Farragut was born at Campbell's Station, near Knoxville, Tennessee. He entered the Navy as a midshipman on 17 December 1810. When only 12 years old, he was given command of a prize ship taken by Essex, and brought her safely to port. Through the years that followed, in one assignment after another he showed the high ability and devotion to duty which was to allow him to make a great contribution to the Union victory in the Civil War and to write a famous page in the history of the United States Navy.
In command of the West Gulf Blockading Squadron, with his flag in Hartford he disproved the theory that forts ashore held superiority over naval forces, when in April 1862 he ran past Fort Jackson and Fort St. Philip and the Chalmette, Louisiana batteries to take the great city and port of New Orleans, Louisiana, (a decisive event in the war). Later that year passed the batteries defending Vicksburg, Mississippi. Port Hudson fell to him 9 July 1863.
On 5 August 1864 he won a great victory in the Battle of Mobile Bay. Mobile, Alabama at the time was the Confederacy's last major port open on the Gulf of Mexico. The bay was heavily mined (tethered naval mines were known as torpedoes at the time). Farragut ordered his fleet to charge the bay. When one ship struck a mine the others began to pull back, but then Farragut shouted out the order, "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!" The bulk of the fleet succeded in entering the bay, and the heroic quote became famous.
Farragut then triumphed over the opposition of heavy batteries in Fort Morgan and Fort Gaines to defeat the squadron of Admiral Franklin Buchanan.