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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Thirty Seconds at Mobile Bay

workUnion 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.

An excerpt:

“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.”

Read Work’s profile and learn his fate.

One of the First Graduates of the U.S. Naval Academy

A profile of Samuel J. Shipley’s life appeared in the History of Fayette County, Indiana, published by B.F. Bowen & Co. of Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1917:

“Samuel J. Shipley, a resident of Fayette county from 1819 until his death in 1897, a member of the first class to graduate from the United States Naval Academy, at Annapolis. a participant in the Civil War and one of the best beloved men of a past generation in the county, was born in Wilmington, Delaware, December 24, 1813, the son of Joseph Shipley and Mary H. (Test) Shipley. He came with his mother to Fayette county when he was six years of age, his father having died leaving his wife with four small children.

It was the childish ambition of Shipley to become a sailor, and when he was nineteen years of age Jonathan McCarty, then congressman from this district, secured an appointment for him as midshipman in the navy. This was before there was a naval academy and it was not until 1839 that Congress established such an institution, the first one being located at Philadelphia. Shipley was enrolled as a student at the time of its inception and when the academy was removed to Annapolis the following year, he became a member of the first class, graduating in the spring of 1840.

Shipley continued his career at sea year after year, being advanced to a lieutenancy in 1847 at the close of the Mexican War. At the opening of the Civil War he was stationed at Fortress Monroe as commander of the “Brandywine,” but his health became impaired and he was compelled to retire from his command in 1863. He at once returned to his home in Fayette county and settled down on his farm in Harrison township, which he had purchased in 1837. There he continued to reside with his daughter until a few years before his death, when he moved to Connersville where he died on July 11, 1897.

Lieutenant Shipley was married on November 14, 1841, to Martha Holton, but his wife died two years later, leaving a daughter, Jennie Shipley, who is still living in Connersville.“

This carte de visite 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.
One of the First Graduates of the U.S. Naval Academy

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.

Recognized for Bravery at Mobile Bay

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.

This image is new to my collection, and available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr.
Recognized for Bravery at Mobile Bay

Lost at the Battle of Mobile Bay

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.

This image is new to my collection, and available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr.
Lost at the Battle of Mobile Bay

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