John Adolph Bernard Dahlgren "Ordnance Officer And Inventor" November 13, 1809 - July 12, 1870
John Adolph Bernard Dahlgren was born in Philadelphia, PA, the son of the Swedish consul in that city. Starting his service in the U.S. Navy in 1826, Dahlgren became a midshipman 16 years later, and in 1847 he began serving in the Washington Navy Yard. Dahlgren, who established the U.S. Navy's Ordnance Department, became an ordnance expert and wrote a number of books, including The System of Boat Armaments in the United States Navy, Shells and Shell Guns, and Naval Percussion Locks and Primers.
Dahlgren invented the Dahlgren gun, a more potent class of smoothbore cannon manufactured by using iron-casting techniques to produce massive guns. Made in a variety of sizes, the Dahlgren gun became the standard weapon for the Union navy during the Civil War. Dahlgren also developed a percussion lock.
When the Civil War began, Abraham Lincoln wanted Lieutenant Dahlgren to be the commander of the Washington Navy Yard. By law that position was to be held by an officer ranking captain or above, but Lincoln persuaded Congress to pass a special act legalizing Dahlgren's appointment to the yard. In July 1862 Dahlgren attained the rank of captain and was made chief of the Bureau of Ordnance. In February 1863 he was promoted to rear admiral.
After almost 20 years on land, Dahlgren applied for sea duty, and in July 1863 he received command of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron. While overseeing operations against Charleston, SC, Dahlgren was able to see his guns in action against Fort Wagner and Fort Sumter. In 1864 Dahlgren's son Ulric was killed while serving the Union in a controversial raid on Richmond.
Dahlgren remained in the navy after the Civil War, serving in the Pacific before going back to the Bureau of Ordnance. He commanded the Washington Navy Yard until he died on July 12, 1870.
Fascinating Fact: Dahlgren was almost blinded in 1836 because he was assigned the job of observing the solar eclipse.
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