Lincoln's Admiral: The Civil War Campaigns of David Farragutby James P. Duffy
"Damn the torpedoes. . . . Full speed ahead."
Admiral David Farragut's bold order at the Battle of Mobile Bay has served as a rallying cry for the United States Navy for a century. Described as "urbane" and "indomitable" by contemporaries, and lionized as an "American Viking" by the Northern press during the Civil War, Farragut was considered gallant, brilliant,
"Damn the torpedoes. . . . Full speed ahead."
Admiral David Farragut's bold order at the Battle of Mobile Bay has served as a rallying cry for the United States Navy for a century. Described as "urbane" and "indomitable" by contemporaries, and lionized as an "American Viking" by the Northern press during the Civil War, Farragut was considered gallant, brilliant, and humane by friend and foe alike.
Recently discovered primary source material sheds new light on Farragut's life and times. The first full admiral in American naval history, he was small in stature and almost sixty years old at the outbreak of the Civil War. Yet Farragut possessed enormous courage and stamina. He led by example and became an inspiration to the entire nation.
At the start of the Civil War, many thought Farraguta southerner by birthwould join the Confederate cause. But he had spent almost five decades serving aboard ships that flew the American flag. His unwavering loyalty to the Northern cause was founded in the belief that the South's secession was a first, fatal step toward national collapse.
Thoroughly researched and compellingly written, Lincoln's Admiral examines Farragut's command of the most daring and important assignment of the Civil War: the mission to recapture the vital Southern port of New Orleans. With meticulous detail, Duffy deftly retraces the steps that led up to that critical campaign.
New Orleans's defenses against attack from the Gulf were formidable. In the dead of night, Farragut ordered men to board rebel barrier ships stationed in the river and plant explosives.
"In the rigging of his flagship, the Hartford, high above the mantle of smoke, stood sixty-three-year-old Rear Admiral David Farragut. It was the only location aboard ship that afforded a panorama of the battle. He held a spyglass firmly in one hand, and a megaphone in the other. Bound securely to the mast, Farragut deftly directed the action of his fleet in what would be one of the most important naval engagements of the Civil War. He periodically raised the spyglass toward the bay, keeping a watchful eye on the Tennessee and her able commander and his old friend, Confederate admiral Franklin Buchanan. Had a rebel shell struck the Hartford's mast, a prized target of every Confederate gunner, Farragut would have crashed to the deck, or been catapulted overboard." - from Lincoln's Admiral
Farragut positioned his boats and prepared his men for battle, carefully planning every detail of the fleet's advance. The fleet passed Fort St. Philip and Fort Jackson single file as both forts opened fire with a deafening roar and covered the river with dense smoke. Navigating the treacherous Mississippi and bypassing the defenses, Farragut eventually recaptured the South's largest port, while losing only thirty-seven men.
Lincoln's Admiral also offers new insights into the Battle of Mobile Bay, arguably Farragut's most famous campaign. Farragut launched an attack against one of the forts in Mobile Bay as a ploy to fool the enemy into thinking that he was preparing to capture Mobile itself. His goal was to keep as many troops in and around the city as possible so they weren't diverted north to defend against Sherman's final offensive. It was at Mobileas the fleet moved into the bay with Farragut's Hartford in the leadthat Farragut uttered his famous command. Unsure of where the enemy torpedoes were, but knowing that to hesitate would mean defeat, Farragut gambled and gave the famous order: "Damn the torpedoes. . . . Go ahead, Jouett, full speed ahead."
An expansive and compelling chronicle of Farragut's career, Lincoln's Admiral traces the brilliant decisions and wartime strategy of one of history's greatest military leaders.
To complement (and correct) the mainly army perspective found in most Civil War histories, Duffy (Target Hitler, not reviewed, etc.) presents a record of the frequently overlooked naval aspects of that conflict, as reflected in the career of David Farragut. Born in the South, Farragut went to sea as a midshipman when he was nine. While Duffy offers a summary of Farragut's life before the war, he is primarily interested in Farragut's Civil War years. He explains in some detail the often highly unorthodox strategies Farragut used to shut down Southern ports. And he explores Farragut's unwavering determination to overcome any obstacle in his way, including suspicions about his loyalty expressed by some fellow officers, aroused by the presence of a Southerner in the Federal navy; jealousies stirred by his early successes, which delayed promotion; and the opposition of bureaucrats in Washington, who attempted to reverse some of his naval strategies. Farragut, who held an unshakable belief in the necessity of preserving the Union (and who, having largely grown up at sea, had little sympathy for the South), always persevered. His brilliant campaigns on the Mississippi and his capture of New Orleans electrified the North. His blockade actions captured over 1,500 vessels. And his great victory at Mobile Bay against determined resistance, and under daunting circumstances, closed another Southern lifeline and diverted Confederate forces away from the defense of Atlanta. Duffy argues that Farragut's actions had more to do with the downfall of the Confederacy than some of the more celebrated land battles.
A highly readable chronicle of a remarkable man, and an exciting account of decisive incidents in naval history.
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Meet the Author
JAMES P. DUFFY is the author of Target Hitler and Hitler Slept Late: And Other Blunders That Cost the Nazis the War, both selections of the Military Book Club.
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As the other reviewer mentioned, Farragut's pre Civil War life is briefly summarized - but it is an important summary. A veteran of the War of 1812, Farragut learned much, including the bitterness of defeat in that war. Also, although a son of the south, he had served a lifetime under the Stars 'n Stripes and when the flag was fired on at Fort Sumpter it was his flag that was defiled. The river campaigns are dealt with in detail, the must part for Civil War buffs. His greatest achievment was Mobile Bay of course, and although declining health forced him to leave active service thereafter he did live several more years and was the rightful recipient of numerous acolades. And for naval history buffs, he was in many ways America's Nelson. His 'damn the torpedoes' order very much was in the spirit of Nelson's command at the start of Trafalger "Engage the enemy more closely". And another generation of American naval officers took this to heart, as Commander Dewey commented his thought as he ordered his fleet to attack the Spanish in Manila Bay in 1898 was "What would Farragut have done?"
I found this book to be full of great information, while being very readable. I love that the first 60 years of Farragut's life was confined to the first short chapter. Most of the book concentrated on the major battles: the strategies, delays, shortages, mistakes, politics & ultimate triumphs. It is wonderful that this is what the book focused on, not getting bogged down with what happened elsewhere. I did not learn about David Farragut when I was in school. What I have discovered, thanks to this book, is that the admiral was a real hero. Taking New Orleans was a stroke of pure genius. Yet, like all truly great men, he downplayed his own incredible bravery & mourned all the lives lost under his command. I heartily suggest using Lincoln's Admiral as a textbook in studies of the Civil War.