Admiral of the Navy George Dewey, USN
26 December1837 - 16 January 1917
Admiral George Dewey, USN. Oil On Canvas, 72"x48", by N.M. Miller (20th C.), painted 1911.
George Dewey, the only officer of the US Navy ever to hold the rank of Admiral of the Navy, was born on 26 December 1837, in Montpelier, Vermont. On 23 September 1854, he was appointed Acting Midshipman from the first Congressional District of Vermont, and upon graduation from the US Naval Academy in June 1858, was warranted Midshipman, to date from 11 June of that year. He became a Passed Midshipman on 19 January 1861, and on 28 February of the same year he was warranted Master. His subsequent advancement was as follows: Lieutenant, 19 April 1861; Lieutenant Commander, 3 March 1865; Commander, 13 April 1872; Captain, 27 September 1884; Commodore, 28 February 1896; Rear Admiral, 11 May 1898; Admiral, 2 March 1899; and Admiral of the Navy on 24 March 1903 to date from 2 March 1899.
During the period 26 April 1861, until 30 August 1867, he had consecutive service on USS Mississippi, USS Brooklyn, USS Agawam, USS Colorado, USS Kearsarge, USS Canadiagua, and again USS Colorado. When detached from the latter he was directed to await orders of 1 October 1867, which returned him to the Naval Academy for a tour of duty which ended in September 1870. On 10 October 1870, he assumed command of USS Narragansett, and in February 1871 was transferred to command of USS Supply, hospital ship. On 27 July 1871, he was ordered to the Navy Yard, Boston, Massachusetts, and after five months' duty there and brief instruction at the Naval Torpedo Station, Newport, Rhode Island, he again commanded Narragansett from 1 March 1873, to August 1875.
Ordered on 25 August 1875, to report as Lighthouse Inspector, Second Naval District, at Headquarters in New York, New York, he served in that capacity until 1 August 1877, and as a member of the Lighthouse Board for eight months thereafter. On 1 May 1878, he became Secretary of the Lighthouse Board. On 18 October 1882, he was ordered to command USS Juniata, and remained at sea from 25 October that year until July 1884, when he was ordered detached and to the Navy Department, Washington DC. Again at sea, he commanded USS Dolphin from October 1884 until March 1885, when he transferred to command of USS Pensacola.
On 1 August 1889, he was commissioned Chief of the Bureau of Equipment, Navy Department, Washington DC. His term ended by resignation on 30 June 1893, when he again became a member of the Lighthouse Board. On 5 November 1895, he reported for duty as President of the Board of Inspection and Survey, Navy Department. On 30 November 1897, he was ordered to Asiatic Station and, proceeding by steamer, he assumed command on 3 January 1898, his flag in the protected cruiser, USS Olympia, Captain Charles V. Gridley, commanding. The Spanish-American War action at Manila, Philippine Islands, 1 May 1898, not only gave birth to the historical expression "You may fire when you are ready Gridley," but also liquidated the Spanish Fleet and installations in the Manila Harbor without loss of men to the US Fleet.
On 10 May 1898, Admiral (then Commodore) Dewey was given a vote of thanks by the Congress of the United States, and three days later was commissioned Rear Admiral, to date from 11 May 1898. That promotion was an advancement of one grade for "highly distinguished conduct in conflict with the enemy as displayed by him in the destruction of the Spanish Fleet and batteries in the harbor of Manila, Philippine Islands, May 1, 1898." He was relieved of command of Asiatic Station on 4 October 1899, and ordered to the Navy Department, Washington, where on 29 March 1900, he was designated President of the General Board.
An Act of Congress, 2 March 1899, created the rank of Admiral of the Navy. It provided that when such office became vacant either by death or otherwise, the office would cease to exist. On 24 March 1903, Admiral Dewey, who held the rank of Admiral since 8 March 1899, was commissioned Admiral of the Navy, with date of rank 2 March 1899, and became the only officer of the United States Navy who was ever so commissioned. He held the rank of Admiral of the Navy until his death in Washington, DC, on 16 January 1917.
