By the death of Rear-Admiral John Rodgers, the Naval Institute has lost a valued member, and one of its most faithful and active friends. In view of his early association with the society, the high office which he filled, and the warm respect and regard in which he was held by its members, it has been deemed fitting that at least a brief record of his long and honorable career should find a place in its proceedings.
John Rodgers was born August 8, 1812, in Harford County, Maryland. With him professional distinction was almost a birthright. His father. Commodore John Rodgers, was then at the zenith of his fame, and his uncle. Lieutenant George W. Rodgers was destined to win his laurels in the war that had just begun. His grandfather, Colonel John Rodgers, had served with credit in command of a regiment from his native state during the Revolution; and, by placing his two sons in the Navy, had laid the foundation of that eminence which has made the name one of the most distinguished in our naval annals.
When in his sixteenth year, on the 18th of April, 1828, young Rodgers was appointed a Midshipman in the Navy; and on June 10, 1829, he was ordered to the Constellation, at that time about to sail for Europe on special service, under the command of Captain A. S. Wadsworth. Later she joined Biddle's squadron in the Mediterranean. Upon her return to the United States in 1831, Rodgers was transferred to the sloop Concord, under the command of Master Commandant M. C. Perry.
After three years and a half of sea-service, on December 16, 1832, Rodgers was detached and placed on waiting orders. He did not long remain idle. Having taken his three months' respite from duty, he received permission, March 26, 1833, to attend the Naval School at Norfolk, and at the close of his term he was promoted to a Passed Midshipman, his warrant being dated June 14, 1834. Obtaining leave of absence, he wisely decided to make up, as far as possible, the scantiness, or rather the one-sidedness, of the training at the Navy Yard School, by passing a year in fruitful study at the University of Virginia.
After completing his University studies, Passed Midshipman Rodgers served a short apprenticeship in the Coast Survey, on board the schooner Jersey, to which he was ordered March 31, 1836; but in the following September he joined the brig Dolphin, then about to make her first cruise, on the Brazil station. Here he remained three years.
From 1839 to 1842 Rodgers was employed on the Florida coast, in command of small schooners, part of the time engaged in hydrographic work, and partly in co-operating actively in the campaign against the Seminoles. His first command was the Wave, to which he was ordered November 9, 1839. He was promoted to Lieutenant, January 28, 1840, having then been twelve years in the service, six of which he had passed in regular cruising vessels of the Navy. Later, he was transferred to the command of the Jefferson, a schooner employed on the same coast in similar duty.
From November 22, 1842, to January 9, 1844, Rodgers was attached to the brig Boxer, of the home squadron. Upon his detachment from this vessel, after a short leave, he was selected. May 7, 1844, to assist Lieutenant W. W. Hunter in superintending the construction of the steamer Alleghany, at Pittsburg. This duty was followed by a three years' cruise on the coast of Africa and in the Mediterranean, in the frigate United States, the flagship of Commodore George C. Read. Rodgers was ordered to the United States, May 5, 1846, and was detached February 22, 1849, upon her return to Norfolk.
On the 22d of April, 1849, Rodgers was again ordered to duty with the Coast Survey. He first commanded the steamer Hetzel, in which he was engaged in hydrographic surveys upon the coast of Florida. The charts which embody the work of these surveys yet remain the authority for navigators on this dangerous coast. While engaged in surveying the shoals off cape Canaveral, the Hetzel's cable parted, and she drifted into the breakers and was wrecked. The Steamer was thrown up on the beach, at a point far from any habitation. Rodgers at once bent all his energies to repairing her and getting her afloat. After caulking her and getting her into the water, it was found that she still leaked so badly that she would not swim; and, nothing daunted, her commander beached her again, and put her through a second process of caulking and repairing. Everybody but Rodgers regarded the attempt as hopeless; but the steamer was launched again, and by dint of constant pumping and bailing" she managed to keep afloat. Finally she reached Key West, having succeeded in making the passage of 300 miles only through the energy and persistence of her commander, who had to beach her three times for repairs while on the way.
