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.
Born in Montpelier, Vermont, Dewey 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.
December 26, 1837|
January 16, 1917 (aged 79)|
|Buried||Washington National Cathedral|
United States of America|
|Service/||United States Navy|
|Years of service||1858–1917|
General Board of the United States Navy
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 and 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 in 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 the Red River joins 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 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 in 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, and remained there until 1896 when he was commissioned commodore, and transferred to the Board of Inspection and Survey.
Dewey felt, in 1897, that his health was suffering in the climate and inaction of Washington, and applied for sea duty. It was granted to him, and he was assigned to the command of the Asiatic station. He felt certain, as did so many others at Washington that year, that war with Spain was imminent although few had thought of the Philippines as a field of serious war.
The Commodore hoisted his pennant at Hong Kong in December, 1897, and immediately began preparations for wartime service. As early as January 1898 the Navy Department began to send him instructions, as it was doing to other commanders under the administration of Secretary of the Navy John D. Long and Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt. Dewey was ordered in January to retain all enlisted men whose terms had expired; and a month later was told to keep USS Olympia, instead of sending her back to San Francisco. He was instructed to assemble all his squadron at Hong Kong, and to fill all the bunkers with coal. At the same time the cruiser USS Baltimore was dispatched to him from the United States, via Hawaii; and at Honolulu was met by the steamer Mohican from San Francisco, which transferred to her a shipload of ammunition, sent far in advance of its possible use.
Dewey's ships were scattered up and down the Asiatic coast; but by the end of March the whole squadron, except the antiquated wooden Monocacy, had been gathered in the port of Hong Kong, their coal and stores replenished. Then came a period of waiting; the commodore was constantly making ready. First he sent the fleet paymaster over to the consignees of the English steamship Nanshan, and bought her as she was, with 3,300 tons of coal on board. Then he bought Zafiro, a steamship of the Manila-Hong Kong line, just as she was, with all her fuel and provisions, and on her was placed all the spare ammunition, so that she became the magazine of the fleet.
On April 18, USS McCulloch came in and joined the squadron. She was a revenue cutter but she was as good as a gunboat, being built of steel, having 1,500 tons displacement, and carrying four 4-inch guns and a crew of one hundred and thirty men. On the 21st, when General Woodford was leaving Madrid, and Señor Luís Polo de Bernabé was slipping out of Washington, USS Baltimore appeared, a powerful addition to the fleet, and bringing also her load of ammunition, so that she was doubly welcome.
As the news now daily published in Hong Kong made war seem certain, all the white vessels were repainted war-gray, and the last possible preparations made when the cable brought word of the declaration of war, to date from April 22, and of England's declaration of neutrality. Word was therefore sent to the American commander by the Governor of Hong Kong that his vessels could no longer be harbored there. That was no hardship, for they were as completely outfitted as they cared to be, and only a few miles away were the Chinese waters of Mirs Bay, where nobody would or could interfere with their anchorage. Thither Dewey took his ships on April 25, leaving the McCulloch to bring last dispatches; and the next day she joined the fleet in a hurry, taking to the commander the following fateful message from the Government of the United States:
This was on the 26th. At 2:00 p.m. the next day, April 27, Dewey's squadron was leaving Mirs Bay for the Philippines, in search of another squadron of warships as large and as new and as well-armed as itself, to seek the first naval encounter of modern ships and with modern ordnance. In reality, the Spanish fleet in the Philippines was equipped with a variety of obsolete vessels.
On April 27, 1898, he sailed out from China aboard the 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, by saying the now famous words "You may fire when you are ready, Gridley." Within six hours, on May 1, he had sunk or captured the entire Spanish Pacific fleet under Admiral Patricio Montojo y Pasarón and silenced the shore batteries at Manila, with the loss of only one life on the American side.
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." The McKinley administration decided otherwise, and 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 in 1899, he 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.
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, called the "Chinese Exclusion Act" prohibited Chinese laborers from landing in the United States.
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 served in 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.
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. His remains were interred in 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 in late 1910.
In the era of the Civil War, it was a common practice 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. He also skipped the rank of vice admiral.
|Passed Midshipman||Master||Lieutenant||Lieutenant Commander||Commander|
|January 19, 1861||February 23, 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 10, 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 was promoted to General of the Armies in 1919 and General George Washington was posthumously promoted to the rank of General of the Armies of the United States in 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 the only one there are pictures of him wearing is the Battle of Manila Bay Medal.
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