The career of Matthew Fontaine Maury, the “Pathfinder of the Seas,” has left a broad, enduring wake in the waters of naval and oceanographic history, and the significance of his achievements is well known to naval and maritime observers for more than a century. Perhaps not so well known, however, is a facet of Maury’s character which was revealed in an exchange of correspondence with Grand Duke Constantine of Russia.
More than one hundred years ago at the start of our great national conflict (variously known as the Civil War, The War of Northern Aggression, and the War of the Rebellion) Maury resigned his post as Hydrographer of the U. S. Navy and his Navy commission in order to join the Confederate States Navy. This was a course of action which many proud Virginians chose at the outbreak of hostilities. Maury was commissioned a commander in the Confederate States Navy in April 1861 and assigned to harbor defense work.