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Adolphus Greely

Adolphus Greely

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Adolphus Washington Greely (March 27, 1844 – October 20, 1935), was an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

Geographical pole
A geographical pole is either of the two points—the north pole and the south pole—on the surface of a rotating planet where the axis of rotation meets the surface of the body...

 explorer, a United States Army
United States Army
The United States Army is the main branch of the United States Armed Forces responsible for land-based military operations. It is the largest and oldest established branch of the U.S. military, and is one of seven U.S. uniformed services...

 officer and a recipient of the Medal of Honor
Medal of Honor
The Medal of Honor is the highest military decoration awarded by the United States government. It is bestowed by the President, in the name of Congress, upon members of the United States Armed Forces who distinguish themselves through "conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his or her...


Early military career

Greely was born March 27, 1844 in Newburyport, Massachusetts
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States of America. It is bordered by Rhode Island and Connecticut to the south, New York to the west, and Vermont and New Hampshire to the north; at its east lies the Atlantic Ocean. As of the 2010...

. He entered the United States Army
United States Army
The United States Army is the main branch of the United States Armed Forces responsible for land-based military operations. It is the largest and oldest established branch of the U.S. military, and is one of seven U.S. uniformed services...

 at the age of 17, after having been rejected twice before. He had achieved the rank of brevet
Brevet (military)
In many of the world's military establishments, brevet referred to a warrant authorizing a commissioned officer to hold a higher rank temporarily, but usually without receiving the pay of that higher rank except when actually serving in that role. An officer so promoted may be referred to as being...

 Major by the end of the Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

. Greely joined the regular Army in 1866 as a Second Lieutenant of Infantry; in 1873, Greely was promoted to First Lieutenant.

Lady Franklin Bay Expedition

In 1881, First Lieutenant Greely was given command of the Lady Franklin Bay Expedition
Lady Franklin Bay Expedition
The 1881-1884 Lady Franklin Bay Expedition into the Canadian Arctic was led by Lt. Adolphus Greely and was promoted by the United States Army Signal Corps. Its purpose was threefold: to establish a meteorological-observation station as part of the First International Polar Year, to collect...

 on the ship Proteus. Promoted by Henry W. Howgate
Henry W. Howgate
Capt. Henry W. Howgate was Chief Disbursing Officer in the United States Army Signal Corps and responsible for major Arctic explorations...

, its purpose was to establish one of a chain of meteorological-observation stations as part of the First International Polar Year
International Polar Year
The International Polar Year is a collaborative, international effort researching the polar regions. Karl Weyprecht, an Austro-Hungarian naval officer, motivated the endeavor, but died before it first occurred in 1882-1883. Fifty years later a second IPY occurred...

. The expedition also was commissioned by the US government to collect astronomical and polar magnetic data, which was carried out by the astronomer Edward Israel
Edward Israel
-Early years:Israel was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan on July 1, 1859. He was the son of Mannes and Tillie Israel, the first Jews to settle in Kalamazoo...

, who was part of Greely's crew. Another goal of the expedition was to search for any clues of the , lost north of Ellesmere Island.

Greely was without previous Arctic experience, but he and his party were able to discover many hitherto unknown miles along the coast of northwest Greenland
Greenland is an autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark, located between the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans, east of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Though physiographically a part of the continent of North America, Greenland has been politically and culturally associated with Europe for...

. The expedition also crossed Ellesmere Island
Ellesmere Island
Ellesmere Island is part of the Qikiqtaaluk Region of the Canadian territory of Nunavut. Lying within the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, it is considered part of the Queen Elizabeth Islands, with Cape Columbia being the most northerly point of land in Canada...

 from east to west and Lt. James B. Lockwood and David L. Brainard achieved a new "farthest north" record of 83°23'8".

In 1882, Greely sighted a mountain range
Mountain range
A mountain range is a single, large mass consisting of a succession of mountains or narrowly spaced mountain ridges, with or without peaks, closely related in position, direction, formation, and age; a component part of a mountain system or of a mountain chain...

 during a dog sledding exploration to the interior of northern Ellesmere Island and named them the Conger Range
Conger Range
The Conger Range, also called the Conger Mountains, is a mountain range in Quttinirpaaq National Park on Ellesmere Island, Nunavut, Canada, beginning about west of Mount Osborne. It is part of the Arctic Cordillera which is a vast dissected mountain system extending from Ellesmere Island to the...

. He also sighted the Innuitian Mountains
Innuitian Mountains
The Innuitian Mountains are a mountain range in Canada's Arctic territories of Nunavut and the Northwest Territories. They are part of the Arctic Cordillera and are largely unexplored, due to the hostile climate. They are named after the northern indigenous people, who live in the region. In some...

 from Lake Hazen
Lake Hazen
Lake Hazen is often called the northernmost lake of Canada, in the northern part of Ellesmere Island, Nunavut, but detailed maps show several smaller lakes up to more than farther north on Canada's northernmost island. Turnabout Lake is immediately northeast of the northern end of Hazen lake...


