Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Mobile Bay, AL

Dates: August 5-23, 1864


Union: Rear Admiral David Farragut aboard USS Hartford

Confederate: Admiral Franklin Buchanan aboard CSS Tennessee

Prelude: As part of the overall plan to bring the Rebellion to a close, one of the things necessary was to bring all remaining ports of the Confederacy under Federal control. When Lieutenant General Ulysses Grant assumed command over all Union armies, he had set this as one of the benchmarks for victory. The other benchmarks were Major General William Sherman's campaign to take Atlanta, GA and Major General George Meade's Army of the Potomac taking on the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia under General Robert E. Lee.

At this point there were two active ports left to the CSA, Wilmington, NC on the Atlantic and Mobile, AL on the Gulf of Mexico. With both in Union hands, the flow of blockade runners would be cut off. That would cut off any supplies from Europe and cripple any remaining Confederate strength in the field. Even though there was an effective blockade of both coastlines, supplies were still getting through. The task of taking Mobile out of the picture was given to Admiral Farragut. Farragut had already achieved fame as the Naval commander who helped take New Orleans, LA and with other commanders, helped secure the Mississippi River for the Union.

Farragut assembled a formidable fleet for this operation. Beginning with the flagship, USS Hartford, the others included the warships, Brooklyn, Octorara, Metacomet, Port Royal, Richmond, Seminole, Lakawanna, Kennebec, Monagahela, Itasca, Ossipee, Onieda, and Galena. In support were the ironclad warships Tecumseh, Manhattan, Winnebago, and Chickasaw.

What Farragut had to do was neutralize the two forts which covered the entrance to the bay. Guarding the western end was Fort Gaines, on Dauphin Island. The east was covered by Fort Morgan, on Mobile Point. Between the forts was a series of obstructions, a lookout post, and a torpedo (mine) field across the main channel. Fort Morgan's guns also covered the channel. Backing up the forts was the ironclad ram CSS Tennessee, which Buchanan had placed his flag. Tennessee had been built up the Alabama river at Selma and towed to Mobile for completion. The other ships in the Confederate fleet were the Morgan, Gaines, and Selma.

Farragut planned for a land assault on the forts by adding about 1500 troops to his attack force. The army element was commanded by Major General Gordon Granger. A verity of transports and other ships (Stockdale, Estrella, Narcissus, J.P. Jackson, Conemaugh, Pinola, Pembina, Tennessee (Union transport), Sabago, Gienesee, and Bienville) would support the land assault. With a very strong force put together, Farragut was ready.

August 3, 1864: During the evening, about 1500 Federal troops with artillery were landed on Dauphin Island, west of Fort Gaines. They began marching toward the fort. A small Confederate garrison was pushed back but managed to delay the Union advance long enough to get some troops down from Mobile.

August 4, 1864: midnight: The land force is within 1200 yards of Fort Gaines.

August 5, 1864: dawn: Granger launches an artillery barrage on Fort Gaines as Farragut orders his warships to sail for the main channel. The warships were arranged by twos and lashed together. Hartford was on the right of the second pair. The formation was preceded by the four ironclads. The defenders at Fort Morgan see the approaching formation and began to open fire with smoothbore cannon.

7:45 a.m.: Up ahead in the formation there was a large explosion as USS Tecumseh struck a mine and sank with most of her crew. The attack stalls briefly, but Farragut is believed to have yelled out, "D**n the torpedoes. Full speed ahead!" It is possible that this was a 19th Century version of an urban legend, but it made for a great story. Another account tells of Farragut climbing the rigging of Hartford's main mast and rallying his sailors. A sailor climbs the rigging and ties Farragut to it. At 7:52 a.m. Hartford and Metacomet take the lead of the formation. At 8:05 a.m., Farragut orders Hartford and Metacomet to separate.

8:10 a.m.: The Confederate flotilla launches its assault on the Union formation. Of the four ships, Tennessee is clearly the strongest of the defenders. The other vessels were wooden and could not stand up to the Federal's rifled cannon. By 8:30, CSS Gaines was damaged and had run aground neat Fort Morgan. CSS Selma was also damaged and tried to get away, but was captured by Metacomet and Port Royal.

8:50 a.m.: Tennessee was not about to give upBuchananchannan ordered his ship to engage the Federal wooden vessels as all of the Union warships sail out of the range of Fort Morgan's guns. This also had the effect of blockading the two forts, as well as another fort, Fort Powell, from any reinforcements from Mobile.

For the next hour, the firing became intense, with ranges as close as three feet. There were point-blank broadsides exchanged between Tennessee and Hartford. Another tactic used was ramming, with Hartford, Lakawanna, Monongahela, and Ossipee taking turns ramming Tennessee. Finally, a well-placed shot hits Tennessee's steering chains, forcing Buchanan to disengage.

10:00a.m.: With extensive damage, Buchanan is forced to surrender Tennessee, effectively ending the Confederate Navy presence in Mobile Bay.

Farragut now turned his attention to the forts. He sends Chickasaw to Fort Powell to reduce it with the help of a few other gunboats.

2:30 p.m.: Fort Powell is bombarded by Chickasaw. The fort contains a garrison under Confederate Lieutenant Colonel James Williams, who decides that his guns can not repel that firepower that the Union warships were bringing. Williams orders the magazines destroyed and the fort evacuated.

August 6, 1862: Granger is reinforced by additional Union troops and uses the manpower to press a siege on Fort Gaines. To the west were 3000 Federal troops supported by artillery. To the east were the ironclad monitors. Those monitors could fire 100 pound shells while Fort Gaines guns could answer with 32-pounders. Granger was content to let the artillery do the work.

August 7, 1864: Farragut offered a flag of truce to Fort Gaines commander, Colonel Charles Anderson, who accepts. The formal surrender takes place on August 9.

Last on the list was Fort Morgan.

August 9, 1864: Federal troops are landed at Pilot Town, east of Fort Morgan and by dusk are to within 2000 yards of the fort.

August 15, 1864: The Union monitors began shelling the fort from the west while artillery begins shelling from the east. Sharpshooters also begin picking off defenders on the wall.

August 21, 1864: A general assault, with 25 cannon, 16 mortars, and the firepower of the entire Federal fleet, is launched on Fort Morgan. The fort's commander (and commander of the Confederate land forces in the area), Major General Richard Page, orders the magazine destroyed.

August 23, 1864: After a discussion with his officers, Page orders the colors brought down, and surrenders to Farragut and Granger.

The Union victory secured the entrance of Mobile Bay and stopped all blockade running in and out of Mobile. The city itself would remain in Confederate hands until April 1865. At this point, Wilmington, NC was now the only remaining active port left to the Confederacy.

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