August 5, 1864: Battle of Mobile Bay

“Damn the torpedoes!”

Bold Farragut said,

“Damn the torpedoes!

Full speed ahead!”

And, lashed to his rigging

With never a squeal,

He led his fleet into

The Bay of Mobile.

The Southern forts thundered

With vigor and vim

But grapeshot and canister

Never touched him.

The waters were mined

With a death-dealing load,

But Farragut simply

Refused to explode.


And fought till the Southerners

Gave up the fray.

(He’d captured New Orleans

In much the same way.)

So remember, if ever

You face such a plight,

There’s a pretty good chance,

“Straight ahead!” will be right.

And while “damn,” as you know,

Is a word to eschew –

He knew when to say it –

So few people do.

Rosemary and Stephen Benet


Admiral David Glasgow Farragut had been in the Navy since he was a midshipman of nine.  He would remain in the Navy until his death at sixty-nine.  Sixty-three on August 5, 1864, the victor of New Orleans had energy that surpassed that of most of the young sailors in his fleet that he was about to lead against the Confederate batteries, forts and fleet that guarded Mobile Bay.  The Union desperately needed a major victory in the summer of 1864, and if victory was possible at Mobile Bay, Farragut was just the sea dog to deliver it.

Mobile was the center of blockade running on the Gulf Coast, and both the Confederacy and the Union recognized its strategic value.

Farragut had a worthy opponent in Admiral Franklin Buchanan.  A veteran of the United States Navy from 1815-1861, he was the first commandant of the Naval Academy at Annapolis, Buchanan had served as the captain of the CSS Virginia, formerly the USS Merrimack, during the battle of Hampton Roads in which she tangled with the USS Monitor.  Promoted to Admiral, he was placed in charge of the naval defenses of Mobile Bay.  On August 5 he had a small fleet, three gunboats and the ironclad CSS Tennessee,  but as was demonstrated at Mobile Bay the Confederate Navy, although short of every thing else, had abundant supplies of courage and ingenuity.



The entrance to the bay was guarded by two forts:  Gaines on the west of the main channel and Morgan on the east.  67 mines, called torpedoes, floated in the entrance of the bay and were clearly marked.  The mines were not meant to sink attacking ships, but to force them to steam close to Fort Morgan and be blasted by its artillery.

Farragut had 18 ships which were overwhelmingly superior in firepower to the Confederate vessels they would engage.  The fleet carried 5,000 Union troops to besiege the forts and to take Mobile.  The troops were landed on Dauphine Island to attack Fort Gaines.

Entering into Mobile Bay at dawn on August 5, Farragut had his iron clad monitors form a column and steam close to Fort Morgan, to help protect the column of 14 wooden ships entering the bay.  Farragut had the wooden ships lashed together in pairs, assuming if one vessel was put out of action, its companion ship could tow it into the bay. The monitors succeeded in silencing the guns of Fort Morgan, the monitor USS Tecumseh being sunk by a mine.  Farragut, ignoring the loss of the Tecumseh, steamed his column of wooden ships straight through the mine field, guessing, correctly, that the mines had been submerged so long that they were now probably unable to explode.

Inside the bay, Admiral Buchanan in the Tennessee gave battle to the entire Union fleet.   The battle continued until Admiral Buchanan and a large part of his crew were wounded, the smokestacks of the Tennessee were shot away, she was unable to build up steam and she could no longer be steered.  At the point when she could no longer fight, the Tennessee struck her colors.  The forts were taken by August 23.  There was no attempt to take Mobile.  With Union control of the bay, the port of Mobile was now closed to blockade runners and a major step was taken in shutting down the access of the Confederacy to the goods of the rest of the world.

Most people, if they recall the battle of Mobile Bay at all, recall it for Farragut allegdly saying “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” before taking his fleet into the Confederate minefield.  The words certainly are not out of character for Farragut, although the quotation did not appear in print until several years after the battle.



Here is the official report of Admiral Farragut: (more…)

Published in: on August 5, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on August 5, 1864: Battle of Mobile Bay  
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