Union navy officer George Work and his crew mates on the monitor Tecumseh went into the historic attack on Mobile Bay full steam ahead—until an underwater torpedo ended in destruction and death.
“When nearly abreast of Fort Morgan,” reported two acting masters of the Tecumseh, “A row of buoys was discovered stretching from the shore a distance from one to two hundred yards. It being reported to Captain Craven, he immediately gave the vessel full speed and attempted to pass between two of them.”
The Tecumseh advanced on the rebel ram Tennessee, and turned to engage her. At this moment, 7:40 a.m., the hull of the Tecumseh struck a torpedo. The two masters recalled that the explosion occurred, “directly below the turret, blowing a large hole through the bottom of the vessel, through which the water rushed with great rapidity.”
Connecticut-born trader George Work posed for his portrait in the New York City studio of photographer George Work in February 1864, shortly after receiving a commission as an acting assistant paymaster in the U.S. navy. Before the end of the month he was assigned to the monitor-class ironclad Tecumseh. Six months later during the Battle of Mobile Bay, the Tecumseh struck an underwater mine (known as a torpedo) at the very onset of the fighting on Aug. 5, 1864. According to eyewitness accounts, the vessel sunk in less than 30 seconds. Almost the entire crew went down with the ship, including Work. His body was never recovered.