8 June 1813 - David Dixon Porter's birthday!
1813 - Year of the Rooster: Roosters are observant, resilient and tenacious. While they are often right on the mark in their observations and perceptions; they can become somewhat overbearing as their confidence in their own judgment makes them less likely to listen to the advice of others. Roosters like to be right (and often are). They are social creatures and enjoy receiving attention; they like the spotlight and can be somewhat of a braggart. Regardless of some of their eccentricities, they are compassionate, wise, and possess a brave nature.
June 8th, 1813, was a Tuesday; Mother Goose: Tuesday's child is full of grace.
Also Born in 1813: Union Generals John C. Frémont and John Sedgwick, Stephen A. Douglas, Giuseppe Verdi, Nathaniel Currier, Søren Kierkegaard, and Richard Wagner.
Happening in 1813: James Madison was President; Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice is published; Shawnee leader Tecumseh is killed at the Battle of the Thames; 'Uncle Sam' is used for the first time to mean the United States; the Philomathian Society is founded (oldest U.S. literary society); Battle of Leipzig; Sweden gets out of the slave trade; and the waltz gains popularity in Europe.
Gemini (May 21-June 21)
Likes: Talking, the unusual, teaching, learning, different things in life, having multiple projects going at once, and making jokes.
Dislikes: feeling tied down, losing, being wrong, being in a bad situation, mental inaction, and not getting credit for one's successes.
Ideal Careers: Actor/actress, architect, archaeologist, comedian, teacher, playwright, diplomat, author, psychologist, journalist, and politician.
Famous Geminis: Richard Wagner, Sir Laurence Olivier, Barbara Bush, Bob Hope, Clint Eastwood, Queen Victoria, Mel Blanc, Brigham Young, Johnny Depp, Jacques Costeau, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Joe Namath, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Marilyn Monroe, Bill Moyers, Anne Frank, Henry Kissinger, Vincent Price, John F. Kennedy, Donald Trump, William Butler Yeats, and Hubert Humphrey.
Hogwarts House Hat Sorter - Rear Admiral David Dixon Porter: Hufflepuff - loyalty, tolerance, and hard work; the animal is a badger.
On Monday, the 1st of March in 1819, six-year-old David Dixon Porter began his naval career with a temper tantrum. Commodore David Porter had piled his entire family in the carriage and headed off to the Washington Naval Yard for the launching of the USS Columbus.
USS Columbus; 74-gun ship of the line; 1819
Commodore Porter would allow his ten-year-old son, William Porter, to go along on a tour that included such notables as President James Monroe, Secretary of the Navy Smith Thompson, and Commodore William Bainbridge (who would command the USS Columbus when she was commissioned in September of that year). David Dixon Porter would not be left behind with the rest of the family and, achieving success with an aggressive protest, he got his way. On Columbus's deck, Porter would forever remember the feeling under his feet and sense of sailing away; little David Dixon Porter was hooked.
Not very much changed for RADM Porter since that early spring day. He would always dislike being left behind, preferring instead to be in the thick of the action; he would always want to be aboard a ship; he would maintain an abiding aggressiveness in all his endeavors; and he would refine his juvenile temper tantrums into more sophisticated adult methods of getting his way. Porter wasn't beyond using manipulation as a means of turning events to his favor.
Porter spent his youth as a Navy yard rat; his head filled with stories about Barbary pirates and tall tales of sea battles. At age ten, Porter's 'naval training' began onboard the frigate John Adams when Commodore Porter ordered his officers to treat young Porter with the same discipline as midshipmen. David Dixon also spent time on the USS Sea Gull where he continued his habit of pestering crew members with endless questions; Sea Gull was the first commissioned steamer in the Navy.
David Dixon spent two years at a preparatory school (Columbia College) and it was during this time that his famous father, Commodore David Porter, was brought before a court of inquiry regarding his conduct in Puerto Rico. Commodore Porter had the unfortunate habit of not knowing when to put up and shut up. The Puerto Rico incident created concern over how Spain might react as territorial bickering between the U.S. and Spain remained a delicate situation. When Spain made no complaint of the incident, Secretary of the Navy Samuel Southard would have let the episode drop. David Porter did not.
