October 1, 1864 · Mobile Bay, Alabama
After gaining control of the Mississippi River in July 1863 with the fall of Vicksburg, Rear Admiral Farragut turned his attention to Mobile, the last major Confederate port on the Gulf of Mexico. The channel leading into the bay was heavily mined, with tethered charges known at the time as ""torpedoes."" Farragut ordered his fleet to charge the channel, but when the ironclad Tecumseh sank as the result of one of these ""torpedoes,"" the other ships pulled back. Farragut was lashed high in his flagship's rigging, and upon learning the reason for the hesitation, reportedly shouted ""Damn the torpedoes. Four bells. Captain Drayton, go ahead! Jouett, full speed."" (The quote is popularly rendered: ""Damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead."") Whether Farragut said any of this is doubted by many historians, yet the statement captures the admiral's intent and orders.
Farragut writes, in full: ""I take great pleasure in acknowledging the receipt of your kind letter enclosing one from Mrs. Wise & a note form Mr. Everet[t] together with the news paper containing his remarks upon the recent victory [not present], in which he is pleased to compliment the Navy & Army generally, & my self in particular, for all of which please express to him my sincere thanks, & assure him of my full appreciation of this high mark of his respect for my successful exertions, to serve my county in this her day of great peril – It is to such as Mr. Everet[t], that an officer looks for his ultimate reward, it is those who hand us down to posterity for what we are worth, & that worth is measured by our services to the country. Permit me to thank you again, for your complimentary expressions in reference to the services I have rendered the Navy by the fortunate issue of our late Battles - would that all the Navy could have joined in it, & participated in that glory they so generously accord to us – with great respect...""
Farragut may have been referring to the letter Everett wrote to be read at a grand patriotic demonstration at Faneuil Hall held Tuesday September 6 to celebrate the breakthrough victories at Mobile and Atlanta. Farragut's victory at Mobile Bay, together with Sherman's capture of Atlanta several weeks later boosted popular morale tremendously. The Union victories of the summer of 1864 spelled the beginning of the end of the war in the popular mind and helped assure Abraham Lincoln a resounding victory in the presidential election that fall. Everett's letter, read by Charles Slack, before a hall packed with thousands of celebrants, gave Farragut's victory a prominent place in the string of Union victories: ""Then came the 5th of August, the glorious achievement of Admiral Farragut, unsurpassed by anything in naval warfare, but forming a fit sequel to his own exploits in the Mississippi. History will show no brighter page than that, which tells how this gallant veteran, as modest as he is brave, lashing himself to the maintop of his vessel and that a wooden one, al[l]owed his engines as he passed the most formidable fort on the coast, crashed at the tremendous rebel ram, regardless of the infernal machines which had destroyed one of his iron clads before his eyes, vanquished his seemingly impregnable antagonist after a short action, captured or destroyed all the rebel fleet save one vessel, and with the efficient cooperation of General Granger's army, compelled the self destruction of Fort Powell, the honorable capitulation of Fort Gaines, and the surrender of Fort Morgan, in a manner peculiarly discreditable to the commander of the garrison,—all accomplished in 18 days from the time Fort Morgan was passed. With what words can we do full justice to the admiration, with which we contemplate deeds like these? How can we sufficiently express our gratitude to our navel heroes,—officers and men,—to whom the country is indebted for these invaluable services?..."" (""Grand Patriotic Demonstration at Faneuil Hall, Rejoicing for Union Victories,"" Boston Daily Advertiser, September 7, 1864, 1.)
Edward Everett (1794-1865) is best known as the orator that preceded Lincoln at the dedication ceremony at Gettysburg. But Everett was also a pastor (Unitarian), educator (Harvard), politician (House of Representatives, Senate, Gov. of Massachusetts), diplomat (ambassador to England, Secretary of State) as well as orator. His second daughter, Charlotte (1825-1879) married Henry Augustus Wise (1819-1869), the recipient of this missive. Wise began his naval career as a mid-shipman in 1834 and served in the Mexican War. When the Civil War broke out he had to chose between his home state of Virginia and the Federal Navy in which he was serving. He chose to stay with the Union. He was appointed Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance and Hydrography in 1864, and held the position until he resigned in 1868.
Letters by Farragut discussing his historic victory at Mobile Bay seldom appear on the market. A similar letter, though dated two months later than the present example, discussing the same subject brought nearly $10,000 at auction in 2000 (Christie's, New York, May 19, 2000, lot 28). " (Inventory #: 58245)