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First Name: Winfield

Last Name: Schley

Birthplace: Richfields, MD, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Navy (present)


Middle Name: Scott

Date of Birth: 09 October 1839

Date of Death: 02 October 1911

Rank or Rate: Rear Admiral

Years Served:
Winfield Scott Schley

•  American Civil War (1861 - 1865)
•  Korean Expedition (1871)
•  Spanish-American War (1898)


Winfield Scott Schley
Rear Admiral, U.S. Navy

Winfield Scott Schley was born on 9 October 1839 at Richfields (his father's farm), MD.

Civil War

Schley graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1860, and went as midshipman on board the frigate USS Niagara to China and Japan. On his return in 1861, the American Civil War was in progress. He was made Master, and was assigned to the USS Potomac of the Western Gulf Squadron until 1862. He then served on the side-wheel gunboat USS Winona of that Squadron, and later on the sloops USS Monongahela and USS Richmond, and participated in all the engagements that led to the capture of Port Hudson, LA, in 1863. He was promoted to Lieutenant on 16 July 1862.

Chincha Island War and San Salvador Revolution

He was ordered from the waters of the South in 1864 to the Pacific Squadron, where he served on the USS Wateree as Executive Officer until 1866. He suppressed an insurrection of Chinese workers on the Chincha Islands in 1865 and, later the same year, landed at La Union, San Salvador, to protect American interests during a revolution. He was promoted to Lieutenant Commander in 1866.

Korean Expedition

From 1866-69, he was an instructor at the U.S. Naval Academy. He was then assigned to the Asiatic Station, and served there on the screw sloop USS Benicia until 1872 and was Adjutant of the land forces during the attack by Rear Admiral John Rodgers' Expedition on the Korean forts on Ganghwa Island on 10-11 June 1871. He then participated in the ensuing Battle of Gangwha, which caused the destruction of the Korean fortifications.

Between Conflicts, 1870s-1890s

From 1872-75, he was Head of the Department of Modern Languages in the Naval Academy. He was promoted to Commander in June 1874.

After serving in Europe and on the west coast of Africa, he commanded USS Essex from 1876-79, most of the time in the South Atlantic on the Brazil Station. During the cruise, he sailed Essex to the vicinity of the South Shetland Islands in search of a missing sealer, and rescued a shipwrecked crew on the islands of Tristan da Cunha.

From 1879 until October 1883, he was inspector of the Second Lighthouse District.

After re-supply and relief missions repeatedly failed to reach Lieutenant Adolphus Greely's Lady Franklin Bay Expedition in the Arctic, Schley was appointed in February 1884 to command the next relief expedition. On 22 June, near Cape Sabine in Grinnell Land, Schley rescued Greely and six (of his twenty-four) companions, after passing through 1400 miles of ice during the voyage.

Schley was commissioned Chief of the Bureau of Equipment and Recruiting at the U.S. Department of the Navy in 1885, and promoted to Captain in March 1888.

He commanded USS Baltimore (C-3) in Rear Admiral George Brown's squadron off the coast of Chile in 1891. He went to the port of Valparaiso, Chile, when a number of American sailors there were stoned by a mob. In August 1891, the Baltimore, still under his command, was detailed to convey the remains of John Ericsson to Sweden.

Early in 1892, he was again transferred to the Lighthouse Bureau and, until February 1895, was inspector of the Third Lighthouse District. In 1895, he was placed in command of USS New York. From 1897-98, he was a member (and chairman) of the Lighthouse Board.

Spanish-American War

Schley was commissioned Commodore on 6 February 1898, and on 24 March, although lowest on the list of commodores, he was put in command of the Flying Squadron, with USS Brooklyn (CA-3) as his flagship, for service in the Spanish-American War.

On 18 May 1898, Schley's Flying Squadron was sent by Acting Rear Admiral William T. Sampson to Cienfuegos to pursue the Spanish Squadron under the command of Admiral Pascual Cervera y Topete. When Sampson received news that Cervera was in Santiago de Cuba, not Cienfuegos, he initially vacillated, at first informing Schley of the rumor, yet requesting him to stay at Cienfuegos, then later changing his orders to have Schley investigate the situation at Santiago.

Although Schley was subordinate to Sampson, he was accustomed to exercising independent command of his ship. Schley decided to stay at Cienfuegos, feeling that all signs indicated that Cervera was there in the harbor. After hearing from Cuban insurgents that Cervera was definitely not at Cienfuegos, Schley decided to obey Sampson's orders three days after receiving them and go to Santiago. When the crew of three American cruisers he encountered denied knowledge of Cervera's whereabouts, Schley decided to return to Key West, FL, to get coal for his ship. The Navy Department sent a dispatch to Schley asking him to stay at Santiago, but he replied that he was unable to obey these orders. Inexplicably, Schley decided mid-voyage to return to Santiago on 28 May, where the following day it was confirmed that the Spanish Squadron was there. Sampson arrived on 1 June and assumed command. The American ships formed a blockade across the harbor to trap the Spanish ships.

