Interview with Isabela Morales, Part I

By: Isabela Morales, PhD candidate at Princeton University


Isabela Morales

Hello! Thank you for agreeing to share with Cool@Hoole readers how your research experience in the Division of Special Collections at UA shaped your career.

First off, would you mind telling us a bit more about yourself?

Not at all—My name is Isabela Morales, and I’m currently a third-year PhD candidate in History at Princeton University.  My major fields of interest are the 19th century United States, African American history, and the American West.  I’m originally from Southern California, but I majored in history and American Studies at the University of Alabama and graduated in 2008.

What led you to do research in the Division of Special Collections?

When I came to UA I knew almost immediately that I wanted to study history.  I remember sitting in orientation paging through the course catalogue and realizing that all the classes I found most interesting were in the history and American studies departments—after that there was no question what my majors were going to be.  Then when I was a sophomore I took my first research seminar, which turned out to be one of my most formative and fortuitous college experiences.  Most of the previous papers I had written in high school and college up to that point had been based on secondary materials; this was the first time I had used primary sources to develop an historical argument, and I found the prospect of crafting an original narrative from these sources more exciting than any work I’d previously done.  I was hooked, bouncing in my chair at the microfilm reader whenever I found something particularly interesting.

The next year, I took another research seminar in the history department, this one taught by Professor Jenny Shaw.  The goal of the course was to produce a paper based on original research relating to the topic of American slavery.  In the first seminar, I’d based my project on microfilmed newspapers from InterLibrary Loan—this time, Professor Shaw encouraged the class to use the archives at Hoole. That was another new (and intimidating) experience, but it’s how I found the sources that provided the basis for my seminar paper, as well as the dissertation I’m working on now.

Come back on Wednesday to read more about Morales’ project!


Interview with Chris Sawula

By: Chris Sawula, CLIR Postdoctoral Fellow


Chris Sawula, CLIR Postdoctoral Fellow

Hi Chris! Thanks for agreeing to speak to us about your role in the University Libraries. We’re so glad to have you on board.

First off, tell us a little bit about yourself.

I’m originally from Connecticut and moved South for graduate school.  I received my PhD in early American History at Emory University. My dissertation was on the origins of laboring identity and community in early Boston between 1737 and 1837. I pursued this project because it allowed me to explore the everyday lives of working Americans and to understand how they conceived of themselves in a rapidly changing urban environment.

What got you interested in the digital humanities?

I had always been interested in various aspects of digital history and using digital methods to ask new questions about historical groups, trends, and events. Early on in my graduate studies, I took a class on the Transatlantic Slave Trade with Dr. David Eltis and saw the extent to which digital tools and techniques could reformulate what we know about history. After that, I had the opportunity to work at the Emory Center for Digital Scholarship first as a researcher and later as a fellow and got hooked.

What were some of the projects you worked on at Emory?

I worked on three major projects at the Emory Center for Digital Scholarship. The first, The Battle of Atlanta: History and Remembrance was a combination essay and mobile app commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Atlanta. Both the essay and the mobile app allow the user to explore twelve historical sites around Atlanta with interpretive text, photographs, video, and directions.

The second major project I worked on is known as Digital Atlanta. An ongoing project, Digital Atlanta seeks to recreate Atlanta c. 1928 using contemporary maps, fire insurance data, census information, and historical photos. Combining this material with 3D renderings of buildings from the era, Digital Atlanta hopes to capture how it would have been to navigate the city prior to post-war expansion.

Finally, I worked with Professors Hank Klibanoff and Brett Gadsden to build a shareable database for a journalism class on Civil Rights cold cases. I built the database so that students could access primary source documents on these cold cases, conduct research based on these materials, and write pieces of investigative journalism.


An example of a carte de visite from the Williams Collection

What is your role here at UA?

