From USNA Virtual Memorial Hall
Cornelius Schoonmaker '59

Date of birth: February 2, 1839

Date of death: March 15, 1889

Age: 50

Naval Academy Register

Cornelius Marius Schoonmaker was admitted to the Naval Academy from New York on September 28, 1854 at age 15 years 7 months.

Biography & Loss

"Cabinet card photograph by Sebastianutti & Benque, Trieste. It was probably taken in 1880-1881, when Commander Schoonmaker commanded USS Nipsic in European waters."
"Cabinet card photograph by J. Williams, Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii. It was probably taken in 1887-1889, when Captain Schoonmaker commanded USS Vandalia on the Pacific Station."
1859 Schoonmaker 3.jpg

From the Naval History and Heritage Command:

Cornelius Marius Schoonmaker was born on 2 February 1839. He was appointed to the U.S. Naval Academy in September 1854 and, following graduation in June 1859, served for about two years off the African west coast. In May-September 1861, during the first several months of the Civil War, he was a junior officer on the steam frigate Minnesota and participated with her in the capture of Forts Hatteras and Clark. From late 1861 until after the end of the Civil War in 1865, Lieutenant Schoonmaker was Executive Officer of several ships, including the gunboats Wyandotte and Octorara, monitors Manhattan and Catskill, and the cruiser Augusta. While in the Manhattan, he took part in the Battle of Mobile Bay in August 1864 and in the subsequent campaign to capture Fort Morgan.

In June 1865, Lieutenant Schoonmaker became Navigator of the sloop Juniata and, after promotion to Lieutenant Commander, was her Executive Officer. In 1867-70, he served as Navigator of the Asiatic Squadron flagship, USS Piscataqua (renamed Delaware in 1869). He received instruction in the emerging field of "torpedo" warfare in 1872, then was given command of the dispatch vessel Frolic. Commander Schoonmaker served at the New York Navy Yard in 1873-74, and was Inspector of the Eighth Light-House District, at New Orleans, until 1878. He took command of the new gunboat Nipsic in 1879, taking her to European waters in 1880-81.

Schoonmaker was stationed at the Norfolk Navy Yard in 1882-85 and received promotion to the rank of Captain in October 1886. He became Commanding Officer of the steam sloop Vandalia, on the Pacific Station, in 1888. Captain Schoonmaker was among the many members of her company who lost their lives when Vandalia was sunk in the very destructive Apia, Samoa, hurricane of 15-16 March 1889.

He is buried in New York.


From records of the US Naval Academy Graduates’ Association:

Schoonmaker was the soul of honor. He was incapable of a mean action; a Christian at heart as well as outward appearance; a consistent member of the Episcopal Church, who strove to do his duty to his God as well as to his fellow-men. There was something so sincere, so kind-hearted and so good about him that all loved him. His was the role of peacemaker, a good messmate and intelligent companion. He was a thinking man, read largely not only upon all professional subjects, but the higher class of general literature. In war he was always at the fore. As executive officer of the monitor Manhattan, in the battle of Mobile Bay, he won great praise.

Socially he was charming. He was a gentleman in the highest sense of the word, sans peur et sans reproche.

We entered the Navy about the same time. Our first cruise together on the coast of Africa. After that we met from time to time, renewing our never-dying friendship. He was of an affectionate disposition, fond of his family and home. A few days before his tragic end in that far-away port, thousands of miles from our homes, we talked about our wives and families. He, poor fellow, spoke so feelingly of his, as if, it afterwards seemed to me, he felt he might not see them again.

In the course of his duty he was in command of the U. S. S. Vandalia, in the port of Apia, Samoan islands, on March 16, 1889, that memorable hurricane in which his life was given to his country.

While it was well known that the port of Apia was most dangerous during this season of the year, yet to be there was to be at the post of duty; the risk was great, but the honor of our country was at stake, and what sacrifice could be too great to maintain that?

Frequently the Navy is not only called upon to encounter the great perils of the deep and of war, but also to face the dangers of death from yellow fever and other diseases. It does it cheerfully, that our glorious flag may wave triumphantly over land and sea, that our people may pursue their avocations with safety to life and property.

