CSS Tennessee in the Battle of Mobile Bay,
5 August 1864
CSS Tennessee, a 1273-ton ironclad ram, was built at Selma, Alabama. Launched in February 1863, her outfitting was completed at Mobile, where she was commissioned in February 1864. As flagship of Admiral Franklin Buchanan, she was by far the strongest unit of the naval part of the defenses of Mobile Bay. To counter her, the Federal Navy had to bring ironclad monitors to the Gulf of Mexico.
On 5 August 1864, Tennessee battled against Rear Admiral David Glasgow Farragut's fleet as it steamed past Forts Morgan and Gaines into Mobile Bay. Though she was able to inflict some damage on the Federal ships, Farragut successfully entered the Bay and anchored beyond the reach of the Confederate forts' guns. Admiral Buchanan then took his ship up toward the Union warships, engaging them in an intense battle that ended with Tennessee surrounded by her enemies and battered into surrender.
The former Confederate ironclad was promptly taken into the Union Navy as USS Tennessee. With her combat damage quickly repaired, she was employed during operations to capture Fort Morgan later in August. In the autumn of 1864, Tennessee was sent to New Orleans, Louisiana, for further repairs. She subsequently served with the U.S. Navy's Mississippi Squadron until after the end of the Civil War. Decommissioned in August 1865, USS Tennessee was sold for scrapping in November 1867.
When Federal warships steamed into Mobile Bay on the morning of 5 August 1864, Confederate Admiral Franklin Buchanan stationed CSS Tennessee, his flagship, and her unarmored consorts, gunboats Morgan, Gaines and Selma, at the head of the channel. As the enemy moved up, exchanging fire with Fort Morgan, Buchanan's ships shot at them from ahead. The Union monitor Tecumseh, maneuvering to engage the Tennessee, struck a mine and sank, temporarily throwing the Federal column into confusion. Rear Admiral Farragut's flagship, USS Hartford, forged ahead and drove off the Confederate gunboats, but Tennessee remained in the battle zone, firing on the U.S. Navy ships as they passed and doing considerable damage to the last in line, USS Oneida.
Admiral Franklin Buchanan
With the enemy was safely inside Mobile Bay, Buchanan understood that the Confederate forts at the bay's entrance would soon be untenable unless the Union ships could somehow be destroyed. In a desperate, solitary effort, Tennessee steamed toward Farragut's ships. As she slowly moved along, the sloops of war USS Monongahela and Lackawanna repeatedly rammed her, doing more damage to themselves than to their target.
When Tennessee reached the Federal anchorage area, she was also rammed by the Hartford and subjected to a terrific cannonade. The U.S. monitors Chickasaw and Manhattan then engaged her at close range with their heavy guns, while other Union ships fired from a distance. Tennessee's smokestack and most other exposed fittings were hammered away, further reducing her never very great speed; her gunport shutter chains were cut, closing the ports so the Confederates could not shoot back; and her exposed steering chains were severed, leaving her unmanageable. The Manhattan blew a hole in Tennessee's armor with her massive fifteen-inch gun. The twin-turret monitor Chickasaw stationed herself off the beleagered ship's stern, firing her eleven-inch guns "like pocket pistols" and seriously weakening the after end of Tennessee's armored casemate.
Oil on canvas (40" x 66") by Xanthus Smith (1839-1929), signed and dated by the artist, 1890. It depicts the surrender of CSS Tennessee to the Union squadron commanded by Rear Admiral David G. Farragut. Identifiable U.S. Navy ships present include: Winnebago (monitor in the left distance), Chickasaw (monitor in the foreground) and Hartford (Farragut's flagship, in the right center, painted light gray).
Courtesy of the U.S. Naval Academy Museum, Annapolis, Maryland.
Gift of Henry Huddleston Rogers, 1930
With his flagship unable to fire her guns, steam or steer, and with the collapse of the casemate seemingly imminent, Admiral Buchanan, who had been wounded in the battle, authorized her surrender. The ship's Commanding Officer, Commander James D. Johnston poked a white flag up from the top of the casemate. Firing soon ceased, though USS Ossipee, coming on fast in another ramming attempt and unable to stop in time, struck a post-surrender blow. Federal Navy officers soon took possession of their battered prize, effectively concluding the Battle of Mobile Bay.