“Damn the Torpedoes!”

Today in History, August 5, 1864:

“Damn the Torpedoes, Full Speed Ahead!!”

The Battle of Mobile Bay. During the Civil War, Confederate “blockade runners” (Rhett Butler types) kept the South in vital supplies by running past the Union Navy blockade from Cuba to ports like Mobile Bay, Alabama.

US Navy Admiral David Glasgow Farragut was tasked with closing this last Confederate source of supplies. His fleet had to fight past the Confederate fleet of ironclads and two forts that guarded the bay. As the battle progressed, the Union fleet began to fragment, until Farragut rallied his sailors with famous admonition, winning the battle.

Mobile would remain in Confederate hands, but access to it was cut off for the duration. Farragut was the adopted son of US Naval Officer David Porter, who also raised his biological sons, famous Naval officers David Dixon Porter, and William Porter. One family played such a vital role in the glory of the US Navy. Can you imagine being a part of it?

A Family of Heroes

Today in History, July 16, 1862:

In spite of naval heroes like Capt. John Paul Jones, the first Rear Admiral in the US Navy is commissioned on this date…Rear Admiral David Farragut.

What an amazingly important family! Farragut had been orphaned at the age of nine, when his mother died from yellow fever.

Navy Capt. David Porter took him in, and at the age of 9, Farragut was at sea as a midshipman. He served in the Pacific, commanded a captured ship at the age of 12…wounded at Val Paraiso, Chile in a battle…fought in the War of 1812 as a boy….fought pirates in the West Indies, and was the famous Captain who at Mobile Bay during the Civil War, while standing on the rigging of his ship, shouted, “Damn the Torpedoes, Full Speed Ahead!” His foster father, David Porter, foster brothers David Dixon Porter and William Porter would also be Naval war heroes.

The CSS Hunley Sinks – For the Second Time


Today in History, October 15: 1863 – 

The first successful (after a fashion) submarine, the CSS Hunley, sinks in Charleston Harbor. It was the second time the sub had sunk. Earlier it had gone down in Mobile Bay, killing two of it’s crew. 

 It was salvaged and transported to Charleston by train, to be used in an attempt to break the Union blockade of that port. The sub’s creator, Horace Hunley, took her out for a test run with a new crew. In front of onlookers, the sub slipped beneath the waves, and never surfaced. Hunley and 7 crewmembers died. 

Nonetheless, the sub was once again salvaged and yet another crew took her out in February of 1864. They placed a torpedo (mine) against the USS Housatonic and backed away; the explosive sank the Union ship. But the Hunley never made it back to port, sinking for the final time, taking another crew with her. She was raised in 2000.

Damn the Torpedoes!


Today in History, August 5: 1864 – “Damn the Torpedoes! Full Speed Ahead!” New Orleans had been captured from the Confederacy in 1862, leaving Mobile Bay as the only source of foreign supplies for the South, via blockade runners (like the fictional Rhett Butler). On this date the Union Navy sent a fleet of ships led by ironclads into Mobile Bay, fighting a squadron of Confederate Ships and two “batteries” or forts with cannon, and a withering fire that almost immediately sank the USS Tecumseh, an ironclad. The Union fleet began to scatter, until the US Navy’s first Rear Admiral, David Glasgow Farragut inspired them on to victory with his now historic courageous command. By the way, “torpedoes” in 1864 were not propelled explosives as we know of them today, but what we know as mines. This would not be the only battle that would lead to Farragut’s lasting legacy with the US Navy.