George Dewey, born on December 26, 1837, was Admiral of the Navy, the only person in United States history to have attained the rank.
Graduating from the United States Naval Academy in 1854, he was assigned to the USS Mississippi at the beginning of the Civil War. The Union was able to control the Mississippi River upon the capture of New Orleans.
Following the Civil War, then Lieutenant-Commander Dewey remained in active service, and was sent to the European station as executive officer of USS Kearsarge. This was the ship that had sunk the Confederate privateer Alabama.
Peacetime service in 1867 and 1868 found Dewey as executive officer of the USS Colorado. The Colorado was now the flagship of the European Squadron. Being relieved of his duties aboard the Colorado Dewey returned to the Naval Academy and served from November 6, 1867 through August 1870. The duty included commanding the famous frigate USS Constitution, which was berthed at Annapolis. The Constitution was used as a training ship for the midshipmen at the Academy.
The midshipmen at the Academy were honored that Commander Dewey served as one of their instructors.
As it is a policy to move their officers to different duty stations, Dewey found work surveying the coastal waters of the Eastern United States. It was during this time that his wife died after giving birth of his son. In 1873 Dewey was given command of Narragansett and spent nearly four years on this ship. The orders were to survey the Pacific Coast.
War broke out against Spain. On April 27, 1898, Dewey sailed out from China aboard the USS Olympia. Dewey had orders to attack the Spanish at Manila Bay. He stopped at the mouth of the bay late the night of April 30, and the following morning he gave the order to attack by saying the now famous words “You may fire when you are ready, Gridley.” Within six hours, on May 1, he had sunk or captured the entire Spanish fleet. He also silenced the shore batteries at Manila.
On November 9, 1899, after his return from the Far East, Dewey was married for the second time to Mrs. Mildred McLean Hazen, the widow of General William Babcock Hazen.
Temporally leaving the Navy, he ran for the 1900 Democratic presidential nomination. However, he withdrew from the race and supported President William McKinley. The General Board of the United States Navy was an important policy-making body. With Dewey’s outstanding naval record, he was named to the Board and held the position until his death on January 16, 1917.
Admiral Dewey’s remains are kept in the Bethlehem Chapel, on the crypt level, at the Washington National Cathedral, Washington, D.C.