CDR Tunis Augustus Craven

Commander Tunis Augustus Craven (*) was born 11 January 1813 at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in what is now known as "Quarters A."(**).

Craven was the son of Portsmouth Navy Yard storekeeper Tunis Craven, the grandson of Commodore Thomas Tingey and brother of RADM Thomas Tingey Craven.

He entered the Navy at the age of sixteen on 2 February 1829 as a midshipman (with help from his father). On 5 April 1830, he received orders to the U.S.S. Experiment for coast survey duty though muster rolls shows his payroll was attached to the receiving ships U.S.S. Boston and then the U.S.S. Hudson. [6]

In December 1832 Craven went on a leave of absence, which was extended in March 1833 upon his request for two more months. In May 1833, he requested to be considered for sea service. On 7 August 1833, Craven requested orders for and received them to the USS Saint Louis. In September 1834, he requested for and was detached from the Saint Louis and ordered to shore duty in Norfolk for instruction after being detained there as a witness in a court martial. On 4 September 1834 he requested for and was granted a three months leave of absence.

In 1836, Craven was ordered to the US Naval Observatory, but disliking the work, he was asked to be relieved and sent to the Coast Survey. In 1841, he was promoted to lieutenant and was attached to the U.S.S. Falmouth and was attached to her until late January 1843 when he was granted a three month leave of absence to attend to his pregnant wife who was due to deliver their third child. Craven was in Pensacola when he was notified that his leave of absence was granted and made it home to Brooklyn the day before his son Robert was born on 8 February. A few days later, his wife, Mary Carter Craven, died. Two months later when his leave expired, Craven requested to rejoin the Falmouth when she arrived in New York. A few days later, tragedy would strike the Craven family again, and he was forced to withdraw his request to the Falmouth and ask for his leave to be renewed. Craven's father-in-law who was to take care of his children while he was at sea suddenly died and he needed time to make arrangements for someone to care for his children in his father-in-law's place. Craven eventually rejoined his ship, but not for long since he was ordered to the receiving ship U.S.S. North Carolina in Brooklyn and then to the U.S.S. Lexington where he served until January 1844 when he was granted a furlough.

Between 1844 to 1847 while on furlough, Craven founded and edited the magazine United States Nautical Magazine, chiefly aimed at a Navy audience. Volume 1, Volume 2 and Volume 3 are online via Google Books. During this period, Craven also would marry his second wife, Marie Louise.

In 1847, Craven was ordered to the U.S.S. Dale, which was assigned to the Pacific Squadron. When the Mexican-American War broke out, the Dale was ordered to Monterey, California and spent the war cruising up and down the coast of California and Mexico and occasionally sending out landing parties to raise the U.S. flag over various Mexican towns.

In September 1947, the Dale arrived off the coast of Baja California with orders to blockade Mazatlán, Guaymas and San Blas. On 30 September, the Dale entered the port of Mulegé. Craven was sent ashore with a letter to the Mexican emissary notifying them that Baja California was considered U.S. territory. Craven then seized the Magdalena of the Mexican Navy, the vessel that a few days earlier had transported the Mexican military commander of the region, Captain Manuel Pineda Muñoz to Mulegé. The next day (1 OCT 1847) and following morning (2 OCT 1847), the Dale's commander, Thomas O. Selfridge, sent ashore demands to the Mexicans to lay down their arms. Craven received Pineda's refusal and protest in writing. That afternoon, Craven with a landing party of seventeen Marines and 57 sailors went ashore to attack Pineda's forces. The Battle of Mulegé turned out to be a failure for the U.S. side with no major casualties inflicted on either side and Craven taking his men back to the Dale under the cover of nightfall.

In 1848, command of the Pacific Squadron was assumed by Commodore Thomas ap Catesby Jones and the Dale spent the remainder of her years in the Pacific cruising up and down the coast until she was ordered in the summer of 1849 to return to the New York, arriving in port on 22 August 1849. Craven's journal from his cruise aboard the Dale was published in 1973 in a very limited print run of 400 copies under the title of "A Naval Campaign in the Californias, 1846-1849: The Journal of Lieutenant Tunis Augustus Macdonough Craven, U.S.N." The book appears on the used market in California on rare occasions.

