From USNA Virtual Memorial Hall

William Gwin '53

Date of birth: December 6, 1832

Date of death: January 3, 1863

Age: 30

Lucky Bag

The Lucky Bag was first published in 1894.

Biography & Loss

"Engraved portrait by J.C. Buttre, New York, featuring a facsimile of Gwin's signature below the figure. Lieutenant Commander Gwin lost his life as a result of injuries suffered in combat on the Yazoo River on 27 December 1862, while he was in command of USS Benton."

From Wikipedia:

Born in Columbus, Indiana, Gwin was appointed a Midshipman on 7 April 1847. Gwin subsequently served in the frigate Brandywine on the Brazil Squadron until late in 1850. During the next five years he was assigned to the sloop of war Germantown, flagship of the African Squadron, the steamer Princeton and the brig Bainbridge. In September 1855, while serving in the latter, he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant. From late 1857 until after the outbreak of the American Civil War in the spring of 1861, Gwin was an officer of the steamer Saranac and sloop of war Vandalia, both in the Pacific, and of the steam frigate Susquehanna in the Mediterranean.

Returning to the United States in mid-1861, Lieutenant Gwin began Civil War combat service in the newly acquired cruiser Cambridge and, later in the year, was assigned to the brig Perry.

He commanded several ships of the Mississippi Squadron and was one of Flag Officer Andrew Hull Foote's "can do" officers, displaying outstanding initiative, energy and dash. After the fall of Fort Henry he swept with his wooden gunboats up the Tennessee River all the way to regions of Alabama. This action was a major factor in the collapse of the Confederate lines far behind him in Kentucky. Fire support from two of his gunboats, Tyler and Lexington, helped save Union troops from disaster in the Battle of Shiloh, bringing high praise from General Ulysses S. Grant. He was wounded in action 27 December 1862, while commanding the gunboat Benton in the Battle of Haines Bluff on the Yazoo River.

He died from these injuries on 3 January 1863, on board a hospital ship in the Mississippi River. In reporting his death to the Navy Department, Gwin's squadron commander, Rear Admiral David Dixon Porter, remarked: "The country has lost one of its bravest officers."

He is listed on the killed in action panel in the front of Memorial Hall and is buried in New Jersey.


1853 Gwin 2.jpg

From the Naval History and Heritage Command:

Midshipman, 7 April, 1847. Passed Midshipman, 19 June, 1853. Master, 15 September, 1855. Lieutenant, 16 September, 1855. Lieutenant Commander, 16 July, 1862. Killed in battle, 3 January, 1863.


Four ships in the United States Navy have been named in his honor:

  • USS Gwin (Torpedo Boat No. 16) was commissioned in 1898 and decommissioned in 1914. She was renamed Cyane and reclassified YFB-4 in 1920, and finally sold in 1925
  • USS Gwin (DD 71) was a Caldwell-class destroyer commissioned in 1920, and decommissioned in 1922.
  • USS Gwin (DD 433) was a Gleaves-class destroyer, commissioned in 1941, served in World War II and sank in battle in July 1943.
  • USS Gwin (DM 33) was a Robert H. Smith-class destroyer-minelayer, commissioned in 1944 and decommissioned in 1958. She was transferred to Turkey in 1971 and renamed TCG Muavenet (DM-357). She was scrapped in 1992.

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 1848

Midshipman, Frigate Brandywine

Others at this command:

January 1850

Midshipman, Frigate Brandywine

Others at this command:

January 1851

Midshipman, leave of absence

January 1852

Midshipman, leave of absence

January 1854

Passed Midshipman, Brig Bainbridge

January 1855

Passed Midshipman, Brig Bainbridge

January 1856

Lieutenant, Brig Bainbridge

January 1857

Lieutenant, waiting orders

January 1858

Lieutenant, Steam Frigate Saranac

September 1861

Lieutenant, Steamer Cambridge

September 1862

Lieutenant Commander, Mississippi Flotilla

January 1863

Lieutenant Commander, commanding officer, Steam Gunboat Benton

Class of 1853

William is one of 9 members of the Class of 1853 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.