Greely, Adolphus Washington

Greely, Adolphus Washington,

1844–1935, American army officer and arctic explorer, b. Newburyport, Mass. Entering the Union army at 17, he emerged a brevet major of volunteers at the end of the Civil War. In 1881, as a lieutenant in the regular army, Greely was given command of the Lady Franklin Bay Expedition to establish one of a chain of international circumpolar meteorological stations. Although he was without previous arctic experience, he and his party performed notable feats of exploration; many hitherto unknown miles along the coast of NW Greenland were added to the map, Ellesmere Island was crossed from east to west, and Lt. James B. Lockwood achieved a new northern record of 83°24'. Relief ships failed to reach Greely's party encamped at Cape Sabine; when the third relief vessel arrived in 1884, all but Greely and six others had perished from starvation, drowning, or exposure. The survivors themselves were near death, and one died on the homeward journey. Greely's account of his tragic polar expedition is Three Years of Arctic Service (1886); another record is the diary of David L. Brainard, published as Six Came Back (ed. by B. R. James, 1940). The Congressional Medal of Honor was awarded him in 1935. His writings include Handbook of Alaska (rev. ed. 1925) and The Polar Regions in the Twentieth Century (1928).


See his autobiographical Reminiscences of Adventure and Service (1927); biography by W. Mitchell (1936).

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Greely, Adolphus Washington

(1844–1935) soldier, explorer; born in Newburyport, Mass. He served as a volunteer in the Civil War and in the regular army (1865–1908). He led an expedition to Smith Sound in the Arctic (1881–84) to set up a meteorological station; only 6 men out of 25 survived this so-called Proteus expedition, and although originally blamed for the disaster, Greely was later recognized as having prevented a worse one. He directed the U.S. Weather Service (1887–91) and was the U.S. Army's chief signal officer (1887–1906).
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.