I am the CLIR Postdoctoral Fellow in the A.S. Williams III collection. I’ve been tasked with creating digital projects using the collection’s significant and diverse photographic archive that covers the nineteenth- and twentieth-century South. The postdoctoral fellowship is offered through CLIR (Council on Library and Information Resources) and seeks to help place recent PhDs into academic libraries where they can bring their unique set of skills and experiences. In my case, the University of Alabama was a natural fit due to my experience with digital scholarship and work with historical photographs and I’m very excited to be here.

What makes you excited about the future of libraries and digital scholarship?

I think what excites me most about the future is the growing focus on digital services within the academic library system. Libraries have always offered digital tools and services to their patrons and as interdisciplinary institutions, they are the natural home of digital scholarship. I’ve also been happy to be a part of the trend within academic institutions to promote resources, archives, and projects for use by the general public. As an historian, I think it is critical not only to use digital methods to expand the possibilities for scholarship, but to then make it available for interpretation by a larger audience. Libraries excel at encouraging the exploration of information and I’m happy to help the University of Alabama in this task through digital scholarship.

Rare Book Cataloging Update: After April 27, 2011

By: Allyson Holliday, W.S. Hoole Library Complex Copy-Cataloguer

Today’s feature will be the first of a series of monthly updates from the cataloging department of the Division of Special Collections featuring new acquisitions and items from the published materials collections.

storm and the tide

The Storm and the Tide Hoole Library Alabama Collection GV958.A4 A53 2014

As staff  members in special collections, we are used to documenting the history of our state.  The Alabama Collection strives to be a comprehensive collection of all books by Alabamians, about Alabama, and/or published in the state of Alabama. The Alabama Collection continually grows and includes University of Alabama publications and copies of all books published by the University of Alabama Press.

On Wednesday, April 27, 2011, a F-4 tornado ravaged the city of Tuscaloosa and surrounding areas in the county. For those unaware of the tornado’s impact on the area, consider the following information provided by the city of Tuscaloosa:

  • The tornado, more than a mile wide, touched down at 5:13 p.m. on April 27, cutting a 5.9-mile path of destruction and killing 53 people (including 6 UA students).
  • 12 percent of Tuscaloosa was destroyed. In six minutes, 7,000 people became unemployed.
  • Over 1,200 people were treated at DCH Regional Medical Center the night of the storm.
  • 5,362 residential structures were affected by the storm. 2,493 were damaged, 1,612 were severely damaged and 1,257 were destroyed.
  • 356 commercial structures were affected by the storm. 178 were damaged, 64 were severely damaged and 114 were destroyed.

The University of Alabama campus narrowly escaped the destruction. However, many UA employees and students were impacted. The tornado aftermath and debris clean up led to the cancellation of final exams and a delay in graduation ceremonies.


A map from The Storm and The Tide showing how close the tornado path was to the UA campus

All student-athletes at The University of Alabama were accounted for by the next day, with only one UA athlete hospitalized in the aftermath of the tornado. Carson Tinker, a long snapper on the UA football team, sustained a broken wrist, cuts and bruises from debris, and a concussion. He was the only one of the 606 UA student-athletes who was hospitalized. His girlfriend, Ashley Harrison, tragically lost her life in the storm. She was at his house when the tornado hit. UA head football coach Nick Saban told ESPN that Tinker was thrown about 50 yards when his house was hit by the tornado.


A Season to Remember, Hoole Library Alabama Collection GV939.T497 A3 2014

Carson Tinker, who now plays in the NFL for the Jacksonville Jaguars, and Tommy Ford, the Assistant Athletics Director at UA, recently published A Season To Remember: Faith in the Midst of the Storm detailing the impact of the storm and the healing process, including the Crimson Tide’s back to back 2011/2012 emotional football national championship seasons. In the foreword, head coach Nick Saban recounts “one of the proudest moments” he’s had as a coach, which was when Carson Tinker and the 2011 football team were recognized with the Disney Spirit Award at the ESPN Awards Show.

Lars Anderson, of Sports Illustrated, also published a book on “the moving story of how a shared tragedy inspired a college football dynasty” (dust jacket). In The Storm and the Tide, he details the role of the Alabama football team and other UA athletes in the recovery and rebuilding efforts in Tuscaloosa.

