Commander James H. Ward (USN)


Aug 27, 2016
Hangzhou, China (Wisconsin, USA)
Commander James Harmon Ward (USN)

James Harmon Ward was born in Hartford, Connecticut on 25 September 1806. He graduated from the American Literary Scientific and Military Academy at Norwich, Vermont in 1823 and accepted an appointment as a midshipman in the Navy on 4 March. He served on the frigate Constitution during a four-year Mediterranean cruise and then took a year's leave for scientific studies at Washington College (Trinity College) in Hartford, Connecticut.

Returning to sea, Ward saw action in the Mediterranean and off the African coast interdicting the slave trade. He then served in the West Indies, helping to prevent a resurgence of piracy. He taught course in ordnance and gunnery at the Naval School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; these courses were later published as An Elementary Course of Instruction in Ordnance and Gunnery.

On 10 October 1845, the new Naval Academy opened in Annapolis, Maryland; Lieutenant Ward was one of the five founders of the academy and passed along the benefits of his experience to young midshipmen. Ward held the office of executive officer (later Commandant of Midshipmen) while also instructor of gunnery and steam engineering.

During the Mexican-American War, Ward took command of the USS Cumberland. Following the war, he was given command of the steamer USS Vixen from 1848 to 1850. After serving at the Washington and Philadelphia Navy Yards, Ward took command of the USS Jamestown and hunted slave ships along the African coast. During this time, he worked on another textbook - A Manual of Naval Tactics.

In 1860, Ward served at the New York Navy Yard, where he wrote a popular treatise on steam engineering - Steam for the Million. In the spring of 1861, as Confederate forces mounted a siege of Fort Sumter, South Carolina, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles summoned Ward to Washington to plan for a relief expedition for Sumter. Ward volunteered to lead it, but opposition, notably from General Winfield Scott, forced cancellation of the plans.

Ward proposed that a "flying squadron" be established in the Chesapeake Bay for use against Confederate naval and land forces threatening that area south of the Union capital. The idea was acceptable, and the squadron took shape. The steamer Thomas Freeborn served as Ward's flagship, with the steams Freelance, Alliance, and three coastal survey ships making up the rest of the flotilla - later known as the Potomac Flotilla.

On 1 June 1861, the flotilla silenced Confederate shore batteries at Aquia Creek, Virginia during the Battle of Aquia Creek. On 27 June, at the Battle of Mathias Point, Ward sent a landing party ashore to dislodge Southern forces from another battery at Mathias Point, in King George County, Virginia, but it encountered heavy resistance. The Federals gave up the attack and retired under heavy sniper and cannon fire to their ships. Ward brought his flotilla in close to the shoreline to provide gunfire support for the retreating landing party. As he was sighting the bow gun in his flagship, Ward was struck by a bullet in his abdomen and fell to the deck, mortally wounded. He died within the hour.

The USS Ward (DD-139) was named for him, as was Fort Ward, one of the defenses of Washington during the American Civil War.

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Mark F. Jenkins

Member of the Year
Mar 31, 2012
Central Ohio
In 1860, Ward served at the New York Navy Yard, where he wrote a popular treatise on steam engineering - Steam for the Million.

I tracked this down and bought it when I was trying to understand steam engines. I like it a lot-- it teaches me about it in the language of the day.

Incidentally, the destroyer USS Ward has acquired a certain measure of fame for her possible (later confirmed) sinking of a Japanese mini-sub attempting to enter Pearl Harbor early on December 7, 1941-- before the air attack began.