The body of Admiral Dewey was interred in Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia, on 20 January 1917. At the request of his widow, his remains were reinterred in the crypt of Bethlehem Chapel at the Protestant Episcopal Cathedral, Mount Saint Alban, Washington, DC, on 28 March 1925. Besides his widow, Mrs. Susan Goodwin Dewey, Admiral Dewey was survived by his only son, George Goodwin Dewey.
Admiral Dewey earned the Civil War Medal; the Spanish Campaign Medal; the Philippine Campaign Medal; and the Dewey Medal (commemorating the Battle of Manila Bay). A destroyer, USS Dewey (DD-349), was named to honor Admiral of the Navy George Dewey. Built by the Bath Iron Works Corporation of Bath, Maine, she was launched on 28 July 1934, under the sponsorship of Miss Ann M. Dewey of Quechee, Vermont, great-grandniece of Admiral Dewey. Dewey was placed in commission at the Boston Navy Yard on 4 October 1934, and earned thirteen battle stars for operations in the Pacific War Area during World War II.
[Adapted from: Navy Office of Information. Internal Relations Division. "Admiral of the Navy George Dewey, United States Navy, Deceased." 17 May 1963. George Dewey ZB file, Navy Department Library]
"Dewey at the Battle of Manila" 1 May 1898. Depicting Dewey on the Bridge of His Flagship Olympia (C-6), in the Spanish-American War.
Born in Montpelier, Vermont, 26 December 1837. Died in Washington, DC, 16 January 1917.
Appointed Midshipman, 23 September 1854.
Commissioned Lieutenant, 19 April 1861.
Commissioned Lieutenant Commander, 3 March 1865.
Commissioned Commander, 13 April 1872.
Commissioned Commodore, 9 February 1896.
Commissioned Rear Admiral, 1 May 1898.
Commissioned Admiral of the Navy, 2 March 1899.
Took prominent part in the operations of the West Gulf Blockading Squadron, under Admiral Farragut. First Lieutenant of USS Mississippi in attacks on Forts Jackson and St. Philip, capture of New Orleans, and Battle of Port Hudson. Commended for gallantry, judgment and skill in action between Mississippi and enemy's forts at Port Hudson, and the rescue of the crew from the burning ship when set on fire by the enemy's shot.
Participated in attacks on Fort Fisher, 24-25 December 1864 and 13-15 January 1865.
Commanded the Asiatic Squadron 1897 - 1898. 1 May 1898 destroyed or captured the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay, captured land batteries at Cavite and took possession of Manila, for which he received the thanks of Congress and was promoted to Rear Admiral. Appointed Admiral of the Navy by President McKinley and confirmed by Congress, 2 March 1889.
[Adapted from: "Admiral George Dewey." Memo for the Bureau of Navigation, dated 26 July 1917. George Dewey ZB file, Navy Department Library]
By Ammen Farenholt, Rear Admiral, Medical Corps, US Navy (Retired)
The 26th of December marks the birthday of one of our most colorful naval commanders and one who, as an able and fearless officer, an excellent seaman, a smart diplomat and a polished gentleman, had no superior in our service.
Admiral Dewey possessed a very full measure of resourcefulness, justice and common sense, qualities which we like to regard as "Yankee" characteristics. He was far from being a martinet or an ogre but he could never suffer fools gladly and his prompt decisions and quick temper were sometimes, wrongly, resented as irascibility and eccentricity. The following three anecdotes may interest the men of this newer and therefore somewhat different navy.
The Admiral and the Army gunboats
In 1899 matters of jurisdiction and policy in the Philippines in general and in the local vicinity of Manila in particular, had not been fully settled and occasionally someone's toes were stepped on. The senior naval officer was of course Admiral Dewey who had destroyed the Spanish fleet and had only refrained from requiring the immediate surrender of the city of Manila because of his inability to properly police it. General Otis was for a long time the senior Army officer and as such supreme ashore. The affairs of the newly acquired territory were conducted by a joint board in which the Admiral and the General were the most influential members. The sessions were held on shore and usually passed off in more or less harmony and accord but on at least one occasion Dewey, who was not particularly patient in long winded discussion, just couldn't stand it any longer and stalked out of the meeting, down to his barge, Cristina, and back to Olympia.
