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Farragut, Admiral David Glasgow, Gravesite

Bronx, New York

The Farragut Gravesite and Monument in Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, New York

The Farragut Gravesite and Monument
in Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, New York
Courtesy of Anthony22, Wikimedia Commons

"Damn the torpedoes!" -- Admiral David G. Farragut, 1864

A figure of transcendent historical importance, Admiral David Glasgow Farragut devoted his life to service in the United States Navy. The son of a Spanish-American immigrant and Revolutionary War veteran, Farragut himself was a Civil War hero remembered for his bravery at the Battle of Mobile Bay. Farragut was the first person to hold the ranks of Vice Admiral, Rear Admiral, and full Admiral in the United States Navy. Farragut’s gravesite in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx is a National Historic Landmark and the only known surviving property directly associated with Farragut that overall retains high integrity. Woodlawn Cemetery, which is a National Historic Landmark, is the final resting place for many well-known Americans and Farragut’s public burial there in 1870 was one of the cemetery’s earliest interments.

David Farragut was born James Glasgow Farragut to George (Jorge) Farragut and Elizabeth Shine Farragut on July 5, 1801. His father, merchant seaman Jorge Antonio Farragut-Mesquida, was born on the Spanish island Minorca in 1755. Jorge and David Farragut are descendants of conquistador Don Pedro Farragut who served the King of Aragon, a realm that included eastern Spain, during the 13th century. For Pedro Farragut’s efforts in the wars to retake land settled by Moors in the western Mediterranean, the king of Spain gave the prominent Farragut family a title and estates on Minorca.

Over 500 years later, Jorge Farragut left Minorca as a young man to work on merchant ships. In 1776, he immigrated to South Carolina, Anglicized his name to “George,” joined South Carolina’s continental navy, and fought the British on land and at sea in the American Revolution. He met his wife, Scotch-Irish American Elizabeth Shine, in 1795. The Farraguts lived in Campbell’s Station, Tennessee until 1807 when Jorge was stationed at New Orleans.

Admiral David G. Farragut, ca. 1855-1865

Admiral David G. Farragut, ca. 1855-1865
Library of Congress

In New Orleans, seven-year-old James Farragut left his birth family to join the Porter family. His mother died in 1808 during a yellow fever epidemic, but before she passed away, she and her husband cared for naval officer David Porter. Grateful to the Farraguts for caring for his father, David Porter’s son, also David Porter, offered to adopt James, and Jorge Farragut said yes. The younger David Porter was a naval commander and James, who later wrote that he was inspired by the commander’s uniform, quickly agreed to go with the Porters. Later in life, Farragut wrote, “to the day of his death Comdre Porter was a father to me and I never saw my own father again.” After the adoption, the Porters left New Orleans and moved to Washington, D.C., and then West Chester, Pennsylvania. By the time he was nine years old, Farragut was a midshipman in the U.S. Navy and remained on active duty until his death at age 69.

Farragut first saw action during the War of 1812, while he served on Porter’s ship, the USS Essex. At the start of the war, the Essex patrolled the South American coast to hunt British whaling ships, but soon joined the fighting. During the War of 1812, Farragut had his first command, a captured British ship named the HMS Barclay. He also participated in his first naval battle during the war when British warships cornered the Essex. The bloody skirmish lasted over two hours and killed 58 of Porter’s crew. This first battle hardened Farragut and Porter was impressed by his ward’s ability to perform under pressure. During the war, James changed his first name to David in honor of his adoptive father.

After the war, Farragut served in U.S. fleets in the Mediterranean and the Caribbean. He married his first wife, Susan Merchant of Norfolk, Virginia, in 1823 and two years later received a promotion to lieutenant. In 1838, Farragut served in the Gulf of Mexico, where he witnessed the French attack on Veracruz. Nine years later, he referred to his knowledge of Veracruz’s defenses and his ability to speak Spanish when he requested a naval command during the Mexican-American War. In the meantime, his first wife died of illness in 1840 and he remarried three years later. His second wife, Virginia Loyall Farragut, was also from Norfolk. She was the mother of his only surviving son, Loyall Farragut.

When the Mexican-American War was underway, Farragut received command of a ship in the Gulf in 1847, but was too late to the war to direct the bombardment of the city of Veracruz. In the 1850s, the navy promoted him to captain and he established the first U.S. naval base on the west coast, California’s Mare Island Naval Ship Yard. By the eve of the Civil War, Captain Farragut was approaching retirement from a successful, though not yet celebrated, career.

Map of Mobile Bay, 1861, where Farragut ordered his fleet through a torpedo field in 1864

Map of Mobile Bay, 1861, where Farragut ordered his fleet through a
torpedo field in 1864
H.H. Lloyd & Co's Campaign Military Charts,
Public Domain

As a captain in the United State Navy living in Norfolk, Virginia, Farragut had to choose a side quickly at the start of the Civil War. Though he spent his early years in the South and maintained a home in Virginia, Farragut was loyal to the Union and to the U.S. Navy. In 1861, the Farraguts fled Virginia and settled in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, as refugees. Farragut waited there for orders from the Navy Department. Farragut’s move to New York caught the attention of the Union Secretary of the Navy, who was searching for an officer to command an assault on New Orleans.

