1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Farragut, David Glasgow
FARRAGUT, DAVID GLASGOW (1801–1870), first admiral of the United States navy, was the son of Major George Farragut, a Catalan by descent, a Minorquin by birth, who had emigrated to America in 1776, and, after the peace, had married a lady of Scottish family and settled near Knoxville, in Tennessee; there Farragut was born on the 5th of July 1801. At the early age of nine he entered the navy, under the protection of his name-father, Captain David Porter, with whom he served in the “Essex” during her cruise in the Atlantic in 1812, and afterwards in the Pacific, until her capture by the “Phoebe,” in Valparaiso Bay, on the 28th of March 1814. He afterwards served on board the “Washington” (74) carrying the broad pennant of Commodore Chauncey in the Mediterranean, and pursued his professional and other studies under the instruction of the chaplain, Charles Folsom, with whom he contracted a lifelong friendship. Folsom was appointed from the “Washington” as U.S. consul at Tunis, and obtained leave for his pupil to pay him a lengthened visit, during which he studied not only mathematics, but also French and Italian, and acquired a familiar knowledge of Arabic and Turkish. He is said to have had a great natural aptitude for languages and in after years to have spoken several fluently.
After more than four years in the Mediterranean, Farragut returned to the States in November 1820. He then passed his examination, and in 1822 was appointed for service in what was called the “mosquito” fleet, against the pirates, who then infested the Caribbean Sea. The service was one of great exposure and privation; for two years and a half, Farragut wrote, he never owned a bed, but lay down to rest wherever he found the most comfortable berth. By the end of that time the joint action of the British and American navies had driven the pirates off the sea, and when they took to marauding on shore the Spanish governors did the rest. In 1825 he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant, whilst serving in the navy yard at Norfolk, where, with some breaks in sea-going ships, he continued till 1832; he then served for a commission on the coast of Brazil, and was again appointed to the yard at Norfolk.
It is needless to trace the ordinary routine of his service step by step. The officers of the U.S. navy have one great advantage which British officers are without; when on shore they are not necessarily parted from the service, but are employed in their several ranks in the different dockyards, escaping thus not only the private grievance and pecuniary difficulties of a very narrow half-pay, but also, what from a public point of view is much more important, the loss of professional aptitude, and of that skill which comes from unceasing practice. On the 8th of September 1841 Farragut was promoted to the rank of commander, and on the 14th of September 1855 to that of captain. At this time he was in charge of the navy yard, Mare Island, California, from which post he was recalled in 1858, and appointed to the “Brooklyn” frigate, the command of which he held for the next two years. When the war of secession broke out in 1861, he was “waiting orders” at Norfolk. By birth and marriage he was a Southerner, and the citizens of Norfolk counted on his throwing in his lot with them; but professional pride, and affection for the flag under which he had served for more than fifty years, held him true to his allegiance; he passionately rejected the proposals of his fellow-townsmen, and as it was more than hinted to him that his longer stay in Norfolk might be dangerous, he hastily quitted that place, and offered his services to the government at Washington. These were at once accepted; he was requested to sit on the Naval Retiring Board—a board then specially constituted for clearing the navy of unfit or disloyal officers—and a few months later was appointed to the command of the “Western Gulf Blockading Squadron,” with the rank of flag-officer, and ordered to proceed forthwith, in the “Hartford,” to the Gulf of Mexico, to collect such vessels as could be spared from the blockade, to proceed up the Mississippi, to reduce the defences which guarded the approaches to New Orleans, and to take and hold the city. All this Farragut executed to the letter, with a skill and caution that won for him the love of his followers, and with a dash and boldness that gained him the admiration of the public and the popular name of “Old Salamander.” The passage of the Mississippi was forced on the 24th of April 1862, and New Orleans surrendered on the 26th; this was immediately followed by the operations against Vicksburg, from which, however, Farragut was compelled to withdraw, having relearnt the old lesson that against heavy earthworks, crowning hills of sufficient height, a purely naval attack is unavailing; it was not till the following summer, and after a long siege, that Vicksburg surrendered to a land force under General Grant. During this time the service on the Mississippi continued both difficult and irksome; nor until the river was cleared could Farragut seriously plan operations against Mobile, a port to which the fall of New Orleans had given increased importance. Even then he was long delayed by the want of monitors with which to oppose the ironclad vessels of the enemy. It was the end of July 1864 before he was joined by these monitors; and on the 5th of August, undismayed by the loss of his leading ship, the monitor “Tecumseh,” sunk by a torpedo, he forced the passage into the bay, destroyed or captured the enemy’s ships, including the ram “Tennessee” bearing Admiral Buchanan’s flag, and took possession of the forts. The town was not occupied till the following April, but with the loss of its harbour it ceased to have any political or strategical importance.
With this Farragut’s active service came to an end; for though in September 1864 he was offered the command of the force intended for the reduction of Wilmington, the state of his health, after the labours and anxieties of the past three years, in a trying climate, compelled him to decline it and to ask to be recalled. He accordingly returned to New York in December, and was received with the wildest display of popular enthusiasm. It was then that the Government instituted the rank of vice-admiral, previously unknown in the American service. Farragut was promoted to it, and in July 1866 was further promoted to the rank of admiral. In 1867, with his flag flying in the “Franklin,” he visited Europe. The appointment was an honourable distinction without political or naval import: the “Franklin” was, to all intents, for the time being, a yacht at Farragut’s disposal; and her arrival in the different ports was the signal for international courtesies, entertainments and social gaiety. She returned to America in 1868, and Farragut retired into private life. Two years later, on the 14th of August 1870, he died at Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
Farragut was twice married, and left, by his second wife, a son, Loyall Farragut, who, in 1878, published a Life of his father “embodying his Journal and Letters.” Another Life (1892), by Captain A.T. Mahan, though shorter, has a greater value from the professional point of view, by reason of the critical appreciation of Farragut’s services.
(J. K. L.)