Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Battle of Mobile Bay III - The Aftermath

Sailors at the helm of the USS Hartford, probably taken after the battle. Naval History and Heritage Command.
In the days after the battle, officers of Farragut’s squadron composed their after-action reports to the Admiral. Some of these contain almost humorous recollections. Captain John B. Marchand of the USS Lackawanna wrote that he closed with the Confederate ironclad CSS Tennessee, and for a brief period the two warships lay side-to-side. As he gazed into one of the open gun-ports on the Confederate ironclad, he found himself in a stare-down with a Confederate sailor manning one of the Tennessee’s guns. The Confederate sailor unleashed a blistering epithet of profanity at the Union officer. His men adjacent to him heard this and, insulted by this affront to their officer’s honor, redoubled the pace of their re-loading and discharge of small arms fire into the open gun-ports of the enemy ship, along with throwing anything solid in their possession at Confederate sailors visible through the ports, if they did not wield a weapon. 

After the surrender of the Tennessee, Cdr. William E. Le Roy, captain of the USS Ossipee, lay alongside the stricken Confederate ironclad and called out to his good friend, CSN Cdr. James D. Johnston, to come aboard for some cold water and “something better than that for you down below.” Interestingly, Farragut himself did not go aboard the Tennessee to accept Buchanan’s surrender. He sent Acting Volunteer Lt. Pierre Giraud to take possession of the Admiral’s sword, and subsequently sent Fleet Surgeon Palmer aboard to assist CSN Surgeon Conrad in caring for Buchanan and the other wounded. Although Farragut and Buchanan had served together aboard USN warships, and knew each other, the relationship was purely professional and a friendship between the two had never developed. Buchanan was sent to Pensacola to recuperate, despite Confederate Gen. Page’s request that he be sent to Mobile. 

Losses on the Confederate side were remarkably light, considering the overwhelming superiority of the Union in terms of number of guns. Twelve Confederate sailors were killed (most on the other gunboats, only two on the Tennessee), and 20 wounded, although every Confederate warship was lost (sunk or captured). The “butcher’s bill” on the Union side was quite a bit more severe; 93 men lost when the Tecumseh went down, and Farragut reported 52 of his sailors killed and 170 wounded on the other ships. Landsman John Lawson, an African American sailor on the Hartford serving on a gun crew, received the Medal of Honor authorized by the US Congress (now called the “Congressional Medal of Honor”) for his gallantry during the action.

View of the Union fleet from Ft. Morgan after capture. Alabama Historical Society.
Forts Powell and Gaines surrendered not long after the defeat of the Confederate flotilla, and after a few days of bombardment, Fort Morgan also surrendered. Although the City of Mobile would not be taken by Union forces until the spring of next year (April 1865), the Union now had complete control of Mobile Bay and essentially closed down Mobile as a destination for blockade runners for the rest of the war. 

Much legend has accumulated over what Farragut actually said in the early stages of the battle, as things appeared to deteriorate after the loss of the monitor Tecumseh. An article in the most recent Naval History magazine analyzes this in detail based on “ear-witness” accounts. It appears obvious that he made a statement that struck a chord with those around him. No matter what exactly he said, I think we have to acknowledge that it ranks right up there with other legendary statements in U.S. Navy history, including John Paul Jones’ “Sir, I have not yet begun to fight.” and George Dewey’s “You may fire when you are ready, Gridley.”

U.S. Navy recruiting poster from WW I, showing Farragut and his famous order. Wikipedia/U.S. Navy archives.

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