Rodgers was now assigned to the command of the Petrel, still on Coast Survey duty. While he was lying at Key West, a steamer came in from the coast of Cuba, having on board Lopez, the leader of the Cuban insurgents. She was hotly pursued by the Pizarro, a Spanish sloop-of-war of twenty guns. Rodgers promptly put his little schooner, armed with a single gun, between the fugitive and the pursuer, and by his daring and resolution prevented the Cuban's capture.
On the 12th of October, 1852, Rodgers was detached from the Coast Survey and ordered to duty in connection with the North Pacific Exploring and Surveying Expedition. The exploring squadron consisted of the Vincennes, flagship, the steamer John Hancock, the brig Porpoise, and the schooner Fennimore Cooper, and was under the command of Commander Cadwalader Ringgold. Rodgers commanded the John Hancock. The squadron left Hampton Roads, June II, 1853, for the Indian ocean, stopping at Funchal, Port Praya, and Simon's bay. On the 12th of December the John Hancock arrived at Batavia. Five months were now occupied in surveying in the neighborhood of the large islands off the southeastern coast of Asia. Early in May, 1854, the John Hancock left Singapore for Hong Kong, where she arrived on the 24th of the same month. Here she joined the flagship, and here, or near here, the squadron remained during the summer.
The serious illness of Commander Ringgold now compelled him to give up the command of the expedition, and on the nth of August Rodgers left the John Hancock for the Vincennes, succeeding to Commander Ringgold's place. After leaving Hong Kong, the squadron sailed for the Bonin islands, crossing the China sea. On the passage, a succession of terrific typhoons was encountered, in one of which the Porpoise foundered. The commander-in-chief was always on the watch, and unwearied in his efforts for the safety of his ship. During ten days he had less than forty-eight hours of sleep; and thanks to his efforts, the Vincennes narrowly escaped the fate of her consort.
Several months were now spent in explorations and surveys among the Bonin islands, Loochoo, the Ladrones, and the Pescadores, and finally on the coast of Japan. The accuracy and care with which the surveys were conducted made the work of lasting benefit to commerce and navigation. With the able assistance of Lieutenant Brooke, whose ingenious apparatus for deep-sea sounding was first used in the Vincennes, results of the highest value were accomplished. In most of the work, Rodgers himself took a personal share, not merely by way of supervision, but as an accomplished and practiced expert. In addition to his scientific work, the commander of the squadron was charged with delicate and exacting duties in creating and strengthening friendly relations with the natives of the islands. The people of Loochoo had violated the treaty concluded a few months before by Commodore Perry. Accordingly, Rodgers landed a force of seamen and marines, and, proceeding to Choui, exacted from the authorities guarantees for the future performance of their obligations.
After an interval of two months passed at Hong Kong, during February and March, 1855, the Vincennes returned to Loochoo to complete the work of surveying. Thence the expedition proceeded to the coast of Japan, and spent six weeks in careful and thorough exploration. On the 27th of June, the squadron finally left Hakodadi and sailed to the northward.
The Vincennes arrived at Petropaulovski, in Kamschatka, on the 8th of July, after having made full surveys of the sea of Ochotsk. After a week spent in sounding in Avatcha bay, she proceeded through alternate fog and rain to the harbor of Glassenappe, Here a house was built, and Lieutenant Brooke was left on shore with a party to make explorations and observations. The flagship pushed on through Behring straits and entered the Arctic ocean. Rodgers's object was to verify the position of land in about 72° N. and 175° W., which had been placed upon the Admiralty charts by Captain Kellett, of H. M. S. Herald, and to examine, if possible, Plover island, reported to have been seen by the same vessel. He further hoped to reach Wrangel land, which had been described by the natives to Wrangel as visible from cape Yakan in clear weather. Running over the tail of Herald shoal, the Vincennes passed Herald island, and stood to the northward until she ran through the position of the land given on the Admiralty chart, and came to anchor on the 13th of August, in latitude 72° 05' N., longitude I74° 37' W. This was the highest latitude reached, and it was further than any previous explorer had penetrated in this direction. It was so clear that the horizon was apparently without limit; but no land could be seen from the royal yards, and the water, so far as the eye could reach, was free from ice.
