Chapter XIX


(Page numbers from 1888 Green Book in [square brackets].)

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Commodore Winfield Scott Schley

Brief Sketch of his Life and Public Services


COMMODORE W. S. SCHLEY, son of John T. Schley and Georgeanna Virginia Schley, was born October 9th, 1839, at “Richfields,” three miles north of Frederick City, Frederick County, Md. The first sixteen years of his life were passed in Frederick City at school, at St. John’s College, and the Frederick Academy.

Through the influence of Hon. H. W. Hoffman, M. C., he was appointed as acting midshipman, September 20th, 1856; he entered the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md., and graduated June 15th, 1860; the same day, June 15th, 1860, he was appointed Midshipman by President Buchanan.

August 31st, 1861, he was promoted to Master by President Lincoln.

July 16th, 1862, he was promoted to Lieutenant by President Lincoln.

July 25th, 1866, he was promoted to Lieutenant-commander by President Johnson.

June 10th, 1874, he was promoted to Commander by President Grant.

After the successful voyage to the Arctic regions in 1884, to rescue Lieutenant A. W. Greely U.S.A., he was promoted to the position of Chief of Bureau Equipment and Recruiting in the Navy Department, by President Arthur. The promotion carried with it the temporary rank of Commodore, with its privileges:

March 31st, 1888, he was promoted to Captain by President Cleveland.


During 1860 and 1861, until the outbreak of hostilities between the North and South, he served on board the United States frigate “Niagara,” on the Asiatic Station; which vessel carried back to Japan the first embassy sent by that country to the Western powers; returning, he conveyed the American minister to the mouth of the Red sea, thence, he returned to Boston and proceeded immediately to the blockade of Charleston, S.C., and brought the American ship “General Parkhill” as a prize to Philadelphia, in July, 1861. He joined the United States frigate “Potomac” in August, 1861, and served on board that ship; the gunboat “Winona;” the sloop-of-war “Monongahela;” and the United States ship “Richmond,” in the Western Gulf Squadron, under Admiral Farragut, in 1861, 1862, 1863, during the operations under his command on the Mississippi river, up to, and including, the final opening of that river with the capture of the fortifications at Port Hudson, La. The presence of rebel, corsairs in the Pacific ocean, occurring coincidently with the release of a large naval force used in the river, obliged the government to reinforce the squadron in those waters; accordingly, in January, 1864, he joined the United States ship “Wateree;” reaching the Pacific in the fall of that year, and remaining during 1865 and 1866. In 1865 he landed with a battalion of sailors and marines on the middle Chincha island against an opposing force of some four hundred Chinese laborers, who had risen in revolution, and had murdered the guards. In the latter part of 1865 he landed a battalion of men and marines at La Union, San Salvador, and took charge of the custom-house to protect American interests during the occupation of the town by revolutionary forces, until the city was captured by the government troops in the early part of 1866. He returned to the United States in 1866, and was ordered to the United States frigate “Sabine,” then engaged in the training of apprentice boys for the navy; but was subsequently detached, and ordered to the United States Naval Academy, as instructor, during 1867, 1868, 1869. In the latter year he was ordered to the United States sloop “Benicia,” and   [130]   served on board her, on the Asiatic station, 1870, 1871, 1872. In 1871 he was present at, and participated with a landing party of sailors and marines from the fleet under Rear Admiral John Rodgers, in the assault, capture and destruction of the Corean fortifications; and the rout of some five thousand men who manned them, on the Salee river, Corea. He returned to the United States in the fall of 1872, and was again ordered to the Naval Academy as head of the department of Modern Languages, and served during 1873-’74-’75 and ’76. In September, 1876, he was ordered to command the United States sloop “Essex,” and served in the North Atlantic and Brazil Squadrons 1877-’78-’79. On the passage to Brazil he touched on the west coast of Africa, and, while there, adjusted some disputes between the Liberian government and the native tribes, and defined the eastern boundary of ‘the Republic; thence to the’ mouth of the Congo to punish the natives for piracy and destruction of an American schooner at Shark’s Point; from St. Paul Loando to Cape Frio on the coast of Brazil, he ran a line of deep sea soundings by which St. Helena was found to be the volcanic projection of a submarine mountain; he crossed another mountain under the surface which rose up two and a-half miles, about eight hundred miles west of St. Helena. In 1878 he was sent to the island of Tristan d’ Acunha to rescue the crew of an American ship wrecked on the western side of the island. In 1879 he was sent to the vicinity of the South Shetland islands, some four hundred miles south of Cape Horn, to rescue the crew of an American sealing schooner, supposed to have been wrecked in those waters; but found the islands inaccessible on account of extensive and dangerous ice floes extending off from the Antarctic continent, one hundred miles north of the Shetland group. He returned to the United States in the fall of 1879, and was assigned to temporary duty in the Navy Department connected with the allowance book of stores for naval vessels. About the middle of, the year 1880 he was ordered as inspector of the second light-house district, at Boston; and served there during 1881-1882-1883, when. he was   [131]   again ordered to the Navy Department, and placed in charge of the training service of the navy under the Bureau of Equipment and Recruiting. In the early part of 1884 he was detached from the Navy Department, and ordered to command the Relief Expedition composed of the “Thetis,” “Bear,” “Alert” and “Loch Garry,” to proceed to the Arctic ocean in search of the lost expedition to Lady Franklin bay, under Lieutenant A. W. Greely, U.S.A. On June 22d, 1884, the Relief Expedition found Lieutenant A. W. Greely and six comrades, alive, near Cape Sabine in Grinnell Land. Nineteen of Greely’s party had perished by starvation, after untold hardships and exposures. The Relief Expedition traversed 1400 miles of dense and dangerous ice pack; often being obliged to blow the way clear with gun-cotton or gunpowder torpedoes to advance to greater difficulties, dangers and exposures. Its arrival at Cape Sabine was just in time to rescue alive the seven found, whose lease of life did not, in all probability, exceed forty-eight hours.

For this service the Legislature of Maryland extended to him the thanks of the state and voted to present him a gold chronometer watch, suitably inscribed; the Massachusetts Humane Society, also, presented him a gold medal. He was thanked by the various Boards of Trade in the several cities of the United States.

On his return to the United States in the fall of 1884, he was received by the city of Portsmouth, N. H., with imposing civic and military demonstrations, and was given the freedom of the city.

Commodore Schley was married September 10, 1863, to Rebecca Franklin, of Annapolis, Maryland. His family consists of himself, wife, and three children, viz.: Thomas Franklin, Maria Virginia, and Winfield Scott — all of the family living at the present time.

The Commodore’s daughter, Maria Virginia, officiated at the “christening” of the U.S. steel gun-boat “Petrel,” recently built and launched (October 13th, 1888) at Baltimore.