On the tip of Dauphin Island, Alabama, sits the impressive brick and mason Fort Gaines, a silent sentinel of Mobile Bay. In the parade ground of the fort is displayed the anchor of the USS Hartford the flagship of Admiral David Farragut. The fort now encloses the anchor of the ship that caused the downfall of what that fort defended. An interesting symbolism.
Fort Gaines, named after Edmund Pendleton Gaines, a United States soldiers that served admirably in the Seminole and Mexican-American Wars, was one of three forts (Fort Morgan being the largest and situated across the mouth of the bay from Fort Gaines) that guarded the entrance to Mobile Bay, Alabama. By August 1864, Mobile was one of the last ports in the hands of the Confederates.
Five days into that month, Admiral David Farragut would sail toward and past the two forts guarding the entrance and utter his now infamous saying, “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!” This famous quote, which might have been said in slightly different verbiage, was in response to Union naval vessels slowing down under the guns of the Confederate fort after one of the ironclads in the fleet had sunk after hitting a torpedo. A torpedo in Civil War parlance referred to an underwater mine.
Although the brick and mason forts did their best to repel the Union navy, the staunchest defender of the bay was the Confederate ironclad the CSS Tennessee, commanded by Admiral Franklin Buchanan, the same commander of the CSS Virginia, when it dueled with the USS Monitor in 1862. After three hours of fighting, the Confederate ironclad was forced to surrender.
Although, Fort Morgan held out for a few weeks, Fort Gaines surrendered on August 8, three days after the Union had successfully sailed into Mobile Bay. Seeing that resistance to a joint naval-army assault, in which Union ground troops outnumbered his 4-1, the Confederate commander, Colonel Charles D. Anderson commanded 818 men at last count when he surrendered in violation of his superior’s orders to hold to the last man.
Fort Gaines is now run by now a state park on Dauphin Island and is situated on the eastern tip of that island and the fort was established in 1821. Named for Edmund Pendleton Gaines and is part of the Third System of Fortifications which was a direct result of the War of 1812 in which Edmund P. Gaines, played a prominent role.
A visitor today can walk the impressively maintained and intact ramparts, visit the museum which details history from the French colonial period of the 17th century through its history in the 20th century, and also tour other components of the fort. An entrance fee is collected to visit the fort. Guided tours are available at certain times of the year. Click here to plan your visit.
Though the fort is in great condition, it has been named to the “Eleven Most Endangered Historic Sites” in the United States because of shore erosion. So, maybe follow Farragut’s advice and go “full speed ahead” in planning your visit?