John Crittenden Watson—born in Frankfort, Ky., on 24 August 1842—graduated from the Naval Academy on 15 June 1860. After tours in Susquehanna and Richmond, Watson was promoted to master on 19 September 1861 and joined Sabine. He distinguished himself in this ship when she went to the aid of the chartered government transport Governor off the coast of South Carolina on the night of 2 and 3 November 1861. Watson managed the cables and hawsers which held the two ships together in spite of a violent gale, allowing some 500 men—marines and crew—to clamber from the foundering Governor to safety in Sabine. His commanding officer, Capt. Cadwalader Ringgold, praised Watson for his "indefatigable exertions" and "utmost skill and efficiency" in keeping the two ships lashed together.
Promoted to lieutenant in July 1862, Watson later served as flag lieutenant to Rear Admiral Farragut, who flew his flag in the steam sloop Hartford, and participated in the Battle of Mobile Bay. He was later wounded by a shell fragment during an engagement with a Confederate battery at Warrington.
Watson served in a number of sea and shore billets into the 1880's, including duty as executive officer of the steam sloop Alaska; the post of inspector of ordnance at the Mare Island Navy Yard, Vallejp, Calif.; command of Wyoming when that warship carried the American exhibit to the Paris Exposition of 1878; and governor of the Naval Home at Philadelphia, Pa.
As a commodore, he hoisted his broad pennant in Newark (Cruiser No. 1) as Commander, Eastern Fleet, on 10 June 1898, shifting later to Oregon (Battleship No. 3). The battleship served as his flagship during the subsequent Battle of Santiago, Cuba, on 3 July 1898, in which the Spanish squadron under Admiral Cervera was destroyed. Promoted to Rear Admiral in 1899, he served as Commander in Chief, Asiatic Fleet, from 20 June 1899 into 1900 before returning to the United States to serve as President of the Naval Examining Board. Watson represented the United States at the coronation of King Edward VII of England in 1902.
Placed on the retired list in 1904, Rear Admiral Watson lived in retirement until he died at Washington, D.C., on 14 December 1923.
Watson (DD-482)—planned as a modified Fletcher-class destroyer to be built at Kearny, N.J., by the Federal Shipbuilding and Drydock Co.—was to be powered by an experimental diesel propulsion system. However, due to more pressing wartime destroyer construction programs, the ship was never laid down, and her construction was cancelled on 7 January 1946