Rear Admiral
Samuel Francis DuPont

Samuel Francis DuPont (September 27, 1803 – June 23, 1865) was an American naval officer who
achieved the rank of Rear Admiral in the United States Navy, and a member of the prominent
DuPont family; he was the only member of his generation to use a capital D. He served prominently
during the Mexican-American War and the Civil War, was superintendent of the United States
Naval Academy, and made significant contributions to the modernization of the U.S. Navy.

Early life and naval career

Du Pont was born at Goodstay, his family home in Bergen Point (now Bayonne), New Jersey, the
fourth child and second son of Victor Marie du Pont and Gabrielle Joséphine de la Fite de Pelleport.
His uncle was Eleuthère Irénée du Pont, the founder of E.I. du Pont de Nemours Company, which
began as a gunpowder factory and today is a multinational chemical corporation. Du Pont spent his
childhood at his father's home, Louviers, across the Brandywine Creek from his uncle's estate and
gunpowder factory, Eleutherian Mills, just north of Wilmington, Delaware. He was enrolled at
Mount Airy Academy in Germantown, Pennsylvania, at age 9. However, his father was unable to
fund his education because of his failing wool mill, and he was encouraged to instead enlist in the U.
S. Navy. His family's close connections with President Thomas Jefferson helped secure him an
appointment as a midshipman by President James Madison at the age of 12, and he first set sail
aboard USS Franklin out of Delaware in December 1815.

As there was no naval academy at the time, DuPont learned mathematics and navigation at sea and
became an accomplished navigator by the time he took his next assignment aboard
USS Constitution
in 1821. He then served aboard USS Congress in the West Indies and off the coast of Brazil. Though
still not yet a commissioned officer, he was promoted to sailing master during his service aboard
USS
North Carolina
in 1825, which sailed on a mission to display American influence and power in the
Mediterranean. Soon after his promotion to Lieutenant in 1826, he was ordered aboard
USS Porpoise,
returned home for two years after his father's death in 1827, and then served aboard
USS Ontario in
1829. Despite the short period in which he had been an officer by this time, DuPont had begun to
openly criticize many of his senior officers, whom he believed were incompetent and had only
received their commands through political influence.

After returning from the
USS Ontario in June 1833, DuPont married Sophie Madeleine du Pont (1810
– 88), his first cousin as the daughter of his uncle, Eleuthère Irénée du Pont. As he never kept an
officer's journal, his voluminous correspondence with Sophie serves as the main documentation of
his operations and observations throughout the rest of his naval career. From 1835 until 1838, he
was the Executive Officer of
USS Constellation and USS Warren, commanding both the latter and USS
Grampus
in the Gulf of Mexico. In 1838 he joined the USS Ohio in the Mediterranean until 1841. The
following year he was promoted to Commander and set sail for China aboard
USS Perry, but was
forced to return home and give up his command because of severe illness. He returned to service in
1845 as commander of
USS Congress, the flagship of Commodore Robert Stockton, reaching
California by way of a cruise of the Hawaiian Islands by the time the Mexican-American War had
begun.
Mexican-American War


DuPont was given command of
USS Cyane in 1846 and quickly showed his skill as a naval combat
commander, taking or destroying thirty enemy ships and clearing the Gulf of California in the
process. DuPont transported Major John Fremont’s troops to San Diego, where they captured the
city. DuPont then continued operations along the Baja coast, including the capture of La Paz, and
burnt two enemy gunboats in the harbor of Guaymas under heavy fire. He led the main line of ships
that took Mazatlán on November 11, 1847, and on February 15, 1848, launched an amphibious
assault on San José del Cabo that managed to strike three miles inland and relieve a besieged
squadron, despite heavy resistance. He was given command of the California naval blockade in the
last months of the war and, after taking part in further land maneuvers, was ordered home.

Between wars

Du Pont served most of the next decade on shore assignment, and his efforts during this time are
credited with helping to modernize the U.S. Navy. He studied the possibilities of steam power, and
emphasized engineering and mathematics in the curriculum that he established for the new United
States Naval Academy. He was appointed superintendent of the Academy, but resigned after four
months because he believed it was a post more appropriate for someone closer to retirement age. He
was an advocate for a more mobile and offensive Navy, rather than the harbor defense function that
much of it was then relegated to, and worked on revising naval rules and regulations. After being
appointed to the board of the United States Lighthouse Service, his recommendations for upgrading
the antiquated system were largely adopted by Congress in a lighthouse bill.
In 1853, DuPont was made general superintendent over what is typically considered the first World's
Fair in the United States—the Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations, held in New York City.
Despite international praise, low attendance caused the venture to go into heavy debt, and DuPont
resigned.

