Admiral Andrew Hull Foote: Cheshire Resident, Civil War Admiral

Share

print

John White as Admiral Andrew Hull Foote, Cheshire Historical Society.

Cheshire resident John White gave this talk about Admiral Andrew Hull Foote at the Cheshire Historical Society in January, 2017.

THE LIFE OF ADMIRAL ANDREW HULL FOOTE

In speaking to you about my life history, it seems proper to begin reciting it by presenting some genealogical information, especially because some of my ancestors were notable figures in our town and state.

The gambrel-roofed house where I resided, at the corner of Main Street and Cornwall Avenue, was built in 1767 by the Rev. John Foot when he married Abigail Hall. Abigail was the daughter of Rev. Samuel Hall, the first pastor of the Congregational Church in the New Cheshire Parish. The church was then located on what is now Lanyon Drive. Rev. Foot came to Cheshire in the 1760s to serve as colleague to Parson Hall, and immediately fell in love with the parson’s daughter. The home he built for her was a stately one—in fact, the most stately on Main Street. Rev. Foot lived there until his death in 1813, and thus the house was known as the Foot House.

Parson Foot’s descendants included his son Samuel Augustus Foot, who would become my father. But I shall speak of him objectively at this point and tell you that Samuel Foot was graduated from Yale when not quite 17. He then studied law with Judge Tapping Reeve of Litchfield. You have heard of Litchfield Law School founded by Judge Reeve, I’m sure. Poor health forced Samuel to give up the idea of law as a career, and he entered into business with the man who was to become his father-in-law, Andrew Hull, Jr. who was engaged in the West Indies trade in New Haven. Samuel had moved to New Haven and set up an office on Long Wharf, and in 1803 married my mother, Eudocia. They remained there until the War of 1812, when they returned to Cheshire in 1813 due to the declining health of Samuel’s father, my grandfather John Foot. Thus, I was born in New Haven in 1806 and lived there for seven years. But I am getting ahead of myself.

I was telling you about my father, Samuel Augustus Foot. Shortly after returning to Cheshire, he was elected State Representative and remained in that capacity for many years. For two of those years he was chosen Speaker of the House. He also was elected to Congress several times, first as a Representative and then as a Senator. In 1834 he resigned to become Governor of Connecticut, serving for two years. His house was thereafter referred to as the Governor Foot House. I inherited it when he died in 1846. He was buried in Hillside Cemetery nearby. No doubt you all know where it is.

Now I shall shift the focus of this talk to myself and my 40-year career in the Navy. I’ll begin by describing my early life.

MY EARLY LIFE

Although I was born in New Haven, I spent most of my boyhood here in Cheshire. But I recall the waterfront activity of Long Wharf, where I often played as a youth near my father’s office. So seafaring, with its colorful tales of far-off lands, became an element of my psyche early on.

My mother’s influence upon me was equally strong. She had great concern for the moral and religious welfare of her children. Likewise, my father was the son of the pastor of the Congregational Church here in Cheshire. So I was steeped in the Puritan tradition, and throughout my life strove to be a devout Christian. On ships in later life, I instituted religious worship and delivered sermons on Sundays. I also led the temperance movement to abolish what was called “flogging and grogging” in the U.S. Navy. I will speak more about that later.

My school days began at the common school here in Cheshire, but I was transferred by my father to the Episcopal Academy, now known as Cheshire Academy. One of my classmates there was Gideon Welles, who later became Secretary of the Navy in President Lincoln’s cabinet. We were lifelong friends, but I never sought to use that influence in a self-serving way when Gideon became Secretary of the Navy. My promotions were earned and well deserved.

In 1822, at age 16 I entered West Point Military Academy, but stayed only a few months. Seafaring was much more preferable to me, so I transferred to the Navy later that year.

My first assignment was to a schooner, the Grampus, assigned to root our pirates in the West Indies. A year later I was assigned to another ship, the Peacock, and promoted to the rank of midshipman. That three-year cruise took me to various ports on the east coast of South America.

After four years at sea, I returned to Cheshire. In June 1828 I married Caroline Flagg, the daughter of Bethuel Flagg, also a Cheshire resident. Caroline and I had two children, but one lived only four years. And Caroline died after only ten years of marriage to me.

