From USNA Virtual Memorial Hall
William H. Smith '46

Date of birth: November 5, 1822

Date of death: September 1850

Age: 28


William Henry Smith died sometime after late 1850. From We Relate:

Born in 1822; entered the U. S. Navy as a midshipman; obtained a leave of absence in 1850 to enter a private maritime enterprise, and was lost at sea in that year off the Sandwich (now called Hawaiian) Islands.

Other Information

He was appointed to the Naval Academy from Virginia.

William was the son of Elizabeth and George; George was at various times Governor of Virginia, a US Congressman, and Confederate General. His brother, James, and his father were both recorded in the 1850 census in California as a part of the gold rush.

William had been on leave for the twelve months preceding November 1, 1850, at which time he wrote a letter to the Navy Department "as required by regulation" reporting in from San Francisco. There is no mention or insinuation that he would be resuming his service in the Navy. (Copy of letter located by researcher Kathy Franz.)

There is a a memory marker in Virginia that is partially inscribed "lost at sea Sept 1850". Note that this is in direct conflict to the signed letter on November 1. The presumption is that he departed on some kind of expedition in ~September 1850, and left a letter a few months later, per regulation, on his behalf.

The US Naval Academy Association of Graduates has "supposed to be lost at sea, in 1850, P.-Midn., Pac. Squad."

From the Naval History and Heritage Command:

Midshipman, 31 July, 1840. Passed Midshipman, 11 July, 1846. Last appearance on Records of Navy Department, 1852.

This "appearance in the records of the Navy Department" was specifically the 1853 Register of the Commissioned and Warrant Officers of the United States Navy and Marine Corps: "Passed Midshipman William H. Smith, supposed to have been lost at sea in 1850."

There is no indication of why his loss was not previously reported; others in this document died in 1852 or early 1853. Elsewhere in the report, oddly, he is listed as a midshipman preparing for examination. Meanwhile, his position in Memorial Hall — the very first name — indicates he was lost sometime before August 1847.

Separately, a newspaper in 1867 reported William was "lost in the Indian ocean."

From researcher Kathy Franz:

  • 1844 – Porpoise
  • 1846 - Naval school - last at sea Dec 1845
  • 1847 - Passed Midshipman #177, waiting orders – Decatur (one week in February), then steamer Polk (sprang a leak in April and returned for repair)
  • 1848 - Passed Midshipman #141 – Observatory - last at sea June 1847
  • 1849 - Passed Midshipman #128 – Observatory – requested one year leave October 1849.
  • 1850 - Passed Midshipman #108, Pacific Squadron
  • 1851 - Passed Midshipman #76, Pacific Squadron
  • 1852 - Passed Midshipman #57, Pacific Squadron

Memorial Hall Error

William was not lost while in service to the country and should not be included in Memorial Hall. Also, he is listed as an Ensign; however, this rank did not exist until 1862. Last mention is as a Passed Midshipman.

Class of 1846

William is one of 13 members of the Class of 1846 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.