Philo McGiffin Collection, 1881-2013: Finding Aid
Published in March 2018
- Publisher: United States Naval Academy. Special Collections & Archives.
- Publisher Address:
589 McNair Road
Annapolis, Maryland 21402-5029, USA
- Call number: MS 462
- Location: Special Collections & Archives Department - Manuscripts
- Title: Philo McGiffin Collection
- Dates: 1881-2013
- Size: 0.21 linear feet
- Container Summary: 1 half-manuscript box
- Creator: McGiffin, Philo Norton, 1860-1897
- Language(s) of material: English
- Abstract: Philo McGiffin was an officer in the Imperial Chinese Navy and a member of the United States Naval Academy Class of 1882. The Philo McGiffin Collection spans from 1881 to 2012 in two volumes compiled in 1950 and 2013. The collection, consisting of copies of letters and articles written by McGiffin, as well as newspaper and magazine articles about McGiffin, focuses on McGiffin's service in the Imperial Chinese Navy during the First Sino-Japanese War, his recollections of the Battle of the Yalu River, and his resulting physical and psychological injuries.
Biography of Philo McGiffin
Philo Norton McGiffin was born on December 13, 1860 in Washington, Pennsylvania to Colonel Norton McGiffin and Sarah Houston (Quail) McGiffin. After attending the Washington and Jefferson Academy, McGiffin was admitted to the United States Naval Academy on September 11, 1878, where he garnered a reputation as a prankster. Graduating as a member of the Class of 1882, McGiffin failed to secure a commission as a passed midshipman in the United States Navy upon completion of his two years mandatory sea service in 1884.
In 1885, McGiffin was commissioned in the Imperial Chinese Navy towards the end of the Sino-French War. Upon the war's conclusion, he was assigned to the Chinese Naval College in Tientsin (Tianjin) as a professor of seamanship and gunnery, during which time he also served as a naval constructor. At the outbreak of the First Sino-Japanese War, McGiffin was assigned to the battleship Chen Yuen as executive officer, upon which he served during the Battle of the Yalu River. Following the battle, McGiffin returned to the United States to convalesce. Suffering from both physical and psychological injuries sustained at Yalu River, Philo McGiffin committed suicide while at the Post Graduate Hospital in New York City on February 11, 1897.
Description of Contents
The Philo McGiffin Collection, comprising 0.21 linear feet of documentation, spans from 1881 to 2012 in two volumes compiled in 1950 and 2013. The collection, consisting of copies of letters and articles written by McGiffin, as well as newspaper and magazine articles about McGiffin, focuses on McGiffin's service in the Imperial Chinese Navy during the First Sino-Japanese War, his recollections of the Battle of the Yalu River, and his resulting physical and psychological injuries.
The first volume, entitled "Philo Norton McGiffin, USNA Class of 1882," was compiled in 2013 and consists of copies of magazine articles about and by McGiffin. Included in the volume are Richard H. Bradford's "The Prodigal Son: Philo McGiffin in the Chinese Navy" from American Neptune (1978), David Poyer's "American Mandarin: In Search of Philo McGiffin" from Shipmate (2006), and Philo McGiffin's "The Battle of the Yalu" from The Century Magazine (1895). Also included in the first volume is a 2012 auction catalog of Philo McGiffin artifacts.
The second volume, entitled "Philo Norton McGiffin (1860 to 1897)," was compiled in 1950 by James Quail McGiffin and consists of copies of documents recounting the Battle of the Yalu River, as well as typescripts of letters sent and received by McGiffin. Included are "Hero of Yalu: what Real War with Modern Ironclads is Like" (undated); "The Battle of the Yalu" from Army and Navy Gazette (1895); "The Battle of Yalu" and "The Chino-Japanese War" from Admiralty & Horse Guards Gazette (1895); a biography of and collection of letters written by Philo N. McGiffin to his brother James Quail McGiffin entitled "Philo Norton McGiffin, Sea Captain - His Story" (1881-1896), including letters from McGiffin's time as a midshipman at the Naval Academy, his service in Asiatic waters, and his return to the United States following the Battle of Yalu River; and a collection of letters written by McGiffin for the Iowa State Register entitled "In the Far East Twenty Years Ago: Some Letters from China, The Celestial Empire; Japan, the Land of the Rising Sun; Corea, The Land of the Morning Calm" (1885-1886), consisting of McGiffin's thoughts on the people, history, and culture of China, Japan, and Korea. The volume concludes with a series of typescripts of newspaper articles about McGiffin, including "Modern Ships of Battle in Action: American Sailor Tells of His Experiences in Chinese-Japanese War," Chicago Tribune (1895); "Expects Another War: Philo McGiffen thinks China and Japan Will Come Together Again," Pittsburgh Commercial Gazette (1895); "Thinks Japan Will Get Whipped," Pittsburgh Leader (1895); "Commander M'Giffin Talks: Thinks Russia Will Give Japan a Much Needed Thrashing," Washington Observer (1895); "Commodore Tryon's Report: Anti Toxin Successful in the Navy - Ambulance Ships Needed," New York Sun (1895); "Commander M'Giffin: His Bitter Arraignment of the Japanese Army and Government," Washington Democrat (1895); "Modern Battleships in Action: American Sailor Tells of His Experience in the Chinese-Japanese War, Difference Between the Shell of Today and Twenty-Five Years Ago," Louisville Commercial (1895); "M'Giffin A Fighter: Fine Record of the Ex-Chinese Commander's Father," Pittsburgh Press (1896); "Capt. M'Giffin Doing Nicely: His Wounds and Self-Treatment Responsible for His Nervous Collapse" (1897); "His Own Surgery Drove Him Wild: Captain McGiffin is Recovering from His Mental Collapse," New York Journal (1897); and "Washington Native Won Fame as Courageous, Capable Fighter," Washington Reporter (1948).
The Philo McGiffin Collection arranged in two files.
Access and Use
Access is unrestricted.
Copyright and Permission
The Philo McGiffin Collection is 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.
Acquisition and Appraisal
Provenance and Acquisition
Gift of a member of the McGiffin Family in November 2013.
Related Archival Material
Additional material regarding Philo McGiffin at Special Collections & Archives includes his Midshipman Conduct Record, Alumni Jacket, a file in the Naval Academy Reference Files, and his portrait in Photo Album 98.
Materials Cataloged Separately
No materials have been removed from this collection and cataloged separately.
Processing and Other Information
Philo McGiffin Collection, MS 462
Special Collections & Archives Department
United States Naval Academy
The following sources were consulted during preparation of the biographical note:
Alden, Carroll Storrs. "McGiffin, Philo Norton." Dictionary of American Biography vol. 6 (1933): 48-49.
This collection was processed by David D'Onofrio in March 2018. Finding aid written by David D'Onofrio in March 2018.
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
- McGiffin, Philo Norton, 1860-1897
- Sino-Japanese War, 1894-1895
- United States Naval Academy -- Midshipmen -- Cruises
- Yalu River (China and Korea)