22 Jan 2018


Lost Capitol Hill: Rear Admiral McCormick

When I started looking at the McCormick family two weeks ago, I found myself looking forward to the third of the line. Not only had he been a Rear Admiral in the Navy but a Commandant at the Washington Navy Yard as well. This was, I thought, enough to ensure that he would have stories told about him that were the equal to the robbery that had afflicted his grandfather, or to his father’s attempt to game the DC Emancipation Act.

Instead, I discovered that this honorable man, who served in the Navy for over 40 years, a Naval Academy graduate who had fought during the Civil War, a doting father who was married to his wife for almost 40 years, was… incredibly boring.

Born in 1842 in D.C., Alexander Hugh McCormick lost his mother some two years later. Fortunately, his father remarried not long thereafter, and so he grew up with his father and step-mother. McCormick joined the Navy in 1859, as a student at the Naval Academy. He was appointed from Texas, for reasons that were never adequately explained. McCormick graduated in 1861, just in time to join in the fighting of the Civil War, which he spent patrolling the Atlantic coast. He did take a break from duty to marry Isabella Howard in 1864.

The rest of his career was spent split between shore stations –including two stints at the Naval Academy– first as a math instructor, later as the head of the Department of Navigation. In between he served off the coast of Brazil aboard the USS Lancaster; in the Pacific aboard the Pensacola; and cruised around the world on the Essex. In 1885, he returned to the Washington Navy Yard, where he was an inspector of ordnance, a job he held for four years, after which he transferred to New York, where he had the same post. In 1892, he returned to the Lancaster, then returned to shore duty at the Norfolk navy yard. A final tour on board the Oregon was cut short by illness, and, once he had recovered, he was made commandant of the Washington Navy Yard.

The USS Lancaster, on which McCormick would serve two tours (LOC)

Thus on October 17, McCormick was installed, an event that seems to have been greeted by widespread indifference. In fact, the only time during his time at the Navy Yard that he made any news whatsoever was when he received the rank of Rear Admiral in 1899, although there was brief mention of him when as being in charge when groups of scientists in town for a conference visited the Navy Yard, and when he was testified in some patent case. Otherwise, his time seems to have been almost unnaturally quiet.

The following year, McCormick was to be assigned to the “Asiatic station,” as the second in command. By then, he was 68 years old and had been in the Navy for over 40 years. It was time to retire, and so in March 1900, the Evening Star reported that he had “been placed on the retired list on his own application.” McCormick moved to Annapolis, where his life in retirement seems to have been as quiet as his life before. A biography of his life published in this time said of him that his “favorite forms of recreation are walking in the country, and whist.”

McCormick  died in the Annapolis Naval Hospital on August 21, 1915. He was brought back to Capitol Hill and buried near his wife, two sons who had predeceased him, as well as his father, mother, step-mother and grandfather in Congressional Cemetery.


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