From USNA Virtual Memorial Hall

John Kelly '57

Date of birth: ~1838

Date of death: August 5, 1864

Age: ~26


John was lost on August 5, 1864 when USS Tecumseh (1863), a monitor, was sunk by a mine during the Battle of Mobile Bay. He was the ship's executive officer.

He is listed on the killed in action panel in the front of Memorial Hall.


From researcher Kathy Franz:

John's story begins in famine-torn Ireland in the 1840s. His father Samuel, a laborer, mother Mary, younger brother James, and John traveled to Philadelphia to seek a better life. They settled in Washington County, Pennsylvania, by 1850. In 1860 John was 22 and a naval officer. He always listed nearby West Middletown as his residence between his naval cruises. Even now, this is a small town of 140 people built close to a rural road.  

His first training cruise from the Naval Academy was June 21 to September 21, 1853, on the Preble with Tunis A. Craven. He graduated with the Class of 1857 and was assigned to the U.S. steam frigate Mississippi with Captain William C. Nicholson in 1858. They traveled to China and Japan on a cruise that lasted 31 months and ran a little over 37,000 miles. The Captain's journal was published as A Cruise in the U.S. Steam Frigate Mississippi. John appears several times in the book. In April 1858, a volunteer 45-member rifle team was established with John appointed captain. They were a backup to the marine team drilled by Lt Jacob Reed. Shortly thereafter, sailing master George Bacon, John and others boarded a small boat to deliver a letter for the Emperor at "Pekin." With guns on both sides of the river, they continued up river and were met by thousands of mandarins at the fort. This "brave little party" had to moor there that night under watchful eyes and returned to the ship the next morning.

On July 4, 1859, John was one of the ship's party allowed to enter Jeddo (now Tokyo), stay overnight, and stroll through the city. No outsider had ever been allowed that before. In August they went to Shanghai to protect Americans from possible fighting between Chinese and the French who had coolie slaves. The Marines' 36 guns were under Lt. Jacob Reed, one division of small arms 48 guns were under Lt. Stemble, John and others, and two field pieces were taken ashore. After 50 hours, all returned to the ship with no fighting.  

In 1860 John was stationed on the Brooklyn. On December 9, he disembarked but had no money to travel to New York City as ordered. The paymaster could not pay him. Finally, on December 17, he was living at the St. Nicholas Hotel in New York City waiting to go to Panama on the sloop St Mary's on the 21st. In March 1862, he was detached from the St Mary's and was ordered later to the Sabine. It patrolled the east coast looking for Confederate raiders. The Sabine was in New York City in March 1863, and John reported a deserter was being transferred to the North Carolina.  

John was detached in October and went home to West Middletown.  In November, he wrote that he wanted to go on the ironclad Tecumseh. It was brand new and would be commanded by Tunis A. Craven. The Tecumseh sailed in April 1864, and in June, sank four hulks and a schooner. It overheated twice during the next two months and had to be repaired. Sadly, it hit a mine near Fort Morgan, Alabama, and was sunk on August 5 with the loss of John, Craven and 93 others.


From the Naval History and Heritage Command:

Acting Midshipman, 31 January, 1853. Midshipman, 10 June, 1857. Passed Midshipman, 25 June, 1860. Master, 24 October, 1860. Lieutenant, 18 April, 1861. Lost on Tecumseh, 5 August, 1864.

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 1858

Midshipman, Steam Frigate Mississippi

Others at this command:

January 1860

Midshipman, Steam Frigate Mississippi

Others at this command:

September 1861

Lieutenant, Sloop St. Mary's

September 1862

Lieutenant, Frigate Sabine

January 1863

Lieutenant, Frigate Sabine

January 1864

Lieutenant, Iron-clad Steamer Tecumseh

Class of 1857

John is the only member of the Class of 1857 in 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.