“Roll Tide” has been The University of Alabama’s rallying call for years – but after 4-27-11, it became the rallying cry for a community recovering from tragedy. The common bond of the community’s love for UA football, and those UA football players and coaches sharing the grief and aiding in recovery, are a true testament to the resiliency of the human spirit. The building of a college football dynasty and the resurgence of Tuscaloosa went hand in hand.


April’s Fury, Hoole Library DVDH 5

So far, two films have been produced about this storm. Tornado Rampage 2011, by Discovery Education and found under Hoole Library DVDH 7 discusses how,”in just three days in April of 2011, over 300 tornadoes battered the United States in one of the most extreme weather events in history.” April’s Fury: Tornadoes in Alabama – an intimate journal, April 27th, 2011, created by Fox 6 WBRC – Birmingham, investigates what became “one of the deadliest and most devastating tornado outbreaks in history.” After all, the Tuscaloosa tornado was only one of “more than 60 tornadoes” in Alabama that, in total, “kill[ed] more than 240 people, injur[ed] thousands, and destroy[ed] tens of thousands of homes.” This film includes videos from storm chasers as well as footage of recovery efforts (Fox 6 promotional advertisement).



The Rosenberger Elephant

By: Amy Chen, CLIR Postdoctoral Fellow


The Rosenberger Elephant

This summer, Deborah Nygren donated a Rosenberger Elephant likely owned by her father, who attended the University of Alabama in the 1930s. The Rosenberger Elephant is distinct for its age, history, and size and is significant to the history of UA.

The Rosenbergers established a travel goods store in Birmingham, Alabama in the 1890s that continues to operate today; their business is the source of one story about the origin of the elephant as the mascot of UA ties the pacyderm to the Rosenbergers’ zeal for developing unique advertising strategies. Decking out the football team of UA with crimson elephant luggage tags in 1927 for the Rose Bowl, it is said that a journalist noticed the distinctive tags and later described the players as “red elephants,” leading to the color — and the animal — to be associated with them even today. However, some sports historians disagree with this history, and it is not mentioned in official UA accounts of how the team obtained its mascot. Nevertheless, this Rosenberger Elephant is a tiny look into the past of our great team. Read more about the store, and the legendary tags, on the Birmingham wiki.

Donnelly Walton, our archival coordinator, models the Rosenberger elephant in the photograph provided below. The second photograph, also of Donnelly, shows another Rosenberger elephant from our collections that still has its original keychain.


Donnelly Walton and our newest Rosenberger Elephant


Original Rosenberger Elephant from our collections

Featured Item from Wade Hall’s entertainment photographs collection


Kuhle Wampe

By: Amy Chen, CLIR Postdoctoral Fellow

Still from Kuhle Wampe (1932). Hanson Tonfilmbilder. Film-Album Number 5. Dresden, Germany, 1932. Photographic Album.

Hall’s entertainment photographs (2008.030) includes an album that is comprised of over 120 photographs from more than forty films related to German film, actors, and actresses from the early 1930s.

The 1920s were a boom time for the German film industry; during this decade, expressionism developed as an alternative to the realist aesthetic, film criticism became a discipline, and good financing was available to directors. But film’s heyday was abbreviated when the nationalist right wing began to object to expressionism and enforced New Objectivity, a realist style known for “asphalt films” in the late 1920s. By the time the first talkies were made in 1932, the same year that the majority of Hall’s photographs date from, the relatively stable mid-war era was closing. Germany suffered from the effects of the Great Depression, which began in the United States, and, by 1933, Adolf Hitler would be sworn in as Chancellor, setting in place the political momentum that would give rise to the Third Reich and the Final Solution.[1]


Hansom Tonfilmbilder

Therefore, the 1932 film stills found in this album capture a unique moment in German history when the Weimar Republic fell to the Third Reich. The films from this year include Weimer patriotic fare such as Der schwarze Husar/The Black Husser (1932) and Die elf Schill’schen Offiziere/The Eleven Schill Officers (1932); the classic Kuhle Wampe/Who owns the world (1932), which is seen here and would later be banned by the Nazis for its communist themes;[2] and lighter options like the German adaptations of Oscar Wilde’s play The Importance of Being Earnest (1895), Liebe, Scherz und Ernst (1932) and Theodore Dreiser’s novel, An American Tragedy (1925), Amerikanische Tragodie  (1932).

