Redemption at Mobile Bay

dana-collageMy latest Civil War News profile is the story of William Starr Dana and his navy experience. An excerpt:

A hailstorm of rebel artillery pounded Union Rear Adm. David Farragut’s flagship, the Hartford, as she steamed into Mobile Bay at the head of the attacking fleet on August 5, 1864. Shells tore through her planking as heavy metal fragments and wood splinters careened through the air at lightning speed and took a deadly toll on officers and men.

Cmdr. Richard Starr Dana, U.S. Navy, standing, and his brother, Richard Starr Dana. Carte de visite by an unidentified photographer, about October 1863. Collection of the author.
One well-aimed projectile ripped through the Hartford’s battle-scarred wooden hull and blasted the forward berth deck. The commander of this section of the ship, Ensign William S. Dana, recalled, “Fragments of the shell flew over my head and I was covered by the brains and blood of the man next to me.” This single shot killed three and wounded two, which removed more than a third of his 13-man crew.

Read the rest on Medium.

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A Future Governor’s Brother at Mobile Bay, 1864

David King Perkins (1843-1893) of Kennebunkport, Maine, served as an acting master’s mate on the Union warship Seminole from 1863-1865. He was present and aboard the vessel during the Battle of Mobile Bay, the landmark engagement that closed the last major Confederate port in the Gulf of Mexico. After the war, Perkins resided in California, where his older brother, George Clement Perkins, served as governor from 1880-1883 and as a U.S. senator from 1893-1915.

This carte de visite by Guelpa & Demoleni of Boston, Mass., is new to my collection, and will be included in my forthcoming book about the Union and Confederate navies. It is available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr.
A Future Governor’s Brother at Mobile Bay, 1864

Damn the Torpedoes! What Did Farragut Really Say at Mobile Bay?

The actual words by Adm. David Farragut during the 1864 Battle of Mobile Bay that became paraphrased as “Damn the torpedoes, full speed speed ahead” are still something of a mystery 150 years after they were uttered.

Several sources note that Farragut originally cried, “Damn the torpedoes! Four bells. Captain Drayton, go ahead! Jouett, full speed!”

But according to a newly discovered primary source, the true words spoken by Farragut were: “Damn the torpedoes! Go on! Put the helm a-starboard, Captain Drayton!”

Brownell-Henry-H-USN-FThe provenance of this version is an inscription in a gilt-embossed green buckram 1864 pamphlet “Bay-Fight” by Henry H. Brownell (pictured), acting ensign and clerk to Farragut during the Battle of Mobile Bay. The pamphlet was recently sold on Cowan’s Auctions.

Brownell’s poem, “Bay-Fight,” was first published in “Harper’s Monthly” magazine. The author presented this particular copy to Fleet Surgeon James C. Palmer.

Brownell never mentions the “Damn the torpedoes” phrase in his poem. He wrote:

From the main-top, bold and brief,
Came the word of our grand old Chief—
“Go on!”—’twas all he said—
Our helm was put to the starboard,
And the Hartford passed ahead.

But in this pamphlet, Surg. Palmer put a hand-written asterisk next to “Go on!” with this explanatory note:

page02*All Mr. Brownell heard. Or, perhaps, the Admiral, who was not a profane man, told him to suppress one phrase. When the pilot reported from the “Metacomet” that we were edging down the torpedo-field, Admiral Farragut called, from under the maintop, in these words: “Damn the torpedoes! Go on! Put the helm a-starboard, Captain Drayton!” So we held our breath, and screwed over the bank. -J.C.P.

Two references worthy of mention. The “Metacomet” is one of the Union vessels present and in the thick of the battle. Use of the word “screwed” refers to the action of the screw-propeller engine that drove the ship.

Brownell’s carte de visite is new to my collection, and now available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr.

Wood Meets Iron at Mobile Bay

langer-montage2nd Asst. Eng. Philip Joseph Langer of the Union gunboat Monongahela is the subject of my latest profile in “Faces of War” from the Civil War News. An excerpt:

Philip Langer braced for impact. The wooden sloop-of-war on which he served, the Monongahela, was only yards away from ramming the rebel ironclad ram Tennessee in the waters of Mobile Bay on August 5, 1864.

The Tennessee fired its guns into the approaching Monongahela at this critical moment. Two shells fired from her ports crashed into the Monongahela’s bow. One shell tore into the wood siding near the prow and lodged in the berth deck. The other ripped through the berth deck where Langer and others stood firm. It exploded and sent iron fragments, splinters of wood and other debris through the air. The crew was thrown violently to the floor.

Then the Monongahela struck her prey full force amidships. The blow, according to a news report, caused “the huge rebel monster to reel like a drunken man.”

Read the full profile.

He Received a Formal Thanks from Admiral Farragut

The back of this carte de visite of Richard Starr Dana and William Starr Dana by an unidentified photographer is dated October 1863, which coincides with 20-year-old Ensign William S. Dana’s graduation from the U.S. Naval Academy. Less than a year later, Dana numbered among a small group of officers who received a formal thanks from Admiral David Farragut for the destruction of the blockade runner Ivanhoe, which was chased aground by federal warships near Fort Morgan at the mouth of Mobile Bay. On July 6, 1864, Dana commanded one of several small boats that attacked the Ivanhoe in a daring nighttime raid. Dana and his comrades managed to set the stranded boat afire while hundreds of Union sailors and soldiers observed the action. “The entire conduct of the expedition was marked by a promptness and energy which shows what may be expected of such officers and men on similar occasions,” announced Farragut with evident pride.

Dana went on to a distinguished career in the navy, and rose to the rank of commander.

In 1884, he married botanist and political activist Frances Theodora Parsons (1861-1952). Their marriage was relatively brief, as Dana died in Paris, France, on January 1, 1890.

Three years later, writing under the name “Mrs. William Starr Dana,” Parsons’s How to Know the Wild Flowers was published. Considered the first field guide to North American wildflowers, the book was an instant best seller.

His image is now available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr:
He Received a Formal Thanks from Admiral Farragut

New to My Collection: On the USS Ossipee at Mobile Bay

New to my collection is this carte de visite of William Wingood Jr. by B.P. Paige of Washington, D.C. Wingood left his home in Rockport, Massachusetts, in the summer of 1862 and joined the Union navy as an ensign. Authorities assigned him to the wooden screw sloop Ossipee. The warship and its crew steamed to the Gulf of Mexico, where it captured a number of vessels attempting to run the blockade. In March 1864, the Ossipee joined the fleet of Adm. David Farragut for the invasion of Mobile Bay. On August 5, 1864, the Ossipee passed safely by the enemy forts that guarded the mouth of the bay. The ship and crew steamed into the bay and participated in the ensuing naval battle, and is best known for its role in bringing about the surrender of the Confederate ironclad ram Tennessee to surrender.

This portrait is now available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr:
On the USS Ossipee at Mobile Bay