After Caroline’s death, I went to sea again in 1833 aboard the Delaware. This time we went to the Mediterranean. During that cruise I was promoted to lieutenant. My ship visited many European and African ports. We also visited the Nile, Egypt and the Holy Land. And on our return, we visited Italy, France and England.

In 1837 I was assigned to the East India Squadron as executive officer on the sloop-of-war John Adams. This cruise brought me around the Cape of Good Hope to Bombay, Canton, Manila and the Sandwich and Society Islands. By then I had seen large portions of the world.

In 1841 I was assigned to the Philadelphia Navy Yard and to the task of educating midshipmen. The Navy Yard contained an educational institution called the Philadelphia Asylum. It was the predecessor of the Naval Academy at Annapolis, which was established in 1845.

An incidental comment about the Naval Academy seems in order here. During the Civil War, Maryland’s commitment to the Union was tenuous and doubtful to many Unionists. In a move to prevent the Academy from falling into Confederate hands, it was relocated to Newport, Rhode Island. The cadets were transferred from the Severn River to Newport Harbor aboard a noble man-of-war named the Constitution. After the war, the Academy returned to Annapolis.

In January 1842, I married my second cousin, Caroline Augusta Street. She was the oldest daughter of a wealthy man, Augustus Russell Street, the founder of Yale’s art school. My second Caroline and I had five children, but only two survived into adulthood.

MY MIDDLE LIFE

Now I shall recollect my mid-life.

From 1843 to 1846 I was aboard the flagship Cumberland as executive officer. My religious perspective and my concern for military discipline had led me to become, shall I say, a temperance crusader. Taking a stance in favor of abolishing grog from U.S. naval ships, I was able to make the Cumberland the first ship in the American navy to go “dry.” The daily ration of liquor for sailors ceased. My view won support among my fellow officers and my temperance campaign spread until, in 1862, it was made permanent policy throughout the fleet. It was an accomplishment for which I felt humbly proud. Flogging was abolished a few years before that, in 1859.

Next I was made executive officer of the Boston Navy Yard. I was judged to be a skillful administrator and manager by this time. Although I was still a lieutenant, in 1849 I became commander of the brig Perry and spent two years in the southern Atlantic apprehending slave traffickers. I came to hate slavery with a deep passion. Thus I took particular pride in capturing the Martha, a slaver, and placing her crew of 25 in irons. I took the Martha back to New York, where it was confiscated. She had tried to avoid capture by raising a Brazilian flag, but I sent my boarding party aboard her anyway. That night the Martha was to have boarded 1800 slaves.

In 1851, after my ship returned, I was promoted to Commander and allowed time to visit my family. Thereafter, for the next four years, I had a variety of shore assignments. During this time I wrote a book about patrolling against the slave trade. I titled it America and the Africa Problem. It was published in 1854.

Then in 1856 I commanded the Portsmouth, a sloop-of-war and one of the finest American naval vessels. Our ports of call included Hong Kong and Canton, where I was assigned to protect the lives and property of American residents amid the war raging between England and China. I stayed there for two years, visiting ports such as Shanghai and several in Japan.

In October of 1858 I was appointed Commander of the Brooklyn Navy Yard and remained there until the Civil War began. And now I shall speak about my Civil War exploits.

MY CIVIL WAR EXPLOITS

In August 1861, at the outset of the Civil War, I was promoted to Captain and put in charge of naval operations on Western Waters. More specifically, I was put in charge of naval defense on the upper Mississippi River. I was stationed at St. Louis. My job was to create an inland navy for operation against Confederate strongholds on the western rivers. I quickly went in action, building and manning ships, and leading them into combat. The fleet was improvised from whatever ships could be converted or built in a hurry. The result was the first ironclad flotilla of gunboats in American history. I soon became known as the Gunboat Commodore. Although my rank was Captain, the title Commodore meant one who is in command of a flotilla.

I am regarded by historians as brilliantly effective in command. My first major operation was the February 1862 attack on Forts Henry and Donelson with Ulysses S. Grant, who was a Brigadier General at the time. Fort Henry was on the Tennessee River; Fort Donelson was on the Cumberland River. They controlled traffic on the rivers; if our Union forces could capture them, the way would open to take the Mississippi and give the Union control of the waterways all the way to New Orleans.

