Charles Wilkes--born on 3 April 1798 in New York City, N.Y.--served in merchant ships (1815-1817) before being appointed a midshipman in the U.S. Navy on New Year's Day 1818. Following initial training in the ship-of-the-line Independence, he transferred to the frigate Guerriere in July 1818 for a cruise in the Baltic and Mediterranean Seas. After a two-month assignment in Washington between March and May 1821, Midshipman Wilkes received orders to the ship-of-the-line Franklin, in which he voyaged to South America. During that cruise, Wilkes briefly commanded Franklin's tender Water Witch before being detached from Franklin, on 3 March 1823, to command the U.S. merchant ship Ocain on her way back to Boston, where she arrived on 15 October. From there, he reported to Washington for duty in conjunction with the court-martial of Capt. Charles Stewart, his former commanding officer in Franklin. On 28 April 1827, Wilkes was promoted to lieutenant. Apparently at home awaiting orders between 1826 and 1830, Wilkes requested surveying duty in March of 1827 but withdrew his application in July 1828 in favor of one for duty with a proposed exploring expedition. Late that fall, he received orders to New York where he set about the task of procuring the necessary instruments for that endeavor.
The following spring, Wilkes learned that he had been chosen to command the South Seas Exploring Expedition. President Martin Van Buren approved his appointment on 20 April 1829, and Wilkes assumed command of the sloop-of-war Vincennes at Norfolk on 7 July. He received his final orders on 11 August and set sail in Vincennes, in company with Peacock, Porpoise, Sea Gull, Flying Fish, and Relief, on the 18th. After stops at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and Tierra del Fuego located at the southern tip of South America, Wilkes took his expedition on its first cruise through Antarctic waters in February and March 1839. He returned to Tierra del Fuego and then later headed through the South Pacific to Sydney, Australia, where he arrived on 29 November. On the day after Christmas, he embarked upon his second voyage to the Antarctic. In January 1840, he sighted the actual land mass which constitutes Antarctica, though it took later explorations to vindicate his assertions that the continent existed.
By late spring 1840, the expedition moved north again and began the exploration of the islands of the South Pacific. After surveying the Fiji Islands between May and August, the expedition departed those islands, bound for Hawaii on 11 August. The Hawaiian survey, conducted between 24 September 1840 and 5 April 1841, centered upon a study of the volcanoes, Mauna Loa and Kilauea. Wilkes completed his work in Hawaii in April 1841 and set sail on the 5th for the west coast. After surveys of parts of the coast of the Pacific Northwest during the summer of 1841, he brought his expedition into San Francisco on 14 August. On 1 November, it put to sea once again, this time for a voyage to the western Pacific. During that cruise, Wilkes visited Manila, Philippines, the British colony at Singapore, and Cape Town colony on the southern tip of Africa. Wilkes and his command concluded the expedition upon arrival at New York on 10 June 1842.
For almost 19 years, Wilkes worked with the data gathered by his expedition. During that period, he supervised the publication of the results of that exploration in a series of Narratives under the auspices of the Navy. He also received two promotions during that time-to commander in 1843 and to captain in 1855. The only break in this duty came in the second half of 1858 when the Secretary of the Navy sent Wilkes on a special mission to evaluate the potential for naval use of the natural resources-primarily iron, coal, and timber-of North Carolina's Deep River region.
The outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, however, brought an interruption to his scientific work. On 19 April, he was detached from his duty with the expedition publication program in order to help destroy the Norfolk Navy Yard before Union forces abandoned it to the Confederacy. In May, Capt. Wilkes received orders to take command of the steam-powered frigate San Jacinto. He arrived on board his new command on 27 August, at Monrovia, Liberia, just before she set sail to return to the United States. During the voyage home, he took her to the West Indies in search of the Confederate commerce raider, CSS Sumter, under the command of Capt. Raphael Semmes, later commanding officer of the famous Confederate cruiser CSS Alabama.
