Charles Wilkes

Charles Wilkes

Discussion
Ask a question about 'Charles Wilkes'
Start a new discussion about 'Charles Wilkes'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Encyclopedia
Charles Wilkes was an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 naval officer and explorer. He led the United States Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842 and commanded the ship in the Trent Affair
Trent affair
The Trent Affair, also known as the Mason and Slidell Affair, was an international diplomatic incident that occurred during the American Civil War...

 during the American 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...

 (1861–1865). Although credited with several "firsts", his behavior led to two convictions at court-martial.

Early life and career


Wilkes was born in New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

, on April 3, 1798, as the great nephew of the former Lord Mayor of London
Lord Mayor of London
The Right Honourable Lord Mayor of London is the legal title for the Mayor of the City of London Corporation. The Lord Mayor of London is to be distinguished from the Mayor of London; the former is an officer only of the City of London, while the Mayor of London is the Mayor of Greater London and...

 John Wilkes
John Wilkes
John Wilkes was an English radical, journalist and politician.He was first elected Member of Parliament in 1757. In the Middlesex election dispute, he fought for the right of voters—rather than the House of Commons—to determine their representatives...

. His mother was Mary Seton, who died in 1802 when Charles was just three years old. As a result, Charles was raised by his aunt, Elizabeth Ann Seton
Elizabeth Ann Seton
Saint Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton was the first native-born citizen of the United States to be canonized by the Roman Catholic Church . She established Catholic communities in Emmitsburg, Maryland....

, a convert to Roman Catholicism who was the first American-born woman to be canonized a saint by the Catholic Church. When Elizabeth was left widowed with five children, Charles was sent to a boarding school
Boarding school
A boarding school is a school where some or all pupils study and live during the school year with their fellow students and possibly teachers and/or administrators. The word 'boarding' is used in the sense of "bed and board," i.e., lodging and meals...

, and later attended Columbia College
Columbia College of Columbia University
Columbia College is the oldest undergraduate college at Columbia University, situated on the university's main campus in Morningside Heights in the borough of Manhattan in New York City. It was founded in 1754 by the Church of England as King's College, receiving a Royal Charter from King George II...

, which is the present-day Columbia University
Columbia University
Columbia University in the City of New York is a private, Ivy League university in Manhattan, New York City. Columbia is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York, the fifth oldest in the United States, and one of the country's nine Colonial Colleges founded before the...

. He entered the United States Navy
United States Navy
The United States Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. The U.S. Navy is the largest in the world; its battle fleet tonnage is greater than that of the next 13 largest navies combined. The U.S...

 as a midshipman
Midshipman
A midshipman is an officer cadet, or a commissioned officer of the lowest rank, in the Royal Navy, United States Navy, and many Commonwealth navies. Commonwealth countries which use the rank include Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Pakistan, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Kenya...

 in 1818, and became a lieutenant
Lieutenant
A lieutenant is a junior commissioned officer in many nations' armed forces. Typically, the rank of lieutenant in naval usage, while still a junior officer rank, is senior to the army rank...

 in 1826.

In 1833, for his survey of Narragansett Bay
Narragansett Bay
Narragansett Bay is a bay and estuary on the north side of Rhode Island Sound. Covering 147 mi2 , the Bay forms New England's largest estuary, which functions as an expansive natural harbor, and includes a small archipelago...

, he was placed in charge of the Navy's Department of Charts and Instruments, out of which developed the Naval Observatory
United States Naval Observatory
The United States Naval Observatory is one of the oldest scientific agencies in the United States, with a primary mission to produce Positioning, Navigation, and Timing for the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Department of Defense...

 and Hydrographic Office. Wilkes' interdisciplinary expedition (1838–1842) set a physical oceanography
Physical oceanography
Physical oceanography is the study of physical conditions and physical processes within the ocean, especially the motions and physical properties of ocean waters.Physical oceanography is one of several sub-domains into which oceanography is divided...

 benchmark for the office's first superintendent Matthew Fontaine Maury
Matthew Fontaine Maury
Matthew Fontaine Maury , United States Navy was an American astronomer, historian, oceanographer, meteorologist, cartographer, author, geologist, and educator....