In order to properly police the Passig river and the adjacent back country it was necessary to have armed force on that active waterway. This duty fell to the Army and four vessels were so employed; the Oeste, a large tug given to the Army by the Navy; the Napindan, the Covadonga and the larger Laguna de Bay, the flagship. The two latter were chartered or commandeered vessels. Laguna de Bay had sloping casemated upper works and looked like a small edition of the confederate Merrimack [CSS Virginia]. All four were well protected with boiler plate and railroad iron. This fleet was manned chiefly by personnel of the regular 3rd US Artillery.
Occasionally this non-descript collection, which was efficient and sufficient for the required purposes but far from "ship shape and Bristol fashion", would come out of the Passig river for a turn about the bay on some business or other. Now the waters of the bay were the Admiral's particular bailiwick and each time they were reported beyond the light-house Dewey would become nearly apoplectic with wrath and would order them back. Finally he sent a direct order, it might have been a request but if Dewey wrote it when annoyed it certainly would have had the character of an order, to General Otis to the effect that if he ever caught one of them outside of the river again he would sink her. They never reappeared in those forbidden waters for the General probably didn't know just how far the forceful Admiral really would go and would rather not provoke a show down.
The Society of the Dog
Admiral Dewey had on board Olympia as his pet a badly spoiled dog. He was very fond of it and in his eyes it could do no wrong; however he was alone in that opinion and both officers and the crew, particularly the afterguard sweepers, detested the animal. The dog was smart enough to know that his sole protector was the Admiral and ran back to him if he had been maltreated, whenever anyone touched or made a pass in his general direction. Several men were punished, some justly and perhaps some not quite so justly, and a quartermaster was disrated. Partly in a spirit of waggishness and born of the monotony of the blockade in Manila bay before the fall of the city the men formed a very secret organization called the "Society of the Dog." To be an ordinary member a man had to have kicked the brute, but to become a member first class he had to have kicked him while the Admiral was on deck and could possibly have seen him do it, or had performed some other allied act of equal daring. There were very few of these. The organization lasted as long as the dog did for one morning he turned up missing. That day a first class member was hurriedly promoted to the office of "Chief Superior Dog" and the society prudently disbanded. "Chief Superior Dog" was an afterguard sweeper.
The Capture of the Spanish Gunboat Leyte
At the time of the outbreak of the Spanish war, Revenue Cutter, later Coast Guard, McCulloch, was at sea on an extended shakedown cruise from Hampton Roads to her assigned station at San Francisco and on her arrival at Singapore orders were received to proceed with all possible speed to Hong Kong and report to Commodore Dewey for further duty. The ship arrived on 17 April and sailed with the fleet for Mirs Bay and Manila a week later. While a small vessel and not built for naval service she was a very welcome and valuable addition to the fleet and she performed excellent patrol and dispatch service throughout the period of hostilities and until November 1898 when she resumed her voyage to San Francisco.
Captain Ridgley USCG [US Coast Guard] who was attached to the ship tells the following story. On 29 June a signal was received from Olympia which read "Spanish gunboat sighted bearing north-west apparently attempting to reach Manila, intercept and capture." That time McCulloch broke her record, getting underweigh in one minute and dragging her anchor and a course was shaped to get between the gunboat and the foreign shipping of Manila. The stranger changed her course to meet the cutter head on flying a flag at the fore, a pennant at the main and a flag at the gaff, all indistinguishable because of the light airs, but on closing in on her it was found that she was flying a white flag at the fore. After heaving to a boarding officer was sent aboard and found her to be the Spanish gunboat Leyte which had escaped during the early morning of 1 May, and had remained in hiding in one of the numerous rivers emptying into the bay, but could neither escape to sea or avoid the attacks of the Filipino insurgents and so her commanding officer decided to surrender.
