Charles Henry Davis (January 16, 1807 – February 18, 1877) was a Rear Admiral in the United States Navy. Working for the Coast Survey, Davis researched tides and currents, and located an uncharted shoal that had caused wrecks off the New York coast. In the Civil War, he commanded the Western Gunboat Flotilla, winning an important engagement in the Battle of Memphis, before capturing enemy supplies on a successful expedition up the Yazoo river.
Early life and career
Davis was born in Boston, Massachusetts. He attended the Boston Latin School and entered Harvard College in 1821 but left after two years when he was appointed as a Midshipman in the United States Navy on August 12, 1823.
Between 1827 and 1828, he served on board the frigate United States, in the Pacific. In 1829, he was promoted to Passed Midshipman. From 1830 to 1833, he served on the sloop Ontario. In 1834, he was promoted to Lieutenant and assigned to the Vincennes. In 1840 to 1841, he served on board the ship Independence.
In 1841 he received and honorary Bachelor of Arts degree from Harvard and in 1868 he received an honorary L.L.D. from the same institution.
In 1843 he became a member of the Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati in succession to his grandfather Colonel Constant Freeman (1757 - 1824).
From 1846 to 1849, he worked in the United States Coast Survey on board the Nantucket, where he discovered a previously unknown shoal that had caused shipwrecks off the coast of New York. During his service to the Survey, he was also responsible for researching tides and currents and acted as an inspector on a number of naval shipyards. From 1849 to 1855 he was the first superintendent of American Nautical Almanac Office and produced the American Ephemeris and Nautical Almanac.
In 1854, he was promoted to Commander and given the command of the St. Mary's. On April 30, 1857, he mediated with the Central American forces at San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, the capitulation of filibuster William Walker and some 300 men, who departed in the St. Mary's for Panama the next day. In 1859, while commanding the St. Mary's, Davis was ordered to go to Baker Island to obtain samples of guano, becoming perhaps the first American to set foot there since it was annexed by the United States in 1857. The guano was necessary as fertilizer. Commodore William Mervine had previously been sent, but he did not land and believed the island to be inaccessible. (From evidence that was later found on the island, it had been visited prior to 1857 by whalers.)
Civil War service
In the American Civil War, Davis was appointed to Blockade Strategy Board in June 1861. On 15 November 1861, he was promoted to Captain. He was made Acting Flag Officer, in command of the Western Gunboat Flotilla. A day after he took command, the flotilla fought a short battle with Confederate ships on the Mississippi River at Plum Point Bend on May 10, 1862. Caught unready for battle, two of the Union ships were badly damaged and had to be run into shoal water to keep from sinking. The Confederate vessels escaped with only minor damage. On June 6, his ships fought in the Battle of Memphis, which resulted in the sinking or capture of seven of the eight Confederate ships, compared with damage to only one of the Union vessels. In July, he cooperated with Flag Officer David G. Farragut in an attack on Vicksburg, Mississippi, but they were forced to withdraw. In August, he proceeded up the Yazoo River and successfully seized Confederate supplies and munitions there. After this excursion, he was made Chief of the Bureau of Navigation and returned to Washington, D.C..
On February 7, 1863, he was promoted to Rear Admiral.
After the war he joined the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States (MOLLUS). He was a member of the New York Commandery and received insignia number 1022.
From 1865 to 1867, he was the Superintendent of the United States Naval Observatory. In 1867, he was given command of the South Atlantic Squadron and was given the Guerriere as his flagship. In 1869, he returned home and served both on the Lighthouse Board as well as in the Naval Observatory. Davis died in Washington, D.C., and is buried in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
He married Harriette Blake Mills, the daughter of U.S. Senator Elijah Hunt Mills. One of their children, Anna Cabot Mills Davis, married U.S. Senator Henry Cabot Lodge.
His son, Commander Charles H. Davis, Jr., served as Chief Intelligence Officer of the Office of Naval Intelligence from September 1889 to August 1892.
Several ships of the United States Navy are also named in his honor: the torpedo boat USS Davis (TB-12), the destroyers USS Davis (DD-65) and USS Davis (DD-395), and the oceanographic research ship USNS Charles H. Davis (T-AGOR-5)
A species of sea anemone native to the coasts of New England and Nova Scotia, the Rhodactis davisii, is named for Davis.