Thursday, July 30, 2009

Forts of Mobile Bay, Alabama - Spanish Fort

The city of Spanish Fort, located on the high bluffs opposite Mobile, occupies one of the most historic sites in Alabama and the South.

The Spanish built a fort here after taking Fort Charlotte in Mobile during the American Revolution, giving the community its enduring name. An important battle was fought here when British troops from Pensacola launched an unsuccessful attack on the fort. It was one of two key fights of the American Revolution that took place in Alabama.

Because the commanding bluff overlooked one of the key water routes to Mobile, the Confederates built massive fortifications here during the Civil War. Placing heavy guns in multiple batteries along the bluffs and digging rifle pits and breastworks to protect the emplacements from land attack, they converted Spanish Fort into a major obstacle for Union troops attempting to capture Mobile.

A major battle was fought here in March and April of 1865 when Union General E.R.S. Canby encircled the Confederate defenses with an army of 32,000 men and 90 pieces of artillery. Although the Confederate commander, General Randall Gibson had only a few thousand men and 46 cannon, he defended Spanish Fort for 12 days against overwhelming odds of more than 15 to 1.

The 8th Iowa Infantry finally broke through the Southern lines late in the day on April 8, 1865. On the next day, as Robert E. Lee surrendered to U.S. Grant in Virginia, the Union troops at Spanish Fort awakened to find their opponents gone. Knowing that with his lines breached he would be unable to withstand another attack, Gibson and evacuated his troops over previously prepared foot bridges, leaving behind an empty fort.

Virtually the entire site of the Confederate fortifications is now covered with modern housing developments. In some places, breastworks and trenches can even be seen running through the yards of homes. The earthworks of Battery McDermett are visible on Spanish Main Street and displays at the nearby Mobile Bay Overlook on U.S. 98 tell the story of the battle. To learn more, please visit

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