Samuel Francis Du Pont played perhaps the most influential role in the direction that the United States Navy has taken in the past 200 years. His skill as a naval officer helped the US to win wars, and his efforts to improve the nation’s Navy have proven vital in the development of what is today the most powerful navy the world has ever seen. Du Pont was born in New Jersey on the 27th of September in the year of 1803 into a very renowned family. His uncle was the founder of a successful gunpowder factory.
His father enrolled him in school when he was nine years old, but because his business venture failed, had to remove him due to a lack of funds. Du Pont enlisted in the Navy instead, and thanks to family ties with the president, was appointed the rank of midshipman at the age of 12 years old. There was no Naval Academy at the time, and Du Pont got his officers training and his education at sea. After 11 years, he finally earned the rank of Lieutenant as a commissioned officer. By the time the Mexican-American War had flared up, Du Pont had earned the rank of Commander at the age of 39 years old.
Samuel Du Pont made a name for himself during the MexicanAmerican War. As the commander of the Cyane, Du Pont destroyed or captured over 30 enemy ships, which helped clear the Gulf of California. He also captured La Paz and Mazatlan. He assisted in land operations too, by transporting troops to San Diego and assisting in the capturing of the city, and leading an amphibious assault on San Jose del Cabo that freed a trapped squadron and saved many lives. For the final months of the war, Du Pont commanded a naval blockade that cut off the Mexican navy from ports in California.
His efforts in the war undoubtedly were crucial for the American victory. For Du Pont, the Civil war is when his name would become one of controversy. As the commander of a shipyard in Philadelphia before the war, Du Pont was on the brink of retirement. When the war broke out, he answered the call of duty and delayed his retirement until the war was over. The beginning of the war reflected well on his abilities as a naval commander. He was the president of a board that set the plan for naval operations. He commanded a successful naval blockade, and captured a total of five ports.
His mous achievement of the war was the capture of Port Royal, which allowed the Union to set up a much needed base in that area. His successes earned him the rank of Rear Admiral by the time ironclad ships were introduced into the war. He was the first to be given command of these armored ships, which he commanded successfully in ship versus ship confrontation. However, when he was ordered to attack Charleston with nine ironclad ships, he did so unsuccessfully. The defeat was embarrassing for himself and for the Union. He asked to be removed from his position, and he returned home.
His failure was perhaps justified when a later attack with a larger fleet would also prove unsuccessful. Charleston would only be taken by a land assault led by General Sherman. Although his career ended in such a humiliating fashion, his defeat at Charleston does not subtract from his otherwise prosperous career. Samuel F. Du Pont was a capable naval commander in battle. However, his most lasting efforts occurred during times of peace in the buffer period between the Mexican-American War and the Civil war. Between the wars, Du Pont spent most of the time on shore assignment.
It was at this time that the new Naval Academy was founded. Wanting to modernize the navy, he advocated that the curriculum of the Academy be thick with mathematics and engineering. He also wanted to transform the navy from one that was defensive to one that was more offensive. Reckoning that this could be done with a more mobile navy, he researched steamed power to be the driving force of the ships. Beyond research and education, he as well used legislative power to better the navy. As a member of the Naval Efficiency Board, he assisted in the removal of over 200 officers from their positions.
Although more than half of them were given back their positions, his actions spoke out against political influence in the navy, and how some officers were given their positions because of political ties, and not necessarily because of their effectiveness as officers. The actions of Samuel Francis Du Pont have echoed through the decades, and has altered the course of the United States Navy in a way that continues to this day. His research to improve the navy has allowed it to advance in such a way that, nearly 200 years later, is standing as the most powerful navy the world has ever seen.
His efforts to alter the leadership in the navy have changed it so that officers are now selected based on competency and dedication, not because of political ties or entitlement. The curriculum that he set in place at the Naval Academy is still standing, and it is today one of the world’s most prominent schools and its curriculum is heavy in mathematics and engineering. It is no doubt that without the efforts of Samuel Du Pont, the US Navy would have taken a much different course.