It took place during, what turned out to be the waning days of the Civil War.
The Confederacy had grown increasingly dependent on “blockade runners”, ships that were able to sneak past the Union fleet, to bring much needed supplies to confederate factories and forces.
Since the port of New Orleans had fallen to then-Union officer David Farragut in 1862, Mobile Bay offered the next best supply line for the blockade runners from Havana.
Dr. Tom Ward, Chair of the History Department at Spring Hill College said, “To really blockade Mobile, to really cut off the blockade runners, you had to control the port. Once you got into the bay, you could shut the port off. With New Orleans already shut down, with Pensacola shut down, Mobile was incredibly important for bringing goods in and out in 1862, ’63, ’64 and also, you had the rail connections through Mobile.”
To prevent Union ships from capturing Mobile Bay, Confederate forces introduced what they called, torpedoes which were really underwater mines.
“The mouth of Mobile Bay was mined with, what amounted to beer kegs full of gunpowder. The Confederate forces mined the channel to keep the Union ships out. A lot of those mines or torpedoes didn’t go off. A lot of them probably had been sitting in Mobile Bay too long,” said Dr. Ward.
After Union forces landed on Dauphin Island and attacked Fort Gaines, the Battle of Mobile Bay began on August 5, 1864 when now-Admiral David Farragut’s fleet of 14 ships moved into the torpedo-filled Mobile Bay. As the fleet approached Fort Morgan, the Tecumseh hit a torpedo and sank.
Despite the danger, Admiral Farragut commanded his fleet to continue sailing into Mobile Bay, ordering “Damn the torpedoes: Full speed ahead!”
The 13 other ships made it past Fort Morgan, eventually forcing the Confederate ships in the bay to give up or flee.
It took 3 weeks, but Farragut’s ships and the Union Army forced Fort Morgan to surrender.
While the city of Mobile would remain in Confederate hands until April, 1865, no more blockade runners were able to deliver supplies to the Confederacy, which surrendered 8 months later.