Today in French Quarter History, we remember the life of Admiral David Farragut. He passed away on August 14, 1870. Though he was interred in New York in the Bronx, he had strong ties to New Orleans and the South. It was under his command that the US Navy captured New Orleans on April 25, 1862.
Coming to New Orleans as a boy
David Farragut was born James Farragut near Knoxville, Tennessee in 1801. His father, George Farragut, had served in the Revolutionary War as a naval lieutenant. In 1805, George received an offer to work in the US Port of New Orleans and accepted. His family followed him to Louisiana shortly thereafter. At the age of four, young James took his first voyage to his new home on the banks of the Mississippi River. Together with his mother and siblings, they traveled downriver by flatboat, a journey that lasted three months.
Sunstroke and Yellow Fever
In the late spring of 1808, David’s mother, Elizabeth began to care for the father of David Porter, who would later become a Commodore in the US Navy and captain of the USS Constitution and USS Enterprise. David Porter Sr. had befriended George Farragut during the Revolutionary War when they served together in the navy. In New Orleans, Porter Sr. had suffered a sunstroke and Elizabeth and George took him into their home to try to nurse him back to health. Unfortunately, on June 22, Porter Sr. passed away, and incredibly, Elizabeth died the very same day from Yellow Fever.
From something horrible comes something good
George Farragut realized he would not be able to raise his young children as a widower, and he resolved to send them to relatives. Before this occurred, David Porter Jr. arrived in New Orleans to thank George for all he had done to try to save his father. Upon meeting young James, he immediately offered to adopt him and raise him as his own son. George and James wholeheartedly agreed.
David Farragut, like father, like son
In 1809, David Porter moved to Washington, DC, and of course, he brought young James with him. James met the Secretary of the Navy and expressed his desire to become a midshipman. The secretary told him he would have to wait until he turned ten, however, the paperwork arrived six months before his tenth birthday. Porter set out to sea and James accompanied him. In honor of his adoptive father, James changed his name to David although he would always be called by his middle name, Glasgow, by friends and family.
With the coming of the War of 1812, young David joined his adoptive father when he assumed command of the USS Essex. They voyaged around Cape Horn and were the first US warship to sail in the Pacific in search of British ships. During one sea battle, the Essex captured a British vessel. David, now age 12, was put in command of bringing the capture back to base in Valparaiso, Chile. Later, the Essex would be captured after a fierce battle in which 58 members of the crew perished. Young David was aboard the Essex during the battle, and he “impressed” his father with how well he handled himself under such extreme pressure.
Capturing New Orleans
Following the War of 1812, Farragut remained on duty in the Navy until he passed away at age 60. By that time, he won the honor of becoming the country’s first full admiral. But what about the capture of New Orleans during the Civil War?
Farragut commanded the navy that made its way up the Mississippi to New Orleans. They arrived before the army, and Farragut sent word to the mayor ordering him to replace all Confederate flags with US flags. The mayor refused. Unknown to Farragut, marines from the USS Pocahontas went ashore and replaced the Confederate flag at the US mint. Before departing, they warned the citizenry that anyone trying to remove the US flag would be fired upon.
William Mumford and some other residents removed the flag and the Pocahontas fired. Their shot hit the mint, and a piece of brick struck Mumford. Nevertheless, Mumford attempted to drag the flag to the mayor. It was reduced to a stub by the mob and today is on display inside the mint. Mumford was later hanged at the mint for treason when General William F. Butler assumed command of the city.
Following the capture of New Orleans, Farragut continued with his task to subdue what remained of the Confederate forces. In 1864, at the Battle of Mobile Bay, while under heavy fire, Farragut maneuvered his ships through fields of “torpedoes.” Torpedoes were the precursor of modern-day underwater mines. It was during this battle that Farragut ordered, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”
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