The album is in good condition; all of its pages are intact and show minimal wear. The following two pages are the album’s title page and an excerpt from the album’s introduction.

GermanAlbum1 GermanAlbum2

[1] Jennifer M. Kapczynski and Michael D. Richardson, “An Introduction to A New History of German Cinema: 1932,” A New History of German Cinema (Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2012), 1-11. See also: David Welch, “The History and Organization of Nazi Cinema,” Propaganda and the American Cinema, 1933-1945, Second Edition (New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press, 2006), 7-13.

[2] Franz A. Birgel, “Kuhle Wampe, Leftist Cinema, and the Politics of Film Censorship in Weimer Germany,” Historical Reflections/Reflexions Historiques 35.2 (Summer 2009), 40-62.

Glimpses of the Great War Abroad and at Home, III

By: Martha Bace, Processing Archivist

This past week, we featured a series of blog posts dedicated to our current exhibition up in the Pearce Foyer of Gorgas Library. The exhibition, “Glimpses of the Great War, Abroad and At Home,” was curated by Martha Bace and Patrick Adcock and will be on view until mid-September. Read the first post and second posts of this series. 


WWI nurse, from the Wade Hall World War I photographs collection 2008.034

Materials from the following manuscript collections in the W. S. Hoole Library within the Division of Special Collections were used for the exhibition. Those interested in pursuing research on World War I or American military history should consider viewing these collections — many of these collections have more materials that are not currently on display.

Webber O. Brown. Mess kit. MSS.3186.

Henry De Lamar Clayton Bayonet, Sr. Papers. MSS.0313.

Andrew Dawson. Papers. MSS.1626.

Durst Family. United States Service Flag. MSS.0461.

Janie May Eppes. Scrapbooks. MSS.0461.

Alston Fitts. Letters and Photograph. MSS.0520.

Kenyon Putnam Flagg. Letters. MSS.2030.

Victor Hugo Friedman. Artifacts and letter. MSS.0545.

Mrs. Oscar Hall. Scrapbook. MSS.0611.

Wade Hall sheet music collection. Base call number M1646.

Wade Hall World War I photographs. 2008.034.

H.C. Howell. Artifacts. MSS.3822.

Arley E. Hughes Sr. Letters. MSS.3748.

Eli T. Hughes. World War I uniform and Outgoing Correspondence. July-September 1918. MSS.3748.

George Waring Huston. Materials related to the death of George Waring Huston. MSS.0724.

Walter Bryan Jones. Military artifacts. MSS.0788.

William March. Artifacts. MSS.0266.

Matthews family papers. MSS.3387.

John J. Sparkman. Artifacts. MSS.1319.

Third Liberty Loan. Subscriber window poster. MSS.3149.

Letter from Walt to Gypsy. MSS.1761.

Willie T. White. Papers. MSS.1548.

Joseph Wilbourn Young. Letters. MSS.1596.

Glimpses of the Great War Abroad and at Home, II

By: Martha Bace, Processing Archivist

This week, we are featuring a series of blog posts dedicated to our current exhibition up in the Pearce Foyer of Gorgas Library. The exhibition, “Glimpses of the Great War, Abroad and At Home,” was curated by Martha Bace and Patrick Adcock and will be on view until mid-September. Read the first post of this series from Monday


Over There, Words and Music by George C. Cohan, M1646.C64 O93 1918x

Other items on display represent life on the home front.  Scrapbooks kept by Janie Mae Epps and Mrs. Oscar Hall show how the war was viewed by those left waiting for fathers, brothers, husbands, and friends to come home.  Newspapers were eagerly examined by those anxiously waiting for the latest word from the front.   The entertainment industry also did its part boosting morale with songs like “Over There,” “Keep the Home Fires Burning,” “Oh! How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning,” “After the War is Over,” and “When You Come Back.”  The sheet music for these and many other patriotic and sentimental favorites could be found in most homes across the nation.

