Melancthon Taylor Woolsey was born in 1782 near Plattsburg, N.Y. After studying law for a time, he entered the Navy as a midshipman on 9 April 1800. His first assignment was the frigate Adams in which he made a cruise to the West Indies in 1800 and 1801. He served briefly in the Tripolitan War just before its end in 1805. In 1807, newly promoted Lt. Woolsey received orders to Washington, D.C., where he developed a code of signals for the Navy. From there, he was ordered to the shores of Lake Ontario in 1808 for the purpose of supervising the construction of Oneida. At the same time, he received a concurrent assignment as the commanding officer of the shore facilities located there. When the United States went to war with Great Britain in 1812, he was still in command of Oneida and the shore station at Sackett's Harbor. On 19 July 1812, a British squadron of five ships appeared. Woolsey attempted to escape to open water with Oneida, but the enemy squadron sealed off that avenue. Instead, he returned to Sackett's Harbor, landed half his battery, and repelled the British convincingly after a sharp two-hour exchange.
Early in October, Commodore Isaac Chauncey arrived on the scene and assumed overall command of American naval activities on the Great Lakes. Woolsey stayed on as second in command and remained commanding officer of Oneida. During the fall of 1812, Woolsey concentrated upon the construction, purchase, and outfitting of additional war vessels. Throughout the entire war, a construction race caused naval dominance on Lake Ontario to alternate between the British and Americans. Woolsey enabled America to grab the lead in the fall of 1812 by acquiring eight schooners to augment Oneida and the three-gun Julia. On 8 November, he commanded Oneida when the 19-gun warship and four of the newly acquired schooners encountered HMS Royal George—a large, 24-gun, ship-rigged sloop-of-war off Kingston and chased her into that port. Later, they followed her in and subjected her to bombardment. In May 1813, Woolsey commanded Oneida as her guns supported the capture of York (Toronto) and the assault on Fort George.
Woolsey was promoted to master commandant in July 1813 and by August was in the new schooner Sylph. Late in September 1813, he commanded his ship in a running fight between the American lake flotilla and Commodore Yeo's British force. That series of skirmishes resulted in another period of American dominance of Lake Ontario. On 5 October, his ship participated in the capture of the enemy cutter Drum-mond and the sloops-of-war Elizabeth, Mary Ann, and Lady Gore off False Ducks. In May 1814, after a winter of feverish preparation for the third summer of campaigning, Woolsey went to the supply depot at Oswego to pick up guns, cables, and other supplies needed at Sackett's Harbor. While he was there, the British squadron appeared off Oswego. By spreading false intelligence about his destination, Woolsey was able to take advantage of a dark night and make good his escape. The British learned of their mistake and sought to overhaul him which they did at Sandy Creek. Woolsey, however, had prepared an ambush in concert with Maj. Daniel Appling and his 150-man contingent of the United States Rifle Regiment. The British landing force was soundly trounced by Appling's riflemen and 200 Indian allies. Woolsey, in turn, brought his guns to bear on the squadron itself. The Americans defeated the enemy convincingly, killing 10, wounding 52, and capturing the rest. Woolsey then proceeded to Sackett's Harbor with his ordnance and supplies. Soon thereafter, he assumed command of the new brig, Jones, and retained that command until the end of the war in 1815.
After the war, Master Commandant Woolsey remained at Lake Ontario in command of the naval station at Sacketts' Harbor. In 1816, he was promoted to captain. He left Sackett's Harbor in 1824 to assume command of the frigate, Constellation, which he took on a West Indies cruise until June of 1827. He took command of the navy yard at Pensacola, Fla., late in 1827 and held the position until 1831. Between 1832 and 1834, Woolsey served as commodore in command of the Brazilian Station. His last active duty took him to the Chesapeake Bay where he supervised surveys from 1836 until his health began to decline in 1837. Commodore Woolsey died at Utica, N.Y., on 18 May 1838.
