“Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”
Sandwiched between K Street and I Street is one of D.C.’s more traveled parks. During lunch hours it is ringed with food trucks of all varieties, from Latin and Thai to American and Mediterranean. It’s in the heart of the Washington’s business district with businesses including the Army and Navy Club, Con Agra Foods, the Center for Public Integrity, and International Labor Rights surrounding it.
The centerpiece of the square is a bronze statue of Admiral David Farragut wearing his naval uniform and clutching a telescope, his left foot resting on the capstan of a ship. Unlike most Civil War statuary in D.C. – which are made from melted down Confederate cannons – Farragut’s statue is cast from the bronze of the propeller of his flagship, the USS Hartford.
Farragut’s statue was created by female sculptor Vinnie Ream. Her best known work is a marble statue of Abraham Lincoln that is on display in the Capitol rotunda. She was awarded the commission for this statue at the age of 18 and is the youngest sculptor – and the first woman – to ever be commissioned as an artist by the U.S. government. For the Farragut statue, Ream was awarded $20,000 (over $400,000 adjusted for inflation) in 1874, and she spent the next seven years working on it. The statue was dedicated on April 25, 1881. The ceremony was attended by President Garfield and John Philip Sousa conducted the Marine Band for the occasion.
History remembers Farragut for his words at the Battle of Mobile Bay during the Civil War. In the midst of the battle Farragut had climbed the mast of the USS Hartford to get a better view of the action. Tied to the rigging, he saw that the USS Brooklyn (which he had previously commanded) had stopped moving towards Mobile. He was told that it had stopped to avoid the mines (then called torpedoes) set by the Confederate Navy. While it is unlikely that he could be heard over the roar of the cannons, he is alleged to have said “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”
Farragut began his naval career at the age of nine and fought in the War of 1812 two years later. He served until his death in 1870 at the age of 69. Farragut was also the first rear admiral, vice admiral, and admiral in the U.S. Navy. He fought against pirates in the Caribbean, served as a commander in the Mexican-American War, and became a hero of the Civil War – distinguishing himself by taking the city of New Orleans and winning the Battle of Mobile Bay.
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