Rodgers now returned to Herald island, and two boats were landed with exploring parties. The position of the southeast point of the island was determined in latitude 71° 21' N., longitude 175° 20' W. From the highest summit of the island no land could be seen in any direction, though the horizon was clear. Next day he proceeded on, and when about fifteen miles to the southward and westward of Herald island he got sight of the ice-pack. The ice could be seen from the deck from S. to W. by N., at a distance often miles, packed as far as the eye could see from the topmast-head. Later in the forenoon, the ship came within two miles of the ice barrier and was compelled to turn back. As she had nearly reached the alleged position of Plover island, and as no land could be seen from the masthead, though the air was clear, Rodgers was brought to the conclusion that Kellett had been mistaken, and that no such island existed.
Running for Wrangel land, which had never been seen by Europeans, Rodgers got within ten miles of its supposed position; but he was again arrested by barriers of ice. Having accomplished, as far as was possible, the object of his cruise, he returned to Glassenappe, beating against head winds all the way to the straits. Before reaching Glassenappe, he spent a week in surveying in and about the straits, in St. Lawrence bay, and about Siniavine, arriving at his old anchorage on the 6th of September, after a month's absence. Brooke and his party were taken on board, and the Vincennes proceeded directly to San Francisco, where she arrived on the 13th of October.
After four months spent in comparative rest and recuperation at San Francisco, the Vincennes put to sea again on the 2d of February, 1856. Surveying and deep-sea exploration still occupied the constant care and attention of the commander. Early in March, the ship arrived at Hilo, in the Sandwich islands, and three weeks were passed in surveying this harbor and the adjacent coast. The month of April was similarly employed in the Society islands, chiefly in and about the harbor of Papiete, in the island of Tahiti.
On the 29th of April Rodgers left Papiete, and turned his face finally homeward. Shaping his course around cape Horn to follow a great circle, he passed the longitude of the cape on the 24th of May, twenty-four days and fourteen hours from Tahiti, allowing for the difference in time. On the 12th of July, 1856, he arrived in New York, having sighted no land between Papiete and Sandy Hook, during his passage of seventy-four days. Five days later the Vincennes was put out of commission.
During his absence, on September 14, 1855, Rodgers had been commissioned a Commander. Though he had now fairly earned a long exemption from active duty, he contented himself with a brief respite of six weeks; and on the 30th of August he was ordered to special duty at Washington, in reducing the results of his observations. This duty lasted till the outbreak of the war; and, indeed, owing to the interruptions of the war, it was not fully completed until 1866. Since then, not a week has passed without showing the value of Rodgers's work; and had he accomplished nothing during his long career but the surveys of the North Pacific Exploring Expedition, the charts which bear his name would alone be a sufficient monument to his courage, his ability, and his usefulness.
Soon after the outbreak of the rebellion. Commander Rodgers was ordered to special duty at Cincinnati, Ohio, with General McClellan, to superintend the preparation of a gunboat fleet to operate in the western rivers. Three side-wheelers, the Conestoga, Tyler, and Lexington, which had been employed in freight and passenger traffic on the Ohio, were purchased, altered, and armed under his direction. Later, a fleet of ironclads was begun at St. Louis and elsewhere. The first three gunboats, the nucleus of the famous Mississippi flotilla, arrived at Cairo about the first of September. On the 23d of the same month, Rodgers was ordered to return to the east, and Commodore Foote took command of the naval force in the rivers, completing the work which Rodgers had successfully begun.
On the 17th of October, 1861, Rodgers was ordered to command the steamer Flag. To join his command he sailed as a passenger in the Wabash, Flag-Officer Dupont's flagship, when she left Hampton Roads on the 29th of October, to attack Port Royal. During the engagement of the 7th of November, Rodgers volunteered to act on the staff of the commander-in-chief. Of his services on that memorable day, Dupont says, "It would be difficult for me to enumerate the duties he performed, they were so numerous and various; and he brought to them all an invincible energy and the highest order of professional knowledge and merit. I was glad to show my appreciation of his great services by allowing him the honor to hoist the first American flag- on the rebellious soil of South Carolina."
