Fort Gaines, Alabama

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Bridge to the Dauphin Island

After Deelow got off work, we decided to visit one of the forts on the coast of Alabama. She mentioned it a couple of times, but her main purpose was the food in the area :). Also, her description of this area was wonderful. It was actually located in Dauphin Island, so we drove down the small towns and crossed the long bridge to the island. There was no traffic and we passed by the beachside and the hotels. As we drive here is the beginning of history.

“Established in 1821, for the defense of Mobile Bat and named in honor of General Edmund Pendleton Gaines, 1777-1849 who played an important part in early Alabama History and while Commandant of Fort Stoddard captured Aaron Burr near Mcintosh in February 1807.

Fort Gaines

Fort Gaines is a pre-Civil War masonry fort best known for its role in the Battle of Mobile Bay (“Damn the Torpedoes- Full Speed Ahead!”). The site consists of five buildings inside the exterior walls, tunnel systems and corner bastions with spiral stone staircases to the gun placements above. Fort Gaines is famous for displaying the cannons that were actually used in the battle and the anchor from Admiral Farragut’s flagship, as well as maintaining its operational blacksmith shop and kitchens.

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Damn the Torpedoes!

Described as one of the best-preserved 19th-century shoreline fortifications in the east, it is located within feet of the Gulf of Mexico. After its capture by Union forces, it was used in planning and staging the final attack on Mobile. More recent modifications include “disappearing guns” and bunker systems constructed during the Spanish-American War.”

So that was for the short history of the fort, and we drove to it and to our disappointment it was already closing time. We didn’t go in and instead walked around the fort. We first noticed was the wooden thing in front so we read its inscription.

19th Century Shipwreck

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“The huge timbers you see are a ship’s keel section that was washed ashore in the fury of Hurricane Georges in the fall of 1998. The remains formed the bottom ridgeline of the ship and would have held the ribs of the ship’s hull. During an expert analysis of the materials and construction, it was indicated that the ship was built in the 1800s or earlier. However, the purpose of the ship, its origin, and the fate of the crew was unknown.”

We walked around and as usual, took some photos, and we saw a couple more people. They have their pets with them walking freely around. Since it was close to the water it was windy but humid. Fortunately, there were plenty of trees around and we were shaded. As we explore around here is the only significant event in the fort.

Fort barracks

Siege of Fort Gaines

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Civil War personalities

In July 1864, the war was not going well for U.S. President Abraham Lincoln’s administration. Washington was threatened by a southern army; Federal forces seemed to face stalemate in Virginia and Georgia, and a Union invasion of the Red River Valley in Louisiana had failed. Casualties were piling up and Northern voters were disenchanted with the war. Lincoln believed he would lose the election in November to the peace Democrats. Southern armies could no longer win a decisive victory on the battlefield, but C.S. President Jefferson Davis and other Confederate leaders believed (with good reason) that the Confederacy could deny victory to the Union armies and seek a negotiated peace with Lincoln’s successor.

However, on August 5, 1864, U.S. Admiral David G. Farragut, working closely with army units commanded by U.S. General Gordon Granger, attacked Mobile’s lower defensive line. Under fire from Fort Morgan and threatened by torpedoes, Farragut entered Mobile Bay, defeating C.S. Admiral Franklin Buchanan’s naval squadron. Farragut and Granger then forced the abandonment or surrender of all of the forts on the lower bay, closing the Port of Mobile to blockade-runners and hoping to pin down Confederates in Mobile that might otherwise reinforce Atlanta. Farragut’s was the first in a series of badly needed Union victories which would guarantee the re-election of President Lincoln and the ultimate triumph of the Union.

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Civil War Route

Union forces under the command of Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger landed on Dauphin Island, about 7 miles from Fort Gaines, on August 3, 1864, and moved against Fort Gaines guarding the western edge of Mobile Bay. Granger’s force numbered about 1,500 while 818 troops under the command of Confederate Col. Charles D. Anderson garrisoned the fort. Brig. Gen. Richard L. Page instructed Col. Anderson not to surrender the fort. The fort was supposed to be able to withstand a six-month siege.

However, on August 5 the Union fleet ran past Forts Gaines and Morgan, and defeated the Confederate fleet in the bay. The Union fleet had 199 guns to attack with, while the Confederates only held 26 within the walls of Fort Gaines. Anderson, believing he could not hold out against a combined attack by the Union army and navy, chose to surrender the fort on August 8, 1864.

In the spring of 1865 an army of 40,000 men, commanded by U.S. General Edward R.S. Canby, moved north from Forts Gaines and Morgan on lower Mobile Bay and from Pensacola and defeated a Confederate army less than a quarter its size at Spanish Fort and Blakeley on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay. This forced the evacuation of Mobile. The battles of Spanish Fort and Blakely were the last major engagements of the Civil War. The surrender of C.S. General Richard Taylor, the commander of Confederate forces in Alabama and Mississippi, at Magee Farm and Citronelle soon followed. His was the last Confederate surrender east of the Mississippi River.

Blakeley surrendered on the same day that the Army of Northern Virginia lay down its arms and U.S. General Ulysses Grant commented that Canby’s campaign came too late to influence the outcome of the war. Nevertheless, argues historian Chester Hearn, both Mobile campaigns are significant because “…the strategies and tactics applied were immensely superior to those employed in the early stages of the war. Combined operations, trench warfare, coordinated attacks, submarines, torpedoes, minesweeping, land mines, rifled artillery, hand grenades, and naval combat between armored vessels all scientifically evolved throughout the war, and when Union forces invaded the environs of Mobile Bay, nothing had been omitted.” Thus the Mobile campaigns were a harbinger of what war would become in the twentieth century.

There is some information about the structures within the fort like this one. Unfortunately, this will be the only signage that we will see.

Battery Terret

“Built between 1893-1903 to upgrade the defenses of the Fort, this battery held three, three-inch rapid-fire cannons. These guns were to be used against ships that slipped in underneath the fire of the larger guns inside the Fort. This battery was used until World War I.”

We finished our tour in no time as we leave the fort and I am still arguing with myself if we should go back inside because we didn’t see the interior of the place. We crossed the street to our next destination.

Here are the links for more information:

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