David Porter (1 February 1780-3 March 1843) and David Dixon Porter (8 June 1813-13 February 1891).
David Porter was born in Boston, Mass., on 1 February 1780, and grew into a young man of strong spirit but delicate health. When 16 years of age in 1796, he went to sea with his father, Capt. David Porter, in merchant brig Eliza, on a voyage from Baltimore, Md., to the West Indies. An armed boat from a British man-of-war attempted to board Eliza while she visited Jeremie, Santo Domingo, to impress some of her crewmen into service with the Royal Navy, but Porter and his crew repelled the boarders with the loss of several men killed and wounded on both sides. The following year he sailed in another brig and again encountered the British, when a boat’s crew from a frigate attempted to board the U.S. brig. Porter leapt overboard and swam to a Danish brig to escape impressment. He worked his way across the Atlantic on board the Danish ship, and returned to the United States, where he made a third voyage to the West Indies. The British captured Porter but he escaped again, and decided to enter the U.S. Navy.
Porter served as a midshipman in the Quasi War against the French, first in frigate Constitution, fighting in the foretop when she captured French frigate L’Insurgente on 9 February 1799. He then became the 1st Lieutenant of schooner Experiment, and while becalmed in the Bight of Leogane off the coast of Santo Domingo with four merchantmen in a convoy in January 1800, fought off 10 picaroon [pirate] barges during a seven-hour battle, during which he was wounded by a musket ball in his shoulder. Experiment later captured French privateer Deux Amis in a desperate battle. Porter took command of the prize ship and trained a gun loaded with canister at the captive crew, compelling them to sail to St. Kitts. A month later, Experiment fought a French brig and schooner Diane, coming about in the gathering darkness and capturing the schooner, which Porter again sailed to St. Kitts. Experiment subsequently captured a British privateer.
He next served against the Barbary Corsairs as 1st Lieutenant on board schooner Enterprise and frigates New York and Philadelphia, repeatedly distinguishing himself in action. A musket ball tore into Porter’s left thigh and he also sustained a lesser wound on that thigh while he set fire to some enemy barges laden with wheat at Tripoli in 1802. Porter was taken captive when Philadelphia ran aground in the harbor at Tripoli on 31 October 1803. The Corsairs released him on 3 June 1805, and he continued to serve in the Mediterranean, as acting captain of Constitution and later in command of Enterprise, landing from the latter with a team that excavated the ruins of the Roman colony of Leptis Magna. While Enterprise passed through the Strait of Gibraltar en route her return to the United States, nearly a dozen lateen-rigged Spanish gunboats sortied from Algeciras and attacked her, but the Americans directed a deadly fusillade against the Spaniards and they sheared off. Porter married Evelina Anderson in 1808, and their union produced 10 (surviving) children, including David D. Porter then commanded the naval forces at New Orleans, La., 1808-1810. At about this time, he adopted ten-year-old David G. Farragut, obtaining for the lad an appointment as a midshipman.
At the beginning of the War of 1812 (on 3 July), Porter sailed from New York in command of frigate Essex. During the brief voyage he captured several British merchantmen and a transport bearing troops for Halifax, Nova Scotia. British armed ship Alert attacked Essex on 13 August 1812, but Essex swiftly disabled Alert and the enemy ship struck her colors. Porter seized British packet Nocton near the equator on 11 December 1812, taking about £11,000 in specie. He scoured the Brazilian coast as far as the Rio de la Plata, and in January 1813 he came about to raid British whalers in the Pacific.
Heavy seas pounded Essex as she rounded Cape Horn and the ship refitted at Valparaiso in the Spanish General Captaincy of Chile. On 25 March 1813, Essex captured Peruvian privateer Nereyda, which had taken American whalers Barclay and Walker off Coquimbo, Chile, freeing 24 Americans held prisoner. Porter ordered his men to throw the Peruvian ships guns overboard and then allowed her to return, sending her home with a letter of warning to the Spanish authorities concerning the depredations of such vessels against the Americans.