During that mission, his ship stopped at Cienfuegos, Cuba, for coal, and Wilkes learned that the Confederacy's commissioners to England and France, James Mason and John Slidell, had escaped from Charleston, S.C., on board the fast coastal packet Theodora and were then in Havana awaiting transportation to Europe. San Jacinto quickly headed for Havana, hoping to catch Theodora when she embarked upon her return trip but arrived a day late. He learned, however, that Mason and Slidell were still in Cuba and planned to board the British mail packet Trent at St. Thomas for the voyage to Europe.
Thereupon, he concocted a plan to intercept Trent in Old Bahama Channel, some 230 miles east of Havana, and capture the two Confederate diplomats. On 8 November 1861, the British ship steamed into sight, and Wilkes coerced her into stopping with two shots across her bow. A boarding party seized Mason and Slidell and their secretaries and then allowed the neutral ship to continue her voyage. San Jacinto then headed home with her prisoners. Upon his arrival in Boston, Wilkes received loud popular acclaim for his action, but soon the clouds of war with Great Britain over the incident began to darken the horizon. Ultimately, the dubious legality of Wilkes' action and the threat of war with Britain and France brought a complete disavowal of Wilkes' act by the Federal Government and the release of the prisoners.
Capt. Wilkes was detached from San Jacinto on 30 November 1861, and ordered to duty with the Board of Naval Examiners. That assignment lasted until the following summer. He commanded the James River Flotilla briefly (July-August 1862) and received his promotion to commodore at that time. On 29 August, Wilkes left that post and took over the Potomac River Flotilla -- an assignment that proved to be of short duration. On 8 September, he received orders to command the West India Squadron. Promoted to acting rear admiral, Wilkes directed the West India Squadron, primarily concerned with hunting down Confederate commerce raiders and blockade runners, until the summer of 1863. On 1 June, he was detached from the squadron and, on the 30th, set sail from Havana for the United States in the screw frigate Roanoke.
Conflicts with the Navy Department, probably stemming from his treatment during the Trent affair negotiations, culminated in Wilkes' court-martial early in 1864 over the publication of a letter he wrote to Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles. Wilkes castigated the secretary for statements made against him in his annual report. On 26 April 1864, Acting Rear Adm. Wilkes was found guilty by court-martial of disobedience of orders, insubordination, and other specifications and was sentenced to receive a public reprimand and suspension from the service for three years. President Abraham Lincoln reduced the term of suspension to one year, at the conclusion of which Wilkes retired from the Navy. On 6 August 1866, he was promoted to rear admiral on the retired list and, for the remainder of his life, worked for the completion of publication of the results of the Wilkes Exploring Expedition. He also took time out to do some writing, including an autobiography.
Wilkes died at Washington, D.C., on 8 February 1877. Initially interred at Oak Hill Cemetery in Washington, D.C., his body was later moved to Arlington (Va.) National Cemetery in August 1909.
(Destroyer No. 67: displacement 1,110; length 315'3"; beam 29'11"; draft 10'8"; speed 29.58 knots; complement 99; armament 4 4-inch, 2 1-pounders, 2 .30-caliber machine guns, 12 21-inch torpedo tubes; class Sampson)
The second Wilkes (Destroyer No. 67) was laid down on 11 March 1915 at Philadelphia, Pa., by the William Cramp & Sons Ship & Engine Building Co.; launched on 18 May 1916; sponsored by Miss Carrie McIver Wilkes; and commissioned on 10 November 1916, Lt. Comdr. Julius F. Hellweg in command.
After her commissioning, Wilkes carried out a short shakedown cruise and then was attached to the Ninth Destroyer Division. She sailed with the Atlantic Fleet in January 1917, for winter maneuvers in Cuban waters. Wilkes arrived at Norfolk, Va. and rendezvoused with the fleet in the York River, in preparation for war. War was declared on Germany on 6 April. Wilkes remained with this force until 1 May, when she received orders to the New York Navy Yard for overhaul in preparation for distant service. While en route, she escorted the French cruiser Amiral Auge to New York.