After the battle of Port Royal, Rodgers took command of the Flag, and rendered efficient service in the subsequent operations along the coast, as long as he remained on the station. During the latter part of the time he had command of six gunboats, which were actively employed in surveying the intricate channels connecting with the Savannah river, in removing torpedoes and obstructions, and in supporting and co-operating with the land forces. He was not allowed to remain here long, however. On March 15, 1862, he was recalled and a month later, April 21, he received command of the Galena, one of the new experimental ironclads, and joined the North Atlantic squadron.
About the middle of May, the Galena, accompanied by the Monitor and three other vessels, the Aroostook, Port Royal, and Naugatuck, was sent up the James river, under the command of Rodgers, to make, if possible, a passage to Richmond. At Drury's bluff, however, two separate barriers had been placed across the river, consisting of piles, steamboats, and sailing vessels. These were protected by the guns of Fort Darling, a heavy battery, and by sharpshooters in the rifle-pits that lined the banks. The latter made any attempt to remove the obstructions impossible, and could only be driven away by a land force.
The Galena ran within six hundred yards of the battery, as near the piles as it seemed proper to go, let go her anchor, and with a spring swung across the stream, whose width at this point was not more than double the length of the ship. The wooden vessels were anchored about thirteen hundred yards below. The Monitor was anchored near by. Indeed, at one time she passed above the Galena; but finding that her guns could not be sufficiently elevated for her fire to reach the battery, she dropped a little below.
The firing, which began at 7.45 on the morning of the 15th, lasted for three hours, with the ships in the same position. So long as our vessels kept up a rapid fire, the enemy rarely fired in return, but the moment our fire slackened they re-manned their guns. The fortifications mounted guns of the heaviest calibre, and their fire was remarkably well directed. The Galena was hotly engaged during the whole action, and she only brought it to an end when her ammunition was exhausted. She had thirteen killed and eleven wounded, and she came out of the action covered with the marks of projectiles, and seriously injured. The fact was demonstrated that the Galena was not shot-proof thirteen shot and shell penetrated her side, splintering the armor, and many men were killed with fragments of her own iron.
After his gallant but unsuccessful attack on Fort Darling, Rodgers remained till November in command of the Galena, having meanwhile (July 16, 1862) been promoted to Captain. In November he was detached from the Galena, and ordered to command the Weehawken, one of the new monitors. Soon after leaving New York on her first cruise, the Weehawken encountered a severe gale, and doubts were entertained on board of her ability to keep the sea. The captain, however, refused to put into the Delaware, which was a near and safe refuge, and calmly answered all suggestions to that effect by saying that he was there to test the sea-going qualities of the new class of vessels.
In the attack on Fort Sumter, made on the 7th of April, 1863, by the fleet under Rear-Admiral Dupont, composed of the New Ironsides, the Keokuk, and seven monitors. Captain Rodgers was selected to head the line in the Weehawken. For two hours his vessel remained under the concentrated fire of a circle of heavy batteries, until the signal was given to withdraw from action. The attack, as is well known, was unsuccessful, owing to the failure of the squadron to pass the obstructions, and to the terrific fire to which the ships were exposed. More than half the vessels were wholly or partially disabled, and one of them, the Keokuk, sank the next day. The Weehawken was struck fifty-three times during the action.
Two months later, on the 17th of June, took place the memorable engagement between the Weehawken and Atlanta. The monitor Nahant was also present, but so rapid and complete was the result of the Weehawken's fire, that the other monitor did not have an opportunity to take part in the action. The Atlanta, or Fingal, formerly an English steamer, was a casemated vessel, with four inches of armor on her inclined sides. She was armed with two 6-inch and two 7-inch rifles. During the engagement, which lasted only fifteen minutes, the Weehawken fired five shots. Four shots struck the enemy's vessel. Of these the first broke in the armor and backing and disabled forty or more men; the second struck the edge of the overhang; the third knocked off the top of the pilot-house, wounding two pilots and stunning the man at the wheel; and the fourth shattered a port-stopper. Upon this the Atlanta surrendered.
