David Glasgow Farragut (1801-1870)

David Glasgow Farragut (July 5, 1801 - August 14, 1870) was a naval officer during the American Civil War. He was both the first Vice-Admiral and full Admiral of the United States Navy.

Farragut was born James Glasgow Farragut at Campbell's Station, near Knoxville, Tennessee, to George and Elizabeth Farragut. At the time, his father was serving as a cavalry officer in the Tennessee militia. His father, Jorge Farragut (1755-1817), hailed from a seafaring family and emigrated to this country in 1776 from the island of Minorca, off the east coast of Spain. He had been a British merchant captain who joined the American cause served his country gallantly in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.

David Porter, one of the Navy's finest officers, befriended the Farragut family through an unusual chain of events in which the Farraguts rescued Porter's unconscious father from the deck of a drifting boat. When the elder Porter passes away, David was grateful to the family for taking care of his father and offered to take young James and train him as a naval officer. At the time it was not uncommon for parents to place a child with someone who could train them in a career. Hence, James Glasgow Farragut came under the guardianship of David Porter and changed his name to David G. Farragut. David followed his adopted father to the sea at the tender ago of eight and received his first naval appointment as midshipman at large at the age of nine and a half on December 17, 1810. At age eleven he saw his first combat and when 12 years old, he was given command of a prize ship taken by USS Essex, and brought her safely to port. Through the years that followed, in one assignment after another he showed the high ability and devotion to duty which was to allow him to make a great contribution to the Union victory in the Civil War and to write a famous page in the history of the United States Navy.

When Virginia seceded in April 1861, Navy Capt. David G. Farragut told his Virginian wife that he was "sticking to the flag." "This act of mine may mean years of separation from your family," he told her, "so you must decide quickly whether you will go north or remain here."

Although Farragut was Southern born, married a Virginian—"a very superior woman in character and cultivation"—and resided in the South, he was squarely behind the Union. "God forbid," he said, "that I should have to raise my hand against the South." But he would not hesitate to obey orders to the best of his abilities.

They went north, to Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y., where Farragut was assigned a desk job until January 1862, at which time he was chosen to command an expedition to capture New Orleans. He assembled nearly 50 ships carrying more than 200 cannon. To the objection of his stepbrother David Dixon Porter, who was in charge of the mortar boat flotilla, Flag Officer Farragut made the decision to run past Forts Jackson and St. Philip to take the city of New Orleans. To prepare the ships to run past the forts, the crews crisscrossed the hulls with great chains until they were almost as well protected as the ironclads. Further, since he planned to pass the forts at night, Farragut had the hulls covered with mud from the Mississippi to make them less visible from the shore and had the decks painted white so that needed objects would stand out clearly. He even had tall trees lashed to the masts of his vessels so that the enemy would think they were trees on the opposite bank. Farragut's strategy worked. The commander described the intense passage: "The smoke was so dense that it was only now and then we could see anything but the flash of the cannon . . . The passing of Forts Jackson and St. Philip was one of the most awful sights I ever saw." His own vessel, the Hartford, was disabled when a raft set afire rammed the flagship and flames damaged the masts and rigging. Nevertheless, the fleet safely reached New Orleans and took possession of the city on April 28, 1862. Farragut became a Northern hero, he received the Thanks of Congress citation, and his country honored its great sailor by creating for him the rank of rear admiral on July 16, 1862, a rank never before used in the US Navy.

