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Hastings’ Own War Hero- The Man who gave the Union Mastery of the Sea: The Life of Admiral David Glasgow Farragut
By: Riley Wentzler & Felicia Barber
The USS Hartford- Farragut’s 25 gun- flagship during The Battle of Mobile Bay
Introduction - The Critical Importance of Naval Power:
We have spoken before about the Civil War being, in our view, “The Great American Crossroads” which brought us from being the small agrarian confederation with a weak military composed of poorly trained militiamen armed with muskets, a confederation that also had extreme difficulty communicating because it communicated only by letters delivered using mounted couriers, which we were at our founding, to being an industrial nation with a very powerful government, the best military in the world, and almost instantaneous communication. (see our article Greenburgh at The Great American Crossroads: Greenburgh’s Civil War Story https://greenburghny.com/DocumentCenter/View/5666/Revised-Greenburgh-at-The-Great-American-Crossroads) When one thinks about the Union victory in the war, as to what turned the tide, the Union Army’s victory at massive battles in grassy fields in at or near places like: Sharpsburg Maryland (The Battle of Antietam ), Gettysburg Pennsylvania (The Battle of Gettysburg ) or Richmond Virginia(when Northern victory at this battle cost the Confederacy their capital) come to mind, and with good reason.
But, it would be a mistake to completely overlook the importance of sea power and the breathtaking naval advantage the Union had. In Ancient Athens, an influential statesman named Themistocles famously once said, “He who controls the sea controls everything” (https://quotepark.com/quotes/1743851-themistocles-he-who-controls-the-sea-controls-everything/). In 1890, an American, the Naval Historian Alfred Thayer Mahan, wrote a 656-page book entitled, The Influence of Sea Power upon History, basically explaining why the Athenian statesman was correct.
Mr. Mahan did this first by explaining how Great Britain came to dominate the sea in the 1600s and 1700s and how such domination led to England becoming a world superpower to the point of becoming the hegemon. Having hegemony means a country or organization dominating global affairs so utterly that theirs is practically the only voice heard. We’ve all heard the phrase, “The sun never set on the British Empire.” The reason we’ve heard that phrase is because, at one point England was the hegemon. Again, Mahan makes a very clear case that Great Britain’s mastery of the sea was the reason for their hegemony.
Second, the next thing Mahan did after explaining this correlation between mastery of the sea and world hegemony, was to describe a series of European and American wars and how naval power was used in each, taking great care to explain how the victor was usually the one who used their navy more effectively. Continuing with this theme of naval power leading to world domination, there is also a country song by the Texas -born resident of Alaska, Johnny Horton, which says that:
“In May of nineteen forty-one the war had just begun
The Germans had the biggest ship, they had the biggest guns
The Bismarck was the fastest ship that ever sailed the sea
On her deck were guns as big as steers and shells as big as trees…
We'll find that German battleship that's makin' such a fuss
We gotta sink the Bismarck 'cause the world depends on us
Hit the decks a-runnin' boys and spin those guns around
When we find the Bismarck, we gotta cut her down”
- Sink The Bismarck, Johnny Horton (1960)
Returning now to the Civil War context with the critical importance of a strong navy in mind, ironically, much of the Union’s naval superiority was due to a southern born (Knoxville TN) and southern- raised (New Orleans LA) man. This man chose to leave his home in Virginia and live in Greenburgh’s Village of Hastings on Hudson. This is the story of that brave man, the southerner who was so loyal to the Union that he not only refused to join the Confederacy, but also chose to move north to Greenburgh’s Village of Hastings on Hudson and fight for the Union. Let us now dive in to the story of Admiral David Glasgow Farragut!
David Glasgow Farragut(1801-1870) - Southerner who loved the Union:
David Farragut was born on July 5, 1801 in Knoxville, Tennessee (MICROSOFT ENCARTA, 1993-2003 Microsoft Corporation). His parents were George Farragut and Elizabeth Shine Farragut. When he was born his name was actually “James Glasgow Farragut.” The Farragut family lived in Campbell’s Station, Tennessee until 1807 when George was stationed at New Orleans, Louisiana. One year after their arrival in New Orleans, his mother, Elizabeth, died of yellow fever(https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/american_latino_heritage/farragut_gravesite.html). As a merchant often away at sea, George was unable to care for his son by himself, so he looked for someone to adopt his son. Before his mother passed away, she and his father had cared for a sick navy man named David Porter. Mr. Porter had a son who was also named “David.” Grateful that they (the Farraguts) had cared for his father and nursed him back to health, David Porter Jr. agreed to adopt young James Farragut. Like his father before him, David Porter Jr was also a navy man.
