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Dauphin Island in Mobile County, Alabama — The American South (East South Central)
 

“Damn the Torpedoes!”

The Battle of Mobile Bay:

 

—Stop D —

 
“Damn the Torpedoes!” Marker image. Click for full size.
By Brandon Fletcher, July 9, 2011
1. “Damn the Torpedoes!” Marker
Inscription.
At 7:25 a.m., August 5, 1864, Admiral Farragut’s lead monitor Tecumseh steered into the torpedo field at the mouth of Mobile Bay. The admiral had ordered Commander Tunis Craven, the Tecumseh’s captain, to engage the ram Tennessee. Then west of the black buoy marking the eastern limit of the torpedo field, the Tennessee was steaming further west. Craven was too close to the black buoy to steer east of it; if he was to catch the Ram, he would have to move west of the buoy. He did.

At 7:40, 100 yards away from his prey, Craven’s ship hit a torpedo and sank within three minutes. Farragut faced a crisis, too. He could keep his fleet, blocked by the Brooklyn and the torpedoes, under the guns of the fort, withdraw, or advance and plunge into the torpedo field himself. Warned by his subordinates of the torpedoes, Farragut is reported to have exclaimed, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” and led his fleet into the Bay.

Did Farragut actually say this? No contemporary authority proves that he did. The din of battle was so great that only those within a few feet of the admiral could have heard what he said. Farragut himself said afterward that he prayed for divine guidance, and his pilot, Martin Freeman, remembered that the admiral said he would take the lead and
“Damn the Torpedoes!” Marker image. Click for full size.
By Brandon Fletcher, July 9, 2011
2. “Damn the Torpedoes!” Marker
“told me to pick my way [through the torpedoes] and go into the bay or blow up…” Freeman then used his voice tube to convey Farragut’s orders to the Hartford’s deck officer. The pilot would have then ordered “four bells!” which means to “go ahead at full speed.”

On November 8, 1864, Captain Thornton A. Jenkins, skipper of the USS Richmond, mailed an article from the New York Commercial Advertiser to the Secretary of the Navy. The article read in part: “The pilot told [the captain of the Tecumseh] that he was too near the torpedoes; the captain [Craven] pointed to the ram Tennessee and said ‘damn the torpedoes, I am after that fellow; take me alongside.”

It does not much matter what Farragut said. It is what he did that is important. Both he and Craven were fully aware of the dangerous uncertainties presented by torpedoes, and both he and Craven took their ships through the torpedo field at full speed. Craven lost his ship and his life, but Farragut took decisive action a moment of crisis and saved his fleet from certain defeat.

The Confederates used two types of contact torpedoes in Mobile Bay: the Singer torpedo and the Rains “keg” torpedo. The Singer torpedo made of iron, tin, or copper, had a spring trigger which, when released, caused a plunger to
“Damn the Torpedoes!” Marker image. Click for full size.
By Brandon Fletcher, July 9, 2011
3. “Damn the Torpedoes!” Marker
(yellow arrow)
ignite the fuse. The Rains torpedo, made of oak barrels lined with pitch and coated with tar on the outside, had five or more fuses of glass tubes protruding from the barrel. Contact with a ship would crush those tubes, causing a chemical reaction and explode the keg. Either could be expected to blow a hole 8’x10’ in the bottom of a ship. The typical charge used at Mobile was 35 to 50 pounds of black powder. Victor Von Scheliha, an engineer at Mobile, reported that a Singer torpedo sank the
Tecumseh.

