Just where did we get that rousing phrase from? Curator Jeff Seymour of the National Civil War Naval Museum tells the story.
The word torpedo derives from the Latin word for lightning. Today, we would refer to them as mines. In the Civil War, the Confederate ships used torpedoes more than any other weapon.
The Confederates had spread a long line of underwater torpedoes across the Mobile Bay
Union Admiral David Farragut reportedly called out the term “damn the torpedoes!” in the Battle of Mobile Bay. Admiral Farragut was leading a flotilla of ships into Mobile Bay where the Confederates had spread underwater mines…which were then called torpedoes. After watching one of the lead ships strike a torpedo and sink into the sea, Farragut’s resolve remained unshaken as he ordered his men forward to victory. It was not without some luck, though, as many of the torpedoes had become waterlogged and did not detonate on the Union fleet as they crossed over them. Had all of those torpedoes gone off, that battle could have ended very differently.
While commanding a fleet of 14 wooden ships and four ironclads he ran through a minefield and past Confederate forts Gaines, Morgan and Powell, to defeat a Confederate flotilla, including the Confederate ironclad Tennessee, and take one of the South’s last major ports.
So, there you have it. In 1864, at the Battle of Mobile Bay, Admiral Farragut refused to consider retreat, shouting his now-famous phrase. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!