I’ve read many accounts of European Arctic exploration, but hadn’t realised the Americans did some too – which, given their purchase of Alaska in 1867, shouldn’t really come as a surprise.
I think this book was recommended on Ask Metafilter, and it’s a good read.
Motivated by their proximity to the Bering Strait and the Kuro Siwa current and theories of the Open Polar Sea, the Jeannette Expedition, led by George De Long and financed by James Gordon Bennett Jr. (of Gordon Bennett! fame), set off from San Fransisco in 1879.
The survivors made it to the Lena River Delta on the Siberian coast after almost two years trapped in the ice, a thousand mile march across the summer ice and a final, fatal sea crossing in the boats they’d hauled since the USS Jeannette had sunk. Two of the boats made it to land, one party made it to a Tungus settlement, only 2 men from the other party made it to safety after meeting Yakut hunters whilst seeking help for the rest of their group.
I’m always intrigued by the fate of the crew, the men who didn’t get the fame and the glory. Sides tells us that Charles Tong Sing (Lin Tongsheng), the Chinese American cook and steward, briefly became New York gangster Scarface Charlie but mainly ran a number of Chinese restaurants, worked as a court interpreter and a policeman (but doesn’t mention that he was also a member of the Greely Rescue Expedition together with the rightly-feted Melville); Wikipedia mentions that crewman Herbert Leach, the last member of the expedition to die, in 1935, became a factory worker.
Author page: In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette – Hampton Sides