Builders of our Country Vol. II - G. Southworth

David Glasgow Farragut


One day a man in a splendid uniform paid a visit to David Farragut's father at his home near New Orleans. He was Commander Porter of the United States Navy. He asked that he be allowed to adopt one of the motherless Farragut boys and train him for a career in the navy. The chance was offered to eight-year-old David. David wanted to go, and he said good-by to his father whom he was never to see again.

Commander Porter returned to Washington, and David went with him. There he met the Secretary of the Navy, and was promised a Midshipman's warrant as soon as he should be ten years old. The promise was not forgotten.

Not long after he had passed this tenth birthday, his foster father was given the command of the frigate Essex and took the little midshipman into his service. During the War of 1813 the Essex under Porter, with Midshipman Farragut on board, started on a cruise around Cape Horn to destroy the British whale-fishing in the Pacific. Having captured several British vessels along the western coast of South America, the Essex entered the harbor of Valparaiso. Here she was overtaken by two British warships, the Phoebe and the Cherub. According to the laws of nations, ships belonging to countries at war with each other may not fight in a neutral harbor. So the English vessels waited for the Essex just outside.

Farragut on the Essex


During a great windstorm a cable of Porter's ship gave way. She drifted out to sea, and the British began their attack. The English guns could shoot much farther than most of those on the Essex; so, staying out of reach of the short-range guns of the American ship, the Englisli poured one broadside after another into the helpless frigate. Captain Porter tried every means in his power to close with the Phoebe, but owing to the disabled condition of his ship, he could do little. After a fight which lasted two hours and a half, the Essex was forced to surrender.

Farragut had found that whatever no one else had time to do was a midshipman's work during a fight. He had carried messages for the Captain, brought powder for the gunners, and had done his duty so well that when Captain Porter sent home his dispatches to the United States, David Farragut was one of those mentioned for bravery. He was twelve years old at this time and stood exceedingly straight because, as he said, "I cannot afford to lose one fraction of my scanty inches."

After the surrender of the Essex David, with the crew, went aboard one of the British ships, where he was included in an invitation to breakfast in the captain's cabin. His grief at the loss of the Essex was so great that the captain noticed it and said kindly, "Never mind, my little fellow; it will be your turn next, perhaps." David replied that he hoped so indeed and hurriedly left the cabin that the men might not see how badly he felt.

Having made the officers and crew of the Essex promise not to take up arms against England until they had been exchanged, the British sent them hack to the United States.


It was not long before young Farragut was exchanged and was again free to enter the service of his country. For the next few years after the close of the War of 1812, he was on several different ships sailing the Mediterranean and fighting the pirates of the West Indies. Much of his success in late life was due to the fact that during these years he formed the habit of always doing his level best, not thinking, as do many, that the present does not matter.

In 1825, Farragut was promoted to the rank of lieutenant on the Brandywine, a beautiful new ship. One of his first duties was to carry General Lafayette back in safety to his home in France. In the following years Farragut had various duties to perform. In 1854, he was sent to the Pacific coast, where a navy yard was to be built on Mare Island near San Francisco. To plan and construct this yard was an important task, and Farragut was just the man to do it well.

David Farragut


Four years were given to the work, and then he returned to the East. He was now a captain and was given command of the Brooklyn, one of the first steam warships in our navy. After a two years' cruise on the Brooklyn, Farragut left the ship and went to Norfolk, Virginia.

A few months later the war between the North and the South broke out, and our captain had a new query to settle. Farragnt was born in the South; his home at this time was in Norfolk, and most of his friends were Southerners. Now came the question, Should he side with the South, his old home, or should he follow the flag for which he had worked and fought for fifty years?

Farragut and his Norfolk neighbors met daily and discussed the great questions before the country. He expressed his opinions fearlessly, but he soon saw that his friends did not agree with him. One day one of them said, "A person of your sentiments cannot live in Norfolk." "Very well," he replied, "I will go where I can live with such sentiments."

