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James H. and I. V. Gillis Naval Papers, 1866-1898: Finding Aid

Published in August 2014

Summary Information

  • Publisher: United States Naval Academy. Special Collections & Archives.
  • Publisher Address:
    589 McNair Road
    Annapolis, Maryland 21402-5029, USA
    Phone: 410-293-6917
    https://www.usna.edu/Library/sca/index.php
  • Call number: MS 4
  • Location: Special Collections & Archives Department - Manuscripts
  • Title: James H. and I. V. Gillis Naval Papers
  • Dates: 1866-1898
  • Size: 1 linear foot (7 volumes)
  • Creator: Gillis, James Henry, 1831-1910
  • Language(s) of material: English
  • Abstract: James Henry Gillis was an officer in the United States Navy and a member of the Naval Academy Class of 1853. Irvin Van Gorder Gillis, son of James Henry Gillis, was an officer in the United States Navy, book purchasing agent for Guion Moore Gest, and a member of the Naval Academy Class of 1894. The James H. and Irvin V. Gillis Naval Papers span from 1866 to 1898 and are the product of the United States Navy careers of Commodore James Henry Gillis and his son, Irvin Van Gorder Gillis.

Biography of James Henry and I. V. Gillis

James Henry Gillis

James Henry Gillis was born in Ridgway, Pennsylvania on May 14, 1831. Gillis was admitted to the United States Naval Academy on May 10, 1848 as a member of the Class of 1853. While attached to U.S.S. Supply (Store ship), Lieutenant Gillis rescued the crew of a foundering Argentine vessel in Montevideo Harbor in August 1857.

During the Civil War, Gillis served in each of the major blockading squadrons, serving first in the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron from 1862 to 1863, followed by the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron from 1863 to 1864, during which time he took part in the engagement against the Taylor's Landing battery on the Pamunkey River. In 1864, he assumed command of U.S.S. Elk (Gunboat) of the West Gulf Blockading Squadron. In 1865, Gillis commanded the U.S.S. Milwaukee (Monitor) during the Mobile Campaign.

Following the war, Gillis was attached to the Pacific Squadron, where he commanded U.S.S. Wateree (Gunboat) until that vessel's grounding and near destruction from a tsunami in Arica, Peru following an August 13, 1868 earthquake. Following tours at the Navy Department, Naval Observatory, and commanding U.S.S. Supply, Gillis assumed command of the Great Lakes steamer U.S.S. Michigan (Side-wheel steamer), from which he also established various Naval Rendezvous in the Great Lakes Region. In May 1876, he assumed command of U.S.S. Franklin (Screw frigate), Flagship of the European Station, remaining in her command through her conversion to a receiving ship in 1879.

On April 1, 1880, Gillis assumed command of U.S.S. Lackawanna (Screw sloop-of-war) of the Pacific Station. Following shore duty in Washington, he received command of the training ship U.S.S. Minnesota (Frigate) in December 1882 for a two-year tour. In May 1886, he assumed command of U.S.S. Hartford (Screw sloop-of-war), flagship of the Pacific Station. In January 1887, Gillis was detached from U.S.S. Hartford and ordered home to await orders, during which time he was promoted to Commodore. In October 1888, he received orders to take command of the South Atlantic Station. Following his separation from the South Atlantic Station on August 23, 1890, Gillis served on the Lighthouse Board until his retirement on May 14, 1893. Commodore James Henry Gillis died in Melbourne Beach, Florida on December 6, 1910.

I. V. Gillis

Irvin Van Gorder Gillis, son of Commodore James Henry Gillis, was born in Erie, Pennsylvania on January 1, 1875 while his father was in command of U.S.S. Michigan, stationed at that port. A member of the United States Naval Academy Class of 1894, the younger Gillis served aboard U.S.S. Porter (Torpedo boat : TB-6) leading up to and during the Spanish-American War.