.

Columbian Institute


During the 1820s, Wilkes was a member of the prestigious society, Columbian Institute for the Promotion of Arts and Sciences
Columbian Institute for the Promotion of Arts and Sciences
The Columbian Institute for the Promotion of Arts and Sciences was a literary and science institution in Washington, D.C., founded by Dr. Edward Cutbush , a naval surgeon...

, which counted among its members former presidents Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson was the seventh President of the United States . Based in frontier Tennessee, Jackson was a politician and army general who defeated the Creek Indians at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend , and the British at the Battle of New Orleans...

 and John Quincy Adams
John Quincy Adams
John Quincy Adams was the sixth President of the United States . He served as an American diplomat, Senator, and Congressional representative. He was a member of the Federalist, Democratic-Republican, National Republican, and later Anti-Masonic and Whig parties. Adams was the son of former...

 and many prominent men of the day, including well-known representatives of the military, government service, medical and other professions.

The South Seas expedition


In 1838, although not yet a seasoned naval line officer, Wilkes was experienced in nautical survey work, and was working with civilian scientists. Upon this background, he was given command of the government exploring expedition "... for the purpose of exploring and surveying the Southern Ocean, . . . as well to determine the existence of all doubtful islands and shoals, as to discover, and accurately fix, the position of those which [lay] in or near the track of our vessels in that quarter, and [might] have escaped the observation of scientific navigators." The U.S. Exploring Squadron was authorized by act of the Congress
United States Congress
The United States Congress is the bicameral legislature of the federal government of the United States, consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Congress meets in the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C....

 on May 18, 1836.

The United States Exploring Expedition
United States Exploring Expedition
The United States Exploring Expedition was an exploring and surveying expedition of the Pacific Ocean and surrounding lands conducted by the United States from 1838 to 1842. The original appointed commanding officer was Commodore Thomas ap Catesby Jones. The voyage was authorized by Congress in...

, commonly known as the "Wilkes Expedition", included naturalist
Natural history
Natural history is the scientific research of plants or animals, leaning more towards observational rather than experimental methods of study, and encompasses more research published in magazines than in academic journals. Grouped among the natural sciences, natural history is the systematic study...

s, botanists, a mineralogist, taxidermists, artist
Artist
An artist is a person engaged in one or more of any of a broad spectrum of activities related to creating art, practicing the arts and/or demonstrating an art. The common usage in both everyday speech and academic discourse is a practitioner in the visual arts only...

s and a philologist, and was carried by the USS Vincennes (780 tons) and Peacock (650 tons), the brig
Brig
A brig is a sailing vessel with two square-rigged masts. During the Age of Sail, brigs were seen as fast and manoeuvrable and were used as both naval warships and merchant vessels. They were especially popular in the 18th and early 19th centuries...

 Porpoise
USS Porpoise (1836)
The second USS Porpoise was a 224-ton Dolphin class brigantine The USS Porpoise was later rerigged as a brig...

 (230 tons), the store-ship Relief
USS Relief (1836)
The first USS Relief was a supply ship in the United States Navy.Relief was laid down in 1835 at the Philadelphia Navy Yard and launched on 14 September 1836. Designed by Samuel Humphreys, she was built along merchant vessel lines and included trysail mast and gaffsail on all three masts to enable...

, and two schooner
Schooner
A schooner is a type of sailing vessel characterized by the use of fore-and-aft sails on two or more masts with the forward mast being no taller than the rear masts....

s, Sea Gull
USS Sea Gull (1838)
USS Sea Gull was a schooner in the service of the United States Navy. The Sea Gull was one of six ships that sailed in the US Exploring Expedition in 1838 to survey the coast of the then-unknown continent of Antarctica and the Pacific Islands...