On 7 May 1917, the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations organized destroyers fitting out for distant service into designated divisions. Wilkes was assigned to Division Nine with Aylwin (Destroyer No. 47), Parker (Destroyer No.48), Balch (Destroyer No.50), Ammen (Destroyer No.35), and Burrows (Destroyer No.29). While Wilkes was still at New York, before her departure for distant service, she had cause to flood her forward magazines. This resulted in the convening of a board of inquiry (21-22 May). On 14 June, the first American Expeditionary Force (AEF) convoy sailed in four groups sailed from New York bound for St. Nazaire, France. Wilkes was in Group 1 with the armored cruiser Seattle (Armored Cruiser No. 11), the armed yacht Corsair (S. P. 159), Terry (Destroyer No. 25), and Roe (Destroyer No. 24), the troop transport DeKalb (Id. No. 3010), and the U.S. Army Transports (USAT) Tenadores, Saratoga, Havana, and Pastores. Kanawha (Fuel Ship No. 13) and Maumee (Fuel Ship No. 14) preceded the convoy to refuel the destroyers at sea as required.
While enroute on 22 June 1917, one of the leading ships of the convoy blew several blasts of her siren indicating the presence of an enemy submarine. Wilkes went to general quarters and moved toward the ship that sounded the danger signal, in doing so, however, Seattle cut her off and she was forced to turn away and go at full speed to clear her. Wilkes’ oscillator operators reported strong submarine sounds to starboard. The ship zigzagged in that direction to bring the sound ahead. At 1010, a ship at the head of the column fired a shot and the convoy scattered. Eventually the sounds died away as the convoy maneuvered back into formation. At 2215 a wake was distinctly observed passing under Wilkes, starboard to port, in the direction of the convoy. The wake was about six feet wide and did not appear to move at torpedo speed. In accordance with orders, Seattle took position 1,000 yards to the rear of the convoy to guard against stern attack. The next day, Cushing (Destroyer No. 55), Jacob Jones (Destroyer No. 61), Conyngham (Destroyer No. 58), Nicholson (Destroyer No. 52), and O’Brien (Destroyer No. 51), out of Base No. 6 at Queenstown [Cobh], Ireland, rendezvoused with Group 1, now composed of Seattle, DeKalb, Wilkes, Terry, Roe, Tenadores, Saratoga, Havana, and Pastores and proceeded to escort the ships into St. Nazaire on 26 June.
Wilkes then headed for Portsmouth, England, where she celebrated Independence Day. From there, she continued on to her permanent base, Queenstown, where she arrived on 6 July 1917. Vice Adm. William S. Sims, Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, cabled the Bureau of Steam Engineering in Washington, D.C., on the 7th, that Wilkes exercised with a submerged British submarine to test special equipment to listen and locate the submarine. The tests yielded poor results and Sims advised against further installation of the present equipment, but strongly recommended “continued and energetic experiment and development” of such equipment at New London, Conn.
Wilkes operated from the Base No. 6 for the duration of World War I. For the most part, she conducted antisubmarine patrols and escorted convoys bound for England on the last leg of their voyage. Occasionally, however, she was called upon to shepherd convoys into port at Brest and Saint Nazaire, France. Although her duties appeared routine, they were strenuous. She spent many arduous days at sea in the stormy Atlantic with only hours or, at most, a day or two in port to provision. Wilkes and Jarvis (Destroyer No. 38) rescued 45 survivors of the British steamer Purley, sunk earlier in the day on 25 July 1917 by U-46 (Kapitänleutnant Leo Hillebrand commanding). About six weeks later on 8 September, Wilkes sighted a suspicious looking oil slick. Having found large globules of oil rising to the surface, the destroyer dropped depth charges with negative results. On 16 December, UB-65 (Kapitänleutnant Martin Schelle) torpedoed the British sloop HMS Arbutus in St. George Channel, Wilkes and Parker stood by and patrolled the area until the tugs Francis Batey and Margaret Ham arrived to tow her into Milford Haven, Wales. The destroyers continued to safeguard the ship until ordered to search for the submarine. After they departed, there was an explosion on board Arbutus and she sank. Incoming heavy weather precluded the continuation of the search and Wilkes returned to port with minor damage.
