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officers, 1775-1900

Officers - Continental & US Navy/Marine Corps 1775-1900


Names, ranks, dates. That is all the reader will find in this online publication, Officers of the Continental and U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, 1775-1900, which is derived from a 1901 compilation. And yet there is more. This alphabetical listing of leaders from these two military services contains the names of the legendary and the obscure, the wartime notables and the peacetime unknowns, the heroic and the humdrum. Beneath these names lies one segment of the history of America during its first 125 years that still awaits the introspective investigation of the genealogist and the historian. The original printed work edited by Edward W. Callahan, List of Officers of the Navy of the United States and the Marine Corps from 1775 to 1900, made the career ranks of these officers readily accessible to twentieth-century scholars in one volume. Recognizing its importance as a valuable research tool, the Naval Historical Center digitized and revised the list for online use, making the data searchable for today's scholars.

This immense project could never have become a reality without the participation of many people. A coordinated effort by the Naval Historical Center's Early History, Operational Archives, and Navy Department Library branches was supplemented by volunteers.

Historical Background

Since its first appearance more than a century ago, the List of Officers of the Navy of the United States and of the Marine Corps from 1775 to 1900... (New York: L. R. Hamersly, 1901) edited by Edward W. Callahan, has been the starting point for researchers seeking progressive rank information (the date each rank was attained) for commissioned, warranted, and appointed officers in the Navy and Marine Corps for the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

The one hundred years leading up to the publication of Callahan's list witnessed an evolution in the recording of naval ranks from private lists of names (some lists had current rank), to official annual registers (unalphabetized names with current ranks), to privately published compilations (alphabetized names with progressive ranks). As Congress did not require registers until 1812, between 1798 and 1814 private publishers printed lists of naval officers, often with their current rank. Responding to a House of Representatives resolution of 23 January 1812 calling for a "statement of the name, rank, pay, and rations, of each commissioned officer and midshipman belonging to the navy of the United States," Secretary of the Navy Paul Hamilton also included in his 3 February 1812 transmittal a listing of warrant officers and Marines. Not until the United States was in its second year of war did Congress again broach the subject of registers. This time the Senate passed, on 2 August 1813, a resolution requesting that the Department of the Navy provide an annual list of officers. Secretary of the Navy William Jones transmitted to the Senate on 21 February 1814 the commission dates for all commissioned officers but the warrant dates only for midshipmen. Information on Marines was not included. The Senate published this list in a twenty-nine-page pamphlet that is considered the first officially printed Navy register. Meanwhile, in response to a 3 March 1813 House resolution requesting a list with rank, pay, and duty station, the Navy Department on 30 November 1814 supplied the information for commissioned officers and some warrant officers, but not for the Marines. In 1815 the Navy Department issued two registers, with the 1 August edition being more comprehensive than the one of 11 December, as the former included duty stations. A Senate resolution of 13 December 1815 required the Secretaries of War and Navy to furnish registers of their respective officers annually to every senator, thus introducing regularity to their compilation.

As the nineteenth century progressed, the Navy Department issued registers that were more reference works than mere directories of current officers. The contents varied over time, but the registers included lists of administrative personnel and ships' stations, pay tables, and congressional laws pertaining to the Navy. A wealth of information regarding the Navy is found in these volumes, but as the Navy grew in size, the registers became cumbersome as both a ready reference and a historical tool. The lack of a single alphabetical list containing an officer's progressive rank undermined their usefulness.

The Washington law firm of Mechlin & Winder in 1848 attempted to rectify this deficiency with the publication of A General Register of the Navy and Marine Corps of the United States... (Washington: C. Alexander, 1848). While not an official Navy publication, this book garnered accolades from three Navy bureau chiefs for its "usefulness and its correctness" in providing an alphabetically arranged list of officers and the dates of their promotions. Previously, a person interested in an officer's service record had to mine the lists of every rank in every register spanning the person's naval career and cull out the specific information wanted. Mechlin & Winder arranged officers into four groups: line, staff, Marines, and engineers. Using a tabular format that covered two facing pages, each group featured columns of ranks in ascending order: line officers were ranged from sailmaker to captain; staff, from chaplain to purser; Marines, from second lieutenant to brevet brigadier general commandant; and engineers, from third assistant to engineer in chief. The rows of alphabetically arranged officers contained dates of entry into particular ranks. Although one could trace an officer's progressive rank via this layout, it was difficult to follow the information over a two-page span. Also, the benefits derived from alphabetizing the officers' names were only partial, because the editors only alphabetized the first two letters of the last name. Despite these drawbacks, this private publication provided valuable historical data.

