150 Years Ago This Week: Battle of Mobile Bay

July/August 1864

Confederates entered Pennsylvania once more, on Saturday, July 30. In the morning, Confederate cavalry under command of Brig. Gen. John McCausland rode into Chambersburg, where he threatened to burn the town to the ground unless he received $500,000 in currency or $100,000 in gold in reparation for Union Maj. Gen. David Hunter’s destruction in the Shenandoah Valley in June.

When the town could not raise that much money, the Confederates left Chambersburg in flames and headed west to McConnellsville, pursued by Federal cavalry under Brig. Gen. William Averell. On the last day of July, the Federals attacked the Confederates at Hancock, Md., who pulled out and headed to Cumberland. In Virginia, President Abraham Lincoln traveled to Fort Monroe and held a five-hour meeting with Lt. Gen. Ulysses Grant on military strategy before returning to Washington.

As August 1864 opened, the military situation for the Confederacy seemed quite grim. Atlanta was under partial siege; Petersburg was under a serious siege; and in the Shenandoah Valley, the Federals were expecting the arrival of a new commander, Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan, who was given the task of ridding the Valley of all Confederates, including the army under Lt. Gen. Jubal Early.

All over the country, military operations were conducted and engagements fought. In Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas, West Virginia, North Carolina, Mississippi, Maryland, Texas and Louisiana, the opposing troops clashed. In the Dakota Territory, at Tahkahokuty Mountain, Union troops clashed with Sioux Indians.

On the Gulf coast of Alabama, Federal forces were building to take Mobile and close the last remaining Confederate port on the Gulf of Mexico. There were two major Confederate fortifications at the entrance to Mobile Bay, Fort Gaines and Fort Morgan. On August 3, Federal forces landed on Dauphin Island and began operations against Fort Gaines on the west side of the bay.

Across the Atlantic, in Calais, France, the Confederate raider CSS Rappahannock was having difficulties. The ship had been laid up in Calais for repairs, and the French were allowing her to leave port with a crew of only 35 men — not enough to effectively sail. The Federals still continued to bombard Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, S.C. Commandant John C. Mitchell had been hit and mortally wounded as a total 4,890 shells battered the already wrecked fort.

“I am going into Mobile Bay in the morning if God is my leader, as I hope He is,” wrote Adm. David Farragut to his wife on Aug. 4. The following morning, his Union fleet of 18 ships and four monitors entered Mobile Bay, passing murderous fire from forts Gaines and Morgan. Besides the forts, opposing the Federals were three gunboats and the CSS Tennessee, said to be the most powerful ironclad afloat. In addition, the channel was obstructed by a number of torpedoes or mines.

At 5.30 a.m., the Federal fleet moved in, and Fort Morgan opened with a terrific artillery barrage. By 7 a.m., the fighting became general. The USS Tecumseh steamed to attack the CSS Tennessee when several torpedoes or mines sank Tecumseh in a matter of minutes.

Watching from the rigging of his flagship, USS Hartford, Adm. Farragut was incensed. “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” he is reported to have shouted, and the Union fleet did. In the savage fighting, CSS Tennessee was severely pounded by the Federal fleet, and at 10 a.m., she surrendered.

Aboard her, Adm. Franklin Buchanan suffered a broken leg. In the battle, the Federals suffered 145 men killed, including 93 drowned on Tecumseh when she went down, 170 wounded and four captured. Confederate casualties included 12 killed, 20 wounded and 270 captured. USS Philippi was destroyed, CSS Selma surrendered and CSS Gaines was sunk. Fort Morgan and Fort Gaines remained in Confederate hands; closing Mobile as a Confederate port cleared the way for Union land operations against the city.

Arthur Candenquist
About Arthur Candenquist 193 Articles

A long-time historian, researcher, lecturer and author, Arthur Candenquist serves as secretary-treasurer of the Rappahannock County Sesquicentennial Committee. He can be reached at AC9725@cs.com.