George Frederick Phillips was born on 8 March 1862 in St. John, New Brunswick, Canada. He enlisted in the US Navy from Galveston, Texas and served as a Machinist First Class in the collier Merrimac during the Spanish-American War. Phillips remained with her as one of eight volunteer crew members when Rear Admiral William T. Sampson ordered Merrimac sunk to block the entrance of Santiago Harbor, Cuba. On the night of 2-3 June 1898, during the courageous attempt to execute this mission, Merrimac's steering gear was disabled by enemy gunfire, and she sank without obstructing navigation. Her crewmen were rescued by the Spanish and made prisoners-of-war. After the Battle of Santiago de Cuba destroyed the Spanish fleet a month later, Phillips and his shipmates were released. For his "extraordinary heroism" during this operation, he was awarded the Medal of Honor.
George F. Phillips may have remained in the Navy after the Spanish-American War, since one published source on the Medal of Honor states that his highest rank was Chief Machinist (a warrant officer rank). However, no mention of him could be located in any Navy Register or Navy Reserve Register from 1899 to 1957. The same source reports that he died on 4 June 1904 in Cambridge, Massachusetts and is buried at Fernhill Cemetery, St. John, New Brunswick.
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Photo #: NH 79954
USS Merrimac Operation, 3 June 1898
Halftone reproduction of a photograph, published in "Deeds of Valor," Volume II, page 370, by the Perrien-Keydel Company, Detroit, 1907. This image shows an artistic interpretation of the scuttling of USS Merrimac across the entrance of Santiago Harbor, Cuba, with portraits of her crew on this mission. The crew members from upper left to right are Lieutenant Richmond P. Hobson, Coxswain Claus K. R. Clausen (note: official sources state Clausen's first name to be Claus, not Randolph), Coxswain Osborn W. Deignan, Watertender Francis Kelly. The crew members from lower left to right are Coxswain John E. Murphy, Chief Master-At-Arms Daniel Montague, Machinist First Class George F. Phillips, and Gunner's Mate First Class George Charette. All the crew members received the Medal of Honor for this operation.
U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.
Online Image: 87KB; 585 x 765 pixels
Medal of Honor citation of Machinist First Class George F. Phillips (as printed in the official publication "Medal of Honor, 1861-1949, The Navy", page 78):
Page made 3 May 2006