Porter took a number of British whaling ships while raiding across the South and East Pacific, but learned that a British squadron sailed en route to the Pacific and withdrew to the Marquesas Islands to refit and caulk the ship. He took possession of Nuku Hiva, an isle of towering peaks and lush tropical valleys, in the name of the United States, renaming it Madison Island. Porter’s imperialistic action generated dire consequences; however, when he learned that the local islanders expected him to fight their enemies in order to gain their trust. He meanwhile landed a party of 22 marines and sailors to build a shore battery to protect the anchorage.
Essex, in company with Essex Junior (the refitted (ex-British) prize Atlantic) sailed on 3 February 1814, and reached Valparaiso, but a British squadron, Capt. (Commodore) James Hillyar, RN, in command, consisting of frigates Cherub and Phoebe, blockaded them within the port. On 28 March Porter attempted to run the blockade, but a squall carried away Essex’s top mast, drowning the men who clung to the tops, and the Americans returned to shore. The British pursued Porter and their superior firepower and weight of shot overcame him in a battle lasting two and a half hours, rendering his decks a shambles of dead and dying men, and he struck his colors at 20 minutes past 6 p.m.
Hillyar treated his captives humanely and paroled Porter, who returned to the United States in Essex Junior. British razee Saturn, Capt. James Nash, RN, in command, hailed the ship off Sandy Hook, N.Y., on 5 July 1814. Nash initially greeted Porter courteously but then questioned the commodore’s decision. Porter therefore escaped by boat in a dense fog to Babylon, Long Island. He assumed command of frigate Columbia, under construction at the Washington Navy Yard, and President James Madison Jr., invited him to dinner at the White House, where he regaled the chief executive with an account of his voyage. The British meanwhile invaded the Chesapeake Bay area, and Porter sent an appeal to the men of Essex to reinforce the defenders of the nation’s capital. They did not arrive in time to fight the invaders at Bladensburg, Md., however, and the British burned the navy yard, the Americans burning Columbia while still on the stocks to prevent her from falling into enemy hands. Porter and his men arrived and erected a battery at Whitehouse, about 30 miles below Alexandria, Va., and harassed the British as they returned in their boats to their ships.
Porter served as a member of the Board of Navy Commissioners from April 1815 to December 1822, which post he resigned to command the expedition fitting out against pirates in the West Indies, 1823-1825. Porter led a squadron consisting of 16 ships, including sloops-of-war Hornet, John Adams, and Peacock, supplemented by a mix of schooners and barges, whose shallow draft enabled them to penetrate estuaries and coves the pirates used as their lairs. The Spanish authorities in those waters often turned a blind eye to the pirates’ raids, and Porter avenged an insult to the American flag by landing men at Foxardo, Puerto Rico, and spiking the Spanish guns at that port. The Spaniards protested and Secretary of the Navy Samuel Southard therefore criticized Porter for this action, relieving him of his command on 16 March 1825. Porter was court-martialed and suspended for six months.
He took passage in Mexican sloop-of-war Guerrero, his nephew Lt. David H. Porter (ex-USN), in command, and with his 12-year-old-son David on board, from New York to Vera Cruz, Mexico, in late April 1826. Porter resigned his commission on 18 August, and entered Mexican service as General of Marine in command of that nation’s naval forces. Porter appointed his son a midshipman, and his nephew in command of Mexican ship Libertad, but experienced multiple logistic problems, including a lack of trained men, 800 of whom consisted of former soldiers who had mutinied and arrived in chains. Porter led the squadron against the Spaniards and took some prizes, but at one point the Spaniards appropriated his prize money, and repeated logistic issues and lack of support compelled him to retire to Key West, Fla., in the summer of 1827. The Spaniards blockaded his squadron so loosely that his ships often slipped past the blockaders, and they continued to prey upon enemy ships sailing along the Cuban coast. Capt. David Porter led Guerrero in one such raid on a convoy of 42 ships near Havana, Cuba, in March 1829, with Midshipman Porter numbered among the crew. The Spaniards fled into Little Muriel, and Capt. Porter anchored Guerrero within range of the fort and fired into the convoy’s two escorting brigs. The enemy’s fire twice cut Guerrero’s cable and she had to work offshore, but suppressed their fire and prepared to enter the harbor when the sails of Spanish ship of the line Lealtad appeared. Lealtad rapidly pounded Guerrero into a wreck, and Porter conferred with his officers and they resolved to strike, but when they lowered their flag the Spanish ship closed and raked them with a broadside, cutting Porter in two. The Spaniards captured the midshipman.
