Born James Glasgow Farragut, David Farragut came from a long line of career soldiers, dating back centuries. One of his ancestors, Pedro Farragut, was a high-ranking officer in the thirteenth-century army of Spain’s King James I. David Farragut’s father, Jorge, immigrated to North America from Spain and fought as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy during the Revolutionary War.
Farragut was born on the family farm at Campbell’s Station, Tennessee. His mother died of yellow fever when he was young. After her death, Jorge Farragut sent off all but one son to be cared for temporarily by other fami¬ lies. A family friend, naval officer David Porter Jr., offered to look after one of the sons as a favor to Jorge, who, years before, had cared for
Porter’s father on his death bed. As part of the offer, Porter also agreed to give the boy a proper naval officer’s upbringing. Jorge’s son James enthusiastically volunteered to go with the Porters. James embraced his new family and ultimately changed his name to David, in honor of his adoptive father.
Before he was even a teenager, David Farragut became a midshipman on Porter’s ship, where he saw combat against the British in the War of 1812. As a young officer, he later saw action against pirates in the West Indies, and during the 1840s, he served in the war against Mexico.When the Civil War began, Farragut joined the Union cause.
In 1862, he commanded the squadron that captured the city of New Orleans, a vital Confederate port. Fie earned the nickname “Old Salamander” for the way he slipped past cannon fire in that battle. Later, he cut off Vicksburg, which enabled General Ulysses S. Grant to conquer that city.
For these victories, which gave the Union com¬ plete control of the Mississippi River, U.S. president Abraham Lincoln promoted Farragut to rear admiral.In 1864, Farragut led a blockade of Mobile, a city on the Gulf of Mexico. At the time, Mobile was protected by hundreds of torpedo mines. The floating gunpowder bombs would explode when struck by a ship, and they destroyed one of the armored vessels in Farragut’s fleet.
When some of the other ships in the fleet began to back out of the channel, Farragut shouted a famous rallying cry, “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!” The fleet regrouped, entered the harbor without further incident, and eventually captured the city.
Farragut became an instant hero, and he was later promoted to the position of full admiral, the first person ever to hold that title. Fie died of a heart attack while inspecting a naval base in New Hampshire in 1870.