William Sitgreaves Cox

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William Sitgreaves Cox (1790–1874) was a third lieutenant serving on USS Chesapeake during the War of 1812. During the battle with HMS Shannon in 1813, Cox served below decks in charge of a gun crew. When his crew abandoned their post, Cox went to the deck to continue fighting. Captain James Lawrence was wounded, and Lt. Cox took him below deck. However, all other officers had been seriously wounded or killed, so Lawrence's incapacitation left Cox, the senior non-wounded officer, the ship's commanding officer. It is not clear that he realized that he now was the acting commanding officer. He was convicted in 1814 by court-martial of dereliction of duty, for abandoning his watch station while under fire. He was discharged from the United States Navy in disgrace.

Cox's great-grandson, the New York architect Electus D. Litchfield, campaigned for nearly 20 years to have the conviction overturned. In 1952, after passage of a resolution of Congress in support of Cox, President Harry S Truman cleared Cox's name and restored his rank.

In fiction[edit]

Robert A. Heinlein's science fiction novel Starship Troopers refers to the case of Cox's court-martial in one scene in which the commandant of their military academy explains the importance of chain of command to several cadets about to be sent to join units as temporary third lieutenants to see if they have what it takes to become commissioned officers.

See also[edit]