Berkeley County, West Virginia Biography of Captain Napoleon B. HARRISON


         Captain Napoleon B. HARRISON was born in Martinsburg, Berkeley County, West Virginia, on February 19, 1823, the youngest son of Dr. John S. and Holland Williams (Stull) Harrison.

         He entered the naval service as a Midshipman on February 28, 1838, and saw his first service in the West Indies, Brazil, Coast of Africa, and with the Pacific Squadron. During the Mexican War he was promoted to the rank of Passed Midshipman. Under Commodore Stockton, he helped to rescue General Kearney’s command from a desperate position. In that war, he volunteered to carry a message in an open boat to a distant command, but when he encountered a storm, his boat was carried far out to sea and he was unable to land for five days.

         In 1850, he was on duty at the Washington Observatory; in 1853, he was promoted to Lieutenant and was made Naval Storekeeper in the East Indies, Japan and the Coast of Africa. In 1862, he was placed in command of the gunboat “Cayuga,” attached to the Mississippi Squadron under command of Commodore Farragut. The Commodore, in forcing the passage of the Mississippi, arranged his fleet in three divisions. Captain Baily, the Division Commander, made Lieutenant Harrison’s “Cayuga” his flagship, and just before daylight on April 23, 1862, Lieutenant Harrison led the advance of the Federal fleet and, although his vessel was one of the lightest, he rushed into the thickest of the fray and fought bravely for half an hour. The ship received 40 shot holes in her hull and rigging and had only six men wounded, having maintained her position with all the larger vessels.

         The “Cayuga” next covered the encampment of the Chalmette Regiment with her guns and forced its surrender with 6,000 men. The next day, she attacked the Chalmette Batteries and sustained the attack until the Hartford came up when the batteries were surrendered. For his bravery during these engagements, he was promoted to the rank of Commander on July 15, 1863. Soon after, Captain Harrison was ordered to the "Makaska” of the James River fleet and assisted General McClellan in his operations at Harrison’s Landing. Late in the same year, he was attached to the North Atlantic Squadron as Commander of the “Minnesota,” and assisted in the evacuation of Charleston, South Carolina. At the end of the war, Commander Harrison had charge of the Navy Yard at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, until 1868. On April 28 of that year, he was commissioned Captain and ordered to duty at Annapolis Naval Academy as Commandant of Midshipmen. In 1869 Captain Harrison was ordered to the command of the “Congress,” flagship of the North Atlantic Squadron. While at Key West, his vessel encountered a terrific storm in which Captain Harrison exposed himself and from which he died two days later. His remains were interred in Oak Hill Cemetery, Georgetown, D.C.


    Submitted by Marilyn Gouge and extracted from History of Berkeley County, West Virginia, 1928

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