Mexicans who resented Porter’s influence and success rose to power during the tumult following that country’s War of Independence and twice attempted to assassinate him, once in his quarters at Vera Cruz, and the second attempt while he traveled on the road to Mexico City. Porter killed the first intruder, and shot two of the four assailants during the second attack, the two survivors fleeing the scene. Porter returned to the United States in 1829. He declined a potential nomination to the Senate, and was appointed Consul General to the Barbary States. He sailed on sloop-of-war Boston and reached Algiers on 31 August 1830. Porter wintered in Port Mahon at Minorca in the Balearic Islands, but was transferred to Constantinople (Istanbul) as Charge d’Affaires on 15 April 1831, sailing in John Adams from Port Mahon that August. The Ottoman Empire expanded its fleet during this period, and Sultan Mahmud II often consulted with Porter concerning the Turkish naval program, Porter gaining influence amongst Turkish and foreign diplomats as a result. After several years, he purchased a residence at San Stephano on the Sea of Marmora, venturing into the capital when business of the legation required. He raised a large flagstaff on his front lawn, holding colors every morning. American ships that passed his house routinely dipped their colors.
“I am getting old, have had many sorrows, much sickness and affliction,” Porter wrote to Farragut on 20 June 1835. “I have never been elated with prosperity, and ought not, and I hope am not depressed at the loss of worldly goods. My country has thus far taken care of me, and I hope by good conduct to merit what she has done, by endeavoring to serve her to the utmost of my power. There was a time when there was nothing that I thought too daring to be attempted for her; but those times are past, and appear only as a confused and painful dream. A retrospect of the history of my life seems a highly-coloured romance, which I should be very loth to live over again…”
Porter returned to the United States in 1839, and while there, the office of Minister to Turkey was created for him. Porter suffered from angina pectoris during his final years, the disease gradually reducing his strength until he died on 3 March 1843. He was buried at the foot of the flagstaff at his estate at San Stephano, but brigTruxtun returned his remains to his homeland, reaching Philadelphia Navy Yard, Pa., just before the New Year. Porter was then buried at the Naval Asylum at Philadelphia, but later reinterred at Woodlands Cemetery at Philadelphia.
David Dixon Porter (8 June 1813-13 February 1891)
His son, David Dixon Porter, was born in Chester, Pa., on 8 June 1813. He was appointed a midshipman from Pennsylvania on 2 February 1829. He served in the Mediterranean Squadron as a midshipman on board frigate Constellation, from 1829-1831, and frigate United States and ship of the line Delaware, from 1832-1834. He returned to the United States and served in the receiving vessel at Philadelphia in 1835, followed by work for the U.S. Coast Survey, 1836-1842. Porter returned to the Mediterranean as a lieutenant on board frigate Congress, 1842-1845, and then served at the Naval Observatory at Washington, D.C., in 1846, followed by special duty at Santo Domingo from March to July.
During the Mexican War he was attached to the Home Squadron in sidewheel gunboat Spitfire, and fought during both attacks on Vera Cruz, as well as at Tuxpan and Tabasco. In addition, he participated in battles ashore at Tamulte and El Chiflon. Following the war he returned to coastal surveying, from 1848-1849, and then commanded mail steamer Georgia, 1850-1853. Porter took a brief furlough, from 1853-1854, during which time he commanded merchant steamer Golden Age, and then returned to active service, commanding store ship Supply in the Mediterranean, 1855-1857, and serving at the Portsmouth Navy Yard, N.H., 1857-1860.
