Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Dewey, George

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DEWEY, George, naval officer, b. in Montpelier, Vt., 26 Dec., 1837. He is descended from that Thomas Dewey from Sandwich, Kent, who landed at Dorchester about 1633, was admitted a freeman 14 May, 1684, and who married 22 March, 1639, at Windsor, Conn., Frances Clark, widow of Joseph Clark. His father, Julius Yemans Dewey, was born 22 Aug., 1801, at Berlin, Vt., and, after graduation from the medical department of the University of Vermont, practised medicine in Montpelier until 1850, when he became connected with the National life insurance company; his mother was Mary Perrin, whom his father married 9 June, 1829, at Berlin, Vt., and who died 3 Sept., 1843, at Montpelier. George was the third of four children. His birthplace is seen in the accompanying illustration. His boyhood was the usual boyhood of a healthy, vigorous lad in a New England village; there was plenty of out-door life, there were as many truant days from school as he could safely avail himself of, and there were the usual struggles that form so large a part of the life of a boy. His friends of those days tell how he learned to paddle and swim in the Onion (now Winooski) river; how in boyish emulation he stayed under water until the spectators feared he was drowned; how he pulled from the water and saved from drowning one of his weaker companions. His school-teacher, Major Z. K. Pangborn, relates the experience of his first few days as teacher in the Montpelier school. Several of his predecessors had been driven off by a close little ring of the older pupils, of which Dewey was the leader. Trifling annoying of young Pangborn, then fresh from college, on the first day gave place to snowballing on the second, and to a well-planned attack upon him in the schoolroom itself on the third. It was only by the aid of a rawhide whip and several hickory sticks that the teacher succeeded in bringing to terms young Dewey and the other heads of the rebellion; he then sent them home, still smarting from their stinging punishment. This lesson was well learned — there was no further trouble in the school; and when Major Pangborn went to Johnson, Vt., to establish a private academy, Dewey went with him. The boy was then fourteen years old. One year later he was sent to the Norwich military academy, then at Norwich but now at Northfield, Vt. Here a taste for military affairs developed itself; West Point was thought of, but the attractions of the naval academy at Annapolis proved stronger. The father opposed this inclination, but prudently yielded when he saw it was a serious desire in the boy's mind.

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He was appointed alternate to the vacancy existing at Annapolis for Vermont, but George Spaulding, his schoolmate at Norwich, who had received the appointment, failed to qualify, and so young Dewey entered the naval academy in 1854. During his four years at Annapolis he kept a good rank in his class, took an active interest in the social amenities that were afforded, and was a vigorous participant in the political and sectional discussions rife in the decade preceding the civil war. It is told that on one occasion he avenged a fancied insult on the north by a blow from his fist; a challenge to a duel with pistols was promptly sent by the young southerner, and was as promptly accepted by Dewey; cooler heads, however, among the cadets, informed the officer of the day, and the affair was stopped. The class that entered in 1854 contained about sixty members, but of this number only fourteen graduated in 1858; Dewey was fifth in rank. His first assignment to duty was as midshipman on the steam-frigate “Wabash,” under command of Capt. Samuel Marion, who afterward became commodore in the Confederate navy. The illustration represents him at this time. The “Wabash” was then on the Mediterranean station, and attracted no little attention at the ports she visited, for this was in the early days of steam as applied to warships, and the type of frigate evolved by American builders was full of interest to foreign naval officers. This cruise gave Dewey an opportunity to visit the Holy Land and to send home various mementos of his visit to his Vermont friends and relatives. In 1860 he was ordered back to Annapolis for examination as passed midshipman; he succeeded in advancing himself two numbers, making his final rating in the class number three.

