Saturday, August 23, 2014

Mobile Bay Falls

In the Battle of Mobile Bay on August 5th, David Farragut ran his ships past the forts and sunk the Confederate flotilla, but he still had to deal with three Confederate forts. Forts Gaines and Morgan guarded the entrance to the bay, and the smaller Fort Powell was positioned inside. Powell was the first to fall. Lt. Col. Williams, her commander had been ordered to hold out as long as possible, but, “when no longer tenable, save your garrison.” It did not take Williams long to decide it was untenable. Without even undergoing heavy pressure from the Federals he spiked his guns, blew up his powder and waded to the mainland with his men.

Fort Gaines
Fort Gaines was under the command of Colonel Charles Anderson. He had 818 troops in the garrison while Major General Gordon Granger had 3,300 troops besieging him. The fort had also been badly positioned. The sand dunes on the island offered cover for the Union troops to approach very close to the walls. Brigadier General Page, the Confederate commander in Mobile, ordered that the fort not be surrendered, but Anderson ignored him. He sent out a flag of truce, and surrendered to Granger and Farragut on August 8th.
Fort Morgan
After Fort Gaines surrendered the Federal infantry was moved to face the last Confederate fort – Fort Morgan. It was an old massonry force garrisoned by 618 men under General Page himself. The Federals began a formal siege with regular lines of approaching trenches. Meanwhile, several of the monitors bombarded the fort, along with the Tennessee, which had been repaired and assimilated into the Federal fleet. On August 22 cannon and mortars on land joined the ships, and the fort was subjected to a day long bombardment. Page was afraid that the Union balls would hit his magazines, so he ordered them to be flooded. The next day he decided that further resistance was useless. He spiked his guns and raised the white flag.
After Page surrendered he was arrested by the Federal forces. They accused him of violating the laws of war by destroying the guns and ammunition of the fort after he surrendered. A court of inquiry was formed in New Orleans to investigate. They found him not guilty, determining that he had destroyed the equipment of the fort before its surrender,.

The surrender of Fort Morgan marked the completion of the Federal capture of Mobile Bay. With Union ships holding the mouth of the bay, they could stop the flow of blockade runners coming too and fro. The town itself was still in Confederate hands, and would remain so until the next year.

Fort Morgan Today

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Battle of Globe Tavern

Globe Tavern
By August, 1864 the armies of Lee and Grant were stalled in front of Petersburg, the active campaigning turned into a regular siege. Grant and Meade's strategy to break this deadlock was to hit Lee's supply line. They hoped that if they cut off the flow of food and weapons coming through North Carolina, Richmond and Petersburg would have to be abandoned. One of the major supply lines was the Weldon Railroad. In the Battle of Jerusalem Plank Road in late June Federals had destroyed a short section of the Weldon, but they were quickly driven off by the Confederates. In August Grant sent out another force against the Weldon under Major General Gouverneur Warren.
On August 18th Warren reached the railroad at Globe Tavern without meeting any resistance outside of a few pickets. While some troops began tearing up the tracks the rest formed a battle line and moved north to guard against a Confederate attack. When A. P. Hill heard of the Federal advance he sent three brigades out to meet them. At 2 pm they struck Warren's line and drove it back early to Globe Tavern. The Federals counterattacked and recaptured some ground before halting and entrenching for the night.
During the night significant reinforcements arrived for both sides. The next day was rainy, and for most of it the fighting was limited to minor skirmishing. But that changed in late afternoon. Maj. Gen. William Mahone, commanding the three infantry brigades the Confederates had received, had found a weak spot in the Federal right. When his men changed it, they were able to easily burst through into the Federal flank and rear. The Federals were under fire from several directions, and soon panicked and fled to the rear. Mahone's men captured nearly two full Union brigades. Although the Federal right crumbled, the center and right beat off the Confederate frontal attacks, and Union reinforcements arrived to stabilize the position.
The next day rain prevented further Confederate attacks, and that night Warren fell back two miles to a new entrenched position. There he was still on the Weldon Railroad, but his would were connected with the rest of the Union line. The Confederates advanced and attacked on the morning of August 21, but they were repulsed with heavy losses. With this the Confederates halted their attacks, resigned to the fact that the Weldon Railroad would remain in Union hands. The Confederate supply lines were disturbed, but not cut. They bypassed the Federal held section by hauling supplies in wagons on a series of roads.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Battle of Moorefield