On 3 July, while Sampson was en route to meet General Shafter onshore, Cervera attempted to squeeze his squadron through the blockade. Schley had assumed control in Sampson's absence. When Maria Teresa of the Spanish Squadron tried to ram Brooklyn, Schley's flagship, he ordered the ship to steer away from Maria Teresa, causing a near collision with USS Texas. This gave the Spanish ships added time to escape, but the American fleet, including Brooklyn, pursued the Spanish Squadron and succeeded in destroying it completely.

When the victory message from Sampson was reported, it contained no reference to any officer other than himself, even though he was not involved in the actual fighting. Sampson was loath to praise Schley's role in the fighting, a fact which derived from professional jealousy, as was evidenced later by Sampson's own conduct at the subsequent court of inquiry. Sampson was of the opinion that had it not for the Battle of Santiago de Cuba, Schley would have been court-martialed. The public, however, regarded Schley as the hero not only of the Battle, but also of the war, while Sampson was seen (accurately) as indecorous for not acknowledging Schley's role. In August 1898, Schley was raised to the rank of Rear Admiral.

After Cuba

On 14 April 1899, Schley was commissioned Rear Admiral, ranking as Major General. In November 1899, he was put in command of the South Atlantic Squadron, and on 9 October 1901, he retired from active service upon reaching the age limit.


A controversy arose between partisans of Schley and those of Sampson over their respective claims to the credit of the victory over Cervera's fleet during the recent war. Of that discussion neither officer personally took public notice until after the appearance of a work by Edgar Stanton Maclay entitled History of the U.S. Navy. In that book, the author referred to Commodore Schley as a "caitiff, poltroon and coward." The proofs of the book had been read and approved by various naval officers, among them Rear Admiral Sampson.

At Schley's request, because of the charges made against him in the book, a court of inquiry was opened on 12 September 1901, composed of Admiral George Dewey, Rear Admiral Andrew E. K. Benham and Rear Admiral Francis Munroe Ramsay, which investigated Schley's conduct before and during the Battle of Santiago. On 13 December 1901, the court reported its proceedings and the testimony taken, with a full and detailed statement of all the pertinent facts which it deemed to be established, together with its opinion and recommendations. Various officers gave conflicting testimony as to Schley's conduct, with one, Captain Templin Potts, directly accusing Schley of cowardice.

The majority report of the court found that Commodore Schley failed to proceed to Santiago with due dispatch, that the squadron should not have been delayed by the Eagle, that he should not have turned westward, that he should have obeyed the Navy Department's order of 25 May 1898, that he did not do his utmost to capture the Colon, that the turn of the Brooklyn caused the Texas to stop, for carelessness in endangering Texas, for blanketing the fire of other American vessels, that he did injustice to Lieutenant Commander Hodgson (Navigation Officer of the Brooklyn at the time of the incident), that his conduct in the Santiago campaign was characterized by vacillation, dilatoriness, and "lack of enterprise," and that his coal reports were inaccurate and misleading. Admiral Dewey, however, presented a minority report, in which he praised Schley for promptness and efficient service, and gave him the credit for the destruction of Cervera's fleet.

The court recommended that no action be taken in view of the length of time which had elapsed. Rear Admiral Schley filed a protest against the court's findings, which, however, were approved by the Secretary of the Navy Long, who (expectedly) supported Sampson on grounds of rank and seniority. Nonetheless, the public press, and particularly the Hearst newspapers, saw the outcome as vindicating Schley, whose status as a war hero was enhanced by the exposure. In January 1902, Rear Admiral Schley appealed from the verdict to President Theodore Roosevelt, who, however, confirmed Secretary Long's approval.

Schley wrote, with James Russell Soley, The Rescue of Greely (New York, 1885). He also wrote and published his autobiography, Forty-five Years under the Flag (New York, 1904). For the fullest treatment of the battle of Santiago, see George Edward Graham's Schley and Santiago: a Historical Account of the Blockade and Final Destruction of the Spanish Fleet Under Command of Admiral Pasquale Cervera, July 3, 1898 (W. B. Conkey, 1902).

Rear Admiral Winfield Scott Schley died in 1911, nine years after Rear Admiral Sampson, who barely survived his retirement in 1902.


• Rear Admiral Schley has a street named for him at Arlington National Cemetery.

• There is a memorial to Schley in the lobby of the Maryland State House, and a bust of him by Ernest Keyser in Annapolis.

• USS Schley (DD-103/APD-14) was named in his honor.

• Schley, MN, an unincorporated community in Cass County, is named after Commodore Schley.

Death and Burial

Rear Admiral Winfield Scott Schley died on 2 October 1911 in New York City, NY. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA.

Honoree ID: 3044   Created by: MHOH




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