Abner Read, born on 5 April 1821 in Urbana, Ohio, studied at Ohio University, but left that institution a year before graduating to accept a warrant as a midshipman, effective 2 March 1839. Assigned to Enterprise, he departed New York harbor in that schooner on 16 March 1840 and proceeded to South American waters where he served, first in Enterprise and then in Delaware, until the latter sailed for home early in 1844.
Following a year of study at the naval school in Philadelphia, Read was promoted to passed midshipman on 2 July 1845. Dolphin then took him to the Atlantic coast of Africa where she operated against slavers through the summer of 1847.
Next ordered to Fredonia, the promising young officer departed New York in that storeship on 9 January 1848 and proceeded to Veracruz where she arrived a week after the signing of the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. His vessel promptly began issuing supplies to the warships of Commodore Matthew C. Perry's squadron and continued such duty until heading home in June.
Fredonia again left New York on 11 December 1848, bound for California. Gold recently had been discovered there, greatly increasing the importance of and the interest in that newly acquired territory. The ship proceeded south along the Atlantic coast of the Americas, rounded Cape Horn, reached San Francisco Bay on the last day of July 1849, and operated on the west coast during the most tempestuous year of the gold rush. She got underway homeward on the 4th of July 1850, and reached New York on 7 January 1851.
Leave and a tour of duty in Union, the receiving ship at Philadelphia, ensued before Read reported to the side-wheel steamer Saranac in the autumn of 1853. She took him to the Mediterranean, but he left that ship while she was still in European waters and returned to the United States for duty at the Portsmouth (N.H.) Navy Yard.
Meanwhile, Read had been rising in rank. He received his commission as master effective 12 April 1853 and was promoted to lieutenant on 6 February 1854.
Read joined the wardroom of the sloop-of-war Falmouth in the fall of 1854, departed Norfolk, Va., in her on 16 December 1854, and cruised through the West Indies unsuccessfully seeking information concerning Albany. That sloop-of-war had departed Aspinwall, Colombia (now Colon, Panama), on 29 September 1854 and had not been heard from since sailing.
Soon after Falmouth returned to New York in August, Read was shocked to be "dropped from the Navy" on 13 September 1855 in compliance with the recommendation of a board of officers charged with carrying "... into execution an act [of Congress] to promote the efficiency of the Navy." He appealed this decision and was reinstated in rank by a board of inquiry in 1858.
His first ship following his return to duty was Supply which departed New York in the autumn of 1858 and took him back to South American waters as a part of Commodore Shubrick's expedition to demand an apology and retribution for the death of Water Witch's helmsman. That sailor had been killed by fire from Paraguayan batteries upon his side-wheel steamer as she explored the Parana River and its tributaries. Following the resolution of the dispute between the United States and Paraguay through diplomacy backed by a highly visible display of American seapower, Supply operated off the coast of Africa, along the Atlantic coast of the United States, and in the Gulf of Mexico.
Supply arrived at Pensacola, Fla., on 7 December 1860, just a month and a day after Lincoln was elected President, precipitating the secession crisis. A bit over a week later, Wyandotte entered the navy yard at that port to have her hull scraped. That screw steamer was short of officers due to the resignation of Southerners, so Read was detached from Supply and assigned to the new arrival. In her he helped to prevent Fort Pickens from falling into Confederate hands. However, while doing so, he became ill and was sent home to recuperate.
Ready for duty again, Read took command of the newly acquired New London when she was commissioned at New York on 29 October 1861. Assigned to the Gulf Squadron, his screw steamer was stationed in Mississippi Sound where, shortly before midnight on 21 November 1861, she joined screw gunboat R. R. Cuyler in taking the lumber-laden schooner Olive. In ensuing months, New London took over 30 prizes. Her success was so remarkable that Flag Officer Farragut felt that he must hold New London in his new command even though she had been assigned to the eastern group when the Navy divided its forces in the gulf into two squadrons. "... Lieutenant Read's having made her such a terror to the Confederates in this quarter," he explained, "... that justice to the service required me to keep her . . . ."She was, he maintained, " . . . absolutely necessary to command the inland passage . . . ."
Read and his ship were ever ready to face up to any challenge which confronted them. When he found "... two rebel steamers. . . at Pass Christian . . . "on 25 March 1862, New London headed straight for the Southern ships, CSS Pamlico and CSS Oregon, and drove them off to the protection of Southern shore batteries after a two-hour engagement.
A bit over a year later, on 18 April 1863, Read, who had been promoted to lieutenant commander on 16 July 1862, led a boat expedition which landed near the lighthouse at Sabine Pass. It was attacked by a large force of Confederate troops who had been hiding behind the light keeper's house. All but one member of Read's crew were wounded as they raced back to their boat and rowed to New London. Read himself suffered a serious gunshot wound of the eye. Yet, despite his painful injury, he remained on duty until New London returned to New Orleans late in May for repairs.
While work on New London was still in progress, Read was detached from her on 22 June 1863 and ordered to relieve Capt. Melancton Smith in command of Monongahela. Six days later, his new ship headed up the Mississippi to defend Donaldsonville, La., which was then being threatened by Southern troops. As its beleaguered riparian fortresses at Vicksburg and Port Hudson were about to slip from its grasp, the Confederacy was struggling desperately, albeit vainly, to maintain some hold on the river. New London spent the ensuing days patrolling the Mississippi between Donaldsonville and New Orleans. On the morning of 7 July 1863, Southern forces opened fire on the ship with artillery and musketry when she was about 10 miles below Donaldsonville. A shell smashed through the bulwarks on her port quarter wounding Read in his abdomen and his right knee. He was taken to a hospital at Baton Rouge where he died on the evening of the next day.
