“Be brave, stand ﬁrm, shoot straight” USS TECUMSEH (SSBN 628)
The founding of America was not a straightforward journey. Many of the people who were already settled in the lands across the rivers were understandably not anxious for the arrival of the white man. One of the harshest of the critics was the Warrior Tecumseh.
We studied about the tribes when I was in grade school. Western Pennsylvania had been home to many tribes as the Europeans ventured further and further west. The barriers of the mountains fell victim to tenacity and technology, the terrible twin weapons applied by the relentless pioneers seeking open space and opportunity.
For untold ages, the indigenous people had lived off of the land without changing it. The way of life included a harmony of existence with the forest and the animals. Communities were smaller and widespread and in the words of Tecumseh himself later in life, no one could own the land any more than they could own the sky or the seas.
But the encroachment of the new arrivals from the old country made the path difficult for the original occupants. There was a need for expansion for the crowded cities along the coast. This growth set up the conditions that would both elevate Tecumseh and destroy him.
I find it very fascinating that four ships were named in his honor dating back to the Civil War. He had vowed to destroy the white man before they could take hold and yet somehow in his death he became a hero. It’s almost as if the country recognized that his spirit of liberty and independence in rebelling against the status quo was a reflection of what was best of the ideals of the founders. Or maybe they just felt a little guilty about having to kill him. Maybe someday, the truth will be known. Of the many men the Forty One for Freedom were named after, his selection is one of the most fascinating.
The fourth ship that bore his name
USS Tecumseh (SSBN-628), a James Madison-class ballistic missile submarine, was the fourth ship of the United States Navy to be named for Tecumseh (c.1768–1813), the leader of the Shawnee people.
Namesake: Tecumseh (1768-1813), a Native American leader of the Shawnee
Ordered: 20 July 1961
Builder: Electric Boat, Groton, Connecticut
Laid down: 1 June 1962
Launched: 22 June 1963
Sponsored by: Mrs. Robert L. F. Sikes
Commissioned: 29 May 1964
Decommissioned: 23 July 1993
Struck: 23 July 1993
Motto: United for Freedom
Fate: Scrapped via Ship-Submarine Recycling Program completed 1 April 1994
Class and type: James Madison-class submarine
Displacement: 7,300 long tons (7,417 t) surfaced
8,250 long tons (8,382 t) submerged
Length: 425 ft (130 m)
Beam: 33 ft (10 m)
Draft: 31 ft 4 in (9.55 m)
Installed power: S5W reactor
Propulsion: 2 × geared steam turbines, 15,000 shp (11,185 kW), 1 shaft
Speed: 16 knots (30 km/h; 18 mph) surfaced
21 knots (39 km/h; 24 mph) submerged
Test depth: 1,300 ft (400 m)
Complement: Two crews (Gold and Blue) of 140 each
Armament: 4 × 21 in (533 mm) torpedo tubes forward
16 × Polaris A3 missiles (replaced by Poseidon missiles in 1970)
About the boat:
The fourth Tecumseh (SSBN-628) was laid down on 1 June 1962 at Groton, Conn., by the Electric Boat Division of the General Dynamics Corp.; launched on 22 June 1963; sponsored by Mrs. Robert L. F. Sikes; and was commissioned on 29 May 1964, Comdr. Arnett B. Taylor (blue crew) and Comdr. Charles S. Carlisle (gold crew) in command.
Tecumseh soon departed the east coast, bound for Hawaii. Based at Pearl Harbor, the nuclear-powered submarine deployed to the Marianas on 17 December 1964, arriving at Guam 12 days later to commence deterrent patrols. Alternately manned by “blue” and “gold” crews, she conducted 21 of these missions into 1969.
The submarine was then transferred to the Atlantic Fleet where she proceeded via Pearl Harbor and the Panama Canal to the east coast and arrived at Newport News, Va., on 8 November 1969. Soon thereafter, she entered the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company yards for a conversion which replaced her Polaris missiles system with its Poseidon counterpart. Emerging from drydock on 9 May 1970, Tecumseh underwent a thorough overhaul through that fall and winter before being assigned a new home port of Charleston, S.C., on 18 February 1971.
She conducted sea trials and shakedown out of Charleston before conducting two deterrent patrols in late 1971. Subsequently deployed to Holy Loch, Scotland, Tecumseh arrived in Scottish waters on 9 February 1972. She conducted 18 more deterrent patrols out of Holy Loch through 1976 and operates with the Atlantic Fleet into 1980.
