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    [Battle of Mobile Bay]. Union Officer Archive of Letters by Lt. Thomas L. Swann Archive. Thomas L. Swann was a career navy man who attended the U. S. Naval Academy at Annapolis prior to the Civil War. He was commissioned a Lieutenant on July 16, 1862 and attached to the steam-sloop "Brooklyn" of the Western Gulf Blockading Squadron. He was chief ordnance officer aboard the "Brooklyn" during the Battle of Mobile Bay on August 5, 1864. This extensive archive includes documents and photographs that span his career from 1856 to 1874. The most noteworthy includes an eyewitness account of the Battle of Mobile Bay as well as a hand-drawn map of the engagement. In a three-page letter written to his wife on August 5, 1864 from "Inside of Mobile Bay", Swann describes the battle, drawing a map on the third page showing Union ships and rebel fortifications. In part: "...we are all safely inside of the bay... three miles above Morgan and Gaines, having fought our way in this morning about six o'clock. The contest was spirited. The 'Brooklyn' leading the line suffered the most severely... some eleven killed and twenty-five wounded... The ram 'Tennessee' was captured (Admiral Buchanan being wounded). The whole fleet had their chance at her... As to future operations, it would not be well to write, but remember we are alright with a dozen wooden vessels and three ironclads... it may be some time before the forts are in our possession... we sustained a heart-rending loss in the sinking of the 'Tecumseh' (monitor)... She struck a large torpedo and went down... This has been a most glorious success. Everyone says it beats Mississippi river."

    Accompanying that letter is a four-page blow-by-blow account and timeline of the battle, written in pencil on all sides of bifolium writing paper, titled "Memorandum. Action Aug. 5th Inside of Mobile Bay." In part: "At 6.50 Fired first shot at enemy (Light House battery) from our ship, thus commencing the action... At 7.20 Fairly abreast of fort & batteries. Rebel ram opened fire on us. Fort and batteries pretty well silenced, the fleet successively bringing their broadsides to bear... backed the ship clear of a shoal and of two buoys supposed to be attached to torpedos... The 'Hartford' ran past our port beam firing the ram a broadside as she passed... Rebel gunboat up the bay gave us a heavy rifle shot...At 9.35 The ram after having been run into by 'Hartford' ran at full speed for our bow. Put the helm a port and made for her at full speed... Catching sight of our torpedo catcher she past her helm hard up and ran past us for our quarter, giving us some wicked shots... our ironclads engaged her and shortly thereafter she surrendered...The ship must have been struck about forty times. Heaviest shots from the ram which paid particular attention to us. Several shots below the water line... went through solid timber forward into the store room and stopped just short of magazine... The poop deck just forward of the propeller well has a large hole through it." On a 7" x 10" sheet of paper, Swann has drawn a rather detailed map of the engagement on one side, plus a full half page on the other side describing the sinking of the Tecumseh by a rebel torpedo or mine and the disabling and capture of the rebel ram Tennessee. The rebels had mined the channel extensively, supposing that this would be an adequate defense strategy but, apparently, the fuses of the older torpedoes were covered in barnacles and malfunctioned. This two-sided map has some tears at the folds, but is otherwise complete.

    These three Mobile Bay documents are contained in binder that holds a wide assortment of school (St. John's College and Annapolis) and Navy Department documents (nineteen of Civil War date) as well as letters from high-ranking navy personnel. We count sixty-four examples in total. Some of the signers of documents include Navy Secretary J. C. Dobbin, Annapolis Superintendent George S. Blake, Gideon Welles [6] and Admiral David P. Porter [5]. These document Swann's academic career and military assignments.

    Some ancillary materials complete the archive. Among these are a double-glazed, 6.5" x 9.5" watercolor Swann Family coat-of-arms with manuscript explanation, an 8" x 10" Civil War vintage albumen photograph of Swann and four fellow-officers posed outside a ramshackle fort, Swann's 1863 marriage certificate, six post-war albumen photos, a copy-image cabinet card of Swann as a youthful naval cadet, family photos and an assortment of vintage biographical research.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    April, 2016
    5th Tuesday
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