Battle for Mobile

Following the capture of New Orleans, Adm Farragut planned to attack the port of Mobile on the Gulf Coast of Alabama, but events conspired against this. Forts Morgan and Gaines, guarding the narrow entrance to Mobile Bay, were protected by obstructions in the channel which prevented warships from getting close enough to reduce them; the Army had to be involved, but insufficient troops were available. Farragut therefore turned his attention back to the Mississippi, and the capture of Port Hudson and the other Confederate positions south of Vicksburg.

Preparations for the assault on Mobile were finally renewed during July 1864, with support from troops supplied by MajGen Edward R.S.Canby, commanding the Division of West Mississippi. The need to take the Confederate port was heightened by news that the newly built ironclad ram CSS Tennessee was operational in Mobile Bay; although a champion of the "wooden navy," Farragut responded by supplementing his fleet with the monitors Tecumseh, Chickasaw, Manhattan, and Winnebago. By August 4 all was in readiness for the assault. A member of the Marine Guard aboard Farragut's flagship USS Hartford, Pte Charles Brother, recorded in his journal, "The report is that we are going to fight tomorrow morning. Guess we are. God grant that we may have good luck."

The attack was launched at dawn the next day, with 14 warships tied in pairs and led by the screw sloop Brooklyn, which was lashed to the side-wheel steamer Octorara. Aware of the danger near Fort Morgan, Farragut ordered his captains to stay within the channel marked by buoys, as the water to either side was infested with "torpedoes" (mines) but the Tecumseh, commanded by Capt Tunis Craven, veered outside the channel and struck a mine, sinking within 20 seconds and taking 92 officers and men with her. Shocked by the loss and anxious that the Brooklyn should

The USS Hartford in collision with the Tennessee during the battle of Mobile Bay. (Battles & Leaders)

A battalion of US Marines photographed on the parade deck in front of the Commandant's house at the Marine Barracks in Washington, DC, in April 1864. The officer second from the right is Lt John W.Haverstick; the officer commanding the battalion is Capt Lucien L.Dawson, while standing in front of the band is Drum Major John Roach. (Library of Congress)

not meet the same fate, Capt James Alden ordered his engines into reverse. As a result the rest of the Federal line of battle was halted, under a brisk fire from Fort Morgan and the nearby floating batteries.

Lashed securely to the rigging of his flagship, Farragut ordered the Hartford to take the lead with the immortal words, "Damn the torpedoes! Full steam ahead!" The other vessels followed; and Pte Enoch Jones, part of the small Marine Guard aboard the screw sloop USS Lackawanna, recorded that his ship "received a shot from the water battery witch [sic] passed through our bullworks just forward of our fore rigging & about 15 inches above the spar deck at No 2 gun a 150 pd. Rifle killing the captain of the gun & wounding most all of her crew & officers of the division so that the gun was silenced."

As the fleet forced its way past Fort Morgan the enemy flotilla waiting in the Bay went into action. Commanded by Adm Franklin Buchanan, this consisted of the ironclad ram Tennessee plus the gunboats Selma, Morgan and Gaines. Dodging the attention of the former vessel, the Hartford and Metacomet next came under fire from the gunboats, but their return fire caused much damage to the smaller Confederate vessels. Meanwhile, the Brooklyn and Octorara also passed into the bay, as did the USS Richmond, which had the side-wheel steamer Port Royal lashed to her side. Commanded by Lt Charles Sherman, the Marine Guard aboard the Richmond manned three of the quarterdeck guns, while the remainder formed at the ship's rail with their muskets, firing into the gunports of the Tennessee until the ram was out of range.

The Tennessee turned her attention next to the Lackawanna, which was tied to the steamer Seminole. Private Jones recalled that the ram was steaming for his vessel with "the intention of running her prow into us

A battalion of US Marines photographed on the parade deck in front of the Commandant's house at the Marine Barracks in Washington, DC, in April 1864. The officer second from the right is Lt John W.Haverstick; the officer commanding the battalion is Capt Lucien L.Dawson, while standing in front of the band is Drum Major John Roach. (Library of Congress)

but fortunately we was too fast for her as she passed our stern." Last in line was the screw sloop USS Oneida, lashed to the converted screw sloop Galena. The Oneida offered a tempting target as she was limping along, having received a shot through her starboard boiler; but three of the four primers in the Tennessee's broadside failed to ignite, and the Galena managed to tow the Oneida out of harm's way. There now followed a lull in the battle, as the Tennessee pulled away towards Fort Morgan, and the Federal fleet dropped anchor about four miles inside Mobile Bay.

