Rather than meeting at our regular location at the Seniors' Centre for the February 1, 2024 meeting of the Civil War Round Table of Greater Kingston, our members were required to exercise their sea-legs as we took ship to Mobile Bay, Alabama. Here Michelle acted as our tour guide and arranged for a meeting with none other than the famous Union naval hero, Admiral David Glasgow Farragut, aboard his flagship the "USS Hartford". Mobile Bay was, of course, the scene of Admiral Farragut's famous victory in the combined naval and military attack against the city's defenses which took place on August 5, 1864. In securing this victory, Admiral Farragut captured the last major Confederate port still operating on the Gulf of Mexico, thus isolating the South still further from the outside world and making the job of Confederate blockade runners all that much more hazardous.
As our steam launch pulled up alongside the "Hartford", we could see the ship's timbers still bearing scars from the recent battle. Michelle led the way as our party clambered up the side and through the starboard gangway into the ship's interior, where we were escorted to the stern of the ship and the captain's day cabin. Seating ourselves around a large table, we awaited the arrival of Admiral Farragut, listening to the sound of the wheeling gulls outside and getting accustomed to the gentle heave of the deck beneath our feet. In the interim, Michelle briefed us on the admiral's early life and career.
Christened James Glasgow Farragut at birth, the future naval hero was a Southerner, born near Knoxville, Tennessee on July 5, 1801. His father, George Farragut, had served as an officer in the Continental Navy during the American Revolution. His mother, Elizabeth Shine, was a native of North Carolina.
George took up a naval posting in New Orleans in 1805, and his wife and son soon followed. When yellow fever claimed the life of young Farragut's mother in 1808, his father placed his son in the care of a fellow naval officer, David Porter, whose father had served with George during the Revolution. David Porter became, in effect, James Farragut's foster father, a fact James acknowledged by adopting the first name David for the rest of his life.
It was obvious that Farragut was destined for a career at sea and so in 1810, at the tender age of nine, he became a midshipman aboard the 32-gun frigate, "USS Essex", commanded by Captain David Porter. During the War of 1812, Farragut saw ship-to-ship action and was wounded in battle, racking up an enviable service record for such a young lad. In the course of a successful cruise against British whalers off the coast of Chile in the summer of 1813, Captain Porter entrusted the twelve-year-old Farragut with command of a prize ship to be sailed into port.
Following the war, Farragut continued his navy career. In 1823, he was given his first independent command, the "USS Ferret", one of a small squadron of ships under now Commodore David Porter, assigned the task of ridding the Caribbean of its last remaining pirates. Farragut was promoted to lieutenant in 1825.
During the Mexican-American War of 1846-'48, Farragut, now with the rank of commander, saw service in the Gulf of Mexico. This was followed by shore duties in the 1850s as Farragut was appointed to supervise the construction of a major U.S. Navy base at Mare Island on the coast of California.
With regard to his personal life, Farragut took Caroline Marchant as his wife in September 1824. Unfortunately, Caroline was never of very robust health, and she died in December 1840 after a prolonged illness. Three years later, Farragut remarried, this time to Virginia Loyall by whom he had one son, Loyall Farragut.
It was at this point that the piping of the bosun's whistle announced the arrival of Admiral Farragut aboard ship, and it was only a few minutes later that the old sea dog, looking remarkably fit for all of his sixty-three years, walked into the cabin and sat down to join our discussion.
To establish the backdrop for his account of his victory at Mobile Bay, Admiral Farragut refreshed our memories with a quick sketch of Union grand strategy at the beginning of the Civil War, as summarized in General Winfield Scott's Anaconda Plan. The goal was to slowly suffocate the Southern rebellion by establishing a naval blockade along the Confederacy's coastline in order to deny it access to overseas markets for its exports, as well as prevent it from receiving imports of supplies of those foreign goods which it could not produce itself.
The Admiral emphasized the magnitude of the task involved in enforcing the blockade, and the implications it involved for global commerce. Fully one-quarter of American goods were shipped from the states comprising the Confederacy, and the sudden disappearance of Southern cotton from international markets had a significant effect upon world trade. Despite the best efforts of the U.S. Navy, it was impossible to seal off the South's coastline entirely, and the Admiral conceded that most Confederate blockade runners were successful in slipping through the cordon of Union ships.
After the capture of New Orleans in April 1862, Mobile became the last major port in Confederate hands in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, as well as the centre for blockade running to and from Havana and other destinations in and around the Caribbean. Hence, said the Admiral, the importance the Union placed upon seizing the Alabama port in its campaign plans for 1864.
Admiral Farragut then described the obstacles he faced on the early morning of August 5, 1864 when he ordered his flotilla of ships from the West Gulf Blockading Squadron to begin their attack against the Mobile Bay defenses. Rolling out a large nautical chart on the tabletop, the Admiral pointed out how time and tide had led to the formation of an elongated sandy peninsula called Mobile Point stretching westwards across the mouth of the bay, with a series of barrier islands obstructing the rest of the entrance. Large ship traffic was confined to a channel lying between Mobile Point and Dauphin Island, and it was here the Confederates had mounted their main defenses. Fort Morgan stood guard on the western tip of Mobile Point, while Fort Gaines defended the channel from the eastern end of Dauphin Island. In addition, the Confederates had sown the waters of the channel with a number of floating mines, which the Admiral, in the parlance of his day, persisted in referring to as 'torpedoes'.
