Skip to main content
Select Source:

Dewey, George (1837-1917)

George Dewey (1837-1917)

Admiral u.s. navy, 1899-1917

Source

The Making of a World Power. The success of Commodore George Deweys squadron in the Battle of Manila Bay on 1 May 1898 not only ensured U.S. victory in the Spanish-American War and made Dewey a popular American hero, but it also echoed through history, laying the groundwork for the continued role of the United States in that region of the world for the next century.

Background. Born in Montpelier, Vermont, on 26 December 1837, George Dewey graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1858, and during the Civil War he served as a Union naval officer aboard the Mississippi, one of the ships under the command of Capt. (later admiral) David Farragut in the Battle of New Orleans in 1862. During the naval expansion of the 1880s and 1890s Dewey became chief of the Bureau of Equipment in 1889, president of the Lighthouse Board in 1893, and president of the Board of Inspection and Survey in 1895. The following year he was promoted to the rank of Commodore. In 1897 he assumed command of the Asiatic Squadron in the Pacific.

The Spanish-American War. In February 1898 he received orders from Undersecretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt that in the event of war with Spain he should take his fleet to the Philippines and engageé the Spanish navy. In the early morning hours of 1 May, less than two weeks after war was declared, Dewey moved his fleet into Manila Bay. At dawn he attacked the Spanish fleet at anchor. Deweys squadron consisted of only four cruisers and two gunboats, but they were all more modem than were the seven Spanish ships. The Spanish fleet, how-ever, was moored behind a minefield and protected by heavy guns mounted on shore. Following a strategy he had learned under Farragut, Dewey kept his ships in a column and steamed back and forth across the Spanish anchorage, always presenting a moving target. After seven hours of fighting, all the Spanish ships were burned, sunk, or abandoned, while Deweys fleet escaped practically without damage. With the capture of the naval base at Cavite and the city of Manila under the guns of his ships, he accepted the surrender of the Spanish forces. The stunning victory ended forever Spanish power in the Far East. Two weeks later Congress passed a special resolution increasing by one the number of rear admirals so that Dewey could be promoted.

Naval Hero. Dewey was hailed as a national hero, and in March 1899 Congress created a new rank, Admiral of the Navy, especially for Dewey with the provision that he could choose to remain on active duty for the rest of his life or retire at full pay. When he returned to the United States in September 1899 he was honored with huge parades and other celebrations in New York and Washington, D.C., and the following April some Democrats began a campaign to win him their partys presidential nomination. Dewey, who had little interest in politics, briefly considered running but withdrew his name from consideration in mid May. From 1900 until his death on 11 January 1917, Dewey, as the highest ranking uniformed officer of the U.S. Navy, served as president of the General Board of the Navy.

Justifying the New Navy. Deweys victory at Manila Bay justified, in the eyes of pronavy advocates, the seventeen-year program of building the New Navy, a fleet of modem steel, steam-powered warships. The short naval war with Spain gave immense confidence to the American people regarding the ability of the nation to be a power on the world scene, and at the same time it provided an argument for military readiness. Suddenly the United States had Pacific bases and had become a major power in the Far East.

Source

Ronald Spector, Admiral of the New Empire: The Life and Career of George Dewey (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1974).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Dewey, George (1837-1917)." American Eras. . Encyclopedia.com. 25 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Dewey, George (1837-1917)." American Eras. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 25, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/dewey-george-1837-1917

"Dewey, George (1837-1917)." American Eras. . Retrieved June 25, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/dewey-george-1837-1917

George Dewey

George Dewey

American naval officer George Dewey (1837-1917) was the celebrated victor of the Battle of Manila Bay in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War.

George Dewey was born on Dec. 26, 1837, in Montpelier, Vt. After attending the local public schools and a private military academy, he entered the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, graduating third in his class in 1858. He entered active service with the rank of lieutenant.

During the Civil War, Dewey saw hard combat at New Orleans, the opening of the Mississippi River, and the capture of Ft. Fisher. At war's end he had the rank of lieutenant commander and the respect of superiors who controlled his professional destiny.

During the 1870s and the early 1880s Dewey held routine assignments. As chief of the Bureau of Equipment and then as president of the Board of Inspection and Survey, between 1889 and 1897 Dewey played an important part in the construction of the new fleet of armored, steam-propelled steel warships.

In October 1897 with the backing of Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt, Dewey, now a commodore, was assigned to command the fleet's Asiatic squadron. Anticipating war with Spain, Roosevelt wanted an able officer who could aggressively carry out a plan for an attack on Manila, capital of the Spanish-held Philippines.

When Congress declared war in late April 1898, Dewey sailed for Manila with six light cruisers and an assortment of auxiliary vessels. On May 1, after a daring night run past the batteries guarding the harbor entrance, he attacked a Spanish squadron in Manila Bay that was similar in strength and composition to his own. When the firing ended, Dewey's force, without losing one man or ship, had sunk or set afire every Spanish vessel. This one-sided victory paved the way for the American conquest of the Philippines, and it transformed the obscure naval officer into a popular hero who was rewarded with parades, banquets, and triumphal arches upon his return to the United States.

