Seth Ledyard Phelps

Seth Ledyard Phelps
Seth Ledyard Phelps, Midshipman.jpg
Seth L. Phelps
in Midshipman's uniform
Born(1824-01-13)January 13, 1824
Parkman, Ohio, U.S.
DiedJune 24, 1885(1885-06-24) (aged 61)
Lima, Peru
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Navy
Years of service1841–1864
RankU.S. Navy O-4 infobox.svg Lieutenant commander
UnitMississippi River Squadron

Mexican-American War

American Civil War

Other work
  • Board of Commissioners
  • Minister to Peru

Seth Ledyard Phelps (January 13, 1824 – June 24, 1885[a]) was an American naval officer, and in later life, a politician and diplomat. Phelps received his first commission in United States Navy as a midshipman aboard the famous USS Independence. He served patrolling the coast of West Africa guarding against slavers. During the Mexican-American War he served on gunboats, giving support to Winfield Scott's army, and later served in the Mediterranean and Caribbean squadrons.

During the American Civil War Phelps advanced to the rank of Lieutenant commander and served with distinction during the Mississippi River campaigns. He was noted for his familiarity of the river systems in the Western theater and conducted several reconnaissance missions, discovering the presence of Confederate Fort Donelson, in Tennessee. He commanded squadrons of gunboats on the Mississippi, Tennessee and Cumberland rivers and played key roles in the riverboat assaults during the various battles in the during the river campaigns, often supporting Ulysses S. Grant,  William T. Sherman and other Generals with their troop deployments on land. For his service Phelps received much praise in various prominent newspapers. As a young commander, Phelps was an outspoken critic of the Navy's method of promotion that favored seniority over military experience and capability. As Phelps served with every flag officer and fleet commander on the Mississippi and Tennessee Rivers during the Civil War,[b] his biography provides an almost continuous account of the naval engagements that occurred in the Trans-Mississippi Theater during that war. In later life Phelps was on the Board of Commissioners and was its first president, and later, U.S. Minister to Peru.

Early life

Seth Phelps was named after his grandfather, who served in the American Revolutionary War and at times with George Washington and was present at Valley Forge. The senior Seth was later promoted to captain and became an aide to General Washington.[2] Seth Ledyard's father's name was Alfred Phelps, who served in the War of 1812 under Winfield Scott in the Battle of Queenston Heights in Ontario. After the war Alfred returned home, started a law practice, and then met and married Ann B. Towsley on July 1, 1820. Shortly thereafter Seth was born on January 13, 1824, in Parkman, Ohio, the eldest of five siblings. His two younger brothers Alfred and Edwin soon followed. The Phelps family moved to Chardon, Ohio and bought a farm just east of Cleveland, a short distance from Lake Erie. Later in life, Seth's father became active in Republican politics in Ohio.[3] Seth grew up near the lake and listened along with his brothers to the stories of his father about his seafaring adventures, especially those of Oliver Hazard Perry. These stories are largely what inspired Seth to pursue a career in the navy.[4] He married Elizabeth Maynadier (born July 21, 1833, died May 27, 1897),[5][c] on July 1, 1853, whom he would affectionately refer to as "Lizzie". She was the daughter of Captain Maynadier, of the Ordnance Department, Washington D. C. During his naval service Phelps frequently wrote to her of his life in the military.[6][5]

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