“Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!”

“Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!”

Posted by This content is courtesy of The American Patriot's Almanac © 2008, 2010 by William J. Bennett and John T.E. Cribb on 6th Aug 2018

August 5, 1864, saw the last major naval battle of the Civil War when Admiral David Glasgow Farragut led a fleet of Union ships against Mobile Bay, Alabama, one of the most heavily defended ports in the South. The entrance to the bay was protected by Fort Morgan and Fort Gaines, four Confederate ships, including the giant ironclad Tennessee, and dozens of mines, which in those days were called “torpedoes.” The Confederates had arranged the mines, which lurked just beneath the water’s surface, to create a narrow channel running into the bay.

As the attack began, Farragut climbed into the rigging of his flagship, the Hartford, to get a good view. There he watched in dismay as one of his ships, the ironclad Tecumseh, steered into the minefield and hit a torpedo. An explosion erupted beneath its waterline. The Tecumseh lurched to one side, stopped dead in the water, and a few minutes later went straight to the bottom, taking more than 90 men to their deaths.

At once the rest of the fleet faltered and began to drift toward Fort Morgan. The Confederate gunners raked the Union vessels with deadly fire. Farragut knew that to hesitate would mean disaster, and he shouted his famous order: “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!”

Farragut’s ship steamed forward, straight through the minefield. The horrified sailors heard the mine cases thudding against the hull, but none exploded. The other ships followed, and soon Mobile Bay was in Union hands. Farragut’s exclamation has become a rallying cry for Americans in times that call for meeting danger head-on.