John Dahlgren began his career as a common sailor, before joining the navy as a midshipman in 1826. Thanks to his skill as a mathematician, Dahlgren was sent to work for the Coastal Survey from 1834 to 1837. He came to the Washington Navy Yard in 1847 as an ordnance officer and began to modernize the procurement, maintenance, and distribution of weapons, eventually becoming chief of the navy's Bureau of Ordnance. Under Dahlgren's direction, the navy established its own foundry to manufacture new equipment, including, in 1848, his "Boat Howitzer," a light, accurate gun that could also be used in the field. Today, he is best known for developing a cast-iron gun called a Dahlgren, which became a standard armament on navy ships after 1856. In 1861, when Dahlgren's commander resigned to join the Confederate navy, Lincoln placed him in charge of the Washington Navy Yard. On requesting active service, Dahlgren took command of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron in July 1863, secured Charleston's harbor, and aided Sherman's capture of Savannah in 1864. Dahlgren returned to the Washington Navy Yard in 1869, where he served as commander until his death. Brady's photographers made a series of portraits of Dahlgren and his crew aboard the U.S.S. Pawnee in Charleston harbor. In this stereo view, Dahlgren posed before one of his cast-iron guns.

Admiral John Dahlgren (1809-1870) Albumen silver print (stereo view), 1863-1865
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

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