By: Kevin Ray, Archival Technician
This week, in honor of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Mobile Bay, Kevin Ray gives an three-part account of the battle drawn from a combination of secondary sources and the two diaries held in the Division of Special Collections. All images are from these diaries, which were written by Ellsworth Hults and Eston C. Lambert, both of whom belonged to the Union. Read Part I from last Monday and Part II from last Wednesday.
Letter to be read aloud on all ships by David Farragut on August 6, 1864 from Esbon C. Lambert’s papers
Left alone, the powerful iron-clad ram Tennessee engaged in a furious battle with Farragut’s entire fleet. The fighting was brutal, deadly, and, at times, confused. Union guns were largely ineffective against Tennessee’s thick armor, but her guns were devastating against the wooden ships. She fired her guns and tried to ram the Union ships, but her slow speed made this difficult. In turn, Farragut’s ships attempted to ram the ram, which resulted in more damage to the Union vessels than to Tennessee. At one point, two Union ships managed to ram each other. Eventually, the Union Navy was able to inflict serious damage on Tennessee. Her smokestack was shot off, making it difficult to maintain engine pressure. Her exposed steering chains were broken, making it impossible to steer. A number of the gun ports jammed closed. Unable to continue the fight, and with Admiral Buchanan seriously wounded, CSS Tennessee surrendered at around ten in the morning.
The naval battle was over. Within days, Fort Powell was abandoned and Fort Gaines surrendered. Fort Morgan held out until August 23, when it too surrendered. Union forces had control of the entrance to Mobile Bay, but the casualty cost was high, and lopsided. Estimates vary, but the Union Navy lost over 300 men killed or wounded, including over ninety killed on the sunken Tecumseh. The Confederates lost just over thirty. Over 1500 were captured and taken prisoner, including Admiral Buchanan. The Union Navy also captured Tennessee and Selma, and added them to the Union fleet.
Today, Tecumseh and her crew still rest at the bottom of Mobile Bay, just off Fort Morgan. Both of the larger forts, Morgan and Gaines, are now museums. They help to tell the story of the Battle of Mobile Bay.
Map problems on the inside front cover of Ellsworth Hults’s diary
The W.S. Hoole Special Collections Library has two important primary source collections from Esbon C. Lambert and Ellsworth Hults that also tell that story in the words of the men who were there. Lambert served on board USS Itasca. His diary gives a brief entry for August 5, 1864, with a short narrative of the battle. His entries for the days before the battle likewise give short descriptions of the preparations that were being made. Hults, the paymaster aboard USS Galena, also kept a diary. Hults’s ntries for the days before, during, and after the battle are longer than Lambert’s, and include more detail. His diary includes two hand drawn maps showing the locations of landmarks, fortifications, and ships. Helpfully, a typed transcript is included with the dairy as well as a handwritten copy of an order from Admiral Farragut, dated August 6, 1864. This order, commending the Union officers and sailors after the battle, was read from the quarterdeck of every ship in Farragut’s fleet that day. These small, but important collections each tell part of the story of the Battle of Mobile Bay.
Bergeron, Arthur W., Jr. Confederate Mobile. Jackson, MS and London: University Press of Mississippi, 1991.
Ellsworth Hults diary. February-December 1864. MSS.3735. University Libraries Division of Special Collections, The University of Alabama.
Esbon C. Lambert diary and letters. 1863-1864. University Libraries Division of Special Collections, The University of Alabama.
Friend, Jack. West Wind, Flood Tide: The Battle of Mobile Bay. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2004
Hearn, Chester G. Mobile Bay and the Mobile Campaign: The Last Great Battles of the Civil War. Jefferson, NC and London: McFarland & Company, Inc., 1993.
Smith, C. Carter, Jr., ed. Two Naval Journals: 1864. Southern University Press, 1964.
Waugh, John C. Last Stand at Mobile. Abilene, TX: McWhiney Foundation Press, 2001.