Monday, August 5, 2013
AUGUST 5 = "DAMN the torpedoes!! FULL SPEED AHEAD!!"
Those are the words which are said to have been bellowed by Admiral David Glasgow Farragut from on board his Flagship the "U.S.S. Hartford" at the height of the Battle of Mobile Bay on today's date, August 5, in 1864. As with John Paul Jones and his cry of "I have not yet begun to fight!" from a naval battle during the American Revolution, there is indeed some doubt as to whether he actually yelled out those exact words. But Farragut was one of the toughest, no-nonsense fighting leaders in the history of our country, and as was the case with Jones and his call to arms, those words exemplified the man. And just like the words of the Navy Seals on the Bin Laden raid in May of 2012: "For God and country—Geronimo, Geronimo, Geronimo, E.K.I.A." (enemy killed in action), they set a model of the fighting spirit of the United States Navy for all time to come.
Farragut, USN -vs- Buchanan, CSN
One really could not get a stronger contrast between two fighting men than between these two who faced off on the waters of Mobile Bay, Alabama that August morning. Then Flag Officer David G. Farragut, a
"Merrimack/ Virginia". He would survive that encounter to rise to the rank of Admiral in the Confederate Navy. By the time they met at Mobile Bay, Farragut, the U.S. Navy's first full Admiral, was commanding the Union Naval Squadron attacking that rebel stronghold.
The Battle of Mobile Bay
"Fort Morgan"guarded the approaches to Mobile Bay, which was outside of the key Confederate port of Mobile, Alabama. In addition to the fort, the Confederates had a small naval squadron to defend the port, a pair of wooden gunboats, and the powerful ironclad ship, the "Tennessee". The ironclads were ships which had been fashioned as essentially floating gun platforms housed in iron of up to six inches in
Buchanan Brings the Tennessee Out to Fight
The van of Farragut's line was able to brush past the remaining torpedoes which failed to detonate. Buchanan took the Tennessee out to fight, but was driven back. But he was furious, and anxious to take the fight to the invaders. His Surgeon, Dr. D.B. Conrad wrote: "Buchanan, grim and silent, stumped up and down the deck." Then he abruptly turned and ordered Tennessee back out to attack once again. When Farragut saw this, he said "I did not think Old Buck was such a fool." Taking his small flotilla out to attack three Union monitors and 14 ships was suicidal. But Buchanan was far more determined than he was smart. The report in the August 9, 1864 edition of the New York Times tells the story from there:
"The Confederate Ram "Tennessee". After first attacking the fleet, as it advanced, seemed to return for shelter under the guns of Fort Morgan; but, after the fleet had proceeded some distance up the bay, stood toward them, as if to give battle; whereupon the "Hartford", the monitors, and the wooden vessels of the fleet, stood for her, and a most terrible engagement commenced. The "Tennessee" was rammed by the "Hartford" (and several other Union ships)... and all of the vessels delivering heavy fire at the same instant. "The "Manhatten", meantime put one solid 15 inch shot at her, which penetrated her armour through and lodged on the opposite side.
"Admiral Farragut, during the engagement, was stationed in the maintop, where he had lashed himself in case he should receive a wound, communicating his orders below through speaking tubes. After a most determined and gallant engagement, the Tennessee showed a white flag as a token of surrender. An officer of the Federal Fleet then boarded the "Tennessee" and demanded the sword of Admiral Buchanan, which that officer surrendered and it was taken aboard the flagship. The Confederate Admiral was wounded severely and will probably have to suffer the amputation of a leg."
Did Farragut REALLY Yell "Damn the Torpedoes..." etc.?
There has been some suggestion that Admiral Farragut did not actually yell out the phrase "Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!" That he said those exact words and that they would have been heard over the din of an extremely fierce battle does seem unlikely. "Wikipedia" has dealt with this controversy thus:
"Most popular accounts of the battle relate that when "Brooklyn" slowed when "Tecumseh" crossed her path, Farragut asked why she was not moving ahead. When the reply came back that torpedoes were in her path, he is said to have said, "Damn the torpedoes." The story did not appear in print until several years later, and some historians ask whether it happened at all. Some forms of the story are highly unlikely; the most widespread is that he shouted to "Brooklyn", "Damn the torpedoes! Go ahead!" Men present at the battle doubted that any such verbal communication could be heard above the din of the guns. More likely, if it happened, is that he said to the captain of "Hartford", "Damn the torpedoes. Four bells, Captain Drayton." Then he shouted to the commander of (the gunboat)"Metacomet", lashed to "Hartford's" side, "Go ahead, Jouett, full speed." The words have been altered in time to the more familiar, "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!" "
Whatever Admiral Farragut's actual words were, there can be no doubting that his exceptional drive and aggressiveness, coupled with his judicious use of the superior forces he had at his disposal produced a major victory over Buchanan and his bull headed defense with the Tennessee. This was the first good news which the Union had had all of that long and bloody year of 1864. It was the first of several important battlefield victories which ultimately would lead up to and assure Lincoln's victory in the presidential year of 1864 over the Democratic candidate, that strutting boob, former General George Mc Clellan. The city of Mobile was not actually taken until some time later, but with Farragut's victory in Mobile Bay, Mobile could no longer serve as a port through which the Confederate Armies could be re-supplied. Thus Sherman was free to operate as he saw fit in his campaigns in Georgia. Just as was the case with the fight against Bin Laden, the fight would go on, but a major blow had been struck in the fight for freedom and justice.
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Picture History of the Us Navy by Theodore Roscoe and Fred Freeman, Bonanza Books, New York, 1956.
"The New York Times Book of the Civil War" Edited by Arleen Keylin & Douglas John Bowen, Arno Press, New York, 1980.
US NAVY: An Illustrated History by Nathan Miller, Bonanza Books, New York, 1977