Porter served with distinction in the Civil War, rising from lieutenant to rear admiral in two years. In April 1861 he sailed from New York in wooden side-wheel gunboat Powhatan to reinforce Fort Pickens, Fla., remaining off the Florida coast until ordered to return north, on 2 December. He then assumed command of the Mortar Flotilla under Farragut with the rank of commander. Porter displayed great energy in hastening in the sailing of these vessels in preparation for the expedition to seize New Orleans, La., and when Farragut brought his ships to the Southwest Pass of the Mississippi River, Porter stood ready to support the attack with 21 mortar schooners. On 11 April 1862, he began bombarding Confederate Forts Jackson and St. Philip, keeping up a steady but largely ineffective fire, with but slight cessation, for six days and nights. Many of the shells’ fuses proved unreliable and they detonated prematurely, and Porter ordered them cut to full length, which also hindered their effectiveness because many of the rounds plowed into the earth. The storm of fire nonetheless broke the levee near Fort Jackson, flooding the floors of the bastion’s lower casemates, and sinking or damaging most of the enemy scows and boats. The Confederate counter fire proved equally ineffective, but the impact of the bombardment on the morale of the garrisons contributed to their subsequent surrender, and the fall of New Orleans, after Farragut led his fleet past the forts on 24 April.
He served with the flotilla until July 1862, cooperating with Farragut in his operations on the Mississippi from New Orleans to Vicksburg, Miss. Porter assumed command of the Mississippi Squadron as acting rear admiral, from October 1862 to September 1864. From 9-11 January 1863, his ships supported Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, USA, in the capture of Fort Hindman near Arkansas Post in the Arkansas River, landing Sherman’s troops and bombarding the Confederate defenders. Porter rendered invaluable aid to Brig. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, USA, in reducing Vicksburg. On 16 April 1863, Grant ordered Porter to sail his gunboats southward past the enemy batteries at Vicksburg and rendezvous with Union troops. Porter shelled the Confederate batteries at Grand Gulf, Miss., in May, and naval operations proved decisive in the fall of Vicksburg on 4 July 1863.
Porter gained control of the Western Rivers during four expeditions in late 1863. He obtained possession of the Yazoo River, carrying out the novel and singular Yazoo Pass Expedition and those of Steele’s Bayou and Deer Creek. From 12 March to 22 May 1864, he cooperated with Maj. Gen. Banks in the Red River Expedition.
On 22 September he was detached from the Mississippi Squadron to command the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, leading the two attacks on Fort Fisher, N.C., located at one of the two entrances of Cape Fear River and which guarded Wilmington. The expedition’s ships rendezvoused in an area 12 miles from the fort, and at 1130 on 24 December 1864, formed in line of battle, the fort bearing west-southwest, nearly seven miles. The Confederates initially shot at the ships, but the Union cannonade compelled most of the defenders to seek shelter in their bombproofs, though some gunners resolutely fired their heavier pieces at the attackers. Five 100-pounder Parrott guns burst on board five different Union ships, but the Northerners otherwise suffered few casualties. Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler, USA, had intended to land his troops in the wake of the explosion without meeting heavy resistance, but the transports did not arrive from Beaufort, S.C., until dusk, and the attackers consequently postponed the landings until the following day.
The Union ships opened fire on Fort Fisher again at 1030 on 25 December 1864. Porter directed steam frigate Minnesota to lead the line of wooden ships, because she was “the slowest and least manageable, and one-by-one the other wooden ships took their positions and subjected the bastion to a tremendous onslaught of shot and shell. “The whole of the interior of the fort,” Lt. Aeneas Armstrong, CSN, afterward recalled, “which consists of sand, merlons, etc., was as one eleven-inch shell bursting. You can now inspect the works and walk on nothing but iron.” Despite the fury of the gunfire, the defenders held their positions. The ships supported Butler while he landed troops to the north of the fort near Flag Pond Battery, but the general considered the fort too strong for assault and embarked the soldiers by 27 December 1864. Rear Adm. Samuel P. Lee, Commander North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, kept some warships in the area and frequently shelled the Confederates to disrupt their efforts to repair the fort, while the transports returned the troops to Hampton Roads. Lt. Gen. Grant, general-in-chief of all Union armies, relieved Butler, replacing him with Maj. Gen. of Volunteers Alfred H. Terry.
