David D. Porter
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.
In 1866, the rank of admiral was created in the
U.S. Navy. Naval hero David G. Farragut, his adoptive brother, was named as the
nation's first admiral, and Porter became vice admiral at the same time. In
1870, Farragut died, and it was expected that Porter would be promoted to fill
Eventually, he did become the second admiral, but it was after much controversy that was provoked by his many enemies. Among them were several very powerful politicians, including some of the political generals he had contended with in the war. Porter reached the mandatory retirement age of 62 in June 1875 but was allowed to remain on active duty.
Despite the prestige of the high rank, Porter's eclipse in influence continued. For the last twenty years of his life, he had little to do with the operations of the Navy. Porter turned to writing, producing some histories that are of doubtful reliability but provide insights into his own beliefs and character. He also wrote some fiction that has not withstood the test of time.
In 1890 he became the founding president of the District of Columbia Society of the Sons of the American Revolution. He was assigned national membership number 1801 and District of Columbia Society membership number 1. He served as president of the society until his death the next year.
After twenty years of semi-retirement, his health began to give way. In the summer of 1890, he suffered a heart attack; he survived but his health was clearly in decline. He died at the age of 77 on the morning of February 13, 1891.