DuPont became an enthusiastic supporter of naval reform, writing in support of the 1855
congressional act to "Promote the Efficiency of the Navy." He was appointed to the Naval Efficiency
Board and oversaw the removal of 201 naval officers. When those under fire called upon friends in
Congress, du Pont himself became the subject of heavy criticism, and subsequent review of the
dismissals resulted in the reinstatement of nearly half of those removed.

Du
Pont was promoted to captain in 1855. In 1857 he was given command of
USS Minnesota and ordered
to transport William Reed, the U.S. Minister to China, to his post in Beijing. DuPont's
USS Minnesota
was one of seventeen warships parading Western force in China, and after China failed to satisfy
demands for greater access to its ports, he witnessed the capture of Chinese forts on the Peiho River
by the French and English on April 28, 1858. He then sailed to Japan, India, and Arabia, finally
returning to Boston in May 1859. He played a major role in the receiving of the Japanese ambassador
that year, accompanying him on his three-month visit to Washington, Baltimore, and Philadelphia;
the trip was a breakthrough for opening Japan to American trade and investment. Du Pont was
then made commandant of the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard in 1860. He expected to retire in this
post, but the outbreak of the Civil War returned him to active duty.

Civil War

When communication was cut off with Washington at the start of the Civil War, du Pont took the
initiative of sending a fleet to the Chesapeake Bay to protect the landing of Union troops at
Annapolis, Maryland. In June 1861 he was made president of a board in Washington formed to
develop a plan of naval operations against the Confederacy. He was appointed flag officer serving
abord the
USS Wabash as commander of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, leading from
Norfolk, Virginia the largest fleet ever commanded by an American officer at that time. On November
7, DuPont led a successful attack on the fortifications at Port Royal harbor in South Carolina. This
victory enabled Union naval forces to secure the southern waters of Georgia and the entire eastern
coast of Florida, and an effective blockade was established. DuPont received commendations from U.
S. Congress for his brilliant tactical success, and was appointed rear admiral on July 16, 1862.


Towards the end of 1862, DuPont became the first U.S. Naval officer to be assigned command over
armored "ironclad" ships. Though he commanded them ably in engagements with other ships, they
performed poorly in an attack on Fort McAllister, due to their small number of guns and slow rate of
fire. DuPont was then given direct orders from the Navy Department to launch an attack on
Charleston, South Carolina which was the site of the first shots fired in the Civil War with the fall of
Fort Sumter and the main area in which the Confederate blockade had been unsuccessful. Though
du Pont believed that Charleston, could not be taken without significant land troop support, he
nevertheless attacked with nine ironclads on April 7, 1863. Unable to navigate properly in the
obstructed channels leading to the harbor, his ships were caught in a blistering crossfire, and he
withdrew them before nightfall. Five of his nine ironclads were disabled in the failed attack, and one
more subsequently sank.

The Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Welles, blamed DuPont for the highly publicized failure at
Charleston. Du Pont himself anguished over it and, after one more major engagement in which he
sank a Confederate ironclad, was relieved of command on July 5, 1863, at his own request. Though
he enlisted the help of Maryland U.S. Representative Henry Winter Davis to get his official report of
the incident published by the Navy, an ultimately inconclusive congressional investigation into the
failure essentially turned into a trial of whether DuPont had misused his ships and misled his
superiors. DuPont's attempt to garner the support of President Abraham Lincoln was ignored, and
he returned home to Delaware. He returned to Washington to serve briefly on a board reviewing
naval promotions.

However, subsequent events arguably vindicated DuPont's judgment and capabilities. A subsequent
U.S. Naval attack on the city failed, despite being launched with a significantly larger fleet of
armored ships. Charleston was finally taken only by the invasion of General Sherman's army in 1865.

Du Pont died on June 23, 1865, while on a trip to Philadelphia and is buried in the du Pont family
cemetery. The cemetery sits near the "Hagley Museum", in Greenville, Delaware. The cemetery is
closed to members of the public and features a "No Trespassing" sign at the entrance gate.

In 1882, 17 years after DuPont's death, the U.S. Congress finally moved to recognize his service and
commissioned a sculpture of him to be placed in Pacific Circle in Washington. A bronze sculpture of
DuPont by Launt Thompson was dedicated in 1884, and the traffic circle was renamed Dupont
Circle. Though the circle still bears his name, the statue was moved to Wilmington, Delaware, by the
duPont family in 1920, and replaced by a fountain designed by Daniel Chester French, dedicated in
1921.

Fort DuPont near near Delaware City, Delaware and the destroyers
USS DuPont DD-152 and DD-
941 were all named in his honor.
Delaware Military History