Captain Richard Wainwright, USS Virginia

Richard Wainwright  was born in Washington D.C the great-great grandson of Benjamin Franklin.  His father, Commodore Wainwright served with distinction throughout the Civil War.  Richard was appointed to the Naval Academy by Abraham Lincoln and entered the Naval Academy in 1864 and graduated Class of 1868 who would rise to be a Rear Admiral and Division Commander of the Great White Fleet.  (source "The Navy", magazine,  November 1907)

He was promoted to Ensign in 1869, Lieutenant in 1873, Lieutenant Commander in 1874.  His first command, from 1890 to 1893 was of the USS Alert.  Alert was an iron-hulled screw steamer gunboat constructed at the Delaware River Iron Ship Building and Engine Works shipyard in 1875.  Her first Commanding Officer, William T. Sampson.


The Alert was assigned to the Bering Sea Squadron and spent most of her time during Richard's command cruising the waters along the Japanese, Korean, and Chinese coasts.

The original cabinet card at left was taken at a studio in Washington DC when Richard Wainwright was a Captain or Commander.

The autograph card at left was signed sometime after April 1908 and before his retirement in 1911.




In November 1897 he was ordered to the Maine as Executive Officer under Captain Charles D. Sigsbee.  On the night the Maine blew up in Havana Harbor, Richard stood beside Sigsbee on the quarterdeck as the vessel was sinking.  Richard Wainwright issued the order to lower the lifeboats in which the surviving crew escaped.  Richard Wainwright was assigned the duty of supervising the salvage survey and recovery of bodies of the victims.  He stayed aboard the Fern for seven weeks during the Sampson court of inquiry.  On the day the salvage team was ordered home, the Spanish naval commander in Havana, Admiral Vincente Manterola ordered the American flag be lowered to the mast of the Maine where it was still flying.  Wainwright heard of the order and issued a statement that made him famous:  "Tell the officer-in-charge of the guard that if any Spaniard touches the flag that flies from that wreck, there will be another wreck in Havana.  Tell him I will sink this barge myself if he attempts to carry out that order."  The below cabinet photographs are from the Frank Lesher collection on this site which can be accessed through the following link:  Frank Lesher Collection




Upon returning to Washington he was given a converted yacht, now fitted as a gunboat, and took command.  At the Battle of Santiago de Cuba he engaged two torpedo boats and drove them ashore with his 6-pound battery.  Wainwright was commended for his valor in the engagement and advanced 10 numbers on the promotion seniority list.

After ordering his heavily damaged flagship Infanta Maria Teresa to run aground, Spanish Admiral Cervera, was picked up by Gloucester.  Wainwright was there to greet him as he was brought aboard.  "I congratulate you sir," said Wainwright, "on having made as gallant a fight as was every seen on the sea."

At left, stock file photo of USS Gloucester in 1898.



From 1900 - 1902, Richard Wainwright was Superintendent of the Naval Academy.  During this time the first submarine, USS Holland was in Annapolis to train crews for duty on submarines.  In 1903 he reached the grade of Captain.  In 1904 he commanded forces during the Santo Domingo Affair shelling rebel forces in support of an amphibious assault.  This was carried out using the protected cruisers Columbia and Newark.  In 1907 he was given command of the USS Louisiana, and in April of 1908, made Rear Admiral and Command of 2nd Division of the Atlantic Fleet as it departed San Francisco.  Seaton Schroeder and Richard Wainwright were both promoted at the same time after Evans departure, and under the Commander in Chief, Rear Admiral Charles Sperry.

At the end of the cruise he was promoted to Aid for Operations to the Secretary of the Navy, (CNO), and retired at age 62 by law in 1911.  He died in 1926 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

His son, Richard Wainwright Jr., Commander, earned the Medal of Honor for his service at Vera Cruz, Mexico and is also buried at Arlington National Cemetery.  The below original cabinet card photo was taken at a studio in New York before the cruise when Father was a Captain and son was a Lieutenant.




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