Along with the clash of ironclads in Hampton Roads and the duel between the Alabama and the Kearsarge off Cherbourg, France, the Battle of Mobile Bay is one of the iconic confrontations of the Civil War at sea. Indeed, Farragut's charge into Mobile Bay in August of 1864 may have been the most dramatic moment of the naval war, comparable to Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg or the Union assault up Missionary Ridge.
The Battle of Mobile Bay had a dramatic cast of leading characters. Inside Mobile Bay, the Confederacy's only full admiral, Franklin Buchanan, waited with his flagship, CSS Tennessee, the most powerful rebel ironclad since the Virginia. Buchanan was an old sea dog with an illustrious and lengthy career. He had entered the Navy as a teenager — not unusual in those days — during the War of 1812, first serving under the command of Oliver Hazard Perry, fresh from his immortal victory on Lake Erie. Buchanan had subsequently commanded warships against pirates in the Caribbean, and he led a storming party ashore during the Mexican War to capture an enemy fort. He was the founding superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy, where the superintendent's home is named Buchanan House in his honor. Earlier in the Civil War, he had commanded the CSS Virginia during its initial sortie Hampton Roads when it all but destroyed the Union fleet there on March 8, 1862. Badly wounded in that fight, he missed the Virginia's historic clash with the Monitor the next day. Promoted to full admiral — the only man ever to bear that rank in the Confederacy — he was sent to Mobile Bay to take command of the naval forces there. By August of 1864, he had been a naval officer for 49 years.