Commanders-in-Chief Biographies

Rear Admiral Bancroft Gherardi
Commander-in-Chief 1896 - 1899

by Dr. Robert Girard Carroon, Past Commander-in-Chief
Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States

Rear Admiral Bancroft Gherardi, USN became Commander-in-Chief of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion upon the unexpected death of Commander-in-Chief John Gibbon in February 1895. Rear Admiral Gherardi was serving as Senior Vice Commander-in-Chief to General Gibbon and had been elected to that office in October 16, 1895.

Bancroft Gherardi was a native of Louisiana, and was born in Jackson on November 10, 1832. His father, Donato Gherardi, emigrated from Italy and became an instructor in classics at the Round Hill School in Jackson. Donato Gherardi married Jane Bancroft, the sister of the historian, George Bancroft who was the principal of the school. Deciding on a naval career, young Bancroft secured an appointment in 1846 to the Naval Academy as an acting midshipman through the assistance of his uncle, who was, by that time, Secretary of the Navy. As the Mexican War was underway Bancroft left the Academy and reported to the U.S.S. Ohio (84-gun ship of the line), on which he served to the end of the war. He wrote that his first action was at the bombardment of Vera Cruz. Also on board the Ohio was another future Commander-in-Chief of MOLLUS, John J. Almy. At the conclusion of the war Bancroft was assigned to the U.S.S. Saranac but returned to the Naval Academy in the fall of 1851. Bancroft Gherardi graduated from the Naval Academy in 1852 was warranted passed midshipman and assigned to the U.S.S. St. Louis, which was bound for duty in the Mediterranean.

On September 16, 1855, Midshipman Gherardi was commissioned a Lieutenant (and Master) and reported on board the U.S.S. Saratoga. He was serving with the Pacific Squadron on the U.S.S. Lancaster when the Civil War broke out. As a Southerner he was offered a commission by the Confederate government, but rejected the overtures of Secretary Stephen Mallory and President Jefferson Davis. Returning to the eastern coast he became executive officer of the U.S.S. Chippewa and was at the bombardment and capture of Fort Macon. He was promoted to Lieutenant Commander on July 26, 1862 and ordered to the U.S.S. Mohican.

Gherardi's duty on the Mohican was the among his most memorable of the war, when, as executive officer, he participated in the hunt for the Confederate raiders Alabama, Georgia and Florida. At one time only the Mohican was available to pursue the Alabama, Georgia and Florida in the South Atlantic off the coast of Brazil where she missed the Florida by a week at Pernambuco and the Alabama at Bahia by three days.

In the fall of 1863 Lt. Commander Gherardi was appointed to the command of the U.S.S. Chocura in the West Gulf Blockading Squadron and the following May was transferred to the U.S.S. Port Royal. As captain of the Port Royal Gherardi participated in the Battle of Mobile Bay on August 5, 1864. While the fleet under Admiral Farragut ran past the Fort Morgan and Fort Gaines into the bay the Port Royal was lashed to the U.S.S. Richmond but then cast off to attack, in a running battle, several of the Confederate gunboats. In company with the U.S.S. Metacomet, Gherardi chased and either sank or drove off the rebel gunboats Morgan, Gaines and Selma.

Following the Battle of Mobile Bay, Bancroft Gherardi was given command of the U.S.S. Pequot in the North Atlantic Squadorn, and he remained in command of her until the end of the Civil War. On July 26, 1866, he was promoted to Commander, U.S.Navy, and assigned to duty at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, and then at the Mare Island yard on the receiving ship U.S.S. Independence. On November 9, 1874 he was commissioned a Captain and took command of the U.S.S. Pensacola, the flagship of the North Pacific Squadron. Two years later he was sentenced to be suspended for two years for "causing punishment forbidden by law to be inflicted on persons in the Navy." The sentence was remitted and he took command of the receiving ship U.S.S. Colorado. From 1881 to 1883 he commanded the U.S.S. Lancaster flagship of the European Station.

Promoted to Commodore on November 3, 1884 he served as President of the Naval Examining Board, Governor of the Naval Asylum in Philadelphia, and, upon promotion to Rear Admiral in August 1887, became Commandant of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. From 1889 to 1892 Admiral Gherardi commanded the North Atlantic Squadron. When a revolution broke out in Haiti he arranged a diplomatic solution which was highly commended by the U.S. Government and the parties involved.

In 1893 he commanded a Naval Review Fleet on the Hudson which consisted of thirty-five ships from ten different nations. The review was part of the celebration of Columbus' discovery of America. Secretary of the Navy, H.A. Herbert, wrote that Admiral Gherardi commanded more ships on that occasion from "more different nations than any other Admiral in the history of the world." He was serving a second tour of duty as Commandant of the Navy Yard in Brooklyn time of when he reached the mandatory retirement age of 62 years. Admiral Gherardi retired at impressive ceremonies, including a thirteen gun salute from the U.S.S. Vermont, on November 10, 1894.

Bancroft Gherardi was an active participant in the the Military Order of the Loyal Legion. He was elected as a Companion of the First Class on July 2, 1866 by the Pennsylvania Commandery, while he was on duty in Philadelphia, and assigned Insignia No. 177. He served on the Council of the Commandery in 1886-1887 and then as Sr. Vice Commander from 1887 to 1888. On October 16, 1895 he was elected Sr. Vice Commander-in-Chief and, as noted, became Commander-in-Chief on the death of General Gibbon. Admiral Gherardi was elected Commander-in-Chief in his own right on October 13, 1896 and served until the annual meeting of the Commandery-in-Chief in 1899 when General John M. Schofield succeeded him.

Admiral Gherardi had the privilege of leading the Loyal Legion during the Spanish American War, when membership was at an all time high and many Companions were on active duty in senior positions in the U.S. Military. As Commander-in-Chief he was frequently interviewed by the press regarding his analysis of various naval actions during the war. In commenting on Admiral Dewey and the Battle of Manila Bay, Admiral Gherardi said, "The greatest tribute to the courage and efficiency of the United States navy was paid when Manila fell and the Spanish fleet sunk beneath the guns of Commodore Dewey's squadron. That victory is a practical demonstration and an additional proof, if any be needed, that the great advantages is naval action are the things pre-eminently possessed by our navy...the high efficiency of the drill of our men; the constant raining they have had in target practice, and the fact that they have been taught that the guns aboard ship are not to be looked at, but to be used, and that the deadly execution they are capable of doing is possible only by their own efforts. The victory of Manila was full and complete. It would have been impossible to exceed or add to it in any way."

Admiral Gherardi was married to Anna Talbot Rockwell, a native of San Francisco, in 1872. The Gherardi's had two sons, Bancroft Gherardi, Jr. and Lt. Walter Gherardi, U.S.N. After Admiral Gherardi's retirement in 1894 the family moved to Stratford, Connecticut, where the Admiral died on December 10, 1903, from complications of diabetes. Admiral Gherardi was interred at the Naval Academy Cemetery, Annapolis, Maryland, on December 14, 1903.

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