Sunday, August 3, 2014

Battle of Mobile Bay I - The Ships and Fleets

Confederate ironclad CSS Tennessee. Naval History and Heritage Command.

This week we observe the 150th Anniversary of the epic Battle of Mobile Bay, one of the largest naval battles of the Civil War. On the Union side, Admiral David G. Farragut commanded the naval forces and Major Gen. Gordon Granger was in command of army troops. On the Confederate side, Admiral Franklin Buchanan commanded the grey navy warships and General Richard L. Page commanded CS Army forces from his headquarters in Fort Morgan.

Farragut’s flagship was the steam sloop-of-war USS Hartford. At a length of 225 feet and displacing 2,900 tons, she was one of the U.S. Navy’s newer and most powerful warships. Powered by square-rigged sail plan and steam engines, she was launched in November 1858. She packed a battery of twenty IX(9)-in Dahlgren smoothbore guns mounted in broadside, two 20-pdr Parrott Rifles, and two 12-pdr Dahlgren boat howitzers. Earlier in the war, Farragut had steamed the Harford up the Mississippi to run by Forts St. Philip and Jackson, capture New Orleans, and eventually help Gen. Grant conquer Vicksburg. She was a seasoned combat veteran. Farragut’s squadron included the gunboats USS Brooklyn, Richmond (both sister ships to Hartford), Lackawanna, Monongahela, Ossipee, Oneida, Octorara, Metacomet, Port Royal, Seminole, Kennebec, Itasca, and Galena. This squadron of wooden gunboats was supported by four “monitor” type ironclads, two of which were the newer Canonicus-Class, USS Manhattan and Tecumseh, and two double-turreted Milwaukee-Class river monitors, USS Chickasaw and Winnebago.

On the Confederate side, Farragut was opposed by salty old Franklin “Old Buck” Buchanan. Buchanan’s flagship was the casemated ironclad CSS Tennessee. With a length of 209 feet, and displacing 1,273 tons, Tennessee was armored with three layers of iron plating. On the flanks were two 2” thick layers of plates and one 1” thick layer. The bow section was encased with three layers of 2” plates. Tennessee was armed with two 7” Brooke rifles mounted “in pivot” (on tracks so they could fire in multiple directions) and four 6.4” Brooke rifles mounted in broadside. Some considered the Brooke rifle the finest naval heavy gun of its day, and with this battery, the Tennessee was perhaps one of the most formidable warships yet built by the Confederacy. Supporting Franklin in the Tennessee were the wooden gunboats CSS Morgan, Selma, and Gaines. The Selma was initially named the CSS Florida and participated (against the USS Huntsville) in the first naval combat engagement of gunboats in Mobile Bay on Christmas Eve, 1861. Supporting the CSN fleet was Fort Morgan, on the east side of the entrance to Mobile Bay, Fort Gaines, on the west side of the entrance, and Fort Powell, on the inside of the Bay guarding the entrance to the Mississippi Sounds.

The stage was set, and the actors assembled. Now it was only a tense waiting game before the drama began.

USS Hartford. Library of Congress, Civil War Photographs Collection.

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