David Dixon Porter

David Dixon Porter
David Dixon Porter - Mathew Brady's National Photographic Art Gallery.jpg
Porter in the 1860s, during the American Civil War
Born(1813-06-08)June 8, 1813
Chester, Pennsylvania, U.S.
DiedFebruary 13, 1891(1891-02-13) (aged 77)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington County, Virginia, U.S.
Allegiance Mexico
 United States of America
Service/branch Mexican Navy
 United States Navy
Years of service1825–1828 (Mexico)
1829–1891 (US)
RankMidshipman (Mexico)
USN Admiral rank insignia.jpg Admiral (US)
Commands heldSuperintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy
Board of Inspection
Battles/warsMexican–American War
American Civil War
Other workIncidents and Anecdotes of the Civil War (1885)
SignatureDavid Dixon Porter signature.svg

David Dixon Porter (June 8, 1813 – February 13, 1891) was a United States Navy admiral and a member of one of the most distinguished families in the history of the U.S. Navy. Promoted as the second U.S. Navy officer ever to attain the rank of admiral, after his adoptive brother David G. Farragut, Porter helped improve the Navy as the Superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy after significant service in the American Civil War.

Porter began naval service as a midshipman at the age of 10 years under his father, Commodore David Porter, on the frigate USS John Adams. For the remainder of his life, he was associated with the sea. Porter served in the Mexican War in the attack on the fort at the City of Vera Cruz. At the outbreak of the Civil War, he was part of a plan to hold Fort Pickens, near Pensacola, Florida, for the Union; its execution disrupted the effort to relieve the garrison at Fort Sumter, leading to its fall. Porter commanded an independent flotilla of mortar boats at the capture of New Orleans. Later, he was advanced to the rank of (acting) rear admiral in command of the Mississippi River Squadron, which cooperated with the army under Major General Ulysses S. Grant in the Vicksburg Campaign. After the fall of Vicksburg, he led the naval forces in the difficult Red River Campaign in Louisiana. Late in 1864, Porter was transferred from the interior to the Atlantic coast, where he led the U.S. Navy in the joint assaults on Fort Fisher, the final significant naval action of the war.

Porter worked to raise the standards of the U.S. Navy in the position of Superintendent of the Naval Academy when it was restored to Annapolis. He initiated reforms in the curriculum to increase professionalism. In the early days of President Grant's administration, Porter was de facto Secretary of the Navy. When his adoptive brother David G. Farragut was advanced from rank of vice-admiral to admiral, Porter took his previous position; likewise, when Farragut died, Porter became the second man to hold the newly created rank of admiral. He gathered a corps of like-minded officers devoted to naval reform.

Porter's administration of the Navy Department aroused powerful opposition by some in Congress, who forced the Secretary of the Navy Adolph E. Borie to resign. His replacement, George Robeson, curtailed Porter's power and eased him into semi-retirement.


David Dixon Porter was born in Chester, Pennsylvania on June 8, 1813, a son of David Porter and Evalina (Anderson) Porter. The family had strong naval traditions; the elder Porter's father, also named David, had been captain of a Massachusetts vessel in the American Revolutionary War, as had his uncle Samuel. In the next generation, David Porter and his brother John entered the fledgling United States Navy and served with distinction during the War of 1812. David Porter was named to the rank of commodore.[1]

The younger David was one of 10 children, including six boys. His youngest brother Thomas died of yellow fever at the age of ten, contracted when traveling with his father for the Mexican Navy. The surviving five sons all became officers, four in the U.S. Navy:

  • William
  • David Dixon, became the second man promoted to rank of admiral.
  • Hambleton, died of yellow fever while a passed midshipman.
  • Henry Ogden
  • Theodoric, became an officer in the US Army; he was killed at Matamoros in the Mexican–American War.[2]

His uncle John Porter and his wife did not have as many children, but their son Fitz John Porter was a major general in the US Army at the time of the Civil War. Another son, Bolton Porter, was lost with his ship USS Levant in 1861.[3] His aunt Anne married their cousin Alexander Porter. Their son David Henry Porter became a captain in the Mexican Navy during its struggle for independence (see below).[4] The naval tradition continued into later generations of the family's descendants.

In addition to rearing their own children, his parents David and Evalina Porter adopted James Glasgow Farragut. The boy's mother died in 1808 when he was seven, and his father George Farragut, a U.S. naval officer in the American Revolution and friend of David Porter Sr., was unable to care for all his children. Commodore David Porter offered to adopt James, to which the boy and George agreed. In 1811, James started serving a midshipman under Porter in the U.S. Navy, and changed his first name to David. He had a distinguished career as David G. Farragut, serving as the first man to attain the new rank of admiral, instituted by the U.S. Congress after the American Civil War.