Name:  David Glasgow Farragut

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Born:  July 5, 1801
Died:  August 14, 1870
Complete HarpWeek Biography:
David Farragut, the leading Union admiral during the Civil War, was born James Glasgow Farragut at Cambell’s Station, Tennessee, a small town outside of Knoxville. His parents were Elizabeth Shines Farragut and George Farragut, a ferryboat operator. In 1807 the family moved to New Orleans where the father served as a sailing instructor for the U.S. Navy. Upon the death of his mother and retirement of his father, James became the ward of Commodore David Porter Jr., a family friend. In 1814, the boy took the name "David" to honor Porter, his guardian.

Farragut’s career at sea began early in life. He became a midshipman at the age of nine (December 1810) and joined the crew of Porter’s Essex in 1811. He saw action during the War of 1812, commanding (at the age of 12) the captured British ship Alexander Barclay, and was commended for his conduct during the Essex’s defeat by British ships in waters off the coast of Valparaiso, Chile (March 1814). He was released by the British and did not rejoin the fighting in the war’s remaining few months. Because of his youth, he could not be promoted.

In the immediate post-war years (1815-1820), Farragut served aboard ships in the Mediterranean Sea, learning the languages of the area—Spanish, French, Italian, and Arabic. In 1821 he was promoted to lieutenant and assigned the next year to pirate patrol in the Caribbean Sea. His sea duty was limited by time spent caring for his invalid first wife (who died in 1840), but he was chosen to escort Lafayette back to France in 1825 and to spearhead the U.S. naval presence in Charleston (SC) harbor during the Nullification Crisis of 1833. He fought at the rank of commander during the Mexican War, although, being a land war primarily, it offered him no chance for distinctive valor. In the 1850s he served at Mare Island, California, and was promoted to captain (1855).

As Southern slave states seceded from the Union during the winter of 1860-1861, Farragut was in Norfolk, Virginia. When Virginia left the Union in April, he moved his family to New York. Because his Southern heritage and connections generated suspicion, the U.S. Navy shuffled him between minor posts throughout 1861. Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, however, recognized Farragut’s superior record and in January 1862 personally selected him to command a squadron which was ordered to retake New Orleans for the Union. Farragut was a focused and fearless risk-taker, a trait that brought him great success. A month into his commission, he ignored orders from Welles and the advice of his subordinate officers to sail his forces past Confederate Forts Jackson and St. Philip. The Union fleet reached New Orleans the next day, with the bypassed forts surrendering three days later.

In July 1862 Farragut received the rank of admiral. By the end of the year, his squadron had captured every Confederate port along the Gulf coast except for Mobile, Alabama. In early 1863, though, the Confederates struck back with vengeance, recapturing Galveston and capturing four and sinking one Union vessel. Farrugut then concentrated his efforts on extending Union control up the Mississippi River in an attempt to divide the Confederacy in two. After failing to starve out Port Hudson (which finally surrendered on July 9), he turned his attention to Mobile.

During the battle in Mobile Bay, Farragut became famous for shouting in response to a warning that Confederate torpedoes were ahead of them, "Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!" On August 5, 1864, his Union forces captured Confederate Forts Morgan and Gaines to control the harbor, although the city would not fall until the following April. The victories at Mobile Bay and (earlier) at New Orleans were critically important for the Union war effort. He would become the first person in the nation’s history to receive the rank of vice admiral (December 1864) and full admiral (July 1866).

After the war, Farragut commanded a squadron on a good-will tour of Europe in 1867. Returning to the United States, he suffered a heart attack in 1869 from which he never fully recovered, dying the next year. His funeral procession included dignitaries such as President Ulysses S. Grant and over 10,000 servicemen.

Sources consulted: American National Biography; Mark Boatner, The Civil War Dictionary.











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