The story of the Battle of Mobile Bay, August 5, 1864, is a favorite story of the Civil War. Naval battles don't get the same attention that land battles of the Civil War do, and yet, there are countless stories that will amaze and educate you.
Let's set the scene.
Confederates had depended on ships sailing the waters of the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico to get them supplies, food, weapons, and to move soldiers. The Union, knowing that, had blockaded all major Confederate ports, a major effort considering there was about 3,500 miles of coast to blockade.
One of these blockade plans got the nickname "Scott's Great Snake". Or, the Anaconda Plan.
In turn, the Confederacy employed blockade runners in steam powered vessels to keep the supplies coming.
Two of these were uncles of one of our greatest Presidents, Theodore Roosevelt.
By August of 1864, Mobile Bay, in the Confederate state of Alabama, was one of the last Confederate ports operating. Guarded by three forts, Mobile Bay was heavily mined. During the Civil War, these underwater mines were called torpedoes - the military hadn't developed the modern torpedoes fired from submarines yet.
And now, getting ready to face off, are two experienced naval commanders, both in their 60's:
For the Union, one David Farragut, born near Knoxville, Tennessee a Confederate "border" state.) on July 5, 1801, raised in Louisiana (another Confederate state) and more recently living in Virginia (another Confederate state.) He had been in the Navy for some 51 years, having first seen combat at age 11, and had decided not to join the Confederates in their fight to leave the Union. He had seen action during the Civil War many times before.
For the Confederate States of America, one Franklin Buchanan, born a year later, in 1801, in Baltimore, Maryland (a Union "border" state). Buchanan thought that Maryland would secede from the Union, but when it didn't, he ended up siding with the Confederacy.
Confused yet? Don't be. Many people, especially those living in border states (states bordering the Confederate States of America), had to make that decision - which side to side with.
Farragut, feeling that the secession of Virginia was treason, moved from Norfolk, Virginia to Hastings-on-Hudson, in the Union state of New York.
Buchanan, meanwhile, was involved in a battle I had blogged about - the Battle of Hampton Roads, in 1862. The Union ship Monitor involved in that battle was made with materials that came, in a small part, from where I live in upstate New York..
Many people can write about the actual battle better than me, and I encourage you to read more. I love the fact that the two commanders, a Southerner fighting for the Union and a Northerner fighting for the CSA, were both in their 60's. There is just so much to love about both men, period.
So, back to the battle, Farragut's mission was to get into the harbor through the mines and capture it for the Union.
One ship hit a mine and sunk. Did Farragut quit?
No. Farragut, on the mast of his ship, saw some of his ships starting to pull back. It is said that he gave this order: "Damn the torpedoes.","Four bells, Captain Drayton, go ahead. Jouett, full speed."
So, that became an expression that many people still know today, coming from a paraphrase of the order that David Farragut gave. Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead! When all is hopeless - acknowledge the danger, but keep moving forward. Focus on your goal!
Using that strategy, Farragut and his ships raced through the torpedo-laden waters, engaged the Confederate forts, and won the battle.
So, what happened to Farragut and Buchanan? For both, it was their last battle.
Farragut, fatigued, never fought again. He became a national hero. The rank of Rear Admiral was created for him. He died in 1870, and was given a hero's funeral.
Buchanan was wounded and captured during the battle and remained a POW until about two months before the end of the war. After the war, he became a businessman in Mobile, Alabama and died in 1874.
The legacy of this battle: a saying that encourages us to continue forward when all seems hopeless.
Have you ever "damned the torpedoes"?