Melancthon Brooks Woolsey, the son of Commodore Melancthon Taylor Woolsey, was born at Sackett's Harbor, N.Y., on 11 August 1817. He entered the Navy as a midshipman on 24 September 1832. After duty at sea and a tour at the Naval School, Woolsey became a passed midshipman on 16 July 1840. He progressed through the rank of master to that of lieutenant by 1847. It was in that rank that he was placed on the reserve list by the retiring board in September 1855. Lt. Woolsey returned to active duty in 1861 as a result of the Civil War. Assigned initially to the receiving ship at New York, Woolsey had assumed command of the steamer Ellen by late 1861 and began patrol duty with the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron. During that tour, his ship fought Confederate forces on three separate occasions. In May 1862, he engaged Fort Pemberton at Wapper Creek, S.C. On 1 June, his ship repelled a Confederate cavalry attack at Secessionville. Three days later, he commanded Ellen during the attack on James Island.
In July 1862, he was promoted to commander and placed in command of the sloop Vandalia. That duty lasted until early 1863, at which time he was transferred to command of the steamer Princess Royal. That ship was assigned to the West Gulf Blockading Squadron and patrolled the coasts of Louisiana and Texas. On 28 June 1863, Princess Royal helped to defend the town of Donaldsville, La., against a determined Southern attack, and Comdr. Woolsey received high commendation from his superiors for his ship's contribution to the successful defense of the town. He remained with the blockade through the end of the war and, by July 1866, saw his name returned to the active list in the rank of captain.
Following the Civil War, Capt. Woolsey commanded the sloop-of-war Pawnee on the South Atlantic Station in 1867 and 1868. In 1869, he took command of the South Atlantic Station flagship Guerriere. In 1871, Woolsey was promoted to commodore, probably as flag officer in charge of the South Atlantic Station. His last tour of duty came in March 1873, when he took over as commandant of the navy yard at Pensacola, Fla. Commodore Woolsey received orders detaching him from command of the navy yard in the summer of 1874. At the time, an epidemic of yellow fever raged at Pensacola, and Woolsey deemed it necessary to remain at his post to prevent panic. As a result of his devotion to duty, Commodore Woolsey contracted the disease and died at Pensacola on 2 October 1874.
The first Woolsey (Destroyer No. 77) was named in honor of Commodore Melancthon Taylor Woolsey, and the second Woolsey (DD-437) commemorated both him and his son, Commodore Melancthon Brooks Woolsey
(DD-437: dp. 1,630; l. 347'7"; b. 35'6"; dr. 12'6"; s. 35 k.; cpl. 234; a. 4 5", 10 21" tt., 2 dct.; cl. Gleaves)
The second Woolsey (DD-437) was laid down on 9 October 1939 at Bath, Maine, by the Bath Iron Works; launched on Lincoln's Birthday 1941; sponsored by Mrs. Irving Spencer; and commissioned on 7 May 1941, Lt. Comdr. William H. Von Dreele in command.
Following a shakedown cruise in the Caribbean Sea, Woolsey joined the Atlantic Fleet at the beginning of the second week in September. Initially, she served on the Neutrality Patrol, established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to keep the war in Europe from spreading to the western hemisphere. For a time, she also served as a unit in the screen of the newly commissioned battleship North Carolina (BB-55). As the year 1941 waned and the United States approached closer and closer to active belligerency, Woolsey began escorting convoys between the United States and Iceland.
The attack on Pearl Harbor and America's entry into World War II found the destroyer in Iceland completing the first leg of one such round-trip voyage. War brought a change to Woolsey's range of duties. Her convoy escort work was broadened to include voyages to the British Isles and Puerto Rico. That duty occupied her energies until the fall of 1942 when she participated in her first invasion operation.
For Operation "Torch," the invasion of Vichy French-controlled North Africa, Woolsey was assigned to Destroyer Squadron (DesRon) 13 which served as antisubmarine screen for the Center Attack Group, the Fedhala landing force. That task organization sortied from Hampton Roads, Va., on 24 October and, four days later, rendezvoused with the other units which comprised Task Force (TF) 34. After a meandering and mercifully uneventful crossing, the ships reached the vicinity of the Moroccan coast, and each of the three task groups went their separate ways. Woolsey arrived off Fedhala with the Center Attack Force just before midnight on 7 November. Between 0500 and 0600 the next morning, the troops landed at Fedhala and consolidated their beachhead quickly. Resistance soon dissipated, and Woolsey seems not to have participated actively in this phase of the operation other than to conduct antisubmarine patrols against a menace which, at that juncture, failed to materialize.
