Weddle, Kevin J. 1957–

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Weddle, Kevin J. 1957–

(Kevin John Weddle)


Born April 2, 1957. Education: Princeton University, Ph.D., 2003.


Home—Carlisle, PA. Office—Department of Academic Affairs, Bldg. 122, United States Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, PA 17013.


United States Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, PA, professor and Deputy Dean of Academics. Military service: U.S. Army, became colonel.


Society for Military History.


Colby Award, William E. Colby Military Writers' Symposium, 2005, for Lincoln's Tragic Admiral: The Life of Samuel Francis Du Pont; Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt Naval History Prize runner-up, 2005, for Lincoln's Tragic Admiral.


Lincoln's Tragic Admiral: The Life of Samuel Francis Du Pont, University of Virginia Press (Charlottesville, VA), 2005.


Kevin J. Weddle's first book is Lincoln's Tragic Admiral: The Life of Samuel Francis Du Pont. Du Pont, nephew of the industrialist and founder of the Du Pont Company, was born in 1803 and he entered the navy when he was twelve. Advancement in the years following the War of 1812 came at a snail's pace; Du Pont became a captain when he was fifty-six, after forty years in the service. Despite this, he was competent and garnered a good reputation. Du Pont commanded the vessel Cyane during the Mexican War, assisting in the blockade and fighting in naval battles. Prior to the Civil War, he commanded the Minnesota, which sailed to China and for the U.S. signing of the Treaty of Tientsin.

Weddle's main thesis is that these accomplishments aside, Du Pont's greatest legacy was in transforming the U.S. Navy in the years between the Mexican War and the Civil War. He brought about reforms in strategy, promotion practices, and technology (mainly steam power), which drastically increased the navy's efficiency and effectiveness. He encouraged the building of ironclad ships, vastly superior in battle to their wooden predecessors. His most controversial tactic was creating the Efficiency Board that revaluated the performance of 250 naval officers, determining that 111 of them were unfit for active duty. Removing these officers cleared the way for younger talent to come up through the ranks more quickly than he had.

During the Civil War, Du Pont led the expedition that captured Port Royal, South Carolina—the Union's first critical victory. He subsequently became one of the navy's first rear admirals. His popularity plummeted in April, 1863, when he was ordered to attack Charleston, South Carolina, without land support from the army as he had requested. His superiors failed to heed his warnings of defeat and the plan, once executed, was a disaster. The Navy Department cast him as the scapegoat, and he died shortly thereafter with his reputation in tatters. A quarter-century later, his fifty years of service were honored when a statue was placed in Washington, DC's Du Pont Circle, named in his honor.

"Clearly organized and well written, the book strikes an admirable balance between descriptive narrative and analytical interpretation," wrote John H. Schroeder in a review for the online journal H-CivWar. "Weddle knows how to distinguish between what is significant and worth writing about, and what is insignificant and not worth telling," he concluded. One of the advantages to telling Du Pont's story, according to Kurt Hackemer in the Journal of Southern History, is that it "offers valuable insight into the politics of the Union's strategic decision-making process." Writing in Parameters, Carlo D'Este called the book "revealing," and praised it for shedding "important new light on the rise and fall of an undeservedly obscure military figure." D'Este concluded that it is "the auspicious debut of a historian and biographer who deserves to be widely read by anyone interested in military history and the lessons it offers us."



Journal of Military History, January, 2006, Spencer C. Tucker, review of Lincoln's Tragic Admiral: The Life of Samuel Francis Du Pont, p. 238.

Journal of Southern History, November, 2006, Kurt Hackemer, review of Lincoln's Tragic Admiral, p. 950.

Parameters, summer, 2006, Carlo D'Este, review of Lincoln's Tragic Admiral, p. 130.

Reference & Research Book News, November, 2005, review of Lincoln's Tragic Admiral.


H-CivWar, (May, 2006), John H. Schroeder, review of Lincoln's Tragic Admiral.