Location: Dauphin Island, Alabama
Webpage: Private Museum
General Description: Constructed in 1821, Fort Gaines is the sister fort to Fort Morgan that protects the entrance into Mobile Bay. Best known for the Battle of Mobile Bay on August 5, 1864 in which a Federal fleet commanded by Rear Admiral David G. Farragut, assisted by a contingent of soldiers, attacked a smaller Confederate fleet led by Admiral Franklin Buchanan and three forts that guarded the entrance to Mobile Bay. On August 3, 1864, 3300 Federal soldiers were landed on the west end of Dauphin Island to make a land assault on Fort Gaines guarding the eastern tip of the island. Fort Gaines was garrisoned with 818 Confederate soldiers. Unable to take the fort Major General Granger laid siege of the fort, effectively eliminating it from being able to adequately respond to the fleet of Federal ships entering the bay on August 5. With 4 monitors, including the USS Tecomseh, and 14 wooden hull ships, Admiral Farragut ran the gauntlet between Forts Morgan and Gaines entering Mobile Bay shortly after dawn. Moving directly to engage the CSS Tennessee, the Tecomseh ran directly into the minefield and was sunk by an exploding torpedo. It was in response to this that Admiral Farragut supposedly gave the order: “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” as he engaged the Tennessee. With the defeat of the Confederate navy in the bay, Colonel Anderson could not hold against both the land and naval barrage and surrendered Fort Gaines on August 8. The Federal troops were then taken across the bay to lay siege to Fort Morgan.
1) Although bombarded during the Battle of Mobile Bay, Fort Gaines is in surprising good condition, although some of this is due to the restoration efforts. Along with the original cannons used during the battle there are also 5 brick buildings in the interior of the fort, blacksmith shops and kitchens and tunnel systems to the fortified corner bastions. The fort was partially modified during the lead up to the Spanish-American War which consists of newer concrete gun emplacements for the massive “disappearing” cannon of the time period.
2) They have a very nice self-guided tour of the fort that includes a brochure with information about each numbered stop.
3) Since the fort is only a few feet from the Gulf of Mexico, dune erosion from hurricanes and other storms are now threatening the fort. These barrier islands are not all that stable and it may be just a matter of time before Fort Gaines is lost to the Gulf. Due to this threat it is included on the list of America’s Most Endangered Historic Places.
4) The museum is very small but informative. There are depictions of what life was like for the Civil War Confederate soldiers who lived in barracks outside the fort until they burned them as the Federal troops advanced on the fort in 1864. There are also a number of artifacts found in the fort including dinner ware, ammunition, and clothing.
5) The two concrete implacements for the disappearing guns look very much out of place, but they are a large reason why the fort has remained in good condition as it was in use for years following the Civil War instead of being allowed to fall into disrepair.