The size of the Navy register during the Civil War reflected the tremendous influx of naval personnel and necessitated the addition of a fully alphabetized name index. Recognizing the value of indexes as a searching aid, the Navy Department included them in all postwar registers. The usefulness of the registers remained limited, however, as they provided only the ranks and dates of an officer's first and most recent warrant or commission without listing those he might have held in between.

The Civil War spawned a resurgence of interest in military history, and two brothers, Lewis R. and Thomas H. S. Hamersly, grandsons of a naval officer who served during the War of 1812, each edited several naval reference works. In 1882, two years after publishing an Army register compilation, Thomas Hamersly issued one for the Navy (General Register of the United States Navy and Marine Corps Arranged in Alphabetical Order, for One Hundred Years (1782 to 1882)... Washington, D.C., 1882). The format consisted of a list of entries of all Navy and Marine Corps officers who ever served, each entry arranged in alphabetical order and containing "the dates of their original entry, of their progressive rank, and in what manner they left the service." While editing, compiling, and printing the volume himself, Hamersly had the valuable assistance of Navy Department and Marine Corps staff in transcribing service records from the original manuscripts. A proponent of naval expansion, Hamersly noted in the preface his "gratification" that the timing of his compilation coincided with the government's efforts to increase the number of vessels and enlisted men in the fleet. The new steel Navy was literally taking form in the nation's shipyards.

Lewis Hamersly, who served in the Navy from 1862 to 1866 as a master's mate and acting ensign, and as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps from 1866 to 1869, joined the publishing trade after his naval service, first as an editor and then as a publisher. His series of volumes, The Records of Living Officers of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps (seven editions from 1870 to 1902), recorded the full service records of living naval officers from admiral through lieutenant commander and of Marines from brigadier general through the rank of first lieutenant. Hamersly considered the basic information supplied in the annual registers--name, place of birth, date of last commission or warrant, and present station--inadequate, and supplemented it with material on career-spanning duty stations. Once he established his own publishing house, Hamersly himself printed the later editions of Records of Living Officers as well as other reference works such as A Naval Encyclopædia (1881) and First Citizens of the Republic: An Historical Work Giving Portraits and Sketches of the Most Eminent Citizens of the United States (1906).

In 1901, Lewis R. Hamersly's publishing firm printed the List of Officers of the Navy of the United States and of the Marine Corps from 1775 to 1900. Hamersly had engaged Edward W. Callahan, then registrar of the Bureau of Navigation at the Navy Department, as editor. A comparison of this publication with the 1882 compilation edited by his brother, Thomas H. S. Hamersly, demonstrates that Lewis relied heavily on his brother's work but revised it using the records of those who served in the intervening twenty years. The organization and historical essays of both works are identical. Minor changes in the later work's type size saved space, accommodating more names. Likewise, errors were transferred as well. For example, the name of the Marine Corps' second commandant, Franklin Wharton, was misspelled "Whorton" in both publications. Edward W. Callahan's contribution to the 1901 book was probably to update it. Thus the Navy Department staff that furnished Thomas Hamersly with the original material contributed the most to both compilations' publication.

The U.S. Naval Historical Center used the 1901 "Callahan" publication as the basis for this online compilation of officers from 1775 to 1901. In the interests of historical accuracy, this Web edition contains the contemporary rendering of ranks rather than the modernized versions supplied by Callahan. Thus, master commandant, sailing master, and surgeon's mate have replaced commander, master, and assistant surgeon for the time periods in which those names of ranks were in use. This version also uses modern alphabetizing conventions. Where appropriate, the names of some noteworthy officers, as well as those of all ships mentioned in the text, have been linked to other sections of the Center's Web site where the reader will find additional information on them. Nothing comparable to the Callahan/Hamersly compilation that lists progressive rank exists for the twentieth and twenty-first-century Navy.

Additional Sources

U.S. Office of Naval Records and Library, Naval Documents Related to the Quasi-War between the United States and France: Naval Operations from December 1800 to December 1801 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1938), 315-63.

U.S. Office of Naval Records and Library, Register of Officer Personnel, United States Navy and Marine Corps and Ships' Data, 1801-1807 Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1945).

National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C., Record Group 24.3.1, Abstracts of Service Records Relating to Naval Officers, 1798-1924.

National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C., Record Group 45.2.3 (contains muster rolls, rosters, and registers of appointments).

Bolander, Louis H. "The Navy Register; Its Evolution." Bulletin of the New York Public Library 58 (July 1954): 337-43.

Published: Fri Sep 02 11:49:21 EDT 2016