George Dewey



Occupation 1

Navy Officer

Occupation 2

Manila Bay


The World


Age of Steam and Steel (1866-1920)








Naval officer� Dewey entered the U.S. Naval Academy in 1854� After a cruise in the Mediterranean on the new frigate Wabash, he was commissioned a lieutenant�

Through the Civil War, Dewey served as executive officer on six major ships in eight campaigns as well as on patrol and blockade duty. While Dewey was executive officer on the old side-wheeler Mississippi during David G. Farragut's assault on New Orleans, his skipper entrusted him with navigating the ship on its dangerous movement through the barrier between Forts Jackson and St. Philip below the city. A year later, when the Mississippi's pilot ran it at full speed on a mud bank before Confederate batteries at Port Hudson, Dewey supervised evacuation of the crew under heavy enemy fire. After a stint on Farragut's flagship, the screw sloop Monongahela, on the lower Mississippi, Dewey served in 1864 on the third-rate, double-ended gunboat Agawan on the James River. He finished the war as executive officer on the regunned frigate Colorado during the attacks on Fort Fisher in December 1864 and January 1865. He then held the rank of lieutenant commander�

The twenty-five years following the Civil War were for Dewey years of honorable service, slow promotions, and little opportunity to demonstrate distinction� In 1867 he joined the faculty at the Naval Academy� In 1873 and spent two years surveying the Gulf of California and the west coast of Mexico. For the next six years he was ashore with the Lighthouse Service at Boston (1875-1878) and as secretary of the Lighthouse Board in Washington (1878-1882)�

In 1884 he briefly commanded the cruiser Dolphin, the smallest of the first four ships of the steam and steel navy. When the Dolphin failed its initial trials, Dewey was given command of the steam sloop Pensacola, flagship of the European Station, from 1885 to 1888.

Dewey in 1889 began a four-year term as chief of the Bureau of Equipment at the Navy Department. He continued his comfortable Washington career with appointments on the Lighthouse Board, eventually holding the presidency (1893-1895). In October 1895 he was named president of the Board of Inspection and Survey�

Naval plans were already prepared for an attack on Manila should war break out between the United States and Spain� Dewey's squadron clearly outclassed the ships of the opposing Spanish in tonnage, speed, and gun power. He had assembled his ships at Mirs Bay, thirty miles up the China coast from neutral British Hong Kong, when on 24 April the Navy Department directed him to push ahead with "utmost endeavors" against the Spanish fleet and the Philippines�

The commodore sighted Montojo's ships drawn up before the naval station at Cavite to the southwest of Manila, and� he calmly advised the flagship's skipper, Captain Charles V. Gridley, "You may fire when you are ready Gridley." The Americans passed three times to the west and twice to the east, firing into the Spanish ships. When at about 7:35 a.m. the Americans withdrew into the bay to count their ammunition, the Spanish ships were in flames and sinking�the Spanish halted their futile fire from Manila and surrendered the guns and magazines at the entrances to the bay on 2-3 May�

The Philippine insurgents, who like the Cubans wanted to break away from Spain, [caused problems]. Initially, [Dewey] found it convenient to encourage insurgent operations against the Spanish without, it seems, seriously considering Filipino moves to form a government or their declaration of independence. As American forces increased in Manila Bay, relations between Americans and Filipinos became difficult. The Filipinos had laid siege to Manila, but with the arrival of Major General Wesley Merritt and the Third Army contingent, the American army force of 10,000 men was quite sufficient to occupy and hold Manila without any assistance from the insurgents.

The Spanish proved willing to surrender the city to the Americans if the insurgents were kept out. Through the mediation of the Belgian consul, a charade was worked out whereby on 13 August, after some token firing by the Americans on Fort San Antonio to the south of the city, the Spanish surrendered, and the Americans occupied the city without a fight. Unknown to Dewey, the Spanish government had already accepted an armistice providing that the United States would �occupy and hold the city, bay, and harbor of Manila��

Aware of the disintegration of relations between Americans and Filipinos, especially after Spain ceded the Philippines to the United States by the Treaty of Paris in December 1898, Dewey recommended that a civilian commission be sent to the Philippines on a mission of conciliation. Unfortunately, the first Philippine Commission only began its work in the islands months after the outbreak of hostilities that committed the United States to a long war of conquest. Dewey escaped from this unpleasant small war by securing orders to return to the United States on grounds of ill health�

In March 1899 Congress created for him the rank of admiral of the navy with provision that he might remain on active service for life� A prestigious position was found for the distinguished officer in 1900 when Secretary of the Navy John D. Long appointed him president of the General Board of the Navy�

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