Glowing references from Farragut’s peers and records of Farragut’s foresight in the Gulf of Mexico in 1838 secured his command. His flagship during the Civil War was the USS Hartford, a newly commissioned sloop-of-war. Under Farragut’s leadership, the United States Navy took New Orleans and surrounding Confederate forts in the spring of 1862. This victory boosted moral in the North and propelled Farragut into the public spotlight. Soon after the battle, Congress created the new rank of rear admiral in order to promote Farragut, who became the first man to hold that rank in the United States Navy.

Farragut is perhaps most famous for his victory at the Battle of Mobile Bay in 1864, where he led his fleet through a field of “torpedoes,” submerged explosives, while they took Confederate fire from the shore. According to Loyall Farragut’s David Farragut biography, as the fleet moved through the bay the admiral knew it was too late to turn back, so he shouted, “Damn the torpedoes! Four bells! Captain Drayton, go ahead! Jouett, full speed!” In popular culture, he is often quoted as saying, “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!” The Union fleet lost one ironclad ship to the explosives, the USS Tecumseh, and 335 men, but Farragut took Fort Morgan and secured the blockade.

After this second major victory, Congress awarded Farragut with the official Thanks of Congress. He was the only Civil War officer to receive this honor twice. Congress also created the rank of vice admiral, to which Farragut immediately received a promotion. Citizens of New York City raised a $50,000 gift for Farragut, which he received on New Year’s Day, 1865. With inflation, this gift today is equal to three quarters of a million dollars. In 1866, Congress promoted Farragut a final time when it created the new rank of admiral (four stars).

Admiral Farragut and his wife went on a world tour after the war. Virginia Farragut received special permission from President Johnson to join her husband on the USS Franklin, as Farragut attended social events with heads of state throughout Europe. The couple visited Spanish Minorca where Farragut’s father was born, as well as Portugal, Gibraltar, Italy, Malta, Holland, Belgium, Greece, Turkey, France, Switzerland, Sweden, England, and Russia. On the return trip, Farragut became ill and, although he recovered, he remained in a weakened condition.

The Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx

The Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx
Courtesy of the Woodlawn Cemetery

Farragut returned to the Portsmouth Navy Yard in Kittery, Maine, on the Tallapoosa. He carried out his official duties from a sickbed at the Commandant’s Residence, before he died August 14, 1870. The mayor of New York City asked the navy to return Farragut’s remains to the northern city that embraced the Virginian officer just nine years earlier. On October 1, soldiers, sailors, and politicians -- including President Ulysses S. Grant -- formed a funeral procession two miles long to escort the admiral’s coffin to his final resting place at Woodlawn Cemetery.

Admiral David Glasgow Farragut’s historic gravesite is in Lot Number 1429-44, Section 14, a large circle in the center of the Woodlawn Cemetery’s larger Aurora Hill Plot, where Farragut and his immediate family are interred. Farragut was the first person to be buried in the cemetery’s Aurora Hill Plot. His wife, son, and daughter-in-law joined him there later. The impressive Farragut Monument marks the gravesite. The monument is a tall, carved, marble pillar on a granite block, and was the work of New York City-based stone carvers, Casoni & Isola. At the base of the pillar, carved into the stone, are symbols of Farragut’s military career: three shields that represent Farragut’s connection to the U.S. Navy, the forts he took at New Orleans, and his Civil War flagship, the Hartford; an anchor; a sword; a sextant; a draped sail; and a compass. The stone monument is worn, but otherwise in good condition.

Farragut’s grand funeral promoted the new Woodlawn Cemetery, founded in 1863, and his monument set the early standard for the cemetery’s memorial architecture. In the decades that followed the admiral’s death, the rural cemetery received a reputation as a graveyard of America’s northeastern elite and as a gallery for skilled stone carvers and architects. Today, Farragut’s gravesite on Aurora Hill is the best-preserved property directly associated with the first rear admiral, vice admiral, and four-star admiral in United States history. Woodlawn Cemetery is a National Historic Landmark because of its significance in landscape architecture, built architecture, and art.

Plan your visit

Farragut, Admiral David Glasgow, Gravesite is a National Historic Landmark located at Lot Number 1429-44, Section 14, in the Aurora Hill in Woodlawn Cemetery Plot just south of the intersection of East 233rd St. and Webster Ave. in Bronx, NY. Woodlawn Cemetery is open daily from 8:30am to 5:00pm. The cemetery’s administration office is open during those hours, except on Federal holidays. For more information, visit the Woodlawn Cemetery website or call 718-920-0500.

David Farragut is featured on the Vicksburg National Military Park website. The Old Louisiana State Capitol in New Orleans, captured after Farragut’s victory in 1862, is featured in the National Park Service Explore the History and Culture of Southeastern Louisiana travel itinerary and the Mobile National Cemetery is featured in Civil War Era National Cemeteries: Honoring Those Who Served travel itinerary.

The Battle of Mobile Bay is the subject of an online lesson plan, Fort Morgan and the Battle of Mobile Bay. The lesson plan has been produced by the National Park Service’s Teaching with Historic Places program, which offers a series of online classroom-ready lesson plans on registered historic places. To learn more, visit the Teaching with Historic Places home page.

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