The Spanish flag was hauled down, the United States ensign [the American flag] hoisted and with a prize crew aboard she proceeded to Olympia and anchored off her starboard quarter. McCulloch accompanied her and sent a whale boat to the Leyte to take her commanding officer and the prize master to the flagship. In the meantime a heavy rain squall had kicked up quite a choppy sea; also that morning the ship had coaled from a casco alongside and some "bino" had, as usual, come on board so the boat's crew didn't pull in the style and form usual in the Navy in those days. Once alongside the two officers mounted the gangway and were escorted to the Admiral, sitting as usual in his wicker chair on the quarterdeck. "I have to report the capture of the Spanish gunboat Leyte, Sir and to deliver the commanding officer on board" rather proudly announced the prize master. If he expected, as was perhaps excusable, a hero's welcome he certainly "missed out" for the Admiral only looked up sharply and said; "Very well sir and I want to tell you that your boat's crew pull like a lot of damn farmers!"
From that wicker chair on the quarterdeck there was very little that went on in Manila bay that escaped Admiral Dewey's sharp eyes, and quite likely, a sharp signal to follow.
[Adapted from: Farenholt, Ammen. "George Dewey, Admiral of the Fleet." n.d., George Dewey ZB file, Navy Department Library.]
[Note: The Naval Historical Center does not support or condone the mistreatment of animals. The portion of the above essay dealing with The Society of the Dog was retained because the presence of animals on US Navy Ships is an element of the social history of the Navy and not well documented.]
CHAP 378 - An act creating the office of Admiral of the Navy.
Be it enacted by the Senate and the House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the President is hereby authorized to appoint, by selection and promotion, an Admiral of the Navy, who shall not be placed upon the retired list except upon his own application; and whenever such office shall be vacated by death or otherwise the office shall cease to exist.
Approved, March 2, 1899.
[Source: Statutes of the United States of America Passed at the Third Session of the Fifty-Fifth Congress, 1898-1899, and Recent Conventions, Treaties, Executive Proclamations, and Concurrent Resolutions of the Two Houses of Congress. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1899: 995.]
General Order No. 258
Navy Department, Washington, 17 January 1917.
It is with feeling of genuine grief that the Secretary of the Navy announces the death at 5.56 p.m. yesterday at his residence in Washington of The Admiral of the Navy.
The career of George Dewey "ran in full current to the end." Vermont was his mother State and there was always in his character something of the granite of his native hills. Dewey was under fire with Farragut in the Mississippi River, and bore himself gallantly throughout the War between the States.
The battle in Manila Bay on 1 May 1898, made him the foremost naval officer since Farragut and victor of the first American sea fight with a foreign foe since the War of 1812.
"Gentlemen, a higher power than we has won this battle to-day," the commodore said to his captains at the conclusion of the battle when it had been learned that the victory, one of the most decisive in our history, had been one without the loss of a single American seaman. In peace, in war; in sickness, in health; in victory and in conflict, and in every relation of life Admiral Dewey invariably exhibited the virtues of the patriot and the Christian.
His whole life, 62 years of which, were spent in the Navy, was full honorable achievement, and his service in peace has been hardly less distinguished than his laurels in war. As president of the General Board of the Navy since its inception he has played a leading part in making the Nation ready for war on the seas. The same statesmanlike qualities which he exhibited in handling the international situation at Manila after the battle of 1 May 1898, he has shown as the head of this board of naval experts.
In recognition of his victory in Manila Bay the then commodore was advanced one grade to that of rear admiral, and in addition received the thanks of Congress. Later by special act of Congress he was promoted to be The Admiral of the Navy, a rank never held by an American naval officer previously, although two, Porter and Farragut, were rewarded with the rank of full Admiral. He was placed by Congress on the active list until such time as he might see fit to apply for retirement. But his active spirit could not rest. He never folded his hands. He chose to die on the bridge, even until the Pilot came aboard his life craft who should take him across the bar. He died one of the foremost figures of modern times.
