National Academies Press: OpenBook

Robots, People, and Navies (1983)

Chapter: Rear Admiral Charles H. Davies

« Previous: The Charles H. Davis Lecture Series
Suggested Citation:"Rear Admiral Charles H. Davies." National Research Council. 1983. Robots, People, and Navies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18875.
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Suggested Citation:"Rear Admiral Charles H. Davies." National Research Council. 1983. Robots, People, and Navies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18875.
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Page 8
Suggested Citation:"Rear Admiral Charles H. Davies." National Research Council. 1983. Robots, People, and Navies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18875.
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Page 9
Suggested Citation:"Rear Admiral Charles H. Davies." National Research Council. 1983. Robots, People, and Navies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18875.
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Page 10

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REAR ADMIRAL CHARLES H. DAVIS (1807-1877) CHARLES HENRY DAVIS was born January 16, 1807, in Boston, Massachusetts. His education consisted of preparation at the Boston Latin School followed by two years at Harvard Uni- versity (1821-1823). In 1823, Davis was appointed midshipman and sailed (1824) on the UNITED STATES to the West Coast of South America where he transferred to the DOLPHIN for a cruise of the Pacific. Returning to Harvard he continued to work on a degree in mathematics and is listed with the graduating class of 1825. In 1829 Davis became passed midshipman and was ordered to the

ONTARIO (1829-1832) of the Mediterranean squadron. Later, while serving aboard the VINCENNES (1833-1835), he was promoted to lieutenant. Aboard the INDEPENDENCE (1837-1841) Davis made a cruise to Russia and then to Brazil. Throughout these early years at sea Davis continued to study mathematics, astronomy and hydrology. During this period one of his superiors would write of him, "C. H. Davis is devoted to the improvement of his mind; and his country may expect much from him." From 1842 to 1856 Davis undertook a number of special tasks and served on several commissions and boards. Notable among these was his participation in a survey of the New England coastal waters (1846- 1849) during which he discovered several shoals that may have been responsible for a number of unexplained wrecks in the area. It was during this period in his career that Davis published "A Memoir upon the Geological Action of the Tidal and Other Currents of the Ocean" (1849) and "The Law of Deposit of the Flood Tide" (1852). He was also a prime mover in establishing the "America Ephemeris and Nautical Almanac" (1849) and supervising its publication at Cambridge, Mas- sachusetts until 1855 and again from 1859 to 1862. Promoted to commander in 1854, Davis resumed sea duty in command of the ST. MARYS in the Pacific (1856-1859). While he was captain of the ST. MARYS he was instrumental in securing the release of the adventurer William Walker and his followers who were beseiged at Rivas, Nicaragua. With the outbreak of the Civil War Davis was immediately appointed to a number of important positions. He became the executive head of the new Bureau of Detail for selecting and assigning officers. He was one of three officers appointed by Secretary Gideon Welles to the Ironclad Board which passed judgment on the plans and specifications for the MONITOR and other ironclads. Promoted to captain in November 1861, Davis participated in the development of plans for blockading the Atlantic Coast, planning the operation against Hatteras Inlet and Port Royal Channel, and the early naval strategy of the war. During the operations against Port Royal, Davis served as captain of the fleet and Chief of Staff to Admiral Samuel F. Du Pont. He shares with Du Pont a great deal of the credit for the excellent plan of attack carried out on November 7, 1861. Later, as flag officer of the Mississippi Flotilla, Davis led successful engagements against the Confederate fleet which contributed to the abandonment of Fort Pillow and the surrender of Memphis. He was promoted to commodore in July 1862, and to rear admiral on February 7, 1863. In late 1862 Davis returned to Washington to head the newly established Bureau of Navigation. From this position he worked closely 8

with such distinguished scientists as Joseph Henry and Alexander Bache to establish a "Permanent Commission" to advise the government on inventions and other scientific proposals which were being stimulated by the war. The Permanent Commission was established by the Secretary of the Navy on February 11, 1863 with Davis, Bache and Henry as members. However, Davis and his colleagues saw a wider need for cooperation between science and government and worked diligently for the establishment of the National Academy of Sciences. Their efforts were successful; President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill authorizing the establishment of the Academy on March 3, 1863. In 1865, Admiral Davis was appointed superintendent of the Naval Observatory in Washington. In 1867 he returned to sea in command of the South Atlantic Squadron. Back in Washington in 1869 he was made a member of the Lighthouse Board and commander of the Norfolk Navy Yard. He later resumed his post as superintendent of the Naval Observatory where he served until his death on February 18, 1877.

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