Going home Farragut told his wife that she, too, would have to decide whether to stay with the South or to go with him. Together they left Norfolk and went to a little village on the Hudson River, called Hastings. The people here looked askance at them, however. The Government, too, hesitated to trust a Southerner with a great responsibility, in spite of the fact that he had shown his loyalty again and again.

But the time was not far away when the North needed just such a man as Farragut.


The South held possession of New Orleans and the mouth of the Mississippi, both of which the North wanted to control; and in 1862 Farragut was ordered to go and take them from the South. He was delighted with the plan for capturing New Orleans, and was sure it could be done. So with a large Union fleet he sailed for the mouth of the Mississippi.

Once there, it took him two weeks to get the ships across a bar formed at the mouth of the river by its mud deposits. This was only the first obstacle that lay in the path. Beyond the bar, the Confederates had stretched across the river two great cables on hulks. Beyond the cables were two forts, one on each side of the river; and still beyond was a Confederate fleet.

Farragut's operations were begun by storming the two forts for six days and nights, but with no success. Then he decided to run his ships past the two forts and on to New Orleans. This was easier said than done. First a passageway for the ships must somehow be made through the cables. To break these the brave commander of the steamer Itasca ran her under the fire of both forts straight up against the chain. It snapped. The hulks drifted apart and made a breach large enough for the warships to pass through. In preparing the fleet for the run past the forts, hammocks, bags of sand, and ashes were piled around the boilers and engines to protect them from the shot of the enemy's guns. Some of the ships were daubed on the outside with Mississippi mud, so that they could not be seen in the dark.

One night the signal was given to weigh anchor and move up the river. In single file the vessels set out to run the gantlet of fire, which was sure to greet them from the forts. The Cayuga ran through the breach unharmed; but, as the second boat passed the barrier, the guns of the two forts blazed forth. The ships' broadsides answered, and flying shells filled the air.

Battle of New Orleans


Down the river came a flaming fire ship straight for the flagship Hartford. Farragut was helpless to get away. The flames from the fire ship leaped up, and soon the Hartford was ablaze. Men were detailed to fight the flames while all the time the gunners loaded, fired, and reloaded their guns. At length the flames were put out, and the flagship once more started upstream.

On went the Union boats. They had passed the bar, the cables, and the forts. Ahead of them now lay the Confederate fleet. Fiercely did Farragut's ships rush to the attack, and in short order they overcame this last obstacle to their advance.

When the people of New Orleans saw the Union fleet coming, they became desperate. They sent rafts of burning cotton bales downstream. They set fire to cotton-laden ships, smashed hogsheads of molasses and sugar, and destroyed property right and left to prevent it from falling into the hands of the Union men. In the last week of April, 1862, Captain Farragut sent men ashore at New Orleans to haul down the Confederate flag from the public buildings and to run up the stars and stripes instead.

After the city was taken, the forts were soon captured, and the North had control of the mouth of the Mississippi. Captain Farragut's capture of New Orleans was the second great naval success to cheer the North. Coming, as it did, so soon after the repulse of the dreaded Merrimac by Lieutenant Worden in his little ironclad Monitor, it put new hope into every Northern soldier.

About two years later another great naval battle was fought, this time on the other side of the ocean, near the coast of France. During the war the Confederates had fitted out ships which coasted about and harassed Northern merchantmen. For a long time the Union warships could not check these doings. One of these Southern warships was the Alabama. At last the Kearsarge, commanded by Captain Winslow, discovered the Alabama in a French harbor. This was a neutral port, so the Kearsarge waited for the Alabama outside, just as the English ships had waited for the Essex at Valparaiso. The Confederate vessel suddenly sailed forth and attacked the Kearsarge. A terrific battle ensued; but the men of the Kearsarge were better marksmen, and after an hour's fight the Alabama sank, and the victory was won.

