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Farragut & Our Naval Commanders

By J. T. Headley
Comprising the early life and public services of the prominent naval commanders who, with Grant and Sherman and their generals, brought to a triumphant close the great rebellion of 1861-1865. (First edition 1867)

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There are some rear-admirals whose biographies are not given in the foregoing sketches, not, as remarked in the preface, because they are inferior in any of the great qualities that distinguish our naval commanders, but because their services happened to be of a kind during the war which possess but little interest to the public. Others have attained their rank by seniority. Among the latter is Admiral Craven. He distinguished himself, however, as commander of the Brooklyn, in the passage of the forts below New Orleans, of which he gives the following account:


"In consequence of the darkness of the night and the blinding smoke, I lost sight of your ship, and when following in the line of what I supposed to be your fire, I suddenly found the Brooklyn running over one of the hulks and rafts which sustained the chain barricade of the river. For a few moments I was entangled and fell athwart the stream, our bow grazing the shore on the left bank of the river. While in this situation I received a pretty severe fire from Fort St. Philip. Immediately after extricating my ship from the rafts, her head was turned up stream, and a few minutes thereafter she was feebly butted by the celebrated ram Manassas. She came butting into our starboard gangway, first firing from her trap-door, when within about ten feet of the ship, directly towards our smoke-stack, her shot entering about five feet above the water-line and lodging in the sand-bags which protected our steam-drum. I had discovered this queer-looking gentleman, while forcing my way over the barricade, lying close into the bank, and when he made his appearance the second time I was so close to him that he had not an opportunity to get up his full speed, and his efforts to damage me were completely frustrated, our chain armor proving a perfect protection to our sides. Hie soon slid off and disappeared in the darkness. A few moments thereafter, being all the time under a raking fire from Fort Jackson, I was attacked by a large rebel steamer. Our port broadside, at the short distance of only fifty or sixty yards, completely finished him, setting him on fire almost instantaneously.

Still groping my way in the dark, or under the black cloud of smoke from the fire raft, I suddenly found myself abreast of St. Philip, and so close that the leadsman in the starboard chains gave the soundings "thirteen feet, sir." As we could bring all our guns to bear, for a few brief moments we poured in grape and canister, and I had the satisfaction of completely silencing that work before I left it—my men in the tops witnessing, in the flashes of their bursting shrapnel, the enemy running like sheep for more comfortable quarters.

After passing the forts we engaged several of the enemy’s gunboats; and being at short range-generally from sixty to a hundred yards-the effects of our broadsides must have been terrific. This ship was under fire about one hour and a half. We lost eight men killed, and had twenty-six wounded, and our damages from the enemy’s shot and shell are severe.


He afterwards commanded the Niagara, which captured the rebel privateer Georgia after she had been turned into a British merchantman. Born in the District of Columbia, he entered the navy in 1822, and hence has been in the service over forty years. He is distinguished as a gallant, able commander.



commanded most of the time during the war the Pacific squadron, and although his position was an important one to the country it afforded no opportunity for him to distinguish himself. A native of New York State, he entered the navy in the opening of the war of 1812, and hence at the beginning of the rebellion had been nearly fifty years in the service. Although on the retired list, he near the close of the war was put in command of the Navy Yard at New York.



who succeeded him in the command of the Pacific squadron, was most of the time stationed at the Portsmouth navy yard, and hence took little part in active operations afloat. He succeeded in 1864 in capturing a gang of desperadoes under the leadership of an officer of the rebel navy, who had embarked in disguise on board of the steamship San Salvador at Panama for the purpose of seizing her, and then capture treasure-ships, and prey on our commerce in the Pacific Ocean. For this he received the thanks of the secretary of the navy. The officer who had direct charge of the business was Commander H. K. Davenport. A native of New Hampshire, he entered the navy in 1814, and hence has been over half a century in the service.



has won his way up by meritorious service, having distinguished himself in the first great naval combat of the war—the capture of Port Royal by Dupont, and in the last action, the bombardment of Fort Fisher, in which as Commodore he commanded a division under Porter. A thorough officer and a gallant man, it is not his fault that he never won renown as the leader of a great expedition. Born in Pennsylvania, he entered the service in 1819. At the close of the war he was given the command of the Brazilian squadron.



for a while commanded the gulf blockading squadron, but fell sick under his exposure and hard labor, and was succeeded by Admiral Bailey. He afterwards commanded in the James River, and subsequently was placed over the West India squadron, and continued to command it till near the close of the war, when it was broken up by the Department. A native of Pennsylvania, he entered the service in 1819, and now, under the law which limits the term of service afloat to 47 years, is on the retired list.



