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David Glascoe Farragut
Heroes have not been wanting in the history of maritime warfare, at any time in these last three hundred years. Holland points with pride to her gallant DeRuyter and Van Tromp, who made the little republic among the marshes and canals that yield tribute to the Zuyder Zee, famous the world over. England glories in her Blake, her Collingwood, and most of all, in her Nelson, the model naval hero of all her history; and we cannot suppress our admiration of the daring of the reckless John Paul Jones, the matchless patriotism of Lawrence, and the gallant bearing and extraordinary success of Perry, Bainbridge, Decatur, and the elder Porter; while in the War of the Rebellion the heroic Foote, Dupont, Winslow, D. D. Porter, and Rogers, covered their names with glory.
Farragut at Mobile Bay.
This pleasant period of instruction passed all too quickly, and the boy, now grown to man's estate, after some further service in the Mediterranean, was, on January 1, 1821, at the age of nineteen and a half years, promoted to the rank of lieutenant, and ordered to duty on the West India station. In 1824 he was assigned to duty at the Norfolk navy-yard; and with the exception of a two years' cruise in the Vandalia, on the Brazil station, remained at Norfolk till 1833. Here he married a lady of highly respectable family, and during the long years of suffering through which she was called to pass, from a hopeless physical malady, he proved one of the most tender and affectionate of husbands, never wearying of administering all the relief and comfort to the sufferer in his power. When death at last terminated her protracted distress, he mourned her tenderly and long. He subsequently married another lady of Norfolk, Miss Virginia Loyall, the daughter of one of the most eminent citizens of that city.
In 1860 he had spent nearly nineteen years afloat—eighteen years and four months on shore duty, and ten years and ten months either waiting orders or on leave of absence. Forty-eight of his fifty-eight years had been spent in the naval service.
In April, 1861, came the rebellion. Captain Farragut was at his home in Norfolk, surrounded by those who were sympathizers with the rebellion, and who were already maturing plans for the seizure of the Government property and its conversion to rebel uses. No more loyal heart ever beat than his, and in frank and manly terms he denounced the whole proceedings of the traitors, and gave expression to his abhorrence of them. This roused all the hatred of the plotters of treason, and they told him at once, in tones of menace, that he could not be permitted to live there if he held such sentiments. "Very well," was his prompt reply, "then I will go where I can live and hold such sentiments." Returning to his home, he informed his family that they must leave Norfolk for New York in a few hours. They immediately made their preparations, and the next morning, April 18, 1861, bid adieu to Norfolk. The Navy Department was, however, anxious to give him employment, and in default of anything else he served for a time as a member of the Naval Retiring Board, which shelved the incompetent officers of the navy, and promoted the active, loyal, and deserving.
Meantime, the Government had resolved on the capture of New Orleans, and entered with zeal upon the work of fitting out a squadron, as well as an army, for its reduction. The squadron was to consist of a fleet of armed steamers, and twenty bomb-schooners, each carrying gigantic mortars, fifteen-inch shells.
The bomb-fleet was to be under the command of Commander David D. Porter, but he was to report to Flag-officer Farragut, who was to have charge of the entire squadron. Selecting the Hartford as his flag-ship, and having made all possible preparations for his expedition, Flag-officer Farragut received his orders on January 20, 1862, and on February 3d sailed from Hampton Roads. Arriving at Ship Island on February 20th, he organized the West Gulf Blockading Squadron, and in spite of difficulties of all sorts—the delay in forwarding coal, naval stores, hospital stores, ammunition, etc., the labor of getting vessels drawing twenty-two feet over the bars at Pass L'Outre and Southwest Pass, where the depth was but twelve and fifteen feet, the ignorance and stupidity of some of the officers, and every other obstacle he had to encounter—made steady progress. The difficulties were not all surmounted until April 18th, when the bombardment of Fort Jackson, the lowermost of the two forts defending the passage of the Mississippi, was commenced. These forts were seventy-five miles below New Orleans and possessed great strength. A continuous bombardment was maintained for six days, by which the forts were considerably damaged, but they still held out stoutly. A heavy iron chain had been stretched across the river, supported by large logs, to obstruct the passage of vessels, and was placed at a point where the fire of the two forts could be most effectively concentrated. Above this chain lay the rebel fleet of sixteen gunboats and two iron-clad rams. Along the banks of the river were land batteries, mounting several guns each.
