Navy Legend – David Glasgow Farragut

By Lt. j.g. Chloe Morgan, Naval History and Heritage Command Communication and Outreach Division

Adm. David Glasgow Farragut was a Hispanic Sailor who devoted a remarkable 59 years of his life to naval service, ultimately becoming the U.S. Navy’s first admiral.

The Early Years: A Tale of Two Fathers

Born at Campbell’s Station, near Knoxville, Tennessee, on July 5, 1801, his birth name was James Glasgow Farragut.

Black and white painting depicting a young Farragut at age nine as a midshipman.

Title: Midshipman David G. Farragut, USN. Admiral Farragut was a midshipman at age 9 and served at sea at 10.

Farragut’s father, Jordi Farragut Mesquida, was from Minorca, Spain, and was the captain of a Spanish merchant ship. His ship was operating around the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico when the United States declared its independence from Britain in 1776. After Spain announced its support of the United States, he changed his name to George and joined the South Carolina Navy as a lieutenant, serving the young nation proudly.

After losing his wife to yellow fever in 1808, George called on his friend and fellow naval officer, David Porter, to help with family matters. Since he felt unable to care for a young child, George Farragut asked then Capt. Porter if he could take his son and raise him as his own. His friend agreed, and in 1809, James Farragut joined his new family.

Immediately, Porter introduced the eight-year-old Farragut to the Navy and he began spending time at sea with his newly adopted father. Receiving a naval appointment to midshipman one year late, at the very young age of nine, Farragut grew up quickly and rose up to the responsibility. At this time, Farragut changed his name from James to David in order to show admiration and gratitude for his new family.

Farragut experienced life at sea off the coast of the United States aboard man-of-war ship Essex in 1811. During the War of 1812, Essex captured so many whaling vessels that Farragut was made the prize master of the Alexander Barclay. Farragut, at the incredibly young age of twelve, captained her safely to Valparaíso, foreshadowing his future naval legacy.

Taking Command

Farragut’s first command was the schooner Ferret in 1823 at the age of 22. However, it wasn’t until the Civil War where he really began to show his legendary leadership.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Farragut was called upon to serve, but had to choose between his native state, Tennessee, and the federal government. In January 1862, after declaring his loyalty to the Union, was given command of the Western Blockading Squadron.

In honor of U.S. Navy’s first Admiral, share this post and spread his sentiment: DAMN THE TORPEDOES, FULL SPEED AHEAD!

After Commodore Farragut’s astonishing victory over the Confederate Navy in New Orleans on April 28, 1862, the United States Navy honored him by creating the rank of rear admiral. It was on June 16, 1862, that David Farragut became Rear Adm. Farragut, becoming the first U.S. Navy Sailor to reach the rank of admiral. He went on to support the Union campaign at Vicksburg and was instrumental in the success of securing the Mississippi River fort, Port Hudson, from the Confederates.

In 1864, Adm. Farragut displayed his tenacity and toughness in battle by confronting the last Confederate stronghold of the Gulf of Mexico, Mobile Bay. As his armada arrived in the bay, they were met with mines anchored to the sea bottom (during that era, mines were referred to as torpedoes, which, given present-day language, has been known to cause some confusion). One of his ships, the Tecumseh, struck a mine and sunk immediately. The entire armada came to a harrowing halt.

Color painting of the battle of Moible Bay. Sailors are aboard ships, American flag flying high and in the background, confederate flag is flying, but tattered.

Title: Battle of Mobile Bay, 5 August 1864. “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.” “An August Morning with Farragut.” Lithograph of an oil painting by William H. Overend. Painting is property of Wadsworth Atheneum and used with their permission.

Although some dispute his actual words, one thing is for sure, Farragut understood the importance of momentum in battle, and it’s been said it was during this battle that he cried out the famous phrase “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” Impassioned by his boldness, the armada continued through the mines and won a decisive victory. For his efforts, the Navy yet again created a new rank, vice admiral, to which he was appointed. His promotions were not finished, however, because shortly after the war, President Lincoln promoted Farragut to the newly created rank of full admiral.

A Lasting Legacy

Adm. David Farragut died in 1870 and received a hero’s farewell. President Ulysses S. Grant led 10,000 soldiers and Sailors through the streets of New York during his funeral procession. In 2013, Farragut’s gravesite at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx was honored as a National Historic Landmark. A tall marble pillar marks the gravesite with symbols of his naval service.

In the years following his leadership, five U.S. Navy ships have been named in honor of Adm. Farragut.

  • The first was Farragut (Torpedo Boat No. 11), launched on July 16,1898
  • The second was Farragut (Destroyer No. 300), launched on Nov. 21, 1918
  • The third Farragut (DD 348), launched March 15, 1934, had World War II service
  • The fourth Farragut (DLG 6) was launched on July 18, 1958
  • The fifth Farragut (DDG 99) was launched on July 9, 2005 and commissioned on June 10, 2006 and still serves her country with motto, “Prepared for Battle.”
Portrait photo of Farragut in a dress uniform, later in his life.

Title: David G. Farragut. Original Creator: Sebastianiette and Bengue of Trieste, photographers.

Before his death, in January 1865, the “United Service Magazine” said of Farragut:

“…the public, who now see only high courage and indomitable vigor rewarded by great and brilliant victories, will recognize the completeness and harmony of a character that has so far appeared to them only in profile. The stainless honor, the straightforward frankness, the vivacity of manner and conversation, the gentleness, the flow of good humor, the cheerful, ever-buoyant spirit of the true man – these will be added to the complete education, the thorough seamanship, the devotion to duty, and lastly, the restless energy, the disdain of obstacles, the impatience of delay or hesitation, the disregard of danger, that stand forth in such prominence in the portrait, deeply engraven on the loyal American heart, of the great Admiral.”

Farragut’s “ever-bouyant spirit” continues to live on in history books and in the Navy. His bold leadership style and infamous line, regardless of its factual accuracy, remains a battle cry for Sailors 152 years later.

In honor of U.S. Navy’s first Admiral, share this post and spread his sentiment: DAMN THE TORPEDOES, FULL SPEED AHEAD!


Editor’s note: Every year, the Navy joins the nation in observing National Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15 to October 15. Patriots of Hispanic Heritage, like Admiral Farragut, continue to build legacies of freedom and diversity as they fight for the security of our country and the peace of the world. Patriots of Hispanic Heritage continue to build legacies of freedom and diversity as they fight for the security of our country and the peace of the world.

 

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