David Farragut

Admiral David Farragut
PHOTO: U.S. Navy


David Farragut was the first American to ever hold the rank of admiral and the highest ranking officer in the U.S. Navy during the Civil War. He was also the originator of the most famous quote ever said by an American naval officer.

Naturally, he was a Tennessean.

Farragut was born in 1801 near Knoxville. When he was a very young boy, his father moved to New Orleans. A few years later, young Farragut was taken to Pennsylvania, where he was adopted by a naval officer named David Porter. “At the time it was not uncommon for parents to place a child with someone who could train them in a career,” a National Park Service web site explains.

Porter raised young David Farragut for a life in the navy. At the age of 11 — that’s right, ELEVEN — he served on board a U. S. warship that captured a British vessel during the War of 1812. He later became an officer, and served with merit in the navy through the 1820s, 30s, 40s, and 50s.

When Civil War broke out, Farragut sided with the union. He was placed in charge of a fleet that was ordered to enter the Mississippi River and capture New Orleans. After a series of brilliant maneuvers, the fleet took the city on April 28, 1862.

Rear Admiral Farragut, left, on the USS Hartford during the Civil War

Later in the war, Farragut commanded a fleet that invaded Mobile Bay. One of the other ships in his group hit a torpedo and sank. Farragut rallied his men, crying out, “Damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead!” The Union fleet won, in one of the most decisive naval victories of the war.

The next year he became the first American ever awarded the rank of admiral. He died in 1870. The community in which David Farragut was born was named for him in the 1980s.