Appointed a midshipman in 1810, he first served on the frigate Essex, commanded by David Porter, his self-appointed guardian, and participated in that ship's famous cruise in the Pacific in the War of 1812. Farragut commanded his first vessel in Porter's Mosquito Fleet, which operated (1823–24) against the pirates in Gulf and Caribbean waters. In the Mexican War he had minor commands on blockade duty. The navy yard at Mare Island, Calif., was established by Farragut in 1854, and he was commandant there till 1858. On Virginia's secession Farragut, a Union sympathizer, moved from Norfolk, where he had made his home ashore, to Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y. Yet his Southern connections placed him under suspicion, and he did not receive an important assignment until Jan., 1862. Then the Dept. of the Navy gave him command of the West Gulf Blockading Squadron, with orders to ascend the Mississippi River and reduce New Orleans. By April 18, 1862, Farragut's fleet, consisting of 17 vessels and a mortar flotilla under David Dixon Porter, had reached forts Jackson and St. Philip, situated on opposite sides of the Mississippi just below New Orleans. When the mortars failed to reduce the forts, Farragut decided to try to get by them in the dark. This action was accomplished on April 24, with the loss of only three vessels. The Confederate flotilla was then defeated in a hot engagement, and on April 25, Farragut anchored at New Orleans. The forts surrendered on April 28, and on May 1, Union troops under Gen. Benjamin F. Butler entered the city. Farragut's attempt to reduce Vicksburg in May–June, 1862, failed. But in March, 1863, he successfully ran two ships past the batteries at Port Hudson and by thus controlling the Mississippi between that point and Vicksburg contributed to Ulysses S. Grant's ultimate success in the Vicksburg campaign. Farragut had succeeded in stifling Confederate blockade-running in the Gulf of Mexico, except at its chief source, Mobile, and he moved on that port in 1864. Mobile Bay was strongly defended by forts Gaines and Morgan, a double row of torpedoes (mines), and a Confederate flotilla commanded by Franklin Buchanan. Farragut, disregarding the torpedoes (with the famous cry “Damn the torpedoes”), forced these defenses and defeated Buchanan for his crowning victory on Aug. 5, 1864. The forts surrendered shortly afterward, and though the city itself did not fall until April, 1865, blockade-running was effectively ended there. Farragut was easily the outstanding naval commander of the war. He was the first officer in the U.S. navy to receive the ranks of vice admiral (1864) and admiral (1866).
See biographies by his son Loyall Farragut (1879), A. T. Mahan (1892, repr. 1970), C. L. Lewis (2 vol., 1941–43), and Christopher Martin (1970).
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