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Before the American Civil War, Midshipmen studied for four years at the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland. They also trained aboard ships each summer. When the Civil War broke out on April 12, 1861, the United States government made plans to move the Academy since Southern sympathy ran high in Maryland. However, the sudden outbreak of hostilities forced the US government to move the Academy sooner than anticipated. On April 27, 1861, the War Department issued the order: “Fort Adams, Rhode Island, is hereby placed temporarily under control of the Secretary of the Navy, for the purposes of the Naval Academy now at Annapolis, Maryland.” Almost immediately the three upper classes were detached and ordered to sea, and the remaining elements of the Academy were transported to Fort Adams in Newport, Rhode Island by the USS Constitution, where the Academy was set up in temporary facilities and opened in May.

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