Finding that the forts were not likely to yield to the bombardment, Flag-officer Farragut called a council of war, and after hearing their opinions, which were somewhat discordant, issued his general order of April 20th, in which the spirit of the hero gleams out. This was his language: "The flag-officer having heard all the opinions expressed by the different commanders, is of the opinion that whatever is to be done will have to be done quickly. When, in the opinion of the flag-officer, the propitious time has arrived, the signal will be made to weigh, and advance to the conflict.... He will make the signal for close action, and abide the result—conquer or be conquered."
After further and severe bombardment of the forts, the flag-officer gave notice to the steam-vessels of the squadron, of his determination to break the chain and run past the forts, engage the rebel fleet, and having defeated it, ascend the river to New Orleans, and capture that city. It was a most daring movement. The chain had previously been broken, and the mortar-vessels moved up and anchored ready to pour in their fire as soon as the forts should open. The steam-fleet moved up in two columns, one led by Flag-officer Farragut in person, in the Hartford, the other by Captain Theodorus Bailey, as second in command, in the Cayuga. The left column (Farragut's) was composed of the Hartford, Brooklyn, Richmond, Sciota, Iroquois, Kennebec, Pinola, Itasca, and Winona; the right (Bailey's), of the Cayuga, Pensacola, Mississippi, Oneida, Varuna, Katahdin, Kineo, and Wissahickon. The right column was to engage Fort St. Philip; the left, Fort Jackson. The fleet were fairly abreast of the forts before they were discovered, and fire opened upon them; but from that moment the firing was terrible, and the smoke, settling down like a pall upon the river, produced intense darkness, and the ships could only aim at the flash from the forts, the forts at the flash from the ships. A fire-raft, pushed by the ram Manassas against the flag-ship (the Hartford), set it on fire, and at the same instant it ran aground; but by the prompt and disciplined exertions of the men the flame was extinguished in a few minutes and the ship got afloat, never ceasing its fire upon the enemy. At times the gunboats passed so near the forts as to be able to throw their broadsides of shrapnel, grape, and canister with most destructive force into their interior; and the forts, in the endeavor to depress their guns sufficiently to strike the vessels, lost their shot, which rolled into the ditches. They were nearly past the forts when the rebel fleet came down upon them, the iron-clad ram Manassas among them. Several of these gunboats were iron-clad about the bow, and had iron beaks or spurs. The Cayuga, Captain Bailey's flag-ship, was the first to encounter these; and soon after the Varuna, commanded by Captain Boggs, found itself in a nest of rebel steamers, and moved forward, delivering its broadsides, port and starboard, with fearful precision, into its antagonists, four of which were speedily disabled and sunk by its fire. The Varuna was finally attacked by the Morgan and another rebel gunboat, both iron-clad at the bow, which crushed in her sides; but crowding her steam, she drew them on, while still fast, and poured broadsides into both, which drove them ashore crippled and in flames. Running his own steamer on shore as speedily as possible, the gallant Boggs fought her as long as his guns were out of water, and then brought off his men, who were taken on board the Oneida and other gunboats of the fleet. Several of the gunboats were considerably injured, but none of them lost except the Varuna. The Itasca, Winona, and Kennebec were disabled and obliged to fall back. Thirteen of the seventeen vessels composing Flag-officer Farragut's squadron were able to pass in safety these forts, and had defeated a rebel fleet, destroying thirteen of their gunboats and rams, and the iron-clad Manassas, and compelling the remainder to shelter themselves under the guns of the forts. The entire loss of the Union squadron was but 36 killed and 135 wounded.
The gallant flag-officer now ascended the river, encountering slight opposition from the Chalmette batteries, about three miles below New Orleans; but they were silenced in twenty minutes, and at noon of April 25th, he lay in front of the city, and demanded its surrender. Four days later the forts were surrendered to Captain Porter, and General Butler came up the river to arrange for landing his troops, and taking possession of the conquered city. Meantime, Farragut had ascended the river above the city to Carrolton, where had been erected some strong works to oppose the progress of Flag-officer Foote, should he descend the river. These, on the approach of the gunboats, were abandoned, and their guns spiked. They were destroyed.
New Orleans being safely in the possession of the Union forces, Flag-officer Farragut ascended the Mississippi, and on June 27th ran his vessels safely past the rebel batteries at Vicksburg, and communicated with Flag-officer Davis, then commanding the Mississippi squadron, and arranged for a joint attack upon Vicksburg. The attack failed, because the bluffs at Vicksburg were too high to be effectively bombarded by the gunboats, and the capture of the city required the co-operation of a land force. He therefore repassed the batteries in safety on July 15th, and descending the river, made Pensacola the head-quarters of his squadron. On July 11th, the rank of rear-admiral, having been created in accordance with the recommendation of a committee of Congress, Captain Farragut was advanced to that rank, and placed first on the list for his meritorious conduct in the capture of New Orleans. He also received the thanks of both houses of Congress. In the autumn of 1862 he directed the naval attacks on Corpus Christi, Sabine Pass, and Galveston, which resulted in the capture of those points. In his duties as the commander of a blockading and guarding squadron, there was much of detail: attacks of guerillas along the river shores, to be parried and punished; surprises of the weaker vessels of the squadron to be chastised and revenged; expeditions against rebel towns on or near the coast, to be aided and sustained; and careful lookout to be kept for blockade-runners, who sought their opportunities to slip into the ports of Mobile, Galveston, and Aransas. These occupied much of his time during the autumn and winter of 1862-63.
