The Man Whose Torpedoes Farragut Damned

By David A. Carrino, Roundtable Historian
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2017-2018, All Rights Reserved

Editor’s note: This article was the history brief for the September 2017 meeting of the Cleveland Civil War Roundtable.

One of the most famous quotes in U.S. naval history purportedly occurred at the Battle of Mobile Bay in August 1864, when Union Admiral David Farragut famously ordered, or maybe did not order, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.” Whether or not Farragut actually said these exact words, this quote has become one of the most esteemed wartime quotes in U.S. history, because it embodies the qualities of bravery and determination to press on even in the face of life-threatening danger. Farragut certainly deserves much credit for making this decision and for stating his decision in such forceful and memorable language. However, Farragut does not deserve all of the credit for this superb quote. In fact, some of the credit for this quote should go to a Confederate general. It may not be clear why a general in the Confederate army deserves some of the credit for something that was said by a Union admiral in a naval battle. The reason is that, without this Confederate general, there would not have been any torpedoes for David Farragut to damn, because it was a Confederate general, Gabriel J. Rains, who was chiefly responsible for the torpedoes in Mobile Bay and in other places that the Confederacy protected with torpedoes. (Gabriel Rains’ younger brother, George, also made an indispensable contribution to the Confederate war effort by implementing and overseeing the production of gunpowder. George Rains is the focus of the October 2017 history brief, which is titled The Chief Chemist of the Confederacy.)

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