Friday, September 30, 2011

Damn the Torpedoes...

Review by Bill Doughty
The Navy’s first four-star admiral began service as a preteen in the War of 1812.  He was a son of the South who fought for the North in the Civil War and later served as a pallbearer at President Lincoln’s funeral.  He commanded blue-water naval warships in brown-water littoral operations in the Mississippi river, reclaiming New Orleans and later winning at Mobile Bay, famously having himself lashed to the upper rigging to ensure command and control.
“...full speed ahead.”
It’s not till the final pages of Robert J. Schneller, Jr.’s Farragut: America’s First Admiral that Farragut’s hispanic ethnicity is discussed.
At the tender age of 12 Glasgow “David” Farragut sailed as a midshipman with his mentor Captain David Porter aboard the 32-gun frigate USS Essex, fighting in the War of 1812 to stop the British from interfering with commerce on the seas.
After a stormy passage around Cape Horn and a stop in Valparaiso, Chile, the Essex roved through the Galapagos Islands, capturing a dozen British whalers and earned Porter the distinction of commanding the first American warship in the Pacific.  During the voyage Farragut saw albatrosses, flying fish, seals, sea lions, redheaded lizards, iguanas, Galapagos terrapins and other exotic wildlife.  He also weathered fierce storms and choked down his share of worm- and weevil-ridden food.
Farragut served aboard, sailed with or commanded USS Vandalia, USS Boxer, USS Consellation, USS Erie, USS Pennsylvania, USS Saratoga and USS Hartford.  Ashore, he served as commandant of Mare Island Navy Yard.
Commodore Farragut aboard USS Hartford, 1864.
Schneller describes the admiral’s distinguished service in the Civil War, fighting against the Confederate Navy, despite his roots in the south -- born in Tennessee, a resident of Virginia.
Farragut achieved a hero’s status after the Civil War.  He was promoted as the nation’s first four-star admiral on the same day that Ulysses S. Grant became the nation’s first four-star general.
After his final promotion to admiral,  Farragut was assigned by Secretary of State William Seward as commander of the European Squadron, where his Hispanic heritage and Spanish fluency helped him succeed in building partnerships and promoting peace.
The author provides a CliffsNotes version of Farragut’s life, purposely focusing on the historical details of key battles and military strategy.  Farragut is revealed as a courageous leader unafraid to make bold decisions in the heat of battle but unwilling to fully adapt to new technologies of ironclad ships, rifled cannons and mechanical means of propulsion.
For those who wish to delve deeper into Farragut’s life, Schneller offers these suggestions:  Loyall Farragut’s The Life of David Glasgow Farragut, First Admiral of the United States Navy, Embodying His Journal and Letters, Alfred Thayer Mahan’s Admiral Farragut, and Charles Lee Lewis’s two-volume study, David Glasgow Farragut: Admiral in the Making / Our First Admiral.
Today Adm. Mike Mullen turned over the reins as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  The former Chief of Naval Operations prior to Adm. Gary Roughead and now Adm. Jonathan Greenert, Mullen initiated the Navy Professional Reading Program.  
As a student and teacher of history, Mullen often invoked memories of naval heroes.  Six years ago at a dedication ceremony of the Commodore Uriah P. Levy Center and Jewish Chapel at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., Mullen said:
“I believe in the power of our past to inspire and instruct, and I believe in the power of our convictions, which have sustained generations of leaders...
“We think of heroes like John Paul Jones, Stephen Decatur, David Glasgow Farragut; as well as Carl Brashear, Grace Hopper, and Jim Stockdale.     

“Their legacy is our tapestry, a uniquely American tapestry, sewn of many diverse faiths and beliefs, cultures and backgrounds, colors and creeds.  
“We recall those leaders not in terms of where they came from, but for what they left us.”
President Barack Obama, left, shares a moment with Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff change of responsibility ceremony on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Va., Sept. 30, 2011. Mullen was succeeded by Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, who became the18th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during the ceremony. DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jacob N. Bailey

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