Location: Gulf Shores, Alabama
Webpage: Alabama State Historic Park
General Description: The history of the site began with Fort Bowyer, a earth and wooden fort during the War of 1812, after the Spanish departed Mobile in 1813. In September, 1814 the fort withstood a naval and land attack by the British known as the First Battle of Fort Bowyer. Following their defeat at the Battle of New Orleans in February, 1815, the British again attacked, known as the Second Battle of Fort Bowyer, and defeated the American garrison. However, before advancing towards Mobile, the War ended with the Treaty of Ghent. Following the War of 1812, the Americans began the Third System of Forts which included a brick and masonry fort named Fort Morgan. Fort Morgan was completed in 1834 and along with Fort Gaines protected the entrance to Mobile Bay. In 1836 and 1837 it was an important stop on the Trail of Tears that moved the Alabama Creek Indians to new lands in Oklahoma. When Alabama seceded from the Union at the beginning of the Civil War, the Confederates occupied both forts and thereby controlled access to Mobile. They strengthened the fort with earthen water batteries and mined the harbor that could be detonated from the fort. The defenses were so strong that the Union did not test them for the first three years of the Civil War. Finally on August 5, 1864, Rear Admiral Farragut led a force lead by four iron clad monitors and stormed into Mobile Bay. At 6:30 they began shelling both forts, however, when USS Tecumseh was sunk by torpedoes (mines) in the Bay it looked as though they Union ships would retreat. However, Farragut gave his famous command “Damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead” and the Union fleet advanced into the Bay. The Confederate iron clad CSS Tennessee then came out of hiding and engaged the entire fleet of 13 warships, often firing on seven ships at a time. The Tennessee was a smoking wreck by the end of the Battle of Mobile Bay. Although Fort Gaines was severely damaged and surrendered, Fort Morgan did not. The Union landed forces east of Fort Morgan to began an advance on the fort on August 9, 1864. Over the next three weeks, the Union advanced on the fort constructing two series of ditches to protect them. On August 22, 1864 they were within a hundred yards of Fort Morgan and along with all the ships in the harbor poured over 3000 cannon shot into the fort. After setting the central Citadel in the center of the fort on fire, forcing the Confederates to pour their gunpowder into the cistern to keep it from exploding, they surrendered the fort. The history of Fort Morgan continued after the Civil War. Between 1895 and 1900, Fort Morgan received five concrete batteries as part of the Endicott system of coastal forts. The first battery, Battery Bowyer, was operational in time for the Spanish-American War with four 8-inch cannon on disappearing carriages. In 1900 two additional batteries were completed, Battery Dearborn with 8 mortars in two pits and Battery Duportail with two 12-inch disappearing rifles located within the remains of Fort Morgan. Finally, Battery Thomas and Battery Schenk with multiple quick fire guns to protect the harbor from fast moving mine sweepers were located along the west end of Fort Morgan. Hurricanes have caused a great deal of destruction to all of the forts since being deactivated in 1917.
1) The museum is small and not very well organized. It did have some interesting exhibits with artifacts from the Civil War, but there was no comprehensive description of the Battle of Mobile Bay or the siege. I learned most of this from the brochure and interpretive signs.
2) Unlike the forts at Pensacola (Fort Barrancas and Fort Pickens) there have been no attempts to reconstruct any of the forts and there are no remains of the original Fort Bowyer, which was an earthen and wood fort. Especially with the damage from the Civil War and hurricanes, the remains of Fort Morgan and the five Endicott system batteries are in poor condition, but still interesting to explore. Like these and other forts finding Battery Duportail and Schenk overlaying the original Fort Morgan creates an interesting montage.
3) All of the batteries, except Battery Bowyer, are located within and next to Fort Morgan. Battery Bowyer is located west of Fort Morgan and is in reasonable condition. Visitors are able to walk into and around Battery Bowyer to get a good sense of how it functioned.
4) The second siege line created by the Union land forces has been reconstructed. It was interesting to find out that this line was a modification of earthworks created by the Confederates as a first line of defense, now turned against them.
5) The is also another brick structure called the Peace Armory, which was used to store the ammunition during peace time. Of the original 4 story structure, only the bottom floor remains following severe damage from Hurricane Ivan that removed the roof and collapsed the upper floors.
6) The old officers houses are still being used as quarters for park personnel, although they were also severely damaged by Hurricane Ivan.