Perhaps because he only served eight months as flag officer of western naval forces in the Civil War before dying in June 1863, Andrew Foote's naval career has been little remarked on, despite his collaboration with Brig. Gen.Ulysses S. Grant in capturing Fort Henry, Fort Donelson, and Island No.10.
But those battle triumphs were only part of the career of a seminal figure in the development of the mid-19th century U.S. Navy.
Sometimes called the Union's;s Stonewall Jackson for his resolute and religious nature, Foote zealously opposed alcohol and flogging, assisted in reforming the Navy’s crippling seniority system and was the foremost opponent of the international slave trade, which he attacked in his 1854 work Africa and the American Flag.
His combat career included patrolling the African station (1849-51), attacking the Chinese barrier forts at Canton in 1856 by personally leading landing parties, and the support of Grant in Kentucky and Tennessee.
The Civil War erupted just as Foote seemed close to being appointed superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy. His Chinese experience in coastal and river operations may have contributed to the decision by his friend, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, to put him in command of Union naval forces on the upper Mississippi.
Riverine warfare was generally not what naval officers dreamed of, but Foote came to regard it as his greatest achievement.
Without resources and subject to Army control, in a Navy whose priority was coastal warfare, he created a flotilla of broad, shallow-draft ironclads and mortar boats.
His work with Grant was the model of Army-Navy cooperation. But the strains of the work, coupled with foot and arm wounds caused by shrapnel at Fort Donelson, fatally wore him down.
A few anecdotes from Spencer C. Tucker's;s meticulously researched and highly readable biography, Andrew Foote: Civil War
Admiral on Western Waters, (Naval Institute Press, Annapolis MD, 2000) illustrate the type of man Andrew Foote was.
Foote's;s brother, John, recalled their father once telling him,
“I think I have been able to control my family pretty well, all except Andrew - I have never tried to do more than guide him.“
John remembered his brother as
“very genial and good - natured. There was never any cant about him and he seemed to enjoy life and get much out of it.“
Foote longed for a naval career, but the War of 1812 had supplied the U.S. with too many sailors and not enough work. So
Foote accepted an appointment to West Point Academy at the age of 16.
Six months later, however, his application to become a midshipman was approved He immediately reported to the schooner Grampus which was headed for the West Indies. His starting salary was $19/month.
At the age of 21, as a midshipman on the Natchez in the Caribbean, Foote experienced a life changing event. Although raised a staunch Congregationalist with forebears who were ministers of the church in Cheshire, Foote had followed his father’s more secular approach to life.
In any case, navy life was not conducive to religious development. Yet, in 1827, Foote experienced an epiphany.
He was standing night watch while the ship was at anchor when a lieutenant, evidently a strong Christian, approached him. Previously the lieutenant had tried to discuss religion with Foote, but Foote’s response to him was that he intended to be honest and honorable in all things and that was all the religion he needed.
On this second occasion, however, he two fell into an extended conversation on a beautiful, clear, moon-lit night.
As soon as his watch was over and he could be alone, Foote fell to his knees in prayer. Over the next several weeks, he spent most of his free time reading his Bible.
One day, as he was climbing the ladder to the deck, he experienced a sense of feeling and purpose that caused him to resolve that in the future, "henceforth, in all circumstances, I will act for God."
Foote wrote his mother to tell her the news, probably because her deep Christian faith had prevented her from approving a naval career for her son. He began the letter,
“Dear Mother, you may discharge your mind from anxiety about your wayward son.“
John related a discussion between Andrew and their father after this cruise, during which Andrew tried to reconcile service to the Almighty with a career dedicated to using force to achieve national goals.
Samuel asked Andrew if he thought a navy was necessary. Andrew replied, “Certainly, the seas must be policed.’; Samuel then asked, “Should the navy be in charge of good or bad men?“ “Of good men,“ Andrew replied, and also declared that his doubts were gone.
During a circumnavigation of the globe, his squadron stayed for three months at Macao. It was there that Foote learned his wife, Caroline, had died unexpectedly more than six months earlier, on Nov. 4, 1838. He was a widow at the age of 32. Andrew gave serious consideration to leaving the navy and entering foreign missionary work.
However, he resolved to continue God;s;s work within the U.S. Navy.In 1841, with his appointment as executive officer of the Naval Asylum, Foote began his lifelong crusade for temperance, which had not particularly concerned him previously.
He told John: Foote agreed with the majority of naval officers that the threat of corporal punishment was necessary to maintain discipline. He ordered the lash used 28 times aboard the Perry before receiving word of its termination.
Yet, this was about half the average number of floggings per ship for the navy in that period. Although initially skeptical, he resolved to give what he referred to as “the experiment“ a fair trial.
Foote continued to believe that liquor was the cause of most of the discipline problems necessitating flogging.
During his African service, a possible slave ship the Martha,was spotted off of Amber. Marathons's captain, believing Andrew’s
ship to be a Royal Navy vessel, hoisted the American flag.
But when the captain recognized the U.S. Naval uniform, he promptly lowered the American flag and raised a Brazilian one. Something was thrown overboard and, upon retrieval, found to be the captain's;s writing desk containing the ship’s log and papers identifying the owner of the Martha as an American living in Rio de Janeiro.
Although no slaves were aboard, all the equipment for the dreaded “middle passage“ was in place, including a fully laid slave deck, 176 water casks holding 100 gallons each, 150 barrels of farina, and 400 spoons to keep the human cargo alive during the passage.