The plan called for a coordinated attack with both the army and navy, but when I arrived at Fort Henry I found the Confederate defenses lacking and so I decided to act. With the river in flood, I sailed straight into the fort and the Confederates surrendered. Grant moved forward to attack Fort Donelson, but he opened the attack too soon. I arrived late but when I finally arrived I went straight into action. During the battle I was wounded in the right foot by a piece of iron shrapnel from an exploding cannonball and by wooden splinters. While the Confederates repulsed my attack, Fort Donelson eventually fell and I received much of the credit.

The capture of Fort Henry is chiefly memorable as the first engagement in history in which ironclad gunboats were subjected to a practical and severe test—a test which demonstrated that ironclads could work well. The battle between the Monitor and the Merrimac did not take place until almost a month later.

My next action was the attack on Island Number 10, which held a commanding position in the middle of the Mississippi River. During the battle I was on crutches from my foot wound. It forced me to move to a shore position. We nevertheless succeeded in taking the island.

After the battle, my health continued to deteriorate so far that I had to step down from command. In June 1862, I moved to Washington, where I was promoted to rear admiral and given the Thanks of Congress. My new duty was chief of the Bureau of Equipment and Recruiting.

A year later I got a seagoing appointment: command of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron. But before I could take my position in the blockade off Charleston, I died. That was a year after my wounding.

MY DEATH

Here I will tell you about the manner in which I died.

The wound I received at Fort Henry eventually killed me. It caused me such agony that I was temporarily detached in May 1862 and my squadron transferred to another admiral. I did not return to Western waters. I became chief of the Bureau of Equipment and Recruiting, a less onerous duty ashore.

But I was determined to do my utmost for my country, whatever the sacrifice. My life, I said to others, was not my own and should be freely surrendered at my country’s call, which to me was service to God. I sought active sea service and was given command of the South Atlantic Squadron. I left New Haven in June 1863, intending to depart from New York to assume command of the squadron. However, my disabilities overcame me in New York. I took to bed in the Astor House hotel, where I lingered for ten days in great suffering and then died there on June 26, 1863. I was 56 years old.

My life’s work was the navy, and for that I received the Thanks of Congress twice and a letter of thanks from President Lincoln. I had thought I was destined to die in battle at sea, but it was not to be. More important, however, was my attitude toward what actually befell me. Where I should die, and how, was to me a question of little importance. With my family and friends gathered around me, and assured by medical doctors that I must die, I waited calmly for the end. My last intelligible words recorded were, “I thank God for His goodnesses to me—for all His loving-kindness to me; He has been good to me; I thank him for all His benefits.”

My body lay in state in the rotunda of the State House on the upper green in New Haven, which was then the co-capital of Connecticut. The Episcopal funeral was held on June 30 in New Haven at the Center Church. Flags were draped everywhere, businesses were closed, public business was suspended. Four admirals were my pall bearers. My faithful black servant, Brooks, walked behind my hearse, carrying my sword.

I was buried in the Grove Street Cemetery of New Haven, where my grave, located near the main entrance, is marked by a large monument. Artillery fired and bells rang as the funeral made its way to the cemetery.

Upon my death, I was eulogized by many. I was described as gallant in combat, an excellent leader of men, and what was most satisfying to me, I was regarded as a good Christian gentleman by those who knew me.

My old schoolmate, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Wells, paid tribute to me in a general order to the officers and men of all ships. This was his statement:

“A gallant and distinguished officer is lost to the country. The hero of Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, the daring and indomitable spirit that created and led to successive victories, the Mississippi Flotilla; the heroic Christian sailor, who in the China seas, and on the coast of Africa, as well as on the great interior rivers of our country, sustained with unfaltering dignity and devotion, the honor of our flag, and the cause of the Union; Rear Admiral Foote is no more.” 

Since I died, three ships of the United States Navy have been named USS Foote in my honor. The first Foote (TB-3) was the lead ship of her class of torpedo boat, launched in 1896 and sold in 1920. The second Foote (DD-169) was a Wickes-class destroyer, launched in 1918 and scrapped in 1952. The third Foote (DD-511) was a Fletcher-class destroyer, launched in 1942, decommissioned in 1946 and sold for scrap in 1972. Another form of honor to me was naming the New Haven post of the Grand Army of the Republic the Admiral Foote Post, which functioned for many years.

The New Haven Colony Historical Society has a fine portrait of me and other mementos.

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

5 × 2 =