Charles Wilkes, an American naval officer, born in New York in 1801. He was appointed a midshipman in 1816, and served on the Mediterranean station in 1819-'20, and in the Pacific in 1821-'3. In 1826 he was commissioned as lieutenant. He was appointed to the department of charts and instruments in 1830, and was the first in the United States to set up and observe with fixed astronomical instruments. On Aug. 18, 1838, he sailed from Norfolk, Va., in command of a squadron of five vessels and a store ship, to explore the southern seas. He visited Madeira, the Cape Verd islands, Rio de Janeiro, Tierra del Fuego, Valparaiso, Callao, the Paumotou group, Tahiti, the Samoan group (which he surveyed and explored), Willis island, and Sydney in New South Wales. He left Sydney in December, 1839, and made important discoveries in the antarctic regions. In 1840 he thoroughly explored the Feejee group, and visited the Hawaiian islands, where he measured the pendulum on the summit of Mauna Loa. In 1841 he visited the N. W. coast of America and the Columbia and Sacramento rivers, and on Nov. 1 set sail from San Francisco, visited Manila, Sooloo, Borneo, Singapore, the Cape of Good Hope, and St. Helena, and cast anchor at New York on June 10, 1842. Charges preferred against him by some of his officers were investigated by a court martial, and he was acquitted of all except illegally punishing some of his crew, for which he was reprimanded.
He was made a commander in 1843. He published "Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition, 1838-42" (6 vols. 4to, also 5 vols. 8vo, Philadelphia, 1845; abridged, 1 vol. 8vo, New York, 1851). Of the remaining 11 volumes, giving the scientific results of the expedition, he was the author of that on meteorology. In 1849 he published " Western America, including California and Oregon" (8vo, Philadelphia), and in 1856 his "Theory of the Winds " (8vo, New York). He was made a captain in 1855. In 1861 he was sent to the West Indies in the frigate San Jacinto to look after the confederate steamer Sumter; and on Nov. 8 he took forcibly from the British mail steamer Trent, in the Bahama channel, Messrs. Slidell and Mason, commissioners of the Confederate States to France and England, and conveyed them to Boston. For this action he received a vote of thanks from congress; but his course was finally disapproved by the president, and the commissioners were surrendered to England. In 1862 he was commissioned as commodore and placed first on the list. While in command of the flotilla in James river he shelled and destroyed City Point on Aug. 28. In 1863 he commanded a special squadron in the West Indies and captured many blockade runners.
He was commissioned as rear admiral on the retired list, July 25, 1866.