Later, however, the German Navy belatedly took a hand in the fracas. U-boats began attacking the transports. On the 11th, U-173 sank Joseph Hewes (AP-50). Between then and the 15th, several other attacks occurred. On the 16th, U-173 returned to the area and probably was the German submarine responsible for torpedoing Electro, (AK-21). That time though, the U-boat failed to make good her escape. Woolsey, still on antisubmarine patrol, caught the submarine's reflection with her sonar and, joined by Swanson (DD-443) and Quick (DD-490), charged to the attack. The three destroyers made a coordinated depth-charge assault that sent U-173 to oblivion. The following day, Woolsey departed the Moroccan coast to return to Hampton Roads, where she arrived on the 30th.
After a series of training operations along the eastern seaboard—primarily off the New England coast— the destroyer began duty escorting transatlantic convoys in mid-January 1943. On the 14th, she departed New York with Convoy UGF-4. The convoy reached Casablanca on the 25th; and, after a week in port, Woolsey escorted the return convoy, GUF-4, back to New York, arriving there on 13 February. At the beginning of March, she helped shepherd Convoy UGF-6 to Casablanca; then made a brief round-trip voyage from Casablanca to Gibraltar and back before returning to the east coast with GUF-6 early in April. The warship then plied the waters of the eastern seaboard until mid-May, conducting antisubmarine patrols and screening coastwise convoys between Norfolk and New York. On 14 May, Woolsey put to sea from New York with her last transatlantic convoy, UGS-8. She and her charges reached Casablanca on 1 June, and the destroyer remained there a fortnight. On the 15th, she departed Morocco; but, instead of returning to the United States as she had done in the past, she headed via Gibraltar to Algiers on the Mediterranean coast of North Africa.
When Woolsey reached Gibraltar the next day, an Atlantic phase of her wartime career ended, and the Mediterranean phase began. She reported for duty with the 8th Fleet just in time to participate in the invasion of Sicily, and operations in Italian waters consumed the bulk of her time and energy during the ensuing eight months. For the Sicily assault, she drew duty as a fire-support ship for one of three sectors into which the Licata landing beaches were divided. Save for one brief round-trip voyage to Algiers in mid-July, Woolsey provided gunfire support for the Army operating ashore on Sicily and helped to defend Allied shipping from German air attacks. Though she appears not to have accounted for any Luftwaffe aircraft, she did succeed in destroying an enemy railroad battery with gunfire.
By mid-August, with Sicily secured, she began preparations for the landings on the Italian mainland at Salerno. For that invasion, the destroyer was assigned to the Southern Attack Force fire support group which consisted of five cruisers—four American and one British—and the four destroyers of Woolsey's DesRon 13. In that capacity, she supported the landings on the southern sector of the Gulf of Salerno shoreline. During the assault on 9 September, however, she received only one call for fire support. That event occurred just after 1630 when her shore fire-control party called upon her to join Bristol (DD-453) in shooting up an enemy tank formation.
After completing her mission at Salerno the next day, Woolsey returned to more routine missions. She made voyages between Naples and North African ports escorting supply echelons to the expanding Italian campaign. While operating outside of Oran, Algeria, on 16 December, she encountered the German submarine U-73. After forcing the U-boat to surface with a full pattern of depth charges, Woolsey's gunners went to work and completed the destruction of U-73. The destroyer rescued and made prisoners of the U-boat's 23 survivors.
Late in January 1944, the destroyer returned to amphibious operations, this time as a unit of the Fire Support Group for the Anzio landings. Arriving off the beachhead on 22 January 1944, she delivered call fire support for the troops as they landed. The relative ease experienced during the opening phase at Anzio, however, belied the actual complexion of the campaign. Failing to break out of the beachhead early, the Army forces were soon surrounded on three sides by German forces which threatened to push them into the sea. The dogged determination of American infantrymen and the yeoman-like support provided them by the Navy enabled the troops ashore to hold on until a link-up was made with the Salerno forces in May. During the first month of that desperate struggle, Woolsey provided gunfire support for the troops ashore and protected the ships which constituted their lifeline to the outside world. Late in February, however, she departed the Italian campaign to return to the United States for necessary repairs. After a stop at Gibraltar on 17 February, she headed via Horta in the Azores to Boston, Mass., where she arrived on the 25th.
