George Beall Balch - Civil War Veteran, Naval Officer

George Beall Balch (January 3, 1821-September 4, 1886) was born in Shelbyville, Tennesee to George Ninan Beall, Sr. and Martha (Rodgers) Balch. He would enter the navy at the age of sixteen and marry (the first time) at the age of twenty three. He was married first to Julia Grace (Vinsen) Balch on December 26, 1844 and together they would have five children. His second marriage was to Mary Ellen (Booth) Balch on September 12, 1865 and they would have either four or five children.

Little is known of his life prior to his being appointed as a United States Navy Midshipman, from the state of Alabama, on December 30, 1837. George soon began to serve on various ships after his 1837 appointment to the navy. From June 24, 1838 to May 16, 1841 he served on the sloop Cyane in the Mediteranean. He also served on the schooner Grampus and sloop Falmouth before going to the Naval School in Philadelphia and being promoted to passed midshipmen on June 29, 1843.

During the Mexican-American War, of 1846 to 1848, George was serving on board the steamer Princeton. In August 1846 the Princeton was part of the failed assault on Alvarado when strong currents prevented the ships from landing. Later on March 9, 1847 he would be a part of General Winfield Scott's successful landing at Vera Cruz. During the attack on Vera Cruz George was apparently the acting master of the

captured schooner Falcon. Returning to the Princeton he would go with them to the Mediterranean on August 17, 1847 only returning to the Boston Naval Yard on July 17, 1849. After these two years of service he served at the Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C. and was promoted to Lieutenant on August 16, 1850.

George then began service as the executive officer on board the sloop of war Plymouth. Sailing to Asian waters on August 23, 1851 he would serve in various places throughout the region. During this time, July, 8, 1853, the Plymouth would join Commodore Matthew Perry's expedition to Tokyo Bay. Together with three other ships the Plymouth would be there as Commodore Perry sought to open trade negotiations with Japan. The squadron of ships left Tokyo Bay on July 17 after presenting a letter from American President Millard Fillmore asking for two ports to be opened to trade.

After making contact with the Tokugawa Shogunate, in Japan, the squadron of ships the Plymouth was in would spend the fall in Canton, Shanghai and Hong Kong. In these Chinese ports the Americans would work to protect America's trading interests during the spread of the Taiping Rebellion in southern China.

In February of 1854 most of Commodore Perry's squadron of ships would return to Japan where they signed a limited trade agreement on March 31, 1854. During this time the Plymouth stayed behind to help protect American owned warehouses and other property in Shanghai. When the other ships in the squadron left Chinese Imperial troops began to assault foreigners, sack warehouses and demand tolls for travel up and down the Huangpu River. On April 3, after two British civilians were harassed by Imperial troops, the British in conjunction with the Americans on the Plymouth, launched a campaign to try and drive the Chinese troops out of the city. On April 4 George led an American force, along with a somewhat larger British force, to attack the Chinese troops in the city. The American and British force ended up driving the Chinese out of the city with minimal casualties. George received a wound, during the fighting, but apparently it wasn't life threatening. The Plymouth would return to Norfolk, Virginia on January 11, 1855 where it would conduct a springtime cruise for Naval Academy training.

He briefly served on the gunboat Michigan in 1855 following that up with a nearly two year commitment to the Washington, DC Navy Yard. In 1857, after his two years at the Navy yard, he went back to sea in the Plymouth only to be transferred to service on the Jamestown later in the year. From 1858 he would serve aboard the sloop of war St. Mary's in the Pacific Squadron. After a short cruise along the west coast of Central America, between August 1858 and February 1859, he would return to the east coast where he would be when political tensions would boil over and become the American Civil War.

In 1860-61 George was serving on dry land at the Naval Academy and the Naval Observatory. With the development of full scale civil war George was transferred first to the Sabine then to command of the steam sloop Pocahontas serving from mid 1861 to mid 1862. Aboard the Pocahontas George aided a flotilla of ships in a landing at Tybee Island followed by a period of time in which he actively pursued the blockade of the South Carolina and Georgia coastlines. During this period, of blockade duty, George would receive a promotion to the rank of Commander on July 16, 1862. Most of the rest of the war would have George commanding the USS Pawnee in blockade duty along the southeastern coast of the confederacy. On February 9, 1865 the Pawnee was ordered to travel up the Togoda Creek (with several other ships) to destroy three confederate batteries near North Edisto, South Carolina. After landing troops the Union forces were able to occupy and secure Georgetown allowing easier shipment of supplies for Major-General Tecumseh Sherman's armies. George received a commendation for his efforts in the operation.

After the Pawnee was decommissioned, on July 26, 1865, George was once again assigned to duty at the Washington Navy Yard. During this time he received a promotion to the rank of Captain (on July 25, 1826). In 1868 he would take command of the USS Contoocook (renamed the Albany in 1869) and serve aboard this ship until 1870. In the 1870's he would serve in several roles in the nations capital followed by a brief stint as Governor of the Naval Asylum in Philadelphia. On June 5, 1878 he was once again promoted, this time to the rank of Rear Admiral, and began to serve as the Superintendant of the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland (August 2, 1879-1881). His last few years were served in the Pacific Station and he finally retired in January of 1883.

Initially, after retirement, George took up residence in Baltimore but eventually moved to Raleigh, North Carolina. George would live for another twenty five years following his retirement. On April 16, 1908 he died and was buried at the U.S. Naval Academy Cemetery. Since his death the Navy has twice named destroyers in his honor. First there was the USS Balch DD-50 that existed from 1914-1935 then there was the USS Balch DD-363 that served from 1936-1946.


Genealogy of George:

Father: George Ninan Beall Balch, Sr.
Mother: Martha Rodgers

Wife: Julia Grace Vinsen
Married: December 26, 1844


1. George Vinsen
2. Stephen Bloomer
3. Julia Grace
4. Margaret Cassandra
5. Harriet Ann

Wife2: Mary Ellen Booth
Married: September 12, 1865


1. Alfred
2. Anna Booth
3. Francis DuPont
4. Amy Rogers

Primary Links/Sources

Naval Historical Center - George Beall Balch

Wikipedia - George Balch

Balch Genealogica - Thomas Willing Balch

Genealogy of the Balch Families in America - By: Galusha B. Balch

Other Links/Sources:

Letter From George Balch to Major Felix Agnus

New York Times - Where War Was Waged (August 14, 1892)

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