Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Remembering The Contradiction

While his children lay in bed fighting for their lives my three times great grandfather, Jacob H. Wirth, was aboard the USS Tecumseh headed toward Mobile Bay. On the night of August 4th, the USS Tecumseh arrived off the coast of the last major Confederate controlled port days behind schedule and with little time to prepare for the following morning. That calm evening was the last time that Jacob Wirth would have to think about his wife and children before Union admiral David Farragut ordered the attack. 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!”

Within the first few moments of what is now known as The Battle of Mobile Bay, having taken the lead and maneuvering to engage the ironclad CSS Tennessee, the USS Tecumseh was sent to the bottom of the bay having fallen victim to one of the many torpedoes surrounding Fort Morgan. While this horrendous turn of events may have served as a rallying cry for the men and ships around him, this was far from the reality that descended upon his family at home. In an instant his wife, Mary Ann, became a widow and his small sickly daughters lost their father.   

In the following weeks, the Union naval force bombarded the three Confederate forts on the bay while Federal army troops attacked from land. By August 23rd, the last fort had surrendered, leaving Mobile Bay, the last confederate port, in the control of the United States. Many engagements during the Civil War were critical to the Union victory but it can be argued that this battle was instrumental in bringing about the end of the war as it completely stopped the flow of goods to the Confederacy and eliminated what was, at times, an admirable navy.   

Of course, as the battle was fought during those two and a half weeks in August, Mary Wirth struggled at home. While she was unaware of her husband’s death, she spent the duration of the battle caring for and eventually burying her two youngest daughters. Only one child survived, only one daughter, my great great grandmother, remained to comfort Mary during this time of great pain and uncertainty. 150 years ago today, far from his family and his home in Roxborough, Pennsylvania Jacob gave the ultimate sacrifice and to this day he remains at the bottom of Mobile Bay.