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At the outbreak of the civil war he was commissioned lieutenant, and ordered to the steam-sloop “Mississippi” on the Gulf squadron. Early in 1862 Farragut was assigned to the squadron as flag-officer, and at once he began preparations for forcing his way up the Mississippi past Forts Jackson and St. Philip to take New Orleans. By February the heavy-draught ships of the squadron had been lightened sufficiently to allow them to cross the bar and to ascend the river. On the April day on which the forts were to be passed Capt. Melancton Smith, of the “Mississippi,” ordered Dewey to con the ship; and from the conning bridge Dewey directed the vessel up the unknown, devious, shifting channel, through the rain of shot and shell from the forts, past the Confederate rams, into safe water above the forts, where the fleet held New Orleans at its mercy. When Farragut pushed on in March, 1863, to attack Port Hudson, the “Mississippi” grounded under the bluffs, and offered such a target for the Confederate batteries that she was abandoned and burned. The part Lieut. Dewey took in the blowing up of the “Mississippi” was described at the time by the correspondent of the New York “Herald” as follows: “Capt. Smith and Lieut. Dewey were the last to leave the ship. She had been fired both forward and aft, and Lieut. Dewey was in the boat at the port gangway waiting for the captain, when the latter expressed the wish that the ward-room should be examined once more, to see if the fire kindled there was burning properly. At this instant a heavy shot, striking the starboard side of the ship, passed entirely through her, coming within a foot of the stern of the boat in which Lieut. Dewey was sitting. It was only necessary for him to look through the hole that the shot had made to ascertain that the ward-room was in a blaze, and on reporting such to be the case Capt. Smith was satisfied, and left the good old ship to her fate.” Capt. Smith and Lieut. Dewey passed on to the “Richmond.” Some of the men had landed on the west bank of the river, from which they were rescued by Commander Caldwell, of the “Essex.” Capt. Smith reported in March, 1863, that 233 were saved, and 64 killed and missing. It was rumored at the time that a few of the crew had been captured, but the statement made in the present year (1899), that Dewey was taken prisoner on that occasion, is not true. Dewey was then assigned to one of the smaller gunboats of the fleet; he took part in the engagements with the Confederates below Donaldsonville, La., in July, 1863, and saw other service on the river until the stream was completely opened for the Union forces. In 1864-'5 he served on the gunboat “Agawam” on the North Atlantic blockading squadron. He took part in the severe engagements before Fort Fisher in December, 1864, and January, 1865; and in March, 1865, received his commission of lieutenant-commander. The war was now over, and Dewey was transferred to the “Kearsarge,” on the European squadron, as executive officer. For a time he was stationed at the Kittery navy-yard, just across the river from Portsmouth, N. H.; here he met Susan P. Goodwin, daughter of Ichabod Goodwin, war governor of New Hampshire. They were married in October, 1867, and had one child, George Goodwin Dewey, born 23 Dec, 1872; five days after the birth of the son the mother died. This son was among the first to greet the great admiral on his return from Manila, 26 Sept., 1899.

During 1867 Dewey served on the “Colorado,” flag-ship of the European squadron; in 1868-'9 he was assigned to duty at the naval academy. He was in command of the “Narragansett” on special service in 1870-'1. A year later he received his commission as commander, in April, 1872. For three years, 1872-'5, he was in command of the “Narragansett” on the Pacific survey. It was during this period that the “Virginius” trouble occurred and war with Spain seemed imminent. Commander Dewey wrote to the navy department requesting that, in case war should break out, he might be assigned the duty of capturing Manila. The controversy with Spain was settled by diplomacy, however, and there was no need of armed force; but it is an interesting historical fact that over a quarter of a century before the opportunity occurred the admiral had his eye on Manila. On his return from duty on the Pacific he served as lighthouse inspector in 1876-'7, and as secretary of the lighthouse board from 1877 to 1882. He was then assigned to the command of the “Juniata” on the Asiatic squadron; his experiences on that station in 1882-'3 stood him in good stead when he was again in command on that station, some sixteen years later. In September, 1884, he was appointed captain. He commanded the “Dolphin” in 1884 and the “Pensacola,” flag-ship of the European station, in 1885-'8. He was then detailed chief of the bureau of equipment and recruiting, with the rank of commodore; this position he held from August, 1889, until May, 1893, when he became a member of the lighthouse board. In 1895 he was transferred to the board of inspection and survey, serving as president during 1896 and 1897. He had held the rank of commodore from the time of his service as chief of the bureau of equipment, but his commission as such was not issued until 20 Feb., 1896. His health had been failing him while on shore duty, and he applied for an assignment for sea-service. It is probable, too, that Secretary Long and Assistant-Secretary Roosevelt foresaw the outbreak of hostilities with Spain, recognized the importance, in that event, of success by the Asiatic squadron, and resolved to put in command an officer tried by varied experience on sea and shore. On 30 Nov., 1897, Dewey was assigned to sea-service, and was detailed to the Asiatic squadron, of which he assumed command 3 Jan., 1898.

