From USNA Virtual Memorial Hall

Dawson Phenix '47

Date of birth: ~1827

Date of death: February 20, 1864

Age: 36

Life & Loss

From Army Navy Gazette of the Regular and Volunteer Forces on February 27, 1864:

Lieutenant Commander Dawson Phenix, U.S.N., died on the 20th, in Philadelphia, aged 36 years. His funeral took place on Monday, from the Washington House, and his remains were followed to their last resting place by a large concourse of naval officers and others. Lieutenant Commander Phenix entered the naval service on the 30th of September, 1841, having been appointed from Maryland, his native State. His first orders were to the razee Independence, 54, then attached to the Home Squadron. In 1843, he joined the frigate Savannah, 44, Captain Andrew Fitzhugh, of the Pacific Squadron. Subsequently he was transferred to the frigate Brandywine, 44, making the cruise in her. He returned in November, 1845, and awaited orders until 1846, when he was ordered to the steamer Princeton; he was detached from her in July, 1847, and ordered to the naval school preparatory to promotion. He was a passed midshipman in 1848, and in 1849 he was ordered to the store ship Relief. From her he was detached in April, 1849, and ordered to duty in the Coast Survey, where he remained until July, 1850, when he was ordered to the frigate Raritan, but was transferred to the sloop St. Marys. In 1852 he was detached from that vessel and ordered to the Observatory at Washington, where he remained until October, 1853, when he was sent to the receiving ship, at Philadelphia. From her he was again ordered to Coast Survey duty. He was promoted to a lieutenant, September 16, 1855. In 1856 he received orders to the store ship Fredonia, at Valparaiso, and he remained in her until ordered to the steam sloop Lancaster, in 1860, on which he served until ordered home in 1861, when he was promoted to be a lieutenant commander, and ordered to ordnance duty at Old Point Comfort, Va. He served his country faithfully for twenty-one years, and out of that time was at sea over thirteen years. he was ordered a few months ago to the command of the gunboat Pocahontas. He has left behind him a large circle of friends, and the Navy will feel his loss deeply.

Dawson's death was due to gastritis (per death certificate).

He was born in, and appointed to the Naval Academy from, Maryland.

From researcher Kathy Franz:

While on the Savannah, Dawson accused a brother officer of misconduct, but it was not proven. Dawson requested a leave but was later ordered to return to face his own court martial of unjustly accusing a fellow officer. However, the officer had done the misconduct again and was found guilty which exonerated Dawson. Dawson wanted his travel expenses reimbursed, but on February 13, 1857, the Government denied the claim as he had voluntarily left the ship.

He married Encarcion, the daughter of the Collector of the Port of Talcualiana, Chili, in 1851 in Valparaiso. In April 1856, she lost her father, mother, sister, and niece when the Chilian steamer Cazadore sank one mile from shore. They were on their way to visit her and Dawson at Valparaiso; only 48 out of 358 souls survived. The captain was censured for his carelessness and was awaiting trial.

On May 26, 1862, during the Civil War, Dawson was stuck at Camden Station with seven howitzers and ammunition ordered to Washington from the Navy Yard at Philadelphia. He telegraphed that the War Dept was using the road. “Shall I order a special train answer.” In August he was at Fortress Monroe and ordered 121 Remington revolvers to the New York Navy Yard and 100 to be sent to him at the fortress.

Dawson died at the Washington House in Philadelphia. It was located on Chestnut Street one block away from the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. In his obituary, it was written that “He was one of the officers on the Levant … but escaped the fate of his messmates by a transfer in the East Indies. He stood well in his profession, and was generally esteemed by his brother officers.” The day of his burial was the observance of Washington’s birthday. Part of the parade route was from 20th Street down Chestnut to 3rd Street. After they passed, his funeral procession began from the Washington House to St. John’s cemetery. The procession was headed by the Marines, followed by the hearse, and then relatives and many Naval officers in full uniform.

Dawson’s father was Thomas, Esq., a bill broker in Baltimore in 1850. Thomas’ first wife Jane Dawson had died in 1820, and he married her sister Martha. Dawson’s brothers were Thomas and Benjamin, and his sisters were Eliza Jane (by Jane), Annie, Emily and Isabella.

He is buried in Philadelphia.


From the Naval History and Heritage Command:

Midshipman, 30 September, 1841. Passed Midshipman, 10 August, 1847. Master, 14 September, 1855. Lieutenant, 15 September, 1855. Lieutenant Commander, 16 July, 1862. Died 20 February, 1864.


A special thank you to Kathy Franz, a historian who located Dawson's cause of death.

The Register of Alumni has his first and last names inverted.

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.

September 1842

Midshipman, Ship Independence

January 1843

Midshipman, Ship Independence

Others at this command:

October 1843

Midshipman, Frigate Savannah

Others at this command:

January 1844

Midshipman, Frigate Brandywine

Others at this command:

January 1846

Midshipman, waiting orders

January 1847

Midshipman, Steamer Princeton

January 1849

Passed Midshipman, Store Ship Relief

January 1850

Passed Midshipman, Coast Survey

Others at this command:

January 1851

Passed Midshipman, Frigate Raritan

January 1852

Passed Midshipman, Sloop St. Mary's

January 1853

Passed Midshipman, Observatory, Washington

January 1854

Passed Midshipman, Coast Survey

Others at this command:

January 1855

Passed Midshipman, Schooner Arago

January 1856

Lieutenant, Store Ship Fredonia

Others at this command:

January 1857

Lieutenant, Store Ship Fredonia

Others at this command:

January 1858

Lieutenant, Store Ship Fredonia

January 1860

Lieutenant, Steam Sloop Lancaster

September 1861

Lieutenant, Steam Sloop Lancaster

September 1862

Lieutenant Commander, Ordnance duty, Old Point, Virginia

January 1863

Lieutenant Commander, Ordnance duty, Old Point, Virginia

January 1864

Lieutenant Commander, commanding officer, Steamer Pochahontas

Class of 1847

Dawson is one of 32 members of the Class of 1847 on Virtual Memorial Hall.

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