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David Glasgow Farragut

David G. Farragut, the first U.S. admiral, was born James Glasgow Farragut in 1801 and raised in Stoney Point, near Knoxville. In 1806 his father received a navy commission and moved his family to New Orleans. In 1808, when a close family friend, Commodore David Porter, fell ill with yellow fever, the Farraguts nursed him; both Porter and Mrs. Farragut died of the fever and were buried the same day. In 1810 Porter's son David, also a naval officer, offered to take young James and his sister Nancy to live with his family in Chester, Pennsylvania.

Farragut changed his name to David in honor of his patron and entered the navy as a midshipman in December 1810. His first posting was on the USS Essex under Porter. At age eleven he fought in the War of 1812, and his ship, the Essex, captured the HMS Alert, the first capture of a British ship in the war. Later, the Essex rounded Cape Horn and captured the HMS Barclay in the Pacific. Farragut was prize master of the ship at age twelve. As an adult Farragut earned the honor of escorting Lafayette to France on the USS Brandywine in August 1825. President Andrew Jackson sent Farragut to South Carolina during the nullification crisis in 1832.

Farragut married his second wife, Virginia Loyal, from a prominent Norfolk family, in 1843; his first wife Susan Marchant had died in 1840 after sixteen years of marriage. In 1844 Farragut and his wife had a son, Loyal Farragut.

In March 1847 Farragut commanded the USS Saratoga and sailed to fight in the Mexican War, but he arrived in Vera Cruz after the Citadel had capitulated. He returned to Washington, D.C., and assisted in drafting ordnance regulations. In 1854-58 Farragut set up a new navy yard in California. On the eve of the Civil War, Farragut was at home in Norfolk, awaiting new orders, when he was warned that those with Union sentiments were no longer safe in Virginia; his family moved to New York.

Farragut was called to duty in December 1861 and placed in command of a flotilla ordered to take New Orleans and open the Mississippi River to Federal traffic. In August 1862 he was promoted to rear admiral for his success in opening the river to Vicksburg. Farragut received a hero's welcome when he returned to New York in August 1863. By January 1864 Farragut was back in the Gulf of Mexico preparing for an assault on Mobile Bay. During this August battle, while aboard the USS Hartford, he was reported to have responded, "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead," as the Hartford passed the USS Brooklyn to take the lead in the naval battle. Farragut took Mobile Bay that day.

Failing health forced Farragut to return to New York City in December 1864. As a token of appreciation for his gallantry and service, the City of New York gave him a public reception and fifty thousand dollars to purchase a home there. He was promoted to admiral in July 1866, the first person in the U.S. Navy to hold that rank. From May 1867 to November 1868 he took his final cruise, touring Europe as admiral of the European Squadron to promote peaceful relations with the United States. Farragut's last mission took him to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to take charge of the naval obsequies of George Peabody. Weak from a series of heart attacks suffered the previous winter, he died on August 14, 1870, at Portsmouth.

Suggested Reading

Charles L. Lewis, David Glasgow Farragut (1941-43).

Published » December 25, 2009 | Last Updated » January 01, 2010