This was the critical period in the relations between Spain and the United States. Sagasta had recalled Weyler from Cuba, and had sent Blanco to introduce a system of autonomy, the failure of which soon became evident. The United States began concentrating war-vessels near Key West and collecting naval supplies; the tone of the press became more serious, demanding more earnestly the end of Spanish rule in Cuba. The de Lôme letter early in February, and the destruction of the United States war-vessel “Maine” in the harbor of Havana, made it evident that war was imminent. The navy department at Washington made every effort to give the Asiatic squadron all the munitions of war necessary. The coal supply was of course the crucial question; Dewey purchased two ships, one laden with three thousand tons of the best Welsh coal, the other carrying six months' supplies of stores and provisions. With careful foresight he made his preparations, and then waited. When war should break out there would be no port where he might refit or repair a ship nearer than San Francisco, 7,000 miles away. He must either take a port for a base or else sail home. Immediately upon the declaration of war the British government published its proclamation of neutrality, which course forced Dewey (under protest, for he had not yet received notification from his own government) from the harbor of Hong-Kong. He took advantage of the delay of China to proclaim neutrality and lay for two days in Mirs bay, waiting for final instructions from the government, for the arrival of Consul Williams, and for the completion of the last necessary preparations. He was not bound by unnecessary details in his orders from Washington, dated 24 April, which read simply: “War has commenced between the United States and Spain. Proceed at once to the Philippine islands. Commence operations at once, particularly against the Spanish fleet. You most capture vessels or destroy. Use utmost endeavors.” On 27 April he sailed for the Philippines with a fleet of nine vessels — the flag-ship “Olympia,” the “Baltimore,” “Boston,” “Raleigh,” “Concord,” “Petrel,” the revenue cutter “McCulloch,” a collier, “Nashan,” and a supply-vessel, “Zafiro”; the officers and men in the fleet numbered 1,694. The Spaniards were informed by cable of the departure from Mirs bay, and might have calculated with a fair degree of certainty the time the fleet could be expected at Manila. The vessels arrived at the south channel leading into Manila bay at 11.30 P. M. of 30 April. The Spaniards might have expected a hostile fleet, in such a case, to lie to in the open until daylight before attempting to enter an unknown harbor supposed to be well protected by torpedoes and mines in addition to the forts. Dewey waited for nothing, however, but sailed boldly into the harbor, leading the way on the “Olympia,” followed by the “Baltimore,” “Raleigh,” “Petrel,” “Concord,” and “Boston” in the order named. The fleet was not discovered by the lookout at Corregidor until the head of the column was nearly abreast the lighthouse; then an alarm signal was fired, and was answered by the flash of a rocket on the mainland, but that was all. A life-buoy fell overboard by accident from one of the leading ships, and ignited as soon as it struck the water; the smokestack of one of the vessels caught fire three times and flared up, giving another excellent target for the Spanish gunners; but still not a shot was fired by them. At last came the first discharge, from a battery scarcely half a mile distant; a few shots from the American fleet replied, but apparently did little damage to the enemy.