The admiral had long desired to attack the defences of Mobile, and thus effectually check the blockade-running, which it was impossible wholly to prevent while that port was left unmolested. But it was not until August 5, 1864, that the assault was finally made.
The fleet which was to take part in the attack consisted of fourteen sloops-of-war and gunboats, and four iron-clad monitors. The admiral arranged them for the attack as follows: the Brooklyn and Octorara were lashed together, the Brooklyn being on the starboard side, nearest Fort Morgan—the Brooklyn being, much against the admiral's wishes, allowed the lead; next the Hartford and Metacomet, followed by the Richmond and Port Royal, the Lackawanna and Seminole, the Monongahela and Kennebec, the Ossipee and Itasca, and the Oneida and Galena. The four monitors were arranged in the following order, to the right or starboard of the gunboats: the Tecumseh, Commander T. R. M. Craven, taking the lead, and followed by the Manhattan, Commander Nicholson; the Winnebago, Commander Stevens; and the Chickasaw, Lieutenant-commander Perkins.
The rebels, in addition to three forts all manned with large garrisons, had a squadron consisting of the iron-clad ram Tennessee, regarded by them as the most formidable armed vessel ever constructed, and three powerful gunboats, the Selma, Morgan, and Gaines.
The fleet steamed steadily up the channel, the Tecumseh firing the first shot at 6.47 A.M. The rebels opened upon them from Fort Morgan at six minutes past seven, and the Brooklyn replied, after which the action became general. The Brooklyn now paused, and for good reason—the Tecumseh, near her, careened suddenly and sank almost instantly, having struck and exploded a torpedo; and her gallant commander and nearly all her crew sank with her.
Directing the commander of the Metacomet to send a boat instantly to rescue her crew, Admiral Farragut determined to take the lead in his own flag-ship, the Hartford, and putting on all steam, led off through a track which had been lined with torpedoes by the rebels; but he says, "Believing that, from their having been some time in the water, they were probably innocuous, I determined to take the chance of their explosion."
Turning to the northwestward to clear the middle ground, the fleet were enabled to keep such a broadside fire on the batteries of Fort Morgan as to prevent them from doing much injury. After they had passed the fort, about ten minutes before eight o'clock, the ram Tennessee dashed out at the Hartford; but the admiral took no further notice of her than to return her fire. The rebel gunboats were ahead, and annoyed the fleet by a raking fire, and the admiral detached his consort, the Metacomet, ordering her commander, Lieutenant-commander Jouett, to go in pursuit of the Selma, and the Octorara was detached to pursue one of the others. Lieutenant-commander Jouett captured the Selma, but the other two escaped under the protection of the guns of Fort Morgan, though the Gaines was so much injured that she was run ashore and destroyed. The combat which followed between the Tennessee and the Union fleet, and resulted in the surrender of that formidable iron-clad vessel, is best described in the admiral's own words:
"Having passed the forts and dispersed the enemy's gunboats, I had ordered most of the vessels to anchor, when I perceived the ram Tennessee standing up for this ship. This was at forty-five minutes past eight. I was not long in comprehending his intentions to be the destruction of the flag-ship. The monitors and such of the wooden vessels as I thought best adapted for the purpose, were immediately ordered to attack the ram, not only with their guns, but bows on at full speed; and then began one of the fiercest naval combats on record.
"The Monongahela, Commander Strong, was the first vessel that struck her, and in doing so carried away her own iron prow, together with the cutwater, without apparently doing her adversary much injury. The Lackawanna, Captain Marchand, was the next vessel to strike her, which she did at full speed; but though her stem was cut and crushed to the plank-ends for the distance of three feet above the water's edge to five feet below, the only perceptible effect on the ram was to give her a heavy list.
"The Hartford was the third vessel that struck her; but, as the Tennessee quickly shifted her helm, the blow was a glancing one, and, as she rasped along our side, we poured our whole port broadside of nine-inch solid shot within ten feet of her casement.
