Fort Morgan        

Mobile, Alabama                
Spanish explorers first encountered Mobile Bay (which they named Bay of the Holy Spirit) in 1500. Hernando de Soto (1497-1542) thoroughly (and violently) explored the area in 1540, encountering the Muskohegan Indians, who were all too happy to fight with these new visitors. The Muskohegan's fortified city of Maubila, from whence the name Mobile was derived, was burned to the ground in the fracas.

Spanish conquistadors came and went over the next hundred years, but were unable to set up any lasting settlement in the Mobile Bay area. In 1702 France set up a deep-sea port at Dauphin Island, which lies across the mouth of Mobile Bay from Mobile Point, where Fort Morgan would later be built. The seat of government for French Louisiana was built in nearby Mobile at around the same time. Being the close pals that France and Spain were, however, Mobile found its way into Spanish hands by the time the War of 1812 (1812-1815) rolled around.

US Major General James Wilkinson (1757-1825) captured Mobile from the Spanish in April 1813, which turned out to be the only territorial gain the US made during the War of 1812 (despite plenty of US attempts at Canada). US forces quickly threw up a wooden redoubt on Mobile Point, naming it Fort Bowyer after Colonel John Bowyer, who had overseen the fort's construction. In September of 1814, Fort Bowyer successfully defended itself against a combined sea and land attack by the British.

The British returned to Mobile Bay in February of 1815, having recently been vanquished by General Andrew Jackson (1767-1845) (see a US $20 bill: The guy had great hair) at the Battle of New Orleans (December 23 1814-January 26 1815). Smarting from their defeat and blissfully unaware that the war had been over since December 24 1814 with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent, British forces attacked Fort Bowyer once again in February 1815, this time managing to cause the American garrison to surrender...only to have to hand it all back over to the US a few days later, when news of the war's untimely demise reached Mobile Bay.

Such sea-borne disasters as the capture of Fort Bowyers and the burning of Washington DC by the British during the War of 1812 made beefing up the US' seacoast defenses a priority. In 1819 the government began the process of contracting out to build a formidable masonry fortification at Mobile Point, but the first two men to be hired for the job both died of yellow fever before accomplishing much of anything: The job was turned over to the Army Corps of Engineers in 1821. Being 1821 and in the south, of course, meant that much of Fort Morgan was built with slave labor, the slaves no doubt pleased to be working on such an important project for their federal government.

Fort Morgan, named for US Revolutionary War hero Daniel Morgan (1736-1802), was completed in 1834 and turned over to the 2nd US Artillery, a unit that stayed for just over a year before leaping off to Florida to quell some unruly Seminole Indians.

Before dawn on January 3 1861, three companies of Alabama Volunteers captured Fort Morgan from Federal troops. Eight days later Alabama seceded from the Union, one of eleven states to do so, sparking the US Civil War (1861-1865). The Confederacy had a vital interest in controlling the Main Ship Channel that ran near Fort Morgan, as it was the only channel deep enough to allow major warships to pass. The landward side of Mobile Point was fortified, the entrance to the bay was mined, and a small flotilla, consisting of an armored ram and three gunships, was stationed at Fort Morgan.

The US Navy blockaded Mobile Bay for most of the war, and Fort Morgan provided covering fire for Confederate ships that made an effort to run the blockade: All 17 of the ships that broke out of the bay did so successfully with Fort Morgan's help, as did 19 of the 21 ships that tried to enter.

In August of 1864, a Union fleet commanded by Admiral David Farragut (1801-1870) recklessly steamed through the minefield (tethered naval mines at the time were known as torpedoes, and it is from this event that we get Farragut's famous exhortation that is generally paraphrased as Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!), battered the Confederate flotilla into silence and captured Fort Gaines, which protected Mobile Bay across the entrance from Fort Morgan. Federal troops approached Fort Morgan from the landward side a few days later, and after two weeks of being pounded from land and sea with no hope of relief, General Richard Page (1807-1901), commander of Fort Morgan, spiked the guns and surrendered on August 23. The Union used Fort Morgan as a staging area for attacks into the Confederacy for the remainder of the war.

Fort Morgan was generally allowed to fester until 1895, when a nationwide craze of building concrete batteries swept the nation: Five shiny new batteries were built at Fort Morgan, each supporting the latest in communications and something called "electricity," in the interest of mounting a dizzying array of different cannon designs over the next 20 years. Some of these included mortars, which were intended to fire down onto attacking ships' unarmored decks; 10-inch smoothbore cannon that were retrofitted with an inner rifling sleeve that proved to be as stupid as it sounds (these cannon were later given to communities that were hungry for Civil War cannon for monuments: Beware, that "Civil War cannon" in your town square may be a fake!); and guns on "disappearing carriages" that were removed during the First World War (1914-1918) to make railway guns in Europe. Crazy! Sounds like the government had way too much money invested in cockamamie artillery schemes at the beginning of the 20th century.

Fort Morgan was thoroughly armed and ready for the return of the conquistadors in 1898 when war broke out with Spain, but by that point Spain wasn't much of an adversary for the US. During the First World War (1914-1918) the fort was used to train coast artillerymen and anti-aircraft units. Fort Morgan was abandoned by the military in 1924.

But they came roaring back in 1942 during the Second World War (1939-1945), keeping a coastal artillery kind of eye out for marauding German, or very lost Japanese, submarines. The military handed Fort Morgan over to the State of Alabama in 1946...obviously FORGETTING that the State of Alabama had captured the fort in 1861 and lost it in 1864, but could now use it for their wicked ends once again! Fortunately Alabama did not secede from the Union this time, and Fort Morgan was designated a National Landmark in 1960.

In 2008, during an excavation directed towards repairing cracks in the fort's walls, a live, 90-pound naval artillery shell was unearthed: It was determined to have been fired from a US Navy warship during the summer of 1864. Today, those who are willing to risk being blown sky-high by undiscovered 150-year-old ordnance are free to roam throughout Fort Morgan, which has a truly fascinating-sounding maze of dark, crumbling corridors that go nowhere. Does that sound like a vacation or what?

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Fort Morgan?
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Thanks to Google Maps for the image!