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TWO GREAT ADMIRALS OF THE CIVIL WAR-- A Comparison Study: Adm. Farragut (USN)

A Comparison Study



Admiral USN
July 5, 1801 – August 14, 1870




David Farragut


Admiral CSS
September 13, 1800—May 11, 1874


Franklin Buchanan

Information from Wikipedia at: David_Farragut


       David Glasgow Farragut (July 5, 1801 – August 14, 1870) was a flag officer of the United States Navy during the American Civil War. He was the first rear admiral, vice admiral, and admiral in the United States Navy. He is remembered for his order at the Battle of Mobile Bay (In which he was victorious), usually paraphrased as "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead" in U.S. Navy tradition.

Early life

Farragut was born in 1801 to Jordi (George) Farragut, a native of Minorca, Spain, and his wife Elizabeth (nιe Shine, 1765–1808), of North Carolina Scotch-Irish American descent, at Lowe's Ferry on the Holston River in Tennessee.  It was a few miles southeast of Campbell's Station, near Knoxville.

       His father operated the ferry and also served as a cavalry officer in the Tennessee militia. Jordi Farragut, son of Antoni Farragut and Joana Mesquida, became a Spanish merchant captain from Minorca. He joined the American Revolutionary cause after arriving in America in 1766, when he changed his first name to George. He was a naval lieutenant during the Revolutionary War, serving first with the South Carolina Navy then the Continental Naval forces. George and Elizabeth had moved west to Tennessee after his service in the American Revolution.

       In 1805, George Farragut accepted a position at the U.S. port of New Orleans. He traveled there first and his family followed, in a 1,700-mile  flatboat adventure aided by hired rivermen, the then four-year-old Farragut's first voyage. The family was still living in New Orleans when Elizabeth died of yellow fever. His father made plans to place the young children with friends and family who could better care for them.

       David's birth name was James. After his mother's death, he agreed to live with and be adopted in 1808 by David Porter, a naval officer whose father had been friends with James's father.  In 1812, James adopted the name "David" in honor of his adoptive father, with whom he went to sea late in 1810. David Farragut grew up in a naval family, as the adoptive brother of future Civil War admiral, David Dixon Porter, and Commodore William D. Porter.


Farragut as he appears in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

       David Farragut's naval career began as a midshipman when he was nine years old, and continued for 60 years until his death at the age of 69. This included service in several wars, most notably during the American Civil War, where he gained fame for winning several decisive naval battles.

War of 1812

       Through the influence of his adoptive father, Farragut was commissioned a midshipman in the United States Navy on December 17, 1810, at the age of nine. A prize master by the age of 12, Farragut fought in the War of 1812, serving under Captain David Porter. While serving aboard USS Essex, Farragut participated in the capture of HMS Alert on August 13, 1812, then helped to establish America's first naval base and colony in the Pacific, named Fort Madison, during the ill-fated Nuku Hiva Campaign. At the same time, the Americans battled the hostile tribes on the islands with the help of their Te I'i allies.

       Farragut was 12 years old when, during the War of 1812, he was given the assignment to bring a ship captured by the Essex safely to port.  He was wounded and captured while serving on the Essex during the engagement at Valparaiso Bay, Chile, against the British on March 28, 1814.

West Indies

       Farragut was promoted to lieutenant in 1822, during the operations against West Indian pirates. In 1824, he was placed in command of USS Ferret, which was his first command of a U.S. naval vessel. He served in the Mosquito Fleet, a fleet of ships fitted out to fight pirates in the Caribbean Sea. After learning his old captain, Commodore Porter, would be commander of the fleet, he asked for, and received, orders to serve aboard Greyhound, one of the smaller vessels, commanded by John Porter, brother of David Porter. On February 14, 1823, the fleet set sail for the West Indies where, for the next six months, they would drive the pirates off the sea, and rout them from their hiding places in among the islands.  He was executive officer aboard the Experiment during its campaign in the West Indies fighting pirates.