Completing her repairs at Boston in mid-March, she conducted refresher training at Casco Bay, Maine, before heading back to the Mediterranean at the end of the third week in April. She stopped at Gibraltar on the last day of that month and arrived at Oran on May Day. The ensuing three months saw her operating out of Oran conducting antisubmarine patrols of the approaches to that port. While operating with a hunting group composed of Benson (DD-421), Ludlow
(DD-438), and Niblack (DD-424) in mid-May, Woolsey experienced her third and last encounter with a German U-boat. A report of torpedo tracks from a newcomer to the Mediterranean, U-960, brought DesDiv 25 to the area between Oran and Cartagena early on the 17th to commence a two-day search and destroy mission. During the night of 18 and 19 May, the four destroyers split themselves into two search groups and began searching a possible submarine track 10 miles to each side of it. About an hour and 40 minutes into the mid-watch, the four warships received word that a plane had spotted the submarine some 10 miles ahead of Niblack and Ludlow. Those two ships charged to the attack; and, by the time Woolsey arrived on the scene with Benson and Madison (DD-425), the two destroyers had succeeded in forcing the U-boat to surface after delivering 11 depth charge attacks over the space of four hours. Immediately, all five destroyers opened fire on the submarine while a British Wellington bomber shifted through the melee at low altitude to drop depth bombs near U-960. The German ship suffered a number of 5-inch hits before submerging again. Niblack responded with more depth charges. That attack evidently rung the death knell for U-960, for she immediately resurfaced, and her crew scrambled off just as she made her final plunge at about 0715 on the 19th. The destroyers picked up the U-boat's captain and 21 of her crew. While Niblack and Ludlow received official credit for sinking the enemy submarine—no doubt a fair assessment considering their four-hour attack and the fact that Niblack probably delivered the coup de grace—Woolsey's 5-inch gunfire probably contributed significantly to the enemy's destruction.
Following that action, Woolsey continued relatively routine patrols until the end of July when she began preparations for the invasion of southern France. For that operation, Woolsey was assigned to the Bombardment Group attached to Camel Force. In that capacity, she supported the landings on the right flank of the assault area—near St. Raphael. During the 15 August invasion, her guns knocked out two German tanks; but, though the Camel area assault proved to be the most heavily contested thrust, the entire southern France operation constituted little more than a walkover.
Consequently, very soon after the initial invasion, Woolsey shifted to supporting the 1st Airborne Division's drive along the coast toward Italy. She fired upon enemy lines of communication along the coast— particularly roads—and supported the liberation of Cannes on 24 August. The destroyer continued her operations along the Franco-Italian coast until late October. At that time, she headed for Naples for a visit before returning to Oran, where she arrived on 29 November. The warship was back off the southern coast of France in mid-December and resumed her interdiction duties until mid-January 1945. At that time, she bade farewell to the Mediterranean and the 8th Fleet. Following a brief tour of duty patrolling in the Azores, Woolsey returned to the United States, arriving in New York on 23 February.
After operating along the New England coast until late April and escorting a convoy to Great Britain in May, the warship returned home to receive a reinforced antiaircraft battery preparatory to her impending transfer to the war in the Pacific. Late in June, she steamed south to conduct refresher training out of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Completing that duty on 7 July, she transited the Panama Canal two days later and reported for duty with the Pacific Fleet. She stopped at San Diego, Calif., from 18 July to 3 August. A week later, while she was still at Pearl Harbor, Japan capitulated. Late in August, she escorted a convoy carrying occupation troops to Japan. She stopped at Sasebo until 26 September and then began a voyage during which she made a series of port visits—at Manila, Shanghai, Okinawa, and Saipan.
From the last-named place, Woolsey got underway on 3 November to return home. After stops at Pearl Harbor and San Diego, the destroyer ended her brief interlude with the Pacific Fleet on 29 November when she retransited the Panama Canal. She arrived in Charleston, S.C., on 4 December and began preparations for inactivation. On 8 March 1946, the destroyer was placed in commission, in reserve. Eleven months later, on 6 February 1947, she was placed out of commission. Berthed with the Charleston Group, Atlantic Reserve Fleet, for 10 years, Woolsey was towed to Boston in late October of 1957. Her name was struck from the Navy list on 1 July 1971, and she was sold to Andy International, Inc., for scrapping on 29 May 1974.
Woolsey (DD-437) earned seven battle stars during World War II.