Schenck, James Findlay was born on June 11, 1807 in Franklin, Ohio, United States. Son of William Cortenus and Elizabeth (Rogers) Schenck.
Attended United States Military Academy, 1822-1824.
Appointed midshipman United States Navy, 1825. Commanded sloop Surprise in action against pirates in West Indies, 1828. Promoted Lieutenant, 1835.
Assigned to frigate Congress under Commodore Robert F. Stockton, 1845. Active in campaign against California, 1846-1849, present at capture of Santa Barbara, led landing party that captured San Pedro, participated in capture of Los Angeles, Guaymas, Mazatlan. Commanded United States mail steamer Ohio, 1849-1852.
Promoted commander, 1855. In command of ship North Carolina, 1858-1860. Commanded brig Saginaw at East India station, 1860-1862.
On blockading duty Gulf of Mexico, 1862-1864. Promoted commodore, 1864. Commanded 3d division N. Atlantic Blockading Squadron, 1864.