Mare Island Navy Yard

       In 1853, Secretary of the Navy James C. Dobbin selected Commander David G. Farragut to create Mare Island Navy Yard near San Francisco in San Pablo Bay. In August 1854, Farragut was called to Washington from his post as assistant inspector of ordnance at Norfolk, Virginia. President Franklin Pierce congratulated Farragut on his naval career and the task he was to undertake. On September 16, 1854, Commander Farragut arrived to oversee the building of the Mare Island Navy Yard at Vallejo, California, which became the port for ship repairs on the West Coast. Captain Farragut commissioned Mare Island on July 16, 1858. Farragut returned to a hero's welcome at Mare Island on August 11, 1859.

Civil War Service

       Admiral David G. Farragut, c. 1863  Though living in Norfolk, Virginia, prior to the American Civil War, Farragut made it clear to all who knew him that he regarded secession as treason. Just before the war's outbreak, Farragut moved with his Virginian-born wife to Hastings-on-Hudson, a small town just outside New York City.

       He offered his services to the Union, and was initially given a seat on the Naval Retirement Board. Offered a command by his foster brother, David Dixon Porter, for a special assignment, he hesitated upon learning the target might be Norfolk. As he had friends and relatives living there, he was relieved to learn the target was changed to his former childhood home of New Orleans. The navy had some doubts about Farragut's loyalty to the Union because of his Southern birth as well as that of his wife. Porter argued on his behalf, and Farragut was accepted for the major role of attacking New Orleans.

       Farragut was appointed under secret instructions on February 3, 1862, to command the Gulf Blockading Squadron, sailing from Hampton Roads on the screw steamer USS Hartford, bearing 25 guns, which he made his flagship, accompanied by a fleet of 17 ships. He reached the mouth of the Mississippi River, near Confederate forts St. Philip and Jackson, situated opposite one another along the banks of the river, with a combined armament of more than 100 heavy guns and a complement of 700 men. Now aware of Farragut's approach, the Confederates had amassed a fleet of 16 gunboats just outside New Orleans.

       On April 18, Farragut ordered the mortar boats, under the command of Porter, to commence bombardment on the two forts, inflicting considerable damage, but not enough to compel the Confederates into surrender. After two days of heavy bombardment, Farragut ran past forts Jackson and St. Philip and the Chalmette batteries to take the city and port of New Orleans on April 29, a decisive event in the war.

       Congress honored him by creating the rank of rear admiral on July 16, 1862, a rank never before used in the U.S. Navy. Before this time, the American Navy had resisted the rank of admiral, preferring the term "flag officer", to distinguish the rank from the traditions of the European navies.

       Later that year, Farragut passed the batteries defending Vicksburg, Mississippi, but had no success there. A makeshift Confederate ironclad forced his flotilla of 38 ships to withdraw in July 1862.

      While an aggressive commander, Farragut was not always cooperative. At the Siege of Port Hudson, the plan was that Farragut's flotilla would pass by the guns of the Confederate stronghold with the help of a diversionary land attack by the Army of the Gulf, commanded by General Nathaniel Banks, to commence at 8:00 a.m. on March 15, 1863. Farragut unilaterally decided to move the timetable up to 9:00 p.m. on March 14, and initiated his run past the guns before Union ground forces were in position. By doing so, the uncoordinated attack allowed the Confederates to concentrate on Farragut's flotilla and inflict heavy damage to his warships.

Farragut on board Hartford

       Farragut's battle group was forced to retreat with only two ships able to pass the heavy cannon of the Confederate bastion. After surviving the gauntlet, Farragut played no further part in the battle for Port Hudson, and General Banks was left to continue the siege without the advantage of naval support. The Union Army made two major attacks on the fort; both were repulsed with heavy losses. Farragut's flotilla was splintered, yet was able to blockade the mouth of the Red River with the two remaining warships; he could not efficiently patrol the section of the Mississippi between Port Hudson and Vicksburg. Farragut's decision proved costly to the Union Navy and the Union Army, which suffered its highest casualty rate of the war at Port Hudson.

