Adolphus Greely

Adolphus Greely

Infobox Military Person
name=Adolphus Washington Greely
born= birth date|1844|3|27
died= Death date and age|1935|10|20|1844|3|27
placeofbirth=Newburyport, Massachusetts
placeofdeath=Washington, D.C.
placeofburial= Arlington National Cemetery

caption=Greely accepts promotion in 1887.
allegiance=flag|United States
branch=United States Army
serviceyears= 1866 - 1908
rank=Major General
commands=Chief Signal Officer
awards=Medal of Honor

Adolphus Washington Greely (1844–1935), born in Newburyport, Massachusetts, was an American Polar explorer, a United States Army officer and a recipient of the Medal of Honor.

Early military career

Greeley entered the United States Army at the age of seventeen, after having been rejected twice before, 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. [cite web |url= |title=Ghosts of Cape Sabine: the harrowing true story of the Greely expedition |accessdate=2008-04-14 |last=Guttridge |first=Leonard F. |coauthors= |date=2000-09-01 |work= |publisher=Arctic Institute of North America of the University of Calgary] 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.

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 sleding 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. 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 the ship "Thetis" arrived on June 22, 1884 to rescue the expedition (which by then had painstakingly relocated to Cape Sabine) 19 of Greely's 25-man crew had perished from starvation, drowning, hypothermia, and in one case, gunshot wounds from an execution ordered by Greely.

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

During General Greely's 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, Greely found himself serving as military commander over the emergency situation created by the San Francisco earthquake. In 1908, Greely retired from the Army as a Major General, having been promoted to that rank in 1906.

Personal life

Greely married Henrietta Nesmith in 1878.

In 1905, Greely accepted the honor of serving as The Explorers Club's first president.

In 1915, Greely invited the Italian polar geographer Arnaldo Faustini to the United States for a lecture tour.

Greely attended the First Presbyterian Church, Newburyport.


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.

Greely's medal was awarded in clear violation of 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. [Scott catalog # 2221.]

ee also

*Greely Island
*List of Medal of Honor recipients
*List of Medal of Honor recipients during Peacetime


*"Three Years of Arctic Service" (1886)
*"Handbook of Alaska" (rev. ed. 1925)
*"The Polar Regions in the Twentieth Century" (1928).


* [ Works by Adolphus Greely] at Internet Archive. Scanned illustrated original editions.
* []
* [ Family Tree]
* [ Antarctic Ships]
* [ U.S.R.C "Bear"]
* [,+Adolphus+Washington Columbia Encyclopedia: Adolphus Washington Greely]
* [ Arlington National Cemetery Website: Adolphus Washington Greely (engl.)]
* [ Adolphus Washington Greely]
* [ Henrietta Hudson Cruger Nesmith, wife of Adolphus W. Greely]
* [ Army Medal of Honor]
*citation |last=Greeley, G. H. (1905). "Genealogy of the Greely-Greeley family". Boston, Mass: F. Wood, printer. |oclc=4579981
*citation |last=Todd, A. L. (1961). "Abandoned; the story of the Greely Arctic Expedition, 1881-1884". New York: McGraw-Hill. |isbn=1889963291
*citation |last=Robinson, M. F. (2006). "The coldest crucible: Arctic exploration and American culture". Chicago: University of Chicago Press. |isbn=0226721841

NAME = Greely, Adolphus W.
SHORT DESCRIPTION = American Polar explorer, United States Army general, and Medal of Honor recipient
DATE OF BIRTH = March 27, 1844
PLACE OF BIRTH = Newburyport, Massachusetts
DATE OF DEATH = October 20, 1935
PLACE OF DEATH = Washington, D.C.

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  • Greely — (spr. grīlĭ), Adolphus Washington, amerikan. Nordpolfahrer, geb. 27. März 1844 zu Newburyport in Massachusetts, trat 1861 in die Armee ein, wurde während des Bürgerkriegs zum Offizier befordert und nach demselben dem Küsstensignaldienst zugeteilt …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • Greely — (spr. grihlĕ), Adolphus Washington, amerik. General und Nordpolfahrer, geb. 27. März 1844 zu Newburyport (Massachusetts), leitete 1881 84 die internationale Polarexpedition nach der Lady Franklinbai, seit 1887 Leiter des Signal and Meteorological …   Kleines Konversations-Lexikon

  • Greely, Adolphus Washington — ▪ American explorer born March 27, 1844, Newburyport, Massachusetts, U.S. died October 20, 1935, Washington, D.C.  U.S. Army officer whose scientific expedition to the Arctic resulted in the exploration of a considerable amount of terrain on… …   Universalium