In the aftermath of the publication of Herman Melville's White-Jacket that led to the banning of flogging in the Navy, Commodore Jones, whom a character in Melville's book was based upon, was brought before a court martial in December 1850 upon various charges, some of which he was found guilty of. One of those he was guilty of was charge number three "Scandalous conduct, tending to the destruction of good morals" with the second specification of the charge accusing Jones of writing a letter to SECNAV falsely accusing three of his lieutenants of "gold mania" and therefore had to restrict their liberty. One of those lieutenants was a highly offended Craven. When a chit Craven routed and kept a copy of asking why he and his fellow lieutenants were on restriction was introduced into Jones trial, he admitted to the court that Craven was not "tainted with gold mania" as his letter said and liberty was restricted for them due to under-manning.[2] Jones tried to retaliate against Craven by ordering a court martial against him, but the then SECNAV put the kibosh on it.

In 1850, Craven was ordered to the Coast Survey where he served on various vessels conducting hydrographic surveys of the coastal waters and harbors of the United States, spending much of the 1850s in command of the USCS Corwin. In October 1857, Craven took command of the USCS Varina in support of the Atrato Expedition whose purpose was to investigate a possible ship canal across the Isthmus of Darién (Panama) via the Atrato and Turando rivers. Craven's report to Congress over a possible interoceanic canal via those rivers can be read online. A letter published in the 1868 Journal of the Society of Engineers written by Craven in 1858 sums up the results of Craven's expedition and the difficulties of the subaquatic excavation work proposed for that route:

"Bound Brook, New Jersey, August 3, 1858

Dear Sir - I received your communication of January while on my return from the Atrato. I arrived in the United States early in May, having made a through examination of the route by the Atrato, Truando, Nerqua and Totumia rivers. The entire distance across is 134 miles, which I twice traversed with the parties under my command. My preliminary report was made to the United States' Senate on the 17th of May, and has appeared in our papers generally. I suppose, therefore, you have seen it. My detailed report is not made out, but I believe that my estimates will reach some 500,000,000 dollars with fifty years of labor. In a matter of such consequences to the world, it is very important that a practicable route be discovered. If nothing better offer, we must cut through the Isthmus at Panama.

Yours truly,
T. Augustus Craven.

In June of 1859, Craven was ordered to command the U.S.S. Mohawk in support of the anti-slavery patrol in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. On 26 April 1860, the Mohawk captured and towed to Key West the bark Wildfire and her illegal cargo of 510 captive Africans intended for sale as slaves in the United States. The 2 June 1860 issue of Harper's Weekly covered the capture of the Wildfire with a tone describing the Africans as jolly and happy. Craven's official communication to the Navy hints at a starkly different picture of the condition aboard captured slave ships.

While in command of the Mohawk during the summer and fall of 1860, political conditions in Key West and across the South started to deteriorate with talks of secession going around. Craven, noting the unprotected status of Fort Taylor in Key West and Fort Jefferson in Dry Tortugas, ordered the U.S.S. Wyandotte to guard Ft. Taylor while Craven took the Mohawk to Ft. Jefferson. In contrast to CAPT James Armstrong who surrendered the Pensacola Navy Yard without a fight out of fear of starting a war during the secession crisis, Craven threatened to open fire on any parties attempting to seize either fort along with sending parties of his men ashore to attend secession meetings and vote them down. Neither forts fell into Confederate hands.

In early 1861, Craven was given command of the U.S.S. Crusader and when the Civil War finally broke out, he was ordered to command the U.S.S. Tuscarora, then under construction in New York. The Tuscarora was commissioned on 5 December 1861 and ordered to capture and sink if possible Confederate raiders. Craven's first target was the C.S.S. Nashville and was unable to capture her due to English law regarding the departure times of belligerent vessels. An annoyed Craven then sailed for Gibraltar, where he found the C.S.S. Sumter in command of Ralpahel Semmes at anchor there. Craven spent nearly two months blockading the Sumter and forced Semmes and his crew to eventually abandon her in port on 11 April 1862. The Tuscarora remained on station in Gibraltar until she was relieved by the Kearsarge on 12 June. On 23 June, Craven received ordered to hunt down the C.S.S. Alabama, but was unable to find her. The Alabama would be sunk two years later by the Kearsarge. The Tuscarora spent the remainder of 1862 cruising off the European coast to protect American shipping from Confederate raiders. In March of 1863, the Tuscarora returned to the Philadelphia Navy Yard. Craven as his next command requested duty on an iron clad. He was ordered to New York to take command of the pre-commissioning unit Tecumseh, then under construction in New Jersey.

The Tecumseh went into commission on 19 April 1864 and was ordered to join the James River Flotilla. In July, Craven was ordered to sail for Pensacola to join RADM David Farragut's West Gulf Squadron. The Tecumseh arrived in Pensacola on 28 July 1864. After delays from re-coaling and replacing crew members who were sent ashore ill, the Tecumseh arrived off Mobile on the evening of 4 August 1864. Farragut had been waiting for her arrival before he would attempt to sail his fleet into Mobile Bay.

