Sunday, February 1, 2009
The Battle of Mobile Bay, Alabama
One of the most dramatic battles of the Civil War took place on Alabama's Mobile Bay on August 5, 1864. The Union fleet of Admiral David Farragut steamed into the mouth of the bay, ending Mobile's three year status as one of the most successful ports for blockade runners in the Confederacy.
The Battle of Mobile Bay is remembered today at Fort Gaines and Fort Morgan at the entrance to the bay and on an extended driving tour of Civil War sites in the bay area.
The battle began at 6:30 a.m. when the ships of Farragut's fleet, lashed together in pairs and guided by four ironclad monitors, steamed within range of the Confederate guns at Fort Morgan. The Southern artillery opened fire, the Federal ships responded and the battle was under way.
The Confederates had planted mines or "torpedoes" (as they were known in those days) in the main channel leading from the Gulf of Mexico into Mobile Bay. As the ironclad monitor U.S.S. Tecumseh steamed into the bay, Southern troops on shore set off one of their torpedoes. It exploded directly under the Tecumseh, which then capsized and sank to the bottom of the bay with dozens of sailors still on board.
The shocking sight caused the fleet to stall while still in point blank range of the cannon in Fort Morgan. Seeing what had happened, Admiral Farragut gave his famed orders to "Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!" The ships began to move faster and soon passed out of the range of the dangerous Confederate guns. Had they not done so, the Battle of Mobile Bay might have ended in disaster for the U.S. Navy.
Once in the bay, however, the ships were challenged by the Confederate ironclad C.S.S. Tennessee and a few small wooden gunboats. Although the Federals easily drove away the wooden boats, the Tennessee was a different matter. Admiral Franklin Buchanan steamed the ship directly into the midst of the Union fleet in a courageous but hopeless fight against overwhelming odds.
At one point, the Tennessee fought seven Union warships at once. In the end, however, the vessel was battered into submission. Immobile and barely able to return fire, she surrendered about one mile north of Fort Gaines.
The battle effectively ended the use of Mobile Bay by blockade runners. It would take months of fighting and a major campaign before the city itself fell, but the Battle of Mobile Bay was one of the most dramatic naval battles of the Civil War.
To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/mobilebay.