Summer Sale! Save 20% today and get access to all our member benefits.

Why do we say "Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!"?

Well-Known Expressions

Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!


We're not going to look at the risks, we're just going to do it!


This saying is attributed to David Glasgow Farragut (1801-1870) - a U.S. naval officer, who received great acclaim for his service to the Union during the American Civil War. In 1864, at the Battle of Mobile Bay, he refused to consider retreat, shouting the now famous phrase--albeit a rather longer version of it.

During the Civil War, Union ships imposed a blockade on Confederate ports. One of the few ports to defy the blockade was Mobile in Alabama. In August 1864, Farragut was tasked with closing the port, thus completing the blockade of Southern ports. Mobile was heavily protected, both by on shore batteries and by tethered naval mines, known as torpedoes.

Farragut ordered his fleet to charge the bay but when one of the lead boats struck a mine and sank, the others pulled back. From his perch high up on the main mast of his flagship, the USS Hartford, Farragut shouted down (using a trumpet), "What's the trouble?" In response, he was told of the torpedoes. To which he apparently replied, "Damn the torpedoes. Four bells, Captain Drayton, go ahead. Jouett, full speed."

The bulk of Farragut's fleet (consisting of four monitors and fourteen wooden steamships) successfully entered the bay and, despite shelling from the guns at Fort Morgan, defeated Admiral Franklin Buchanan's squadron of three gunboats and the large ironclad CSS Tennessee--blowing a hole in latter, causing Buchanan to run up the white flag in surrender.

On December 21, 1864, Lincoln promoted Farragut to vice admiral. He was made full admiral in 1866.

More expressions and their source

Challenge yourself with BookBrowse Wordplays

Support BookBrowse

Join our inner reading circle, go ad-free and get way more!

Find out more

Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: The Coin
    The Coin
    by Yasmin Zaher
    A popular choice for book jackets in recent years, perhaps especially in the historical fiction ...
  • Book Jacket: The Night of Baba Yaga
    The Night of Baba Yaga
    by Akira Otani, Sam Bett
    When Yoriko Shindo gets into a brawl on a busy street in 1970s Tokyo, she has no idea what the ...
  • Book Jacket: The Anthropologists
    The Anthropologists
    by Aysegül Savas
    A documentary filmmaker, Asya is interested in the "unremarkable grace" of daily life, "the slow and...
  • Book Jacket: Mood Swings
    Mood Swings
    by Frankie Barnet
    This book begins with a bombastic premise. Seemingly fed up with the heating planet, the world's ...

BookBrowse Book Club

Book Jacket
The 1619 Project
by Nikole Hannah-Jones
An impactful expansion of groundbreaking journalism, The 1619 Project offers a revealing vision of America's past and present.
Who Said...

The moment we persuade a child, any child, to cross that threshold into a library, we've changed their lives ...

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!


Solve this clue:

L T C O of the B

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.