I mentioned when I started in on Meads a few weeks ago that he was not the only crewmember of the Merrimac who was buried at Congressional Cemetery, so it behooves me to point out who the other one is: Douglas French Forrest.
Born in 1837, he was the son of French Forrest (pictured), a Commander in the United States Navy. French Forrest’s father was Uriah Forrest, who had served during the Revolutionary War and later represented Maryland in the House of Representatives back before Washington was the capital. As a resident ––and onetime mayor– of Georgetown, he also owned large parts of what would become the District of Columbia and became quite wealthy through that; wealth that he would lose later in his life. His son French would join the Navy at age 15 as a midshipman and work his way up the ranks, including service during the War of 1812.
As young Douglas grew up, his father continued his rise to the rank of Commodore and stood out during the Mexican-American War. Thereafter, he was head of the Washington Navy Yard. While he held this job for only one year, both he and his son were apparently well-liked around town, and when Douglas went to the University of Virginia, and was elected the editor of the Washington Society there – a debating club that was some 30 years old already at the time – the Washington Evening Star called him “our young townsman” in their blurb, add in that this was “one of the very highest compliments in the power of the students to confer.”
Previous to his stint in Virginia, where he was studying law, Forrest had pursued a career in the clergy. He started by studying at Abbott’s school in Georgetown and then under William Sparrow at the Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria. While his father was leading the Navy Yard, young Forrest was studying at Yale, graduating in 1857. Almost immediately after graduating, however, he had changed direction and moved to Charlottesville. He would not complete his studies there, but moved back in with his father in Fairfax.
When the war broke out, both father and son would remain in the south. The elder Forrest would take over the Norfolk Navy Yard, and was in charge of it while the hulk of the Merrimack was being converted into an ironclad. He apparently had hopes that he would be put in charge, but that job fell to a man who had taken over the head of the Washington Navy Yard about three year after his departure: Franklin Buchanan.
The Merrimack would not travel without a Forrest, however. The younger Forrest, now in the Navy, was assigned to it as Buchanan’s “Aide and Secretary for the fight.” Forrest had originally joined up with the Infantry, but soon after being part of the first Battle of Bull Run, he had followed his father into the navy. After his ship’s battle with the Monitor, Forrest returned to the army, as a staff officer, then back to the navy as assistant paymaster.
Next week: Forrest’s death and resurrection.