The Civil War Connections Blog

Meet Charles Davis…

Commander Charles Henry Davis was not Welles’ first choice for the Ironclad Board, his extensive technological experience notwithstanding.  Welles had hoped that ordnance expert Commander John Dahlgren would fill that role.  But Dahlgren requested that he be relieved of this particular duty, for the same reasons he had turned down the position of ordnance chief – paperwork got in the way of research, experimentation and development.[1]  Davis, who was already begrudgingly engaged in Navy Department business inWashington,D.C., was tapped for the job instead.

Born in Bostonin 1807, Charles Davis was a scholar with a penchant for adventure.  While a student at HarvardUniversity, he received an offer to enter the Navy as a midshipman and leapt at the chance for practical experience.[2]  He was assigned to the frigate United States, first encountering the vessel at Gosport Navy Yard in Portsmouth, VA in 1823, where he also first served with then-lieutenant Hiram Paulding.  After 17 years of active sea-service, Davis began work on the Coastal Survey (the organization that would eventually become known as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA) and eventually the Nautical Almanac, which he was working on in 1861 when war broke out.  Sailor, scholar and mathematician,Davis was certainly an appropriate substitute for Dahlgren – and while he was the youngest member of the Board, he would prove to be the most skeptical member.

[1] Robert J. Schneller, Jr., “’A State of War is a Most Unfavorable Period For Experiments”: John Dahlgren and U.S. Naval Ordnance Innovation During the American Civil War,” International Journal of Naval History, Vol. 2, No. 3, December 2003.

[2] Davis would eventually receive his degree in 1841.  Charles H. Davis, Life of Charles Henry Davis, Rear Admiral, 1807-1877, By His Son, Boston, Houghton, Mifflin & Company, 1899, pp 4 – 9.