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Namesake: Farragut in Knox County

8:18 AM, Oct 22, 2010   |    comments
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The town of Farragut has spent much of 2010 celebrating its 30th birthday. However, the community in western Knox County was known as Farragut long before it became an officially incorporated municipality in 1980.

Banners placed on light poles throughout the town proudly flaunt a heritage that dates back to 1801 with the birth of "Admiral Farragut." The man behind the moniker broke ground in many areas of military history while fighting for the United States on the water.

For those who wish to explore the history behind the town's namesake, a great place to start is at the town hall building where the Farragut Folklife Museum proudly displays a large collection of items relevant to the life of Admiral David Glasgow Farragut.

"Admiral Farragut was born not far from here in 1801 over on the Tennessee River at Stony Point," said Lou LaMarche with the Folklife Museum. "His father was in the United States Navy and the family moved away to New Orleans in 1807. They had to take a raft for three months to get to New Orleans."

The boy who would eventually become an Admiral in the Navy was originally named James Glasgow Farragut. A year after the family relocated to New Orleans, Farragut's mother died. The boy was then placed under the care of David Porter, a captain in the U.S. Navy.

"Farragut changed his name to David in honor of his adopted father. Farragut was just nine years old when he enlisted as a midshipman in the Navy and was under Porter's command," said LaMarche. "Farragut was in the War of 1812 against the British and his boat was captured. He was a prisoner of the British for a few weeks, but the British ship was in-turn captured by the U.S. Navy. They actually put Farragut in command of returning the ship to port with all of the British prisoners on board."

From those early days as a sea-going military man until his death in 1870, the U.S. Navy was Farragut's career. He worked his way to the highest ranks of vice-admiral and rear admiral prior to the Civil War. It was during the War Between the States that Farragut claimed his most historic victories.

"Abraham Lincoln placed him in command of the U.S. Navy forces along the Mississippi. Farragut defeated the Confederates at a battle in New Orleans and then proceeded to Mobile Bay," said LaMarche.

Farragut's progress briefly stalled when his forces reached Mobile Bay. The body of water was saturated with explosive mines.

"Back then they called mines 'torpedoes.' One of the ships in his fleet went into the bay and was destroyed," said LaMarche. "If you're trying to go through a harbor full of mines, you don't know what's going to happen."

Farragut instructed his fleet to push onward in spite of the deadly explosives. The tale of the admiral's efforts to rally and motivate his men has produced one of the most famous phrases in U.S. military history.

"The story is that he said, 'Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!' Whether or not he actually said that quote verbatim has been a longtime topic of debate among historians, but there's no doubt that his actions were in line with that phrase," said LaMarche.

The first Confederate ship Farragut's engaged was the Ironclad Tennessee.

"For him to defeat the Tennessee of all things is a bit ironic. The Tennessee had to surrender to Admiral Farragut." LaMarche added, "In a sense it is fitting because his main goal was unity of the country. He did so many things to fortify the United States. As a Navy man, that was his entire life."

The military rewarded Farragut by creating a new rank higher than any other in the U.S. Navy.

"They produced the rank of Full Admiral, which is just like a four-star general in the Army. Admiral Farragut was the first person to have that honor in the U.S. Navy," said LaMarche.

Farragut died in 1870. When a new school was built in western Knox County in 1904, the community honored the admiral's legacy by naming it Farragut.

"They named the Farragut School for him and the name just stuck for this area as a whole. Then when the town incorporated in 1980 they named it Farragut," said LaMarche.

Today Admiral Farragut's legacy lives on throughout the area and other parts of the nation. The city and school bear his name, the school's sports teams are known as The Admirals, and a large bronze statue of Farragut is positioned adjacent to the town hall.

"There are statues of Admiral Farragut in several places around the country. That speaks to the impact he had on this country and the role he played in uniting a divided nation," said LaMarche.

Historians also note that Admiral Farragut was one of the earliest military leaders in the United States of Hispanic descent.

"His father came to this country from Spain. The eldest Farragut was also in the Navy and fought in the Revolutionary War," said LaMarche.

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Note: Namesake is the renamed title of the series formerly known as 'Why do they call it that?'

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