 (110 tons) and Flying Fish
USS Flying Fish (1838)
USS Flying Fish , a schooner, was formerly the New York City pilot boat Independence. Purchased by the United States Navy at New York City on 3 August 1838 and upon joining her squadron in Hampton Roads 12 August 1838 was placed under command of Passed Midshipman S. R. Knox.Assigned as a tender in...

 (96 tons).

Departing from Hampton Roads
Hampton Roads
Hampton Roads is the name for both a body of water and the Norfolk–Virginia Beach metropolitan area which surrounds it in southeastern Virginia, United States...

 on August 18, 1838, the expedition stopped at the Madeira Islands and Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro , commonly referred to simply as Rio, is the capital city of the State of Rio de Janeiro, the second largest city of Brazil, and the third largest metropolitan area and agglomeration in South America, boasting approximately 6.3 million people within the city proper, making it the 6th...

, Argentina; visited Tierra del Fuego
Tierra del Fuego
Tierra del Fuego is an archipelago off the southernmost tip of the South American mainland, across the Strait of Magellan. The archipelago consists of a main island Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego divided between Chile and Argentina with an area of , and a group of smaller islands including Cape...

, Chile
Chile
Chile ,officially the Republic of Chile , is a country in South America occupying a long, narrow coastal strip between the Andes mountains to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. It borders Peru to the north, Bolivia to the northeast, Argentina to the east, and the Drake Passage in the far...

, Peru
Peru
Peru , officially the Republic of Peru , is a country in western South America. It is bordered on the north by Ecuador and Colombia, on the east by Brazil, on the southeast by Bolivia, on the south by Chile, and on the west by the Pacific Ocean....

, the Tuamotu Archipelago, Samoa
Samoa
Samoa , officially the Independent State of Samoa, formerly known as Western Samoa is a country encompassing the western part of the Samoan Islands in the South Pacific Ocean. It became independent from New Zealand in 1962. The two main islands of Samoa are Upolu and one of the biggest islands in...

, and New South Wales
New South Wales
New South Wales is a state of :Australia, located in the east of the country. It is bordered by Queensland, Victoria and South Australia to the north, south and west respectively. To the east, the state is bordered by the Tasman Sea, which forms part of the Pacific Ocean. New South Wales...

; from Sydney
Sydney
Sydney is the most populous city in Australia and the state capital of New South Wales. Sydney is located on Australia's south-east coast of the Tasman Sea. As of June 2010, the greater metropolitan area had an approximate population of 4.6 million people...

, Australia sailed into the Antarctic Ocean in December 1839 and reported the discovery "of an Antarctic continent west of the Balleny Islands
Balleny Islands
The Balleny Islands are a series of uninhabited islands in the Southern Ocean extending from 66°15' to 67°35'S and 162°30' to 165°00'E. The group extends for about in a northwest-southeast direction. The islands are heavily glaciated and are of volcanic origin. Glaciers project from their slopes...

". Next, the expedition visited Fiji
Fiji
Fiji , officially the Republic of Fiji , is an island nation in Melanesia in the South Pacific Ocean about northeast of New Zealand's North Island...

 and the Hawaiian Islands
Hawaiian Islands
The Hawaiian Islands are an archipelago of eight major islands, several atolls, numerous smaller islets, and undersea seamounts in the North Pacific Ocean, extending some 1,500 miles from the island of Hawaii in the south to northernmost Kure Atoll...

 in 1840. In July 1840, two sailors, one of whom was Wilkes' nephew, Midshipman Wilkes Henry, were killed while bartering for food on Fiji's Malolo Island. Wilkes retribution was swift and severe. According to an old man of Malolo Island, nearly 80 Fijians were killed in the incident.

