Albert Weston Grant
14 April 1856 – 30 September 1930
Texas Commanding Officer: 12 March 1914 – 10 June 1915
Texas’ first commanding officer was Captain Albert W. Grant. The United States Navy wanted a great naval officer to be the first Commanding Officer (CO) of the Navy’s greatest new ship. The choice of Captain Grant as her captain was no accident or coincidence. With a thirty year naval career behind him, he was given the honor of taking command of the new ship through completion of her construction, her commissioning and the training of her new crew.
Grant was born in Maine, but grew up in Wisconsin, and was appointed to the United States Naval Academy in 1873. Until 1913 the law required that Naval Academy graduates serve two years at sea before being commissioned ensign. Upon graduation in 1877, Graduated Midshipman Grant served his two years in the old Civil War veteran ship USS Pensacola before transferring to USS Lackawanna and receiving his commission in 1879. He had a long, distinguished career in the Navy, serving in a great many ships before being assigned to Texas, BB35. His early years as a young naval officer saw the transformation of the United States Navy from the age of wooden-hulled vessels, some still driven by sail, to modern all-steel, steam-powered ships. In fact, Grant later participated personally in the Navy’s modernization efforts by helping to bring electrical power to his venerable old ship Pensacola.
As important as the technological changes that were taking place in the Navy during Grant’s time, and the expansion of the numbers and types of ships in the Navy, was the need to transform the “mind set” of officers and sailors alike. Naval vessels had always operated as independent entities responsible for carrying out the Navy’s mission at home and abroad. It was now becoming necessary to operate in units, with coordinated movements, to face the potentia threat of other nation’s navies in more complex combat actions than the simple line of ships. The creation of the Naval War College was part of the process of training naval officers in the new strategy and tactics of a modern navy.
Grant was one of the early student naval officers, and when completed the course at the War College he was sent back to sea in USS Trenton (a screw steamer operating as part of the Asiatic Fleet), USS Richmond (a steam sloop also in Asiatic Fleet), USS Saratoga (a sloop of war operating as a school ship) and then USS Yorktown (a new steel gunboat operating on the Atlantic Station). The latter two ship names will one day be much more familiar when assigned to aircraft carriers. Following his time in those four vessels, Lt (now full lieutenant) Grant returned to the Navy Yard at Norfolk. It was during this stint that he was part of the team bringing electricity onto Pensacola.
After a three-year posting as an instructor at the Naval Academy, an assignment reserved for the most impressive of young officers, Lt. Grant returned to sea duty, and soon found himself serving in the battleship USS Massachusetts, BB2, during the Spanish-American War. Aboard Massachusetts, Grant experienced his first naval combat. As part of the initial blockade of Cuba, Massachusetts shelled Spanish forts and fought with Spanish ships. While missing the actual Battle of Santiago, she fought alongside the first battleship Texas against Reina Mercedes, forcing that Spanish cruiser to ground herself.
That same year, 1898, he was transferred to the gunboat USS Machias, PG5. Machias also fought in in the Spanish-American War, and at the end of 1899 steamed to Washington to participate in ceremonies honoring American naval hero Admiral George Dewey. While in Machias, Grant was promoted to lieutenant commander, and then sent back to the Naval Academy to resume his role as instructor of future naval officers. Returning to sea in 1902, Lieutenant Commander Grant served in the battleship USS Oregon, BB3, as Executive Officer (XO) and then was made Captain (CO) of USS Frolic in 1903, operating in the Philippines.
In 1904 he returned to the Naval Academy again as an instructor, was promoted to Commander and soon put in charge of the Department of Seamanship. While in that capacity, he wrote the textbook for naval tactics, "School of the Ship: Prepared for the use of Midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy", published in 1907 (Annapolis: United States Naval Institute, 1907). His would be the textbook used by many other future captains of battleship Texas during their times at the Academy. Soon, the instructor became a student as he left the Academy and took the advanced course at the Naval War College. Finishing there, Grant was given command of the supply ship USS Arethusa, one of the support vessels for the upcoming Great White Fleet, sent around the world by President Theodore Roosevelt to show off the United States Navy.
When that fleet set out on its two-year cruise, Commander Grant was made the fleet Chief of Staff, onboard the battleship USS Connecticut, BB18. During the cruise he was promoted to captain, and then named commander of Connecticut. When the cruise ended in 1910, he returned to shore duty and was made commander of the 4th Naval District and then commander of the Philadelphia Naval Yard. In 1912 he was given command of the Atlantic Reserve Fleet, and in 1913 was named supervisor of the 3rd, 4th and 5th Naval Districts before being relieved of those jobs and transferred to the Newport News Shipbuilding Company.
At Newport News, Captain Grant was responsible for overseeing the construction of the Navy’s newest ship, the super-dreadnought USS Texas, BB35. Texas and her sister ship USS New York, BB34 were the new breed of extraordinarily powerful battleships. Supervising her construction was a great honor and responsibility for Grant, taking official command on her launching in 1912 and upon her commissioning in March 1914, he was her first CO. As a Texas “plank owner” (part of the original crew of a new ship), Captain Grant had to deal with all the inherent problems of sea trials for the ship and training for the crew. One of her massive engines even threw a rod during her speed trials, much to the embarrassment of the contractors, but eventually she was declared sound and complete and handed over to the Navy. In her time, Texas represented the height of naval technology and complex machinery and training a new crew was a huge undertaking. For Grant and his crew her shake-down did not last quite as long as they might have hoped. Almost literally before her paint was dry, Texas was ordered to Mexico as part of President Woodrow Wilson’s show of force and seizure of Veracruz, April 1914, just a month after commissioning, making her shake-down cruise the journey south for her first assignment.
During Texas’ time in Mexican waters, she made a short November return to the United States and her name state where Captain Grant presided over the acceptance by the ship of a beautiful silver service donated by the people of Texas—still on display in the ship’s Officer’s Wardroom—and adoption of the ship’s first mascot, a bear cub named Ursa, December, she returned to the United States and a regular routine of training exercises, repairs and cruising up and down the east coast and into the Caribbean having developed into the efficient and powerful naval vessel she would be for her entire time in the Navy.
In 1915, Grant was promoted to rear admiral, left Texas and was made commander of the Submarine Force of the Atlantic Fleet while the United States maintained uneasy neutrality as much of the rest of the world was engulfed in World War I. Once the United States entered the war, Grant’s vast experience made him a great asset to the Navy, and in 1917 he was given the wartime rank of vice admiral and command of Battleship Force One, Atlantic Fleet, earning the Distinguished Service Medal in the process.
After the war, Admiral Grant was made commandant of the Washington Naval Yard and superintendent of the Navy Gun Factory before his retirement in 1920. His last years were spent in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with his wife Florence. Grant died in 1930, and was buried in Norfolk, Virginia.