|Born||December 26, 1837|
|Died||January 16, 1917 (aged 79)|
|Allegiance|| United States of America|
|Service/||United States Navy|
|Years of service||1858-1917|
|Rank||Admiral of the Navy|
|Commands held||Asiatic Squadron|
General Board of the United States Navy
|Battles/wars||American Civil War
George Dewey (December 26, 1837 – January 16, 1917) was Admiral of the Navy, the only person in United States history to have attained the rank. He is best known for his victory at the Battle of Manila Bay during the Spanish-American War, with the loss of only a single crewman on the American side.
Dewey was born in Montpelier, Vermont At age 15, Dewey's father enrolled him at Norwich University, Northfield, Vermont. Two years later Norwich expelled him for drunkenness and herding sheep into the barracks. Summarily, he entered the United States Naval Academy in 1854. He graduated from the academy in 1858 and was assigned as the executive lieutenant of the USS Mississippi at the beginning of the Civil War. He participated in the capture of New Orleans and the Siege of Port Hudson, helping the Union take control of the Mississippi River. By the end of the war, Dewey reached the rank of lieutenant commander.
After the Civil War, Dewey undertook a variety of assignments, serving on multiple ships and as an instructor at the Naval Academy. He also served on the United States Lighthouse Board and the Board of Inspection and Survey. He was promoted to Commodore in 1896 and assigned to the Asiatic Squadron the following year. After that appointment, he began preparations for a potential war with Spain, which broke out in April 1898. Immediately after the beginning of the war, Dewey led an attack on Manila Bay, sinking the entire Spanish Pacific fleet while suffering only minor casualties. After the battle, his fleet assisted in the capture of Manila. Dewey's victory at Manila Bay was widely lauded in the United States, and he was promoted to Admiral of the Navy in 1903.
Dewey explored a run for the 1900 Democratic presidential nomination, but he withdrew from the race and endorsed President William McKinley. He served on the General Board of the United States Navy, an important policy-making body, from 1900 until his death in 1917.
Dewey was born in Montpelier, Vermont, on December 26, 1837, directly opposite the Vermont State House, to Julius Yemans Dewey and his first wife, Mary Perrin. Julius was a physician who received his degree from The University of Vermont. He was among the founders of the National Life Insurance Company in 1848, a member of the Episcopal Church, and was among the founders of the Christ Episcopal Church in Montpelier. George was baptized and attended Sunday school there. George had two older brothers and a younger sister.
Dewey attended school in the nearby town of Johnson. When he was fifteen years old he went to the Norwich Military School. The school, better known as Norwich University, had been founded by Alden Partridge and aimed at giving cadets a well-rounded military education. Dewey attended for two years (1852-1854). Dewey found a military role model when he read a biography of Hannibal.
Dewey entered the Naval Academy in 1854. The conventional four-year course had just been introduced in 1851 and the cadet corps was quite small, averaging about one hundred Acting Midshipmen. Out of all that entered in his year, only fourteen stayed through the course. He stood fifth on the class roll at graduation. He graduated from the Academy on 18 June 1858.
As a midshipman, Dewey first went to sea on a practice cruise aboard USS Saratoga; on this cruise he earned recognition as a cadet officer. As a result, he was assigned to one of the best ships of the old Navy--the steam frigate USS Wabash.Wabash under Captain Samuel Barron was the new flagship of the Mediterranean Squadron. On 22 July 1858, the ship left Hampton Roads for Europe.
Wabash reached her first port of call, Gibraltar, on 17 August 1858. She cruised in the Mediterranean, and the cadet officers visited the cities of the Old World accessible to them, often taking trips inland. Dewey was assigned to keep the ship's log.Wabash returned to the New York Navy Yard on 16 December 1859, and decommissioned there on 20 December 1859. Dewey served on two short-term cruises in 1860.
At the beginning of 1862, Mississippi was attached to David Farragut's fleet for the capture of New Orleans. On the night of 24-25 April 1862, Farragut led his ships up the Mississippi River past the Confederate defenses at Fort St. Philip and Fort Jackson. Mississippi was the third in Farragut's first division, with Dewey at the helm.
