Bowman Hendry McCalla

Rear Admiral Bowman Hendry McCalla

Rear Admiral Bowman Hendry McCalla was born on June 19, 1844, in Camden, New Jersey. He grew up in the city, the son of Mary Duffield Hendry and Auley McCalla. Auley McCalla held various notable positions in Camden, including working as the cashier at the State Bank (later the National State Bank), serving on City Council, and being a founding member of the Perseverance Fire Company in 1832, one of Camden’s volunteer fire brigades. In 1848, Auley McCalla took on the roles of secretary and treasurer of the First Presbyterian Church in Camden.

The 1850 Census records the McCalla family living in Camden’s North Ward. At that time, the family included older sisters Elizabeth and Sarah, and a younger sister, Rachel. Sadly, Auley McCalla passed away in Camden on April 14, 1856. City Directories from 1863 to 1864 show that Elizabeth and Sarah McCalla resided at 220 North 3rd Street, which suggests that Bowman McCalla likely lived there before his Navy service began. Elizabeth McCalla passed away in 1877, while Sarah remained in Camden into the 1890s. Directories in 1887 and 1892 indicated her residence at 116 North 6th Street. She outlived her younger brother, ultimately passing away in Washington DC in 1913.

Bowman H. McCalla embarked on his naval career when he was appointed midshipman in the United States Navy on November 30, 1861. His remarkable service extended for over 44 years, culminating in his promotion to the rank of Rear Admiral.

McCalla was highly regarded by his fellow officers for his courage and leadership throughout his career. He was known as a strict disciplinarian, which led to his involvement in various controversies.

In the spring of 1885, during the Panama crisis of 1885, McCalla led an expeditionary force of 750 seamen and marines to Panama. This mission aimed to protect American treaty rights during a period when a revolution in Panama threatened to obstruct transit across the isthmus.

By 1888, now holding the rank of commander, McCalla was assigned to the USS Enterprise, a barque-rigged screw sloop built in 1874 at Kittery, Maine. The Enterprise sailed from Boston in January 1888, spending two years in European and Mediterranean waters and along the east coast of Africa. She returned to New York in March 1890, where she was decommissioned on May 20. Commander McCalla’s career faced a setback due to an incident during this cruise. Accused of mistreatment of his crew, he was court-martialed, found guilty, and suspended from duty with pay in May 1890. President Benjamin Harrison reinstated him to active duty on December 24, 1891. By October 1894, Commander McCalla had been assigned to the Mare Island Navy Yard in San Francisco, California, to serve as the naval equipment officer. An altercation with a civilian naval contractor briefly drew public attention, but no major consequences ensued.

From September 11, 1897, to September 16, 1898, McCalla took command of USS Marblehead and participated in the blockade of Cuba during the Spanish-American War. He played a pivotal role in the Battle of Cienfuegos, where he ordered the cutting of submarine cables linking Cienfuegos with the outside world, isolating the Spanish garrison. In June 1898, he led the invasion of Guantánamo Bay and played a crucial part in the Battle of Guantanamo Bay and the Battle of Fort Cayo del Tore. Many members of the Marblehead crew received the Congressional Medal of Honor for their actions in these battles. On September 14, 1898, McCalla was promoted to the rank of Captain in the United States Navy.

In November 1898, as Captain of the USS Vulcan, he sailed to Cat Island in the Bahamas to assess the possibility of salvaging the Spanish cruiser Maria Infanta Teresa, which had struck a reef and been abandoned. The ship was declared beyond repair, and Vulcan returned to the naval yard in Portsmouth, Virginia.

During 1898, Captain McCalla was elected as a veteran companion of the New York Commandery of the Military Order of Foreign Wars. He also held the title of veteran companion of the Illinois Commandery of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States.

In October 1899, commanding the cruiser USS Newark, he sailed to the Far East, initially heading to the Philippines, where he conducted combined operations with Army General Young. His missions included running gunboats upriver on Luzon and participating in island landings.

In March 1900, Captain McCalla received a full pardon, and the charges against him from 1890 were expunged from his service record. On March 19, Captain McCalla took the USS Newark to Hong Kong in response to the Boxer Rebellion disturbances in China. Captain McCalla played a significant role as part of the China Relief Expedition during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. He was cited for his outstanding bravery during battle, leading a force of sailors from Tientsin to Peking. McCalla’s unit of 112 men led an international column, famously known as the Seymour Expedition, named after its leader, British Admiral Sir Edward Seymour. This expedition aimed to come to the aid of foreign legations that were besieged in Peking. In the midst of the battle at Hsiku Arsenal, McCalla and 25 of his men were wounded, and five were killed.

Returning to the United States aboard the USS Newark in April 1901, Captain McCalla took command of the battleship USS Kearsarge BB-5 by the end of May. In December 1902, he was appointed as the commandant of the Naval training station in San Francisco, California. On July 12, 1903, Captain Bowman Hendry McCalla was placed in command of the Mare Island Navy Yard. On October 11, 1903, he was commissioned as a Rear Admiral in the United States Navy.

Admiral McCalla married Elizabeth Hazard Sargent, the daughter of Civil War veteran Colonel Horace Binney Sargent. Their marriage brought four children into the world: Elizabeth Hazard McCalla (1875), Mary Hendry McCalla (1877), Lily Hazard McCalla (1878), and Stella Aphort McCalla (1878). All three daughters reached adulthood, married, and had families of their own. Mary McCalla married naval officer Arthur MacArthur, whose brother, General Douglas MacArthur, achieved fame in the United States Army, notably commanding American ground forces in the Pacific during World War II. Lily McCalla also married a naval officer, Dudley Wright Knox. Commodore Knox is primarily remembered for his contributions as a naval historian.

Rear Admiral McCalla retired from active duty and joined the retired list on his 62nd birthday, June 19, 1906. He passed away on May 6, 1910, in Santa Barbara, California. Rear Admiral McCalla was interred at Arlington National Cemetery. Two destroyers, both named USS McCalla in his honor, served in the United States Navy. The first, USS McCalla DD-253, was laid down in September 1918 and completed shortly after the end of World War I. She was transferred to the British Navy in October 1940, renamed HMS Stanley, and was sunk by U-574 on December 19, 1941, near Cape St. Vincent. The second, USS McCalla DD-488, was a Gleaves-class destroyer built in 1942. McCalla saw extensive action in the Pacific during World War II. She was transferred to the Turkish Navy in 1949 and remained active as TCG Giresun until 1973 when she was decommissioned and eventually scrapped. McCalla Field and McCalla Hill at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base were named in his honor.


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