"Damn the torpedoes. . . . Full speed ahead."
Admiral David Farragut's bold order at the Battle of Mobile Bay has served as a rallying cry for the United States Navy for a century. Described as "urbane" and "indomitable" by contemporaries, and lionized as an "American Viking" by the Northern press during the Civil War, Farragut was considered gallant, brilliant, and humane by friend and foe alike.
Recently discovered primary source material sheds new light on Farragut's life and times. The first full admiral in American naval history, he was small in stature and almost sixty years old at the outbreak of the Civil War. Yet Farragut possessed enormous courage and stamina. He led by example and became an inspiration to the entire nation.
At the start of the Civil War, many thought Farragut--a southerner by birth--would join the Confederate cause. But he had spent almost five decades serving aboard ships that flew the American flag. His unwavering loyalty to the Northern cause was founded in the belief that the South's secession was a first, fatal step toward national collapse.
Thoroughly researched and compellingly written, Lincoln's Admiral examines Farragut's command of the most daring and important assignment of the Civil War: the mission to recapture the vital Southern port of New Orleans. With meticulous detail, Duffy deftly retraces the steps that led up to that critical campaign.
New Orleans's defenses against attack from the Gulf were formidable. In the dead of night, Farragut ordered men to board rebel barrier ships stationed in the river and plant explosives.
"In the rigging of his flagship, the Hartford, high above the mantle of smoke, stood sixty-three-year-old Rear Admiral David Farragut. It was the only location aboard ship that afforded a panorama of the battle. He held a spyglass firmly in one hand, and a megaphone in the other. Bound securely to the mast, Farragut deftly directed the action of his fleet in what would be one of the most important naval engagements of the Civil War. He periodically raised the spyglass toward the bay, keeping a watchful eye on the Tennessee and her able commander and his old friend, Confederate admiral Franklin Buchanan. Had a rebel shell struck the Hartford's mast, a prized target of every Confederate gunner, Farragut would have crashed to the deck, or been catapulted overboard." - from Lincoln's Admiral
Farragut positioned his boats and prepared his men for battle, carefully planning every detail of the fleet's advance. The fleet passed Fort St. Philip and Fort Jackson single file as both forts opened fire with a deafening roar and covered the river with dense smoke. Navigating the treacherous Mississippi and bypassing the defenses, Farragut eventually recaptured the South's largest port, while losing only thirty-seven men.
Lincoln's Admiral also offers new insights into the Battle of Mobile Bay, arguably Farragut's most famous campaign. Farragut launched an attack against one of the forts in Mobile Bay as a ploy to fool the enemy into thinking that he was preparing to capture Mobile itself. His goal was to keep as many troops in and around the city as possible so they weren't diverted north to defend against Sherman's final offensive. It was at Mobile--as the fleet moved into the bay with Farragut's Hartford in the lead--that Farragut uttered his famous command. Unsure of where the enemy torpedoes were, but knowing that to hesitate would mean defeat, Farragut gambled and gave the famous order: "Damn the torpedoes. . . . Go ahead, Jouett, full speed ahead."
An expansive and compelling chronicle of Farragut's career, Lincoln's Admiral traces the brilliant decisions and wartime strategy of one of history's greatest military leaders.
About James P. Duffy
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Published February 18, 1997
Biographies & Memoirs, History, War.