While still a youth, Tecumseh—a Shawnee Indian chief born near the present site of Springfield, Ohio, sometime in or around 1768—won renown as a brave and skillful warrior. He devoted his life to opposing the advance of white settlers. Reasoning that land in North America—especially in the Ohio valley—belonged to all of the tribes in common, Tecumseh maintained that sales of territory by any single tribe to the United States were null and void. After the Federal Government refused to recognize this principle, Tecumseh attempted to organize a great Indian Confederacy to stem the white tide. However, while he was in the South working to unite the tribes, Federal troops under Governor William Henry Harrison defeated and scattered Indian forces on 7 November 1811 in the battle of Tippecanoe. This defeat doomed the Indian Confederacy.
After Congress declared war on Great Britain the following year, Tecumseh accepted a commission as a brigadier general in the British army. He cooperated with British troops to win a number of victories in the Great Lakes region, including the capture of Detroit. However, Comdr. Oliver Hazard Perry’s victory on Lake Erie, late in the summer of 1813, cut British supply lines and prompted them to withdraw along the Thames Valley. Tecumseh and his braves covered the British retirement until American troops led by Harrison—now a major general—caught up with them at Moravian-town. Tecumseh was killed in the ensuing Battle of the Thames on 5 October 1813. In June 1930, a bronze replica of the figurehead of ship-of-the-line Delaware was presented by the Class of 1891 to the United States Naval Academy.
This bust, perhaps the most famous relic on the campus, has been widely identified as Tecumseh. However, when it adorned the American man-of-war, it commemorated not Tecumseh but Tamanend, the revered Delaware chief who welcomed William Penn to America when he arrived in Delaware country on 2 October 1682.
This 1848 drawing of Tecumseh was based on a sketch done from life in 1808. Benson Lossing altered the original by putting Tecumseh in a British uniform, under the mistaken (but widespread) belief that Tecumseh had been a British general. This depiction is unusual in that it includes a nose ring, popular among the Shawnee at the time, but typically omitted in idealized depictions.
Here is a part of his story as relayed by Admiral Rickover in his book Eminent Americans:
Ironically enough, the war (1812) carried Tecumseh to the pinnacle of his career; so close to his goal that he could almost seize it with his hands. With 5,000 warriors under his command and nearly all the Indians living between the Great Lakes and the Gulf and as far west as the Mississippi as his allies, he wielded power such as no Indian had ever known before. Alone and with his British allies he won victories that destroyed American power in parts of the West. Settlers were ﬂeeing eastward in large numbers. But the moment passed. Perry won a victory on Lake Erie and things went a little better for the Americans. Detroit, which had surrendered in 1812 was recovered in 1813. Harrison won the Battle of the Thames (October 1813) and 5 months later Jackson decisively defeated the Creeks, Tecumseh’s southern allies, at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. Tecumseh himself 1ost his life at the Thames. Exhorting his warriors to “be brave, stand ﬁrm, shoot straight,” he had plunged into the ﬁghting never to be seen again. His body was spirited away by the Indians.
Tall, straight, and lean, a stirring orator, a superbly skilled hunter and warrior, Tecumseh rose to his towering position among the Indians on merit, not by reason of birth as son of a chief. It was Indian practice to let men prove by their actions that they were ﬁt to lead. There were no elections. Men were chosen by tacit acceptance as each individual warrior submitted to the leadership of a man he honored as his chief. Tecumseh’s hold on the Indians was extraordinary; he was a very great chief. How great comes out best, perhaps, in a report written to the War Department in 1811 by his implacable opponent, Governor Harrison. It may stand as a ﬁnal summing up: “The implicit obedience and respect which the followers of Tecumseh pay him is really astonishing and more than any other circumstance bespeaks him one of those uncommon geniuses, which spring up occasionally to produce revolutions and overturn the established order of things. If it were not for the vicinity of the U.S., he would perhaps be the founder of an Empire that would rival in glory that of Mexico or Peru.”
It is a tribute to a great warrior that the ship named after him never had to fire a shot in anger. As in all of the Forty One for Freedom boats. Their crews were prepared to take the advice of the great Chief every moment they were at sea:
“be brave, stand ﬁrm, shoot straight.” And like the great chief, they were never to be seen again.