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A.W. Greely

A.W. Greely

Federal (USV)


Adolphus Washington Greely

(1844 - 1935)

Home State: Massachusetts

Branch of Service: Infantry

Unit: 19th Massachusetts Infantry

Before Antietam

A 17 year old jeweler from Newburyport, he enlisted 26 July 1861 in Company B, 19th Massachusetts Infantry. He was appointed Corporal in May 1862.

On the Campaign

He was wounded in the face in action at Antietam on 17 September 1862.

The rest of the War

He was appointed Sergeant in November 1862, and was discharged 4 March 1863 to take commission in the US Colored Troops. He was commissioned 2nd Lieutenant, 9th Regiment, Corps d'Afrique (later 81st US Colored Infantry, then 77th United States Colored Troops) 18 March 1863, was promoted to First Lieutenant on 14 April 1864, and Captain 26 March 1865. He was honored by brevet to Major, US Volunteers on 13 March 1865 and mustered out 22 March 1867.

After the War

He remained in service, being commissioned 2nd Lieutenant, 36th US Infantry on 7 March 1867. The 36th was disestablished in May 1869 and he was assigned to the 5th US Cavalry on 14 July 1869, but was often detached for duty with the Signal Corps. He was promoted to First Lieutenant 27 May 1873.

He led the 1881 Lady Franklin Bay Expedition (later known as the Greely Expedition) into the polar arctic to gather meteorological and magnetic data. They reached a new "farthest north" point of 83° 24'N off the north coast of Greenland, and gathered good data, but two successive annual supply ships failed to reach them, and he suffered the loss of all but 6 of his original 24-man Army team before being rescued by US Navy ships in 1884. He was promoted to Captain on 11 June 1886, and was appointed Brigadier General and Chief Signal Officer, USA, in 3 March 1887. He was made Major General on 10 February 1906 and retired at that rank on 27 March 1908 after 47 years of service. He had served in the Spanish American War and during the Philippine Insurrection.

He was awarded the Medal of Honor by a special act of Congress of 21 March 1935 for his contributions over many years of service. It was presented to him on his 91st and final birthday.

References & notes

Service information from Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines1 and the History,2 which has him as Adolphus W. Greeley. His gravesite is on Findagrave. His picture from a photograph of unknown provenance Tweeted by the American Battlefield Trust in March 2019.

Greely wrote Three Years of Arctic Service: An Account of the Lady Franklin Bay Expedition of 1881-1884 and the Attainment of the Farthest North (1886), which is online (Vol. 1, Vol. 2) from the Internet Archives. His Report on the Proceedings of the United States Expedition to Lady Franklin Bay, Grinnell Land (1888) is online from the Hathi Trust. The transport ship USS/USNS General A. W. Greely (1945-68) was named for him, and Big Delta Air Force Base, Alaska, was designated Fort Greely on 6 August 1955.

More on the Web

See much more in a post over on the blog behind AotW. See also a biographical piece on him from the National Park Service, the Presidio of San Francisco, and a fine post on the Smithsonian's blog O Say can You See?


03/27/1844; Newburyport, MA


10/20/1935; Washington, DC; burial in Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, VA


1   Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Adjutant General, Massachusetts Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines in the Civil War, 8 Vols, Norwood (MA): Norwood Press, 1931-35, Vol. 2, pg. 424; Vol. 7, pg. 299  [AotW citation 17741]

2   Waitt, Ernest Linden (compiler), History of the Nineteenth Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, 1861-1865, Salem (MA): The Salem Press Co., 1906, pp. 144, 387  [AotW citation 17742]