After the war, Gillis was ordered to duty aboard U.S.S. Annapolis (Gunboat : PG-10) as Chief Navigator and Engineer. The Annapolis, which was deployed to Asian waters, arrived at Cavite on April 24, 1901. Following his service with Annapolis and two other vessels, Gillis served as Naval Attache to Tokyo from 1904 to 1905, and subsequently as Naval Attache to Beijing from 1907 to 1908. In 1909, he served as an observer of the Russo-Japanese War, and was honored with the Order of the Rising Sun from the Japanese Government. From 1911 to 1914, Gillis returned to attache duty as Assistant Naval Attache to Peking and Tokyo, during which time he also began a working relationship with Bethlehem Steel.

On July 1, 1914, I.V. Gillis retired from the U.S. Navy to work as a representative for the Electric Boat Company and Bethlehem Steel in China. With America's impending entrance into World War I, Gillis was recommissioned in the U.S. Navy to serve as Naval Attache in Beijing in 1917. Late in 1919, Gillis retired once again to work in the private sector in China as a representative for various American shipbuilders and manufacturers. He also served in an advisory capacity to the Chinese Cabinet Office, Ministry of the Navy, Ministry of Communications, and the Coast Guard Administration. In addition to this work, Gillis also served as a book purchasing agent for Guion Moore Gest, whose book collection went on to form the backbone of Princeton University's East Asian Library.

Irvin Van Gorder Gillis died on September 2, 1948 in Beijing, China.

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Description of Contents

The James H. and I. V. Gillis Naval Papers, comprising one linear foot of documentation in seven volumes, span from 1866 to 1898. The materials are the product of the United States Navy careers of Commodore James Henry Gillis and his son, Irvin Van Gorder Gillis.

Included in the collection are letterbooks, journals, a logbook, and several photographs.

The first five volumes of the collection were produced or maintained by Commodore James Henry Gillis, or by those under his command. With one exception, the elder Gillis' documents pertain to operations in the South Pacific along the west coast of South and Central America. These volumes, the product of service aboard U.S.S. Wateree, U.S.S. Lackawanna, and U.S.S. Hartford, cover such topics as US-Latin American relations, early attempts to build a canal across Panama, political strife in South America, the War of the Pacific, and the establishment of coaling stations, as well as the day-to-day operations of the four vessels. One additional volume is the product of James Gillis' command of U.S.S. Michigan, a Great Lakes steamer home ported at Erie, Pennsylvania. Much of this volume details recruiting efforts in the Great Lakes region though the establishment of Naval Rendezvous in cities throughout New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan.

The final two volumes were produced by Irvin Van Gorder Gillis. The first, a seamanship notebook, was kept by the younger Gillis while a Naval Academy midshipman aboard U.S.S. Constellation. The final volume is the logbook of the U.S.S. Porter, which was kept by Gillis while serving as an Ensign. The logbook covers the Porter's pre-war service in the Caribbean and actions taken during the Spanish-American War.

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Arrangement

The James H. and I. V. Gillis Naval Papers are arranged chronologically.

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Access and Use

Access

Access is restricted to microfilm.

Copyright and Permission

The James H. and I. V. Gillis Naval Papers are the physical property of Nimitz Library. Copyright belongs to the authors or creators of the works, or their legal representatives. For further information, consult the Head, Special Collections & Archives.

It is the responsibility of the researcher to secure written permission to publish, reprint, or reproduce material from Special Collections & Archives. The researcher assumes responsibility for infringement of copyright or literary or publication rights. Please contact the Head, Special Collections & Archives for permission to publish and for further information.

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Acquisition and Appraisal

Custodial History

Letterbook of the U.S.S. Wateree, 1866-1868 was formerly cataloged as MS 107.

Letterbook of the U.S.S. Michigan, 1873-1876 was formerly cataloged as MS 114.

Journal of a Cruise in the U.S. St[eame]r. Lackawanna Pacific Station, 1880-1881 was formerly cataloged as MS 110.

