Farragut’s force consisted of 14 wooden ships and 4 ironclad, while Mobile Bay was protected by only 3 gunboats and 1 ironclad, the Tennessee. However, the bay also had 3 forts and a field of floating mines (called torpedoes) for protection.
Farragut began his attack on the morning of the 5th, entering the bay via a route that avoided the torpedoes by instead sailing within range of Fort Morgan‘s guns, which opened fire on the Federals. However, the lead Union ironclad, which had come too near the minefield, hit a torpedo and sank, causing the next ship in line to hesitate. Farragut, tied to the flagship’s mainmast rigging at this point for a better view, uttered his now-famous order, “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!”
The Union ships were met in the bay by the small Confederate force. The Confederate gunboats were soon forced from the battle, leaving the ironclad Tennessee to fight the Union ships by itself. The Tennessee put up a fight but was eventually too damaged to continue.
In the following weeks, the Union naval force bombarded the three Confederate forts on the bay while Federal army troops attacked from land. By the 23rd, the last fort had surrendered, leaving Mobile Bay in the control of the United States.