“Damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead!” may be one of the Civil War’s most famous battle cries, but there’s much more to the story of the Mobile Campaign of 1864–1865. Defiant Mobile remained elusive to General Grant, and he wanted it. Finally, the time had come. Historian Mike Bunn, who leads the upcoming tour, “The Mobile Campaign 1864-1865,” beginning on February 7, 2019, is one of the leading experts on the topic. We caught up with Mike and posed some questions about himself, the Mobile Campaign, and his tour.
BGES Blog: What is your personal interest in the Mobile Campaign?
Mike: I find it fascinating that where I live and work was where a major combined-forces Civil War campaign played out. Of course, working at the site of one of the campaign’s major battles, I can’t help but be intrigued with the events of March and April of 1865. But as the scope and scale of operations here is surprising to many people, even those who consider themselves well-informed on Civil War history, I have taken a personal interest in sharing what happened here and making it better known. It’s a compelling story which played out on a beautiful and serene landscape and seems to almost always be a discovery for visitors.
BGES Blog: Why this tour? What do you offer that others won’t?
Mike: It’s a pretty comprehensive tour, as we visit the sea where warships battled, trek through rural countryside where contending armies marched, and visit battlefields where they collided. We talk about military logistics, dramatic open-field charges, and even a little civilian life in one of the Confederacy’s largest urban entities. It is truly a wide-ranging tour.
BGES Blog: What on-the-ground elements are you most excited to share with your tour participants in the upcoming tour?
Mike: The earthworks at Blakeley are impressive–we have one of the nation’s best-preserved battlefields. The scale and amazing preservation always impress visitors. Down at Fort Morgan, we see the site where the Tecumseh still lies today, a grave for over 90 sailors. It is a powerful site to me. Discussing the Union Navy’s heavy losses in the rivers around Mobile in the campaign is always an eye-opener, as well.
BGES Blog: Mobile is the one operation that failed to go as U.S. Grant planned as he took command of all the Union armies. How would you sum up the importance of the Mobile Campaign in the context of the Civil War?
Mike: The campaign resulted in the capture of the last major Southern city still in Confederate hands. Mobile was an important transportation, financial, population, and even to some degree manufacturing center. In the big picture, its capture can never to be said to be as central to the outcome of the war as some other Confederate defeats, but it is the central event of the war along a large section of the Gulf Coast. And, if for no other reason than over 50,000 men fought in the campaign as if the war did hinge upon what happened here, it deserves to be remembered in its own light.
BGES Blog: What do you hope BGES tours–and your tour specifically–add to the discussion about what the Confederacy means today?
Mike: I have always thought that trying to understand or judge historical figures through comparison to modern times is uninformed and inevitably leads to a distortion of any attempt to truly understand the past. To study Confederates and appreciate their mindset and what they endured in the war is not to celebrate their racial views (or the uncomfortably similar views of the majority of those who fought against them, in truth); it is simply to better understand American history. Outside of the Revolution which founded our nation, the Civil War is the essential event of our shared history. We have a duty to study it objectively, not try to simply pick heroes and villains from the past and construct our understanding around our preferences.