It was about dawn on August 5th when Admiral Farragut signalled the eighteen ships under his command to begin their attack. As an experienced seaman, he made use of the tide running into Mobile Bay to assist his ships' approach to the channel. In column formation, with four ironclad monitors leading the way, the Union ships began opening fire upon Fort Morgan as they tried to steam past the Confederate defenses into Mobile Bay, where a Confederate naval force including an ironclad ram, the "CSS Tennessee", under the command of Admiral Franklin Buchanan awaited them. [Editor's Note: This is the same person who commanded the CSS Virginia in the Battle of Hampton Roads - the first battle between ironclads.]
Admiral Farragut described his dismay at seeing his lead ironclad monitor, the "USS Tecumseh", strike a torpedo and sink beneath the waves. Then the captain of the "USS Brooklyn" signalled to him for instructions at how next to proceed. Sensing that his attack was at risk of losing momentum, the Admiral gave orders for his own ship, the "Hartford" to assume the lead position in the column and steam forward into Mobile Bay.
At this point in his description of the battle, Admiral Farragut was questioned as to whether he had really given the command, "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!" when ordering the captain of the "Hartford"-or was it possibly the captain of the "Brooklyn"-to ignore the field of floating torpedoes and sail straight through them and press home the attack. The Admiral gave an equivocal answer, and one had the sense that, if he hadn't actually uttered such an immortal command, he certainly now wished that he'd had the presence of mind to do so.
What is more certain, however, is that on two occasions during the battle, Admiral Farragut climbed the shrouds into the rigging of the "Hartford" to get above the clouds of cannon smoke and scope out how the action was proceeding. This, of course, caused his fellow officers no small degree of anxiety, and Farragut agreed that he would at least allow himself to be lashed against the mast to prevent a nasty fall.
Once inside Mobile Bay, Admiral Farragut's ships made short work of the Confederate flotilla, with the exception of the "Tennessee", which dared to take on the Union ships singlehandedly. The naval action became a slugfest, with the "Tennessee" trying to work up enough steam to carry out ramming attacks against the Union vessels, while they in turn pummelled the ironclad with cannon fire as well as ramming her themselves. After three hours of fighting, Admiral Buchanan finally surrendered and the Battle of Mobile Bay was over.
It should be recalled that Mobile Bay was a combined operation, and that about 1500 Union troops under General Gordon Granger were landed on Mobile Point and Dauphin Island to attack and seize the Confederate fortifications. Fort Gaines surrendered on August 8th while the defenders of Fort Morgan defied the besieging force until August 23rd.
As Michelle explained, the Union victory at Mobile Bay was not only important because of its military and naval consequences in hastening the collapse of the Confederacy, but also for the implications it had on the Northern political front. Eighteen-sixty-four was a presidential election year and, with Grant bogged down in a siege in front of Petersburg and Richmond, and with Sherman stalled outside of Atlanta, the end of the war seemed as far away as ever, and the prospects of Lincoln winning a second term in the White House seemed bleaker and bleaker as election day approached. So, the news of Farragut's victory was welcome news indeed, especially when it was shortly followed up by Sherman's capture of Atlanta in early September. With the tide of war now definitely turning in the Union's favour, Lincoln won the November '64 election.
Admiral Farragut continued in the U.S. Navy after the end of the Civil War, being assigned to command the European Squadron in Mediterranean waters from 1867-'68. He was still on active duty when he died at the Portsmouth Navy Yard in Maine in August 1870. His son Loyall graduated West Point in 1868 and went on to pursue a career in the U.S. Army.
Admiral Farragut's memory is preserved in a number of statues in public places around the United States, as well as a number of schools and naval academies. Over the years, there have also been two classes of U.S. Navy destroyer named in his honour, as well as individual U.S. Navy vessels.
Written by Tom Brzezicki
FROM THE DESK OF THE SECRETARY
CHANCELLORSVILLE - another 44 acres have been preserved!
[Latest news from the American Battlefield Trust (ABT)]
It's no secret that land on and near where the 1863 Battle of Chancellorsville raged in Virginia is often threatened by new developments, which is why they are especially pleased today to tell us that they've had a big win in the area. As a result of donations from individuals and organizations (like our CWRT), they can now declare victory on nearly 44 acres of land at the Flank Attack of the Battle of Chancellorsville, including land associated with original Chancellor plantation and Dowdall's Tavern.
When they began the fight to preserve these threatened acres, Historian Bob Krick said, "The survival, undeveloped, of a tract this large in this crucial location is nothing short of miraculous. Saving it will be a spectacular preservation coup."Well, folks, we like to perform miracles. And, with your help, we have. Thank you!"
The first tract is 42 acres in the heart of the Chancellorsville Battlefield. At the time of the war, the property was part of Wilderness Baptist Church, pastor Reverend Melzi A. on Chancellor's plantation. The parcel they've saved likely includes the former site of Chancellor's residence, known as Dowdall's Tavern. During the 1863 clash, Dowdall's Tavern was a prominent landmark and was used as headquarters by Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard, commander of the Union XI Corps. Union regiments and batteries under the command of Col. Adolphus Buschbeck were positioned in entrenchments on the southern edge of the property, facing south. When Lt. Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson launched his massive flank attack from the west on May 2, the XI Corps was not in position to confront the Confederate assault and its forces were rapidly rolled up and forced into full retreat down the Plank Road to the Chancellorsville intersection three miles east. A granite monument commemorating the 154th New York Infantry Regiment, which was one of the units driven from the property by Jackson's attack, stands there.
As a reminder, we can receive your donationss (cheques preferred) for the Round Table's annual donation towards the preservation of a part of a Civil War Battlefied. We send a cheque immediately following our June meeting, so you can start bringing your cheques anytime now.
Paul Van Nest, Secretary