Feeling unjustly wronged, Porter couldn't let the matter rest and began to attack the Navy Department. Porter availed himself of the press and made his case to obtain public sympathy. Porter's friends repeatedly cautioned him to act reasonably; but Porter, determining that his honor was at stake, veered down a course to ultimate demise. Notwithstanding Porter's unfortunate behavior, the Navy was well aware of Porter's valuable service and opted to make his sentence light: a six-month suspension. At the close of the six months, Porter resigned from the Navy and - to everyone's shock - signed on with the Mexican Navy as a 'general of the marine'. David Dixon Porter, then 12, accompanied his father and younger brother (Thomas) to Veracruz and on to the warship Guerrero. David Dixon's naval training was back on track, except now there was something else. Not being of an age to understand that his own father might have had something to do with his own disgrace, David Dixon believed his father to have been wronged. And so it was that David Dixon adopted the enemies of his father as his own; and the young Porter began to harbor an intense dislike for politicians and naval secretaries.
David Dixon Porter spent his teen years on his father's ships; the Libertad, Esmeralda, and back on the Guerrero. In 1828, a fifteen-year-old David Dixon Porter was taken prisoner when Guerrero was captured in a contest off the coast of Cuba. Declining the offer by Spanish authorities to live in comfort while Commodore Porter could arrange for his parole, Porter opted to stay with his crew and endured the horrific conditions of a prison ship for six months. He would watch 31 of his 92 crew members die during their confinement. Upon his release, Porter was headed for more difficulty as he was conned out of his stage fare by card sharks at Vicksburg; his brother, Thomas, died of yellow fever; and the family home had to be auctioned because of heavy debts.
By the age of 16, Porter had experienced more at sea than most would in their entire lives. He received his appointment as midshipman in the U.S. Navy, signed by President Andrew Jackson, in February, 1829. The same year, visiting Commodore Daniel Patterson's home in Washington, Porter met George Ann ('Georgy') Patterson; but it would be another ten years before Porter would be able to marry her. Their courtship would evolve through 1833 where the low pay of a midshipman wasn't enough to convince her father to release her into his care. Even with Porter's peace-time promotion in 1835, he still lacked the salary to afford a household. With the prospects for higher pay seemingly out of his reach, Porter abandoned hope and offered to terminate the engagement with Georgy. Adamant about waiting as long as it took, Georgy refused.
A single event occurred in 1836 that would allow Porter to get the girl and prepare him in a unique way for the riverine warfare he would face on the Mississippi some twenty-five years later during the Civil War. A chance assignment with the Navy Department's Coast Survey supplemented his pay by $30.00 a month; his expert grasp of surveying would result in a great talent for charting channels and navigating heavy ships through difficult shoals. The additional pay Porter steadfastly saved until, in 1839, he'd saved up enough money to remove the financial obstacle to marrying Commodore Patterson's daughter. They married on March 10, 1839.
The 1840s proved a strange and trying time for Porter. He avoided dismissal from the Navy for participating in a duel; the selected seconds worked out the petty dispute to everyone's satisfaction and no duel was fought. Georgy became ill and Porter's brother, William, who had developed a habit of getting in trouble, stayed true to his course and found himself in yet another scrape. William Porter got into it with the Navy when a shell he had invented exploded at the Washington Navy Yard; several people were killed. Perhaps expressing some sort of genetic tic that caused Porters to use the press as a pawn, Porter sought to acquit himself by blaming his superiors - and doing so through the newspapers. Even more, William caused difficulties for the rest of the family in working out the estate of Commodore Porter (who had died in Constantinople). David Dixon lost another brother; Theodoric was killed in action at Matamoros. Still another brother (Hambleton) died of yellow fever; and, another brother (Henry) developed a drinking problem. Porter even grew weary of the Navy; slow promotions and boredom allowed him to entertain the idea of resigning.
As the war with Mexico began in 1846, Porter hoped that he would be sent into action. Secretary of State James Buchanan had other plans and Porter was tagged to conduct an investigation of what would become the Dominican Republic. Santo Domingo having broken with Haiti was seeking U.S. assistance; Buchanan wanted it checked out before agreeing to help. Porter returned from that mission (termed a 'very important secret mission' at the time) in July; again with the hopes that his previous experience in the Mexican Navy would open opportunities for him to serve in the war. Again, other plans served as obstacles to his desires. Secretary of the Navy John Mason wanted him at the Naval Observatory. Porter's father had wisely steered David Dixon academically towards mathematics during the times he was enrolled in school. Porter's skill in mathematics made him a valuable commodity and he was given a scientific post to improve navigation through studying stars instead of fighting. Porter secretly spent his time developing plans to decimate Mexico's land-based naval defense.
