From USNA Virtual Memorial Hall

John Phelan '66

Date of birth: September 24, 1846

Date of death: January 24, 1870

Age: 23

Naval Academy Register

John Rogers Phelan was admitted to the Naval Academy from Pennsylvania on April 17, 1862 at age 15 years 8 months.


John was lost on January 24, 1870 when USS Oneida was sunk following a collision with a British merchant steamer while departing Yokohama harbor, Japan. One hundred twenty-four other officers and men were also lost.

A detailed account of the event is available here.

He has a memory marker in Pennsylvania.

From researcher Kathy Franz:

John was the 5th son born to John and Jane Phelan of Waynesburg, Greene County, Pennsylvania. His brothers were William, Richard, a lawyer like his father, Zadok, a cabinet maker, and Joseph, a printer. Their sister was Mary. Their father was a Democrat, and in 1867 and 1868, he served in the Pennsylvania Legislature from Greene County.

During those two years, John and William Stewart (Class of 1861) were both on the USS Iroquois. She was one of the ships whose crew tried to rescue Rear Admiral Henry Bell and Lieutenant Commander John Reed (Class of 1863) when their boat overturned in the Osaka Bay near Hiogo, Japan. In 1869 John and William both served on the USS Oneida and died when she was sunk in 1870.


From the Naval History and Heritage Command:

Midshipman, 17 April, 1862. Graduated June, 1866. Ensign, 12 March, 1868. Master, 26 March, 1869. Lost on the Oneida, 24 January, 1870.

Memorial Hall Error

John's tombstone has his rank as Lieutenant; suspect posthumous promotion. Memorial Hall has "Master."

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.

July 1867

Midshipman, Iroquois

Others at this command:

July 1868

Ensign, Iroquois

Others at this command:

Class of 1866

John is one of 5 members of the Class of 1866 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.