A piece of naval history: Admiral Farragut's fire bucket

7/30/2020 Nathan Cooper

One of America’s best-known naval commanders was Admiral David Farragut, who commanded a portion of the Union Navy that conducted operations along the Gulf Coast and the Mississippi River during the Civil War. His many victories inspired Congress on three different occasions to create new ranks so Farragut could be promoted further -- to rear admiral, vice admiral and finally to full admiral.

Farragut as a rear admiral during the Civil War

The most famous incident of Farragut’s naval career came at the Battle of Mobile Bay in August 1864. When one of his ships was sunk by a naval mine (called a torpedo), other ships began slowing. Farragut told two of his officers, “Damn the torpedoes! Four bells, Captain Drayton, go ahead. Jouett, full speed. ” The quote has been simplified over the years to, “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!”

His determination spurred the Union fleet to victory, depriving the Confederacy of an important port in the Gulf of Mexico.

 A fire bucket from the U.S.S. Hartford

Farragut’s flagship during the battle was the U.S.S. Hartford, a steam powered sloop-of-war. Fire was a major threat to ships, so fire-fighting buckets were kept handy. This bucket from the Hartford is part of the presidential library’s collection.

Farragut was promoted to full admiral in 1866, becoming the first person in American history to reach that rank. He remained on active duty for the rest of his life. He died in 1870, ending a naval career that began when he was a boy and had lasted nearly 60 years.

 The U.S.S. Hartford

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