By Robert F. Huber
It is impossible to determine after eight generations what qualities a man inherited from John Howland of the Mayflower but Admiral George Collier Remey displayed many of the attributes that made John Howland a valuable and prominent leader of the Pilgrim colony in Plymouth.
Howland and his descendant showed a willingness to assume responsibility, the ability to lead, determination to do a job well and a focus on life that put service to others before self.
Remey was an Iowa boy who graduated from the United States Naval Academy and swept across the pages of history during the Civil War and the Spanish-American War and in the end was recognized for his “good judgment and unflagging close attention to duty.”
George Collier Remey was born in Burlington, Iowa on Aug. 10, 1841, the son of William Butler Remey and Eliza Smith Howland. It was through his mother that Remey was a Mayflower descendant. He obviously was proud of his Pilgrim heritage for he joined the Pilgrim John Howland Society as member number 31. His son, Charles Mason Remey was also a member and joined the Society of Mayflower Descendants in the District of Columbia in 1961.
It may seem strange for someone from the sealess heartland of America to choose a naval career but that is just what young Remey did. He went to Annapolis in 1855, the youngest and also the smallest member of his class. He graduated fourth in the class of 1859 and with war clouds swirling he knew he was in for an interesting time.
Just prior to the outbreak of war between the states he was sent on the Hartford to China and Japan. Then as a junior naval officer he got his taste of battle.
He was assigned to the gunboat Marblehead during the Penisular campaign from March to July 1862 and then participated in the blockade of Charleston. In April 1863 he became executive officer of the Canandaigua, commanded for a short period the Marblehead during attacks on Fort Wagner and had a change of a battery of heavy naval guns on Morris Island in August and September of that year.
On the night of Sept. 7-8 he commanded the second division of an ill-fated attack on Fort Sumter. His boat was the only one to make it to shore but it was smashed by rebel gunfire and after a 90-minute fight Remey and his party were forced to surrender under the walls of the fort. He was one of the 104 men who got ashore and all of those were captured.
For the next 13 months he was imprisoned at Columbia, SC and almost succeeded in escaping through a tunnel under the prison walls. After he was exchanged Remey was named executive officer of the De Soto, a position he held until the end of fighting.
Remey had experienced an exciting few years but more adventures were to come.
In April 1865 President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated and Remey was one of six officers assigned to the White House, and he acted as an aide to Admiral Farragut at the funeral of the president.
For the next 30 years Remey circled the globe as a rising naval officer.
He saw special excitement in 1866 during the Spanish bombardment of Valparaiso while on duty off Chile; he was second in command of a surveying expedition in Tehuantepec in 1870-71, and in the Mediterranean he witnessed the bombardment of Alexandria in 1882.
In 1885 he had his first command in the grade of captain, having the Charleston as his flagship while in the Pacific Squadron in 1889-92.
When war with Spain broke out he was called from command of the naval base at Key West, FL. This was a major post with heavy responsibilities, including the supply and repair of all naval forces in Cuban waters. He also organized the convoy for General Shafter’s army in Cuba.
After the war he returned to his post as commander of the Portsmouth naval yard. He was made a rear admiral in 1898 and two years later assumed command of the Asiatic station, a highly important assignment in view of warfare in the Philippines and the Boer uprising in China. In 1901 he visited Australia when its first parliament met.
After a year as chairman of the Lighthouse Board, Remey retired in August 1903 and made his home in Washington and Newport, RI. He died in Washington Feb. 10, 1928 and was buried in Burlington, Iowa.
Admiral Remey married Mary J. Mason and they had two daughters and four sons.
This article is reprinted from the December 1994 issue of The Howland Quarterly.