“Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” These words are often used to memorialize the bold David Glasgow Farragut. More a paraphrase than a quote, the words have made their way into popular culture, as in this WWI poster using Farragut’s dauntless attitude to encourage enlistment in the navy.
Farragut was born in 1801 and joined the navy in 1810. He changed his name from James to David, after his adoptive father, David Porter. Farragut fought in the War of 1812 and was given the responsibility of bringing the USS Essex, a captured ship, safely into port when he was twelve years old.
Many years later at the start of the Civil War, Farragut chose to serve for the Union, even though he lived in Virginia. He served as an admiral and gained his fame in the Battle of Mobile Bay. The waters were littered with Confederate torpedoes, and the fleet had already watched the USS Tecumseh sink from one. The rest of the ships held back. Farragut fiercely yelled, “Damn the torpedoes! Four bells! Captain Drayton, go ahead! Jouett, full speed!” The fleet made it through the battle and defeated the squadron of Admiral Franklin Buchanan.
A few months after the Battle of Mobile Bay, Farragut was the pallbearer at President Lincoln’s funeral. He continued his service to his country and remained active in the navy for the rest of his life. When he died in 1870, his second wife, Virginia Loyall Farragut, received “a pension at the rate of two thousand dollars per annum…”
Find more Civil War records in the Navy Widow’s Certificates.