In May of 1862, Farragut attempted to subdue the city of Vicksburg, located about 400 river miles above New Orleans but his bombardment was unsuccessful. He did not have enough guns in his fleet to overwhelm the city. Plus, Vicksburg's 200-foot river bluffs were so high that many of his guns could not get sufficient elevation to hit the Confederate defenses. Fearing the receding waters of the Mississippi might strand his oceangoing warships in the summer months, Farragut reluctantly decided to withdraw from the river city. He left six gunboats below Vicksburg and returned to New Orleans. Upon his return to the Crescent City, Farragut began organizing a second, stronger expedition against the "Gibraltar of the West." His fleet arrived below the Vicksburg bluffs once again on June 25, 1862 and began preparations for a second bombardment. Farragut then received news that Charles H. Davis, commander of the Western Flotilla, had finally captured Fort Pillow and Memphis and was now only 20 miles north of Vicksburg. Consequently, Farragut decided to run his fleet north past Vicksburg, just as he had done at Forts Jackson and St. Philip, and rendezvous with Davis. At the appointed hour of 0200 on June 28, 1862, Farragut raised two red lanterns on the mast of the Hartford as a signal for the fleet to proceed. The ships were spotted at 0400 and Vicksburg's 29 heavy guns were answered by the guns of Farragut's fleet. All of Farragut's ships but three made it through and none were sunk; however, some were badly hit, including the Hartford. The captain's cabin was blown apart by a shell just seconds after Farragut had moved to another part of the ship! Although running the batteries was a gallant act, Farrgut's juncture with Davis did little to bring about the subjugation of Vicksburg. It was clear a combined naval and land attack would be necessary to subdue the "Gibralter of the West." Before Farragut withdrew his fleet from Vicksburg a second time, he had an encounter with the Confederate ironclad Arkansas. Launched at Yazoo City and commanded by Isaac Brown, the Arkansas bravely plunged into the midst of the thirty-eight Union warships anchored above Vicksburg in mid-July 1862. Brown's attack was aided by an element of surprise, and the fact there were so many Union ships they had very little room in which to maneuver. As a result, Farragut's warships were only able to bring a few guns to bear at a time against the formidable ironclad. During the fighting, the Arkansas caused serious damage to the Hartford and Farragut was furious that a makeshift enemy ironclad had steamed right through his fleet. He had enough of the pesky ironclad. Fearing once again his vessels would be stranded due to dropping river levels, Farragut decided to withdraw from Vicksburg and sailed south. The withdrawal of the Union fleet from Vicksburg in July of 1862 closed the first phase of Union naval operations against the city.

Farragut sailed to New York for repairs to his flagship, the Hartford. Farragut next wanted to take his fleet and capture Mobile Bay, but the opening of the Mississippi River was the first prority, and he contributed to the success of that long struggle by blockading the mouth of the Red River and supporting the siege of the Confederate fort at Port Hudson. Port Hudson fell to him July 9, 1863.

In 1864, Rear Admiral Farragut was summoned from his Now York home to serve his country once more in leading an attack on Mobile Bay, the last Confederate stronghold in the Gulf of Mexico. Mobile Bay was not only protected by Fort Morgan and a fleet of wooden vessels, but also by the formidable Confederate Ram Tennessee and a field of explosive mines called torpedoes. Undaunted, Farragut readied his fleet for battle. Using a strategy that had worked before, he ordered his wooden ships lashed together in pairs, one large and one small. In this manner, if the larger frigate was disabled in battle, the smaller vessel could tow it into safety. Farragut's fleet of wooden ships, along with four small ironclad monitors, began the attack on Mobile Bay early in the morning of August 5, 1864. When the smoke of battle became so thick that he couldn't see, Farragut climbed the rigging of the Hartford and lashed himself near the top of the mainsail to get a better view. It wasn't long before the Tecumseh, one of the monitors leading the way, struck a torpedo and sank in a matter minutes. In a state of confusion, the fleet came to a halt in front of the powerful guns of Fort Morgan. Realizing the fleet was reluctant to move forward due to the "infernal machines," Rear Admiral Farragut rallied his men to victory, shouting: "Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!" The Union fleet steamed ahead through the minefield, blasted Fort Morgan, and captured the Confederate ironclad Tennessee. Thus, Mobile Bay fell into Union hands in one of the most decisive naval victories of the Civil War. Farragut had triumphed over the opposition of heavy batteries in Fort Morgan and Fort Gaines to defeat the squadron of Admiral Franklin Buchanan. A ship's officer wrote that when Farragut saw the bodies of his killed crewmen laid out on the deck after the battle, "It was the only time I ever saw the old genleman cry. But tears came in his eyes like a little child."

The Battle of Mobile Bay would be Farragut's last. Overcome with fatigue he returned to New York in December 1864 a national hero. In 1866, Farragut became the first person in the history of the United States Navy to be awarded the rank of Admiral. Two years later In 1868, he was even asked run for the office of President of the United States, but replied, "I hasten to assure you that I have never for one moment entertained the idea of political life."

Admiral Farragut's last active service was in command of the European Squadron, with the screw frigate Franklin as his flagship.

Sixty-threee year old Farragut's health gave out in November 1869, and he returned to New York to recuperate. He was received with great public enthusiasm and given $50,000 by grateful businessmen to be used to by a New York home. He died on August 14, 1870, at the age of 69 in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. His funeral procession in New York City included 10,000 soldiers and sailors and was headed by President Ulysses S. Grant.

His hometown of Campbell's Station was renamed Farragut, Tennessee in his honor, and the local high school, Farragut High School, is known as "The Admirals." Numerous destroyers have since been named USS Farragut in his honor, and he has been depicted on US postage stamps twice; first on the $1 stamp of 1903, and then on a 32c stamp in 1995. There is also a state park in Idaho named after him. During World War II it was used as a naval base for basic training. A statue of Admiral Farragut was erected in the heart of our nation's capital known as Farragut Square.