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American Civil War: Rear Admiral Samuel Francis Du Pont


American Civil War: Rear Admiral Samuel Francis Du Pont

Rear Admiral Samuel Francis Du Pont

Photograph Source: Public Domain

Samuel Du Pont - Early Life:

Born at Bergen Point (Bayonne), NJ on September 27, 1803, Samuel Francis Du Pont was the son of Victor Marie and Gabrielle Joséphine du Pont. Moving south, he was raised near his uncle's, Eleuthère Irénée du Pont, gunpowder mills in northern Delaware. While there, Du Pont attended Mount Airy Academy in Germantown, PA. Though his uncle's business proved profitable, his father's wool mill began to falter causing him to be withdrawn from school. As a result, Victor used his political connections to secure his son an appointment as a midshipman in the US Navy.

Samuel Du Pont - Early Career:

Only twelve, Du Pont received his midshipman's warrant in 1815 and embarked on the ship of the line USS Franklin (74 guns). After six years in the service, he moved to the frigates USS Constitution (44) and USS Congress (38). A gifted navigator, Du Pont was warranted as a sailing master in 1825 and saw service in the Mediterranean aboard USS North Carolina (74). After a year, he was commissioned as a lieutenant and ordered aboard USS Porpoise (12). This assignment proved brief as he received news of his father's death in 1827 and returned home.

Samuel Du Pont - A Rising Star:

Remaining in Delaware for over two years, Du Pont resumed active duty in 1829 when he served aboard the sloop of war USS Ontario (20). After four years, he moved through a series of assignments in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean before returning to the Mediterranean on USS Ohio (74). Promoted to commander in 1842, he received command of the brig USS Perry (8) with orders to sail for China. This assignment was cut short due to illness and in 1845 he took command of Commodore Robert Stockton's flagship, USS Congress (52).

Samuel Du Pont - The Mexican-American War:

Sailing for California, Stockton and Du Pont first touched at Hawaii. Upon reaching their final destination, they learned that the Mexican-American War had begun. Ordered to command USS Cyane (22) in July 1846, Du Pont embarked Lieutenant Colonel John C. Frémont's California Battalion. Sailing for San Diego, he landed the troops and aided in securing the town. Moving south, Du Pont conducted attacks along the coast of Baja California and captured over thirty Mexican vessels. In November 1847, he aided in the capture of Mazatlán before taking part in the fighting around San José del Cabo three months later.

Samuel Du Pont - Interwar Years:

Returning from the West Coast in 1848, Du Pont briefly served as superintendent of the new US Naval Academy in 1850. An advocate for modernizing the navy, he pressed for increased emphasis on engineering and steam power. Leaving Annapolis later that year, he felt the post should be held by an older officer. In 1853, Du Pont was asked to oversee the Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations in New York City. A World's Fair-type of event, the Exhibition was well-received, but failed turn a profit. Promoted to captain in 1855, Du Pont worked to reform the US Navy.

Long an outspoken critic of political influence in the service, Du Pont served on the Naval Efficiency Board and worked to oust incompetent officers. After two years ashore, he received command of the steam frigate USS Minnesota (44) with orders to transport William Reed, the new US minister to China, to Beijing. While in Chinese waters, Du Pont witnessed Franco-British operations during the Second Opium War. After visiting Japan, India, and Arabia, Minnesota returned to Boston in 1859. With his career winding down, Du Pont accepted command of the Philadelphia Navy Yard the following year.

Samuel Du Pont - The Civil War:

Early 1861 found Du Pont contemplating retirement, however with the attack on Fort Sumter and outbreak of the Civil War he elected to remain on active duty. On his own initiative, he dispatched vessels to support Union operations around Annapolis, MD before overseeing a board which developed plans for a blockade of the Confederacy. Elevated to flag officer, he took command of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron (SABS) in October 1861. This force was tasked with blockading the Confederate coast from Virginia to Key West, FL.

Commanding the largest force ever assembled by the US Navy, Du Pont received orders to attack Port Royal Sound, SC in November. Arriving off the sound, his ships silenced the Confederate forts guarding its approaches during the Battle of Port Royal on November 7. This allowed Union troops to land and secure the area. The capture of Port Royal provided SABS with a key anchorage and base for the remainder of the war. Receiving the thanks of Congress for this action, Du Pont then captured Tybee, GA, opening the way for the capture of Fort Pulaski, as well as secured St. Mary's, Fernandina, Jacksonville in Florida.

Samuel Du Pont - Off Charleston:

Having established an effective blockade of much of the coast, Du Pont began to focus his efforts against Charleston, SC. For his success, he was promoted to rear admiral in July. In late 1862, he began to receive new ironclad warships for use against the city's forts. Largely of the monitor type, Du Pont began testing their capabilities against Fort McAllister, GA in March 1863. Though the ironclads proved rugged against enemy fire, their small number of guns prevented them from putting the Confederate fort out of action. Given nine ironclads, Du Pont received direct orders to assault Charleston in April.

Though he believed the city could not be taken without putting troops ashore, Du Pont attacked the Charleston harbor defenses on April 7, 1863. Battling the Confederate guns and difficult currents, Du Pont's ships were forced back after less than two hours of fighting. Badly out-gunned, the ironclads fired 154 rounds while receiving 2,209 from the Confederate forts. In the attack, five of the ironclads were badly damaged and one, USS Keokuk, ultimately sank. Though two of Du Pont's monitors captured the ironclad CSS Atlanta (4) in June, he came under heavy criticism for the failed attack on Charleston. As a result, he was relieved of his command in July and replaced by Rear Admiral John Dahlgren.

Samuel Du Pont - Later Life

Returning north, Du Pont worked to have his report of the Charleston attack published in order to clear his reputation. Though Congress looked into the matter, the hearing soon turned into an inquisition of Du Pont. Returning to Delaware, he did not receive another command during the war but did serve on several naval boards. As the war progressed, his actions at Charleston were vindicated as subsequent naval attacks also failed. Du Pont had previously argued that ground forces would be needed and he was proved correct when Charleston finally fell to troops led by Major General William T. Sherman.

Du Pont died on June 23, 1865, while in Philadelphia. Buried at the du Pont family cemetery in Greeneville, DE, he was the only member of the family to capitalize the "D" in their last name. Du Pont's services during the war were commemorated by a statue in Washington, DC's Pacific Circle in 1884. Though the statue was moved in 1920, the circle became known as Dupont Circle, a name which remains in use today.

Selected Sources

  • Smithsonian: Samuel F. Du Pont
  • Mr. Lincoln's White House: Samuel F. Du Pont
  • The Latin Library: Samuel F. Du Pont

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