Dewey's first wife had died in childbirth in 1872, and in 1899 he married Mildred McLean Hazen, a longtime friend. A brief Dewey presidential boom flared and fizzled. Promoted to admiral of the Navy, Dewey assumed the presidency of the newly created General Board of the Navy in 1900. During the next 15 years under Dewey's aggressive leadership, the Board became the nation's most influential military planning agency, working out basic war strategy and guiding the enlargement of the fleet. A few weeks before the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Dewey suffered a stroke that removed him from active duty. He died in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 16, 1917.

Further Reading

The Autobiography of George Dewey covers his career to 1899. The most thorough biography is in Richard S. West, Jr., Admiralsof American Empire (1948). A full-length study is Laurin Hall Healy and Luis Kutner, The Admiral (1944). For the Manila campaign see French Ensor Chadwick, The Relations of the United States and Spain: The Spanish-American War (2 vols., 1911). John A. S. Grenville and George Berkeley Young, Politics, Strategy, and American Diplomacy (1966), contains new information on Manila and on Dewey's work with the General Board.

Additional Sources

Dewey, George, Autobiography of George Dewey, admiral of the Navy, Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1987.

Spector, Ronald H., Admiral of the new empire: the life and career of George Dewey, Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1988. □

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"George Dewey." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 25 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"George Dewey." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 25, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/george-dewey

"George Dewey." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved June 25, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/george-dewey

Dewey, George

Dewey, George (1837–1917), American admiral and popular naval hero.Dewey was born in Montpelier, Vermont, in 1837 and graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1858. He served with distinction at the battles of New Orleans and Port Hudson during the Civil War and ended the war as a lieutenant commander. He served in varying peacetime assignments, including command of the sloops Pensacola and Narragansett. Dewey spent the 1890s in Washington as chief of the Bureau of Equipment, president of the Lighthouse Board, and president of the Board of Inspection and Survey. In 1897, with the support of his Vermont senator, Redfield Procter, and Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt, Dewey was appointed to command the Asiatic Squadron, based in the Far East.

Dewey's squadron was at Hong Kong when the Spanish‐American War began in April 1898. The U.S. Navy had long‐standing plans to attack the Philippines in the event of war with Spain, and on 1 May 1895, Dewey led his squadron boldly into Manila Bay, disregarding reports of sea mines at its narrow entrance. In a few hours Dewey had destroyed the antiquated Spanish squadron in the Philippines and blockaded Manila. News of the dramatic victory in the Battle of Manila Bay, achieved without the loss of a single American life, made Dewey a popular hero and set in motion a chain of events leading to the U.S. annexation of the Philippines.

Following his return to the United States, Dewey, now promoted to the rank of admiral of the navy, flirted briefly with a run for the presidency, then settled down to preside over the General Board, the navy's first military planning organization. Under Dewey's stewardship, the board prepared plans for possible war with Germany and Japan and dealt with such questions as the location of naval bases in the Pacific, ship characteristics, and Navy Department organization. He died in January 1917 having served as a trusted naval adviser to three presidents.
[See also: Navy, U.S.: 1866–98; Philippines, U.S. Military Involvement in the.]

Ronald H. Spector

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Dewey, George." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . Encyclopedia.com. 25 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Dewey, George." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 25, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/dewey-george

"Dewey, George." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . Retrieved June 25, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/dewey-george

Dewey, George

George Dewey (dōō´ē, dyōō´–), 1837–1917, American admiral, hero of the battle of Manila, b. Montpelier, Vt., grad. Annapolis, 1858. He saw active duty in the Civil War and rose in the navy in service and rank, becoming chief of the Bureau of Equipment in 1889, president of the Board of Inspection and Survey in 1895, and commodore in 1896. He was unpopular with many high-ranking naval commanders, and it seems to have been through the influence of Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt and the direct intervention of President McKinley that Dewey was appointed in 1897 to command the Asiatic squadron. When the Spanish-American War broke out, Dewey was ready. He sailed to Manila, entered the harbor after midnight on May 1, 1898, and engaged the Spanish fleet at dawn. By noon he had destroyed eight Spanish ships with only eight Americans wounded. Manila was at his mercy, but he waited for reinforcements; meanwhile he brought Emilio Aguinaldo, the Filipino rebel, back from exile to lead a revolution in the Philippines. In maintaining relations with neutral warships at Manila, Dewey had to exercise firmness with the officers of five German ships who would not accede to his blockade rules. When Gen. Wesley Merritt arrived with army forces, the commanders cooperated in capturing Manila. Promoted to admiral of the navy in 1899, he was feted on his return to the United States with almost hysterical enthusiasm and briefly received wide support as a potential presidential candidate.

See his autobiography (1913, repr. 1971); L. H. Healy and L. Kutner, The Admiral (1944); N. Sargent, Admiral Dewey and the Manila Campaign (1947); R. S. West, Admirals of American Empire (1948, repr. 1971).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Dewey, George." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 25 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Dewey, George." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 25, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/dewey-george

"Dewey, George." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved June 25, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/dewey-george