Of particular note to me are the service flag and letters.  The service flag, featuring a white field bordered in red with blue or gold stars, hung in the windows of homes where a member of the family was serving in the Armed Forces.  The flags, which are still in use today, had one blue star for each family member serving.  However, the blue star was changed to gold if the family received notice of the death of their soldier.  And with the service flag, there are the letters… letters written by wide-eyed young men who had probably never been more than one hundred miles from their birthplace before… letters written by young men longing to be home with loved ones at Christmas… letters from soldiers describing the French and Italian countryside and the vehicles used by the Red Cross… letters written just to say “I’m fine” and “I was so happy to get your letter.”


Telegram regarding Lt. George Waring Huston’s death, Huston Family Papers, MSS.0724

All these letters are interesting, but probably the most poignant item to me in the entire exhibit is the War Department telegram from the collection of the Huston family papers.  It was sent on November 18, 1918 – seven days after the Armistice was signed, stating that Lieutenant George Waring Huston was killed in action on October 16th.  You have to think that on November 11th, his family in Selma, Alabama, was jubilant thinking that their son would be coming home soon, only to have those happy thoughts crushed by a single sentence on a small tan piece of paper, just seven short days later.  Looking at the faces of these men and boys you see in the photos of this exhibit, most of whom are unidentified, you have to wonder if they made it back to the arms of their loved ones, or if instead, those patiently waiting loved ones also received one of the small, sparsely worded telegrams.

It has been fascinating to me to see this war – this “Great War” – virtually at first hand.  Reading the letters… examining the uniforms… looking at the faces of the soldiers… reminds me that many of us have a portion of this war in our pasts.  In my own family’s history, my recently wed great aunt, Catherine Smith, waited at home for her husband, Sergeant Oscar M. Smith.  Oscar was mortally wounded going “over the top” near Marne, France, on October 9, 1918; he died in hospital the following day – one month and two days before it was over, over there.  His is just one story among millions, and the University Libraries Division of Special Collections is fortunate to be the repository of many of them.

Glimpses of the Great War Abroad and At Home, I

By: Martha Bace, Processing Archivist

This week, we are featuring a series of blog posts dedicated to our current exhibition up in the Pearce Foyer of Gorgas Library. The exhibition, “Glimpses of the Great War, Abroad and At Home,” was curated by Martha Bace and Patrick Adcock and will be on view until mid-September.


Daddy, I want to go, Words by Lt. Joseph F. Dunn and Music by Eddie Stembler, Wade Hall Sheet Music Collection M1646.S835 D23 1915x

It was the “Great War” – the war to end all wars.

On June 28, 1914, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated in Sarajevo, Bosnia, sparking the kindling that ignited the ready-laid bonfire that was Europe.  By the end of August, Austria-Hungary had declared war on Serbia, Russia, and Belgium; Germany had declared war on France and Belgium; France had declared war on Austria-Hungary and was invaded by Germany; neutral Belgium was also invaded by Germany; and Great Britain had declared war on Germany and Austria-Hungary.  It wasn’t until April 6, 1917, that the United States finally entered the conflict following the sinking of the RMS Lusitania and seven US merchant ships by German submarines.

Commemorating the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I, the University Libraries Division of Special Collections mounted an exhibit in the Pearce Foyer of Gorgas Library featuring selections from their collections that offer a glimpse into the lives of the men who fought in the conflict and their families and friends left behind.  The exhibit showcases material from several collections including: the Walter Bryan Jones papers; the Hughes family papers; the Schaudies, Ragland, and Banks families papers; the Wade Hall World War I photograph collection; and many others.