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The vessels steamed on at a slow rate, calculated to put them within striking distance of the Spanish fleet at daybreak. The men who had been allowed to sleep beside their guns were now at quarters; coffee was served to them, and the battle-flags were broken out. At 5.15 A. M. three batteries at Manila, two near Cavité, and the Spanish fleet opened fire upon the advancing Americans; Dewey's orders were not to fire until he had given the word, and the fleet steamed on. At last Dewey remarked to the captain of the “Olympia,” “Gridley, you may fire when you are ready,” and at 5.41 the Americans began to return the Spanish fire. The result of long months of target-practice was soon apparent in the greater destructiveness of the American fire. The flag-ship led the way past the Spanish fleet and forts, and then counter-marched in a line approximately parallel to that of the enemy's fleet, anchored in a line about east and west across the mouth of Baker bay. At 7 A. M. the “Reina Cristina,” flag-ship of Admiral Montojo, made a desperate effort to leave the line and to engage the American fleet; she was met by such a galling fire from the “Olympia,” however, that she was driven back, barely succeeding in reaching the shelter of the point of Cavité; American shells had set her on fire, and she continued to burn until she sank. Dewey silenced the land batteries at Manila by a message to the governor-general to the effect that if they did not cease firing he would shell the city. The action had been so fierce and the expenditure of ammunition so rapid that the commodore began to fear for the supply; accordingly, at 7.35 A. M. he ceased firing, after passing the Spanish fleet for the fifth time, and withdrew out of range to take account of his ammunition. He satisfied himself that the supply was ample, gave his men their breakfast, and returned to the attack at 11.16 A. M.; by this time almost the entire squadron of the enemy was in flames. The engagement continued until 12.30 P. M., when his orders to “Capture vessels or destroy” were literally fulfilled, for of the Spanish vessels the “Reina Cristina,” “Castilla,” and “Don Antonio de Ulloa” were sunk, the “Don Juan de Austria,” “Isla de Cuba,” “Isla de Luzon,” “General Lezo,” “Marques del Duero,” “El Correo,” “Velasco,” and “Isla de Mindanao” were burned, and the “Rapido” and “Hercules,” as well as several small launches, were captured. The Spanish loss, as given in the report of Admiral Montojo, was, including those at the arsenal, 381 men killed and wounded. Against this the Americans lost not a single vessel nor man, only nine seamen in the whole fleet being wounded.

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Dewey offered to permit the Spaniards to use the telegraphic cable from Manila to Hong-Kong provided they would allow him to make use of it in communicating with his own government; this they refused to do, and in consequence he sent a vessel to cut the cable just off its landing-place. A vague announcement of the battle and intimation of the defeat of the Spaniards had already been telegraphed, but no official version was known until Dewey had sent his report to Hong-Kong by one of his own vessels. Immediately upon the news of the battle European governments with interests in the Philippines ordered their Asiatic squadrons to the scene for the protection of their citizens. A French vessel appeared first, followed soon by numerous German ships, by the British squadron, and others. It soon became evident that the Germans were desirous to make trouble for the Americans, to ignore the harbor regulations that Dewey had drawn up, and to establish obtrusively friendly relations with the Spaniards. The fleet under Vice-Admiral von Diederichs was larger and stronger than the American, including two battle-ships, and not a little apprehension was felt that they might come to blows. At length Dewey intimated to Von Diederichs that he considered the course pursued by the Germans distinctly unfriendly, and that it must be persisted in no longer; after this their conduct was less objectionable.

