b. 27/03/1844 Newburypost, Massachusetts. d. 20/10/1935 Washington DC
DATE OF MOH ACTION: 1844 - 1906
He began his long and distinguished military career shortly after the outbreak of the American Civil War. On 26 July 1861 he enlisted in the 19th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment at the age of 17, after having been rejected twice before. Over the next two years he worked his way up the enlisted ranks to 1st sergeant.
On 18 March 1863 he was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant in the 81st United States Colored Infantry. He was promoted to 1st lieutenant on 26 April 1864 and to captain on 4 April 1865. After the war he received a brevet (honorary promotion) to major to rank from 13 March 1865 for "faithful and meritorious service during the war". He was mustered out of the Volunteer Army on 22 March 1867.
He was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant in the 36th Infantry Regiment of the Regular Army on 7 March 1867 and was reassigned to the 5th Cavalry Regiment on 14 July 1869 after the 36th Infantry was disbanded. He was promoted to 1st lieutenant on 27 May 1873.
Greely attended the First Presbyterian Church, Newburyport, and married Henrietta Nesmith in 1878 and with her had six children: Antoinette in 1879, Adola in 1881, John in 1885, Rose in 1887, Adolphus in 1889, and Gertrude in 1891.
In 1881, First Lieutenant Greely was given command of the Lady Franklin Bay Expedition on the ship Proteus. Promoted by Henry W. Howgate, its purpose was to establish one of a chain of meteorological-observation stations as part of the First International Polar Year. The expedition also was commissioned by the US government to collect astronomical and polar magnetic data, which was carried out by the astronomer Edward Israel, who was part of Greely's crew. Another goal of the expedition was to search for any clues of the USS Jeannette, lost in the Arctic two years earlier.
Greely was without previous Arctic experience, but he and his party were able to discover many hitherto unknown miles along the coast of northwest Greenland. The expedition also crossed Ellesmere Island from east to west and Lt. James B. Lockwood and David L. Brainard achieved a new "farthest north" record of 83°23'8".
Two consecutive supply parties failed to reach Greely's party encamped at Fort Conger on Ellesmere Island in 1882 and 1883. In accordance with his instructions for this case, Greely decided in August 1883 to abandon Fort Conger and retreat south with his team. They reached Cape Sabine expecting to find food and equipment depots from the supply ships, but these had not been provided. With winter setting in Greely and his men were forced to winter at Cape Sabine with inadequate rations and little fuel.
A rescue expedition, led by Capt. Winfield Scott Schley on the USRC Bear (a former whaler built in Greenock, Scotland), was sent to rescue the Greely party. By the time Bear and ships Thetis and Alert arrived on June 22, 1884, to rescue the expedition, nineteen of Greely's 25-man crew had perished from starvation, drowning, hypothermia, and, in the case of Private Henry, gunshot wounds from an execution ordered by Greely.
Greely and the other survivors were themselves near death; one of the survivors died on the homeward journey. In June 1886, Greely was promoted to captain after serving twenty years as a lieutenant and, in March 1887, President Grover Cleveland appointed him as Chief Signal Officer of the U.S. Army with the rank of brigadier general.
In 1906, he served as military commander over the emergency situation created by the San Francisco earthquake. On February 10, 1906, he was promoted to major general and on March 27, 1908, he retired, having reached the mandatory retirement age of 64. In 1911 he represented the United States Army at the coronation of King George V.
On March 21, 1935, a special act of Congress awarded Greely the Medal of Honor in recognition of his long and distinguished career. He is the only person to be awarded the Medal of Honor for "lifetime achievement" rather than for acts of physical courage at the risk of one's own life. His was the second and last award of the Medal of Honor by the Army for non-combat service.
For his life of splendid public service, begun on March 27, 1844, having enlisted as a private in the U.S. Army on July 26, 1861, and by successive promotions was commissioned as major general February 10, 1906, and retired by operation of law on his 64th birthday.
BURIAL LOCATION; ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY, ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA.
Section 1, Grave 129