Farragut and the other officers of the squadron were lavish in praise of their fallen comrade. The admiral said that Read had "... perhaps done as much fighting as any man in this war . . . ." "The very mention of his name," Farragut maintained, "was a source of terror to the rebels." On another occasion, the admiral said, "I know nothing of him prejudicial as a man, but I do know that no Navy can boast a better officer and I deem him a great loss both to the Navy and to his country."
(DD-526: displacement 3,050 (full load); length 376'6"; beam 39'4"; draft 17'9"; speed 35.5 knots; complement 321; armament 5 5-inch, 8 40 millimeter, 7 20 millimeter, 10 21-inch torpedo tubes, 2 depth charge tracks, 6 depth charge projectors; class Fletcher)
Abner Read (DD-526) was laid down on 30 October 1941 at San Francisco, Calif., by the Bethlehem Steel Co.; launched on 18 August 1942; sponsored by Mrs. John W. Gates, the wife of Capt. John W. Gates; and commissioned on 5 February 1943, Cmdr. Thomas Burrowes in command.
The destroyer held shakedown along the California coast into April 1943 and then got underway with Task Group (TG) 51.2, bound for the Aleutian Islands. She assumed patrol duties on 4 May and, on the 11th, shelled targets on Attu Island supporting soldiers of the Army's 7th Division who landed and were assaulting that island. The destroyer again bombarded Attu on the 16th before returning to San Diego, which she reached on the last day of May.
After two weeks in drydock at San Francisco, Abner Read got underway on 14 June 1943 for Adak, Alaska. Upon her arrival there, she joined Task Force (TF) 16 and, soon thereafter, began patrolling the waters around Kiska Island. On 22 July, as part of TG 16.22, she took part in a heavy bombardment of Kiska. Between 12 and 15 August, the destroyer again shelled Kiska in support of landing operations on that island. On 17 August, U.S. forces discovered that Japan had removed its forces from the island. While she was patrolling off Kiska that night, Abner Read was shaken by an explosion aft at 0150. The exact cause of the blast was unknown, and it was later thought that the destroyer had struck a mine. The concussion tore a huge hole in her stern and ruptured her smoke tanks. Men sleeping in aft compartments suffered from smoke inhalation. In the darkness, a few men fell through holes in the deck into fuel oil tanks below. Soon the stern broke away and sank. Once in the water, the men recovered from the effects of the smoke and could breathe. Abner Read was taken under tow by the fleet tug Ute (AT-76) at 0355 and was pulled to Adak for temporary repairs. The destroyer lost 70 men who were killed or missing, and another 47 were wounded.
Following a month of temporary repair work in various Alaskan ports, Abner Read was towed by Oriole (AT-136) to the Puget Sound Navy Yard, Bremerton, Wash., where she was laid up on keel blocks on 7 October 1943 to receive extensive repair work. The yard work was finished on 21 December 1943, and the destroyer commenced training exercises and trials. She moved to Pearl Harbor in February 1944; and, while she was underway for Hollandia, New Guinea, her starboard propeller was damaged. This accident required her to put in to Milne Bay, New Guinea, on 1 March for repairs. The ship was then attached to TF 75 and participated in the bombardment of Hollandia on 22 April. She provided fire support for the initial landing at Humboldt Bay by the central attack group in Operation Reckless. Her next targets were on the Wakde Islands off the coast of Dutch New Guinea. She sought to neutralize Japanese airstrips located there by concentrated bombardment, which she conducted on 30 April. Abner Read then moved on to Wewak and, on 12 May, bombarded Japanese batteries which had been hindering the efforts of American motor torpedo boats to destroy enemy barge traffic.
The destroyer rendered fire support for the landings at Arara, New Guinea, and bombarded the Wakde-Toem area on 17 May. As part of TG 77.3, she pounded Japanese targets on Biak in the Schouten Islands. From 8 to 9 June, she was involved in an engagement with a Japanese task force off the north coast of Biak. Abner Read took part in a night bombardment of Wewak on 18 and 19 June. Her next target was Noemfoor Island, which she hit on 2 July to cover the landing operations on the island. Following this extended period of action, she retired to Seeadler Harbor for tender availability.
Getting underway on 8 August 1944, Abner Read made a trip to Sydney, Australia, before returning to proceed to supporting the seizure of Morotai on 15 September in the Halmahera group. Her next action was a shore bombardment on Ponam Island in the Admiralties on 7 October. On 17 October, she then began steaming toward Leyte Gulf, and she entered San Pedro Bay on the 20th, D-day for Leyte, and patrolled off the beachheads in ensuing days.
In the hope of turning back the American invasion, the Japanese struck back fiercely with sea and air power. On 1 November 1944, the Japanese launched kamikaze attacks on ships of TG 77.1, which was patrolling lower Leyte Gulf to protect the beachhead. At approximately 1341, an Aichi D3A Type 99 carrier bomber [Val] burst into flames and plunged toward Abner Read. A bomb from the raider dropped down one of the destroyer's stacks and exploded in her after engine room. The plane, in the meantime, came down diagonally across the main deck, setting fire to the entire after section. The ship lost water pressure and this made firefighting efforts impossible. At 1352, a tremendous internal explosion occurred, causing her to list about 10 degrees to starboard and to sink by the stern. At 1415, Abner Read rolled over on her starboard side and sank stern first. Destroyers quickly came to the aid of survivors and rescued all but 22 members of Abner Read's crew.
Abner Read received four battle stars for her World War II service.
James L. Mooney (Biography), LuAnn Parsons (Ship History)
A second destroyer, DD-769, was assigned the name Abner Read but her construction was cancelled on 12 September 1946.