The first division (all big ships) kept near the west bank where the current was weaker and the water deeper; but this brought them right under the muzzles of the guns of Fort St. Philip. Dewey steered Mississippi through shallow water where he expected to run aground any moment.
There was a squadron of Confederate gunboats waiting above the forts. This included CSS Manassas, a small ironclad. Manassas tried to ram Mississippi, but Dewey safely maneuvered Mississippi to evade. Manassas then attacked Brooklyn and Hartford in the next division, and then turned back upriver.
Farragut signaled Mississippi to run Manassas down. Dewey steered Mississippi into a ramming attack. Manassas dodged, but ran aground and was abandoned. She was set on fire by a boat from Mississippi, and then shelled. Farragut's fleet then continued upriver and forced the surrender of the city.
This was the first battle in which Dewey distinguished himself. For the remainder of 1862, Farragut's ships (including Mississippi) patrolled the lower river. This was dangerous, as the ships were fired on by Confederate sharpshooters on the banks, and even occasionally by light artillery.
In spring 1863, Union forces moved to take the Confederate fortress at Port Hudson, Louisiana, where at that time the Red River joined the Mississippi. Farragut attempted to pass the fortress with his fleet and cut it off upriver, thereby completing the Siege of Port Hudson.
The attempt was made on 14 March 1863. In this action, Dewey saw fiercer fighting than he was ever to see again. Mississippi ran aground and was the target of concentrated enemy fire for half an hour, until she had to be abandoned. Dewey was among the last to leave the wreck.
Dewey was highly complimented by his immediate superiors and by Farragut himself, who appointed him executive officer of USS Agawam, a small gunboat the admiral used frequently for dispatches and his personal reconnoitering. This little vessel was frequently under fire by concealed sharpshooters and temporary batteries. In July of that year a small engagement at Donaldsonville, Louisiana, resulted in the death of Captain Abner Read, of USS Monongahela, and the severe wounding of his executive officer. Dewey was present, and was so conspicuous for gallantry that he was recommended for promotion on the strength of it. Meanwhile, he was given temporary command of the frigate.
In the latter part of 1864, after some service in the James River under Commander McComb, Lieutenant Dewey was made executive officer of the first-rate wooden man-of-war USS Colorado, in the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron under command of Commodore Henry Knox Thatcher.
A second attack came in January (the Second Battle of Fort Fisher, 13-15 January 1865). Colorado was engaged, and Dewey played a key role in her success.
Colorado, being a wooden ship, was placed in the line outside the monitors and other armored vessels but got a full share of conflict. Toward the end of the second engagement, when matters were moving the right way, Admiral Porter signaled Thatcher to close in and silence a certain part of the works. As Colorado had already received considerable damage, her officers remonstrated. But Dewey, who had now acquired marked tactical ability, was quick to see the advantage to be gained by the move and the work was taken in fifteen minutes. The New York Times, commenting upon this part of the action, spoke of it as "the most beautiful duel of the war". When Admiral Porter came to congratulate Commodore Thatcher, the latter said generously: "You must thank Lieutenant Dewey, sir. It was his move." Nevertheless, Thatcher was promoted to rear admiral. He tried to take Dewey with him as his fleet captain when he went to supersede Farragut at Mobile Bay. This was not permitted, but Dewey was promoted to lieutenant commander.
After the end of the Civil War, then Lieutenant Commander Dewey remained in active service, and was sent to the European station as executive officer of USS Kearsarge -- the famous ship that had sunk the Confederate privateer Alabama.
Dewey's next tour of duty was in 1867 and 1868 as executive officer of USS Colorado--the same vessel in which he had won his honors at Fort Fisher, and now the flagship of the European Squadron. The admiral in command of the ship and squadron was Louis M. Goldsborough, and one of Dewey's companions was John Crittenden Watson--the same man, who, as rear admiral, relieved Admiral Dewey of his duties at Manila, when he wished to return to the United States in the summer of 1899. Lieutenant Commander Dewey was in charge of the vessels at the Naval Academy in Annapolis from 6 November 1867 through 1 August 1870. This duty included commanding the famous frigate USS Constitution, which was berthed at Annapolis as a training ship.
