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


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