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George Dewey

the only man to ever hold the rank Admiral of the U.S. Navy

George Dewey was born in Montpelier, Vermont, on December 26, 1837. After receiving his early education in local schools he was admitted to Norwich University, a military school across the river from Hanover, New Hampshire, in 1852.

George Dewey

A Chronology of His Career

In 1854 Dewey was appointed to the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, from which he graduated fifth in his class (of fifteen) on June 11, 1858. On July 22, 1858, he was assigned to the USS Wabash, the flagship of the Mediterranean Squadron, upon he served for seventeen months. After two more short cruises, he returned to Annapolis to sit for his Lieutenant's examination. He was commissioned in April of 1861.

Civil War

On April 26, 1861, Dewey was assigned to the USS Mississippi, which took part in attacks on Forts Jackson and St. Philip, the capture of New Orleans, and the Battle of Port Hudson. Over the course of the war, he would serve as executive officer aboard no fewer than six ships, including the Mississippi. He was also commended for the rescue of his crew from a burning ship when it was set on fire by enemy shot. On March 3, 1865, he was elevated to the rank of Lieutenant Commander.


Unlike many of his contemporaries, Dewey did not leave the Navy upon the end of the Civil War. He spent a couple of years aboard a series of ships before returning to the Naval Academy in October of 1867 as officer-in-charge of fourth classmen; he remained in this position until September of 1870. In October 1870, he assumed command of the USS Narragansett, and remained in this position until being transferred to command of the hospital ship USS Supply in February of 1871. In July of 1871, the Supply was ordered to the Navy Yard at Boston. After five months in drydock, followed by a brief period of instruction at the Naval Torpedo Station in Newport, Rhode Island, Dewey was promoted to the rank of Commander (on April 13, 1872). In March of 1873, he was again given command of the Narragansett.

Dewey commanded the Narragansett until August of 1875, when he reported to the Second Naval District, New York, as Lighthouse Inspector. He served in this capacity until August of 1877, and was a member of the Lighthouse Board for eight months thereafter. In May of 1878, he became Secretary of the Lighthouse Board, and served in this capacity for the next four years.

In October of 1882, Dewey was again given command of a ship, the USS Juniata. He served in this capacity until being recalled to duty at the Navy Department in Washington, D.C, in July of 1884. Promoted to Captain on September 27, 1884, he was given command of the still-being-built USS Dolphin in October. After several problems arose during the Dolphin's shake-down cruise in July 1884, Dewey was transferred to command of the USS Pensacola.

Dewey remained in command of the Pensacola until August of 1889, when he was commissioned Chief of the Bureau of Equipment, at the Navy Department. He resigned that position on June 30, 1893 to again become a member of the Lighthouse Board. In November of 1895, he became president of the Navy Department Board of Inspection and Survey. On February 28, 1896, he was elevated to the rank of Commodore.

Spanish-American War

As war with Spain became a real possibility, Dewey was ordered to take command of the Asiatic Squadron. He took command of his flagship, the USS Olympia, on January 3, 1898. The USS Maine exploded in Havana Harbor, Cuba, on January 25, 1898, and, on April 25, the United States declared war on Spain.

On April 27, 1898, Dewey led his fleet out of Hong Kong and set sail for the Philippines. He reached Manila Bay on May 1, and within just a few hours managed to destroy the entire Spanish fleet of ten vessels without the loss of a single American life or any serious damage to any American ship. His squadron then blockaded Manila harbor and awaited the arrival of troops before launching a full-scale invasion. Manila was taken on August 13.

Commodore Dewey at the Battle of Manila Bay
Commodore Dewey at the Battle of Manila Bay

For his actions in the Philippines, Congress voted him its thanks, on May 10, 1898, and, on May 11, rewarded him with the rank of Rear Admiral. He was elevated to full Admiral on March 2, 1899.

Relieved of command of the Asiatic Squadron on October 4, 1899, Dewey spent the rest of his career attached to the Navy Department in Washington.

Admiral of the U.S. Navy

On March 2, 1899, Congress passed a special act creating the rank Admiral of the Navy and stipulating that the rank would cease to exist should the holder die or otherwise become incapacitated. Dewey was commissioned Admiral of the Navy on March 24, 1903, and held that rank until his death; to date he is the only man to ever hold that rank.

Admiral George Dewey died in Washington, D.C., on January 26, 1917, and was interred at Arlington National Cemetery. On March 28, 1925, at his widow's request, his remains were reinterred in the crypt of Bethlehem Chapel at Protestant Episcopal Cathedral in Washington.

The destroyer USS Dewey (DD-349 was launched on July 28, 1934. The ship earned 13 battle stars for operations in the Pacific during World War II.


Biographies in Naval History
The Spanish-American War Centennial Website

See Also

Civil War
Spanish-American War
Hong Kong
World War II

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The Robinson Library >> William McKinley's Administration, 1897-1901

This page was last updated on December 26, 2018.