who died during the last year at the advanced age of seventy-six, was a native of New Haven, and entered the service in 1800. He distinguished himself in the war of 1812, and was taken prisoner and impressed into the English service, but soon effected his escape. His name was prominent before the public in the celebrated Amistad case, in which he rescued a cargo of Africans from a slaver, and brought them to this country, where they were subsequently released, and returned to their homes by the Government. On the breaking out of the rebellion, although he had reached threescore and ten, he hastened to Washington to offer his services to the Government. He was given charge of the construction of all the gunboats built in New York and Brooklyn, and took great interest in the building of the first monitor at Greenpoint. He was subsequently charged with the supervision of the East in connection with Commodore Hull. He was an able officer and universally beloved.



was another Southerner by birth, who maintained his loyalty when so many went over to the Confederacy. Born in Virginia, he entered the navy in 1825, and hence had been in the service about thirty years when the war broke out. With the New Ironsides as his flagship, he commanded the ironclad division in the attack on Fort Fisher. He now commands the navy yard at Washington.

There are several others on the retired list, all gallant officers, the notice of whom, however, does not come within the scope of this work, which has to do only with those who took an active part in the recent war. Their record belongs to a naval history in which their names will hold a conspicuous place.



What has been said of the admirals would apply also to our commodores, excepting that most of the latter won their rank for gallant services under other commanders, in the biographies of whom a detailed account of those services is given.

A separate sketch of these, therefore, to be lengthy, would require a recapitulation of what has been said previously, and could not have been omitted in an account of the events narrated. Among these, Commodore Walke stands conspicuous.

His first command was the Tyler, a wooden gunboat constantly on duty between Cairo and Columbus, protecting our pickets and advanced posts. This boat, with the Lexington, conveyed the transports which carried the troops under Grant and McClernand to Belmont, and, after the battle, covered their embarkation. He also boldly advanced against the batteries, and for some time took their concentrated fire. His boat and the Lexington doubtless saved the crowded transports, in the retreat, from destruction.

He was soon afterwards transferred to the ironclad Carondelet, and took a prominent part in the attack on Fort Henry-his vessel firing over a hundred shots. His bold diversion in favor of Grant, and single-handed fight with Fort Donaldson, are mentioned in the sketch of Admiral Foote. In the subsequent fight his vessel suffered severely-having her wheel-house shot away, her rudder broken, and over thirty of her crew killed and wounded. This however was the first gunboat to take possession of the enemies’ works; and it being Sunday when the surrender was made, Captain Walke had divine service on board for the purpose of publicly thanking God for the great victory. Foote wrote a warm letter to the Department, eulogizing Walke highly and urging his promotion. But the passage of the batteries of Island No. 10 at midnight, in the midst of a terrible thunder-storm, a full description of which is given in the sketch of Admiral Foote, was the great act that distinguished him during this war. In this he stands out in all the sublime, grand proportions of a true hero, and will ever be held up as a model to be studied by our young naval officers. So also much might be said of



who, in the Brooklyn, was appointed to lead the fleet in the passage of Fort Morgan, and joined in the bombardment of Fort Fisher; but these services are mentioned in other places.

Commodores JAMES McKINSTRY, OLIVER S. GLISSON, AUGUSTUS HI. KILTY, JOHN B. MARCHAND, WM. RODGERS TAYLOR, BENJAMIN F. SANDS, DANIEL B. RIDGELY, and others, stand high in the roll of honor, and have received the warm commendation of their superiors.



Most of the present captains in the navy have won their rank by gallant services in the various engagements which have been described in the sketches of those commanders who fought them. Captain Drayton, had he lived, would, doubtless, have received by this time a high rank. A South Carolinian by birth, he, nevertheless, stood nobly by the old flag, and in his first action that of Port Royal-hurled his shot against the fort commanded by his own brother. He served with distinction under Dupont, who sent him to Fernandina and the adjacent waters to complete the conquest of the Southern coast. In such high estimation was he held, that Farragut selected him to command his flagship—the Hartford—when he forced the entrance to the harbor of Mobile.

There are always some officers who, from oversight or neglect, fail to get the promotion they deserve. How many in our navy stand in this category we are unable to say, but one or two, we are certain, ought to feel themselves hardly used, and among them Captain’ JAMES H. STRONG. Few were more constantly on duty or oftener under fire than he, and, as commander of the naval force that co-operated with General Banks, in his movement against Texas, he won the commendation of that general as well as of the commodore of the fleet. But the act which, in any navy in the world, would have secured his promotion, was his daring attack, single-handed, of the ram Tennessee, after he had passed Fort Morgan. Before Farragut had signalled the fleet to ram her, he wheeled out of line and ran with a full head of steam on straight into the ironclad monster, crushing in his own bows fearfully. Battered and broken, he wheeled again and drove his shattered bow a second time into her, while the shot tore through his decks. It was a gallant deed, and should have secured his promotion to commodore in the final action on the merit roll.

The same might be said of WM. LE BROY, who was the last to strike the ram, and received her surrender.

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