The flag will be displayed at half-mast at all navy yards and stations, and on board all ships in commission until after the funeral shall have taken place, and 19 minute guns will fire at noon on the day of the funeral from each navy yard and from the senior ship present afloat.
All officers of the Navy and Marine Corps will wear the badge of mourning with the uniform for 30 days.
The Navy Department, by executive order will be closed on Saturday, 20 January 1917.
Secretary of the Navy
General Order No. 259.
Navy Department, Washington, 18 January 1917.
The following executive order and message of the President to the Senate and House of Representatives are quoted for the information of the naval service.
Secretary of the Navy
As a token of respect to the memory of Admiral George Dewey, who died at his residence in the city on yesterday, January 16, at 5.56 o'clock, it is hereby ordered that the national flag be displayed at half-mast upon all public buildings and at all forts and military posts and naval stations, and on all vessels of the United States in commission until after the funeral shall have taken place, and that on the day of the funeral the executive offices in the city of Washington be closed.
The White House, 17 January 1917.
To the Senate and House of Representatives:
It is with the deepest regret the I announce to the Congress the death of Admiral George Dewey at 5.56 o'clock on the afternoon of yesterday the 16th of January, at his residence in this city.
Admiral Dewey entered the naval service of the country as an acting midshipman from the first congressional district of Vermont on 23 September 1854: was graduated from the Naval Academy as midshipman 11 June 1858; served throughout the war of 1861-1865; and 30 years later had risen to the rank of commodore. It was as commodore that he rendered the service in the action of Manila Bay which has given him a place forever in the naval annals of the country. At the time of his death he held the exceptional rank of The Admiral of the Navy by special act of Congress. During the later years of his life he was the honored president of the General Board of the Navy, to whose duties he gave the most assiduous attention and in which office he rendered a service to the Navy quite invaluable in its sincerity and quality of practical sagacity.
It is pleasant to recall what qualities gave him his well-deserved fame: His practical directness, his courage without self-consciousness, his efficient capacity in matters of administration, the readiness to fight without asking questions or hesitating about any detail. It was by such qualities that he continued and added luster to the best traditions of the Navy. He had the stuff in him which all true men admire and upon which all statesmen must depend in hours of peril. The people and the Government of the United States will always rejoice to perpetuate his name in all honor and affection.
The White House, 17 January 1917.
[Source: Subject Index to General Orders, Navy Department, Series of 1913. (Complete to June 30 1916). Washington, DC: Government Printing Office. 1916.]
Adams, W. H. Davenport. Dewey and Other Great Naval Commanders, a Series of Biographies. New York: G. Routledge, 1899.
Acting Rear-Admiral George Dewey: Message from the President of the United States, Recommending That the Thanks of Congress Be Given Acting Rear-Admiral George Dewey, of the United States Navy, for Highly Distinguished Conduct in Conflict with the Enemy, and to the Officers and Men Under His Command for Their Gallantry in the Destruction of the Enemy's Fleet and the Capture of the Enemy's Fortifications in the Bay of Manila, May 1, 1898. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1898.
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Cogar, William B. Dictionary of Admirals of the U.S. Navy. vol. 1. Annapolis, MD: 1989. [see "Dewey, George," pp. 46-48].
Dewey, Adelbert Milton. The Life and Letters of Admiral Dewey from Montpelier to Manila, Containing Reproductions in Fac-Simile of Hitherto Unpublished Letters of George Dewey During the Admiral's Naval Career and Extracts from His Log-book, by Adelbert M. Dewey, Assisted by Members of the Immediate Family. Embellished with Over Two Hundred and Fifty Illustrations. Akron, OH., Werner Co., 1899.
____. Life of George Dewey, Rear Admiral, U.S.N.; and Dewey Family History. Being an Authentic Historical and Genealogical Record of More than Fifteen Thousand persons in the United States by the Name of Dewey, and their Descendants. Life of Rear Admiral George Dewey. Westfield, MA: Dewey Publishing Company, 1898.
