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the first Rear Admiral and the first full Admiral in U.S. history
James Glasgow Farragut was born near Knoxville, Tennessee, on July 5, 1801, the son of Jorge and Elizabeth Farragut, and grew up in New Orleans. His mother died in 1808. His father was a close friend of the father of future Commodore David Dixon Porter, and, after the elder Porter died in 1810, David Porter offered to adopt James and train him as a naval officer in gratitude for everything Jorge had done for his father; James subsequently changed his name to David to honor his adopted father.
A midshipman at the age of nine, Farragut subsequently served under Porter on the USS Essex during the War of 1812, including during a battle against two British warships. After the war, he took time to receive some formal education before spending four years in the Mediterranean. He passed the Lieutenant's exam in 1820, fought pirates in the West Indies 1822-1824, and was promoted to Lieutenant in 1825. In 1824, he was posted to the naval yard at Norfolk, Virginia; he met and married Susan Marchant there that same year.
Farragut stayed at Norfolk until 1832, when he was posted to service off the Brazilian coast. He subsequently returned to Norfolk, and was promoted to Commander in 1841. Susan Farragut died in 1840. In 1843, he married Virginia Lloyd, who gave him a son, Lloyd, in 1844. He spent the Mexican-American War as commander of the USS Saratoga, but saw no major action. In 1854 he helped establish Mare Island Navy Yard in San Pablo Bay, near San Francisco, and he performed that job so well that he was promoted to Captain in 1855; he was recalled to Norfolk in 1858.
As the outbreak of Civil War became evident, Farragut was pressured by his friends and neighbors in Norfolk to join the Confederate cause, but he felt too much loyalty toward the U.S. Navy. Fearing that he could well be in danger if he stayed in Norfolk, he gave up his home, moved his family to New York City, and offered his services to the Union. His offer was accepted, and he took command of the Western Gulf Blockading Squadron in 1862. On April 24, 1862, he ran his fleet between heavy shelling from Forts Jackson and St. Philip to force the surrender of New Orleans. He then sailed up the Mississippi River with heavy seagoing ships to bombard Vicksburg, capturing Baton Rouge and Natchez along the way. In recognition of these achievements, Congress created the rank of Rear Admiral and promoted Farragut to that rank. On August 5, 1864, Farragut's fleet was preparing to engage a Confederate fleet in Mobile Bay when the lead ship was struck by a torpedo and sunk. When the remaining ships stopped their progress, Farragut yelled out "Damn the torpedoes. Full steam ahead!" and ordered the fleet to continue into the bay. Despite facing fire from two forts, the fleet did as it was ordered and by the end of the day had defeated the Confederate fleet, and had also forced the surrender of both forts; the city of Mobile, Alabama later fell to land troops.
By December of 1864 Farragut's health was failing and he was ordered to return to New York and rest. President Abraham Lincoln promoted him to Vice-Admiral on December 21, 1864, and Congress made him the first full Admiral in U.S. history in 1866. In 1867, he was given a ship and "ordered" to visit various European capitals. He died of a stroke while vacationing at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on August 14, 1870, and was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York City.
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This page was last updated on July 05, 2017.