Porter finally got his wish in November of 1846 and, after a short recruiting stint in New Orleans, he was assigned First Lieutenant of the Spitfire (commanded by Josiah Tattnall). Porter's aggressiveness would exhibit itself immediately. Slyly defying orders and, in cahoots with Tattnall, Porter snuck into Veracruz's harbor and sounded the channel at night. This little escapade allowed Porter and Tattnall - with Porter's accurate charting completed during the night - to get six vessels within firing range of San Juan de Ulúa; an impressive fortress that began firing immediately. A combination of poor performance by Mexico's artillery and the sheer surprise of a small fleet managing to get through what was thought to be an impenetrable harbor was enough to send gunners in both Fort Concepción and Fort Santiago on the run. Porter and Tattnall cleverly played dumb and claimed they didn't see Home Squadron Commander Matthew Perry wildly signally them to cease fire and drop anchor outside of the harbor. Tattnall had ordered his men not to look at the signals; and Porter just didn't look in the direction of Perry's flagship throughout the whole engagement. Perry might have believed that his subordinate officers honestly didn't see him trying to wave them off if it hadn't come out that Porter had worked stealthily all night to sound the difficult passageway into the harbor. Perry was stuck: he wanted to commend them for their fortitude and bravery, but he wanted to send a message that he was in charge and not Tattnall. Perry declined disciplinary action, but from then on kept Tattnall, and by extension Porter, on a short leash. Veracruz fell six days later and opened the way for General Winfield Scott to begin his invasion.
David Dixon Porter would always exhibit this kind of 'can-do' ambition; he recoiled from nothing. Moreover, Porter's expert skill in sounding channels and harbors would provide prestige and acclaim. In 1848 Porter would chart Hell Gate and Buttermilk Channel in New York where dozens of water craft tripped over shoals and ran aground. Valuable burgeoning trade markets would be lost if safer passage wasn't created for ships passing through Hell Gate to New York. Buttermilk had never been used at all by deep-draft ships because no path through had ever been discovered. Of course, Porter found one:
"New York shipping interests pronounced Porter a genius, but [Treasury Secretary R. J.] Walker was skeptical. He challenged Porter to a trial trip on a revenue cutter and on September 22, accompanied by a delegation of shippers, member of the New York Chamber of Commerce, and dozens of doubtful harbor pilots, Jefferson steamed into Hell Gate for the test. Porter considered Jefferson a good choice because she was heavy, clumsy, and slow to respond to her helm. He turned his charts over to the cutter's captain and pilot and told them to follow the markings. The vessel steamed through Hell Gate and back without incident.
The captain then ran down East River to Buttermilk Channel. With the tide ebbing and a stiff northwesterly blowing, conditions were not ideal for a trial, and anchored in the middle of the channel was a lumber ship with planks protruding from both sides. Porter told the pilot to follow the markings and they would pass through. Leadsmen took soundings as the vessel steamed through the channel, and as they cleared into the river Secretary Walker extended his hand and complimented Porter warmly and, later, officially. New York newspapers did more and hailed him as a hero." [Admiral David Dixon Porter; Chester G. Hearn; 1996, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis]
David Dixon Porter's skills at charting difficult waters wasn't all either. Porter was touched with a need for speed. Porter would obtain permission from the Navy to command civilian mail steamers by successfully arguing that such experience would prove beneficial to the Navy. Navy Secretary John Mason agreed. Porter went about setting records of speed and efficiency on the Panama and the Georgia; Porter took command of the Australian Steamship Company's Golden Age in 1854 and - on her maiden voyage - not only beat the transatlantic record but also making record time between Liverpool and Melbourne (beating the previous record by 30 days). David Dixon Porter was famous and he liked it like that.
The remaining part of the 1850's decade saw Porter ill with malaria and tagged to carry out a plan devised by Secretary of War Jefferson Davis to obtain camels from Constantinople and Tunis. Davis thought camels might provide a solution to supply problems in the arid regions of Texas and New Mexico. Neither Turkey nor Tunisia's leaders were amenable to selling a herd of camels to the U.S. The project floundered, but it allowed Porter the opportunity to visit Crimea and, in doing so, he encountered his first ironclad. Porter would also study improvements made by the British and French in underwater explosives. By the time Porter got back to the U.S. in 1857, neither the camels nor his reports on explosives captured anyone's attention. War Secretary Davis was gone and domestic events in the U.S. would soon begin to form into the dark shapes preceding conflict. Porter spent the next few years toying with the idea of accepting a job with the Pacific Mail Steamship Company, sitting on boring court hearings, and watching Georgy descend into a depression over the death of Nina (making now two daughters that had died).