Dewey held Manila at his mercy; he could take the city at any time, but not having sufficient troops to garrison it he took no active steps until forces from San Francisco arrived. The time between the battle of Manila and the arrival of American troops was a trying one for him; the question of the status of the rebels against Spanish rule, the action of the Germans, the widely advertised relief expedition from Spain, under Admiral Camera, and many other questions, contrived to put Dewey into a strain of anxious tension. The news of the destruction of the Spanish fleet at Santiago, and of the recall of Camera's fleet from Suez, received on 17 July, served to clear the atmosphere, and the arrival of American troops gave increased confidence. The first army expedition consisted of three transports with 2,500 men, which sailed from San Francisco on 15 May and arrived off Manila 30 June; as fast as possible other expeditions followed, until the entire force in the islands consisted of 641 officers and 15,058 enlisted men, under command of Gen. Wesley Merritt. It was only reluctance to cause needless loss of life and property that prevented an immediate attack upon the city; it was hoped Gov.-Gen. Augustin would yield to the inevitable. During this period of inaction the insurgents resumed the hostilities which had been suspended by the uncompleted truce of December, 1897. They invested the city on the north and east, but Dewey and Merritt constrained them from attacking it. On 31 July the Spaniards in force attacked the American lines that had been established at Manila, but were repulsed with a heavy loss, the Americans losing only 9 killed and 47 wounded. On 18 Aug. the fleet under Dewey combined with the troops under Merritt to make a simultaneous attack upon the city. The brigades commanded by Gens. McArthur and Greene carried the Spanish works, losing about fifty men; the navy again came off without the loss of a single life. After about six hours of fighting the city surrendered and Dewey's flag-lieutenant, Brumbaugh, raised the American flag.

Secretary Long summed up admirably the result of the victory in Manila bay when he said, in his annual report in November, 1898: “Aside from the mere fact of having won without the loss of a single life such a brilliant and electrifying victory at the very outset of the war, with all the confidence which it infused throughout the country and into the personnel of every branch of the service, it removed at once all apprehension for the Pacific coast. The indirect pecuniary advantage to the United States in the way of saving an increase of insurance rates and in assuring the country of freedom from attack on that coast is incalculable.” On 9 May, 1898, President McKinley. in a special message to congress, recommended that the thanks of the nation be given to Dewey and to his officers and men; joint resolutions to that effect were agreed to at once, and further resolutions ordered to be prepared a sword of honor for Dewey and medals for the officers and men, $10,000 being appropriated for the purpose. The first substantial evidence of the gratitude felt toward him was his appointment by President McKinley, on 10 May, 1898, as rear-admiral; he was then the senior officer in the navy. The rank of admiral, held before in our navy only by Farragut and Porter, was revived by congress, and on 3 March, 1899, Dewey was promoted to that rank.

