February 14, 1865: That uncultured old tar Farragut

Admiral David Farragut

The Richmond Daily Dispatch paints us a portrait of Admiral Farragut. Sure, he took Mobile, but given his lack of social graces, it hardly counts.

How Farragut was “lashed to the mast”–told by himself.

The Brooklyn-Union gives a detailed account of the brilliant assemblage and the enthusiastic reception of the Old Hero at the Academy of Music there, recently.

The Admiral and a few ladies and gentlemen were present at a substantial collation, and there was such a jolly time.

“Admiral,” said a lady, “do tell if it was true, as they said, that you were lashed to the mast down at Mobile Bay?”

“Well,” said the Admiral — whom we have already said is as artless as a child–“I’ll tell you all about it. You know in a fight the smoke of the guns lies on the water, and, naturally, I would want to see over it, to know what was going on. Well, I would jump upon a box — so high” (indicating with his hand;) “then I would get up a little higher, and by and by I got up to where they said. I suppose I was two hours getting as high as that. I had a little rope that I had lashed around me, just to keep me from falling, in case I should get hurt.–Every one, you know, is liable to get hurt in a fight.”

“When have you heard from your friend, Admiral Buchanan?” asked a gentleman. “O, I saw a letter from him yesterday. He complains bitterly of his hard treatment, as he calls it, at Fort Lafayette, and wants me to use my influence to get him in the Naval Hospital. They (the rebels) all seem to think a good deal of me,” he continued with charming naivete. “although I have done so much to hurt ’em.”

“Buchanan didn’t lose his leg,” he remarked in correction of an observation of one of the company. “The navy saved that for him, although we tried our best to knock it off. Tell you what,” he went on, “I was glad enough to see that flag come down on the ram.
“Which do you like best, Admiral — being afloat or ashore?” inquired another lady. “Well,” he replied, with a smile, “I enjoy life everywhere. I take the world as I find it.” That he enjoys life was evident enough last night to all who had the delight of seeing him.

“Well, Admiral, what do you think of the war?” was another question. It was not often, you know, that we had a chance to pump at such an illustrious handle. “It’s all right. We’ve got ’em. They’ll begin to show it soon.” He expressed great hopes of the expedition that has recently sailed. “Porter,” said he, “is a noble fellow. I know him well, and he will not disappoint the country.”

We congratulate him (we trust not many hours in advance) on his probable elevation to the rank of Vice-Admiral, in pursuance of the resolution perfected in Congress yesterday.

He replied: “I’m much obliged to them. I’m very thankful to everybody”–as if he could think of any special ground people have for honoring him above his fellows.

And so the glorious old fellow (we don’t know either, why we should call such a merry old boy “old”) went on with a flow of delightful talk, of which we are sure he will pardon and our readers thank us for giving so much to the public.

About 12 o’clock he arose to go, and upon being offered an escort to New York, he said: “When I am pecking around down South, then I often want a pilot; but around here I am at home, and can paddle my own canoe.” He at length consented to accept a “convoy,” as he called it, but insisted that it should be a “single” man. Said he, “I know what good wives sometimes-say when their husbands are out too late.”

Commodore Farragut seems to be one of the old school of naval commanders. We have faint recollections of some specimens of that genus. Trunnion, which used to have such rotundity of belly, such a rubicund visage, such a roll in its fat legs; whose mouth was always filled with a quid or a curse,–generally both; who had a sovereign contempt for all human learning, and, with a perfect knowledge of its own profession, was as “eagnarant” as a horse of all other earthly acquirements. To see one of these potensates of the deep on a quarter deck in former times was far superior to the spectacle of the King of Dahomy on a Court day. There was no mundane dignity like unto that ancient mariner, and it was as much as any man’s head was worth to say Good Morning to him.

We know that Farragut is a fine old seaman, from the fact that he knows nothing else, which was the infallible test of nautical merit half a century ago.–Our most successful commanders in the late war were valiant, unlettered souls, whose cranial developments were all in the cerebellum, or, as Farragut would say, the stern of the head, which was little more than one huge bump of destructiveness. There was old Commodore Chauncey, for example, who, when called upon for a toast at a public dinner invariably gave, in solemn and sepulchral tones, “The memory of George Washington.” When we think how many public dinners, in a long life and in all parts of the world, that old commodore must have eaten, and how many gallons of wine he must have drank, we cannot sufficiently admire the fertility of invention which always produced that original sentiment. We shall never look upon the like again of those famous old sea kings.

Farragut is the last link between canvas and steam; between the educated naval gentlemen of the modern school, whose profession could never be guessed from any peculiarities of person or speech, and those weather-beaten Old Blowhards who rolled in their gait like a ship in a storm, and whose vernacular was so saturated with tar that they could not describe the simple operation of brushing up their hair to go to a party without speaking of it as swaying up the royal-yards, preparatory to making sail for a large fleet under their lee; and who avoided a collision with their wives by ordering them to put their helm a weather, and bear up to make way for the commanding officer.

In like manner, Farragut, who appears to have been, at the best, half seas over, talks about “convoys,” and makes such an ass of himself generally that we doubt not he is the best seaman of the old school now alive. Like “the last rose of summer, he is left blooming alone, all its lovely companions faded and gone;” or, to use his own dialect, their timbers being greatly decayed with age, and the water gaining upon the pumps, the rest of the fleet have gone to the bottom.–Water, that treacherous element, is the seaman’s implacable foe, a fact of which the sailors of the old school showed their appreciation by never taking it aboard when they could get anything stronger. Farragut, from the exhibition at Brooklyn, seems to have a true nautical horror of mixing his grog, and if water ever reaches his decks, it will not be from any lack of vigilance on his part to avoid such a danger.

It is quite impossible to discuss with gravity his maudlin allusions to Admiral Buchanan–a gentleman who is as high above himself in all that commands respect as the main-truck above the kelson; nor to vouchsafe even contempt to those miserable flunkeys by whom he was surrounded, whose greatest glory is that they “had a chance to pump at such an illustrious handle.” What must a native-born son of the South, the husband of a Virginia lady, think of himself when such spaniels lick the dust from his feet and the blood from his hands — the blood of men, and those men his countrymen and kindred.

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