Born: July 5, 1801 Died: August 14, 1870
David Glasgow Farragut was born in Campbell’s Station, Tennessee with the given name “James.” After his mother died of Yellow Fever in 1808, he went to live with a naval officer friend named David Porter. Eventually, he adopted his foster father’s name and began going by “David.”
In 1810 Farragut went to sea and was commissioned as a Midshipman (a cadet officer of junior rank) in the U.S. Navy. He was only 9 years old at the time! A short time later in the War of 1812, he served as a Prize Master in charge of equipment and vessels captured during war time. At the age of 12, he was placed in command of one of these captured British ships and charged with getting it safely to port. These accomplishments are unfathomable by today’s standards, but they are an indicator of what kids are capable of when opportunities are many and God is directing our steps.
Throughout his 60 year career, he commanded several ships and helped to establish the first naval base (Fort Madison) and colony in the Pacific. Farragut also sailed with the Mosquito Fleet which was equipped to fight pirates in the Caribbean, and he was Commander of the USS Saratoga during the Mexican-American War (1846-1847). Later, in 1853-1854, he was the overseer of the first naval shipyard west of the Mississippi on Mare Island in California.
Although David Farragut had been born in the south, when the Civil War erupted, he moved to New York with his family. He offered his services to the Union and, because of his previous accomplishments, Congress created the rank of Admiral for him in 1862. In 1864, President Lincoln promoted him to Vice Admiral and in 1866, he was promoted to Rear Admiral. He was the first to ever hold that rank.
History remembers Farragut for his dedication and boldness. The skill and precision he displayed in the Battle of New Orleans even earned him the nickname “Old Salamander.” He is also credited for leading hist men to victory at the Battle of Mobile with the famous line: “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” Of course, he had his failures and shortcomings like any human being. In particular, there were times when he was not cooperative and disregarded plans that resulted in costly losses. But it’s clear from his journals and correspondences that he believed in the power and presence of God and that he relied on the Lord in his decision-making.
“I have been nothing more than an instrument in the hands of God, well supported by my officers and men, who have done their duty faithfully” (Quote published in David G. Farragut by John Randolph Spears, 1905)
In 1870, at the age of 69, David Farragut died of a heart attack in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
Historians often have a lot to say about a person’s successes and missteps, but when it comes to knowing the character and faith of anyone, it is best to look at their own writings. I have included two entries from Farragut’s personal letters and journals.
Correspondence and Journal Entries from The Life of David Glasgow Farragut
You appear desirous to move for the sake of our dear boy. I wish you to do just as you please; you know I have perfect confidence in your judgment. All places are alike to me where my wife and child are with me. But, on the eve of so important an event as is about to occur with me, I advise you to hold on until you see the result. God dispenses His will according to His judgment, and not according to our wishes or expectations. The defeat of our army at Corinth, which I saw in the rebel papers, will give us a much harder fight; men are easily elated or depressed by victory. But as to being prepared for defeat, I certainly am not. Any man who is prepared for defeat would be half defeated before he commenced. I hope for success; shall do all in my power to secure it, and trust to God for the rest. I trust in Him as a merciful being; but really in war it seems as if we hardly ought to expect mercy, when men are destroying one another upon questions of which He alone is the judge. Motive seems to constitute right and wrong.
I am now packed and ready for my departure to the mouth of the Mississippi River. The last vessel, the Miami, takes me down. I spent last evening very pleasantly with General Butler. He does not appear to have any very difficult plan of operations, but simply to follow in my wake and hold what I can take. God grant that may be all that we attempt. I have now attained what I have been looking for all my life—a flag—and, having attained it, all that is necessary to complete the scene is a victory. If I die in the attempt, it will only be what every officer has to expect. He who dies in doing his duty to his country, and at peace with his God, has played out the drama of life to the best advantage.
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