|Date(s):||August 5, 1864|
|Tag(s):||United States Navy, Confederate Navy, War, Civil War|
|Course:||“Civil War and Reconstruction,” Juniata College|
|Rating:||5 (1 votes)|
On the morning of August 5, 1864, Admiral David Farragut led a fleet of eighteen warships into Alabama’s Mobile Bay. Since the fall of New Orleans in April 1862, Mobile had become the major Confederate port in the Gulf of Mexico, responsible for bringing in blockade runners carrying supplies from Havana. The result of Mobile’s rise in importance to Confederacy was a rise in the priority of its capture for the Union. Farragut’s fleet consisted of four heavy ironclads, vessels outfitted with heavy iron or steel armor-plates, and fourteen wooden warships, including the U.S.S. Hartford, Farragut’s command ship. In opposition to this fleet, the Confederates only had four vessels. However, this included the C.S.S. Tennessee, a ship that was renowned as the most powerful ironclad afloat. CSA Secretary of the Navy S.R. Mallory described the two forces in a report to Jefferson Davis, dated November 5, 1864. “A formidable fleet of the enemy, consisting of eighteen ships, including four ironclads, mounting 199 guns, crewed by 2,700 men, under Admiral Farragut, crossed the Mobile Bar, where they were vigorously attacked by the forts and by our small squadron under Admiral Buchannan.”
Despite a valiant defense, the Union fleet pushed into the bay, forcing their way past the CSA forts, fleet, and mines. Mallory reports, “In this action, the Tennessee and the Selma were captured, and the Gains, in a sinking condition was run ashore.” The secretary totaled Confederate losses at “12 killed, 20 wounded, and 243 taken prisoner,” writing to Davis that, “Naval history records few contests between forces so unequal in ships, guns, and men, and but few in which the weaker side displayed such heroism.”
Beyond the battle’s importance to the Union campaign in the South, Mobile Bay proved to be the first test of the new ironclad against heavy fire. Mallory described the assault of the Federal fleet on the CSA ironclad. “The enemy ships, some of the finest afloat, were armed with IX, X, XI and XV inch guns, whose projectiles varied in weight from 84 to 428 pounds. Their broadsides, some of the heaviest known, were discharged upon the Tennessee at distances ranging from 3 to 30 yards, and three of their heaviest ships, fitted as rams, ran into her at full speed repeatedly.” In defiance of such punishment, Mallory claimed “The massive strength of the frame and the sloping armor of the ship resisted these assaults, and but one shot reached or made any impression upon the woodwork of the shield, and this did not go through it.” This test, as well as the success of the Union Ironclads running under the guns of CSA forts, demonstrated that, as the secretary put it, “The resistance offered by inclined iron armor to the heaviest ordinance ever used upon the sea was here fully tested at short ranges,” proving the durability of the new vessels and the success of advancing naval technology, in both offensive and defensive capacities.