The Navy will rename a warship that was originally named in honor of a Confederate battlefield victory in the Civil War, the service announced Monday.
Changing the name of the guided-missile cruiser Chancellorsville to Robert Smalls, a former slave and sailor, is the latest move by the Defense Department to change the names of installations, buildings and assets that were once Confederate namesakes.
The Navy announcement provides no timeline for the change, but stated that “the logistical aspects associated with renaming the ship will begin henceforth and will continue until completion with minimal impact on operations and the crew.”
Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro said in a statement Monday that renaming the cruiser was not about “rewriting history.”
Instead, he said, renaming the ship aims “to remove the focus on the parts of our history that don’t align with the tenets of this country, and instead allows us to highlight the events and people in history who may have been overlooked.”
“Robert Smalls is a man who deserves a namesake ship and with this renaming, his story will continue to be retold and highlighted,” Del Toro said.
Smalls was born into slavery in 1839 in South Carolina and went on to become an expert navigator of the southern coasts and a skilled mariner.
He was conscripted to serve as a pilot aboard the Confederate steamer Planter and snuck the ship out of Charleston harbor in 1862, spiriting away his family, other slaves and military cargo before handing the steamer over to the U.S. Navy.
Smalls later captained Planter and served five terms in Congress. He died in 1915.
Commissioned in 1989, the ship was named after the 1863 Battle of Chancellorsville, considered to be the greatest victory of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
As recently as 2017, the ship’s website noted that the predominance of gray in the ship’s crest spoke to “General Robert E. Lee’s spectacular military strategies and his dominance in this battle.”
While the crest has since been revamped, the prior crest contained an inverted wreath, said to memorialize the mortal wounding of Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson in the battle.
The cruiser is home ported in Yokosuka, Japan.
The name change comes after Congress directed a naming commission to review military assets and rename those with Confederate ties following the murder of George Floyd by police in 2020.
The commission recommended renaming more than 1,000 items from posts and ships to monuments, building names and streets, including the Chancellorsville and the oceanographic survey ship Maury, named for Matthew Fontaine Maury, a Confederate navy officer.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin accepted the commission’s recommendations in September and ordered the services to make the changes by the end of this year.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Naval Academy announced that a building also named after Maury would be changed as well.
Military Times Pentagon bureau chief Meghann Myers contributed to this report.
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