       Vicksburg surrendered on July 4, 1863, leaving Port Hudson as the last remaining Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River. General Banks accepted the surrender of the Confederate garrison at Port Hudson on July 9, ending the longest siege in U.S. military history. Control of the Mississippi River was the centerpiece of the Union strategy to win the war, and, with the surrender of Port Hudson, the Confederacy was now cut in two.

       On August 5, 1864, Farragut won a great victory in the Battle of Mobile Bay. Mobile, Alabama, was then the Confederacy's last major open port on the Gulf of Mexico. The bay was heavily mined (tethered naval mines were then known as "torpedoes").  Farragut ordered his fleet to charge the bay. When the monitor USS Tecumseh struck a mine and sank, the others began to pull back.

Admiral David Farragut and General Gordon Granger

Farragut could see the ships pulling back from his high perch, where he was lashed to the rigging of his flagship, USS Hartford. "What's the trouble?", he shouted through a trumpet to USS Brooklyn. "Torpedoes", was the shouted reply. "Damn the torpedoes.", said Farragut, "Four bells, Captain Drayton, go ahead. Jouett, full speed."  The bulk of the fleet succeeded in entering the bay. Farragut triumphed over the opposition of heavy batteries in Fort Morgan and Fort Gaines to defeat the squadron of Admiral Franklin Buchanan.

       On December 21, 1864, Lincoln promoted Farragut to vice admiral.

       After the war, he became a companion of the first class of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States and served as the commander of the Commandery of New York.

       Farragut was promoted to full admiral on July 25, 1866, becoming the first U.S. Naval officer to hold that rank.

      His last active service was in command of the European Squadron, from 1867 to 1868, with the screw frigate USS Franklin as his flagship. Farragut remained on active duty for life, an honor accorded to only six other U.S. Naval officers.

Timeline of Service

  • December 17, 1810, appointed midshipman.

  • 1812, assigned to the USS Essex.

  • 1815–1817, served in the Mediterranean Sea aboard the Independence and the Macedonian.

  • 1818, studied ashore for nine months at Tunis.

  • 1819, served as a lieutenant on the USS Shark.

  • 1823, placed in command of the USS Ferret.

  • January 10, 1825, promoted to lieutenant on the frigate Brandywine.

  • 1826–1838, served in subordinate capacities on various vessels.

  • 1838, placed in command of the sloop Erie.

  • September 8, 1841, promoted to the rank of commander.

  • Mexican-American War, commanded the sloop of war, Saratoga.

  • 1848–1853, duty at Norfolk, Navy Yard in Virginia as Assistant Inspector of Ordinance.

  • September 1852–August 1853, assigned to superintend the testing of the endurance of naval gun batteries at Old Point Comfort at Fort Monroe in Virginia.

  • 1853–1854, duty at Washington, D.C.

  • September 14, 1855, promoted to the rank of captain.

  • 1854–1858, duty establishing Mare Island Navy Yard at San Francisco Bay.

  • 1858–1859, commander of the sloop of war USS Brooklyn.

  • 1860–1861, stationed at Norfolk Navy Yard.

  • January 1862, commanded USS Hartford and the West Gulf blockading squadron of 17 vessels.

  • April 1862, took command of occupied New Orleans.

  • July 16, 1862, promoted to rear admiral.

  • June 23, 1862, wounded near Vicksburg, Mississippi.

  • May 1863, commanded USS Monongahela.

  • May 1863, commanded the USS Pensacola.

  • July 1863, commanded USS Tennessee.

  • September 5, 1864, offered command of the North Atlantic Blocking Squadron, but he declined.

  • December 21, 1864, promoted to vice admiral.

  • April 1865, pallbearer for the funeral of Abraham Lincoln.

  • July 25, 1866, promoted to admiral.

  • June 1867, commanded USS Franklin.

  • 1867–1868, commanded European Squadron.

  • August 14, 1870, died.

The Monument of Admiral David Farragut in Woodlawn Cemetery

Farragut died from a heart attack at the age of 69 in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, while on vacation in the late summer of 1870. He is interred at Woodlawn Cemetery, in the Bronx, a borough of New York City, N.Y.  His gravesite is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.



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