David Dixon Porter (June 8, 1813 – February 13, 1891) was a United States admiral who became one of the most noted naval heroes of the Civil War.
Porter was one of the first U.S. Navy officers to bear the rank of rear admiral; prior to the Civil War, no officer had held a rank higher than commodore, as admiral was considered to have royalist connotations.
Pre-Civil War career
Born in Chester, Pennsylvania, Porter was the son of Commodore David Porter, USN (1780–1843), a hero of the War of 1812. He started his sea career as a cadet in the Mexican Navy in 1826, then attended Columbia College in New York. He entered the U.S. Navy as Midshipman on February 2, 1829. He was attached to coastal survey from 1836–1840, then cruised in Brazilian waters. He later served at the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C. He also served in the Mexican-American War.
Civil War service
In 1861, Porter joined the Navy's Gulf Squadron in command of the USS Powhatan. He was promoted to commander on April 22, 1861, and to captain on February 7, 1863. He took part in the 1862 expedition up the Mississippi River against New Orleans, in command of 21 mortar boats and several steamers. Aboard his flagship, USS Black Hawk, he commanded the Mississippi River Squadron during the Vicksburg Campaigns in 1862–63 and during the Red River Campaign in 1864 and 1865, when he forced the surrender of the gunboat Missouri, refurbished and commanded by the Confederate Jonathan H. Carter. Porter was conspicuous in the Siege of Vicksburg, was wounded in his head during the amphibious operations at Grand Gulf, Mississippi, on April 20, 1863, and received promotion to rear admiral on July 4, 1863, the day of the Confederate surrender of Vicksburg. He received the Thanks of Congress in April 1864, "for all the eminent skill, endurance, and gallantry exhibited by him and his squadron, in cooperation with the Army, in the opening of the Mississippi River."
During 1864 Porter commanded the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron and took part in the capture of Fort Fisher in January 1865. He once again received the Thanks of Congress:
... to rear Admiral David D. Porter, and to the officers, petty officers, seamen, and Marines under his command, for the unsurpassed gallantry and skill exhibited by them in the attacks on Fort Fisher, and the brilliant and decisive victory by which that important work was captured from the rebel forces and placed in the possession of the United States; and for their long and faithful services and unwavering devotion to the cause of the country in the midst of great difficulties and dangers.
In late March 1865, near the end of the Civil War, the Union's general-in-chief, Ulysses S. Grant, invited President Abraham Lincoln to visit his headquarters at City Point, Virginia. William Tecumseh Sherman happened to come up to City Point from North Carolina at that time, and Porter also joined the group. As a result, Lincoln, Grant, Sherman, and Porter conferred together on the President's boat, the "River Queen." This four-way meeting is memorialized in a famous painting by G.P.A. Healy, entitled "The Peacemakers."
Porter was promoted to Vice Admiral in July 1866, and to Admiral on October 17, 1870. This made him the Navy's senior officer of the post-war era. His first assignment was Chief of the Bureau of Navigation of the U.S. Navy. From 1866 to 1870 he was Superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy. Before his death, he wrote several naval books and novels. He died in Washington, D.C., (some sources say Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
He remained on active duty for life, an honor accorded to only six other US naval officers.
He married Georgie Ann Patterson, March 10, 1839. They had ten children, including Lieutenant Colonel Carlile Patterson Porter.
His wife was the daughter of Commodore Daniel Patterson (also a hero of the War of 1812), making him the brother-in-law of Carlile Pollock Patterson and of Admiral Thomas H. Patterson. He was brother of William D. Porter, foster brother of David G. Farragut; cousin of Fitz John Porter; and brother-in-law of Confederate general Thomas A. Harris.
Photograph Hand Oil Tinted by Artist Margaret A. Rogers.