"The monitors worked slowly, but delivered their fire as opportunity offered. The Chickasaw succeeded in getting under her stern, and a fifteen-inch shot from the Manhattan broke through her iron plating and heavy wooden backing, though the missile itself did not enter the vessel.
"Immediately after the collision with the flag-ship, I directed Captain Drayton to bear down for the ram again. He was doing so at full speed, when, unfortunately, the Lackawanna ran into the Hartford just forward of the mizzenmast, cutting her down to within two feet of the water's edge. We soon got clear again, however, and were fast approaching our adversary, when she struck her colors and ran up the white flag.
"She was at this time sore beset; the Chickasaw was pounding away at her stern, the Ossipee was approaching her at full speed, and the Monongahela, Lackawanna, and this ship were bearing down upon her, determined upon her destruction. Her smoke-stack had been shot away, her steering-chains were gone, compelling a resort to her relieving-tackles, and several of her port shutters were jammed. Indeed, from the time the Hartford struck her, until her surrender, she never fired a gun. As the Ossipee, Commander Le Roy, was about to strike her, she hoisted the white flag, and that vessel immediately stopped her engine, though not in time to avoid a glancing blow.
"During this contest with the rebel gunboats and the ram Tennessee, which terminated by her surrender at ten o'clock, we lost many more men than from the fire of the batteries of Fort Morgan."
The rebel Admiral Buchanan was severely wounded, and subsequently lost a leg by amputation. Admiral Farragut, as humane in his feelings toward a wounded foe as he was gallant and daring in action, immediately addressed a note to Brigadier-General Page, the commander of Fort Morgan, asking permission to send the rebel admiral and the other wounded rebel officers by ship, under flag of truce, to the Union hospitals at Pensacola, where they could be tenderly cared for. This request was granted, and the Metacomet despatched with them.
The admiral had stationed himself "in an elevated position in the main rigging, near the top," a place of great peril, but one which enabled him to see much better than if he had been on deck, the progress of the battle; and from thence he witnessed, and testified with great gratification to the admirable conduct of the men at their guns, throughout the fleet; and, in this connection, gives utterance to a sentiment which shows most conclusively his sympathy and tenderness: "Although," he says, "no doubt their hearts sickened, as mine did, when their shipmates were struck down beside them, yet there was not a moment's hesitation to lay their comrades aside and spring again to their deadly work."
It is said that at the moment of the collision between the Hartford and Lackawanna, when the men called to each other to save the admiral, Farragut, finding the ship would float at least long enough to serve his purpose, and thinking of that only, called out to his fleet-captain, "Go on with speed! Ram her again!"
The results of this victory were the destruction of the rebel fleet; the capture of the armored ship Tennessee, and of 230 rebel officers and men; the abandonment on the next day of Fort Powell, with 18 guns; the surrender on the 8th of Fort Gaines, with 56 officers, 818 men, and 26 guns; and on August 23d, after a further bombardment of twenty-four hours, of Fort Morgan, with 60 guns and 600 prisoners. By these captures the port of Mobile was hermetically sealed against blockade-runners, and a serious blow given to the rebel cause.
Rear-admiral Farragut remained in command of the West Gulf squadron till November, 1864, when he requested leave of absence, and was called to Washington for consultation in regard to future naval operations. Soon after the opening of Congress, a resolution of thanks to him for his brilliant victory at Mobile was passed, and the rank of vice-admiral, corresponding to that of lieutenant-general in the army, was created, and on January 1, 1865, David Glascoe Farragut promoted to it. This appointment made him the virtual chief commander of the naval forces of the United States.
The West Gulf blockading squadron, during all the time Admiral Farragut was in command of it, had had more fighting and less prizes than any other blockading squadron on the coast; and while Admirals Dupont, Lee, Porter, and Dahlgren had accumulated immense fortunes by their shares of prize-money, Admiral Farragut had received little beyond his regular pay. The merchants of New York, understanding this, and recognizing the great services he had rendered to commerce and to the nation, subscribed the sum of fifty thousand dollars, which was presented to him in United States 7.30 Treasury notes, in January, 1865, in testimony of their appreciation of his ability and success as a naval commander. Until 1866 the rank of vice-admiral was the highest known in the navy In July of that year the office of admiral was specially created and bestowed on Farragut. He saw no further important service, but died quietly at Portsmouth, N. H., August 14, 1870.
Even the English Army and Navy Gazette speaks of Admiral Farragut as "the doughty admiral whose feats of arms place him at the head of his profession, and certainly constitute him the first naval officer of the day, as far as actual reputation won by skill, courage, and hard fighting goes."
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