Through the initial months of 1918, Wilkes continued her escorting and patrolling duties. On 8 April 1918, in company with Wainwright (Destroyer No. 62), Ammen, McCall (Destroyer No. 28), and Winslow (Destroyer No. 53), Wilkes departed Queenstown and proceeded toward a rendezvous with the British steamship Aquitania for escort into Liverpool, England. Meeting her on 9 April, they escorted the liner into the British port shortly after midnight on 11 April. Having completed the escort, Wilkes and Ammen remained at Liverpool and entered the yard for a refit period. With that yard work completed, both destroyers escorted Aquitania on her outbound westward passage from Liverpool until leaving her at 2200 the next night.
Wilkes departed Queenstown on 30 May 1918 to hunt for submarines between Daunt Rock and Smalls, Ireland, when at 1232, when 9 miles from Connigbeh, the British dirigible SSZ-56 approached her and signaled that she had dropped a bomb on an oil slick about three miles northward and that oil was still bubbling to the surface. The destroyer followed the airship to the site and dropped four depth charges. Two British trawlers also later joined in the endeavor, though no results were visible. This was the first time that Wilkes had co-operated with aircraft. The British Commander-in-Chief, Coast of Ireland, Admiral Sir Lewis Bayly issued a memorandum on the operation and recommended that Wilkes be rewarded for her conduct in the operation.
Later, on 13 June 1918, Wilkes, Sterett, and Trippe (Destroyer No. 33) were escorting the armed merchant cruiser HMS Patia to Avonmouth, England, when she was torpedoed off the entrance to the Bristol Channel at 1425 by UC-49 (Oberleutnant zur See Hans Kükenthal). As the British ship veered to starboard and settled into the water, Trippe maneuvered to where she was struck and dropped a barrage of ten depth charges. Wilkes likewise attempted to engage the submarine with depth charges. Patia sank at 1455, after which Wilkes and Trippe rescued the survivors and transported them into Milford Haven. Several weeks later, on 1 July, Wilkes collided with the French destroyer Temeraire off Ushant. With her bow damaged, Wilkes arrived at Devonport, England, for repairs on the 3rd. While in the yard, the destroyer not only underwent repairs for the collision damage, but she also underwent overhaul. Afterward, Wilkes resumed her routine duties through the ending of hostilities with the Armistice on 11 November. With war’s end, Wilkes departed Queenstown and headed for home on 26 December and arrived in New York on 7 January 1919.
Immediately upon her return, Wilkes began overhaul at New York. With her maintenance period completed, the destroyer embarked on a noteworthy postwar mission on 1 May 1919--duty as a picket ship for the first trans-Atlantic flight. Only one of the four Navy-Curtiss (NC) flying boats involved in the mission, however, actually completed the flight. NC-4 reached the Azores at Horta on 17 May, made the hop to Ponta Delgada on the 20th, and departed the Azores for Lisbon, Portugal, on the 27th. Wilkes served as a picket on that second leg of the flight as the fourth ship in a line of 14 destroyers between the Azores and the European continent. NC-4 reached her destination that same day, bringing to a close Wilkes' part in the event. While NC-4 finished the third and last leg of its flight from Lisbon to Plymouth, England (30-31 May), Wilkes pointed her bow homeward. The destroyer reentered New York harbor on 4 June and resumed peacetime operations along the Atlantic coast. For the next 34 months, she plied the waters off the eastern seaboard in the spring, summer, and fall. Late each fall, she headed south to participate in fleet maneuvers in Cuban waters, the Caribbean, and the Gulf of Mexico. During that time, she was based at three different ports-Newport, R.I.; New York, N.Y.; and Charleston, S.C. On 12 April 1922, Wilkes entered the Philadelphia Navy Yard where she was placed out of commission on 5 June 1922.
Wilkes remained inactive at Philadelphia into 1926. On 25 March, her name was stricken from the Navy list and she was transferred to the Treasury Department for service with the Coast Guard. Wilkes and the four other destroyers transferred with her were needed to supplement the 20 transferred in 1924 and 1925 for the enforcement of the 18th Amendment (Prohibition). Maintaining her name, Wilkes was re-designated CG-25. Ordered to be stationed at the Boston (Mass.) Navy Yard on 22 May, those orders were amended on 5 June. She was instead assigned to Division Four, Destroyer Force, at New London where she was commissioned on 23 August 1926, Lt. Cmdr. Michael J. Ryan, USCG, in command.
