Mobile Magazine Explosion – 1865

Mobile, Alabama had been a frontier town in French, British and Spanish hands before it became irrevocably American in 1813. During the cotton boom that followed, it grew in wealth and importance to become one of the United States’ four busiest ports in the 1850s. The Civil War made it a strategic target, blockaded by the Union and heavily fortified by the Confederacy, who maintained a dribble of trade with a fleet of low-slung, sharp-prowed blockade-runners. Only after the Battle of Mobile Bay in August 1864, when Admiral Farragut of the Union defeated the ironclad CSS Tennessee (giving rise to the immortal quotation ‘Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead’ used by every navy since), did Mobile surrender to the Union Army, to avoid bombardment and total destruction. After the end of the war, the city was invested by a Union garrison. With its superb port facilities, it was again used to stockpile necessaries to supply the army inland. One key installation was a warehouse on Beauregard Street, where Union troops guarded 200 tons of munitions.

In the afternoon of an early summer’s day, preceded by a low rumble and a jet of black smoke, death and destruction erupted in Mobile. The shock wave levelled houses, blew bystanders to smithereens, and sent a rain of death in every direction as flying shells caused subsidiary explosions wherever they landed. Two ships in the Mobile River were sunk, but the worst damage was reserved for the northern part of the city, where incendiaries set simultaneous fires that joined together in an explosive fireball. Ironically, with the war over, warehouses had filled up, and cotton bales and other produce fed the inferno. For years afterwards the huge hole where the magazine had been served as a memorial to the dead and injured.

When was the Mobile Magazine Explosion: May 25 1865

Where was the Mobile Magazine Explosion: Beauregard Street, Mobile, Alabama, USA

What was the Mobile Magazine Explosion death toll: An estimated 300 died and thousands were injured. Bodies were burned beyond recognition: nothing at all was left of anyone in the immediate vicinity. For the wounded, it was almost worse – despite the war, few doctors could cope with the mangled limbs, horrific burns and mutilations.

You should know: Cynics blamed the blast on vengeful Confederate officers. More likely some hapless trooper accidentally dropped a percussion shell. Eight city blocks disappeared completely, and fire wrecked much more. Newspapers of the day estimated damage at anything between ‘five and ten millions of dollars’.

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1 thought on “Mobile Magazine Explosion – 1865”

  1. see “out of the storm” by noah trudeau, chapter 18 for ten pages of detail about this incident, including a map of the city and eyewitness accounts

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