Skip to main content

Thomas B. Buell and Walter M. Whitehill collection on Ernest J. King

Identifier: MSC-037.2

Scope and Contents

This collection consists of research materials collected and used by Thomas B. Buell for his biography of Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King entitled, Master of sea power and by Walter M. Whitehill for his biography on King, A Naval record.

There are three sets of research materials within this collection. The first set is comprised of photocopies of documents relating to King and his career compiled and annotated by Buell from Library of Congress, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library in Hyde Park, N.Y., and the Operational Archives of the Naval Historical Center in Washington, D.C. These materials are organized by the subject assigned to them by Buell.

The second set of research materials, designated as “Research materials (A Naval Record),” include the resources used and maintained by Whitehill while working on A Naval record. Whitehill worked closely with King on this book drawing upon King’s written reminiscences and many conversations the two had after the end of World War II and before the book’s publication in 1953. These materials consists of transcriptions and copies from King’s personal correspondence file (originals may be found at the Library of Congress), memoranda regarding conversations with King, King’s typescript memoirs of his early life and career, subject files, and a notebook of meetings of King with journalists at the home of Cornelius Bull during World War II. Whitehill had loaned his research to Buell when Buell began working on his own biography of King. Upon Whitehill’s death in 1978, Buell remained in possession of Whitehill’s research and deposited them to the Naval Historical Collection along with his own research.

The last set of research materials is labeled as “Research materials (Buell)” and is comprised of the information gathered by Buell while writing Master of sea power. A significant portion of Buell’s research includes correspondence between himself and retired naval officers who served with King throughout his career, the King family, and other acquaintances of King arranged in subject files. Also included are Buell’s handwritten notes, newspapers clippings, and photocopies of King’s papers. Copies of Whitehill’s memorandums are also found within Buell’s subject files as well as the index and research cards that Buell compiled.

Also found in this collection are photographs, oral histories, and a numbered series of King’s letters transcribed by King’s flag officers for Whitehill arranged by subject. Majority of the photographs in this collection are official U.S. Navy photographs, many of which were used by Buell in Master of sea power. Photographs are of King, his family, and events from his naval career. Oral histories include extracts from flag rank biographies conducted by the U.S. Naval Institute along with interviews conducted by Buell. Buell organized interviews with members of King’s family, his flag secretaries and other close associates. Included are the original tape recordings as well as Buell’s edited transcriptions of the oral history interviews.

Lastly, a large portion of this collection is comprised of drafts and revised portions of Buell’s manuscript. Included are edits and comments from Llewellyn Howland, III, his editor at Little, Brown and Company; Professor Gerald Wheeler, San Jose University; and Herman Wouk, a bestselling author of historical fiction.


  • Creation: 1880-1986 and undated
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1942-1950
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1974-1979


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

Thomas B. Buell

Thomas Bingham Buell (1936-2002) was an author and a retired naval officer. After graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1958, Buell served in the destroyer USS Hamner (DD-718) and on the first crew of the guided missile destroyer leader USS King (DLG-10). After studying ordnance engineering at the Naval Postgraduate School, he served in the commissioning crew of the guided missile destroyer escort USS Brooke (DEG-1). He also worked as a technical assistant for weapons at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard and as executive officer of the guided missile destroyer USS John King (DDG-3).

From 1970 to 1973, he was stationed at the Naval War College. He graduated from the NWC’s College of Naval Command and Staff in 1971 and was awarded the Sims Award as Outstanding Student. Following graduation, he was appointed to the NWC faculty and it was during this time that he began his career as a naval biographer. His biography on Admiral Spruance, The Quiet Warrior: A Biography of Admiral Raymond A. Spruance was published in 1973. This book earned him the Alfred Thayer Mahan Award from Literary Achievement from the Navy League and the Samuel Eliot Morison Award for Naval Literature from the Naval Order of the United States. After leaving NWC, he served his last sea command on the USS Joseph Hewes (DE-1078) from 1973-1975. Buell’s last position in the Navy was from 1975 to 1979 at the U.S. Military Academy as a Naval Liaison Officer and member of the History Department faculty. After his retirement from the Navy on July 1, 1979, he worked in the defense industry for the Honeywell Corporation and Rosemont Company in Minnesota. In 1980, his second naval biography, Master of Sea Power: A Biography of Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King was published. This biography also received the Alfred Thayer Mahan Award and the Samuel Eliot Morison Award. In 1993, he was appointed the writer-in-residence on the Curriculum in Peace, War, and Defense at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He also guest lectured at Duke University. While in North Carolina, Buell wrote The Warrior Generals on the Civil War and Naval Leadership in Korea: The First Six Months.

