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The Orders that Began the Battle of Mobile Bay: Admiral Farragut’s Signal Orders Sent by Lt. John C. Kinney
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Sent the morning of Battle of Mobile Bay, these orders were relayed via signal flag from Farragut’s flagship, the U.S.S. Hartford, to the captains of the U.S.S. Brooklyn, Lackawanna, and Winnebago. The correspondence records Farragut’s orders moving his fleet past the forts at the entrance of Mobile Bay. They give a blow-by-blow of the opening salvo along with the loss of the Union ironclad Tecumseh.

[DAVID G. FARRAGUT]. Manuscript Document. Orders signaled by Lt. John Kinney for Farragut aboard the U.S.S. Hartford at Mobile, Alabama, August 5, 1864. [Washington, D.C.]. 2 separate pp., 5¼ x 8¼ in. Docketed by Gideon Welles.

Inventory #23551       Price: $12,500

Complete Transcript

From the Brooklyn/ The Monitors are right ahead. We cannot go ahead without passing them./ Capt Alden / 7.25.a.m.

Capt of Brooklyn/ Tell the monitors to go ahead and then take your station./ By Order of Admiral Farragut:/ 7.30

To Admiral Farragut./ Our best Monitor is sunk/ 7.35 / Capt. Alden.

Capt of Brooklyn/ Go ahead / Admiral F./ 7.35

Capt of Lackawana/ Get ready & run down the ram/ Admiral F. / 8.30.    (over)  <2>

To Ram Winnebago/ Run down the Ram/ Admiral F.

To Winnebago & Lackawana/ Send your boats to the ram & save the men

To Capt of Lackawana/ For God’s sake keep out of the way & anchor/ Admiral F.

in different hand:

(T.H. Stevens)

On page four, penned by Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles:

“Signals / Farragut & Alden / at Mobile. / Kinni sig. officer.”

Historical Background

Admiral David Farragut’s strategy for engaging the much smaller Confederate naval forces at Mobile Bay, Alabama, relied on moving his fleet safely past the guns of Forts Morgan, Gaines, and Powell at the harbor entrance. To do so, he rafted his wooden warships together in pairs, hopeful that if one were damaged, the other would provide propulsion for both. He also ordered the four ironclads, the Tecumseh, Manhattan, Chickasaw, and Winnebago, to place themselves between the guns of Fort Morgan to shield the wooden-hulled ships.

When the battle began at 6:47 on the morning of August 5, 1864, the Tecumseh, in the lead, fired the first shot at the forts and general action began. As planned, The Tecumseh engaged the Confederate ironclad Tennessee, but then steamed through the minefield she had been ordered to avoid. The vessel struck a torpedo (underwater mine) and sank within minutes. Only 21 of 114 crew were rescued. Captain James Alden, with conflicting orders to stay to the port of the ironclads and to the right of the minefield, stopped, evidently sending his first signal (above) at 7:25 a.m. informing Farragut that he could not pass. As seen in the sequence of orders given, Farragut orders the ironclads forward and the Brooklyn ahead as well, and goes on to order the Lackawanna and Winnebago to “run down the ram” the C.S.S. Tennessee.

The legendary story at this point in the battle was that Alden stopped the Brooklyn because he had seen the havoc wreaked on the Tecumseh by the underwater mines. Farragut, aboard the Hartford, then uttered his famous declaration “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” and passed the Brooklyn, taking the Hartford past the forts. While not impossible, as Alden, blocked by the ironclads on one side and the minefield on the other, didn’t want to steam through the mines, these orders suggest that Farragut ordered both the ironclads and the Brooklyn forward. Still, there would have been no recorded signal order given, since he was ordering the vessel upon which he was standing to full speed head.

David G. Farragut (1801-1870) joined the navy as a midshipman at the age of 9. He served in the War of 1812, and then in the West Indies working to eradicate piracy. He moved from Virginia to New York at the outset of the Civil War and went on to serve on the blockading fleet in the Gulf of Mexico. He rose to become the first rear admiral, first vice admiral, and first admiral in the U.S. Navy. (To that point, the navy had avoided what it considered a European aristocratic rank for seagoing commanders.). He is best known for his brash heroism in winning the Battle of Mobile Bay and the famous paraphrase, “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead.”

Gideon Welles (1802-1878) was born to a long-established Connecticut family. He was educated at what is now Norwich University in Vermont, and studied law. In 1826 he turned to journalism, becoming partner and editor of the Hartford Times, which became one of the first New England newspapers to support Andrew Jackson. In the same year, he was elected to the legislature, and served until 1835 as a Jacksonian Democrat. He figured prominently in battles to expand political rights, such as removing property and religious qualifications for voting. He supported Jackson’s anti-bank campaign, and promoted a general incorporation law as an alternative to special charter grants. In recognition of his key role in organizing the Democratic party in Connecticut, Jackson appointed Welles as postmaster of Hartford in 1836. He held that office until the Whig President, William Henry Harrison, removed him in 1841.

Welles soured on the Democratic party when the slavery emerged as a national issue in the 1850s. He was against the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and in 1856 helped establish the Hartford Evening Press to further the cause of the newly organized Republican party. Although he failed to become governor of Connecticut in 1856, Welles served as a Republican national committeeman and member of the party’s national executive committee. He also headed Connecticut’s delegation to the 1860 Republican national convention in Chicago.

As a reward for his political contributions, and in recognition both of New England and of those former Democrats who, like Welles, had joined the Republican party, Lincoln appointed Welles as Secretary of the Navy. He remained in that position during the presidencies of Lincoln and Andrew Johnson, longer than any previous incumbent as Navy secretary. As a former Jacksonian, Welles resisted measures that he associated with excessive federal power, such as the admission of West Virginia as a state. But he supported the Emancipation Proclamation and he ordered navy commanders to give protection to runaway slaves. When the war ended and Johnson became President, Welles supported the new President against congressional Radicals. Dissatisfied with the Republican party, he returned to the Democratic party in 1868. Upon retiring from the Navy Department in 1869, and until his death in 1878, he remained active in politics and as the publisher of articles that have become important resources for understanding the Civil War period.


From the Estate of Gideon Welles.

Previously on display at Mystic Seaport’s exhibit “America at Sea,” 2005-2008.


Two vertical folds, else fine.

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