athletic Association, the Navy Mutual Aid Association, and the Marine and Field Club. He was awarded the Navy Cross, the Victory Medal, and the diploma of officer of the French Legion of Honor for his service as Governor of Guam during World War I. He also received the Sampson Medal, the Spanish Campaign Medal, and the Mexican Service Medal.

Chronology of Naval Service

Born, Fort Mason, Texas, July I6.
Graduated from U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Md.
USS PENSACOLA (Sc Str), Cadet-Midshipman.
Promoted to Midshipman.
Bureau of Navigation, Washington, D.C., Temporary Duty.
USS QUINNEBAUG (Sc Str); 1882, Promoted to Ensign.
U.S. Naval Academy; USS CONSTELLATION (Fr.).
Torpedo Station, Newport, R.I., Student; U.S. Naval Academy.
Bureau of Navigation, Washington, D.C.; USS YORKTOWN (Gunboat No. I); USS PENSACOLA (Sc Str), Duty Inspector.
Promoted to Lieutenant J.G.; USS YORKTOWN (Gunboat No. 1), Watch and Division Officer.
USS CHICAGO (C); Torpedo Station, Newport, R.I., USS STILETTO (WTB-1), Commanding Officer; Promoted to Lieutenant.
Torpedo Station, Newport, R.I., USS CUSHING (TB-1), Commanding Officer.
USS RESOLUTE (AP); Bureau of Equipment, Assistant Inspector of Equipment.
USS AMPHITRITE (BM-2), Navigator.
Promoted to Lieutenant Commander; USS MASSACHUSETTS (BB-2), Navigator.
U.S. Naval Attaché, Paris, France and St. Petersburg, Russia
Promoted to Commander.
USS CHATTANOOGA, (C-I6), Commanding Officer.
U.S. Naval War College, Newport R.I., Staff.
Navy Department, Washington, D.C.
USS ARKANSAS (BB-33), Commanding Officer.
Navy Deparbnent, Washington, D.C., Director of Target Practice and Engineering Competition.
Supervisor of New York Harbor.
Governor of Guam; U.S. Naval Station, Commanding Officer.
Supervisor of New York Harbor.
Retired from U.S. Navy, June 30.
Navy Department, Washington, D.C., Temporary Duty in General Board.
U.S. Naval War College, Newport, R.I., Staff, Policy and Command, Policy and Plans and Intelligence Departments.
Died, Summerville, S.C., April 10.


24 boxes

Language of Materials


Register of Roy Campbell Smith papers
Register prepared by Evelyn Cherpak, Ph.D.
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Naval War College Archives Repository

US Naval War College
686 Cushing Rd
Newport RI 02841 US