Daily readings about people, places, and events in American history.
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August 5th
“Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!”
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.

American History Parade
1774
George Washington is elected a delegate to the Continental Congress.

1861
The federal government levies its first income tax to help pay for the Civil War.

1864
Admiral David G. Farragut leads a Union fleet against Mobile Bay, Alabama.

1884
The cornerstone for the Statue of Liberty is laid.

1914
The first electric traffic lights are installed in Cleveland, Ohio.

1957
American Bandstand, hosted by Dick Clark, debuts on national TV.
This content is courtesy of The American Patriot's Almanac
© 2008, 2010 by William J. Bennett and John T.E. Cribb
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