A Family of Heroes

Today in History, July 16, 1862:

In spite of naval heroes like Capt. John Paul Jones, the first Rear Admiral in the US Navy is commissioned on this date…Rear Admiral David Farragut.

What an amazingly important family! Farragut had been orphaned at the age of nine, when his mother died from yellow fever.

Navy Capt. David Porter took him in, and at the age of 9, Farragut was at sea as a midshipman. He served in the Pacific, commanded a captured ship at the age of 12…wounded at Val Paraiso, Chile in a battle…fought in the War of 1812 as a boy….fought pirates in the West Indies, and was the famous Captain who at Mobile Bay during the Civil War, while standing on the rigging of his ship, shouted, “Damn the Torpedoes, Full Speed Ahead!” His foster father, David Porter, foster brothers David Dixon Porter and William Porter would also be Naval war heroes.

In Harm’s Way


Today in History, July 18: 1792 – “”I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast for I intend to go in harm’s way.” John Paul Jones dies in Paris, France. John Paul was born in Scotland and went to sea with British merchant ships at 13. In the West Indies he killed another sailor whom he said was a mutineer and had to flee. He settled in the American colonies and changed his name to John Paul Jones. He joined the Continental Navy when the Revolution began and became famous for his daring and courage; capturing several ships as prizes, raiding the English coast and fighting a horrific battle with his ship “Bonhomme Richard” (French for Poor Richard in honor of Benjamin Franklin) during which he responded to a demand for surrender with “I have not yet begun to fight!” After the war he served briefly in the Russian Navy as an admiral, but wanted to return to American service. The “Father of the US Navy” died without fanfare in Paris and was buried in an unmarked grave. Over 100 years later, in 1905, US Ambassador to France Gen. Horace Porter led the search to find Jones’ body, and with the help of the French, succeeded. Jones was taken back to America aboard the cruiser USS Brooklyn and was escorted into port by 7 battleships and 2 other cruisers. President Theodore Roosevelt, a naval power and history enthusiast, spoke at a ceremony at the US Naval Academy honoring Jones. Jones was eventually moved to his current tomb in the chapel at the Academy. An interesting aside; Gen. Porter had quite a history of his own. He was a Medal of Honor recipient for valor during the Civil War, was aide-de-camp to Gen. US Grant, was present in the room at Appomattox when Lee surrendered, and was Grant’s personal secretary during his Presidency.

Running the Table

Today in History, May 18: 1863 – Running the Table. Gen. Grant had plan for Vicksburg and Admiral David Dixon Porter’s fleet had run past of the guns at that fortress city. In the interim between then and today’s date, Grant’s army was taken across the Mississippi from several victories in Louisiana, won five major victories in Mississippi, including taking the capitol of Jackson. He pushed Confederate Gen. John C. Pemberton back to the Big Black River Bridge, which Pemberton burned on the 14th during his retreat to Vicksburg.

Pemberton could no longer face Grant in the field, having lost three quarters of his army. Grant had the bridge rebuilt by the 18th, and the siege of Vicksburg had begun. Grant made two unsuccessful attempts to take the city and then determined to have no more losses, lay siege to the city. The siege involved entrenchments, mines and bombardment by land based artillery as well as by Admiral Porter’s ships. The civilians and soldiers in the city had to live underground. By July 4th, his troops and civilians starving and demoralized, Pemberton agreed to surrender. Grant initially demanded his trademark “Unconditional Surrender”, then reconsidered. Even after having lost 3/4 of it’s manpower, Pemberton’s army still numbered 30,000 famished troops. He decided instead to utilize a long respected military method of “paroling” the rebel troops. That meant that they would be freed as long as they never took up arms against the Union again. It would have taken months and a great deal of manpower Grant did not want to expend to move 30,000 prisoners north. The Confederates agreed to the terms. Yet many of them were back in battle against Union troops by September. This ended the act of paroling for the remainder of the war. After Vicksburg and Port Hudson fell in July, President Lincoln proclaimed, “”The Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea.” This victory was considered the turning point in the Civil War; Union control of the Mississippi not only allowed US Navy movement and resupply all along it’s course, it effectively cut the Confederacy in half, depriving it of the resources and armies of the west. This battle is also largely the reason Grant was advanced to command of all Union Armies…as Lincoln said, “I cannot spare this man…he fights!” A quality the President found lacking in many of his other Generals.

Surrender at New Orleans

Today in History, April 29: 1862 – The surrender of New Orleans. The Confederacy was determined to protect the jewel of the South, it’s largest port and therefore source of supply from abroad. They were convinced the attack would come from the north, and placed the bulk of their army forces and naval forces in Tennessee and Mississippi. This left New Orleans to be defended by about 3,000 militia and two forts below her on the River, Ft. Jackson and Ft. St. Phillip. Union Flag Officer David Farragut took his force of Union ships and tried to silence the forts, and failing that decided to run past the batteries in a fierce battle. By the 28th his fleet lay off the city on the Mississippi. If you’ve ever been to the French Quarter and watched ships move by ABOVE you on the river, you’ll understand why the Confederate commander there told the mayor the battle was already lost and withdrew his forces. The next day, the 29th, Farragut’s childhood home surrendered to him. David Farragut was adopted by Capt. David Porter after his mother died, and began his naval career at age 9. He would become the first Rear Admiral, the first Vice Admiral, and the first Admiral in the US Navy. His adoptive brothers, David Dixon Porter and William Porter would also be naval heroes that attained flag rank. The capture of New Orleans by Union forces helped cut off the Confederacy from outside supply, and from their territories in the west.

Coincidentally, on this same date in 1629, 17-year-old Joan of Arc led a force that liberated Orleans, France from the English.