He had been at his post on deck for many hours; several times the waves had swept the decks and dashed him against the guns. He had been almost carried overboard several times, when finally a wave of tremendous height swept over the Vandalia's deck, carrying death and destruction before it. It was then that gallant Schoonmaker, bleeding and faint from previous wounds, was washed overboard and drowned.

The sea over which for many years he had ploughed his way became at last his grave.

Death has taken from us a noble man, but has left his bright example for us to cherish. N. H. FARQUHAR, '55.


From the Naval History and Heritage Command:

Acting Midshipman, 28 September, 1854. Midshipman, 9 June, 1859. Lieutenant, 31 August, 1861. Lieutenant Commander, 24 December, 1865. Commander, 14 February, 1873. Captain, 7 October, 1886. Drowned 15 March, 1889.

Related Articles

Francis Sutton '81 was also lost in this storm. James Carlin '68 survived and took command after Cornelius's death.

Navy Directories & Officer Registers

The "Register of Commissioned and Warrant Officers of the United States Navy and Marine Corps" was published annually from 1815 through at least the 1970s; it provided rank, command or station, and occasionally billet until the beginning of World War II when command/station was no longer included. Scanned copies were reviewed and data entered from the mid-1840s through 1922, when more-frequent Navy Directories were available.

The Navy Directory was a publication that provided information on the command, billet, and rank of every active and retired naval officer. Single editions have been found online from January 1915 and March 1918, and then from three to six editions per year from 1923 through 1940; the final edition is from April 1941.

The entries in both series of documents are sometimes cryptic and confusing. They are often inconsistent, even within an edition, with the name of commands; this is especially true for aviation squadrons in the 1920s and early 1930s.

Alumni listed at the same command may or may not have had significant interactions; they could have shared a stateroom or workspace, stood many hours of watch together… or, especially at the larger commands, they might not have known each other at all. The information provides the opportunity to draw connections that are otherwise invisible, though, and gives a fuller view of the professional experiences of these alumni in Memorial Hall.

January 1857
Acting Midshipman, Third Class, Naval Academy

January 1860
Midshipman, Steamer San Jacinto

Others at this command:
September 1861
Lieutenant, Steam Frigate Minnesota
September 1862
Lieutenant, Steam Gunboat Sagamore
January 1863
Lieutenant, Steam Gunboat Octorara
January 1864
Lieutenant, Steam Gunboat Octorara
January 1865
Lieutenant, Augusta
January 1866
Lieutenant, Juniata
July 1867
Lieutenant Commander, waiting orders
July 1868
Lieutenant Commander, Piscataqua

Others at this command:
January 1869
Lieutenant Commander, Piscataqua

Others at this command:
July 1870
Lieutenant Commander, Delaware

Others at this command:
January 1871
Lieutenant Commander, "Present duty, station, or residence", Kingston, New York
January 1872
Lieutenant Commander, Torpedo Corps, Newport, Rhode Island
January 1873
Lieutenant Commander, commanding officer, Frolic

January 1874
Commander, Navigation Duty, Navy Yard, New York
January 1875
Commander, Light-house inspector
January 1876
Commander, Light-house inspector
July 1877
Commander, Light-house inspector (8th District)
July 1878
Commander, Light-house inspector (8th District)
January 1879
Commander, Residence: Kingston, New York
January 1880
Commander, commanding officer, Nipsic
July 1881
Commander, commanding officer, Nipsic
January 1882
Commander, Residence: Kingston, New York
January 1883
Commander, Norfolk Navy Yard
January 1884
Commander, Equipment and Navigation Officer, Norfolk Navy Yard
February 1885
Commander, Equipment and Navigation Officer, Norfolk Navy Yard
January 1886
Commander, Equipment and Navigation Officer, Norfolk Navy Yard
February 1887
Captain, Kingston, New York
January 1888
Captain, waiting orders
January 1889
Captain, commanding officer, Vandalia

Class of 1859

Cornelius is one of 5 members of the Class of 1859 on Virtual Memorial Hall.

The "category" links below lead to lists of related Honorees; use them to explore further the service and sacrifice of alumni in Memorial Hall.