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Halstead, Murat. The Life and Achievements of Admiral Dewey: From Montpelier to Manila. Chicago, IL: Our Possessions Pub. Co., 1899.
Halstead, Murat. The Story of the Philippines. Natural Riches, Industrial Resources, Statistics of Productions, Commerce and Population; The Laws, Habits, Customs, Scenery, and Conditions of the Cuba of the East Indies, and the Thousand Islands of the Archipelagoes of India and Hawaii, with Episodes of their Early History. The Eldorado of the Orient. Personal...Interviews with Admiral Dewey, General Merritt, General Aguinaldo, and the Archbishop of Manila.... Events of the War in the West with Spain, and the Conquest of Cuba and Porto Rico. By Murat Halstead. Splendidly and Picturesquely Illustrated with Half-Tone Engravings from Photographs, Etchings from Special Drawings, and the Military Maps of the Philippines, Prepared by the War Department of the United States. Chicago, IL: Our Possessions Publishing Co. 1898.
Hamm, Margherita Arlina. Dewey the Defender: A Life Sketch of America's Great Admiral. London, NY: F. Tennyson Neely, 1899.
Harden, Edward W. Dewey at Manila: Observations and Personal Impressions Derived from a Service with the American Fleet in the Philippines from April, 1898 to October 1898. New York: S.S. McClure, Ltd., 1899.
____. Dewey at Manila: One Year's Retrospect. New York: Frank Leslie Pub. House, 1899.
Homans, James E. Our Three Admirals, Farragut, Porter, Dewey: An Authentic Account of the Heroic Characters, Distinguished Careers, and Memorable Achievements of the Three Officers, Who have Attained the Highest Rank in the Navy of the United States. New York: J. T. White and co., 1899.
Johnson, Rossiter. The Hero of Manila: Dewey on the Mississippi and the Pacific, by Rossiter Johnson ... With illustrations by B. West Clinedinst and Others. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1899.
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The Reception of Admiral George Dewey, U.S.N. at Washington, October 2 & 3, 1899. Together with an Account of the Ceremonies on the Occasion of the Presentation of the Sword Voted him by the United States Congress in Recognition of his Services in the Destruction of the Spanish Fleet in Manila Bay, May 1, 1898. Washington, DC: William V. Cox, 1901.
Response of Commodore Dewey to Resolution of Congress: Message from the President of the United States, Transmitting the Response of Commodore Dewey to Resolution of Congress of May 9, 1898, Tendering the Thanks of Congress and the People of the United States to the Officers and Men of the Asiatic Squadron for Gallantry and Skill Displayed in the Destruction of the Spanish Fleet in the Harbor of Manila, Philippine Islands, May 1, 1898. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1898.
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West, Richard S. Admirals of American Empire: The Combined Story of George Dewey, Alfred Thayer Mahan, Winfield Scott Schley and William Thomas Sampson. Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill Co. 1948.
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Young, Louis Stanley. Life and Heroic Deeds of Admiral Dewey Including Battles in the Philippines ... Together with Thrilling Accounts of our Great Victories in the Philippines, the Climate, Products and Rich Resources of These ... Islands, Together with the Manners and Customs of the People, Their Cities, Towns, Natural Scenery, etc. Philadelphia, PA: World Bible House 1899.
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____. "Contacts with the Hero of Manila Bay". United States Naval Institute Proceeding 76, no.1 (January 1950): 64.
____. "Effects of Gun-Fire, Battle of Manila." United States Naval Institute Proceeding 25, no.2 (June 1988): 322-334.
____. "The Defenses of Manila Bay". United States Naval Institute Proceeding 26, no.2 (June, 1900): 279-287.
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____. "The Truxtun Tradition". United States Naval Institute Proceeding 64, no.3 (March 1938): 403.
____. "The Naval Battle of Manila Bay." United States Naval Institute Proceeding 26, no.3 (September, 1900): 489-513.
____. "Official Report of the Battle of Manila Bay." United States Naval Institute Proceeding 25, no.2 (June 1899): 529-532.
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