Martha's;s captain protested that his ship could not be searched while under the Brazilian flag. Foote replied that he would
then seize the ship as a pirate vessel for sailing without papers.Then Martha's;s captain confessed that it was, indeed, a slaver and had expected that same night to take onboard 1,800 slaves and would have been at sea before daybreak.
When praised for the efficiency and hard work of his crew, Foote attributed
his success to his methods of discipline and especially to a grog free environment.
Foote;s;s crew intercepted another vessel, the Chatsworth, which he was convinced was a slaver. But because insufficient evidence could be found, his superior ordered him to release it.
About a week later, Foote planned a ruse in hopes of catching the Chatsworth in the act of slaving. Once outside of Ambriz, he turned the ship around and headed back.
Again he caught the Chatsworth, and again he could find no evidence of slave running. But, before sailing north, he left behind some men to keep the Chatsworth under surveillance.
When Foote returned to Ambriz two weeks later, his men reported that 4,000 slaves were at the port awaiting shipment. Determined to prevent this, Foote had the Chatsworth seized and, to ensure that charges would stick, secured statements
from legitimate traders in the area that the ship had earlier been engaged in slaving activities and that its owner had admitted ordering the ship on another slaving voyage.
After a prolonged trial, the Chatsworth was indeed condemned as a slaver. Foote believed it to be a greater loss to the African slave trade than the loss of the Martha. British naval commissioner Jackson noted that Foote’s captures ␄at once changed the face of things ... from the date of those very opportune captures, not a vessel illicitly assuming American colors was seen.“
Added to the the premature loss of his first child, Josephine, and first wife, Caroline Flag, Foote lost all of his three youngest children in 1862; the two daughters, Emily and Maria, died within ten days of each other. His wife did not want him to take another command after his service in the Mississippi Squadron.
She met privately with Secretary Welles to ask that he not be separated from his family. Foote was not pleased when he
discovered his wife’s interference. As Welles put it, “he considered it a duty to obey orders of any kind -to go wherever the Department directed or thought he could be most useful.“
In June 1863, Foote wrote Welles that he must postpone taking command of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron due to poor health. This alarmed Welles, who noted, “It must be real, for he promptly obeys orders.“
Foote planned to leave New York for Port Royal on June 15th, but through mis communication or early departure, the ship left without him. That night, at the Astor House Hotel, he fell ill with Bright’s disease, a painful condition that affected his kidneys and liver.
The doctor who attended him was reluctant to tell Foote that his disease was fatal, because Foote was determined to take
Charleston. But Foote took the news calmly and told Dr. Bache he was prepared for death and that he had;d “had enough with guns and war.“
Foote lingered for several days in the company of his family, dying on the night of June 26th. New Haven gave him an impressive public funeral on June 30th, attended by the governor. Foote;s;s wife barely survived him, dying in August. They are
buried at Grove Street Cemetery in New Haven.
Recollections of James B. Eads
James Eads designed and constructed the gunboat
flotilla Andrew Hull Foote commanded. While on a train
to meet with Foote, he found himself sitting behind
Judge John Foote, Andrews’s brother. Judge Foote
shared with Eads an anecdote of a daughter who was
learning to read.
After the capture of Fort Henry the squadron was brought back to Cairo for repairs, and, on the Sunday following, the crews, with their gallant Flag Officer, attended one of the churches in Cairo. Admiral Foote was a thorough Christian gentleman and excellent impromptu speaker.
After the congregation had assembled, some one whispered to him that the minister was ill and would be unable to officiate; whereupon the Admiral went up into the pulpit himself, and after the usual prayer and hymn, he selected as the text John xiv.I, “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.“
Upon this text he delivered what was declared to be an excellent sermon, [an account of which] was widely published in the papers at the time, and came into the hands of [his] niece.
After she had read it, she exclaimed to her father: “Uncle Foote did not say that right.“ “Say what right?“ asked the father.
“Why, when he preached.“ “What did he say?“ “He said, “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in the gunboats.’ “
Upon reaching the Benton, where Foote was supervising target practice, Eats tells of this experience: “One of his officers approached and handed him a dozen or more letters. While still conversing with me, his eye glanced over them ... and he selected one which he proceeded to open. Before reading probably four lines, he turned to me with great calmness and
composure, and said, “Mr. Eats, I must ask you to excuse me for a few minutes while I go down to my cabin.“
This letter brings me the news of the death of my son, about thirteen years old, who I had hoped would live to be the stay and support of his mother.
“Without further remark, and without giving the slightest evidence of his feelings to any one, he left me and went to his cabin. . . . When he returned, after an absence of not more than fifteen minutes, still perfectly composed, I endeavored to divert his mind from his affliction by referring to . . . my interview with his brother. I told him the anecdote of his little niece . . . and this served to clothe his face with a temporary smile.“
Eats summed up his impression of Foote thus: “He was one of the most fascinating men ... I have ever met, being full of anecdote, and having a graceful, easy flow of language. He was likewise, ordinarily, one of the most amiable looking of men; but when angered, as I once saw him, his face impressed me as being most savage and demoniacal, and I can imagine that ... in an attack he would have been invincible. ... Aside from his martial character, no officer ever surpassed him in those evidences of genuine refinement and delicacy which mark the true gentleman.“
The Dec. 1979 issue of Civil War Times Illustrated featured a story by Allan
Keller on Admiral Andrew Hull Foote. To receive a black and white PDF of
the entire 12-page article, send an email request to firstname.lastname@example.org.