Letterbook of the U.S.S. Lackawanna, 1880-1882 was formerly cataloged as MS 113.

Commanding Officer's Journal of the U.S.S. Hartford, 1886 was formerly cataloged as MS 111.

Notebook kept on board the U.S.S. Constellation, 1893 was formerly cataloged as MS 109.

Log Book of the U. S. Torpedo Boat Porter, 1898 was formerly cataloged as MS 108.

Provenance and Acquisition

Gift of the New York State Historical Association in May 1949. Accession Nos. 118605, 118606, 118607, 118608, 118609, 118610, and unknown.

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Related Materials

Related Archival Material

The Midshipman Conduct Records and Alumni Jackets of both James H. and Irvin V. Gillis can be found in the Naval Academy Archives. Documentation of Irvin V. Gillis' book buying activities in China can be found in the Gest Collection at Princeton University's East Asian Library. James Henry Gillis' U.S. Navy commissions are held by the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress. Several other items from I.V. Gillis' U.S. Navy career are held by the New York Historical Society.

Materials Cataloged Separately

No materials have been removed from this collection and cataloged separately.

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Processing and Other Information

Preferred Citation

James H. and I. V. Gillis Naval Papers, MS 4

Special Collections & Archives Department

Nimitz Library

United States Naval Academy

Selected Bibliography

The following sources were consulted during preparation of the biographical note:

"Rear Admiral James H. Gillis, U.S. Navy, Deceased." Washington: Navy Office of Information, Biographies Branch, 1959.

Tomasko, Nancy N.. "I.V. Gillis and his Biographer, Bruce Swanson." The East Asian Library Journal vol. 13, no. 2 (2009): 1–16. -->

Processing Information

This collection was processed by David D'Onofrio in August 2014. Finding aid written by David D'Onofrio in August 2014.

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Subject Headings

These materials have been indexed in the Naval Academy Library online catalog using the following terms. Those seeking related materials should search under these terms.

Name and Subject Terms

  • Constellation (Sloop-of-war)
  • Gillis, I. V. (Irvin Van Gorder), 1875-1948
  • Gillis, I. V. (Irvin Van Gorder), 1875-1948
  • Gillis, James Henry, 1831-1910
  • Hartford (Screw sloop-of-war)
  • Lackawanna (Screw sloop-of-war)
  • McCauley, Edward Yorke, 1827-1894
  • Michigan (Side-wheel steamer)
  • Porter (Torpedo boat : TB-6)
  • Samoan Islands -- History
  • Seamanship
  • Spanish-American War, 1898 -- Naval operations
  • United States -- Foreign relations -- Latin America
  • United States Naval Academy -- Midshipmen -- Cruises
  • United States. Navy -- Recruiting, enlistment, etc
  • United States. Navy. Pacific Squadron
  • War of the Pacific, 1879-1884
  • Wateree (Gunboat)

Genre Terms

  • Journals (accounts)
  • Letter books
  • Manuscripts
  • Photographs
  • Ships' logs
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Contents List

Box 1

Letterbook of the U.S.S. Wateree, 1866-1868 1 volume (228 leaves)

Letters received aboard U.S.S. Wateree, under the command of Leonard Paulding and, subsequently, James H. Gillis, while she was attached to the South Pacific Squadron. The letters pertain to such topics as procurement of supplies, equipment, personnel matters, crew conduct, smoking on board, coaling issues, receipt of reports, the improper transfer of gunpowder to Wateree via commercial shipping, orders to partake in a survey for a canal across the Isthmus of Panama, commercial relations with Panama, orders to touch at various ports on the west coast of South and Central America, and the potential impact of political disturbances in Columbia. The volume also includes Navy Department circulars. The title page, tipped in after the letterbook's creation, incorrectly identifies the volume as the letterbook of U.S.S. Powhatan.