After the fall of Manila and during the peace negotiations at Paris relations between the Spaniards and Americans became quiet, but the insurgents under Aguinaldo gave no little trouble; the Spanish prisoners in the hands of the Filipinos were also a fruitful source of friction. The insurgents grew bolder and more restive; on 7 Jan., 1899, Aguinaldo issued a proclamation protesting against the intrusion of the Americans in the Philippines, alleging that they had promised freedom for the islands and had violated their promises, denouncing McKinley's orders to Gen. Otis (who had succeeded to the command after Merritt had been called to Paris to advise the peace commissioners), and calling upon the Filipinos not to desist in their struggle for liberty. In January President McKinley appointed a commission of five, consisting of Admiral Dewey, Gen. Otis, President Schurman, of Cornell, Col. Charles Denby, sometime minister to China, and Prof. Dean C. Worcester, of the University of Michigan, for the purpose of examining the situation in the Philippines, and reporting to him and advising him on each new step in colonial development. On 4 and 5 Feb. hostilities broke out between the insurgents and Americans; from then on they continued even into the rainy season. Dewey supported the land forces with the navy in every case possible. His time now was also occupied by his duties on the Philippine commission, the civil members of which arrived at Manila on 4 March. On 4 April the commission issued a proclamation assuring the Filipinos of the perfect good faith of the Americans and their sincere desire to give them prosperity and happiness, well-being and good government; that a conflict against the Americans must in the end prove hopeless; and putting forth plainly and in detail the intentions of the Americans with reference to the government and control of the islands. On 22 May the commission submitted to peace commissioners appointed by the Filipinos a draft of the proposed form of government; this included a governor-general and a cabinet to be appointed by the president, and later an advisory council to be elected by the Filipinos. Dewey's work on the commission was now at an end. He had asked to be relieved, Rear-Admiral John C. Watson had been assigned to succeed him in command of the Asiatic station, and accordingly on 20 May he left Manila on board his flag-ship “Olympia,” bound for New York by way of Hong-Kong, the Indian ocean, the Suez canal, and the Mediterranean sea. His progress homeward was one continued ovation at every port in which he stopped, and every attention and honor possible were shown him. In the United States the preparations were most elaborate. A popular subscription toward a fund to provide him a home was started; city after city invited his attendance at dinners and receptions. In New York the celebration in his honor, 29 and 30 Sept., 1899, provided a most remarkable spectacle, the equal of which has perhaps never been witnessed in this country. The Dewey arch erected on Fifth avenue in his honor will, it is expected, be perpetuated in marble. The admiral was presented also with a beautiful loving cup of gold, the gift of the city of New York, and another equally beautiful silver cup was given later by a daily journal of the city, which had raised funds for the purpose by popular subscriptions of single dimes. Proceeding to Washington, Dewey was received by President McKinley, and was presented with the sword (see illustration) voted by congress, receiving another ovation in the nation's capital, 3 Oct., second only to that of the city of New York.

In person the admiral is of medium height, very slightly stooped, inclining to be stout, but still active and vigorous. He is a man of the world as well as a planner of naval battles, and while in Washington he was extremely popular as a club man. His manner is quiet and reserved, indicating poise and self-control, however, rather than aloofness or a lack of sympathy with those about him. Sketches of his life are numerous in the current magazines after May, 1898. The books treating of the operations in the Philippines all contain notices of the admiral. See “With Dewey at Manila,” by Thomas J. Vivian (New York, 1898); “Life of George Dewey, Rear-Admiral, U. S. N., and Dewey Family History,” by Adelbert M. Dewey and Louis Marinus Dewey (Westfield, Mass., 1898); and “Admiral George Dewey: a Sketch of the Man.” by John Barrett, which was published at New York in September, 1899.

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As the names of Hull and the “Constitution” and Farragut and the “Hartford” are indissolubly linked together, so are those of Dewey and the “Olympia” — the latter seen in the accompanying vignette. Her keel was laid in June, 1891, and she was launched in November, 1892, completed April, 1893, and first commissioned February, 1895. She was constructed at San Francisco by the Union iron-works, and is schooner-rigged. She is a second-class armored cruiser, carrying armor varying from 3½ to 4½ inches in thickness. Her main battery consists of 10 5-inch rapid-fire guns and 4 8-inch breech-loading rifles mounted in turrets, and her secondary battery comprises 14 rapid-fire 6-pounders, 7 rapid-fire 1-pounders, 2 Colt's and 1 field gun. She also carries 6 Whitehead torpedoes. Her displacement is 5,870 tons, and she requires 34 officers and 416 men. Her hull and machinery cost $1,796,000. She was first sent on several short cruises, and then was attached to the Asiatic station. In May, 1898, her name and Dewey's became known the world over through the battle of Manila bay. In that famous sea-fight she was commanded by Capt. Charles Vernon Gridley, who later, on his way home on sick leave, died at Yokohama. The “Olympia,” with the admiral aboard, arrived in New York harbor on the morning of 26 Sept., 1899, and a few days later a valuable service of silver was presented to the celebrated war-ship by the citizens of Olympia, Wash., who also gave a large and beautiful bronze shield.


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ADMIRAL DEWEY'S FLAG-SHIP “OLYMPIA.”