Buell married Marilyn Douma Buell (1936-2003) in 1959 and the couple had two children: David W. (1961-) and Melora K. (1963-). Thomas B. Buell died on June 26, 2002 and is buried in Union City, Michigan.

William M. Whitehill

Walter Muir Whitehill (1905-1978) was an author, preservationist, librarian, and historian from Boston, Massachusetts. He received his bachelors and masters from Harvard University and later earned his Ph.D. from the University of London in 1934. In 1936, he became the assistant director of the Peabody Museum. During World War II, Whitehill served in the Naval Reserve and was assigned to active duty at the Office of Naval Records in Washington, D.C. from 1942-1946. It was here that he became acquainted with Admiral Ernest J. King and his flag aides. At this time, he began to work with King on his memoirs.

Following the war, Whitehill was named the Director and Library of the Boston Athenaeum, a position he held from 1946 until his retirement in 1973. During his tenure, he became a board member of a number of other cultural institutions, served as a faculty member at Harvard, wrote on subjects such as naval history and Boston, and had close working relationships with Boston’s public officials. He was a champion for historic preservation in Boston and was integral in preserving the Quincy Market area in Boston in 1976.

Whitehill married Jane Revere Coolidge (1902-1996), a descendant of Thomas Jefferson, in 1930 and the couple had two daughters: Jane Revere Whitehill Rotch (1932-2018) and Diana Whitehill Laing (1934-2006). The family is all buried on the grounds of Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia home.


9.5 Linear Feet (20 archival boxes, 1 oversize box)

Language of Materials



This collection consists of research materials collected by Thomas B. Buell, author and retired naval officer, for his biography of Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King entitled, Master of sea power and by Walter M. Whitehill, author and historian, for his biography on King, A Naval record.


This collection is arranged in alphabetical order by record type and then title.

Other Finding Aids

This finding aid supersedes the “Register of the papers Ernest J. King, Compiled by Evelyn M. Cherpak, Ph.D., Manuscript Register Series No. 22,” 1992.

Custodial History

Papers in this collection from and relating to Walter M. Whitehill were loaned to Buell while he was researching and writing The Master of Sea power. During this time, Whitehill passed away and Mrs. Whitehill allowed Buell to retain her husband’s papers and agreed to deposit them at the Naval Historical Collection with Buell’s research materials to comprise this one research collection on Admiral King.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Thomas B. Buell first deposited the bulk of this collection to the Naval War College Foundation (NWCF) in 1979 as a restricted loan. In 1992, Buell permanently donated the collection as a gift to the NWCF. Since then, this collection has been on indefinite loan to the Naval Historical Collection by the NWCF.

Existence and Location of Originals

Originals of photocopies within this collection can be found at the Library of Congress, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library in Hyde Park, N.Y., and the Operational Archives of the Naval Historical Center in Washington, D.C.

Related Materials

  • Thomas B. Buell Papers, MS 423, Special Collections and Archives Department, Nimitz Library, United States Naval Academy.
  • Thomas B. Buell Papers, Collection Number 04915, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  • Ernest Joseph King papers, MSS38787, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.


  • Buell, Thomas B. Master of sea power: A biography of Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King. Boston, MA: Little, Brown, 1980.
  • King, Ernest J. and Walter M. Whitehill. Fleet Admiral King: a naval record. London: Erye & Spottiswoode, 1953.
  • The reminiscences of Commander Thomas B. Buell, U.S. Navy (Retired). Interviewed by Paul Stillwell, Annapolis, MD: U.S. Naval Institute, 2005.

Processing Information

This collection was originally processed and described by Evelyn M. Cherpak in the 1990s following the order imposed upon the collection by the collector, Thomas Buell.

In 2019, Elizabeth Delmage reprocessed this collection to address irregularities created from its original and arrangement such as misleading folder titles, accretions that were not arranged in any imposed order, and underfilled boxes. Therefore, materials have been arranged in alphabetical order by record type and then by the folder title originally used by Buell and in the original register. In most cases, the old box and folder numbers from the 1992 register can be found on the reverse side of the folders and in a note in the updated finding aid to assist researching using superseded citations.

During rearrangement, documents were refoldered and reboxed into acid free archival folders and boxes. Original binders and accordion files were removed and discarded. Preservation photocopies were made of all newspaper clippings.

Thomas B. Buell and Walter M. Whitehill collection on Ernest J. King
Dacs Finding Aid
Elizabeth Delmage
2019 Aug 21
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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