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Jackson McElmell Papers

Identifier: GTM-GAMMS241

Collection-level Scope and Content Note

The Jackson McElmell Papers document the career of a naval officer who entered the U.S. Navy in 1855 and earned the rank of Rear Admiral in 1906. Jackson McElmell (1834-1908) assisted with the laying of the Atlantic telegraph cable in 1857, was a member of the Paraguayan expedition of 1858, saw some action during the Civil War, and was President of the Naval Engineers' Examining Board in Philadelphia. Dating from 1851 to 1908, the McElmell Papers contain mostly correspondence and military orders received by McElmell throughout his career. Preserved are letters signed from notables such as David Glasgow Farragut, Isaac Toucey, Benjamin F. Tracy, and Gideon Welles. Some biographical material about McElmell, including one photograph from 1872, is also present, along with some awards he received. The McElmell Papers are stored in two boxes (2.5 linear feet).

The Jackson McElmell Papers are arranged into four (4) series as described below.

SERIES 1 - Correspondence and Military Orders. Consists of 64 folders containing correspondence and military orders, mostly received by Jackson McElmell. Arranged chronologically. Several letters relate to McElmell's duty associated with the laying of the first Atlantic telegraph cable in 1857. Of special interest are McElmell's 26 incoming Civil War letters dated 1861-1865, each one of which is placed into its own folder. Though brief, his wartime orders track his service on board numerous vessels; including the "Pawnee," "Powhatan," "Octarora," and "Richmond," and were signed by several key figures, such as Navy Secretary Gideon Welles and Rear Admiral David Glasgow Farragut, among others. Many of his postwar letters deal with his extended service on the Naval Engineers' Examining Board.

SERIES 2 - Manuscript Poems. Consists of eight folders containing poems and manuscripts written by McElmell, presumably during his college years at Holy Cross College. Most poems are undated.

SERIES 3 - Biographical Materials. Consists of three folders. Two folders contain printed pamphlets dating to 1908 that provide biographical information about McElmell. One folder contains a photograph of McElmell.

SERIES 4 - Awards and Warrants. Consists of seven folders containing awards and warrants received by McElmell. These materials are oversized and stored in Box 2 of the collection.

ABBREVIATIONS: AL - Autograph Letter. ALS - Autograph Letter Signed. AM - Autograph Manuscript. AMS - Autograph Manuscript Signed. DS - Document Signed. LS - Letter Signed. TEL - Telegram. TLS - Typed Letter Signed.

ACCESSION DATA: Status: Open access. Photocopies permitted. Provenance: Gift of Thomas A. McElmell, 1913. Processed by Scott S. Taylor, March 2000.


  • 1851 - 1908

Collection-level Access Restrictions

Most manuscripts collections at the Georgetown University Booth Family Center for Special Collections are open to researchers; however, restrictions may apply to some collections. Collections stored off site require a minimum of three days for retrieval. For use of all manuscripts collections, researchers are advised to contact the Booth Family Center for Special Collections in advance of any visit.

Biographical note

Jackson McElmell (1834-1908) was born on June 4, 1834, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The oldest son of James and Katherine A. McElmell, he attended public and private schools in Philadelphia and then attended Holy Cross College. Upon deciding that he wanted to become a naval engineer, McElmell worked two years with Neafie & Levy, a shipbuilding company in Philadelphia. He entered the U.S. Navy in August of 1855 as a Third Assistant Engineer. His first duty was on board the Coast Survey Steamer "Hetzel," which conducted a survey of the Sounds of North Carolina. In 1857, McElmell was assigned to the U.S. Steamer "Niagara," on which he assisted with the laying of the first Atlantic telegraph cable. Next, he served on the "Memphis," which took part in an expedition to Paraguay in 1858 in response to that nation's firing on an American ship. McElmell saw a good measure of sea duty during the Civil War. He participated in several key battles, including the attack on Fort Jackson and Fort St. Philip at New Orleans. In June 1862, he took part in the bombardment of the batteries at Vicksburg. As Chief Engineer on board the "Richmond," he fought in the battle of Mobile Bay under Admiral David Glasgow Farragut. In the postwar years, McElmell helped develop the League Island Navy Yard in Pennsylvania, and he served as Fleet Engineer of the North Atlantic Station on the "Tennessee" and the "Richmond." In the 1880s, he served for a long tenure on the Naval Engineers' Examining Board. Although he retired in 1896, McElmell returned to active duty during the Spanish American War to examine officers for promotion.In his retirement, he attained the rank of Rear Admiral in 1906. McElmell married Miss Mary Thomas in 1869. Georgetown College in Washington, D.C., conferred upon him an honorary degree of Master of Arts in June 1872. He belonged to the Union League and United Service Club of Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Historical Society, the Catholic Club of New York, and the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States. Jackson McElmell died on May 31, 1908.


2.5 Linear Feet (2 boxes)

Language of Materials


Metadata Rights Declarations

Jackson McElmell Papers
Scott S. Taylor. Georgetown University Library Booth Family Center for Special Collections
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Georgetown University Manuscripts Repository

Lauinger Library, 5th Floor
37th and O Streets, N.W.
Washington DC 20057