Box 2

Letterbook of the U.S.S. Michigan, 1873-1876 1 volume (78 leaves)

Copies of letters sent by James H. Gillis while in command of U.S.S. Michigan, a Great Lakes steamer home ported at Erie, Pennsylvania. The letters, addressed to both Navy Department officials and members of Gillis' crew, pertain to such subjects as the recruitment and deployment of new enlistees, and the operation of Naval Rendezvous at Buffalo, Cleveland, Erie, Toledo, and Detroit, as well as supplies, personnel matters, the forwarding of reports and receipts, and the rental of dock and storehouse space.

Box 3

Journal of a Cruise in the U.S. St[eame]r. Lackawanna Pacific Station, 1880-1881 1 volume (25 leaves)

The journal is a product of the Lackawanna's cruise along the west coast of South America under the command of James H. Gillis. The entries note such activities as attempts to establish coaling stations along the west coast of Central America, the War of the Pacific (between Chile, Bolivia, and Peru), the blockade and bombardment of Callao by Chilean forces, Lackawanna's hosting of a peace conference in Arica, meetings with the French at Fatu Hiva and Tahiti, and mediation and resulting peace treaties in Samoa.

Box 4

Letterbook of the U.S.S. Lackawanna, 1880-1882 1 volume (444 leaves)

The letterbook, spanning from April 2, 1880 to March 30, 1881 consists of copies of letters sent by the Lackawanna's commanding officer, James H. Gillis. Many of the letters pertain to day-to-day operations, such as personnel matters, crew conduct, and the general operations of the vessel. Other letters focus on the establishment of coaling stations and threat of yellow fever, as well as the War of the Pacific between Peru and Chile, including naval and land engagements between the two countries, such as the defense of Lima.

Inside the letterbook's front cover is a March 31, 1882 letter from Gillis to Bureau of Navigation Chief John G. Walker regarding night signaling.

Box 5

Commanding Officer's Journal of the U.S.S. Hartford, 1886 1 volume (95 leaves)

The journal, which spans from June 18 to December 21, 1886, is the product of James H. Gillis' command of the Hartford in the waters of Central and South America, with port calls at Payta, Callao, San Lorenzo, Acapulco, and San Diego. The entries largely pertain to the ship's daily routine, including drills, inspections, visitors aboard, crew conduct, target practice contests, boat races, the ship's location, and the weather. Specific events and entries include a Fourth of July Regatta, Peruvian fears of an impending earthquake, a map of San Lorenzo, the court-martial of Marine Corps Captain William R. Brown, target competition with the H.M.S. Caroline, Admiral McCauley's flag transfer, and the history of the U.S.S. Hartford. The journal also includes photographs of Admiral McCauley, the defences of Callao, the new Chilean Naval School, Valparaiso's shore batteries, and a damaged torpedo boat. The journal also includes Gillis' May 13, 1886 orders to the Hartford.

Box 6

Notebook kept on board the U.S.S. Constellation, 1893 1 volume (78 leaves)

The notebook was kept by Midshipman Irvin V. Gillis while on a training cruise aboard U.S.S. Constellation. The notebook is composed primarily of seamanship notes on topics such as tacking, division of labor, rigging blocks, storm staysails, hauling launches on board, procedures in a squall, officers' duties, displacement calculations, and navigational calculations. The notebook also includes a description of Funchal, Madeira, and drawings of sails and rigging.

Box 7

Log Book of the U. S. Torpedo Boat Porter, 1898 1 volume (94 leaves)

The logbook, kept by Ensign Irvin V. Gillis is the product of the Porter's pre-Spanish-American War cruise in the waters off Key West, Mobile, and the Dry Tortugas, as well as her patrol and blockade duty during the Spanish-American War. Specific events include the capture of the Spanish schooner Mathilde (April 23), capture of the sugar schooner Sofia (April 24), the naval bombardment of San Juan (May 12-13), and the blockade of Santiago de Cuba and naval actions taken against Guantanamo (June).

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