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Porter, David Dixon (1813-1891).

American admiral. Principal wars: U.S.-Mexican War (1846-1848); Civil War (1861-1865). Principal battles: Veracruz, Tabasco II (city) (1847); Forts St. Philip and Jackson (below New Orleans in the Delta) (1862); Vicksburg campaign (1863); Red River campaign (1864); Fort Fisher (near Wilmington, North Carolina) (1864, 1865).

Born in Chester, Pennsylvania, the third of ten children of then-captain David Porter, and foster brother to David G. Farragut (June 8, 1813); received a spotty education, and accompanied his father to the West Indies aboard the frigate John Adams (28 guns) (1824); when his father became commander of the Mexican Navy (August 1826), young Porter was commissioned a midshipman in the Mexican Navy; captured by the Spanish (1828), he was released and took a midshipman's commission in the U.S. Navy (February 1829); served first in the Mediterranean; attached to the Coast Survey (1836-1845); promoted to lieutenant (February 1841); assigned to the recruiting office at New Orleans (1846); after the outbreak of the Mexican War he secured the 1st lieutenant's post aboard the naval steamer Spitfire (February 1847); took part in the bombardment of Veracruz as part of Commodore Matthew G. Perry's squadron (March 1847); still with Spitfire, he served with distinction in the second Tabasco campaign (June 14-22); he led a party of seventy men in storming the main fort at that town (June 16); made commander of Spitfire in recognition of his performance, he was also commended by Perry; reassigned to the Coast Survey and the Naval Observatory; desperate for sea duty, he took a long furlough from the navy to command passenger and cargo steamers (1849-1855); rejoined the navy, and as captain of U.S.S. Supply made two trips to the Mediterranean to secure camels for the army's use in the southwest (1855-1856); posted to the Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Navy Yard, he was on the verge of resigning when he was given command of U.S.S. Powhatan for a relief mission to Fort Pickens (off Pensacola, Florida) (April 1861); promoted to commander (August, retroactive to April), he performed blockade duty on the Gulf coast and searched for the commerce raider Sumter in the West Indies; planned a naval offensive against New Orleans (November 1861-April 1862), and recommended Farragut for command; given command of a flotilla of twenty mortar boats, he played a significant role in both the capture of New Orleans (April 27) and of Forts St. Philip and Jackson (April 29); took part in Farragut's operations against Vicksburg later that year; promoted to acting rear admiral over the heads of eighty senior officers (October); opening a shipyard at Cairo, Illinois, Porter created a river force of about eighty ships, demonstrating superb organizational skill; led his flotilla (the Mississippi Squadron) in support of operations at Arkansas Post (January 10-11, 1863); made a spectacular night run past the Vicksburg batteries (April 16-17), and again at Grand Gulf (below Vicksburg) (April 29); covered Grant's crossing of the Mississippi (April 30-May 1); pushed up the Red River (May 4-7); sent gunboats from the Mississippi up the Yazoo River, compelling the Confederates to abandon three unfinished rams and a well-furnished shipyard (May 13); received the thanks of Congress for his role in the capture of Vicksburg (July 3); supported Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks's unhappy Red River campaign (March 12-May 13, 1864), from which his ships escaped only through the remarkable engineering efforts of Col. Joseph Bailey (May 2-13); appointed commander of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron (October 1864); he undertook a massive bombardment of Fort Fisher, North Carolina, utilizing 120 ships, but received little support from the army commander, Gen. Benjamin Butler (December 24-25), and so withdrew; with a new army commander, Gen. Alfred H. Terry, he tried again (January 13-15, 1865), and he and Terry captured the fort after a heavy bombardment and a bloody assault; led a gunboat squadron up the James River, Virginia, forcing Adm. Raphael Semmes (CSN) to scuttle his ships (April 1865); served as superintendent of the Naval Academy (1865-1869); promoted to vice admiral (July 1866); as adviser to the secretary of Navy (1869-1870), he was virtually in command of the fleet; following the death of Admiral Farragut, he was promoted to admiral and became the navy's senior officer; became head of the Board of Inspections (1877); remained on active duty until his death in Washington, D.C. (February 13, 1891).

A short and spare man, like his father, Porter was known for his wit as well as his generosity to subordinates and his criticisms of superiors; as a commander he was bold, energetic, and resourceful, second only to Farragut as a naval commander. <BL>
Anderson, Bern, By Sea and by River: The Naval History of the Civil
     War. New York, 1961.
Milligan, John D., Gunboats down the Mississippi. Annapolis, Md.,
Reed, Rowena, Combined Operations in the Civil War. Annapolis, Md.,
Soley, James, Admiral Porter. New York, 1903.
West, Richard S., Jr., The Second Admiral: A Life of David Dixon
     Porter. New York, 1937.

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Author:Bongard, David L.
Publication:The Harper Encyclopedia of Military Biography
Article Type:Reference Source
Date:Jan 1, 1992
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