Some tranquil years followed the end of Dewey's cruise on Colorado. For two years, from 1868 to 1870, he was an instructor at the Naval Academy. The next year he did special surveying work on the steam sloop USS Narragansett. He was then briefly assigned to the Naval Torpedo Station at Newport, Rhode Island. It was during this assignment that his wife died just after the birth of his son. In 1873 Dewey was given command of Narragansett and spent nearly four years on her, engaged in the Pacific Coast Survey.
This entitled him to a period of rest ashore; and he was ordered to Washington, and made lighthouse inspector in 1880, and then secretary of the lighthouse board, a service in which he took great interest. Meanwhile, he had been promoted to the grade of commander. This residence in Washington as a bureau officer of high rank gave him an extensive acquaintance, and he became one of the most popular men in the capital. He was a member of the Metropolitan Club, the leading social club of Washington.
In 1882, this leave of absence in Washington came to an end when he was sent to the Asiatic station in command of USS Juniata, where he studied the situation with care and acquired information of immense importance ten years later.
He was promoted to the rank of captain in 1884, and he was ordered home and given command of USS Dolphin--one of the first four ships of the original "white squadron", steam-powered ships with steel hulls which formed the basis of the modern United States Navy. Dolphin was officially classed as a dispatch boat, and was often used as the Presidential yacht.
In 1885, Captain Dewey undertook another tour of sea service, and for three years was in command of USS Pensacola, familiar to him in the New Orleans battles, now flagship of the European squadron.
Returning to Washington in 1893, he resumed the life of a bureau officer, being attached to the lighthouse board. In 1896, he was promoted to commodore and transferred to the Board of Inspection and Survey.
In 1896, Dewey applied for a sea posting as Commander of the Asiatic Squadron. Although Dewey was a long shot for the position, his friend Theodore Roosevelt arranged for President William McKinley to select Dewey over a more senior officer.:40-41 The Commodore hoisted his pennant on board USS Olympia at Nagasaki in January 1898, and departed for Hong Kong in February to inspect the U.S. warships based at the British colony. Upon arrival, he learned that the Maine had blown up in Havana Harbor. Dewey was skeptical that the country would go to war, writing, "I don't see what we have to gain in a war with Spain." However, he was confident of victory, writing, "I expect to capture the Spanish ships and reduce the defenses of Manila in one day."
As the war clouds loomed, Dewey assembled his squadron at Hong Kong and made preparations. The cruiser USS Baltimore was dispatched to Hong Kong via the Republic of Hawaii. Dewey purchased the British merchant colliers Nanshan and Zafiro, retaining their British crews. The warships were repainted from white to gray. Upon the outbreak of war between the United States and Spain, the United Kingdom declared its neutrality and Dewey was ordered by the Governor of Hong Kong to leave British waters. The Asiatic Squadron moved to the Chinese waters of Mirs Bay.
On April 27, 1898, he sailed from China aboard USS Olympia with orders to attack the Spanish at Manila Bay. He stopped at the mouth of the bay late the night of April 30, and the following morning he gave the order to attack at first light, saying the now famous words "You may fire when you are ready, Gridley." True to his word, Dewey defeated the Spanish in a battle lasting just six hours. The Asiatic Squadron sank or captured the entire Spanish Pacific Squadron under Admiral Patricio Montojo y Pasarón and silenced the shore batteries at Manila, with the loss of only one life on the American side.
Didn't Admiral Dewey do wonderfully well? I got him the position out there in Asia last year, and I had to beg hard to do it; and the reason I gave was that we might have to send him to Manila. And we sent him -- and he went!-- Letter from Theodore Roosevelt to William Wingate Sewall, May 4, 1898
Dewey aided General Wesley Merritt in taking formal possession of Manila on August 13, 1898. In the early stages of the war the Americans were greatly aided by the Filipino nationalists led by Emilio Aguinaldo who had been attacking the Spanish by land as Dewey was attacking them by sea. Dewey and Aguinaldo at first enjoyed a cordial relationship, and Dewey wrote that the Filipinos were "intelligent" and well "capable of self-government."
By the start of 1899, Dewey had to threaten to shell Aguinaldo's forces to allow for a U.S. invasion of Manila.