(sidebar)
Thom Williamson, who, as a young officer, served aboard the USS Hartford, remembered Farragut ordering him to “Go on!” The young man asked, “Shall I ring four bells…?” Excited, Farragut replied, “Four bells-eight bells-sixteen bells-damn it, I don’t care how many bells you ring!” Lieutenant John C. Kinney, an army signal officer, was another officer close enough to Farragut to have heard what the Admiral said. Kinney wrote an article about the Battle of Mobile Bay for Scribner’s Monthly in 1881 in which he never mentioned Farragut’s alleged “damn the torpedoes!” exclamation. However, in a second essay, written for Battles and Leaders in 1884, he wrote that the current story held that Farragut had exclaimed “damn the torpedoes!” during the heat of the battle and concluded
Admiral David Farragut, USN image. Click for full size.
By Brandon Fletcher
4. Admiral David Farragut, USN
[Portrait of Rear Adm. David G. Farragut, officer of the Federal Navy (Vice Adm. from Dec. 3, 1864)]
Courtesy of the Library of Congress
that this “may have some basis in truth.”
 
Erected by Civil War Trail Battle for Mobile Bay. (Marker Number Stop D.)
 
Location. 30° 14.888′ N, 88° 4.501′ W. Marker is in Dauphin Island, Alabama, in Mobile County. Marker can be reached from Bienville Boulevard east of Albatross Street, on the right when traveling east. Touch for map. Located atop the east wall of Fort Gaines, overlooking Mobile Bay. Marker is at or near this postal address: 51 Bienville Blvd, Dauphin Island AL 36528, United States of America.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 4 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. Anchor From U.S.S. Hartford (within shouting distance of this marker); "Save Your Garrison." (within shouting distance of this marker); Storm Clouds Gather (about 300 feet away, measured in a direct line); "To Be Blown To Kingdom Come" (about 300 feet away); Fort Gaines (about 500 feet away); 19th Century Shipwreck (about 600 feet away); Noble Leslie DeVotie (approx. 3.3 miles away); Fort Bowyer War of 1812 (approx. 3.3 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Dauphin Island.
 
More about this marker. There is an identical marker at Fort Morgan with the exception that it is labeled as Stop C, instead of stop D, as this
Commander Tunis Craven, USN, Captain of Tecumseh image. Click for full size.
By Brandon Fletcher
5. Commander Tunis Craven, USN, Captain of Tecumseh
Tunis Augustus Macdonough Craven, 1813-1864
Courtesy of the Library of Congress
marker is labeled.
 
Also see . . .
1. Fort Gaines. (Submitted on August 16, 2015.)
2. Civil War Trail - Battle for Mobile Bay. (Submitted on August 16, 2015.)
 
Categories. Forts, CastlesWar, US Civil
 
Sketch of Captain T.A.M. Craven and his pilot, climbing a ladder on the Tecumseh image. Click for full size.
By Brandon Fletcher
6. Sketch of Captain T.A.M. Craven and his pilot, climbing a ladder on the Tecumseh
Courtesy of the Library of Congress
Torpedoes: The Singer Type image. Click for full size.
By Brandon Fletcher, July 9, 2011
7. Torpedoes: The Singer Type
Torpedoes: The Rains Type image. Click for full size.
By Brandon Fletcher, July 9, 2011
8. Torpedoes: The Rains Type
Confederates Sinking Torpedoes by Moonlight image. Click for full size.
By Brandon Fletcher, July 9, 2011
9. Confederates Sinking Torpedoes by Moonlight
The USS Tecumseh strikes a torpedo and is sunk image. Click for full size.
By Brandon Fletcher, July 9, 2011
10. The USS Tecumseh strikes a torpedo and is sunk
Mobile Bay with Fort Morgan in the Distance image. Click for full size.
By Brandon Fletcher, July 9, 2011
11. Mobile Bay with Fort Morgan in the Distance
Photo taken near the marker
“Damn the Torpedoes!” Art image. Click for full size.
By Brandon Fletcher
12. “Damn the Torpedoes!” Art
Lashed to the shrouds--Farragut passing the forts at Mobile, in his flagship Hartford
Courtesy of the Library of Congress
 
 
Credits. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016. This page originally submitted on August 15, 2015, by Brandon Fletcher of Chattanooga, Tennessee. This page has been viewed 296 times since then and 93 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12. submitted on August 15, 2015, by Brandon Fletcher of Chattanooga, Tennessee. • Bernard Fisher was the editor who published this page.
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