Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Best Place to Experience The Battle of Mobile Bay is at the NMUSN

Fife Rail and Wheel of USS Hartford

On this day 150 years ago, Admiral David Glasgow Farragut made history. After a dazzling victory at New Orleans early in the war, Admiral Farragut spent the next several years fighting through the Mississippi River. By the middle of 1864, it became necessary to capture Mobile Bay, the South's last major port city on the Gulf Coast. Capturing it would help tighten the anaconda-like grip on the southern coastline.

Hartford Cathead
The bright August morning proved to be one of the most surprising achievements in Farragut's long and distinguished career. Now a century and a half later, many of the relics left to commemorate the ships and men of the battle are long gone. The Hartford, one of the most iconic ships of the Civil War, is broken up and scattered to different museums and institutions around the United States. How then do you decide where to see the best collection of artifacts from the battle during the Civil War sesquicentennial?

For those of us who could not make the trek down south for the sesquicentennial anniversary, many visitors commented it was an event worthy of its name and place in history. Fortunately, Civil War enthusiasts still have an opportunity to see several some of the relics of the battle. There is no better place to share this connection between past and present than the National Museum of the United States Navy (NMUSN) at the Washington Navy Yard.

NMUSN Curator Jennifer Marland took me around to several of the artifacts of Admiral Farragut and the Battle of Mobile Bay. She showed me her favorite piece of the collection, a small series of sketches depicting the battle. "So many paintings and sketches surfaced after the battle, some coming weeks and even years later," said Marland. "I really like this sketch from crew members present at the battle. You get a better sense of what these sailors really experienced." The sketch, albeit crude and hastily put together, tells the story of a sailor's front row seat to one of the United States Navy's greatest battles.

Other interesting items in the National Museum of the United States Navy collection includes Admiral Farragut's presentation cane, a large model of Hartford, a cathead, ship bell, and surrender letter from Ft. Gaines.

Naval Mine at NMUSN

Why are these torpedoes important today? 
Although Admiral Farragut may or may not have said the immortal words "Damn the Torpedoes, Full Speed Ahead," the crafty countermeasure still proved an effective defense on the 5th, sinking the Tecumseh in the process. The artifacts on display at NMUSN are a constant reminder that every great piece of naval history comes with a price.

The National Museum of the United States Navy is open Monday to Friday from 9:00am to 5:00pm.

Special Thanks to Jennifer Marland for giving me an in depth tour of the NMUSN gallery.

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