George Campbell Read
Dates of Service: -
Death Date: 9/22/1862
Although born in Ireland in 1787, George Read soon immigrated to Pennsylvania with his family.
He received his midshipman’s warrant on 2 April 1804 but was not ordered to active duty until 1806, when he joined the brig Vixen. In July 1807, he transferred to USS Revenge, and then to the frigate President in November 1809.
Read served on Constitution three different times in his career. He first joined the ship as a midshipman in February 1809; his date of departure is unknown but he served on the President until June 1810. Promoted to lieutenant, he served in Constitution, and then commanded the bomb ketch Vesuvius. He returned to Constitution in July 1812 and participated in her victory over HMS Guerriere.
He was stationed at New York from 1821 until 1825 when he received his promotion to captain and took command of the new frigate Brandywine. Ordered to join the Mediterranean Squadron, Read first sailed the Brandywine to northern France with the Marquis de Lafayette, who had been visiting the US. After arriving at Port Mahon, Minorca he found the bulk of the squadron in winter quarters, and began to prepare his ship for the coming sailing season. Constitution was then in the final stages of a major overhaul, and was in the care of her first lieutenant. Because she was almost ready for sea and Brandywine was just beginning repairs, Commodore Rodgers had Read leave his ship with his first lieutenant and take command of “Old Ironsides” on January 23, 1826. On February 21, he was replaced by a new permanent captain, and returned to Brandywine, having spent his entire time in command of the famed frigate at anchor.
Midshipmen were officers in training. Drawn from the ranks of the middle class, they went to sea to learn seamanship and leadership. They received some formal training in mathematics, languages, and literature from the schoolmaster or chaplain, but most of their education was hands-on. In time, if they mastered their trade, hey could expect to receive a lieutenant’s commission. A midshipman had no specific duties as such, but would be expected to do whatever was ordered of him. This could include supervising the men aloft, running orders for the officers, co-commanding a division in battle, sending and receiving signals, or standing a watch. In addition to their various shipboard duties, midshipmen were expected to keep a journal of every cruise, in which they recorded essential information and observations. Midshipman were paid $19.00 per month and got only one ration per day.
The junior lieutenants each had command of a watch. The men in the watch were under the lieutenant’s care and command. He was to keep a list of all the officers and men in his watch. When mustered, he examined the men to make sure they were well clothed, clean, and sober. He regularly visited the lower decks to make sure the sentries were at their posts, that no tobacco was smoked between decks, and that there were no unenclosed candles lit. While at sea, a junior lieutenant was not to change the ship’s course without the captain’s permission, unless it was to prevent a collision or other accident. In battle, the lieutenants were stationed with their divisions on the spar deck or gun deck. The youngest lieutenant exercised the men with small arms and in battle oversaw their use. In addition, all lieutenants were required to keep a journal or log, a copy of which was to be delivered to the Navy Office at the end of a voyage. For his trouble the lieutenant received $40.00 per month and three rations per day.
Captain was the highest rank in the Navy during the War of 1812 and typically commanded ships of 20 guns or more. The captain had ultimate responsibility for the ship and its crew. According to the official naval regulations issued to officers, the captain’s first duty was to prepare his ship for sea, which included making inventories of all stores and equipment, creating account books, recruiting a crew, and overseeing all the various tasks performed prior to a cruise. Once at sea, the captain was expected to have the ship ready for an engagement at all times, and to oversee the training of the crew. In battle his station was on the quarterdeck, where he could direct the action. All decisions regarding navigation, sail handling, or fighting ultimately descended from him. The captain’s authority was law. They were also normally the highest paid officers on board, earning $100.00 per month and the right to eight rations per day.
Battles and Engagements
Read served as Constitution’s third lieutenant during the battle with HMS Guerriere on 19 August 1812. When the British ship surrendered, Read took a boat over and accepted the surrender of Captain James Dacres. The next morning he reported Guerriere too badly damaged to save, and scuttled her. As soon as Constitution reached Boston, he transferred to USS United States, and in October participated in that frigate’s victory over HMS Macedonian. The two actions netted him Congressional silver medals.
Read returned to the Mediterranean in the frigate Constellation in 1832 to 1834. Later he commanded the East India Squadron, hunting Sumatran pirates who previously had attacked an American merchant ship. He next commanded the Philadelphia Navy Yard, then returned to the Mediterranean in the frigate United States, where he acted as commodore of both Mediterranean and African Squadrons. This was his last sea duty. From 1850 to 1853, he again commanded the Philadelphia Navy Yard. After a long period of inactivity he finally took command of the Philadelphia Naval Asylum in 1861. He was promoted to Rear Admiral on the Retired List in July 1862, and died a little over five weeks later.
Commodore Red’s service was commemorated in a sidewheel steamer (1863).