August 1864: Battle of Mobile Bay, Turning Point of Civil War

The Battle of Mobile Bay (August 5-24, 1864) was a turning point of the American civil war, a surprising Union victory. Before it, President Abraham Lincoln thought he would lose re-election and his opponent, General George McClellan would let at least part of the South secede. But combined with the capture of Atlanta that summer, Lincoln, and the exhausted American people, could see the end of the war in sight.

“Damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead!” famously proclaimed Rear Admiral David G. Farragut, commander of the Union fleet. as he and a contingent of soldiers attacked a smaller Confederate fleet that guarded the entrance to Mobile Bay, a shallow inlet of the Gulf of Mexico within the state of Alabama.

“The battle was marked by Farragut’s seemingly-rash but successful run through a minefield that had just claimed one of his ironclad monitors, enabling his fleet to get beyond the range of the shore-based guns. This was followed by a reduction of the Confederate fleet to a single vessel, ironclad CSS Tennessee.

Tennessee did not then retire, but engaged the entire Northern fleet. Tennessee‘s armor enabled her to inflict more injury than she received, but she could not overcome the imbalance in numbers. She was eventually reduced to a motionless hulk and surrendered, ending the battle. With no Navy to support them, the three forts also surrendered within days. Complete control of lower Mobile Bay thus passed to the Union forces.

“Mobile had been the last important port on the Gulf of Mexico east of the Mississippi River remaining in Confederate possession, so its closure was the final step in completing the blockade in that region.” — Wikipedia.

Historian Heather Cox Richardson, in her daily Letter from an American recalled the stunning victory as an inspiration to Americans today: “By the spring of 1864, victory in the Civil War depended on which side could endure longest. Confederates were starving as they mourned their many dead; Union supporters were tired of losing sons to battles that seemed to accomplish nothing. President Abraham Lincoln knew he must land a crushing blow on the South or lose the upcoming presidential election. If he lost, the best Americans could hope for was a negotiated peace that tore the nation in two. In March 1864, Lincoln appointed Ulysses S. Grant commander-in-chief of all the Union armies, hoping that this stubborn westerner could win the war.” Read the piece, which discusses Grant’s strategy of attack on all fronts.

Rewarding Lincoln’s stewardship of the war, voters in November 1864 gave him 55% of the popular vote and gave the Republicans supermajorities in both the House and the Senate.

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