Dewey was promoted to rear admiral in May 1898, and full admiral the following year. Returning to the United States on September 27, 1899, Dewey received a hero's welcome. New York City's September 1899 welcome-home celebration for Dewey was a two-day parade. When Boston paid tribute, he was greeted at City Hall by 280 singers from the Handel and Haydn Society who sang the anthem "See the Conquering Hero Comes" from Handel's Judas Maccabaeus. By act of Congress, he was promoted to the special rank of Admiral of the Navy in 1903, with his date of rank retroactive to 1899.
A special military decoration, the Battle of Manila Bay Medal (commonly called the Dewey Medal), was struck in honor of Dewey's victory at Manila Bay. It was awarded to every American officer, sailor, and Marine present at the battle. The medals were designed by Daniel Chester French, sculptor of the Lincoln Memorial, and produced by Tiffany & Co. Each medal was engraved with the recipient's name, rank, and ship. Since his own image appeared on the obverse of the medal, out of modesty, Dewey wore his medal reversed. Dewey was one of only four Americans in history (the other three being Admiral William T. Sampson, Admiral Richard E. Byrd, and General John J. Pershing) who were entitled to wear a US Government issued medal with their own image on it. Such was his high regard by the public that "Dewey" was the 19th most popular boys' name in 1898, jumping from 111th the year prior.
Shortly after the Battle of Manila Bay, on May 31, 1898, Dewey wrote to the Secretary of the Navy asking that 50 Chinese sailors who had served with the Asiatic Squadron at Manila Bay be allowed to enter the United States. In Dewey's letter he noted that the Chinese had "rendered the most efficient services upon that occasion" and that they had "shown courage and energy in the face of an enemy." At that time an immigration law, the 1882 "Chinese Exclusion Act," prohibited Chinese laborers from landing in the United States. Dewey had enlisted the Chinese sailors against the wishes of the Navy Department and, despite his very public entreatment that they be granted US citizenship, Congress refused to even take up the issue.
On October 3, 1899, Dewey was presented a special sword by President McKinley in a ceremony at the Capitol building. The presentation of the sword was followed by a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue. Congress, by unanimous vote, had authorized $10,000 to fund the gift shortly after the Battle of Manila Bay. The elaborately decorated sword was custom-made by Tiffany & Co. of New York. Its hilt and fittings were made of 22 carat gold. The sword is now on display, along with uniforms and medals belonging to Admiral Dewey, at the National Museum of the United States Navy at the Washington Navy Yard.
Many suggested Dewey run for President on the Democratic ticket in 1900. His candidacy was plagued by public relations missteps. He was quoted as saying the job of president would be easy since the chief executive was merely following orders in executing the laws enacted by Congress and that he would "execute the laws of Congress as faithfully as I have always executed the orders of my superiors." He admitted to never having voted in a presidential election. He drew yet more criticism when he offhandedly, but prophetically, told a newspaper reporter that: "Our next war will be with Germany." Dewey also angered some Protestants by marrying a Catholic and giving her the house that the nation had given him following the war. Dewey withdrew from the race in mid-May 1900 and endorsed William McKinley.
In 1900, after his withdrawal from the presidential race, he was named president of the newly established General Board of the Navy Department, which was the Navy's major policy‑making body. He remained in active naval service on the board until his death, and played a major role in championing the introduction of new technologies into the expanding U.S. Navy with his support of the development of naval aviation and the submarine.
In 1866, Dewey was assigned to duty in the Portsmouth Navy Yard in Kittery, Maine, and there met the woman who became his first wife: Susan "Susie" Boardman Goodwin (1844-1872), daughter of New Hampshire's war governor, Ichabod Goodwin, a Republican who fitted out troops for the war at his own expense. The Deweys were married on 24 October 1867 and had one son, George. Susie died on December 28, 1872, five days after giving birth.
The longtime widower cut a dashing figure and enjoyed the company of women. In 1893, he was escorting two women aboard a warship when he unexpectedly ran into his son. Thinking on his feet, Dewey introduced his son as his younger brother.:40-41
On November 9, 1899, after his triumphal return from the Far East, Dewey was married for the second time to Mrs. Mildred McLean Hazen (1850-1931), widow of General William Babcock Hazen, in the rectory of St. Paul's Catholic Church in Washington, D.C. Since Mrs. Hazen was a Roman Catholic, and Dewey was not, they were not permitted to have their wedding inside a Catholic church. The marriage was criticized by some anti-Catholic voices, as was Dewey's transfer to his wife of the $50,000 Washington mansion given to him by the American public through a fund-raising campaign.
