See his autobiographical Reminiscences of Adventure and Service (1927); biography by W. Mitchell (1936).
Greely was without previous Arctic experience, but he and his party were able to discover hitherto many unknown miles along the coast of northwest Greenland. The expedition also crossed Ellesmere Island from east to west and Lt. James B. Lockwood and David L. Brainard achieved a new "farthest north" record of 83°24'.
In 1882, Greely sighted a mountain range during a dog sleding exploration to the interior of northern Ellesmere Island and named them the Conger Range. He also sighted the Innuitian Mountains from Lake Hazen.
Two relief ships failed to reach Greely's party encamped at Fort Conger on Ellesmere Island. Thanks to the persistence of Greely's wife, Henrietta, the search was never abandoned. The ship called the Bear, built in Greenock, Scotland, first used as a whaler, was purchased by the U.S. to rescue the Greely party. By the time the Bear, and the ship Thetis arrived on June 22, 1884 to rescue the expedition (which by then had painstakingly relocated to Cape Sabine) 19 of Greely's 25-man crew had perished from starvation, drowning, hypothermia, and in one case, gunshot wounds from an execution ordered by Greely.
Greely and the other survivors were themselves near death; one of the survivors died on the homeward journey. The returning survivors were venerated as heroes, though the heroism was tainted by sensational accusations of cannibalism during the remaining days of low food. The story of this remarkable journey has been published numerous times, the most definitive of which is Abandoned: The Story of the Greely Arctic Expedition 1881-1884, written by Alden Todd. On his rescue, see Stephen K. Stein, "The Greely Relief Expedition and the New Navy" (International Journal of Naval History, December 2006).
During General Greely's tenure as Chief Signal Officer of the Army, the following military telegraph lines were constructed, operated and maintained during the Spanish American War: Puerto Rico, 800 miles ; Cuba, 3,000 miles ; the Philippines, 10,200 miles. In connection with Alaska, then General Greely had constructed under very adverse conditions a telegraph system of nearly 4,000 miles, consisting of submarine cables, landcables and wireless telegraphy, the later covering a distance of 107 miles, which at the time was of installation was the longest commercial system regularly working in the world.
In 1906, Greely found himself serving as military commander over the emergency situation created by the San Francisco earthquake. In 1908, Greely retired from the Army as a Major General, having been promoted to that rank in 1906.
In 1905, Greely accepted the honor of serving as The Explorers Club's first president.
Greely attended the First Presbyterian Church, Newburyport.
Greely's medal was awarded in clear violation of the revised 1916 Army warrant requiring combat action and risk of life "above and beyond the call of duty." However, his Medal was the second Army presentation contrary to the combat requirement, as Charles Lindbergh (an Army reservist not on active duty) received the award for his solo transatlantic flight eight years before, in 1927. Until after WW II the Navy Medal of Honor could be awarded for noncombat actions, reflecting different criteria within the United States armed forces.