On December 20, 1860, Jefferson Davis offered David Dixon Porter command of the Southern Navy. Porter declined, saying "Thank you, but I am going to the California goldmines, and when the South and the North have done quarreling, and all you seceders have come back and taken your seats in Congress, I will join the Navy again."
Porter meant it when he said it; but he said it on December 20th - the day South Carolina had
seceded. As Southern states and Southern friends and colleagues began to withdraw from the Union through secession or
resignation, the environment turned suspicious and no one in the Navy was sure who to trust. The beginning of the war
would find Porter in command of the Powhatan, enroute to Fort Pickens, and off to meet up with his Civil War
career. Everything that had come before had prepared him for this moment: he feared nothing, could drive a ship through
a labyrinth, and he understood the strategic value of speed. Everything combined together created a naval commander
equal to, or surpassing, even the best Army generals.
"Several weeks later Captain McAllister, quartermaster at Cairo, gave a supper party to me and the officers on the station on board the quartermaster's steamer, a large, comfortable river boat.
Supper had been served when I saw Captain McAllister usher in a travel-worn person dressed in citizen's clothes. McAllister was a very tall man, and his companion was dwarfed by his superior size. McAllister introduced the gentleman to me as General Grant, and placed us at a table by ourselves and left us to talk matters over.
Grant, though evidently tired and hungry, commenced business at once. "Admiral," he inquired, "what is all this you have been writing me?"
I gave the general an account of my interviews with the President and with General McClernand, and he inquired, "When can you move with your gun-boats, and what force have you?"
"I can move to-morrow with all the old gun-boats and five or six other vessels; also the Tyler, Conestoga, and Lexington."
"Well, then," said Grant, "I will leave you now and write at once to Sherman to have thirty thousand infantry and artillery embarked in transports ready to start for Vicksburg the moment you get to Memphis. I will return to Holly Springs to-night, and will start with a large force for Grenada as soon as I can get off.
General Joe Johnston is near Vicksburg with forty thousand men, besides the garrison of the place under General Pemberton. When Johnston hears I am marching on Grenada, he will come from Vicksburg to meet me and check my advance. I will hold him at Grenada while you and Sherman push on down the Mississippi and make a landing somewhere on the Yazoo. The garrison at Vicksburg will be small, and Sherman will have no difficulty in getting inside the works. When that is done I will force Johnston out of Grenada, and, as he falls back on Vicksburg, will follow him up with a superior force. When he finds Vicksburg is occupied he will retreat via Jackson."
I thought this plan an admirable one. Grant and myself never indulged in long talks together; it was only necessary for him to tell me what he desired, and I carried out his wishes to the best of my ability.
General Grant started that night for Holly Springs, Mississippi, and, I believe, rode on horseback nearly all the way, while I broke up the supper party by ordering every officer to his post of duty, to be ready to start down the river next day at noon.
And this was the preliminary step in the capture of Vicksburg.
Here in twenty minutes Grant unfolded his plan of campaign, involving the transportation of over one hundred thousand men, and, with a good supper staring him in the face, proposed to ride back again over a road he had just traveled without tasting a mouthful, his cigar serving, doubtless, for food and drink." [Incidents and Anecdotes of the Civil War; David Dixon Porter; 1885]
"Three days after, with all the naval forces, I started down the Mississippi, and at Memphis found General Sherman embarking his troops on a long line of river steamers, and sent word to the general that I would call upon him at his headquarters.
Thinking it probable that Sherman would be dressed in full feather, I put on my uniform coat, the splendor of which rivaled that of a drum-major. Sherman, hearing that I was indifferent to appearances and generally dressed in working-clothes, thought he would not annoy me by fixing up, and so kept on his blue flannel suit; and we met, both a little surprised at the appearance of the other." [Incidents and Anecdotes of the Civil War; David Dixon Porter; 1885]
David Dixon Porter died on 13 February 1891; he is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Other Notable 1891 deaths: William Tecumseh Sherman, Georges Seurat, P.T. Barnum, Hannibal Hamlin, and Herman Melville.