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Cornelius Schoonmaker '59

Date of birth: February 2, 1839

Date of death: March 15, 1889

Age: 50

Naval Academy Register

Cornelius Marius Schoonmaker was admitted to the Naval Academy from New York on September 28, 1854 at age 15 years 7 months.

Biography & Loss

"Cabinet card photograph by Sebastianutti & Benque, Trieste. It was probably taken in 1880-1881, when Commander Schoonmaker commanded USS Nipsic in European waters."
"Cabinet card photograph by J. Williams, Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii. It was probably taken in 1887-1889, when Captain Schoonmaker commanded USS Vandalia on the Pacific Station."
1859 Schoonmaker 3.jpg

From the Naval History and Heritage Command:

Cornelius Marius Schoonmaker was born on 2 February 1839. He was appointed to the U.S. Naval Academy in September 1854 and, following graduation in June 1859, served for about two years off the African west coast. In May-September 1861, during the first several months of the Civil War, he was a junior officer on the steam frigate Minnesota and participated with her in the capture of Forts Hatteras and Clark. From late 1861 until after the end of the Civil War in 1865, Lieutenant Schoonmaker was Executive Officer of several ships, including the gunboats Wyandotte and Octorara, monitors Manhattan and Catskill, and the cruiser Augusta. While in the Manhattan, he took part in the Battle of Mobile Bay in August 1864 and in the subsequent campaign to capture Fort Morgan.

In June 1865, Lieutenant Schoonmaker became Navigator of the sloop Juniata and, after promotion to Lieutenant Commander, was her Executive Officer. In 1867-70, he served as Navigator of the Asiatic Squadron flagship, USS Piscataqua (renamed Delaware in 1869). He received instruction in the emerging field of "torpedo" warfare in 1872, then was given command of the dispatch vessel Frolic. Commander Schoonmaker served at the New York Navy Yard in 1873-74, and was Inspector of the Eighth Light-House District, at New Orleans, until 1878. He took command of the new gunboat Nipsic in 1879, taking her to European waters in 1880-81.

Schoonmaker was stationed at the Norfolk Navy Yard in 1882-85 and received promotion to the rank of Captain in October 1886. He became Commanding Officer of the steam sloop Vandalia, on the Pacific Station, in 1888. Captain Schoonmaker was among the many members of her company who lost their lives when Vandalia was sunk in the very destructive Apia, Samoa, hurricane of 15-16 March 1889.

He is buried in New York.


From records of the US Naval Academy Graduates’ Association:

Schoonmaker was the soul of honor. He was incapable of a mean action; a Christian at heart as well as outward appearance; a consistent member of the Episcopal Church, who strove to do his duty to his God as well as to his fellow-men. There was something so sincere, so kind-hearted and so good about him that all loved him. His was the role of peacemaker, a good messmate and intelligent companion. He was a thinking man, read largely not only upon all professional subjects, but the higher class of general literature. In war he was always at the fore. As executive officer of the monitor Manhattan, in the battle of Mobile Bay, he won great praise.

Socially he was charming. He was a gentleman in the highest sense of the word, sans peur et sans reproche.

We entered the Navy about the same time. Our first cruise together on the coast of Africa. After that we met from time to time, renewing our never-dying friendship. He was of an affectionate disposition, fond of his family and home. A few days before his tragic end in that far-away port, thousands of miles from our homes, we talked about our wives and families. He, poor fellow, spoke so feelingly of his, as if, it afterwards seemed to me, he felt he might not see them again.

In the course of his duty he was in command of the U. S. S. Vandalia, in the port of Apia, Samoan islands, on March 16, 1889, that memorable hurricane in which his life was given to his country.

While it was well known that the port of Apia was most dangerous during this season of the year, yet to be there was to be at the post of duty; the risk was great, but the honor of our country was at stake, and what sacrifice could be too great to maintain that?

Frequently the Navy is not only called upon to encounter the great perils of the deep and of war, but also to face the dangers of death from yellow fever and other diseases. It does it cheerfully, that our glorious flag may wave triumphantly over land and sea, that our people may pursue their avocations with safety to life and property.

He had been at his post on deck for many hours; several times the waves had swept the decks and dashed him against the guns. He had been almost carried overboard several times, when finally a wave of tremendous height swept over the Vandalia's deck, carrying death and destruction before it. It was then that gallant Schoonmaker, bleeding and faint from previous wounds, was washed overboard and drowned.

The sea over which for many years he had ploughed his way became at last his grave.

Death has taken from us a noble man, but has left his bright example for us to cherish. N. H. FARQUHAR, '55.


From the Naval History and Heritage Command:

Acting Midshipman, 28 September, 1854. Midshipman, 9 June, 1859. Lieutenant, 31 August, 1861. Lieutenant Commander, 24 December, 1865. Commander, 14 February, 1873. Captain, 7 October, 1886. Drowned 15 March, 1889.

Related Articles

Francis Sutton '81 was also lost in this storm. James Carlin '68 survived and took command after Cornelius's death.

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 1857

Acting Midshipman, Third Class, Naval Academy

Others at this command:

January 1860

Midshipman, Steamer San Jacinto

Others at this command:

September 1861

Lieutenant, Steam Frigate Minnesota

September 1862

Lieutenant, Steam Gunboat Sagamore

January 1863

Lieutenant, Steam Gunboat Octorara

January 1864

Lieutenant, Steam Gunboat Octorara

January 1865

Lieutenant, Augusta

January 1866

Lieutenant, Juniata

July 1867

Lieutenant Commander, waiting orders

July 1868

Lieutenant Commander, Piscataqua

Others at this command:

January 1869

Lieutenant Commander, Piscataqua

Others at this command:

July 1870

Lieutenant Commander, Delaware

Others at this command:

January 1871

Lieutenant Commander, "Present duty, station, or residence", Kingston, New York

January 1872

Lieutenant Commander, Torpedo Corps, Newport, Rhode Island

January 1873

Lieutenant Commander, commanding officer, Frolic

Others at this command:

January 1874

Commander, Navigation Duty, Navy Yard, New York

January 1875

Commander, Light-house inspector

January 1876

Commander, Light-house inspector

July 1877

Commander, Light-house inspector (8th District)

July 1878

Commander, Light-house inspector (8th District)

January 1879

Commander, Residence: Kingston, New York

January 1880

Commander, commanding officer, Nipsic

July 1881

Commander, commanding officer, Nipsic

January 1882

Commander, Residence: Kingston, New York

January 1883

Commander, Norfolk Navy Yard

January 1884

Commander, Equipment and Navigation Officer, Norfolk Navy Yard

February 1885

Commander, Equipment and Navigation Officer, Norfolk Navy Yard

January 1886

Commander, Equipment and Navigation Officer, Norfolk Navy Yard

February 1887

Captain, Kingston, New York

January 1888

Captain, waiting orders

January 1889

Captain, commanding officer, Vandalia

Others at this command:

Class of 1859

Cornelius is one of 5 members of the Class of 1859 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.