Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Fort Morgan State Historic Site - Gulf Shores, Alabama

Flank Howitzers at Fort Morgan
If you've never been to Fort Morgan, you should add it to your list! It is one of the most fascinating places on the Gulf Coast.

The historic old fort was begun in 1819 and stands on the site of an earlier work named Fort Bowyer (see Fort Bowyer - Alabama's Forgotten Battle of the War of 1812). Named for General Daniel Morgan, a hero of the American Revolution, the fort withstood one of the fiercest naval attacks of the Civil War.

Land Face of Fort Morgan
In fact, Fort Morgan has touched so much history it is difficult to summarize its story in less than book form! To offer a few highlights, however, the fort served as a holding camp for unfortunate Creek Indian families making their way west on the Trail of Tears. The fort was seized by state militia forces in 1861 as Alabama seceeded from the Union and the first Alabamian to give his life in the Confederate cause died here.

Confederate forces strengthened the already powerful fort by adding earthwork batteries and other defenses. They even placed "torpedoes" (now called mines) in the ship channel leading past the fort into Mobile Bay and engineered the wires and other mechanisms needed to trigger them when enemy warships passed directly over the devices. This tactic proved deadly to the Union navy when it attacked Fort Morgan on August 5, 1864.

Main Gate of Fort Morgan
Admiral David G. Farragut lashed his ships together two by two and steamed them into the channel leading past Fort Morgan into Mobile Bay. The fort opened fire with fierce salvos of shot and shell and the Union warships responded. As the fleet surged forward, the ironclad USS Tecumseh moved into close range of Fort Morgan intending to batter it with its heavy guns. Instead it steamed directly over a "torpedo" that was triggered from the fort. The ironclad exploded up into the air, rolled over and sank, carrying dozens of U.S. sailors to the bottom with it.

Heavily Bombarded Channel Front of Fort Morgan
The stunning sight caused the other ships in Farragut's fleet to slow to a near stop, directly under the guns of Fort Morgan, as well as long-range fire from Fort Gaines across the bay. The story of what happened next is one of the most famous of the Civil War. Demanding to know what was happening, Admiral Farragut was told the lead ships had encountered torpedoes in the channel. "Damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead!" he ordered, and the fleet again picked up speed and surged past Fort Morgan into Mobile Bay.

Spanish American War era battery at Fort Morgan
The Battle of Mobile Bay, however, was just beginning. The ironclad CSS Tennessee then steamed out from a sheltered spot behind Fort Morgan and in a heroic defense, engaged the entire Union fleet.

The Tennessee was finally battered into submission and Fort Gaines fell not long after. Fort Morgan, however, held out and did not submit until the end of a long land siege by the Federal army.

In later years new fortifications were added to the old as the U.S. again worried about the possibility of foreign invasion just before and during the Spanish American War. Fort Morgan remained an important coastal defense site until the end of World War II when it was declared obsolete and turned over to the State of Alabama.

Today the site is an intriguing historic site where visitors can explore the history of more than 100 years of coastal defense. Our newly updated Fort Morgan page is now online at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/fortmorgan. Be sure to take a look!

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