Taking on the Rebel Ram Tennessee

There came a moment during the Aug. 5, 1864, Battle of Mobile Bay when Rear Adm. David Farragut’s most powerful warships went up against the Confederate ironclad ram Tennessee.

The Hartford, Brooklyn and Richmond lined up abreast and bore down on the Tennessee, hell bent on taking her out of action.

The Richmond’s crew included one of the navy’s youngest officers, Philip Henry Cooper, pictured here, center. A recent Naval Academy graduate, he had served aboard the Richmond for about a year.

Cooper and his shipmates, and the crews of the other two Union vessels, traded shot and shell with the Tennessee for more than an hour before the rebel ram called it quits and raised the white flag.

The crew of the Richmond was lucky—no casualties and minimum damage. For Cooper, it was the beginning of a long career in the service of the navy that included cruises around the globe and stints on the staff of his alma mater. He posed for this carte de visite with two of his comrades, Lt. Cmdr. Charles W. Tracy and a secretary named Procter, during a South American cruise about 1866-1868.

Cooper retired as a captain in 1904 and died in 1912 at age 68.

This image is new to my collection and is available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr.
Taking on the Rebel Ram Tennessee

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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.

General Meade’s Nephew

I recently added this carte de visite of Henry M. Meade to my collection. His portrait and story will be included in my forthcoming book about the Civil War navies. Meade was one of Maj. Gen. George G. Meade’s nephews, and I’ve only just begun to research his life and military service. His navy biography through 1868, from the Records of Living Officers of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps,: Born in New York. Appointed from New York, January 31st, 1862; entered the service as Acting Assistant Paymaster; attached to receiving ship, New York, 1862-4; steamer Mattabessett, North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, 1864-5; special duty, Navy Department, 1865-6; appointed Passed Assistant Paymaster, U.S. Navy, July 23d, 1866; steam-sloop Juniata, South Atlantic Squadron, 1867; steam-sloop Kearsarge, South Pacific Squadron, 1868-9; commissioned as Paymaster, April 9th, 1868.

Now available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr.
Gen. Meade’s Nephew

 

 

Escorting Gen. Sherman on the “Silver Cloud”

New to my collection is this carte de visite of William Henry Hathorne by R.A. Miller of Boston, Mass. A dry goods salesman in Worcester, Mass., prior to the Civil War, Maine-born Hathorne was appointed an acting assistant paymaster in the spring of 1863. Ordered to the Mississippi Squadron soon after, he served a stint on the casemate gunboat Cincinnati before reporting to the gunboat Silver Cloud for the duration of the war.

Hathorne was present for duty on the Silver Cloud in January 1864, when the ship and crew carried Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman on a trip from Memphis, Tenn., to Vicksburg, Miss. Three months later, on April 14, the vessell participated in operations against Fort Pillow, which had been captured by Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest two days earlier. Union forces were successful in driving away Forrest and his men.

Hathorne left the navy in the autumn of 1865. He returned to Worcester, married, and worked as a salesman until his death in 1904.

His image is now available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr:
Escorting Gen. Sherman on the "Silver Cloud"