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David Dixon Porter

naval hero of the Civil War

David Dixon Porter

David Dixon Porter was born in Chester, Pennsylvania, on June 8, 1813. He was the son of Commodore David Porter, naval hero of the War of 1812, half-brother of William D. Porter, and foster brother of David Glasgow Farragut. He first went to sea at age ten, when he sailed with his father to fight pirates in the West Indies. He joined the Mexican Navy as a midshipman under his father at the age of thirteen, and entered the U. S. Navy as a midsnhipman at sixteen.

Porter's last duty as a midshipman was on the frigate United States, flagship of Commodore Daniel Patterson, from June 1832 until October 1834. After completing this tour of duty, was assigned to duty in the Coast Survey. On March 10, 1839, he married Georgie Ann Patterson, daughter of his former commander, with whom he ultimately had ten children. One of his sons, Carlile Patterson Porter, became a Lieutenant Colonel in the Marine Corps, and his son David Dixon became a Major General in the Marine Corps and was awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor in 1901 for service during Philippine War. In March of 1841, Porter was commissioned Lieutenant, and in April of the next year he was detached from the Coast Survey. After a brief tour of duty in the Mediterranean he was assigned to the U. S. Navy's Hydrographic Office.

By 1846 Porter had become almost bored with naval life during peacetime, but his enthusiasm was sparked by outbreak of the Mexican War that year. Although Mexico did not have a real navy, the U. S. Navy still saw some action during the war. In late-March of 1847, as a First Lieutenant aboard the sidewheel gunboat Spitfire, he participated in the bombardment and siege of the Castle of San Juan de Ulloa during General Winfield Scott's assault on Vera Cruz. In June of that same year he led a shore party of 70 sailors in the capture of Fort Tabasco. He was rewarded for this action with command of the Spitfire, but the war ended before he could prove himself in that position.

With the United States again at peace, Porter decided to take a leave of absence from the Navy in order to command civilian steamships. He returned to active duty in 1857, at which time he was promoted to First Lieutenant and placed in command of the Portsmouth (Rhode Island) Naval Yard, where he remained until 1860.

Soon after the Civil War began, Porter took command of the Powhatan in an abortive attempt to relieve Fort Pickens, Florida, after which he joined other Union naval forces in the blockade of major Southern ports. In the attack on New Orleans, Louisiana, in March of 1862, he directed a mortar squadron under the command of Farragut. Porter fired shells at Fort Jackson and Fort Saint Philip for four days, allowing Farragut's fleet to sail past the forts and destroy the Confederate fleet guarding the Mississippi River approach to New Orleans. The forts surrendered to Porter a few days later, and the city of New Orleans fell shortly thereafter.

Given command of the Mississippi Squadron in October of 1862, Porter was instrumental in the capture of Arkansas Post (Fort Hindman), Arkansas, in 1863. His squadron also played a vital role in the Siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi, and he was rewarded with a promotion to Rear Admiral. His only real failure as a naval officer came in April of 1864, when his gunboat squadron ran into unusually low water on the Red River; a team of army engineers had to dam the river in order to raise the water level enough for the ships to safely sail over the rapids. In 1865, as commander of the North Atlantic Squadron, he played a major role in the capture of Fort Fisher, North Carolina.

In 1866, David Farragut became the first Admiral of the U.S. Navy, and Porter was promoted to Vice Admiral. Porter subsequently served as Superintendent of the Naval Academy (1865-1869) and as a special advisor to the Department of the Navy (1869-1870). Promoted to Admiral in 1870 (after Farragut's death), Porter's last command was of the Key West fleet in 1873. He spent the rest of his career as the head of the Naval Board of Inspection and Survey, and died in Washington, D. C., on February 13, 1891; he is interred at Arlington National Cemetery.

Arlington National Cemetery
Civil War Trust

War of 1812
David Glasgow Farragut
Mexican War
Winfield Scott
Civil War

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The Robinson Library >> American History >> United States: General History and Description >> Civil War Period, 1861-1865 >> Biography, A-Z

This page was last updated on June 07, 2018.