Two relief parties failed to reach Greely's party encamped at Fort Conger
Fort Conger
Fort Conger is a former settlement, military fortification, and scientific research post in Qikiqtaaluk, Nunavut, Canada. It was established in 1881 as an Arctic exploration camp, notable as the site of the first major northern polar region scientific expedition, part of the US government's...

 on Ellesmere Island
Ellesmere Island
Ellesmere Island is part of the Qikiqtaaluk Region of the Canadian territory of Nunavut. Lying within the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, it is considered part of the Queen Elizabeth Islands, with Cape Columbia being the most northerly point of land in Canada...

. Thanks to the persistence of Greely's wife, Henrietta, the search was never abandoned.

A later expedition, led by Capt. Winfield Scott Schley
Winfield Scott Schley
Winfield Scott Schley was a rear admiral in the United States Navy and the hero of the Battle of Santiago Bay during the Spanish-American War.-Civil War:...

, the USRC Bear
Bear (ship)
The Bear was a dual steam-powered and sailing ship built with six inch thick sides which had a long life in various cold-water and ice-filled environs. She was a forerunner of modern icebreakers and had an exceptionally diverse service life...

, a former whaler
A whaler is a specialized ship, designed for whaling, the catching and/or processing of whales. The former included the whale catcher, a steam or diesel-driven vessel with a harpoon gun mounted at its bows. The latter included such vessels as the sail or steam-driven whaleship of the 16th to early...

 built in Greenock, Scotland, was sent to rescue the Greely party. By the time the Bear, and ships, Thetis and Alert, arrived on June 22, 1884 to rescue the expedition (which by then had painstakingly relocated to Cape Sabine), nineteen of Greely's 25-man crew had perished from starvation
Starvation is a severe deficiency in caloric energy, nutrient and vitamin intake. It is the most extreme form of malnutrition. In humans, prolonged starvation can cause permanent organ damage and eventually, death...

, drowning
Drowning is death from asphyxia due to suffocation caused by water entering the lungs and preventing the absorption of oxygen leading to cerebral hypoxia....

, hypothermia
Hypothermia is a condition in which core temperature drops below the required temperature for normal metabolism and body functions which is defined as . Body temperature is usually maintained near a constant level of through biologic homeostasis or thermoregulation...

, and in one case, gunshot wounds from an execution ordered by Greely.

Greely and the other survivors were themselves near death; one of the survivors died on the homeward journey. The returning survivors were venerated as heroes, though the heroism was tainted by sensational accusations of cannibalism during the remaining days of low food.

The story of this remarkable journey has been published numerous times, the most definitive of which is Abandoned: The Story of the Greely Arctic Expedition 1881-1884, written by Alden Todd. On his rescue, see Stephen K. Stein, "The Greely Relief Expedition and the New Navy" (International Journal of Naval History, December 2006). The story was also featured on PBS' American Experience
American Experience
American Experience is a television program airing on the Public Broadcasting Service Public television stations in the United States. The program airs documentaries, many of which have won awards, about important or interesting events and people in American history...


Later career

In June 1886, he was promoted to Captain after serving twenty years as a Lieutenant and, in March 1887, President Grover Cleveland
Grover Cleveland
Stephen Grover Cleveland was the 22nd and 24th president of the United States. Cleveland is the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms and therefore is the only individual to be counted twice in the numbering of the presidents...

 appointed him as Chief Signal Officer of the U.S. Army with the rank of Brigadier General.

During his tenure as Chief Signal Officer
United States Army Signal Corps
The United States Army Signal Corps develops, tests, provides, and manages communications and information systems support for the command and control of combined arms forces. It was established in 1860, the brainchild of United States Army Major Albert J. Myer, and has had an important role from...

 of the Army, the following military telegraph lines were constructed, operated and maintained during the Spanish American War: Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico , officially the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico , is an unincorporated territory of the United States, located in the northeastern Caribbean, east of the Dominican Republic and west of both the United States Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands.Puerto Rico comprises an...

, 800 miles; Cuba
The Republic of Cuba is an island nation in the Caribbean. The nation of Cuba consists of the main island of Cuba, the Isla de la Juventud, and several archipelagos. Havana is the largest city in Cuba and the country's capital. Santiago de Cuba is the second largest city...

, 3,000 miles; the Philippines
The Philippines , officially known as the Republic of the Philippines , is a country in Southeast Asia in the western Pacific Ocean. To its north across the Luzon Strait lies Taiwan. West across the South China Sea sits Vietnam...

, 10,200 miles. In connection with Alaska
Alaska is the largest state in the United States by area. It is situated in the northwest extremity of the North American continent, with Canada to the east, the Arctic Ocean to the north, and the Pacific Ocean to the west and south, with Russia further west across the Bering Strait...

, then General Greely had constructed under very adverse conditions a telegraph system of nearly 4,000 miles, consisting of submarine cables, landcables and wireless telegraphy
Wireless telegraphy
Wireless telegraphy is a historical term used today to apply to early radio telegraph communications techniques and practices, particularly those used during the first three decades of radio before the term radio came into use....

