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Civil War U.S. Navy Admiral David Farragut 3 – First Command

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Battle of the <em>Essex</em> and the HMS <em>Phoebe</em>

Duel of the USS Essex and HMS Pheobe

Civil War hero and admiral David Farragut literally grew up at sea. In the U.S. Navy since the age of ten, he served under David Porter as a midshipman beginning in 1811 on the USS Essex. A surrogate father, “Porter supervised his education and training while seizing every opportunity to throw responsibility on the boy.”[1] His first command, at the age of twelve, was of a prize ship, the recaptured American whaler Barclay. [2] Success in this command required that the young Farragut deal with the Barclay’s disgruntled captain, and he accomplished this by threatening to throw the man overboard if he came up on deck. The tactic worked and earned him early respect. [3]

David Farragut saw action against the H.M.S. Phoebe while serving on the USS Essex in 1813. [4] During the USS Essex’s losing battle with the HMS Phoebe, “Farragut served as captain’s aide, quarter gunner, and powder boy. He witnessed the evisceration of a boatswain’s mate by one shot, the amputation of a quartermaster’s leg by another, and the killing of four men by a third shot that splattered him with the last man’s brains. He narrowly escaped death himself when a shot struck a man beside him full in the face. The man fell back on him, and the two tumbled down an open hatch, with the man landing on top of him” sans head. [5] So Farragut was intimately familiar with both the fog of war and its horrors.

See an excellent summary of the sea battle between USS Essex and the HMS Phoebe here.

[1] The Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea, Peter Kemp, ed., (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), 296.
[2] Schneller, Jr., Robert J. Farragut: America’s First Admiral. (Washington, D.C.: Brassey’s, Inc., 2002), 12.
[3] Ibid.
[4] The Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea, Peter Kemp, ed., (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), 296.
[5] Schneller, Jr., Robert J. Farragut: America’s First Admiral, 13-14.