Early life and career
Capps was born in Portsmouth, Virginia, 31 January 1864. He graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1884. Upon graduation, he served in the screw frigate Tennessee for the two years of sea duty then customary prior to receiving his officer's commission.
After becoming an ensign in 1886, Capps studied naval architecture at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. After returning to the United States in 1888, he was appointed Assistant Naval Constructor. He undertook brief duty at the Navy Department, and was then assigned to William Cramp & Sons' shipyard in Philadelphia.
Capps moved to the New York Navy Yard in 1889 and remained there joining the Bureau of Construction and Repair in 1892. Three years later he became the superintending constructor at the Union Iron Works in San Francisco. There, he supervised the construction of Oregon (Battleship No. 3), Wisconsin (Battleship No. 9), Farragut (Torpedo Boat No. 11), Marietta (Gunboat No. 15), and Wheeling (Gunboat No. 14).