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He was commissioned Lieutenant, U.S. Navy, 1841, and commanded a landing party of 70 seamen and captured Fort Tabasco, Mexico, in 1847; he commanded the steamer Panama, 1849, and made a voyage through the Straits of Magellan to the Pacific; commanded the privately owned mail steamer Georgia, 1850-52; made regular trips from New York City to Havana; Captain of the ship Golden Age between Melbourne and Sydney for the Australian Steamship Company, 1852-55; First Lieutenant, U.S. Navy, Portsmouth Navy Yard, 1857-60; took a prominent part in the preliminary planning of the New Orleans expedition.
He was in command of a mortar flotilla under Admiral Farragut, New Orleans, and on the Mississippi River, 1862; commanded the fleets below Forts St. Phillip and Jackson, demanded and accepted their surrender on favorable terms, 1862; served as Acting Rear Admiral, Commander, Mississippi River Squadron, 1862; aided in the assault on and the capture of Arkansas Post; cooperated with General U.S. Grant in the assault on Vicksburg, 1863; commissioned Rear Admiral, 1863, he took charge of the lower Mississippi River as far South as New Orleans; commanded naval forces cooperating with the Army in the Red River Expedition, 1864. Porter
Also commanded naval forces attacking Fort Fisher, 1864-65; with General Terry he captured the defenses of Wilmington, North Carolina; commanded the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, 1864; Superintendent of the United States Naval Academy, 1865-69; improved the curriculum and instructional methods there; conducted unsuccessful diplomatic negotiations in Santo Domingo to secure cession or lease of Samana Bay, 1866-67; appointed adviser to the Secretary of the Navy by President Grant, 1869-70; instituted a reform policy, organized boards to inspect the fleets and navy yards, began to repair many vessels; prompted to Full Admiral, 1870; chosen to command the fleet assembled at Key West, 1873; head of the Board of Inspectino, 1877-91.

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