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The Orders that Began the Battle of Mobile Bay: Admiral Farragut's Signal Orders Sent by Lt. John C. Kinney
Washington, D.C. 1864 - Manuscript Document. Orders signaled by Lt. John Kinney for Farragut aboard the U.S.S. Hartford at Mobile, Alabama, August 5, 1864. [Washington, D.C.]. 2 separate pp., 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in. Docketed by Gideon Welles. Sent the morning of Battle of Mobile Bay, these orders were relayed via signal flag from Farragut's flagship, the U.S.S. Hartford, to the captains of the U.S.S. Brooklyn, Lackawanna, and Winnebago. The correspondence records Farragut's orders moving his fleet past the forts at the entrance of Mobile Bay. They give a blow-by-blow of the opening salvo along with the loss of the Union ironclad Tecumseh. Complete Transcript From the Brooklyn/ The Monitors are right ahead. We cannot go ahead without passing them./ Capt Alden / 7.25.a.m.Capt of Brooklyn/ Tell the monitors to go ahead and then take your station./ By Order of Admiral Farragut:/ 7.30To Admiral Farragut./ Our best Monitor is sunk/ 7.35 / Capt. Alden.Capt of Brooklyn/ Go ahead / Admiral F./ 7.35Capt of Lackawana/ Get ready & run down the ram/ Admiral F. / 8.30. (over) To Ram Winnebago/ Run down the Ram/ Admiral F.To Winnebago & Lackawana/ Send your boats to the ram & save the menTo Capt of Lackawana/ For God's sake keep out of the way & anchor/ Admiral F.in different hand:(T.H. Stevens) On page four, penned by Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles: "Signals / Farragut & Alden / at Mobile. / Kinni sig. officer."Historical BackgroundAdmiral David Farragut's strategy for engaging the much smaller Confederate naval forces at Mobile Bay, Alabama, relied on moving his fleet safely past the guns of Forts Morgan, Gaines, and Powell at the harbor entrance. To do so, he rafted his wooden warships together in pairs, hopeful that if one were damaged, the other would provide propulsion for both. He also ordered the four ironclads, the Tecumseh, Manhattan, Chickasaw, and Winnebago, to place themselves between the guns of Fort Morgan to shield the wooden-hulled ships.When the battle began at 6:47 on the morning of August 5, 1864, the Tecumseh, in the lead, fired the first shot at the forts and general action began. As planned, The Tecumseh engaged the Confederate ironclad Tennessee, but then steamed through the minefield she had been ordered to avoid. The vessel struck a torpedo (underwater mine) and sank within minutes. Only 21 of 114 crew were rescued. Captain James Alden, with conflicting orders to stay to the port of the ironclads and to the right of the minefield, stopped, evidently sending his first signal (above) at 7:25 a.m. informing Farragut that he could not pass. As seen in the sequence of orders given, Farragut orders the ironclads forward and the Brooklyn ahead as well, and goes on to order the Lackawanna and Winnebago to "run down the ram" the C.S.S. Tennessee.The legendary story at this point in the battle was that Alden stopped the Brooklyn because he had seen the havoc wreaked on the Tecumseh by the underwater mines. Farragut, aboard the Hartford, then uttered his famous declaration "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!" and passed the Brooklyn, taking the Hartford past the forts. While not impossible, as Alden, blocked by the ironclads on one side and the minefield on the other, didn't want to steam through the mines, these orders suggest that Farragut ordered both the ironclads and the Brooklyn forward. Still, there would have been no recorded signal order given, since he was ordering the vessel upon which he was standing to full speed head.David G. Farragut (1801-1870) joined the navy as a midshipman at the age of 9. He served in the War of 1812, and then in the West Indies working to eradicate piracy. He moved from Virginia to New York at the outset of the Civil War and went on to serve on the blockading fleet in the Gulf of Mexico. He rose to become the first rear admiral, first vice admiral, and first admiral in the U.S. Navy. (To that point, the navy had avoided what it considered a European aristocratic rank for. (See website for full description)
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