After defeating the Federal forces in the Shenandoah Valley at the Second Battle of Kersntown, Jubal Early sent his cavalry north again to raid the towns of Maryland. The troopers under the command of Brigadier General John McCausland crossed the Potomac river on July 29th. After them was a force of Union cavalry under General William Averell. Averell positioned his men to block an attack towards Baltimore, but in the mean time the rebels captured and burned Chambersburg. McCausland then headed the other direction, into West Virginia. They attempted to cut the B&O Railroad, but were driven off by the Union garrison. When Averell received word of the Confederates' movements, he set off after them determined that they would not escape his grasp.
The Federals were badly outnumbered, with 1,760 troopers to about 3,000 Confederates, so they made a night attack. They charged into one of the two Confederate camps around 3 am. The Confederates were surprised to be awoken in the middle of the night, and those who did not flee were quickly taken prisoner. However, the commotion awakened the other camp, and they fell into line to meet the raid. Averell had already anticipated this, so at that moment they were struck on both flanks by parties of Federals. The Confederate line crumbled, and the Federals followed in hot pursuit. The Confederates lost 13 killed, 60 wounded and 415 captured. The Federals had 11 killed, 18 wounded and 13 captured.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Battle of Mobile Bay

Battle of Mobile Bay
In the summer of 1864 the ever advancing Union arms had left the Confederacy in possession of only a handful of major ports. One of these was Mobile, Alabama, and the Federals began to develop plans to capture it also. Leading the effort was Rear Admiral David Farragut, who had led the naval forces in the capture of New Orleans and Vicksburg. His fleet was composed of 18 ships of various types. Five were ironclad. They were up against three Confederate forts. Forts Morgan and Gaines guarded each side of the entrance to the bay, and the smaller Fort Powell was inside the harbor. The Confederates also had the CSS Tennessee, an ironclad built by the commander of the CSS Virginia, as well as three small gunboats.
Sailing past the forts
On August 3rd 1,500 Federal infantry under General Gordon Granger were landed near Fort Gaines to attack it from the land. Farragut delayed the attack two days so one of his Monitors, the Tecumseh, could arrive. His fleet went out to battle at dawn on August 5th, 150 years ago today. The four ironclad monitors led the attack, followed by the rest of the ships. The Tecumseh opened fire first at 6:47 AM., and the battle soon opened on all sides.
The Tecumseh sinks
The USS Tecumseh headed straight for the Tennessee, as Farragut had ordered. But her commander failed to avoid the minefield that the Confederates had place in the water. It was not long before she ran into a torpedo. It blew a harge hole in her side, sending her to the bottom within minutes with most of her crew still aboard. Seeing the fate of the first Federal ship, the Brooklyn slowed and signaled Farragut for orders. According to legend the admiral replied, “D--- the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!” Farragut believed that the Confederate torpedoes had been in the water too long to be of much use, and it had been an unlucky hit that sunk the Tecumseh. He decided to risk taking the rest of his ships through the minefield.
The Tennessee
Although the CSS Tennessee was greatly outnumbered by the Union fleet, she moved slowly forward to try to ram the enemy vessels. The Federal boats easily avoided her with their greater speed, and they themselves tried to ram. However, their rams and cannon balls just bounced off the rebel boat's iron sides. Although the Union fire could not pierce her hull, many of her accessories were shot away. With his steamstack perforated, her rudder chains cut and many of her gun shutters jammed, the Tennessee was left nearly helpless in the water. Soon the Union monitors arrived, and they fired ball after ball into the Confederate vessel. Finally with her sides bending under the heavy pressure and with some of the crew down from splinter injuries, the captain of the Tennessee hauled down his flag.

Having run into the bay and dealt with the Confederate naval threat, Farragut could now turn his attention to the siege of the forts. A short Federal bombardment left them still mostly intact at the end of the day. 
A World War I recruitment poster showing Farragut at Mobile Bay