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Charles Henry Davis

Charles Henry Davis (January 16, 1807 – February 18, 1877) was a Rear Admiral in the United States Navy, serving primarily during the American Civil War and with the United States Coast Survey.

Early life and career[]

Davis was born in Boston, Massachusetts.[1] He was commissioned as a Midshipman on August 12, 1823. Between 1827 and 1828, he served on board the frigate USS United States, in the Pacific. In 1829, he was promoted to Passed Midshipman. From 1830 to 1833, he served on the sloop USS Ontario. In 1834, he was promoted to Lieutenant and assigned to the USS Vincennes. In 1840 to 1841, he served on board the USS Independence.

From 1846 to 1849, he worked in the United States Coast Survey on board the USS Nantucket, where he discovered a previously unknown shoal that had caused shipwrecks off the coast of New York. During his service to the Survey, he was also responsible for researching tides and currents and acted as an inspector on a number of naval shipyards.

In 1854, he was promoted to Commander and given the command of the USS St. Mary's. In 1859, while commanding the St. Mary's, Davis was ordered to go to Baker Island to obtain samples of guano, becoming perhaps the first American to set foot there since it was annexed by the United States in 1857. The guano was necessary as fertilizer. Commodore William Mervine had previously been sent, but he did not land and believed the island to be inaccessible. (From evidence that was later found on the island, it had been visited prior to 1857 by whalers.)

Civil War service[]

In 1861, he was promoted to Captain. In the American Civil War, he was made Acting Flag Officer, in command of the Western Gunboat Flotilla. A day after he took command, the flotilla fought a short battle with Confederate ships on the Mississippi River at Plum Point Bend on May 10, 1862. Caught unready for battle, two of the Union ships were badly damaged and had to be run into shoal water to keep from sinking. The Confederate vessels escaped with only minor damage. On June 6, his ships fought in the Battle of Memphis, which resulted in the sinking or capture of seven of the eight Confederate ships, compared with damage to only one of the Union vessels. In July, he cooperated with Flag Officer David G. Farragut in an attack on Vicksburg, Mississippi, but they were forced to withdraw. In August, he proceeded up the Yazoo River and successfully seized Confederate supplies and munitions there. After this excursion, he was made Chief of the Bureau of Navigation and returned to Washington, D.C..

On February 7, 1863, he was promoted to Rear Admiral.

Post-war service[]

From 1865 to 1867, he was the Superintendent of the United States Naval Observatory. In 1867, he was given command of the South Atlantic squadron and was given the USS Guerriere as his flagship. In 1869, he returned home and served both on the Lighthouse Board as well as in the Naval Observatory. Davis died in Washington, D.C., and is buried in Cambridge, Massachusetts.[1]


He married Harriette Blake Mills, the daughter of U.S. Senator Elijah Hunt Mills. One of their children, Anna Cabot Mills Davis, married U.S. Senator Henry Cabot Lodge.[2]

A species of sea anemone native to the coasts of New England and Nova Scotia, the Rhodactis davisii, is named for Davis.


Several ships of the United States Navy are also named in his honor: the torpedo boat USS Davis (TB-12) and the destroyers Davis (DD-65) and Davis (DD-395).

See also[]

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Template:Start box |- style="text-align: center;" |- style="text-align:center;" |width="30%" align="center" rowspan="1"|Preceded by
Raymond P. Rodgers |width="40%" style="text-align: center;" rowspan="1"|Head of the Office of Naval Intelligence
(Chief Intelligence Officer)

September 1889–August 1892 |width="30%" align="center" rowspan="1"| Succeeded by
French Ensor Chadwick |- |}


  1. 1.0 1.1 Eicher, p. 201.
  2. Adams, Henry. The Life of George Cabot Lodge. pg. 4-5. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1911


  • Eicher, John H., and Eicher, David J., Civil War High Commands, Stanford University Press, 2001, ISBN 0-8047-3641-3.
  • "Navy." The Military and Naval Magazine of the United States. Washington: Mar 1835. Vol.5, Iss. 1; pg. 78, 3 pgs
  • "The Independence." The Naval Magazine. New York: May 1837.Vol.2, Iss. 3; pg. 290, 2 pgs
  • "American Guano." The New England Farmer; a Monthly Journal. Boston: Jun 1859.Vol.11, Iss. 6; pg. 265, 2 pgs
  • "The American Guano Islands." National Era. Washington: Jun 16, 1859.Vol.VOL. XIII., Iss. No. 650.; pg. 94, 1 pgs
  • "The Aquarial Gardens." Friends' Intelligencer. Philadelphia: Aug 6, 1859.Vol.16, Iss. 21; pg. 333, 3 pgs
  • "Another Naval Victory." New York Times. New York, N.Y.: May 12, 1862. pg. 8, 1 pgs
  • "Current Events." The New-England Historical and Genealogical Register. Boston: 1862. pg. 299, 3 pgs
  • "Rear Admiral Charles H. Davis." New York Times. New York, N.Y.: Feb 19, 1877. pg. 5, 1 pgs

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