October 27: Napoleon Bonaparte Harrison (1870)

Napoleon Bonaparte Harrison was a U.S. naval officer during the Mexican-American and Civil War. A native of Martinsburg, Virginia (now WV), Harrison was the youngest son of Dr. John S. Harrison and his wife Holland. Presumably named after famed French military leader Napoleon Bonaparte whose death was just two years before Harrison was born, it would seem it was preordained that Harrison would have a military career. Entering the naval service of the United States as Midshipman in 1838, he acquired experience in his profession under various commanders. In 1844 he was promoted to the rank of Passed Midshipman, and under Commodore Stockton, during the Mexican-American War, he was distinguished among the younger officers for courage and ability. He took part in the land expedition which rescued General Kearney’s command from a desperate position and on another occasion, having volunteered to carry an important message to a distant command in an open boat, he was carried out to sea and unable to make land for a week. The violence and persistence of the storm was matched by the firmness and skill of the young sailor, who finally brought back his boat and crew unharmed.

In 1850 Harrison was assigned to the Naval Observatory in Washington. During this time, he became associated with Epiphany. On February 21, 1850, he married Maria Wellford in the church. The couple’s first child, Lillian, was baptized at Epiphany. Nineteen years later, Lillian was confirmed there by Bishop Whittingham. During his Civil War service, Harrison exhibited “chivalric courage and intelligent coolness and impressed all who were near him, and won for him the respect and admiration of the whole service.” In 1868, he was commissioned Captain, and soon after ordered to duty at the Naval Academy as Commandant of Midshipmen. From there he was ordered to the command of the Congress, flagship of the North Atlantic Squadron, While at Key West, the Congress encountered violent weather, and in caring for the safety of the vessel, Captain Harrison so exposed himself to the storm that he died two days after.  His funeral was at Epiphany. He left behind him the reputation of a gallant, able and faithful officer and an honorable, amiable and agreeable gentleman.

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