Staff Person: Jonathan Dembo
This 1882 cabinet card shows portraits of 17 officers inset around a photograph of their ship, the USS LACKAWANNA. Captain Henry Wilson is featured in the center of the top row between his higher ranking subordinates. The lower ranking officers are in the lower rows. The lowest ranking, most junior officer in the view is Ensign Alfred Parker Niblack, Naval Academy Class of 1880, who appears at the extreme right of the bottom row in civilian dress. It was his first assignment after graduating.
Niblack (1858-1929) was born in Vincennes, Indiana and was appointed to the Naval Academy in 1876. He graduated in 1880 and was immediately posted to the LACKAWANNA and served there for two years. Niblack quickly made a name for himself in the Navy for his initiative, resourcefulness, diplomatic skills, and tactical and navigating skills. In 1887, while still an ensign, Niblack commanded the small 23-ton launch USS COSMO, which was being towed by the USS PATTERSON to Alaska. In weather so severe that at least one other large ship sank, COSMO‘s two lines parted and Niblack was forced to sail his newly built and badly leaking boat several hundred miles to Astoria, Oregon. Despite the fact that the storm caused much damage to the boat and 5 of the 7 crewmen were seasick much of the time, Niblack brought his command and crew home safely to port.
In later years, Niblack served on many ships and held several shore posts including the Smithsonian Institution, the Bureau of Navigation, and a tour in the Office of Naval Intelligence. He published numerous works on naval engineering, navigation, and tactics. He won his first significant command, USS IROQUOIS, in 1904, and subsequently commanded numerous other ships including USS HARTFORD and USS OLYMPIA. He was naval attache to Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Germany and The Netherlands, and served as a member of the General Board of the Navy. He saw significant action in the Battle of Manila in the Spanish American war in 1899 and the Occupation of Vera Cruz Mexico in 1914.
In World War I, Niblack commanded Division 1 of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet, with USS ALABAMA (BB-8) as his flagship. While in European waters, he was promoted to Rear Admiral in August 1917. In October he took command of Squadron 2, Patrol Force, and served in this post through the Armistice. In March 1919 he became Director of Naval Intelligence and U.S. Naval Attache in London in August 1920. As Vice Admiral he commanded all U.S. Naval Forces in European waters from January 1921 to June 1922. After commanding the 6th Naval District at Charleston, S.C. for a year, Niblack retired in July 1923 and retired to the South of France. He died at Monte Carlo, Monaco on 20 August 1929. In 1940, the destroyer USS NIBLACK (DD-424) was named in honor of Vice Admiral Niblack, sponsored by his widow.
Made by Reiman & Co., of San Francisco, California this cabinet card is fairly typical of the genre. By 1882 cabinet cards like these had supplanted the smaller cartes de visites that had been popular in the 1860s and 1870s. They were acquired as souvenirs, and collected or traded like baseball cards. Cabinet cards remained popular into the early twentieth century, when home photograpy became economical. This cabinet card is one of several in the Albert Parker Niblack Papers (#1080).
The LACKAWANNA was veteran of the Civil War. Named for a river in Pennsylvania LACKAWANNA was launched by the New York Navy Yard in August 1862. A screw sloop-of-war she joined the Union blockade of the southern coast of the Confederacy, principally off Mobile Bay until the war ended. LACKAWANNA captured several Confederate blockade runners during the war. She also participated in Admiral Farragut’s conquest of Mobile Bay on 5 August 1864. In 1866, LACKAWANNA was reassigned to the Pacific Fleet and operated in the Pacific, in Hawaii, along the coast of California and Mexico, and in the Far East until she was finally decommissioned at Mare Island 7 April 1885.
You may access the finding aid to the Alfred Parker Niblack Papers at: http://digital.lib.ecu.edu/special/ead/findingaids/1080/
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