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Navy Profiles

George Foster Emmons
Explorer and Blockader

George Foster Emmons was born August 23, 1811 in Clarendon, Vt., and began his distinguished career as a midshipman in April 1828. As a lieutenant on the sloop Peacock he participated in the Wilkes Exploring Expedition of 1838-42, which discovered the Antarctic Continent, and explored many of the islands in the South Seas. During the latter part of the expedition, while exploring the Pacific coast of the United States, he was assigned command of the expedition's overland party conducting surveys and exploration from Puget Sound south to San Francisco. During the Mexican War, he served on the USS Ohio and USS Warren, among other ships, taking part in engagements on shore in California. He was promoted to commander in 1856, having charge of the frigate Savannah in the Brazil Squadron.1

On January 16, 1862, the side-wheel steamer Hatteras, under the command of Commander George Emmons, captured a Confederate battery and "a large amount of public property, stores, and two loaded schooners" at Sea Horse Key, Florida. On the same day, he captured and destroyed the Confederate sloops Dudly, Rattler, and William H. Middleton, and schooners Anna Smith, Stag, and Ancilla, which were carrying turpentine, rosin, cotton, lumber and other cargoes. On April 4, at Pass Christian, Mississippi, he captured the steamer P.C. Wallis and the schooner Resolution. On May 1, at Berwick, Bay, Louisiana, he captured the schooner Magnolia, which was carrying cotton bound from Berwick, to New Orleans; on May 16, at Vermilion Bay, the sloop Poody; on July 3, again at Berwick Bay, the schooner Sarah, carrying sugar, molasses, etc., from Vermilion Bay to Sabine, and two days later, the schooner Elizabeth, carrying cotton. Finally, on July 28, the brig Josephine, was captured at Ship Shoal.2

Emmons was promoted to Captain in February, 1863, and assigned as fleet captain in Admiral Dahlgren's South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, onboard the side-wheel steamer Philadelphia, from August 1863 to November 1864. The highlight of her activities during this period was her participation in operation against Charleston, S.C. in the fall of 1863.3

On November 7, 1864, he took command of the screw sloop Lackawanna. By late November, he was off Galveston, Texas, commanding the 2nd Division of the Western Gulf Blockading Squadron. Emmons was described by the ship's surgeon as 'an officer of the old school, and while scrupulously polite to all hands, and the kindest hearted commander in the squadron to his men, old "Pop Emmons" as they affectionately called him, enforced rigidly every detail of regulation regarding all points of etiquette, uniform, etc.'4

On December 29, he reported the capture or destruction of the brig Hilligonda, the sloop Mary Ann, and schooners Lowood, Julia, Lady Hurley, Alabama, Cora and Belle. In February, he reported the capture or destruction of several blockade runners, including the schooners Anna Dale, Annie Sophia, Louisa, Mary Agnes and Pet, the side-wheel steamer Acadia and the screw steamers Will-o'-the-wisp and Wren.5

Between March 1 and 15, 1865, Lackawanna returned to New Orleans. On April 24, she participated in what was probably the last naval combat action of the war, the attempted escape of the Rebel ram William H. Webb. While in New Orleans, Emmons, senior naval officer afloat, most likely socialized with Captain Theodore P. Greene, commanding the steam sloop Richmond, which had just arrived from Mobile. By June 1 the Lackawanna was at Mobile, and on June 21, sailed for New York.6

After the war, he commanded the Ossipee, which carried U.S. commissioners to Alaska, landing at Sitka, on 18 October 1867, and hoisting the American flag over that part of the country for the first time. During his twilight tour (last tour before retirement), Rear Admiral Emmons commanded the Navy Yard at Philadelphia.7

(to be continued ...)


Notes:

1. "Emmons," DANFS. Note: Midshipman George M. Colvocoresses was also part of this expedition.

2. Neeser, ii:88-9, 336-7, 344-59; ORN, 12:473.

3. "Philadelphia," DANFS; Peck, 691.

4. Hutchinson, W.F. 1883. LIFE ON THE TEXAN BLOCKADE, Personal Narratives of Events in the War of the Rebellion, Being Papers Read Before the Rhode Island Soldiers and Sailors Historical Society. Rhode Island Soldiers and Sailors Historical Society, Volume 4, pp.1-41; visited 23 Apr 2003 at http://suvcw.org/mollus/warpapers/RIv4p1.htm; Internet.

5. ORN, 21:729; 22:4, 29 and 43.

6. ORN, 22:144, 166-7, 189, 213 and 223.

7. "Emmons," DANFS.


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