From December 1840 to March 1841, he employed hundreds of native Hawaiian porters and many of his men to haul a pendulum
Pendulum
A pendulum is a weight suspended from a pivot so that it can swing freely. When a pendulum is displaced from its resting equilibrium position, it is subject to a restoring force due to gravity that will accelerate it back toward the equilibrium position...

 to the summit of Mauna Loa
Mauna Loa
Mauna Loa is one of five volcanoes that form the Island of Hawaii in the U.S. state of Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean, and the largest on Earth in terms of volume and area covered. It is an active shield volcano, with a volume estimated at approximately , although its peak is about lower than that...

 to measure gravity. Instead of using the existing trail, he blazed his own way, taking much longer than he anticipated. The conditions on the mountain reminded him of Antarctica. Many of his crew suffered snow blindness, altitude sickness and foot injuries from wearing out their shoes.
He explored the west coast of North America
North America
North America is a continent wholly within the Northern Hemisphere and almost wholly within the Western Hemisphere. It is also considered a northern subcontinent of the Americas...

, including the Strait of Juan de Fuca
Strait of Juan de Fuca
The Strait of Juan de Fuca is a large body of water about long that is the Salish Sea outlet to the Pacific Ocean...

, Puget Sound
Puget Sound
Puget Sound is a sound in the U.S. state of Washington. It is a complex estuarine system of interconnected marine waterways and basins, with one major and one minor connection to the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Pacific Ocean — Admiralty Inlet being the major connection and...

, the Columbia River
Columbia River
The Columbia River is the largest river in the Pacific Northwest region of North America. The river rises in the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia, Canada, flows northwest and then south into the U.S. state of Washington, then turns west to form most of the border between Washington and the state...

, San Francisco Bay
San Francisco Bay
San Francisco Bay is a shallow, productive estuary through which water draining from approximately forty percent of California, flowing in the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers from the Sierra Nevada mountains, enters the Pacific Ocean...

 and the Sacramento River
Sacramento River
The Sacramento River is an important watercourse of Northern and Central California in the United States. The largest river in California, it rises on the eastern slopes of the Klamath Mountains, and after a journey south of over , empties into Suisun Bay, an arm of the San Francisco Bay, and...

, in 1841.
He held the first American Independence Day celebration west of the Mississippi River in Dupont, Washington on July 5, 1841.

The United States Exploring Expedition
United States Exploring Expedition
The United States Exploring Expedition was an exploring and surveying expedition of the Pacific Ocean and surrounding lands conducted by the United States from 1838 to 1842. The original appointed commanding officer was Commodore Thomas ap Catesby Jones. The voyage was authorized by Congress in...

 passed through the Ellice Islands
Tuvalu
Tuvalu , formerly known as the Ellice Islands, is a Polynesian island nation located in the Pacific Ocean, midway between Hawaii and Australia. Its nearest neighbours are Kiribati, Nauru, Samoa and Fiji. It comprises four reef islands and five true atolls...

 and visited Funafuti
Funafuti
Funafuti is an atoll that forms the capital of the island nation of Tuvalu. It has a population of 4,492 , making it the most populated atoll in the country. It is a narrow sweep of land between 20 and 400 metres wide, encircling a large lagoon 18 km long and 14 km wide, with a surface of...

, Nukufetau
Nukufetau
Nukufetau is an atoll that is part of the nation of Tuvalu. The atoll was claimed by the US under the Guano Islands Act some time in the 19th century and was ceded in a treaty of friendship concluded in 1979 and coming into force in 1983...

 and Vaitupu
Vaitupu
Vaitupu is an atoll, which is part of the nation of Tuvalu.Vaitupu, the largest atoll of Tuvalu is located at 7.48 degrees south and 178.83 degrees west. The capital is Asau.-History:...

 in 1841. The expedition returned by way of the Philippines
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...

, the Sulu Archipelago
Sulu Archipelago
The Sulu Archipelago is a chain of islands in the southwestern Philippines. This archipelago is considered to be part of the Moroland by the local rebel independence movement. This island group forms the northern limit of the Celebes Sea....

, Borneo
Borneo
Borneo is the third largest island in the world and is located north of Java Island, Indonesia, at the geographic centre of Maritime Southeast Asia....

, Singapore
Singapore
Singapore , officially the Republic of Singapore, is a Southeast Asian city-state off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, north of the equator. An island country made up of 63 islands, it is separated from Malaysia by the Straits of Johor to its north and from Indonesia's Riau Islands by the...

