Admiral David Glasglow Farragut
First Admiral of The U.S. Navy
A significant contributing factor to the Union success at Vicksburg was
the skill of the North's naval commanders. One of the most colorful
naval commanders of the Civil War was David Glasgow Farragut. Though he
was unsuccessful in early naval operations against Vicksburg,
Farragut's success at New Orleans and Mobile Bay secured his place in
history as one of America's most celebrated heroes.
The man who would become the first Admiral of the United States Navy
was born James Glasgow Farragut near Knoxville, Tennessee on July 6,
1801. His father, Jorge Farragut, hailed from a seafaring family and
emigrated to this country in 1776 from the island of Minorca, off the
east coast of Spain. Before his death in 1817, Jorge Farragut would
serve his country gallantly in the revolutionary War and the War of
1812. Young James would soon follow in his father's footsteps.
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 age of eight
and received his first naval appointment as midshipman at large at the
age of nine and a half. At age eleven he saw his first combat and even
commanded a vessel at age twelve! The young sailor had seen a lot
during his four years at sea, but his greatest achievement was yet to
"I am to have a Flag in the Gulf, and the rest depends on me."
Fifty years later at the outbreak of the Civil War, David Farragut had
a difficult decision to make. He was born in Tennessee, raised in
Louisiana, and lived in Virginia, yet he felt more devoted to the
country he had served for more than five decades. He decided to join
the Union and moved his family north. In January 1862, Farragut was
named Flag Officer in command of the West Gulf Blockading Squadron with
instructions to enter the Mississippi and capture New Orleans. He was
placed in command of eighteen wooden vessels including his flagship
HARTFORD, a fleet of mortar boats, and 700 men.
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.
"I mean to be whipped or to whip my enemy, and not be scared to death"
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
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.
"Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!"
Two years later 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.
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." Farragut would have only two
years to live. The first Admiral of the Navy died on August 14, 1870 it
the age of 69. His funeral procession in New York City included 10,000
soldiers and sailors and was headed by President Ulysses S. Grant. A
statue of Admiral Farragut was erected in the heart of our nation's
capital known as Farragut Square. It remains a lasting tribute to the
most distinguished naval officer of the Civil War.
crossed Union Civil War officer's swords recall Admiral Farragut's
perpetual readiness, devotion to duty, audacity in combat, and support
the motto "PREPARED FOR BATTLE".
Shield: Dark Blue and
Gold, the colors traditionally associated with
the Navy, represent the sea and excellence. Red highlights
Admiral Farragut's valor, loyalty, and fearless leadership while
commanding the Western Gulf Blockading Squadron during the Civil
War. The pile symbolizes the prow of a ship, suggesting USS
Hartford, Admiral Farragut's flagship. The anchor refers to
strength and maritime tradition. The enflamed barrel mine
signifies the powder-filled kegs anchored in the approaches to Mobile
Bay, whose presence prompted Admiral Farragut's famous phrase, "Damn
the torpedoes; Full speed ahead!" The cannon suggests the
land-based batteries that fought with naval forces as they pressed past
to control maritime paths of communication and supply. The
between the enflamed barrel mine and cannon alludes to Admiral
Farragut's bold leadership of his fleet through all obstacles to enter
Mobile Bay and defeat enemy naval forces therein. Earlier,
Admiral Farragut opened the Battle of New Orleans by steaming up the
Mississippi River past Fort Jackson and Forst St. Philip and
positioning his forces near the city of New Orleans to force its
surrender. The victory tightened the stranglehold on
logistics and commerce. On the ship's shield, the chief
denotes the strong defenses of the Mississippi River; and the three
fleurs-de-lis are adapted from the flag of New Orleans.
The Crest: The four
stars represent the naval rank of Admiral, first authorized by Congress
for Admiral Farragut in recognition of his service and
achievements. David Glasgow Farragut was the first officer in
United States Navy to hold the ranks of Rear Admiral, Vice Admiral, and
Admiral. The four stars also commemorate the four previous
named Farragut. The bald eagle with shield signifies Admiral
Farragut's patriotism and loyalty to the Union during the Civil War and
lifelong fidelity to the naval profession.