James Farragut was inspired by Porter’s commander’s uniform (https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/american_latino_heritage/farragut_gravesite.html). So greatly inspired. in fact, that he entered the U.S. Navy as a midshipman at the age of nine(MICROSOFT ENCARTA, 1993-2003 Microsoft Corporation). Initially, he served on Commander Porter’s ship, the USS Essex (https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/american_latino_heritage/farragut_gravesite.html) during the War of 1812. He was overjoyed to serve directly under his adoptive father. From then on, he like his adoptive father and adoptive grandfather before him, was a lifelong navy man! It was also around this time that he changed his first name to “David” ,in honor of his adoptive father (https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/american_latino_heritage/farragut_gravesite.html).
Beginning of Naval Career and Move to Virginia:
It was also during the War of 1812 that he got his first command, a captured British ship named the HMS Barclay. After the war, he married Susan Merchant of Norfolk, Virginia, so he moved from New Orleans to Norfolk to be with her. In 1825, he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant. His wife, Susan, died in 1840. When he remarried three years later, it was to another Norfolk resident, Virginia Loyall. They had a son together, Loyall Farragut (https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/american_latino_heritage/farragut_gravesite.html).
The Mexican War began in 1846 (MICROSOFT ENCARTA, 1993-2003 Microsoft Corporation). Lieutenant David Farragut was given command of a ship in 1847, this was too late to direct the bombardment of the city of Veracruz (https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/american_latino_heritage/farragut_gravesite.html), so he participated in the blockade of Mexican ports on the Gulf of Mexico instead (MICROSOFT ENCARTA, 1993-2003 Microsoft Corporation). The Mexican War ended in 1848 (MICROSOFT ENCARTA, 1993-2003 Microsoft Corporation). The navy promoted him to “Captain” in 1850 (https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/american_latino_heritage/farragut_gravesite.html).
Southern discontent had been festering in the 1840s and continued to brew all throughout the 1850s. Farragut and almost everyone else in the military knew what was coming… Secession and war. South Carolina seceded in 1860. Then came Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, and Florida. It was not immediately clear whether or not Virginia would join the Confederacy. Nevertheless, because it was a very distinct possibility, like every southern-born military man of the 1860s, Captain David Glasgow Farragut, now had a choice to make, “Would he stand with The Federal Government of The United States, or, with The Confederacy?”
Move North to Hastings on Hudson:
All of David Farragut’s friends and neighbors thought he would stand with the Confederacy, but for Farragut the choice was an obvious, though emotionally difficult, one. He had sworn an oath to defend the United States, therefore his loyalty was with the Union. Farragut came to realize that because he was a staunch Unionist, it wasn’t safe for him in Virginia. So in 1861, with his wife and son, he fled to Greenburgh’s Village of Hastings on Hudson (https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/american_latino_heritage/farragut_gravesite.html). He settled into a house on 60 Main Street (https://hastingshistoricalsociety.org/notable-residents/).
At first, many Hastings residents didn’t trust this newcomer. Who was this mysterious man? This Southerner claimed to be a refugee, but that couldn’t be true, could it? It was more likely that he was some kind of undercover agent of the Confederate Government, they reasoned. Some said he was a Confederate spy, others that he was a Confederate saboteur on a special mission from Confederate President Jefferson Davis to destroy the Croton Aqueduct (http://www.mrlincolnswhitehouse.org/residents-visitors/the-generals-and-admirals/generals-admirals-david-glasgow-farragut-1801-1870/ ). However, he soon gained the trust of the community.
Civil War Naval Service:
In January 1862, he received command of the West Gulf Blockading Squadron and orders to capture New Orleans. After capturing New Orleans, he was ordered to capture Mobile, Alabama(MICROSOFT ENCARTA, 1993-2003 Microsoft Corporation). His flagship for this battle was a 225 ft, 2,900-pound, sloop of war with 25 guns called the, “USS Hartford.” The Confederacy had a harbor, at Mobile Bay (a shallow inlet of the Gulf of Mexico which has an area of 413 square miles and an average depth of 9.843 feet).
This was a key port for the Confederacy. The harbor at Mobile Bay was lined with mines.(which in the vernacular of 1860-1865 were called, “torpedoes,” this should not be confused with the modern definition of the word, “torpedo” - a missile-like projectile launched from a submarine. These torpedoes were floating mines, not projectiles).