Eli Hughes, Hughes family, MSS.3748

One of the more fascinating parts of the exhibit is the uniforms and military paraphernalia from the Walter Bryan Jones papers and the Hughes family papers.  The tunics especially command attention in that they are much smaller compared to the size of many 20-something young men today [Jones and Eli Hughes (whose tunics are shown) were 22 and 25 years old, respectively].  Besides the uniforms – which are interesting enough – the military equipment that is displayed shows only a small portion of what a soldier was expected to carry on his back.  Indeed, in a letter home to his mother, Arley Hughes (Eli’s older brother) says, “Mamma, we had a 12 mile hike from our last English camp to port.  Eli and I made [it] in good shape while some larger lads failed.  Honestly I believe I can carry 100 lbs. 12 miles in 6 hours.”

The majority of the photographs on display are from two separate collections.  The larger framed portraits are from the Schaudies, Banks, and Ragland families papers, while the smaller, “black and white” photos are from the Wade Hall World War I photograph collection.  Very few of the individuals in the photos from these two collections are identified in any way, which leaves you to wonder if they came home to their families or not.



Battle of Mobile Bay, Part III

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.





Battle of Mobile Bay, Part II

By: Kevin Ray, Archival Technician

This week, in honor of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Mobile Bay, Kevin Ray wrote a three-part account of the battle drawn from a combination of secondary sources and the two Union diaries by Ellsworth Hults and Eston C. Lambert. These two diaries are held in the Division of Special Collections. If you need a refresher, Monday’s post contained Part I. Part III will be posted on Monday, August 11, so check back soon!

Farragut had a large advantage in numbers. His fleet totaled eighteen ships. Of these, fourteen were wooden ships and four were iron-clad monitors. His battle plan was to steam past Fort Morgan’s guns and into the relatively deep water at the south end of Mobile Bay. To protect his smaller gunboats, Farragut ordered that each of them be lashed to the port side of one of the larger ships, away from direct fire from Fort Morgan. Thus tied together, the ships would steam into the bay in a line, two by two, following the iron-clad monitors.

Buchanan’s ships lined up just north of Mobile Point. Their battle plan was simple: attack any Union ships making it past the torpedoes and Fort Morgan’s guns. As the ships moved in, the Confederate artillery at Fort Morgan began firing. It was around seven in the morning.


Map of Mobile Bay drawn by Esbon C. Lambert

Almost as soon the fighting started, the Union fleet found itself in a near calamity. The faster wooden ships were catching up to the slower iron-clad monitors in front. The lead monitor, USS Tecumseh, moved too far to the western end of the channel and into the torpedoes. As the Union line of battle slowed and began to pile up, Tecumseh hit a torpedo and sank within minutes, with the captain and most of the crew aboard. In the chaos, Admiral Farragut made a crucial, but risky decision. He gave orders to steer his flagship USS Hartford, and the gunboat USS Metacomet which was lashed to it, around the stalled ships in front of him. The new course went into the torpedoes. The ships behind followed the admiral. All risked destruction, but all made it through safely. Farragut’s command is usually rendered as “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!” Those may not have been his exact words, but the quote does express the sentiment of the moment. Farragut already had received intelligence reports that the torpedoes in the bay were largely defective, probably due to wet powder. It was still a risk to cross through them, but at that moment the only other options were to retreat or to stop in range of Fort Morgan’s guns. Farragut needed to keep moving.


Detail from map drawn by Esbon C. Lambert

Having made it past the torpedoes and Fort Morgan, the Union fleet entered a small area in the lower bay where the water was deep enough to accommodate the larger ships. Upon entering the bay they were met by Buchanan and his four ships. The three smaller Confederate gunboats were soon attacked by Union gunboats and taken out of action. CSS Gaines was damaged and began to take on water. She tried to make it to Fort Morgan, but was grounded and eventually sank. CSS Selma was pursued by Metacomet, overtaken, and finally surrendered. CSS Morgan eluded destruction and surrender, and made a daring run that night from the lower bay to Mobile and safety.