Autographed Letter Signed by Admiral David Farragut, Tennessee Born Civil War Naval Commander
Autographed letter signed by Civil War & War of 1812 hero U.S. Navy Admiral David Farragut while aboard the US Flag Ship Franklin in 1868.
Admiral David Glasgow Farragut (July 5, 1801 – August 14, 1870) was a flag officer of the United States Navy during the American Civil War. He was the first rear admiral, vice admiral, and admiral in the United States Navy. He is remembered for his order at the Battle of Mobile Bay usually paraphrased as “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” in U.S. Navy tradition.
Born near Knoxville, Tennessee, Farragut was fostered by naval officer David Porter after the death of his mother. Despite his young age, Farragut served in the War of 1812 under the command of his adoptive father. He received his first command in 1824 and participated in anti-piracy operations in the Caribbean Sea. He served in the Mexican–American War under the command of Matthew C. Perry, participating in the blockade of Tuxpan. After the war, he oversaw the construction of the Mare Island Naval Shipyard, the first U.S. Navy base established on the Pacific Ocean.
Though Farragut resided in Norfolk, Virginia prior to the Civil War, he was a Southern Unionist who strongly opposed Southern secession and remained loyal to the Union after the outbreak of the Civil War. Despite some doubts about Farragut’s loyalty, Farragut was assigned command of an attack on the important Confederate port city of New Orleans. After fighting past Fort St. Philip and Fort Jackson, Farragut captured New Orleans in April 1862. He was promoted to rear admiral after the battle and helped extend Union control up along the Mississippi River, participating in the Siege of Port Hudson. With the Union in control of the Mississippi, Farragut led a successful attack on Mobile Bay, home to the last major Confederate port on the Gulf of Mexico. Farragut was promoted to Admiral following the end of the Civil War and remained on active duty until his death in 1870.
Civil War Service: Though living in Norfolk, Virginia prior to the American Civil War, Farragut made it clear to all who knew him that he regarded secession as treason. Just before the war’s outbreak, Farragut moved with his Virginian-born wife to Hastings-on-Hudson, a small town just outside New York City.
He offered his services to the Union, and was initially given a seat on the Naval Retirement Board. Offered a command by his foster brother, David Dixon Porter, for a special assignment, he hesitated upon learning the target might be Norfolk. As he had friends and relatives living there, he was relieved to learn the target was changed to his former childhood home of New Orleans. The navy had some doubts about Farragut’s loyalty to the Union because of his Southern birth as well as that of his wife. Porter argued on his behalf, and Farragut was accepted for the major role of attacking New Orleans.
Farragut was appointed under secret instructions on February 3, 1862, to command the Gulf Blockading Squadron, sailing from Hampton Roads on the screw steamer USS Hartford, bearing 25 guns, which he made his flagship, accompanied by a fleet of 17 ships. He reached the mouth of the Mississippi River, near Confederate forts St. Philip and Jackson, situated opposite one another along the banks of the river, with a combined armament of more than 100 heavy guns and a complement of 700 men. Now aware of Farragut’s approach, the Confederates had amassed a fleet of 16 gunboats just outside New Orleans.
On April 18, Farragut ordered the mortar boats, under the command of Porter, to commence bombardment on the two forts, inflicting considerable damage, but not enough to compel the Confederates to surrender. After two days of heavy bombardment, Farragut ran past forts Jackson and St. Philip and the Chalmette batteries to take the city and port of New Orleans on April 29, a decisive event in the war.
Congress honored him by creating the rank of rear admiral on July 16, 1862, a rank never before used in the U.S. Navy. Before this time, the American Navy had resisted the rank of admiral, preferring the term “flag officer”, to distinguish the rank from the traditions of the European navies.
Later that year, Farragut passed the batteries defending Vicksburg, Mississippi, but had no success there. A makeshift Confederate ironclad forced his flotilla of 38 ships to withdraw in July 1862.
While an aggressive commander, Farragut was not always cooperative. At the Siege of Port Hudson, the plan was that Farragut’s flotilla would pass by the guns of the Confederate stronghold with the help of a diversionary land attack by the Army of the Gulf, commanded by General Nathaniel Banks, to commence at 8:00 a.m. on March 15, 1863. Farragut unilaterally decided to move the timetable up to 9:00 p.m. on March 14, and initiated his run past the guns before Union ground forces were in position. The consequently uncoordinated attack allowed the Confederates to concentrate on Farragut’s flotilla and inflict heavy damage to his warships.
Farragut’s battle group was forced to retreat with only two ships able to pass the heavy cannon of the Confederate bastion. After surviving the gauntlet, Farragut played no further part in the battle for Port Hudson, and General Banks was left to continue the siege without the advantage of naval support. The Union Army made two major attacks on the fort; both were repulsed with heavy losses. Farragut’s flotilla was splintered, yet was able to blockade the mouth of the Red River with the two remaining warships; he could not efficiently patrol the section of the Mississippi between Port Hudson and Vicksburg. Farragut’s decision proved costly to the Union Navy and the Union Army, which suffered its highest casualty rate of the war at Port Hudson.
Vicksburg surrendered on July 4, 1863, leaving Port Hudson as the last remaining Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River. General Banks accepted the surrender of the Confederate garrison at Port Hudson on July 9, ending the longest siege in U.S. military history. Control of the Mississippi River was the centerpiece of the Union strategy to win the war, and, with the surrender of Port Hudson, the Confederacy was now cut in two.
On August 5, 1864, Farragut won a great victory in the Battle of Mobile Bay. Mobile, Alabama, was then the Confederacy’s last major open port on the Gulf of Mexico. The bay was heavily mined (tethered naval mines were then known as “torpedoes”). Farragut ordered his fleet to charge the bay. When the monitor USS Tecumseh struck a mine and sank, the others began to pull back.
From his high perch, where he was lashed to the rigging of his flagship, USS Hartford, Farragut could see the ships pulling back. “What’s the trouble?” he shouted through a trumpet to USS Brooklyn. “Torpedoes”, was the shouted reply. “Damn the torpedoes.”, said Farragut, “Four bells, Captain Drayton, go ahead. Jouett, full speed.” The bulk of the fleet succeeded in entering the bay. Farragut triumphed over the opposition of heavy batteries in Fort Morgan and Fort Gaines to defeat the squadron of Admiral Franklin Buchanan.
On December 21, 1864, Lincoln promoted Farragut to vice admiral. After the Civil War, Farragut was elected a companion of the first class of the New York Commandery of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States on March 18, 1866 and assigned insignia number 231. He served as the commander of the Commandery of New York from May 1866 to until his death.
Farragut was promoted to full admiral on July 25, 1866, becoming the first U.S. Naval officer to hold that rank.
His last active service was in command of the European Squadron, from 1867 to 1868, with the screw frigate USS Franklin as his flagship. Farragut remained on active duty for life, an honor accorded to only seven other U.S. Naval officers after the Civil War.
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Admiral David Farragut
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