He entered the Navy, became passed midshipman on 23 June 1838, was commissioned lieutenant on 28 June 1843, and in June 1845 was bearer of despatches to the commander-in-chief of the Pacific Squadron, with which he served during the war with Mexico. He was in the “Savannah” at the capture and occupation of Monterey and points on the coast of California, and returned to New York in September 1847.
He commanded the steamer “M. W. Chapin” in the Paraguay expedition of 1859 and on coast survey duty in 1860, was commissioned commander, 29 June 1861, and had charge of the steamer “Water Witch” from 1 March until 12 October 1861, in the Gulf Squadron. On 27 December 1861, he took command of the steamer “San Jacinto,” with which he was present in Hampton Roads to fight the “Merrimac,” and participated in the attack on Sewell's Point, 15 May 1862, and in the capture of Norfolk on 18 May. He was in the “Ticonderoga,” searching for privateers in 1863, and in February 1864 he commanded the monitor “Monadnock” in operations in James River until the evacuation of Richmond, when he cruised to Havana in search of the “Stonewall.”
In July 1865, he was transferred to the monitor “Tonawanda.” He was commissioned captain, 27 September 1866, and was at Philadelphia until 1 October 1870, when he took charge of the ironclads at New Orleans until 8 April 1872. He commanded the steamer “Canandaigua,” of the North Atlantic Squadron, in 1872-73, was promoted to commodore on 12 September 1874, and was placed on the retired list on 9 November 1874, by reason of his age.
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- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Wilson, James Grant; Fiske, John, eds. (1900). "Ronckendorff, William". Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton.
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