Craven was in the pilothouse with pilot John Collins when the Tecumseh struck the fatal mine and started to founder. Per William Goodwin of the USS Bienville [7] and CSN Fleet-Surgeon D. B. Conrad of the Tennessee [8] who both spoke with Collins in Pensacola after the battle and COMO Foxhill Parker who interviewed people for his book on the battle [10], Craven and Collins both headed towards the scuttle to escape the rapidly flooding pilothouse. Craven realized that there was only time for one man to escape. With the three words of "after you, pilot" that would be venerated by the Navy for decades afterwards on par with Lawrence's "don't give up the ship" and Farragut's "damn the torpedoes", Craven stepped back, allowing Collins to leave first. Craven did not make it out of the pilothouse. As Collins stated afterwards, "there was nothing after me. When I reached the topmost round of the ladder, the vessel seemed to drop from under me."[9]

Craven was fifty-one years old and had been in the Navy for over thirty-five years. He left behind a wife and five living children as survivors.

Frontpiece from Cravens United States Nautical Magazine


While history knows him as Tunis Augustus McDonough Craven, he filed for and was granted a legal name change on 29 March 1864 by the State of New Jersey to Tunis Augustus Craven (See Assembly Bill No. 307, Acts of the Eighty-Eighth Legislature of the State of New Jersey, 1864).


Farragut was urged by his subordinates to take the Tecumseh as his flagship rather than the Hartford into Mobile Bay. But being a old-fashioned sailor who favored wooden ships, Farragut refused to move his flag from the Hartford. Farragut's stubbornness and strong dislike of being shut up in "an iron pot" [5] very likely saved him from joining the fate of the commander for whom he delayed the legendary battle Farragut secured his place in history for.

But history sometimes has its twists and turns, linking people together once again. As noted in the 1908 dedication ceremony for the plaque memorializing Farragut outside of Quarters A at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Farragut took his last breaths on Earth in the same house Craven took his first and his funeral was held at the same church Craven was christened in, St John's Episcopal. [1]


Mary Carter Craven (1st wife). Married 1838, died 14 February 1843
      Mary Augusta Craven (daughter). Born 1839
      2LT Augustus Carter Craven, USA (son). Born 15 September 1840, died 15 March 1863
      Robert Craven (son). Born 8 February 1843
Marie Louise Craven (2nd wife). Married 4 June 1844
      Louis Stevens Craven (son). Born 1845
      Ellen Craven (daughter). Born 1850
      Alfred E. Craven (son). Born 1855

Alternate Spellings of Name


References and Sources

[1] Hacket, Frank Warren Deck and Field: Addresses Before the United States Naval War College and on Commemorative Occasions (W. H. Lowdermilk & Company, Washington DC 1909)

[2] "Proceedings of the court-martial in the case of Commodore Thomas ap Catesby Jones, and certain correspondence betweeen the Secretary of the Navy and Commodore Jones" Excecutive Documents printed by order of The Senate of the United States during the second session of the Thirty-First Congress (Union Office, Washington DC 1851).

[3] "Navy Gazette: List of Deaths in the Navy of the United States, reported to the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, Navy Department, during the week ending December 3d, 1864." Army and Navy Journal, 10 Dec. 1864, p. 253.

[4] Officers and Enlisted Men who Died in the Active Service of the U.S. Navy 1776-1885

[5] Hill, Frederic Stanhope Twenty Years at Sea; Or, Leaves from My Old Logbooks (Houghton, Mifflin Company, 1894)

[6] T829: Miscellaneous Records of the United States Navy, 1789-1925, National Archives, Washington, D.C. [7] Deacon, Charles Ridgway. A Biographical album of prominent Pennsylvanians. (The American Biographical Publishing Company, Philadelphia 1890)

[8] Conrad, D. B. "What the Fleet-Surgeon Saw of the Fight in Mobile Bay, August 1864, Whilst on board the Confederate Ironclad "Tennessee"" United Service: A Monthy Review of Military and Naval Affairs. September 1892.

[9] Congressional Record - House of Representatives, "Mrs. Marie Louise Craven" February 20, 1885

[10] Parker, Foxhill A. The Battle of Mobile Bay, and the capture of forts Powell, Gaines & Morgan. (A. Williams and Company, Boston 1878)

[11] Cullen, Edward. On the Isthmus of Darien and the Ship Canal. Journal of the Society of Engineers (London, 1869)