While capable of well over 25 knots, seemingly an advantage in the interdicting of rumrunners, Wilkes was easily outmaneuvered by smaller vessels. As a result, the destroyer picketed the larger supply ships ("mother ships") on “Rum Row” in an attempt to prevent them from off-loading their illicit cargo onto the smaller, speedier contact boats that ran the spirits to shore. A little over a year after her commissioning, Wilkes was reassigned to Division One, Destroyer Force, Boston Navy Yard, on 24 October 1927. During this assignment, Wilkes won the USCG Gunnery Trophy for Destroyers in Gunnery Year 1928-1929. Shortly, after completing the gunnery shoot, on 31 March 1928, she received orders reassigning her to New London. During this assignment, she again won the USCG Gunnery Trophy for Destroyers for Gunnery Year 1930-1931. Just as she had when she won the trophy previously, Wilkes received orders re-assigning her duty station. Assigned to Boston again, she arrived there on 17 April 1931. After two years operating from the Boston Navy Yard, U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters authorized another permanent change of station to Stapleton (Staten Island), N.Y., on 22 May 1933. She reported for duty on 6 June.
In August 1933, Cuban President Gerardo Machado went into exile as a result of popular unrest and an army revolt. He was replaced by Carlos Manuel de Céspedes. Within weeks, he, too, was overthrown by a faction led by Fulgencio Batista. Given the unstable situation, President Franklin D. Roosevelt dispatched a naval force to Cuban waters. Having reported to Hampton Roads, Va., in early September with the other units of the Destroyer Force for annual target practice, Wilkes discontinued those exercises and departed in company with the seven other Coast Guard destroyers for Key West, Fla. on 7 September 1933. Arriving two days later, Wilkes reported to Rear Adm. Charles S. Freeman, Commander, Special Service Squadron, on board Richmond (CL-9). Wilkes operated in the Florida Strait and around Cuba, touching at Matanzas, Cuba on 25 September. She later shifted to Havana, from whence she departed on 18 October. Bound for a return to Key West, the destroyer arrived that same day. Wilkes, along with the other Coast Guard units, was released from duty with the Navy on 6 November and Coast Guard Headquarters directed her to return to her duties in the Eastern Area.
With the ratification of the 21st Amendment and the repeal of Prohibition on 5 December 1933, the Coast Guard no longer had a need for the former Navy destroyers. Wilkes completed her last Coast Guard patrol at Philadelphia on 15 March 1934. The destroyer was placed out of commission on 29 March at the Philadelphia Navy Yard and returned to the Navy on 27 April.
Wilkes was stricken from the Navy list on 5 July 1934 and sold to Michael Flynn, Inc., of Brooklyn, N.Y., on 22 August 1934, in accordance with the London Treaty on the Reduction of Naval Armament.
||Dates of Command
|Lt. Cmdr. Julius F. Hellweg
||10 November 1916 – 10 January 1917
|Lt. (j.g.) Thomas E. Van Metre
||10 January 1917 – 29 March 1917
|Lt. Cmdr. John C. Fremont
||29 March 1917 – 29 January 1918
|Cmdr. Frank D. Berrien
||29 January 1918 – 10 June 1918
|Lt. Cmdr. Thomas A. Symington
||10 June 1918 – 19 October 1918
|Cmdr. Andrew S. Hickey
||19 October 1918 – 11 July 1919
|Cmdr. Edward C. S. Parker
||11 July 1919 – 13 August 1919
|Lt. (j.g.) Thomas J. Griffin
||13 August 1919 – 15 March 1920
|Lt. John H. Cassady
||15 March 1920 – 23 November 1921
|Lt. Edmund J. Kidder
||23 November 1921 – 26 June 1922
|Lt. Cmdr. Michael J. Ryan, USCG
||16 June 1926 – 21 March 1928
|Lt. Cmdr. Joseph F. Farley, USCG
||21 March 1928 – 8 September 1930
|Lt. Cmdr. Fletcher W. Brown, USCG
||8 September 1930 – 7 October 1931
|Lt. Cmdr. Ephraim Zoole, USCG
||7 October 1931 – 29 March 1934
Christopher B. Havern Sr.
31 January 2017