Battle of New Orleans


Another Confederate war vessel was the Albemarle—an enormous ironclad ram. She, too, had attacked Northern ships, and Lieutenant Cushing determined to put a stop to her marauding. So, one dark night in October, he took a boat and, making his way to the Albemarle, where she layoff Plymouth, North Carolina, exploded a torpedo under her. Then he jumped into the water to escape capture and returned unharmed to the Union fleet.

Meanwhile Farragut was kept busy for over a year, silencing batteries along the Mississippi. On July 4, 1863, came Grant's victory at Vicksburg; and, satisfied at last that he could do no more on the river, Farragut soon after turned his command over to another officer, and with three of his ships sailed for New York.


After the fall of New Orleans the next fort on the Gulf to be considered was Mobile Bay, and in 1864 Farragut undertook to conquer this port. Two forts near the entrance to the bay protected the city of Mobile, and these had to be passed by Farragut's ships before they could encounter the Confederate fleet which lay inside the bays In this fleet was an ironclad ram—the Tennessee.

The Confederates had made great preparations against the attack. A triple line of torpedoes had been laid in the channel, and the forts had been strengthened in every way possible.

Farragut had four ironclad monitors, besides twenty-one wooden vessels. He ordered his wooden ships lashed together in pairs, a larger with a smaller. Then, with the stars and stripes floating from every peak and masthead, early on the morning of August 5, 1864, the entrance into Mobile Bay was begun. Farragut wanted to lead the column in his flagship, the Hartford; but his officers begged him not to do it. They felt that the commanding officer ought not to be exposed to the greatest danger. So, to please his men, Farragut gave in, and the Hartford, with her running mate, took second place in the column of wooden ships.

In order to see things more clearly, and to be able to direct the movements of the fleet to better advantage, Farragut climbed into the rigging; and, as the smoke of the guns became more dense, he went higher and higher until he was close under the maintop. Here he had a good view of the whole field of battle, and, by bracing himself against the shrouds, could use his spyglass.

The four ironclads were in single file, a little ahead of the wooden vessels. The Tecumseh was leading the line. Suddenly she ran into a torpedo; and Farragut, from the rigging of the Hartford, saw her plunge below the water and disappear. The Brooklyn, in the first rank of the wooden ships just behind, began to back, and thereby caused confusion in the line of ships in the rear.

This was the supreme moment of Farragut's life. To go on meant the raking fire of the forts, the torpedoes, the Confederate fleet, and possible victory. To turn back meant a crushing and humiliating defeat.

"Full speed ahead!" he shouted down. And passing by the Brooklyn, the Hartford dashed straight at the line of torpedoes. As the flagship passed over them, they could be heard knocking against the bottom of the ship; but none exploded. With the flagship safe beyond this danger, the other ships followed; and the attack on the Confederate fleet began.

One Confederate gunboat was destroyed by fire, one was captured, and one ran away. Then, coming down from the Hartford's rigging, Farnigut was just telling his signal officer to order his fleet to drop anchor when a shout arose. The ironclad Tennessee, which had withdrawn from the battle and had been lying under the protection of one of the forts, was boldly approaching to fight the entire Northern fleet.

Farragut ordered each of his monitors to attack the monster. The wooden vessels also were ordered to charge the Tennessee at full speed. Down they rushed upon the ironclad, striking her with all their force, although their bows were crushed by the blow. The monitors did their part by keeping up a ceaseless fire until the Tennessee's steering chains were shot away, her smokestack destroyed, and her commander wounded. She had made a bold fight and lost. To surrender was all that was left for her, and she surrendered.

Battle of Mobile


Thus ended the battle of Mobile Bay. "One of the hardest earned victories of my life, and the most desperate battle I ever fought since the days of the old Essex," said Farragut.

Soon after the surrender of the Tennessee, the forts were captured, and the victory was complete.

Farragut's work in the Gulf was now done, and he sailed for the North. Great was the reception given him when the reached New York! The citizens formally invited him to make his home among them and gave him fifty thousand dollars to enable him to do so. And for his faithful, loyal, continued service to his country, Congress, at the close of the war, created a new and higher rank in our navy and named David Glasgow Farragut the first American Admiral.