Midshipman, the lowest grade of officers in the line of promotion in the naval service. The number of midshipmen in the United States navy in 1874 was about 100, and no one can be appointed unless he is a graduate of the naval academy at Annapolis. The members of this institution are denominated "cadet midshipmen," and the appointments are distributed by law among the states and territories which have not their relative proportion on the navy list; and it is further required that the appointments from each state shall be apportioned as nearly as practicable equally among the several congressional districts therein; that the person appointed shall be an actual resident of the congressional district from which he is appointed, and be recommended by the member of congress for that district. Since the revival of the apprentice system in 1864, 10 apprentices from the school ships are annually eligible by competitive examination to appointments in the naval academy, and of late several of the congressional appointments have been made from the apprentices.
Candidates must be over 15 and under 18 years of age at the time of the examination for admission; must be free from deformity, disease, or imperfection of the senses; must be of good moral character, able to read and write well, writing from dictation and spelling with correctness, and to perform with accuracy the various operations of the ground rules of arithmetic. The examinations to which they are subjected are, first, by a board of three surgeons, and then by one of professors. If found qualified, they become members of the academy; their actual travelling expenses from their place of residence to the institution are paid by the government, and they are placed upon a pay of $500 per annum. The course of instruction at the naval academy, which now embraces a period of six years, includes mathematics, astronomy, navigation and surveying, ethics and English studies, natural and experimental philosophy, French and Spanish, drawing, artillery and infantry tactics, practical seamanship, naval gunnery both theoretical and practical, the steam engine, etc. During the academic course two cruises of about three months each are made in a ship of war for instruction. Warrants as midshipmen are conferred upon the graduates of the academy, who take rank in the order of merit.
By the act of March 3, 1865, when on sea duty they receive pay at the rate of $800 a year. After two years of actual sea service, midshipmen, if they produce a favorable testimonial from their commanders, are entitled to a final examination for promotion, which is made by a board composed of three captains and two commanders. This examination is on the practical branches of the profession, and includes seamanship and naval tactics, practical navigation, gunnery, and the steam engine. Having passed this, they receive new warrants as ensigns, with increased pay; and promotion to the higher grades of the service is open to them. - In the British navy, young gentlemen intended for commissioned officers are educated, in the first instance, at the royal naval college; and afterward, while serving at sea and until their promotion to a higher grade than midshipman, they are obliged to devote a portion of their time to study under a competent instructor. They begin actual service as naval cadets, proceed as midshipman, and after 5 1/2 years of service, if they pass a proper examination in seamanship and navigation, and are 19 years of age, they are promoted to lieutenants.
They are considered as the principal petty officers, rank comparatively with ensigns in the army, and their pay is £34 4s. a year. In smaller vessels some of the senior midshipmen are intrusted with the watch; they take charge of boats and small parties of men going ashore, pass the word of command, and see that the orders of their superiors are carried into effect. A midshipman's share of prize money is the same as that of a petty officer, a cadet's equal to that of the captains of the tops; and both receive the rations of seamen, but may provide a mess at their own expense. - The French aspirants de marine perform similar duties to those of midshipmen. They are of two classes, are especially educated for their profession at the naval academy in Brest, and undergo a strict examination before receiving their appointment afloat, where they serve from the age of 12 to 20 years. They are not entitled to command a ship till they have attained the age of 21.