“Matthew Fontaine Maury: The Last Crusade,” by John Grady

Time Period
1861 to 1876
Media Type
Civil War
Science & Technology

On January 21 at noon, John Grady delivered a Banner Lecture entitled “Matthew Fontaine Maury: The Last Crusade.”

When Matthew Fontaine Maury was commissioned as a midshipman, he boldly wrote: “Citizen of Virginia” in accepting his warrant. Although he was born in the commonwealth, his family, like thousands of others, fled to Tennessee to start over, free of debt. He rediscovered his Virginia roots and family when he came eastward to await his first orders. Maury always returned to Virginia when awaiting new orders or needed the warmth of family and old friends. At no time did the most popular American scientist of his time show his loyalty more than when he served on the Governor’s Advisory Council, a de facto War and Navy Department, following secession. What is less well known is his critical role in rebuilding the state following the Civil War. The ambitious “Physical Survey of Virginia” from the Virginia Military Institute was an investor’s guide to opportunity. There were new struggles and controversies over what role, if any, Confederate office holders and military officers would play in the state’s public life, how the races would coexist, which institution would be the “land grant college,” and the need for a National Weather Service. That became Maury’s last crusade.

John Grady, a managing editor of Navy Times for more than eight years and retired communications director of the Association of the United States Army, is a contributer to the New York Times “Disunion” series and Civil War Monitor and a blogger for the navy’s Sesquicentennial of the Civil War website. He continues writing on national security and defense. He is the author of Matthew Fontaine Maury, Father of Oceanography: A Biography, 1806–1873.

The content and opinions expressed in these presentations are solely those of the speaker and not necessarily of the Virginia Museum of History & Culture.

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