A Civil War Biography

George Dewey

Dewey was born 26 December 1837 in Montpelier, Vermont. His mother died from tuberculosis when he was just five, forcing his father, Julius Yemans Dewey, a prominent physician and founder of the National Life Insurance Company, to raise four young children on his own. In 1852, when George was fifteen, his father enrolled him at Norwich Military Academy, a military school on the Connecticut River across from Hanover, New Hampshire.

Two years later Dewey received an appointment to the US Naval Academy. He graduated 5th in the class of 1858 and was ordered to report immediately to the USS Wabash, a new steam frigate which was to be the flagship of the Mediterranean Squadron. In January 1861, after completing a few cruises on the Wabash, Dewey returned to Annapolis to sit for the lieutenant's exam. He was commissioned a lieutenant that April and assigned to the USS Mississippi, an old steam frigate side-wheeler. He joined his new assignment in Boston on 10 May 1861. The Mississippi then headed south to join the Union blockade in the Gulf of Mexico. She acted as temporary flagship of the blockading squadron off Key West, Florida until relieved by the frigate USS Colorado. In July 1861 she was stationed off Mobile Bay then was shifted to a station just outside the Mississippi River delta.

In early 1862 Dewey was named executive officer of the Mississippi. Melancton Smith was in command. The Mississippi, attached to David G. Farragut's West Gulf Blockading Squadron, took part in the 24-25 April 1862 battle to capture New Orleans. Dewey, with his ship on guard anchored off the city, remained in New Orleans for months. Finally in early 1863 the Mississippi was ordered up river to meet Farragut below Port Hudson, Louisiana. On the night of 14 March 1863 Dewey's ship ran into a mud bank, caught fire and was abandoned. Within a couple weeks Dewey was named executive officer of the USS Monongahela which was serving as Farragut's flagship. In July 1863 Dewey was nearly killed when a Confederate shell hit the ship's quarterdeck killing the captain and four other officers but leaving Dewey unscathed. At the end of the war Dewey was a lieutenant commander serving as executive office on the USS Kearsarge.

He spent his time after the war in various duties including instructor at Annapolis, commanding the USS Supply delivering supplies to the French victims of the Franco-Prussian War, surveying the Pacific Coast of Mexico and Lower California, lighthouse inspector for the Second Lighthouse District, Naval Secretary to the Lighthouse Board, chief of the Bureau of Equipment and Recruiting, president of the Lighthouse Board, president of the Board of Inspection and Survey, and commander-in-chief of the Asiatic Squadron.

Shortly after the USS MAINE blew up in Havana harbor on 15 February 1898 and the US declared war on Spain, Dewey, then a commodore, led his squadron to Manila where on 30 April 1898 in Manila Bay the Spanish fleet was destroyed. Dewey was promoted to rear admiral a month later. An act of Congress in March 1899 made Dewey Admiral of the Navy, the only naval officer ever so titled. In 1900 Dewey declared himself a candidate for US President but withdrew after only a couple months. He then was named president of the newly created General Board of the Navy. Three years later when a joint Army-Navy Board was also established Dewey was named chairman. He remained in the Navy serving on both boards until his death on 16 January 1817.

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