In later life Dewey wore stylish clothes and a handlebar mustache, which was his trademark. His inherited wealth allowed him to live in comfort. He often went horseback riding with President Theodore Roosevelt in Washington's Rock Creek Park, and he was a fellow member of Washington's prestigious Metropolitan Club.
Admiral Dewey died in Washington on January 16, 1917. After lying in state at the United States Capitol rotunda, his remains were interred at Arlington National Cemetery. A mausoleum was later built for him in the cemetery. In 1925, his widow had his remains transferred to the Bethlehem Chapel, on the crypt level, at the Washington National Cathedral, Washington, D.C.
Admiral Dewey belonged to numerous military, patriotic and hereditary societies.
In 1901, Admiral Dewey was elected as an honorary member of the New York Society of the Cincinnati. He was also a member of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States (MOLLUS) (insignia number 2397), the Order of the Founders and Patriots of America (served as Governor General from 1904 to 1906), the Sons of the Revolution, Sons of the American Revolution (membership number 2920), Naval Order of the United States (insignia number 207), the Society of Colonial Wars, the General Society of the War of 1812, the Society of American Wars, and the Military Order of Foreign Wars (insignia number 363). He served as Commander of the New York Commandery of the Naval Order of the United States from 1898 to 1900, and as Commander General (i.e., National President) of the Order from 1907 to 1917.
Dewey was an early member of the board of directors of the Boy Scouts of America, serving until his resignation from that office in late 1910.
In the mid to late-18th Century, the US Navy had three "ranks" of Midshipmen serving: "acting midshipmen" who were active students at the US Naval Academy, "warranted midshipmen" who had completed most of their studies at the Academy and were serving at sea while holding line authority through a warrant of authority, and "passed midshipmen" who had completed all requirements for commissioning and held warranted line authority similar to ensigns of the modern US Navy. In the era of the Civil War, it was a common practice for officers to serve as a "Master" with a warrant of authority until they were commissioned. It was also common for officers to be granted shipboard commissions based on the need to fill certain jobs or billets. Dewey was therefore made a lieutenant once he "signed on" with David Farragut. He never held the ranks of ensign or lieutenant (junior grade) as those ranks were not created until 1862 and 1883, respectively. Nor was he appointed to the rank of vice admiral, there being no actively serving vice admirals in the US Navy at that time.
|Passed Midshipman||Master||Lieutenant||Lieutenant Commander||Commander|
|January 19, 1861||February 28, 1861||April 19, 1861||March 3, 1865||April 13, 1872|
|Captain||Commodore||Rear Admiral||Admiral||Admiral of the Navy|
|September 27, 1884
July 28, 1884)
|February 28, 1896||May 11, 1898||March 2, 1899||March 24, 1903 |
March 2, 1899)
Admiral Dewey's final rank was Admiral of the Navy, making him the highest-ranking officer in the history of the United States Navy. He is the only person ever to hold this rank. Admiral of the Navy is equivalent to General of the Armies. General John J. Pershing, US Army, was promoted to General of the Armies in 1919, and Lieutenant General George Washington, US Army, was posthumously promoted on the Retired List of the US Army to the rank of General of the Armies of the United States, with an effective date of rank of 4 July 1976. 
Medals Awarded by the United States Government
(Dates indicate the year the medal was awarded.)
Note - Although Dewey was entitled to all of the above medals, he is pictured at right wearing only the Battle of Manila Bay Medal, but he is wearing the special additional gold braid on his sleeves denoting his unique rank as Admiral of the Navy.
Frederick V. McNair, Sr.
| Commander, Asiatic Squadron
3 January 1898 – 5 June 1899
John C. Watson
| Member of the Schurman Commission
March 4, 1899 – March 16, 1900
Luke Edward Wright
Pierre Charles L'Enfant
| Persons who have lain in state or honor
in the United States Capitol rotunda
January 20, 1917
of World War I