The second phase of the battle commenced with the Tennessee steaming straight at the Hartford: Farragut responded by ordering his ship to meet the ram bows on, at full speed. Meanwhile the Monongahela, which had an iron casing fastened to her bows, smashed into the starboard side of the Tennessee. The impact wenched the improvised ram device off the Federal sloop; she ran aground, and her broadside merely bounced off the ram's sloping sides. Aboard the Lackawanna, Pte Jones recalled: "The ram then steamed on past the Hartford & one or two others giving broadside for broadside then headed on for us. Our Captain seeing her intention ordered our engineer to go ahead at full steam... we struck her just a foot of her smokestack... the shock was so great that it caused both vessels to remain motionless for a time." Quickly recovering from the shock of impact, the sailors and Marines of the Lackawanna ran to the rail with muskets and revolvers, and fired into the open gunports of the Tennessee, which momentarily prevented the Confederate gunners from reloading.

With the port of her vital after pivot gun jammed shut, the Tennessee continued on her collision course with Hartford. The USS Brooklyn next made a run at her as she steamed slowly past, but the ironclad altered course and avoided collision; as the two vessels passed within 30 yards of one another the Tennessee loosed off a broadside from two of her 6.4in rifled guns, and a ricochet plunged into the Brooklyn's poop deck, killing two privates of the 49-man Marine Guard and seriously wounding another. In the confusion that followed discipline was maintained at the guns manned by the Marines aboard the Brooklyn. Corporals Miles Oviatt and Willard Smith calmed their men while awaiting an opportunity for a clear shot at the ironclad. "Stand fast, men! Steady," shouted Oviatt, as the smoke began to

OPPOSITE Born at Carlisle, Pa, in 1842, John Wilson Haverstick was commissioned second lieutenant of US Marines to rank from March 18, 1864. He served at the Marine Barracks, Washington, DC, from April 2 until June 21, 1864, following which he transferred to the Brooklyn Barracks. (USAMHI photo RG985-CWP28.64)

The assault by Breese's naval brigade on the northeast salient of Fort Fisher on January 14, 1865. Captain Dawson's Marines can be seen advancing on the far right; six would receive the Medal of Honor for their conduct during this action. (Battles & Leaders)

clear; the Brooklyn delivered her broadside, but only one shot took effect, destroying the Tennessee's smokestack, while the rest bounced harmlessly off the ram's casemate.

Aboard Hartford, Marine Pte Brother recalled the moment when the ram hit his ship. "The Admiral gave the order for us to run at her... We made for her but did not strike her fairly. She swung round against us Be fired a shell into us that killed Be wounded eight men. Lucidly her other guns did not go off or she must have swept our berth deck clean." Having cleared the Hartford, the Tennessee became the target of the entire Federal squadron, and at this point her exposed steering chains were severed. With the loss of rudder control and reduced engine power due to the destruction of her smokestack, the ironclad struggled to gain momentum. Realizing her plight, Farragut signaled to his vessels to finish her off.

The Lackawanna attempted to ram the Tennessee, but misjudged her speed and ploughed into the Hartford instead. According to Pte Brother, "She struck us just abaft the main rigging, crushing in our bulwarks, dismounting 2 guns and raising the d—1 generally [sic]. I thought sure she would sink us but she did no damage below the water line. As soon as we got clear of her, disabled as we were we started for the ram again." As the rest of the squadron continued an incessant bombardment of the ironclad, a boarding pike with a white rag attached was waved from one of the Tennessee's ports: the battle was over. Eight US Marines, including Cpls Oviatt and Smith, were cited for gallantry in action during this battle, and were subsequently awarded the Medal of Honor on December 31, 1864.

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