Rodgers's victory gained him the thanks of Congress and his promotion to Commodore. In his congratulatory letter, Secretary Welles recounted in the most cordial and emphatic terms the services Rodgers had rendered in the war. He said:
"Your early connection with the Mississippi flotilla, and your participation in the projection and construction of the first ironclads on the Western waters; your heroic conduct in the attack on Drury's bluff; the high moral courage that led you to put to sea in the Weehawken upon the approach of a violent storm, in order to test the seagoing qualities of these new craft, at the time when a safe anchorage was close under your lee; the brave and daring manner in which you, with your associates, pressed the ironclads under the concentrated fire of the batteries in Charleston harbor, and there tested and proved the endurance and resisting power of these vessels; and your crowning successful achievement in the capture of the Fingal, alias Atlanta, are all proofs of a skill and courage and devotion to the country and the cause of the Union, regardless of self, that cannot be permitted to pass unrewarded. To your heroic daring and persistent moral courage, beyond that of any other individual, is the country indebted for the development, under trying and varied circumstances on the ocean, under enormous batteries on land, and in successful rencontre with a formidable floating antagonist, of the capabilities and qualities of attack and resistance of the monitor class of vessels and their heavy armament. For these heroic and serviceable acts I have presented your name to the President, requesting him to recommend that Congress give you a vote of thanks, in order that you maybe advanced to the grade of Commodore in the American Navy."
Rodgers was soon after detached, and assigned to the command of the Canonicus; but during the fall of the same year illness compelled him for a few months to abstain from active service. Early in November, however, he was again on duty—this time in command of the Dictator.
At the close of the war it was peculiarly fitting, in view of his important services in connection with the new ironclad vessels, that Commodore Rodgers should command the special squadron, to which the Monadnock was attached in her experimental voyage from Hampton Roads to San Francisco. It was upon this cruise, while lying at Valparaiso, that the Commodore showed, in the highest degree, that prudence, judgment, and self-restraint which were among his leading characteristics. Active hostilities were in progress between Spain and the South American republics, and it was of the highest importance that no rash act of folly on the part of our naval commanders should embroil us with either party. Conscious of the strength of the squadron, and full of the confidence inspired by the successful termination of a prolonged war, our officers were ready and eager to take some part in the quarrel. Fortunately the commander-in-chief carried a head far too well balanced to be swayed merely by sentiments or inclinations. Of his conduct on this occasion Secretary Welles said: ''The department had taken measures for reinforcing our squadron in the Pacific by sending thither a special force, consisting of the turreted ironclad Monadnock and the steamers Vanderbilt, Tuscarora and Powhatan, under the command of Commodore John Rodgers. This officer reached Valparaiso previous to the bombardment of that city, and, apprehending the views of the department, remained on that station for the protection of our countrymen until the arrival of Rear-Admiral Pearson. The appearance of so distinguished a commander, with a formidable squadron, on the eve of so important an occasion, and in the absence of Rear-Admiral Pearson, was opportune and fortunate.
"The course pursued by Commodore Rodgers in protecting American interests, and in observing and preserving neutrality in the harbor, met with approval. Whatever may have been his opinions or feelings as regards the course which the Spanish Admiral thought proper to pursue, he was not required to interpose his force against or for either party. As the armed representative of this government, which was on friendly terms with each of the belligerents, it became his duty, even while endeavoring to mitigate the harsh severities of war, to maintain a strict neutrality. His friendly offices in the cause of humanity were manifested so long as they could be effective; but the officers of other neutral powers having declined to unite in any decided steps to protect the city, no alternative remained for him to pursue, consistently with the position of this government towards the parties, than that which he adopted."
From 1866 to 1869 Commodore Rodgers was in command of the Boston Navy Yard. On the 31st of December of the latter year he was promoted to Rear-Admiral; and on the 5th of February, 1870, he was ordered to command the Asiatic station.
The government of the United States had decided that an effort should be made to negotiate a treaty with Corea, to prevent a repetition of the barbarous outrages from which shipwrecked American seamen had suffered in that country. The known unfriendliness of the Corean authorities, and the unwillingness they had hitherto shown to enter into treaty relations with foreign powers, rendered it extremely doubtful whether the negotiations would result in anything, and made it necessary that our envoy should be backed by a considerable naval force. Accordingly, in the spring of 1871 the flagship Colorado, having on board Mr. Low, the American minister to China, proceeded to Corea, accompanied by the Alaska, Benicia, Monocacy, and Palos.
