Alabama Coasting 2018 - Page 8

HISTORIC FORT GAINES The war of 1812 proved that America needed adequate defenses for its long coastline. Construction of a fort on land as part of a comprehensive system of national defense began in 1821. Over the next 20 years a series of problems plagued the project, but construction finally began in 1853. Congress named the fort for General Edmund Pendleton Gaines, whose military resume included the capture, just north of Mobile, of former Vice-President Aaron Burr who had been accused of participating in a conspiracy to commit treason. He was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General in the War of 1812 and earned recognition for his tenacious defense of Fort Erie, and following that, for the next thirty-five years, earned the respect of settlers and soldiers for his skill in the Indian Wars and throughout the southeast. Ft Gaines, which was still unfinished, was seized by the Alabama militia on January 5, 1861 as the state seceded from the United States. After the state officially joined the Confederacy, engineers completed the fort. Brigadier General Richard L. Page, General Robert E. Lee’s cousin and a former U.S. and Confederate naval officer, took command of Fort Morgan and all lower Mobile Bay defenses in March 1864. Colonel Charles Anderson led Fort Gaines’s 800-man garrison, which included a battalion of cadets aged twelve to sixteen from the Pelham Military Academy in Mobile.   The Battle of Mobile Bay began on August 3, 1864 when Major General Fort Gaines postcard from 1960 8 ALABAMA COASTING’S DAUPHIN ISLAND LIFE Arial view of Fort Gaines. Gordon Granger landed with 1,500 Union soldiers on the west side of Dauphin Island, seven miles from Fort Gaines. Most of the story of the battle revolves around Admiral David Farragut and his famous “Damn the torpedos, full speed ahead”. The garrison at Fort Gaines proved to be very vulnerable to cannon and sharpshooter attack from the land and was forced to surrender after a short siege. Fort Morgan lasted for another 20 days and the City of Mobile finally fell on April 12, 1865, three days after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. In 1898 the fort was further modified as a result of the Spanish-American conflict. The fort served in World War I with a Coastal Artillery unit garrison manning the disappearing guns. The site also became an anti-aircraft gunnery school during and following the war. World War II saw the fort used as a camp site for the Alabama National Guard and a base for the U.S. Coast Guard stationed there to operate against enemy submarines prowling the gulf in search of merchant vessels The United States sold Fort Gaines to the City of Mobile in 1926. The city in turn gave the property to the Alabama Department of Conservation, which deeded it to the Dauphin Island Park 2018 and Beach Board. The fort is recognized as one of the best preserved example of Civil War era fortifications boasting original cannon, the original kitchen and blacksmith shops which are still operational.