, Polynesia
Polynesia
Polynesia is a subregion of Oceania, made up of over 1,000 islands scattered over the central and southern Pacific Ocean. The indigenous people who inhabit the islands of Polynesia are termed Polynesians and they share many similar traits including language, culture and beliefs...

 and the Cape of Good Hope
Cape of Good Hope
The Cape of Good Hope is a rocky headland on the Atlantic coast of the Cape Peninsula, South Africa.There is a misconception that the Cape of Good Hope is the southern tip of Africa, because it was once believed to be the dividing point between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. In fact, the...

, reaching New York on June 10, 1842.

After having completely encircled the globe (his was the last all-sail naval mission to do so), Wilkes had logged some 87,000 miles and lost two ships and 28 men. Wilkes was court-martial
Court-martial
A court-martial is a military court. A court-martial is empowered to determine the guilt of members of the armed forces subject to military law, and, if the defendant is found guilty, to decide upon punishment.Most militaries maintain a court-martial system to try cases in which a breach of...

led upon his return for the loss of one of his ships on the Columbia River bar, for the regular mistreatment of his subordinate officers, and for excessive punishment of his sailors. A major witness against him was ship doctor Charles Guillou
Charles Guillou
Charles Fleury Bien-aimé Guilloû was an American military physician. He served on a major exploring expedition that included both scientific discoveries and controversy, and two historic diplomatic missions...

.
He was acquitted on all charges except illegally punishing men in his squadron. For a short time, he was attached to the Coast Survey, but from 1844 to 1861, he was chiefly engaged in preparing the report of the expedition.

His Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition (5 volumes and an atlas) were published in 1844. He edited the scientific reports of the expedition (20 volumes and 11 atlases, 1844–1874) and was the author of Vol. XI (Meteorology
Meteorology
Meteorology is the interdisciplinary scientific study of the atmosphere. Studies in the field stretch back millennia, though significant progress in meteorology did not occur until the 18th century. The 19th century saw breakthroughs occur after observing networks developed across several countries...

) and Vol. XIII (Hydrography
Hydrography
Hydrography is the measurement of the depths, the tides and currents of a body of water and establishment of the sea, river or lake bed topography and morphology. Normally and historically for the purpose of charting a body of water for the safe navigation of shipping...

).
Alfred Thomas Agate, engraver and illustrator, was the designated portrait and botanical artist of the expedition. His work was used to illustrate the Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition.

The Narrative contains much interesting material concerning the manners, customs, political and economic conditions in many places then little known. Wilkes' 1841 Map of the Oregon Territory
Oregon Territory
The Territory of Oregon was an organized incorporated territory of the United States that existed from August 14, 1848, until February 14, 1859, when the southwestern portion of the territory was admitted to the Union as the State of Oregon. Originally claimed by several countries , the region was...

 pre-dated John Charles Fremont's first Oregon Trail
Oregon Trail
The Oregon Trail is a historic east-west wagon route that connected the Missouri River to valleys in Oregon and locations in between.After 1840 steam-powered riverboats and steamboats traversing up and down the Ohio, Mississippi and Missouri rivers sped settlement and development in the flat...

 pathfinder expedition guided by Kit Carson
Kit Carson
Christopher Houston "Kit" Carson was an American frontiersman and Indian fighter. Carson left home in rural present-day Missouri at age 16 and became a Mountain man and trapper in the West. Carson explored the west to California, and north through the Rocky Mountains. He lived among and married...

 during 1842.

Other valuable contributions were the three reports of James Dwight Dana
James Dwight Dana
James Dwight Dana was an American geologist, mineralogist and zoologist. He made pioneering studies of mountain-building, volcanic activity, and the origin and structure of continents and oceans around the world.-Early life and career:...

 on Zoophyte
Zoophyte
A zoophyte is an animal that visually resembles a plant. An example is a sea anemone. The name is obsolete in modern science.Zoophytes are common in medieval and renaissance era herbals, notable examples including the Tartar Lamb, a plant which grew sheep as fruit...

s
(1846), Geology
Geology
Geology is the science comprising the study of solid Earth, the rocks of which it is composed, and the processes by which it evolves. Geology gives insight into the history of the Earth, as it provides the primary evidence for plate tectonics, the evolutionary history of life, and past climates...

