Admiral Edwin A. Anderson, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, was born on July 16, 1860 at Masonboro Sound near Wilmington, the son of Dr. Edwin A. Anderson, Sr., and his wife Mary. Anderson’s fascination with the sea came as a young boy, and in 1878, Alfred M. Waddell appointed him to the United States Naval Academy.
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After graduation in 1882, Anderson spent the following fifteen years serving around the world and advancing in rank from ensign to lieutenant. He served a short tour in Haiti, where he caught pneumonia, followed by three years on ships protecting the seal trade in the Bering Sea and along the coast of Alaska. In 1891, he sailed to the Galapagos Islands as part of a scientific exploration, and served aboard the Albatross, the steamer that made the first survey of an undersea cable route between California and Honolulu.
At the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, Anderson served aboard the USS Marblehead blockading Havana harbor. In early May 1898, the vessel received orders to attack an important Spanish undersea cable terminus at the Cuban port of Cienfuegos. Anderson volunteered to lead two small boats in an attempt to locate and cut the wires. Under a barrage of Spanish artillery and small arms fire that killed several of the men aboard Anderson’s ship, he managed to accomplish the mission. After cutting the cable, Anderson returned to the USS Marblehead. Cited for extreme gallantry, Anderson received an unprecedented five-grade promotion to commander in 1901.
After the Spanish-American War, Anderson served in a variety of positions including head of a naval recruiting station in Cincinnati, Ohio, and chief ordnance officer at Mare Island Naval Yard in New York. He also served foreign tours in China and Panama during Theodore Roosevelt’s presidential administration and was promoted to Captain.
In 1913, Anderson took charge of the battleship USS New Hampshire. The following year the vessel received orders to take part in the United States intervention in Vera Cruz, Mexico. Anderson led the 2nd United States Naval Battalion, also known as the “Bluejackets,” in assaulting enemy positions near the Mexican Naval Academy. Although his command suffered severe losses, Anderson’s landing party secured their mission objectives. His courage under fire earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor and a brevetted promotion to admiral.
When America entered World War I, he served in European Waters as commander of Squadron One, Patrol Force, of the Atlantic Fleet for which he received the Distinguished Service Medal. After the war he was promoted to Rear Admiral and took charge of the entire Eastern Fleet serving in Asia.
In 1923, a series of severe earthquakes devastated much of Japan. Rear Admiral Anderson ordered his ships into Japanese ports and quickly began distributing nearly $5 million in emergency medical supplies and food. For his actions, the Japanese government sent Anderson gifts each Christmas until his death.
Anderson retired from the Navy as an admiral on March 23, 1924. He returned to his home near Wilmington and remained there with his wife, Mertie and their son Lorain, until he died on September 23, 1933 at James Walker Memorial Hospital of complications after a major surgical operation. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. The Sims-Class Destroyer, USS Anderson, which served from 1937 to 1946 and received ten battle stars during World War II, was named in his honor. The Navy destroyed the vessel as part of nuclear weapons demonstrations during Operation Crossroads at Bikini Atoll on July 1, 1946.
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, I, 33--sketch by James Meehan
Charlotte Observer, April 27, 1900; September 24, 1933
Greensboro Daily News, February 24, 1963
(Raleigh) News and Observer, June 7, 1932; September 24, 1933
Service of Rear Admiral Edwin Alexander Anderson, United States Navy (1933)
Peter Collier and Nick Del Calzo, Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty (2003)