Many of Captain Farragut’s subordinates thought the fleet would never reach Mobile because of the mines. When this concern was brought to his attention, he shouted the line that made him famous, “Damn the torpedoes, full-speed ahead!” He then proceeded to go right over top of the mines, rather than around them. They did not explode.
The Battle of Mobile Bay was a resounding victory for the Union. In addition to his spectacular victories at New Orleans and Mobile in 1862, he is also known for helping General Ulysses S. Grant capture the city of Vicksburg, Mississippi, in 1863. His actions made him a national hero. He was promoted to Vice Admiral in 1864 and promoted again to Admiral in 1866. He passed away on August 14, 1870 in Portsmouth, New Hampshire (MICROSOFT ENCARTA, 1993-2003 Microsoft Corporation).
The Civil War was The Great American Crossroads. As Themistocles famously once said, “He who controls the sea controls everything.” He’s right. The Union would not have won the Civil War without dominating the sea. What is equally true is that, Union naval superiority would not have been achieved without a Hastings resident, Admiral David Glasgow Farragut!
Previous Slices of History include:
About the Authors:
We are both Town Historians at Greenburgh Town Hall and we are engaged to be married and are currently looking for permanent employment.
I was born and raised in a small rural town in central Pennsylvania. In high school, I took every honors course available including four years of Spanish. I received A’s in all of them. I graduated third in my class of 146 students. This brought me to Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. Once there, I continued my trend of academic excellence. I graduated summa cum laude in Political Science with a minor in Spanish and a Master’s in Communication Studies, with a G.P.A of 3.94. It was also there that I met my lovely fiancée, Felicia Barber. My Master’s in Communication has promoted public speaking, teamwork, and customer service. My Political Science degree has developed my research skills using computer-based tools and provided me with experience using the Microsoft Office products. My minor in Spanish has facilitated my bilingual capabilities. During my internship at Greenburgh, I created the petition for the State Roads project using website tools. My diverse education and areas of interest have provided me with a wide range of skills. I look forward to finding a career opportunity in business or government. To suggest a topic for next week’s article, you can contact me at email@example.com, or to help me find employment, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I was born in New York City and raised in Hartsdale, New York. I graduated from Ardsley High School. I recently earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Graphic Design at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. It was here that I met my fiancé, Riley Wentzler. As a result of my academic excellence, I won a scholarship every year. I learned and applied many graphic design skills to projects during my summer internships and at school. I am proficient in using Adobe graphic design applications including Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign. For my Identity/branding course at Edinboro, I created logos to appear on the tee-shirts of Physical Education majors. For a veteran’s upcoming event, I used a typeface to focus the reader to the soldier in the poster. For the State Roads Legislative Campaign project, I created the embedded graphic-photo that accompanied the petition I am looking for a job to utilize my skills as a Graphic Designer in an agency, print shop, company or government To suggest a topic for next week’s article, you can contact me at email@example.com. To learn more about my artwork or to help me find employment you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Two Interviews with the authors:
Franks, T. &. (1960). Sink The Bismarck [Recorded by J. Horton]. New York City, New York, United States of America.
Hasting Historical Society. (2023, (NOT GIVEN) (NOT GIVEN)). Notable Residents. Retrieved from Hasting Historical Society: https://hastingshistoricalsociety.org/notable-residents/
Microsoft Corporation. (1993-2003, (Not Given) (Not Given)). Encarta Encyclopedia. Redmond, Washington, United States of America.
National Park Service. ((NOT GIVEN), (NOT GIVEN) (NOT GIVEN)). Farragut, Admiral David Glasgow, Gravesite Bronx New York. Retrieved from nps.gov: https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/american_latino_heritage/farragut_gravesite.html
The Lehrman Institute. (2002, (NOT GIVEN) (NOT GIVEN)). The Generals and Admirals: David Glasgow Farragut (1801-1870). Retrieved from Mr. Lincoln's White House: http://www.mrlincolnswhitehouse.org/residents-visitors/the-generals-and-admirals/generals-admirals-david-glasgow-farragut-1801-1870/
Wki Quotes. (2023, April 18). He who controls the sea controls everything.“ — Themistocles. Retrieved from Quotepark.com: https://quotepark.com/quotes/1743851-themistocles-he-who-controls-the-sea-controls-everything/