The fleet arrived at its anchorage in the Sale river late in May. Assurances were given of the friendly character of the expedition, and, with the assent of the native officials who visited the flagship, a surveying party was sent up the river in boats to explore the channel. After passing above the Corean forts the boats were treacherously attacked from the shore; and, as they were retreating with difficulty down the river, they received a severe though ill-directed fire from the forts.
The Admiral determined, in accordance with the general tenor of his instructions, that such an outrage should not be allowed to go unpunished; and after waiting ten days, to give the natives an opportunity to offer some explanation or apology, he landed a body of men to attack the forts. The arrangements for the landing and assault were admirably planned, and were carried out with judgment and success. Notwithstanding the difficulties of the undertaking, the five forts were captured and destroyed, and between two and three hundred Coreans were killed. The loss on the American side was trifling in numbers, amounting to only three killed and ten wounded; but among the former was the gallant McKee, who had been the first to enter the Corean citadel.
The fleet remained at its anchorage until early in July; and though circumstances rendered the conclusion of a treaty impossible, the Coreans had been taught a severe and much-needed lesson in the conduct of their relations with civilized powers.
On his return from the Asiatic station, in 1872, Admiral Rodgers was appointed President of the Naval Examining and Retiring Boards, a post which he retained for a year. He was then selected (June 15, 1873) to command the Navy Yard at Mare Island; and here he remained nearly four years, until April, 1877, when he was detached, and appointed Superintendent of the Naval Observatory.
The Admiral brought to this responsible position the progressive spirit, the perseverance, and the sound judgment that he had always shown to such a marked degree in the conduct of affairs. Surrounded by an able staff of scientific men, with whom rested the charge of carrying on the work of the Observatory, the superintendent was able to devote his energies to strengthening the establishment in its external administrative relations. His attention was early directed to the hygienic wants of the buildings, and his first care was to secure the funds for making them fit for habitation, which they could hardly be said to have been before. Finding that repairs were necessary which would fall little short of complete rebuilding, he seized the opportunity to bring to a decision the question of the removal of the Observatory to a healthier and more suitable site. After careful consultation with the professors and other competent advisers, he decided to recommend the purchase of the Barber place on Georgetown Heights. The history of his efforts, and of their final success, is well known. The first commission failed to agree upon a site, when the plan was devised of referring the question to a commission of experts. Their decision bore out the wisdom of the Admiral's choice; and the Observatory, by his untiring efforts, secured an unequalled site and the certainty of a material reconstruction.
From the time of his appointment to the superintendency of the Observatory until his death, the Admiral's services were constantly in requisition upon various special boards, to all of which he brought the same intelligence and ability, the same sturdy good sense, that he had shown in his earlier duties. Among other positions which he held, he was selected as the president of the Transit of Venus Commission, whose object is the solution of the greatest problem that now claims the attention of astronomers. But of especial importance were his services on the Naval Advisory Board, whose duties were by far the most noteworthy that have been entrusted to a board of naval officers since the war. Rodgers was appointed president of this board, June 29, 1881. Notwithstanding the multiplicity of interests that fell within his charge at the same time, he was far from being content with the merely formal duties of a presiding officer. Fie took an active part in the deliberations of the board, and he impressed them with the stamp of his vigorous personality. No voice was heard more frequently in debate, and none exerted a more direct and powerful influence.
He took an equally important part in the work of the Jeannette Relief Board, of which he was also president. He was the only member of that board who had been over the ground. To him was due all the knowledge that we possessed at the time of those unfrequented waters. His work in the Vincennes had fitted him, as no other man in the service had been fitted, to determine the measures and methods which would promote the object of the relief expedition; and, accordingly, at the meetings of the board, he was not only the president, but the foremost member.
