During the course of the Civil War, the North's naval blockade of Southern ports had choked off most Confederate efforts to obtain badly needed supplies from Europe and elsewhere. But a few Confederate ports remained open to rebel blockade runners (ships that tried to carry supplies through gaps in the Union's naval
In July 1864, fourteen thousand Confederate troops under the command of Lieutenant General Jubal Early marched through the Shenandoah Valley and across the Potomac River into Maryland. After crossing the Potomac, Early marched toward Washington, D.C. This movement shocked and worried lawmakers in the capital. After all, most Union forces at this time were far away, fighting Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia for possession of Petersburg and Richmond.
By July 11, Early's army had reached the outer defenses of Washington. The Confederate force halted, but it tested the Union defenses on several occasions during the next couple of days. On July 12, President Abraham Lincoln decided to visit Fort Stevens, which was one of the capital's primary defensive strongholds. Shortly after Lincoln arrived at the fort, it came under fire from Early's troops. The Federal soldiers within the fortress immediately ducked behind walls to avoid getting shot. But according to witnesses, Lincoln repeatedly popped his head over the fort's walls to get a look at the enemy sharpshooters. Finally, a Union captain stationed further along the wall noticed what Lincoln was doing. Unable to recognize the president at a distance, he gruffly yelled at him to keep his head down "before you get shot!" Lincoln was reportedly amused at being addressed in such a rough fashion, but he immediately obeyed. The shooting ended a short time later, and Lincoln returned to the White House.
The advance of Early's army into Maryland scared many Northerners. But the Confederate troops proved unable to slip past the capital's outer defenses. A few days after Early's troops fired on Lincoln, additional Union soldiers arrived in the area. Outnumbered, Early ordered his army to withdraw back into the woodlands of Virginia's Shenandoah Valley.
blockade). One of the most important of these ports was located on the Gulf of Mexico at Mobile, Alabama. By the summer of 1864, the Union Navy had neutralized every Confederate port along the Gulf of Mexico except for the harbor at Mobile. The port thus became a Union target of prime importance, and in August the Yankees moved to shut it down.
On the morning of August 5, Rear Admiral David Farragut (1801-1870)—the hero of the Battle of New Orleans—led a fleet of fourteen ships and four heavily armored warships known as monitors into Mobile Bay. Farragut knew that his mission to seize control of Mobile Bay would not be easy. Confederate defenses in the bay included Fort Morgan, three gun-
boats, an armored vessel called the C.S.S. Tennessee, and a deadly underwater minefield. As Farragut's fleet cruised up the bay, the guns from Fort Morgan and the rebel ships opened fire on the invaders. The Union fleet returned fire, and the smoke from the guns became so thick that Farragut lashed himself to a mast high above the deck of his ship so that he could see what was going on.
As the Union fleet plowed through the bay, one of its four moni-tors—the Tecumseh—struck an underwater mine. The mine (then known as a torpedo) blew a huge hole in the ship, and it quickly sank to the bottom of the bay with its captain and ninety-two sailors still trapped on board. The other Union vessels hesitated when the Tecumseh went down, but Farragut ordered them forward, shouting "Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!"
Farragut's charge eventually pushed the other Union ships through the minefield and out of the range of Fort Morgan's guns. He quickly defeated the outnumbered Confederate ships. Over the next three weeks, Union forces took control of Fort Morgan and two other rebel strongholds on Mobile Bay. The city of Mobile remained in Confederate hands, but Far-ragut's capture of the bay effectively ended its usefulness as a blockade-running port.
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