The Northerners returned for a second assault against Fort Fisher early on the morning of 13 January 1865. Porter commanded 58 ships, and Terry led nearly 8,000 soldiers, primarily from the XXIV and XXV Corps, augmented by a naval landing force of 2,000 sailors and marines. The Confederate garrison numbered almost 1,900 men. The Union ships ferociously blasted the enemy, and Porter afterward attested to the effectiveness of the ironclads: “It was soon quite apparent that the iron vessels had the best of it; traverses began to disappear and the southern angle of Fort Fisher commenced to look very dilapidated.” Terry landed 8,000 men on the peninsula beyond the range of the guns in the fort and raised breastworks to defend his encampment. The ships renewed the barrage the following day. “It was beyond description, no language can describe that terrific bombardment,” Maj. Gen. William H.C. Whiting, CSA, recalled. The attackers repeated their shelling the next morning, ultimately inflicting nearly 300 casualties and knocking out many of the fort’s guns.
Porter ordered the ships to cease fire at 1500 on 15 January 1865, and the troops attacked Fort Fisher. The sailors formed in three divisions, under the command of Lieutenant Commanders Charles H. Cushman, James Parker, Jr., and Thomas O. Selfridge, respectively, and the marines in a fourth division led by Capt. Lucien L. Dawson, USMC, of frigate Colorado. The sailors and marines of these divisions suffered grievous losses while they advanced across relatively open ground into the teeth of the Southerner’s fire, which ploughed “lanes in the ranks.”
“About five hundred yards from the fort the head of the column suddenly stopped,” Ensign Robley D. Evans later recalled, “and, as if by magic, the whole mass of men went down like a row of falling bricks…The officers called on the men, and they responded instantly, starting for-ward as fast as they could go. At about three hundred yards they again went down, this time under the effect of canister added to the rifle fire. Again we rallied them, and once more started to the front under a perfect hail of lead, with men dropping rapidly in every direction.”
The ships renewed their fire and enfiladed the Confederates, their rounds crashing into the defenders and enabling the attackers to storm the ramparts. Some of the ships shifted their shooting to churn-up the river bank behind the fort to prevent reinforcements from entering the bastion. The Northerners lost more than 1,000 men but carried the works. Fort Fisher’s main magazine mysteriously exploded shortly after dawn on 16 January, killing at least 200 Federals and 200 Confederates. Both sides blamed the other for the tragedy, noting that many men, Northerners and Southerners, drank plundered spirits following the fall of the bastion, but conclusive evidence about the cause of the blast failed to emerge. The operation closed Wilmington, denying the Confederates the use of the valuable port.
For his Civil War service Porter received, on four occasions, votes of thanks from Congress, and was promoted to vice admiral in 1866. He became the Superintendent of the United States Naval Academy from 1866 to 1869. Porter was appointed an admiral in 1870, becoming the senior ranking officer of the Navy. He served in various capacities in Washington, and on 23 March 1877 became the Head of the Board of Inspection. Porter died on 13 February 1891, and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, Va.
The fifth U.S. Navy ship named Porter. The first Porter (Torpedo Boat No. 6), served from 1897-1912. The second Porter (Destroyer No. 59), was reclassified to DD-59 on 17 July 1920, transferred to the Coast Guard from 7 June 1924-30 June 1933, and served from 1916-1934. The third Porter (DD-356), also a destroyer, served from 1936-1942. The fourth Porter (DD-800) served from 1944-1972.
(DDG-78: displacement 8,960; length 505'; beam 66'; draft 32'; speed 30+ knots; complement 356; armament 1 5-inch, 2 Mk 41 Vertical Launch System (VLS) for BGM-109 Tomahawks, RIM-156 SM-2MR Standards, and RUM-139 VL-ASROC Antisubmarine Rockets, 2 Mk 15 Close In Weapon Systems (CIWS), 4 .50 caliber machine guns, and 6 Mk 32 torpedo tubes, aircraft operate (but not embark) 1 Sikorsky SH-60B Light Airborne Multi-Purpose System (LAMPS) Mk III Seahawk; class Arleigh Burke)
The fifth Porter (DDG-78) was laid down on 2 December 1996 at Pascagoula, Miss., by Ingalls Shipbuilding Division, Litton Industries; launched on 12 November 1997, sponsored by Mrs. Garland H. Johnson, wife of Adm. Jay L. Johnson, Chief of Naval Operations; and commissioned on 20 March 1999 at Port Canaveral, Fla., Cmdr. Kenneth V. Spiro Jr., in command.