, the later covering a distance of 107 miles, which at the time of installation was the longest commercial system regularly working in the world.

In 1906, he served as military commander over the emergency situation created by the San Francisco earthquake. On February 10, 1906 he was promoted to Major General and on March 27, 1908 reached the mandatory retirement age of 64.

In 1911 he represented the United States Army at the coronation of King George V.

He died October 20, 1935 in Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....

 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington County, Virginia, is a military cemetery in the United States of America, established during the American Civil War on the grounds of Arlington House, formerly the estate of the family of Confederate general Robert E. Lee's wife Mary Anna Lee, a great...

, Arlington, Virginia. His grave can be found in section 1, lot 129 grid N/O-32.5.

Personal life

He attended the First Presbyterian Church, Newburyport
First Presbyterian Church, Newburyport
First Presbyterian Church, also known as Old South, is a Presbyterian congregation in Newburyport, Massachusetts that is part of the Presbyterian Church...

 and married Henrietta Nesmith in 1878.

In 1905, he accepted the honor of serving as the first president of The Explorers Club
The Explorers Club
The Explorers Club is a professional society dedicated to scientific exploration of Earth, its oceans, and outer space. Founded in 1904 in New York City, it currently has 30 branches world wide...

 and in 1915, he invited the Italian
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

 polar geographer Arnaldo Faustini
Arnaldo Faustini
Arnaldo Faustini was an Italian polar geographer, writer, and cartographer. He is considered by some to be the first Italian polar specialist. Born in Rome, he received his doctorate at the University of Rome at the age of 21. Faustini worked at a newspaper based in Rome as scientific editor...

 to the United States for a lecture tour.

Honors and awards

He was awarded an Honorary Fellowship and the Daly Medal by the American Geographical Society
American Geographical Society
The American Geographical Society is an organization of professional geographers, founded in 1851 in New York City. Most fellows of the society are Americans, but among them have always been a significant number of fellows from around the world...

 in 1922.

On May 28, 1986, the United States Postal Service
United States Postal Service
The United States Postal Service is an independent agency of the United States government responsible for providing postal service in the United States...

 issued a 22 cent postage stamp
Postage stamp
A postage stamp is a small piece of paper that is purchased and displayed on an item of mail as evidence of payment of postage. Typically, stamps are made from special paper, with a national designation and denomination on the face, and a gum adhesive on the reverse side...

 in his honor.

Medal of Honor citation

He received the Medal of Honor
Medal of Honor
The Medal of Honor is the highest military decoration awarded by the United States government. It is bestowed by the President, in the name of Congress, upon members of the United States Armed Forces who distinguish themselves through "conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his or her...

 in 1935. Rank and organization: Major General, U.S. Army, retired. Place and date: ----. Entered service at: Louisiana. Born: March 27, 1844, Newburyport, Mass. G.O. No.: 3, W.D., 1935. Act of Congress, March 21, 1935.

For his life of splendid public service, begun on March 27, 1844, having enlisted as a private in the U.S. Army on July 26, 1861, and by successive promotions was commissioned as major general February 10, 1906, and retired by operation of law on his 64th birthday.

Greely's medal was awarded in contradiction to the revised 1916 Army warrant requiring combat action and risk of life "above and beyond the call of duty." However, his Medal was the second Army presentation contrary to the combat requirement, as Charles Lindbergh
Charles Lindbergh
Charles Augustus Lindbergh was an American aviator, author, inventor, explorer, and social activist.Lindbergh, a 25-year-old U.S...

 (an Army reservist not on active duty) received the award for his solo transatlantic flight eight years before, in 1927. Until after WW II the Navy Medal of Honor could be awarded for noncombat actions, reflecting different criteria within the United States armed forces.

USS General A. W. Greely (AP-141)

The , launched November 1944, was named in his honor.

See also

  • Greely Island
    Greely Island
    Greely Island is an island in Franz Josef Land, Russia. Its area is and it is almost completely glacierized.Greely Island is part of the Zichy Land subgroup of the Franz Josef Archipelago...

  • List of Medal of Honor recipients during Peacetime


  • Three Years of Arctic Service (1886)
  • Handbook of Alaska (rev. ed. 1925)
  • Reminiscences of Adventure and Service (1927)
  • The Polar Regions in the Twentieth Century (1928).

Further reading

  • Abandoned in the Arctic (2009), a documentary film about an attempt to recreate Greely's journey Abandoned in the Arctic web site}} Powell, Theodore: "The Long Rescue", W.H. Allen, London, 1961. Ellsberg, Edward: "Hell on Ice", New York, 1936.}}}}

External links

at Internet Archive
Internet Archive
The Internet Archive is a non-profit digital library with the stated mission of "universal access to all knowledge". It offers permanent storage and access to collections of digitized materials, including websites, music, moving images, and nearly 3 million public domain books. The Internet Archive...

. Scanned illustrated original editions.