Stories

Hispanic naval hero might’ve been President or Spanish king

January 2, 2015

By Andy Porras

Almost nobody, including some teachers, in a typical U.S. History class would guess that a Hispanic naval war hero turned down a Republican Party’s plea to lure him into becoming the party’s nominee for the presidency.

Meanwhile, on a vacation to Spain, in search of his roots, the reluctant hero was encouraged to remain in the motherland as public support for him to ascend to the throne swelled courtesy of the press.

No, it’s not a movie nor is it a best seller on the NY Times fiction list. In fact, such facts are not likely to be known even by those enrolled at several schools and academies across the land named for this early naval hero who happened to be Hispanic.

It’s simply the way Admiral David C. Farragut rolled back in his day. The admiral rank, by the way, was the first ever awarded to a navel officer and bestowed on him by none other that President Abraham Lincoln following the U.S. Civil War.

Prior to all of this, in September of 1854, Commander David Glasgow Farragut and his family were deployed to California. Farragut had been sent west to personally oversee the building of a navy yard in support of the young republic’s Pacific Squadron.

His mission was to create a navy yard near San Francisco in San Pablo Bay.

It was decided the military installation would be constructed on Mare Island. The island itself had a bit of history, Commander Farragut would find out.

Local (Vallejo) legend has it that the island once known as Isla Plana had derived its new name from General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo himself. The story goes that one day, some of General Vallejo’s animal stock was being moved across San Pablo Bay on a rickety old raft when a wind squall capsized it into the bay. One of the more prized passengers on board, a nameless old, but able swimmer, white mare saved herself by swimming ashore.

It was later discovered that the old white mare was living on the island; probably enjoying the privacy and not having any hard labor to perform.

General Vallejo removed his horse and gave the island a new name, Isla de la Yegua, or Mare Island.

“As the first United States Naval installation on the west coast, Mare Island and the now closed Mare Island Naval Shipyard have seen it all,” said an area magazine article. “ From canvas to coal to oil to nuclear power, from sailing ships to steamers to nuclear-powered submarines, Mare Island has played an important part in American, Naval, and Vallejo history.”

But for Farragut, this was but a mere pit-stop in his remarkable journey into American history that was mostly forgotten by everybody. Even though his war feats rank right along such famous American naval officers as John Paul Jones, George Dewey, Chester W. Nimitz, and William F. “Bull” Halsey Jr., he is rarely mentioned in educational or patriotic platforms.
In 1864, Farragut earned a spectacular naval victory when he successfully led a fleet of 14 warships and four ironclad monitors past the largest of the three Confederate forts guarding the entrance to Mobile Bay, Ala.

“It was a well-planned, generally well-executed, successful but audacious, risky maneuver depriving the Confederacy of its last major port on the Gulf of Mexico, and, thus, was a devastating blow to the unrealistic hope many Confederate leaders had in mid-1864 to negotiate a peaceful conclusion to the increasingly bloody “War of Northern Aggression,” a scholar wrote.

It was during the Civil War, as commander of the Gulf blockading squadron that our hero sped past the Confederate batteries guarding New Orleans to capture the city and port.

This was one of the decisive Union naval victories of the entire conflict, only exceeded by Farragut’s great victory in the Battle of Mobile Bay. It was while running the gantlet of batteries guarding the entrance to Mobile Bay that Farragut lashed to the rigging of his flagship, the USS Hartford, have shouted his order, “Torpedoes? Damn the torpedoes! Four bells. Capt. Drayton, go ahead! Jouett, full speed!”

Gen. William T. Sherman’s Sept. 2, 1864, occupation of Atlanta and subsequent march to the sea practically ensured the Union of a victory over the Confederacy.

After the War, the Republican ticket of Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson won the 1864 race for president and vice-president against the Democratic ticket of George McClelland and George Pendleton.

Then as today, heroes with non-English names were quickly overlooked. In Farragut’s case, the U.S. Navy even had some doubts about his loyalty to the Union because of his Southern birth site. Farragut, however, assured his superiors that he would remain loyal to the Union because he believed that secession was treason. Period.

The Republican Party, after being spurned by Farragut, did find another war hero to be their 1868 candidate.
His name was Ulysses S. Grant.

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