(1849) and Crustacea
Crustacean
Crustaceans form a very large group of arthropods, usually treated as a subphylum, which includes such familiar animals as crabs, lobsters, crayfish, shrimp, krill and barnacles. The 50,000 described species range in size from Stygotantulus stocki at , to the Japanese spider crab with a leg span...

(1852–1854). Moreover, the specimens and artifacts brought back by expedition scientists ultimately formed the foundation for the Smithsonian Institution
Smithsonian Institution
The Smithsonian Institution is an educational and research institute and associated museum complex, administered and funded by the government of the United States and by funds from its endowment, contributions, and profits from its retail operations, concessions, licensing activities, and magazines...

 collection. In addition to many shorter articles and reports, Wilkes published the major scientific works Western America, including California and Oregon in 1849, and Theory of the Winds in 1856.

The Civil War


Wilkes was promoted to the rank of commander in 1843 and that of captain in 1855. At the outbreak of the American 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...

, he was assigned to the command of the to search for the Confederate
Confederate States of America
The Confederate States of America was a government set up from 1861 to 1865 by 11 Southern slave states of the United States of America that had declared their secession from the U.S...

 commerce destroyer Sumter
CSS Sumter
CSS Sumter, a 473-ton bark-rigged screw steam cruiser, was built as the merchant steamship Habana at Philadelphia in 1859 for McConnell's New Orleans & Havana Line. Purchased by the Confederate Government at New Orleans in April 1861, she was converted to a cruiser and placed under the command of...

.

The Trent Affair


As part of these duties he visited the British colony of Bermuda
Bermuda
Bermuda is a British overseas territory in the North Atlantic Ocean. Located off the east coast of the United States, its nearest landmass is Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, about to the west-northwest. It is about south of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, and northeast of Miami, Florida...

. Acting on orders, Wilkes remained in port for nearly a week aboard his flagship the Wachusett, violating the British rule that allowed American naval vessels (of either side) to remain in port for only a single day. While Wilkes remained in port, his gunboats Tioga
USS Tioga (1862)
USS Tioga was a large steamer with powerful guns, acquired by the Union Navy during the American Civil War.Tioga was used by the Union Navy as a gunboat in support of the Union Navy blockade of Confederate waterways....

 and Sonoma
USS Sonoma (1862)
The first USS Sonoma was a side-wheel gunboat that served in the United States Navy during the American Civil War. She was named for a creek, a county, and a town in California, that in turn were named for one of the chiefs of the Chocuyen Indians of that region.Sonoma was launched by the...

 blockaded Saint George's
St. George's, Bermuda
St. George's , located on the island and within the parish of the same names, was the first permanent settlement on the islands of Bermuda, and is often described as the third successful English settlement in the Americas, after St. John's, Newfoundland, and Jamestown, Virginia. However, St...

 harbor, a key Confederate blockade runner
Blockade runner
A blockade runner is usually a lighter weight ship used for evading a naval blockade of a port or strait, as opposed to confronting the blockaders to break the blockade. Very often blockade running is done in order to transport cargo, for example to bring food or arms to a blockaded city...

 base. The gunboats opened fire at a Royal Mail Steamer, the Merlin.

When Wilkes learned that James Murray Mason and John Slidell
John Slidell
John Slidell was an American politician, lawyer and businessman. A native of New York, Slidell moved to Louisiana as a young man and became a staunch defender of southern rights as a U.S. Representative and Senator...

, two Confederate commissioners to England, were bound for England on the British mail packet Trent
RMS Trent
RMS Trent was a British Royal Mail paddle steamer built in 1841 by William Pitcher of Northfleet for the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company. She measured 1,856 gross tons and could carry 60 passengers....

