Admiral David G. Farragut: Hero of the Union Navy

Admiral David G. Farragut. Photograph Courtesy of the National Archives & Records Administration

David Farragut - Birth & Early Life:

Born July 5, 1801, in Knoxville, TN, David Glasgow Farragut was the son of Jorge and Elizabeth Farragut. Jorge, a Minorcan immigrant during the American Revolution, was a merchant captain as well as a cavalry officer in the Tennessee militia. Naming his son James at birth, Jorge soon moved the family to New Orleans. While residing there, he aided the father of future Commodore David Porter. Following the elder Porter's death, the commodore offered to adopt young James and train him as a naval officer in gratitude for the services rendered to his father. In recognition of this, James changed his name to David.

David Farragut - Early Career & War of 1812:

By joining the Porter family, Farragut became foster brothers with the other future leader of the Union Navy, David Dixon Porter. Receiving his midshipman's warrant in 1810, he attended school, and later sailed aboard USS Essex with his adopted father during the War of 1812. Cruising in the Pacific, Essex captured several British whalers. Midshipman Farragut was given command of one of the prizes and sailed it to port before rejoining Essex. On March 28, 1814, Essex lost its main topmast while leaving Valparaiso and was captured by HMS Phoebe and Cherub. Farragut fought bravely and was wounded in the battle.

David Farragut - Post-War & Personal Life:

Following the war, Farragut attended school and made two cruises to the Mediterranean. In 1820, he returned to home and passed his lieutenant's exam. Moving to Norfolk, he fell in love with Susan Marchant and married her in 1824. The two were married for sixteen years when she died in 1840. Moving through a variety of posts, he was promoted to commander in 1841. Two years later, he married Virginia Loyal of Norfolk, with whom he would have a son, Loyall Farragut, in 1844. With the outbreak of the Mexican-American War in 1846, he was given command of USS Saratoga, but saw no major action during the conflict.

David Farragut - War Looms:

In 1854, Farragut was at dispatched to California to establish a naval yard at Mare Island near San Francisco. Working for four years, he developed the yard into the US Navy's premier base on the west coast and was promoted to captain. As the decade drew to a close, the clouds of civil war began to gather. A Southerner by birth and residence, Farragut decided that if a peaceful separation of the country were to occur, that he would consider remaining in the South. Knowing that such a thing would not be permitted to happen, he declared his allegiance to the national government and moved his family to New York.

David Farragut - Capture of New Orleans:

On April 19, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln declared a blockade of the Southern coast. To enforce this edict, Farragut was promoted to Flag Officer and sent aboard USS Hartford to command the West Gulf Blockading Squadron in early 1862. Charged with eliminating Confederate commerce, Farragut also received orders to operate against the South's largest city, New Orleans. Assembling his fleet and a flotilla of mortar boats at the mouth of the Mississippi, Farragut began scouting the approaches the city. The most formidable obstacles were Forts Jackson and St. Philip as well as a flotilla of Confederate gunboats.

After approaching the forts, Farragut ordered the mortar boats, commanded by his step brother David D. Porter, to open fire on April 18. After six days of bombardment, and a daring expedition to cut a chain stretched across the river, Farragut ordered the fleet to move forward. Steaming at full speed, the squadron raced passed the forts, guns blazing, and safely reached the waters beyond. With Union ships in their rear, the forts capitulated. On April 25, Farragut anchored off New Orleans and accepted the city's surrender. Shortly thereafter, infantry under Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler arrived to occupy the city.

David Farragut - River Operations:

Promoted to rear admiral, the first in US history, for his capture of New Orleans, Farragut began pressing up the Mississippi with his fleet, capturing Baton Rouge and Natchez. In June, he ran the Confederate batteries at Vicksburg and linked up with the Western Flotilla, but was unable to take the city due to a lack of troops. Returning to New Orleans, he received orders to steam back to Vicksburg to support Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's efforts to capture the city. On March 14, 1863, Farragut attempted to run his ships by the new batteries at Port Hudson, LA, with only Hartford and USS Albatross succeeding.

David Farragut - Fall of Vicksburg and Planning for Mobile:

With only two ships, Farragut began patrolling the Mississippi between Port Hudson and Vicksburg, preventing valuable supplies from reaching Confederate forces. On July 4, 1863, Grant successfully concluded his siege of Vicksburg, while Port Hudson fell on July 9. With the Mississippi firmly in Union hands, Farragut turned his attention to the Confederate port of Mobile, AL. One of the largest remaining ports and industrial centers in the Confederacy, Mobile was defended by Forts Morgan and Gaines at the mouth of Mobile Bay, as well as by Confederate warships and large torpedo (mine) field.

David Farragut - Battle of Mobile Bay:

Assembling fourteen warships and four ironclad monitors off Mobile Bay, Farragut planned to attack on August 5, 1864. Inside the bay, Confederate Adm. Franklin Buchanan had the ironclad CSS Tennessee and three gunboats. Moving toward the forts, the Union fleet suffered the first loss when the monitor USS Tecumseh struck a mine and sank. Seeing the ship go down, USS Brooklyn paused, sending the Union line into confusion. Lashing himself to Hartford's rigging to see over the smoke, Farragut exclaimed "Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!" and led his ship into the bay with the rest of fleet following.

Charging through the torpedo field without any losses, the Union fleet poured into the bay to do battle with Buchanan's ships. Driving away the Confederate gunboats, Farragut's ships closed on CSS Tennessee and battered the rebel vessel into submission. With Union ships in the bay, the forts surrendered and military operations against the city of Mobile began.

David Farragut - End of the War and Aftermath

In December, with his health failing, the Navy Department ordered Farragut home for a rest. Arriving in New York, he was received as a national hero. On December 21, 1864, Lincoln promoted Farragut to vice admiral. The next April, Farragut returned to duty serving along the James River. Following the fall of Richmond, Farragut entered the city, along with Maj. Gen. George H. Gordon, just prior to President Lincoln's arrival.

After the war, Congress created the rank of admiral and immediately promoted Farragut to the new grade in 1866. Dispatched across the Atlantic in 1867, he visited the capitals of Europe where he was received with the highest honors. Returning home, he remained in the service despite declining health. On August 14, 1870, while vacationing at Portsmouth, NH, Farragut died of a stroke at the age of 69. Buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York, over 10,000 sailors and soldiers marched in his funeral procession, including President Ulysses S. Grant.