Adolphus Greely: Wikis


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Adolphus Washington Greely
March 27, 1844(1844-03-27) – October 20, 1935 (aged 91)
Greely accepts promotion in 1887.
Place of birth Newburyport, Massachusetts
Place of death Washington, D.C.
Place of burial Arlington National Cemetery
Allegiance  United States
Service/branch United States Army
Years of service 1862 - 1908
Rank Major General
Commands held Chief Signal Officer
Awards Medal of Honor

Adolphus Washington Greely (March 27, 1844–October 20, 1935), , was an American Polar explorer, a United States Army officer and a recipient of the Medal of Honor.


Early military career

Greeley was born March 27, 1844 in Newburyport, Massachusetts and entered the United States Army at the age of seventeen, after having been rejected twice before. By the and achieved the rank of brevet Major by the end of the Civil War. 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 on the ship Proteus. Promoted by Henry W. Howgate, its purpose was to establish one of a chain of meteorological-observation stations as part of the First International Polar Year.[1] 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 who was part of Greely's crew. Another goal of the expedition was to search for any clues of the USS Jeannette, lost north of Ellesmere Island.[2]

Greely was without previous Arctic experience, but he and his party were able to discover hitherto many unknown miles along the coast of northwest Greenland. The expedition also crossed Ellesmere Island from east to west and Lt. James B. Lockwood and David L. Brainard achieved a new "farthest north" record of 83°24'.

In 1882, Greely sighted a mountain range during a dog sledding exploration to the interior of northern Ellesmere Island and named them the Conger Range. He also sighted the Innuitian Mountains from Lake Hazen.

Two relief ships failed to reach Greely's party encamped at Fort Conger on Ellesmere Island. Thanks to the persistence of Greely's wife, Henrietta, the search was never abandoned.

In the later expedition, the ship called the Bear, built in Greenock, Scotland, first used as a whaler, was purchased by the U.S. 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, drowning, hypothermia, and in one case, gunshot wounds from an execution ordered by Greely.[3][4]

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).

Later career

In June 1886, he was promoted to Captain after serving twenty years as a Lieutenant and, in March 1887, President Grover Cleveland appointed him as Chief Signal Officer of the U.S. Army with the rank of Brigadier General.

During his tenure as Chief Signal Officer of the Army, the following military telegraph lines were constructed, operated and maintained during the Spanish American War: Puerto Rico, 800 miles ; Cuba, 3,000 miles ; the Philippines, 10,200 miles. In connection with Alaska, 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, the later covering a distance of 107 miles, which at the time was 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. In 1906 he was promoted to Major General and retired from the Navy two years later in 1908 at the same grade.

He died October 20, 1935 in Washington, D.C. and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia. His grave can be found in section 1, lot 129 grid N/O-32.5.[5]

Personal life

He attended the First Presbyterian Church, Newburyport and married Henrietta Nesmith in 1878.

In 1905, he accepted the honor of serving as The Explorers Club's first president and in 1915, he invited the Italian polar geographer Arnaldo Faustini 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 in 1922.[6]

Greely's medal was awarded in apparent contradictionto 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 (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.

On May 28, 1986, the United States Postal Service issued a 22 cent postage stamp in his honor.[7]


Medal of Honor citation

He was awarded the Medal of Honor 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.

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

The USS General A. W. Greely (AP-141), launched November 1944, was named in his honor.

See also


  • 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).


  1. ^ Guttridge, Leonard F. (September 1, 2000). "Ghosts of Cape Sabine: the harrowing true story of the Greely expedition". Arctic Institute of North America of the University of Calgary. Retrieved April 14, 2008. 
  2. ^ Berton, Pierre (1988). The Arctic Grail: The Quest for the North West Passage and the North Pole. Toronto: Random House of Canada Ltd., p. 437
  3. ^ Schley, Winfield S Commander, US Navy [1887] 1884 Greely Relief Expedition Washington Printing Office (via American Libraries)
  5. ^ Adolphus Greely at Find a Grave Retrieved on February 12, 2010
  6. ^ "American Geographical Society Honorary Fellowships". Retrieved March 2, 2009. 
  7. ^ Scott catalog # 2221.

Further reading

  • Abandoned in the Arctic (2009), a documentary film about an attempt to recreate Greely's journey Abandoned in the Arctic web site
  • Greeley, G. H. (1905). Genealogy of the Greely-Greeley family. Boston, Mass: F. Wood, printer., OCLC 4579981  Powell, Theodore: "The Long Rescue", W.H. Allen, London, 1961. Ellsberg, Edward: "Hell on Ice", New York, 1936.
  • Todd, A. L. (1961). Abandoned; the story of the Greely Arctic Expedition, 1881-1884. New York: McGraw-Hill. (2001), Abandoned : the story of the Greely Arctic Expedition, 1881-1884, Fairbanks, Alaska: University of Alaska Press, ISBN 1889963291 
  • Robinson, M. F. (2006). The coldest crucible: Arctic exploration and American culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (2006), The coldest crucible : Arctic exploration and American culture, Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, ISBN 0226721841 

External links


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