Lt. Alexander Sharp Jr.

(1855-1910)

By Patrick McSherry

General:

Lt. Alexander Sharp, Jr., served as an aide to Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Theodore Roosevelt, and also commanded the U.S.S. VIXEN during the Spanish American War. He took part in the the Battle of Santiago.

Biography:

Alexander Sharp, Jr., born in Missouri in 1855, was the son of a navy paymaster and the nephew of Civil War general and president, U.S. Grant.

Sharp entered the Naval Academy at Annapolis in June of 1870, being appointed from the District of Columbia. Sharp had joined the navy at a low point in its history, when the navy virtually went of our existence. Its ships were antiquated, promotion slow, and the majority of the ships’ crew were made up of men who were not citizens of the U.S.

On May 11, 1873, Sharp was promoted to midshipman, to ensign on July 18, 1876 and then to master on April 8, 1882. It was not until March 3, 1883 that he was finally advanced to rank of lieutenant, junior grade, having been in the navy for over 13 years. This was the rank he would still hold at the time of the Spanish American War. On October 29, 1884, Sharp married Miss Josephine “Josie” Hand in Yankton, South Dakota.

In the year prior to the Spanish American War, Sharp was assigned to the office of the assistant secretary of the navy, Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt described him in his autobiography as being a “first-class fellow.” Before Roosevelt left to join the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry (the “Rough Riders”), he had Sharp appointed to the command of the U.S.S. VIXEN. Later, when Roosevelt’s Rough Riders approached the shore at the Daiquiri landing point aboard the Army transport YUCATAN, by chance, the VIXEN was present. Sharp provided the YUCATAN with a pilot that got the ship close into shore, unlike many of the other transports who had no pilots.

The U.S.S. VIXEN was a formerly the yacht JOSEPHINE which had been armed as a patrol boat. She was 182 feet long, displaced 806 tons and mounted four six-pounders and four one-pounders. During Spanish American War she operated on the Cuban blockade, carrying messages, ferrying prisoners, carrying communications between vessels and communicating with Cuban insurgents. She took part in the bombardments of Santiago between June 13 and June 17.

During the Battle of Santiago on July 3, 1898, the VIXEN was involved, but generally as an observer. She was not within range to use her own guns, but did get fired on by the Spanish vessels. She very briefly engaged the VIZCAYA before that vessel surrendered.

Very shortly after the war’s fighting ended and armistice was agreed to between the U.S. and Spain, Sharp was promoted to lieutenant in August of 1898. Following the war, Sharp, promoted to lieutenant commander, served aboard the venerable U.S.S. HARTFORD of Civil War fame. Later, he was called to testify at the investigation into the actions of Winfield Scott Schley at Santiago.

During the world cruise of the American battle fleet, later called the “Great White Fleet,” from 1907 to 1909, Sharp accompanied the fleet. After the fleet arrived in San Francisco, California, and was preparing to set out across the Pacific Ocean, Captain Sharp was ordered to command the battleship U.S.S. VIRGINIA, succeeding Capt. Seaton Schroeder. Sharp commanded the vessel for the remainder of the cruise. Schroeder commented “I could only find comfort and pleasure in the assurance of the ship being in able hands.” Sharp noted that he found the VIRGINIA to be “…in the way of organization and efficiency, to be about as near perfection as it is possible for ship to be.”

Capt. Sharp returned to the U.S. with the fleet in 1909. Unfortunately, he died on February 9, 1910. Josephine survived until 1932. Capr. Sharp and his wife were buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Sharp’s son and namesake went on to serve as a vice admiral in the U.S. Navy.



Bibliography:

Arlington National Cemetery Website (dates of birth/death, and data on Sharp’s son - oddly, he is identified in the cemetery as Alexander Sharp, and his son, born 1888 as Alexander Sharp, Jr. However, the Navy Registers – see below – clearly identify the Alexander Sharp who joined the navy in 1870 as “Alexander Sharp Jr.” and Sharp’s report of the Battle of Santiago is also signed as  Alexander Sharp, Jr.)

“A Yankton Wedding,” Bismarck Weekly Tribune. October 31, 1884. 1.

“Fleet Changes Command,” Stevens Point Daily Journal. (Stevens Point, WI) May 14, 1908, 2.

“Promotion of Our Naval Heroes,” Oakland Tribune. (Oakland, CA), August 12, 1898, 1.

Register of the Commissioned and Warrant Officers of the Navy of the United States and of the Marine Corps. (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1898).

Register of the Commissioned and Warrant Officers of the Navy of the United States and of the Marine Corps. (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1902) 18.

Roosevelt, Theodore, An Autobiography. (New York: DaCapo Press, Inc.) 239.

Schroeder, Seaton, A Half Century of Naval Service. (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1922) 335-336.

Mooney, James L., Ed., Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Vol. VII (Washington DC: Naval Historical Center, 1981) 552.
 


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