During all this period of duty in Washington, in addition to his active work at the Observatory, and in addition to all the temporary duties upon boards, some of them of considerable duration, which were imposed upon him, Admiral Rodgers served as the efficient and unwearied Chairman of the Light-house Board. Appointed a member on May 1, 1878, two weeks after being ordered to the Observatory, he was elected Chairman of the Board on the 23d of June following. His services in this capacity are best described in the official announcement made by the Secretary of the Treasury, upon the occasion of his death, who says: "The board has received valuable aid from his sage advice and his constant counsel. Notwithstanding his great age and consequent infirmities, and the pressure of his other many duties, the Admiral has visited many light-stations, and has personally superintended and taken part in numerous experiments, many in acoustics and optics, conducted on the sea or in the laboratory, and has so impressed his individuality on the service that his name will live with it, and add lustre to its repute in the future.
The last illness of Admiral Rodgers found him still in the full current of professional labor. It would have seemed but just that, after fifty-four years of unremitting effort, this noble life should not have passed away without at least a brief period of that repose which had been so richly earned. But it was ordered otherwise. The disease by which he was attacked in the winter of 1881-82 gradually assumed a fatal character, and all that could be done was to alleviate, as far as possible, the sufferings of the last hours. Late in April, the Admiral was removed to the Barber mansion, on Georgetown Heights; and there, on the site of the national observatory of the future, the erection of which had been his cherished hope, he passed peacefully away, on the 5th of May, 1882, at the ripe age of threescore and ten.
Admiral Rodgers was singularly fortunate in preserving unimpaired his vigor of mind and body, down to the approach of his last fatal illness. Many men, originally alert and vigorous, undergo, through the wear and tear of an active naval career, a sort of mental or physical exhaustion which modifies essentially their line of thought or of action. The Admiral was an exception. Though he matured early, he retained his powers to the end. He was never satisfied with retrospects; and a ripe age found him thinking as wisely and acting as resolutely as he had done years before. He was once heard to remark upon the growing unwillingness to take responsibility that comes with advancing years. But, however he may have felt this, he did not show it in the conduct of affairs. He never lost his faculty of initiative; and he never shrank from taking the steps that such a faculty imposes. His mind had always been essentially reflective. He thought out a subject with patience and care; but when the emergency required, he was ready to act. He was never slow, but always thorough; and he had the rare temperament, so desirable in a naval officer, which made him open to argument in discussion, but persistent and tenacious in action. Deliberate in maturing a plan, his conception was always bold, and his execution rapid and unerring.
The elements of the Admiral's success in his professional career lay neither in good fortune, nor in the influence at his command. He was a fortunate man; but his success was due less to fortune than to his ability and eagerness to seize every opportunity for professional activity that fortune threw in his way. Influence he certainly possessed; but his influence was simply the legitimate result of his personal character, and of his ability to bring others into accord with his judgment. Without doubt he was ambitious; but his ambition consisted in the indestructible desire to do well everything that he was called upon to do. Upon whatever work he was engaged, no matter what might be its extent or importance, he could never be content with doing less than his best. The same lofty purpose and the same careful judgment were applied to all he did, small things as well as great. Personal motives had no weight with him. He never struggled for place or for power, but both came to him unsought. Devoted with ardor to his profession, he was thus enabled to rise above the petty spirit of cliques and coteries; and he was never in the smallest degree the object of professional jealousy or mistrust. No man of his high character and just discernment could be free from likes and dislikes; but no man ever took more care to avoid injuring by word or deed those who failed to win his esteem or regard. Free from malice and prejudice, calm and dispassionate in judgment, even in temper, and kindly and amiable in manner, the Admiral was a man who kept himself with little effort on good terms with all the world. But the trait in his character which perhaps struck most forcibly those with whom he came in contact was his absolute straightforwardness. He was a man utterly without subterfuge or reservation,—a man whom you could not but feel at once that you must trust. It is therefore hardly to be wondered at that, down to the time of his death, no man in the service commanded more universal respect and regard than John Rodgers; and none have died more universally regretted.
The Admiral's private character was as admirable as that by which the world knew him. Perhaps this is hardly the place to touch, even lightly, the veil that surrounds the inner life of a man's own hearth and home. Yet it would be hard to close even this brief memorial without one word for the thoughtful care, the loyalty and devotion, the loving tenderness, which brought peace and happiness upon that household, through the long and busy years of a well-spent life.