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Who was the first Admiral in the US Navy?

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January 28, 2013 3:13AM

David Glasgow Farragut became the first Admiral in the US Navy in 1866.

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my Version: Farragut was the first 4-star "Admiral", and he achieved that rank of simply Admiral, promoting from the 3-star rank of Vice Admiral, on July 25, 1866.

However the first specifically "admirals" in the United States, came about two years prior. Congress finally authorized the first 9 admirals -- rear admirals -- on July 16, 1862, ostensibly for international considerations -although that was probably more for the needs of the rapidly expanding Navy during the American Civil War. Some accounts are that Farragut also was the first of these nine first admirals as well; and atop that, Farragut was first also appointed to the 3-star rank of vice admiral in between Admiral and Rear Admiral -- two years after the rear admiral rank; then on to the aforementioned 4-star "Admiral", in 1866.

The Continental then U.S. Navies, did not specifically have any admirals until 1862 because many people felt the title too reminiscent of royalty, such as in the British Royal Navy, to be used in the country's navy.

Others saw the need for ranks above Captain, among them Captain (and for a time, Commodore) John Paul Jones, who pointed out that the Navy had to have officers who "ranked" with American army generals. He also felt there must be ranks above captain to avoid disputes among senior captains. Many navy secretaries from respective presidential cabinets in fact repeatedly recommended to the American congress that admiral ranks be created because the other navies of the world used them and American senior officers were "often subjected to serious difficulties and embarrassments in the interchange of civilities with those of other nations."

The rank of Commodore, sometimes associated to be the equivalent of an admiral rank, more so in other navies, was held by American naval officers throughout history. It is largely regarded as a positional rank, given to a senior captain in charge of a group of ships commanded by captains. The famous American naval heros John Paul Jones and John Barry were American navy commodores in the mid eighteenth century, and among the first to held those flag-equivalent ranks. Jones achieved the rank and position of Commodore aboard Bon Homme Richard in 1778. In fact, Commodore Esek Hopkins was the only Commander in Chief of the American Continental Navy during the American Revolutionary War, and was first promoted to brigadier general to command all military forces of Rhode Island in October 4, 1775; and on December 22, 1775, Hopkins was appointed Commander in Chief of the Continental Navy authorized by the Continental Congress, and so the first (admiral-esque) Commodore.

As well, John Paul Jones retained his commission in the American Navy, while becoming a Rear Admiral in the Russian Navy (in 1787), encouraged by the U.S. Congress at that time, and so was the first American naval officer to hold the title of admiral, albeit not a U.S. one. The congressional intent was to facilitate his experience so that Jones might potentially become the first U.S. admiral later. However, Jones died before that occured, in 1792 at age 45 due to a kidney illness.

On February 22, 1797, after the U.S. Continental Navy had ended, and the U.S. Navy been rebirthed, Captain John Barry was issued "Commission Number 1" by President George Washington, which was also backdated to June 4, 1794. His title was thereafter "Commodore." He is recognized as not only the first American commissioned naval officer in the new U.S. Navy, but also as its first flag officer. In the U.S., being a 'flag officer' (able to unfurl an admiral-like flag on one's ship) is regarded to be an admiral equivalent, and so this could also be argued to be the first time an admiral equivalent was so named.

It should be noted that until the 20th century, ranks of admiral were associated with billets, and in effect not a permanent paygrade until the last year of WW II.

Also note that a more senior rank, Fleet Admiral (5-star) exists, only in wartime, and even a 6-star rank has existed (held for a spell by George Dewey in 1899). 5 Star Rank was first created in 1944, worn by William Leahy, Ernest King, Chester Nimitz, and William Halsey. The rank Dewey Held though, was reverted to being the 'most senior 5-star admiral' in the Navy. One could also make a case for these officers to be firsts in various titles of being the most senior admiral.