Constructor Richmond Pearson Hobson
Richmond Pearson Hobson was one of the great heros of the Spanish-American War,
following only Theodore Roosevelt and George Dewey. Hobson's fame and popularity was the
result of leading an unsuccessful attempt to block the harbor of Santiago de Cuba by
sinking the collier MERRIMAC in the entrance.
Hobson was born August 17, 1870, in Greensboro, Alabama. His father was a Confederate
veteran of the American Civil War, and the family lived on the family estate of Hobson's
mother, a plantation called "Magnolia Grove". He was the second of seven
children. Young Richmond attended private school, and the Southern University in
Greensboro from 1882 to 1885. He won a competitive test for appointment to the Naval
Academy at age fourteen.
At Annapolis, Richmond was the youngest in his class. His strong religious views created
difficulties for him with classmates. Midshipman Hobson was later put in
"coventry", or cut off from all social contact with his classmates, for putting
some of the other students on report. He spent his last two years in this state of
isolation. However bad his social situation, his academic life flourished. During his
years at the Academy Hobson never ranked lower than third in his class. He also developed
an interest in steam engines and naval architecture.
Hobson graduated from Annapolis in 1889, ranked first in his class. He was offered the
opportunity to study naval architecture abroad and did so, in Paris at the Ecole National
Superieurdes Mines in 1890 and 1891. This was followed by studies at the Ecole d'
Application du Genie Maritime from 1891 to 1893, where he graduated "with
After his return to the United States, Hobson served for a year and a half as an assistant
naval constructor in the Navy Department's Bureau of Construction and Repair at Washington
D.C. He attempted to get a posting to Asia during the Sino-Japanese War, and also to
Europe, but his requests were denied. Instead, Hobson was sent aboard the USS NEW YORK,
and served in various shipyards in the northeast. During this time, a superior officer
accused Hobson of neglect of duty for accepting some defective metal castings. He was
eventually vindicated by Acting Secretary of the Navy, Theodore Roosevelt.
In 1897, Hobson created and ran the third year program for naval construction at
Annapolis. As war loomed, the entire class went to Key West, Florida to continue the
students' education with the North Atlantic Squadron. It was while serving with Admiral
Sampson on the USS NEW YORK that Hobson was given the task of sinking the MERRIMAC to
block the entrance to Santiago Harbor. The effort failed and Hobson was taken prisoner. He
was exchanged on July 6, 1898, and, to his surprise, found himself a national hero.
After the war, Hobson had himself appointed Inspector of Spanish Wrecks, charged with
determining if any of the damaged and sunken Spanish vessels at Cuba could be raised and
reused. He succeeded in raising the REINA MERCEDES and the INFANTA MARIA TERESA. Hobson
next went to the Far East to continue his salvage efforts with the victims of Dewey's
attack. Here he salvaged the ISLE DE CUBA, ISLE DE LUZON and DON JUAN DE AUSTRIA. On his
way to the Philippines, Hobson, still the popular war hero, was accused of kissing his way
across the United States as he accepted the requests of ladies to be kissed. When the
press began making an issue of it an embarrassed Hobson refused all future requests.
Hobson's hero status also created tension with his fellow officers, many of whom avoided
him. About this time, he began to suffer from inflammation of the retina, which was
aggravated by exposure to sunlight and desk work. Hobson requested a medical discharge
beginning in 1900. The request was denied.
In 1901 Congress passed a joint resolution thanking Hobson for his exploits aboard the
MERRIMAC. The resolution promoted him from Lieutenant to Captain, and also advanced him
ten positions on the Construction Corps seniority list. This action served to make Hobson
even more of an outcast among his fellow officers, who resented the preferential
treatment. He resigned his commission in 1903.
Hobson's departure from the Navy gave him time for other pursuits also. In 1905 he married
Grizelda Houston Hull, the great-great niece of Confederate general Leonidas Polk, the
great niece of former Alabama governor, George Houston, and a cousin of General
"Fightin' Joe" Wheeler. These connections would serve him well in political
As a civilian, Hobson took up the lecture circuit, traveling across the country in 1903
and 1904. In 1907, on his second attempt, the former Captain was elected to Congress,
serving four terms. In 1908, before an unfriendly Democratic National Convention, Hobson
commented that President Theodore Roosevelt had stated that there was a good possibility
of war with Japan in the near future. Roosevelt denied the comments. With his Great White
Fleet preparing to sail around the world, talk of trouble with Japan, either military or
diplomatic, was not appreciated by the President. In spite of the acrimonious debate,
Hobson continued predicting war with Japan until even the press tired of reporting his
comments on the issue.
Congressman Hobson served on the Naval Affairs Committee from 1907 to 1914, working to
strengthen the fleet and warning of future clashes with European powers, Japan and Russia.
He was an early supporter of Womens' Suffrage and fought for Black soldiers unjustly
accused of rioting and killing a civilian in Brownsville Texas. In 1911, he introduced the
first National Prohibition bill. Hobson's views, unpopular with many of his constituents,
ended his political career in 1916.
Later in life, Hobson continued to act against alcohol and drug abuse, serving as general
secretary of the American Alcohol and Education Association, president of the
International Narcotic Education Association and the World Narcotic Defense Association.
He was also the organizer of the 1926 World Conference on Narcotic Education.
In 1933, Hobson was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions aboard the
MERRIMAC during the Spanish-American War. His crew had received the medal in 1899, but
officers were not eligible for the honor at that time. In 1934, Hobson was made a Rear
Admiral on the retired list and granted a pension.
Richmond Pearson Hobson died of a heart attack on March 16, 1937, and was buried with
honors in Arlington National Cemetery.
The above information was condensed from Richard Turk's introduction to:
Hobson, Richmond, Pearson, "The Sinking of the Merrimac", Annapolis: Naval
Institute Press, 1987, ISBN 0-87021-632-5.