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Capt. Napoleon B. Harrison, U.S.N (1823-1869?)

Martinsburg, VA

Surnames Mentioned: HARRISON STULL

Youngest son of Dr. John S. Harrison and Holland Williams Stull, was born in Martinsburg, Va. February 19th, 1823. Entering the naval service of the Unites States as Midshipman, February 28th, 1838, he acquired experience in his profession under various commanders in the West Indies, Brazil, the Coast of Africa and the Pacific Squadron. In 1844 he was promoted to the rank of Passed Midshipman, and under Commodore Stockton, during the Mexican war, he was distinguished among the younger officers for courage and ability. He here took part in the land expedition which rescued general Kearney's command from desperate position and on another occasion, having volunteered to carry an important message to a distant command in an open boat, he was carried out to sea and unable to make land for five or six days. The violence and persistence of the storm was matched by the firmness and skill of the young sailor, who finally brought back his boat and crew unharmed.

In 1850 he was on duty at then Washington Observatory and in the year 1853 promoted to a lieutenancy and served as naval store keeper in the East Indies, Japan and on the coast of Africa. In 1862 Lieut. Harrison was placed in command of the gun boat, "Cayuga", attached to the Mississippi Squadron under Com. Farragut. In his dispositions for forcing the passage of the river, the Commodore arranged his fleet in three division, and in this programme, the Cayuga being a light armed vessel of only seven guns, stood last in the first division. This undistinguished position was a source of great mortification to her gallant commander, who, nevertheless prepared to do his duty with patriotic resignation. In the meantime Capt. S.P. Lee, who had volunteered to lead the attack, objected to Capt. Bailey making the "Oneida" his flagship, fearing that the presence of the Division Commander would obscure his own position. Bailey promptly ordered the Oneida to the rear of his division, and proposed to Lieutenant Harrison, to make the Cayuga his flagship. This unexpected transfer to the van of battle and post of danger was hailed with great delight.

Just before daybreak on the 23rd of April, 1862, Lieut. Harrison led the advance of the national fleet. Passing Forts Jackson and St. Philip, with their hundred blazing guns, the Cayuga rushed into the midst of the enemy's fleet of iron-clads, rams and fire ships above the forts, and there sustained herself for half an hour unsupported. During this brief and unequal fight, she repelled all attacks and destroyed three vessels of the adverse flotilla, and when relieved by the advance of the national vessels, she passed up the river with forty shot holes in her hull and rigging, and only six men wounded. She next covered the encampment of the Chalmette Regiment with her guns, and forced it surrender, with six thousand men.

Next day, alone, she attacked the Chalmette Batteries, and persisted until the Hartford came up and the Batteries surrendered. Capt. Bailey, in his official report says: "From first to last, Lieutenant Commander Harrison showed a masterly ability in steering his vessel past the Forts under a hurricane of shot and shell, and, afterwards, in maneuvering and fighting her among the gun-boats, I cannot say too much of him." The chivalric courage and intelligent coolness exhibited by Commander Harrison in the tremendous engagement, impressed all who were near him, and won for him the respect and admiration of the whole service. The following characterist anecdote is current among his brother officers: During the hottest fire he found a gunner skulking; seizing the recreant by the collar, and dragging him before Captain Bailey, he said, "Captain, here's a fellow skulking, shall I shoot him or boot him?" The commander recommeded the lighter punishment and the man was expedited back to his post with a vigouous kick. The remedy was efficacious and the man stuck to his gun afterward doing good service.

In recognition of his conduct in the engagement, Lieutenant Harrison was advanced to the rank of Commander, his commission bearing date July 15th, 1862.

He was soon ordered to the "Mahaska," of the James River fleet, and rendered efficient service during McClellan's operations at Harrison's Landing. Late in the same year, in command of the flagship, "Minnesota", he was with the North Atlantic Squadron, and took an active part in the naval operations of the coast of South Carolina, terminating the evacuation of Charleston.

After the peace, Commander Harrison had charge of the navy yard at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where he remained until 1868. On the 18th of April, this year, he was ordered to duty at the Annapolis Navy School as Commandant of Midshipmen. From here, one year later, he was ordered to the command of the "Congress", flagship of the North Atlantic Squadron. Whole at Key West the Congress encountered a terrible northern, and in his solicitude for the safety of the vessed, Captain Harrison so exposed himself to the storm that he died two days after. His remains are buried in Oak Hill Cemetary, Georgetown, D.C., and he leaves behind him the reputation of a gallant, able and faithful officer and an honorable, amiable and agreeable gentleman.


Source: ALER'S HISTORY OF MARTINSBURG AND BERKELEY COUNTY, WEST VIRGINIA By F. Vernon Aler. Published in 1888 by The Mail Publishing Company, Hagerstown, Maryland Historical Pen Sketches pp. 131-134

Submitted by Bev Thomas.


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