, he ordered the steam frigate San Jacinto to stop them. On November 8, 1861, the San Jacinto met the Trent and fired two shots across its bow, forcing the ship to stop. A boarding party from the San Jacinto led by its captain then boarded the Trent and arrested Mason and Slidell. The diplomats were taken to Fort Warren
Fort Warren (Massachusetts)
Fort Warren is a historic fort on the Georges Island at the entrance to Boston Harbor. The fort is pentagonal, made with stone and granite, and was constructed from 1833–1861, completed shortly after the beginning of the American Civil War...

 in Boston Harbor.

The actions of "The Notorious Wilkes" — as Bermuda media branded him — convinced many that full-scale war between the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 and the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 was inevitable.

He was officially thanked by Congress. However, his action was later disavowed by President Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. He successfully led his country through a great constitutional, military and moral crisis – the American Civil War – preserving the Union, while ending slavery, and...

 due to diplomatic pressure by the British Government. (Mason and Slidell were released.) His next service was in the James River
James River (Virginia)
The James River is a river in the U.S. state of Virginia. It is long, extending to if one includes the Jackson River, the longer of its two source tributaries. The James River drains a catchment comprising . The watershed includes about 4% open water and an area with a population of 2.5 million...

 flotilla. Subsequently, after reaching the rank of commodore on July 16, 1862, he was assigned to duty against blockade runners in the West Indies.

Promotion controversy


Despite his accomplishments, Wilkes acquired a reputation as sometimes arrogant and capricious. This may have been partly due to his open conflict with Gideon Welles
Gideon Welles
Gideon Welles was the United States Secretary of the Navy from 1861 to 1869. His buildup of the Navy to successfully execute blockades of Southern ports was a key component of Northern victory of the Civil War...

, who was the Secretary of the Navy.
Secretary Welles recommended that Wilkes had been too old to receive the rank of commodore under the act then governing promotions. Wilkes wrote a scathing letter to Welles in response. This controversy ended in his court-martial in 1864. He was found guilty of disobedience of orders, insubordination, and other specifications. He was sentenced to public reprimand and suspension for three years. However, President Lincoln reduced the suspension to one year and the balance of charges were dropped. On July 25, 1866, he was promoted to the rank of rear admiral on the retired list.

Last years


Some historians speculate that Wilkes' obsessive behavior and harsh code of shipboard discipline shaped Herman Melville
Herman Melville
Herman Melville was an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, and poet. He is best known for his novel Moby-Dick and the posthumous novella Billy Budd....

's characterization of Captain Ahab in Moby-Dick
Moby-Dick
Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, was written by American author Herman Melville and first published in 1851. It is considered by some to be a Great American Novel and a treasure of world literature. The story tells the adventures of wandering sailor Ishmael, and his voyage on the whaleship Pequod,...

. Such speculation is not mentioned in the U.S. Naval historical archives.

In addition to his contribution to U.S. Naval history and scientific study in his official Narrative of the Exploration Squadron (6 volumes), Wilkes wrote his autobiography.

Wilkes died in Washington, D. C. on February 8, 1877 at the rank of Rear Admiral.
In August 1909, the United States moved his remains to 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...

. His gravestone says "he discovered the Ant-arctic continent".

Legacy


The US Navy named four ships for Wilkes: torpedo boat served around the turn of the 20th century, destroyer served during World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

, and destroyer served during World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

.
An oceanographic survey vessel, USS Wilkes (T-AGS-33) , was launched in 1969, sponsored by Hollis L. Jay, Wilkes' great granddaughter.

Publications


Further reading

  • John S. Jenkins, Explorations and Adventures in and around the Pacific and Antarctic Oceans;
  • Voyage of the U.S. Exploring Squadron , Hurst & Co., Publishers, New York 1856
  • R. Silverberg, Stormy Voyager, 1968.
  • A. Gurney, The Race to the White Continent, 2000.

External links