David Farragut was born in Stony Point, Tennessee. His father was George Farragut, a Spanish sea captain who fought for the United States in the Revolutionary War and settled in Tennessee. After his mother died, the young Farragut was adopted by David Porter, a U.S. naval officer who obtained a midshipman’s warrant for Farragut in 1810.
Farragut served under Porter on board the USS Essex during the War of 1812. Farragut was promoted to lieutenant (1825), com¬ mander (1841) and captain (1855). He estab¬ lished the Mare Island Naval Ship Yard in 1854 (in present-day Vallejo, California).
The start of the Civil War gave momen¬ tum to his career. When Virginia opted for secession from the Union in April 1861, Farragut immediately moved north and pro¬ claimed himself a Union man. He was named commander of the West Gulf blockading squadron in 1861.
The Anaconda Plan designed by General Winfield Scott (see no. 71) called for a block¬ ade of the south and a takeover of the Mississippi River. Following orders from Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles,Farragut led 17 wooden ships past the Confederate forts of Jackson and Philip on the lower Mississippi during the night of April 23, 1862. Darkness, fog and smoke helped to keep the casualties low as the Union ships made their way past the forts.
Helpless before the guns of Farragut’s ships, New Orleans surrendered the next day.Farragut was made rear admiral, the first in the navy’s history, and assisted in the capture of Vicksburg (1863).In 1864, he received a mission he had long hungered for — to capture the defenses of Mobile Bay, Alabama. The bay was protected by torpedo mines. The only operable entry channel was protected by the guns of Fort Morgan.
Farragut took 14 wooden ships and four ironclad monitors into the channel on August 5, 1864. The leading monitor, the USS Tecumseh, hit a mine and sank immedi¬ ately; the second monitor, the USS Brooklyn, began to back its way out of the channel, threatening to pile up the ships behind it. Assessing the situation from aboard the USS Hartford (right in line after the Brooklyn), Farragut made a famous split-second decision. “Damn the torpedoes,” he shouted. “Full speed ahead!”
His ship and the rest of the fleet passed over the mines without incident. Farragut entered the harbor, defeated the Confederate ironclad ship Tennessee, and captured all the harbor defenses within the following week. The victory— and his battle cry — made Farragut famous throughout the north.
Promoted to vice admiral (1864) and then to full admiral (1866), Farragut made a good¬ will tour of Europe as commander of the Mediterranean fleet from 1867 to 1868. He died while visiting the naval yard at Portsmouth, New Hampshire.