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.”
Philip Joseph Sanger, left, a second assistant engineer on the sloop-of-war Monongahela, was present at the Battle of Mobile Bay, Ala., on August 5, 1864. According to a note in his obituary, “He was thrown to the deck and covered with debris by a shell which demolished the bridge upon which he had been standing, but at once he resumed his post of duty and was applauded by [Rear Adm. David] Farragut for his conspicuous bravery.” He survived the war, became a physician in Philadelphia, Pa., and died in 1887.
Joseph W.R. Stambaugh of the Seventy-fifth Illinois Infantry suffered a wound in the side during his first big fight at Perryville, Ky., on Oct. 8, 1862. He made a full recovery and joined the Pioneer Brigade of the Army of the Cumberland, with which organization he served on detached duty in Tennessee until November 1864, when he joined the First Veteran Volunteer Engineers. He mustered out of the army as a captain at the end of the war. He died in 1890.
I’ve had this image in my collection for years. His story appeared in my first book, Faces of the Civil War: An Album of Union Soldiers and Their Stories. The image came to my attention the other day after trading emails with author and historian Greg Mast, who is working on a new book about North Carolina men who served during the Civil War. Although Stambaugh wore Union blue, he was born in Fayetteville, N.C., according to his military service records. Later census records state that he was born in Maryland and Pennsylvania. It is unusual in my experience to have such confusion about a soldier’s state of origin.